Published On: Fri, Nov 17th, 2017

Honeyboy Amps 18 & 5 Review

They may be dressed like psychedelic reptiles, but these hand-wired British combos are tweed on the inside… Richard Purvis samples a pair of pint-size powerhouses.

Do you like reptiles? If so, please don’t be distressed by the scaly appearance of Honeyboy’s amplifiers – it’s just textured vinyl. We were a little unsure ourselves, until we remembered how hard it is to get hold of a crocodile in cobalt blue…

The market for boutique tweed-type amps is crowded these days, and using distinctly un-tweedy coverings is one of two ways this Scottish maker has found to stand out from the pack. The other is pricing. If you want a high-quality valve amp that’s hand-wired in the UK, you won’t find one much cheaper.

Andy ‘Honeyboy’ Smith is actually a harmonica player, and he makes amplifiers for harp-howlers as well as guitar-spankers. The basic principles are the same for both: these are new amps based on classic 1950s circuits with little deviation from vintage specs, at least on the inside. Our review models are inspired by the 5E3 Deluxe and 5F2-A Princeton respectively – the former being perhaps the most widely worshipped small amplifier of all time, the latter being a single-ended spitfire that’s similar in design to the 5F1 Champ.

Beneath the wacky vinyl you’ll find 20mm American white oak, which Andy reckons focuses the tone better than pine. The cabs are finger-jointed and covered in-house, using a wide range of vinyl styles (not all of them reptilian), and finished off with metal corner protectors that are powder-coated in an assortment of colours.

Honeyboy Amps 18
Hitting the catwalk in very fetching ‘Blue Croc’ with contrasting grey corner protectors, this is a very pretty little amp. And ‘little’ is the word – compared to Fender’s own reissue Deluxe it’s about 1cm smaller in all three dimensions, so the alnico Jensen P12R is squeezed in tight. Custom control panels are on the way, but for now we get a bought-in generic type with a couple of amendments scratched into the metal: the old ground switch has become a standby, and the second inputs are now send and return sockets for an effects loop.

The core of this amp is the 5E3 circuit loved by Neil Young, Billy Gibbons and countless others for its rich and throaty overdrive; a pair of cathode-biased 6V6s do the hard work, with no negative feedback loop, while three controls – bright volume, normal volume and master tone – are all a raucous rocker truly needs. The transformers are made by Trans-Tronic in Chesterfield, and the valves as supplied are all Tung-Sols. It’s a simple and tidy build on the inside, and the only other feature of note is a line output next to the speaker socket.

Honeyboy Amps 5
Everything’s scaled down for the five-watt model: here we get just one channel, one 6V6 and one power switch. At least there’s a tone control, which is one up on a tweed Champ, and the speaker is a 10-inch Jensen P10R. Our review sample is finished in ‘Burgundy Gator’ with matching corners, and it couldn’t be more cute if it had whiskers and a big fluffy tail.

Build quality inside and out is a match for the larger amp, and there’s been no scalpel work needed this time: the ‘2’ above the second input has just been carefully scraped away, as this is now a line out socket. You don’t get an effects loop but there is one nifty bonus feature: a switch round the back that bypasses the negative feedback loop for a bigger, looser voice.

In Use
Now, normally we have a strum about with the clean tones before jumping into the dirt… but it’s not immediately apparent that the Honeyboy 18 actually has any clean tones. The normal channel starts breaking up pretty much from the off, and we’re in full-on crunch mode by four on the volume dial. Ah, but then we remember the 5E3 circuit’s notoriously interactive controls: whack up the volume on the channel you’re not using and the other one suddenly cleans up with almost miraculous ease.

Inevitably, the noise floor suffers when you open up a high-gain channel that you’re not even playing through – but plug in an AB switch, with one channel maxed out and the other around halfway, and you’ve got a very effective twin-channel amp here. Most importantly, both channels sound extremely nice: the low/mid-gain stuff is sticky and smooth, while the fully cranked overdrive takes you to the very brink of the farting-out zone without letting go of its essential sweetness.

It’s not a huge, expansive sound – that is, unless you plug into a slightly bigger cab with a more efficient speaker – but if you like your tweed tones thick in the mids and light in the low end, this Honeyboy will do the job. Maybe it’s no coincidence that it’s been voiced by a harp player.

So is the five-watt model the underpowered runt of the pair? Far from it. It’s a pleasant if slightly one-dimensional affair on the first half of the volume dial – but you know nobody ever bought an amp like this to play clean.

Slam it up to nine or 10 with the negative feedback bypassed and, while that Jensen flirts with fizziness, it’s surprising how close to the bigger amp this gets. In fact, hit some low powerchords at full volume and it goes a step further – the toppy transients are now compressed into oblivion as it squishes, splatters and blooms with a reckless glee that the 18-watt can’t quite match. Now that’s what we call ragged glory.

Honeyboy 18

• PRICE £1,095
• DESCRIPTION 2-channel valve combo. Made in UK
• VALVES 1x 12AX7, 1x 12AY7, 2x 6V6, 5Y3 rectifier
• CONTROL PANEL Standby and power switches, tone, bright volume, normal volume, bright input, normal input, effects loop send and return; line output on bottom of chassis
• SPEAKER 1×12, Jensen P12R
• DIMENSIONS 495 x 410 x 234mm
• WEIGHT 15.6kg/34.4lbs
• OPTIONS Celestion Greenback or Tayden True Brit speaker, various vinyl and hardware colours

Honeyboy 5

• PRICE £795
• DESCRIPTION Single-channel valve combo. Made in UK
• VALVES 1x 12AX7, 1x 6V6, 5Y3 rectifier
• CONTROL PANEL Power switch, tone, volume, guitar input, line output; negative feedback switch on bottom of the chassis
• SPEAKER 1×10, Jensen P10R
• DIMENSIONS 414 x 362 x 234mm
• WEIGHT 13kg/28.7lbs
• OPTIONS Celestion Greenback or Tayden True Brit speaker, various vinyl and hardware colours
• CONTACT Honeyboy Amps 01389 499879




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