So this week I happened to find myself down in Guildford for a few days, and as my hotel was so close, thought I better take a walk down to the world famous Andertons Music Store…it’d be rude not to.
Now I’ve been to Andertons a few times but this time I was going with the express intention of trying some Friedman gear. At the store they have a special room of goodness where they keep all the high end gear. Fender Custom Shop, PRS, Morgan, Kemper and Friedman amplification.
Unfortunately the BE100 was not available to try in store, but hooked up and waiting was the SmallBox 50, a 50 watt, 2 channel beast of a head plugged into Friedman’s own 2×12 closed back cabinet, and as the Smallbox’s overdrive channel is based on the BE100’s (according to what Friedman say) I was very interested to see what this amp sounds like.
I plugged a new, 2017 Fender Stratocaster Pro HSS straight into the front of the SmallBox and switched the amp to the clean channel. WOW! ‘Marshall’ style amps don’t usually have the best cleans but this thing is absolutely stunning. They say that this channel is based off of a Plexi style circuit and I can see what they mean. You can really push the gain and get beautiful break up a al JTM45. With the Shawbucker in the Strat and the gain turned up its classic rock territory all day long. Gained down the sound is beautifully open and full. The 3 position switch offers 3 different levels of brightness. In the centre it makes the channel very dark sounding, and left and right gives bright and brighter. I found that the bright setting (left I think it was) gave me the most playable tone, giving really good percussive ‘quack’ with the Strat in positions 2 and 4. I found the bright setting to be a touch harsh on higher notes but when I switched to a Gibson Les Paul the brighter setting really helped with the darker sounding Humbucker pickups.
Switching to the second channel and turning the gain knob to 12 o’clock the depth and width of the sound is unbelievable. Lush, defined chords bloom, whilst lead lines are almost effortless to play. With the gain all the way round the drive is still very usable. The tone becomes thicker with more bottom end coming through and allows for very aggressive pick attack. Open chords with the amp set like this sing and single note lines scream and sustain for days with pinch harmonics a breeze to execute. The drive sound is beautifully defined and open, without getting muddy in the bottom end. The EQ allows for easy shaping of the tone, and every knob actually does what its meant to do, even with heavy gain settings.
Overall I was totally blown away by the amp. I had high expectations for the Friedman line from watching various videos and reading a few magazine reviews, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. I think the added gain knob and channel one is a god send, which the BE is desperately missing. If you need really versatile 50 watt amp that can go do super crystal cleans, on the edge break up, classic rock and all out gained up leads be sure to give the SmallBox 50 a look.
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