By Sean McGowan
In the not-too-distant past, acoustic guitarists and singer-songwriters were relegated to hauling around large PA systems replete with a mixer, power amp, speakers, stands, plus duffle bags stuffed with a wide assortment of tangled cables—all in an effort to simply be heard in a rehearsal, club, or coffeehouse. I remember having a PA head so big it could only fit into the trunk of my car by dropping it in at a particular angle. Of course, the market was flooded with amps designed for electric guitarists, but plugging a dreadnought into one never quite worked for acoustic music of any style.
Fortunately, the last 25 years have shown significant development and improvement of gear specifically for acoustic guitarists, in the way of pickups, amplifiers, and even high-quality, pack-and-go PA systems. Amps for acoustic musicians are now more portable and better-sounding than ever before, thanks to the efforts of companies catering to our unique needs and requirements.
One such company is Henriksen Amplifiers. Based just outside of Denver, Colorado, Henriksen created a splash in the acoustic community with its popular The Bud combo amp. Weighing just 13 pounds and providing 120 watts of power, the diminutive two-channel amp instantly won favor with guitarists employing dual pickup systems or instruments, as well as singer-songwriters needing to amplify their voices and guitars. With its flat response, high-quality speaker/tweeter combo, and powerful five-band EQ, the amp could essentially serve as a mini PA system, particularly when coupled with an extension cabinet. And to the joy of gigging musicians, it could easily be carried into a venue with one hand—and fit easily into any trunk.
Bud in a Box
Henriksen recently released the Bud Head, a head version of the venerable Bud. Company president Peter Henriksen describes the amp as serving multiple functions: a complete two-channel head, a studio-grade direct box, and/or an amp that can be mounted on a pedalboard. The outputs offer the flexibility of running into a variety of speaker cabinets, or simply connecting to the house system via a post-EQ and reverb XLR out. This allows users to keep their personal settings intact, regardless of the venue. The Bud Head also features two independent effects loops (though you’ll need a stereo Y-cable) for each channel, giving you the opportunity to create optimal settings for an instrument and vocals, or two different instruments such as a guitar and mandolin. Finally, the back panel features a 1/4-inch headphone jack, which sounds surprisingly accurate and musical and offers convenient private practice at home or on the road.
Considering its number of features, the Bud Head is astonishingly small (about the size of the Chicago Manual of Style) and weighs only three pounds. It comes with a high-quality padded gig bag that features a roomy external accessory pocket and shoulder strap. The chassis is rugged and roadworthy, and also adorned with hand-oiled wooden sides, which lends a nice aesthetic to the amp. Also striking is the Henriksen logo LED that lights up when the amp is powered on. The two rows of controls for each channel are conveniently mounted on the top face of the amp. Left to right, the layout includes input gain, universal inputs (for XLR or instrument cables), master volume, aux in (3.5mm and Bluetooth), a mini Bright switch (for Ch. 2), five EQ knobs (ranging from 80Hz-7.2k), and reverb. All controls are independent for each channel, which makes this amp a dream for those who require separate EQ and reverb settings for a multi-source instrument, or two different instruments. The amp also supplies 48-volt phantom power for each channel, accommodating a wide range of microphones.
Complex and True
Plugged into a Henriksen Ray quad array speaker cabinet (loaded with four three-inch speakers and neodymium tweeter), the Bud Head sounded spectacular with the all the instruments I tried. In the review video, I used a Nickerson FC3 with a passive K&K Pure Mini pickup, and a Bourgeois OMC outfitted with a K&K Trinity system (with internal microphone)—which included an external preamp. Whether going direct into the Bud Head or via another preamp, the sound was complex and true; literally, the sound of the guitar but amplified. Even when I turned up the amp, the tone was never compromised, and accurately reproduced the sound of the guitar whether playing with a pick or fingerstyle. Chords sparkled with clarity, and never got lost in the woofiness common among amplifiers. Amps are typically more forgiving when playing fingerstyle, but not so much when flatpicking. The Bud Head sounded great in both settings, and purists can take advantage of the two channels by plugging a pickup into one, and using an external microphone for the other.
The Bud Head has the power and volume for most any live venue, and users can personally sculpt their tones by running different speaker cabinets. The head offers audiophile quality, yet it is durable enough to sit on the floor without worry. And though it houses all the features you’ll likely need for any gig, it is incredibly easy to use. When you factor in its size, weight, and portability, the Bud Head is hard to beat at any price point. Highly recommended!
INPUTS (2) Universal (1/4″ & XLR), 3.5mm aux, 48-volt phantom power, Bluetooth aux
OUTPUTS (2) 1/4″ speaker out, XLR direct out, 1/4″ TS line out, headphone jack
CONTROLS (2) Input gain knobs, (2) master Volume, (2) EQ: low (@80Hz), low-mid (420Hz), hi-mid (1.6kHz), Hi (3.5kHz), presence (7.2kHz), (2) reverb knobs, Bright in/out switch on channel 2
OTHER 120 watts; 3.5 lbs; 4″x9″x7″; (2) independent effects loops
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