In recent years, guitar amplifiers, especially those designed for acoustic guitarists, have been shrinking in size. One of the most diminutive—and powerful—examples of this trend is Henriksen’s the Bud, a two-channel wonder that was introduced in 2016. Henriksen, based in Arvada, Colorado, started out making amps intended to provide a purity of tone for jazz guitarists. But the Bud has proven to be an agreeable companion for not just for acoustic guitars of all styles, but also acoustic instruments in general, even upright basses.
Henriksen’s most recent amp, the Blu, is a smart, one-channel version of the Bud. It takes the name from its light-blue baffle—a nod to the company’s earliest amps—and from its Bluetooth functionality. To test the Blu, I used a Martin OM-28E, a Gibson ES-330, and an iPhone X. On acoustic or electric guitar, with and without a backing track, the amp dazzled just like its predecessor.
Small, Sturdy & User Friendly
Like the Bud, the Blu has a nine-inch-cube chassis, sturdily built from Baltic birch. While the Bud is lightweight at 17 pounds, the Blue is even lighter at 12 pounds. I’ve got guitar cases that weigh more than that. Without instruments in them. Needless to say, in this regard the Blu is even more ideal than its predecessor for gigging guitarists, especially those who rely on public transportation or who are frequent flyers.
And speaking of gigging, the Blu comes with a deluxe padded gig bag with a shoulder strap and a generously sized accessory compartment. Virtuoso jazz guitarist and AG contributor Sean McGowan, who recently played a wedding atop a mountain, says, “It was at 12,000 feet and I had to take two gondolas to reach the top. I took my guitar and the Blu in the carrying case—no problem.”
With its single channel, the Blu has a noticeably more streamlined control panel than the Bud. The top-mounted panel includes just volume, EQ, and reverb controls, an XLR/instrument input, an XLR line out, and an effects-loop jack. While the two-channel Bud can function more like a mini PA—good for musicians who sing while playing guitar, or who double on other instruments—the Blu is perhaps better suited for those who use single instruments.
Brilliant Sounds & Flexibility
I didn’t have the Bud on hand for comparison when I auditioned the Blu, but I did have a clear recollection of just how excellent the former sounded when I spent time with it a few years ago. When I plugged in the Martin, I immediately found the Blu’s sound to be just as fine as the Bud’s. The Blu brings out copious amounts of detail and resonance, without the artificiality or smallness of sound that you get from lesser amps.
With the five-band EQ section set flat, the Blu has a surprisingly satisfying low-end response, whether playing G runs or walking bass lines. Single-note lines sound warm and robust in all registers, and high notes are clear and singing. Basic open chords and complex jazz chords, in both standard and open tunings, have excellent note separation and clarity. And the amp’s built-in reverb sounds lush and natural.
The EQ section—Low (80Hz), Low-Mid (420Hz), Hi-Mid (1.6 kHz), High (3.5 kHz), and Presence (7.2 kHz)—offers plenty of control for players who need to easily emphasize or deemphasize certain frequencies according to individual instruments and contexts. Though it probably wouldn’t be powerful enough for, say, a loud rock band in a large venue, the Blu does put out an impressive amount of clean volume for its size, certainly more than enough for most acoustic situations, solo or ensemble. McGowan reports that the amp performed well in a jazz organ-trio setting. “It really held its own with an organ going through a Leslie speaker, and a pretty loud drummer,” he says.
The ES-330, with its fully hollow body and P-90 pickups, sounded just as good as the Martin through the Blu. It was easy to get a Grant Green–approved bluesy jazz tone, rich and woody, and I could understand why archtop players like McGowan swear by the amp. Packing 120 watts of power, the solid-state Blu delivers a consistently crisp sound at all volume levels. But, as I had discovered with the Bud, it does deliver a killer gritty tone when used with an Ibanez Tube Screamer pedal.
Band in a Box
As with most Bluetooth-equipped products, it was easy to pair my iPhone with the Blu. I played along with it for a moment before finding a Charlie Parker play-along by the jazz educator Jamey Aebersold on Apple Music, and had a grand time jamming with an expert rhythm section on “My Little Suede Shoes” through the Blu.
The potential Bluetooth applications for both practicing and performing are exciting—anything you have on your phone, tablet or other sound source—backing tracks, a metronome app, etc.—can be conveyed through the amp. You could even use it to run a playlist during a set break. When I was testing the Bluetooth, I did receive a telephone call; the backing track on the phone was temporarily disabled and the ringtone was audible through the Blu. So, on a gig, it’s important to remember to switch off the Bluetooth when you’re not using it, or disengage your device’s ringer and any alert tones, such as for text messages.
The Bottom Line
With the Blu, Henriksen has introduced a spectacular variation on a spectacular amp. Like its predecessor, it’s small but mighty. It does away with a channel that some guitarists will find unnecessary, shaving $300 off the price tag and adding handy Bluetooth functionality. Any acoustic guitarist—steel-string, nylon-string, or archtop player—in the market for a smart new amp would be remiss not to check out the Blu.
AMP 120 watt, Class D power amp with switch-mode power supply; single channel with 5-band EQ, reverb, volume control, and phantom-powered XLR/1/4″ combo input
SPEAKER 6.5″ Eminence Beta with fluid-cooled neodymium tweeter
OTHER XLR balanced line out; Bluetooth auxiliary input; TRS effects loop; external speaker out; headphone jack; gig bag; optional extension speaker
PRICE $999 (direct)
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This article originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.