The Bugera V5 — my review

Santa gave me the green light to open one of my presents early today, mostly because Santa didn’t want to wrap the damn thing and I helped Santa pick it out anyway, so I just cracked in to a Bugera V5 amp. My initial reaction is very positive.

The Bugera V5The Bugera is a small tube amp, one of numerous such amps to be released in the last few years as the proliferation of home studios and the aging of America’s guitar army made these little guys more appealing. As a harp player, I’ve kept a small amp in my arsenal for years for practice and quiet gigs. However, my little-amp companion of the last decade, an Electar Tube 10, recently cooked its circuitry to the point where a repair (even by me) was going to cost more than the amp was worth. Thus, I was in the market for a replacement.

Fender, Gibson, Epiphone, Peavey, Crate and Vox all have brought really nice, small amps to the market in recent years — amps that put out 10 or fewer watts into an 8-inch or smaller speaker. In comparison, my big-room amp, a Fender ’59 Bassman reissue, puts out about 45 watts into four 10-inch speakers. A Marshall stack, the top-dog weapon of destruction for metalheads everywhere, might put 100 watts into as many as eight 12-inch speakers, although modern PA systems have made big-stack amps like that unnecessary and kind of silly.

Bugera is a relatively new player in this field. It’s the tube amp line of Behringer, a company mostly known for its high-bang-for-the-buck music gear. Hard-playing pros sometimes gripe that Behringer gear can’t stand up to the rigors of four-gigs-a-week use, but for everyone else, Behringer makes some inexpensive, useful equipment — especially good, cheap guitar pedals and PA gear.

The Bugera attracted me for several reasons. First, unlike most of its competitors, it has a gain knob and reverb built in. As a harp player, the gain knob gives me much more control in dealing in the tone I want before feedback, and it also can be used as a way to get good tone at very low volume — you dial up the gain and dial back the volume control. And the built-in reverb hopefully meant I wouldn’t have to haul a delay pedal to gigs.

Second, the Bugera has an attentuator — you can cut the output to 1 watt or even a tenth of a watt for practice. That’s rare in amps at this price point. Third, it has a headphone jack — which no other tube amp of this size has, as far as I know.

It also has been fairly well-reviewed and it was beautiful — only the Vox came close to it on the looks front, and I think the Bugera wins there.

Finally, there’s the price. At $150 (although many retailers now sell it for $200), the Bugera is cheaper than most of its competitors, with only the Crate and the Epiphone sneaking into that territory — and neither of those amps has anywhere near the features offered by the Bugera.

Here are my initial impressions after about a half-hour of playing harp through the Bugera.

1. This thing is extremely well-made. It’s bigger and much heavier than the Electar, with beefy power and output transformers. The power switch and the various pots seem to be of good quality. I wasn’t entirely thrilled with the input jack but that can be replaced if needed. I also like the modular, removable power cord — EVERY amp should come with one of these so that you don’t have a cord banging around in the back of your amp, threatening to punch a hole through a speaker. The cabinet is made out of MDF which, despite the love of pine cabinets that many guitar players have, is much stronger than pine and doesn’t resonate the way pine does.

2. It is loud for its size and power — and I mean LOUD — and the speaker is of excellent quality. On the five-watt setting, it’s easily twice as loud as the Electar, and it’s not all that much quieter at a single watt. I had to bring the attentuator all the way down to the .1 setting — that would be one-fiftieth of the stock wattage — before I noticed a really big difference. The speaker may be a little dark-sounding for some tastes but it’s perfect for harp — none of the Small Cheesy Speaker Tone Syndrome here!

The size of the cabinet, the open-back design (the Electar was, for some inexplicable reason, a closed-back amp) and the powerful speaker that belies its size are a heck of a combination. Put this thing at ear level and get it away from a wall, and it could fill a lot of small clubs if your band isn’t too loud. It certainly should be enough for blues band practice and if I was playing this at an acoustic-trio blues gig, I’d probably have to use the one-watt setting.

3. I think it’s the prettiest amp in this category. The two-tone cabinet, the gold braid trim, the checkerboard grill cloth, the logo, the leather handle and faux leather Tolex covering all look great. It’s also nice to see an amp in this price range with metal corners.

4. Most importantly, it sounds great! It took perhaps two minutes of dialing before I was getting room-filling, splendid harp tones. The tone knob, unlike the tone knob on the Electar, really does significantly affect the sweep of the highs and lows. This definitely is my next small gigging amp.

I have a couple of knocks. First, I probably would have preferred to have the controls on the top of the amp instead of the front. They’re better-protected there and are easier to deal with on stage. On the front, where they’re not very recessed, they’re also susceptible to being banged around — or smashed off completely. The same goes for the plastic logo on the front — it just begs to be snapped off, like so many Gibson amp insignias from the 1950s and 1960s.

Second, you can’t get at the tubes on this amp without removing a protective cage, and you almost certainly won’t be able to get that cage off without removing the entire chassis. Now, it’s a lot easier to remove a chassis of this size than it is to yank out the chassis of a larger amp, but it’s still a pain. It’s particularly annoying to go through this because this amp only has two tubes (an EL84 and a 12AX7A). The Electar also used a cage but it was easily removed without yanking the chassis; many other competitors use simpler protection and have ready access to the tubes.

Third, the digital reverb seems mushy and “soft” to me. No one will mistake it for a Fender spring reverb, but frankly, it’s still good enough that I’d skip using a big part of my typical kit — a Danelectro DanEcho pedal.

Those are pretty small complaints, though, especially with an amp of this price tag. It’s cheap enough to buy, try and sell at a small loss if you don’t like it. But I love it and look forward to hauling it to a stage soon.

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