August 2001 - Guitarist Choice - Traynor Custom Valve 40

Signaling the long overdue return of Canada's best-known amp name, this Traynor combo offers a forward-looking vibe by Nick Guppy.

After what seems like an eternity of reviewing digital modeling amplifiers, it's a welcome return to valves this month. It's also a welcome return for another old and well respected name.

In many ways, Traynor's history mirrors that of Orange. Both started in the mid-sixties, making their respective names in the burgeoning festival-related public address system market of the time, as well as producing musical instrument amplification. Both companies have a reputation for high quality products built to take years of use and abuse in their strides.

After a long hiatus, Traynor's parent company Yorkville Sound has received the name for this valve combo, which combines modern-day features with Traynor's traditional indestructible build quality.

TRAYNOR Custom Valve 40 TEST RESULT

Build quality*****
Features*****
Sound*****
Valve for money*****

As soon as you pick the YCV40 up by its carry strap, you realize that the little Traynor is a bit special: for such a diminutive cabinet, it's a seriously heavy amp. There's no clipboard here; we're talking multi-laminate birch ply throughout. Right behind the silver spackle grille cloth is a unique Traynor feature in the form of a heavy perforated steel grille which ensures the Celestion Red Label which stay intact, even if someone should try to deliberately kick it in.

This kind of attention to detail continues to the circuit itself. Although PCB based with auto-inserted components, the impression on an amp that's going to last a long, long time.

Traynor have put a few interesting into this design too. Surprisingly, the preamp tubes have a DC filament supply - something only a few manufacturers use - which eliminates one of the most common noise problems in a guitar amp. The preamp stages are where most of the gain is applied, and if hum from an AC healer line should leak into the audio, it get amplifies with the rest of the signal. You can minimize this by the careful placing of heater wires, or using valves with spiral heater filaments like Sovtek's 12AX7LPS. But changing the heater supply to DC is the only way to bypass this problem completely.

The YCV40 also has a couple of interesting elements to its power stage. Firstly, there's a current limiting circuit, which means you get the dynamic, 'squashy' sound of a valve rectifier at higher volume levels whilst at the same time retainer the benefits of silicon reliability.

Secondly, the power valves - a pair of Sovtek 5881's - are cathode biased. Normally, bias is controlled by applying a negative voltage to the grid which sits between the cathode and plate - this slows down the flow of electrons to a trickle when no signal is present, but under certain conditions you can make stray electrons form a cloud between the cathode and plate.

As electrons are negatively charged, they then act as an automatic bias control. This means the amp is less efficient at delivering watts, but it also makes bias adjustment a thing of the past, and you no longer have to rely on matched valves to maintain peak performance.

The YCV40's controls are easy to understands and use. We get two channels with separate bass, mid and treble knobs, a master volume and gain on the lead channel, which also gets a gain boost switch, and a single volume control with a bright switch on the clean channel. There are two global control - one for presence, and one for the long -pan Accutronics reverb spring - and a channel select switch is there for those times when you don't need the supplied two-button footswitch.

On the back panel, there's a pair of send/return jacks for the series effects loop, and underneath the chassis we find a pair of loudspeaker jacks, so you can hook the amp up to larger cabs if you need to.

In fact, the amp is only let down by its cosmetics. The stick-on PVC logo really doesn't fit in with the YCV's heavyweight build quality; it also might be worthwhile for Traynor to consider sourcing a different speaker cloth to better define their brand - the silver sparkle will always be associated by most guitarists with a certain Californian company.

SOUNDS: With the main switched on, the jeweled pilot light glows yellow; prod the standby button and it changes to red, indicating all systems are go. Immediately, you can't help but notice the difference in background noise. Compared to some so-called professional amps the YCV40 is quiet and virtually hum-free - the DC filament supply really does makes quite a difference.

The lead channel has loads of gain, even without using the boost function. There's something for everyone here, from stinging blues riffs, through to a singing, Santana-esque mega-drive with the boost engaged. With the gain full up though, things tended to get a little splattery and out of focus - we found the idea gain position was between six and seven boosted and non-boosted use.

The YCV's clean channel comes over like a pumped-up Tweed Deluxe with glassy but not piercing highs and a really satisfying aggressive 'chunk' with the volume control would up. Singlecoils worked best from this amp - most 'hot' humbuckers will tend to make the midrange a little too mushy.

We had the most fun with a Telecaster where the YCV40's clean channel brought the distinctive bite of the Tele's pickups to life, especially with volume control turned way up to maximize the dynamic punch effect added by the current-limiting circuit. There's almost enough tone coming from this clean channel to render the Fender/Boogie voiced lead channel redundant.

As Steve Wright, Traynor's UK distributor, observed: "There are enough amps out there today with all the bells and whistles anybody could want. The idea behind the YCV40 was to make a simple, cost-effective design that put tone and reliability first. It's a real 'player's' amp, for people who want experience a highly responsive amplifier without using loads of effects to bolster the sound."

And there's no doubt having hammered the YCV40 relentlessly for as long as possible, that Traynor has succeeded. The YCV kicks out a ton of tone through that single 12-inch Celestion - the 'Seventy 80' Red Label driver might be a budget unit, but it doesn't sound like one.

VERDICT

The YCV40 may not be quite as refined or focused as some 'boutique' amplifiers, but it has loads of character and individuality - something that many modern amps sacrifice. The 500 pound price bracket is highly competitive for amp builders, and the current preoccupation with digital modeling and on-board effects has put a bewildering range of products in front of potential buyers. However, only a few of these middleweight amps stand out as individual characters and you can certainly add the Traynor to that list.

It's extremely satisfying to see a well-respected back-line name like Traynor return with a new design that delivers professional build quality and tone at a price that most people can afford, without sacrificing any limbs. If you play blues, rock, roots, or country then you must try this one you. Like us, you could find the little Traynor's big tone will win you over before you know it.

-Nick Guppy, Guitarist (UK)