November 2003 - Traynor Custom Valve20

The current crop of 15 watt guitar amps is typically divided into three camps: inexpensive solid state "practice" amps, stripped down tube amps, and super expensive boutique amps. One of the few exceptions to the rule is the Traynor YCV20 Custom Valve 20, a feature rich 15 watt tube amp at an affordable price.

In The Market I recently began teaching guitar again and was in the market for an amp portable enough to carry one-handed to lessons. I also play regular gigs for a church singles group in a room that holds about 250 people. Since we use electronic drums and run the guitars through a PA, I don't need the power of a 50 or 100 watt amp. In addition, I wanted an amp I could crank at reasonable volumes in my home studio. A 15 watt tube amp seemed like the ideal choice to fill all these needs.

The Search Being a long-time tube amp player (Mesa/Boogie Mark II), and not wanting to try out numerous solid state "starter" amps, I decided to explore my tube amp options. The Boutique amps were out of the question due to price alone. Gibson's Goldtone Combo was also little more than I wanted to pay for a single channel amp. Fender offered two single channel models at attractive prices, but I really was looking for a two channel amp. Ashdown offers a two channel 15 watt amp with reverb, but it has a 10" speaker and is about $100 more than the Traynor YCV20. I had heard good things about Traynor amps, so I decided to give one a try.

A Little History Traynor amps were popular Canadian built amp back in the 60's and 70's. They never gained the notoriety of Fender or Marshall amps, but those who owned them didn't care. They were built tough and sounded great. A few years back, Yorkville (maker of high quality studio monitors) resurrected the Traynor name and created a new line of tube amps worthy of the Traynor name.

Features The YCV20 Custom Valve 20 is loaded with features including two foot-switchable channels (the footswitch is included) with independent gain and volume controls; a boost switch on the lead channel and a bright switch on the clean channel; three tone controls; spring reverb; an effects loop; a 12" Celestion speaker; and a standby switch for extended tube life. This is one decked out 15 watt tube amp.

Looks Let's be honest. Looks are important. The Les Paul and the Stratocaster would not be as popular as they are today if they weren't so cool looking. The Traynor is cool looking also, sporting a sort of retro look with an arched cabinet face, flying wing logo, and chicken beak knobs. The amp is covered in black vinyl with a silver grill (there is also a red wine vinyl option available.) The controls are recessed on the top rear of the amp -- exactly where they should be on a small amp.

Construction The amp cabinet is birch plywood with a heavy gauge, perforated speaker grill for protection. There are also chrome plated corners to prevent scuffs. Inside the cabinet, everything is laid out neatly, and a protective metal plate covers the power tubes. Traynor obviously knows how to build a solid amp. Three Sovtek 12AX7A preamp tubes and 2 EL84 power tubes power the YCV20. It has regulated power supply and a special DC powered filament supply on the preamp tubes that help reduce hum. While the claims of "hum free" operation are perhaps a bit of marketing hype, the YCV20 is truly quiet for a tube amp. I have certainly heard solid state amps that put out more hiss than the Traynor. .....The amp features a detachable power cable so you don't have to stuff it in the back of the amp or loop it around the carrying handle. It also has a long style Accutronics Reverb with dual springs.

In Use The YCV20 is a breeze to use. Simply adjust the gain and volume controls for each channel to get the tone you want (and match volume levels) and you're good to go. Although you do have to remember that channel 1 is the overdrive/lead channel and channel 2 is the clean channel. I initially expected the opposite. I am not sure of the reasons for this, but I quickly adjusted to it. .....The footswitch is also a bit confusing at first. There are two switches numbered 1 and 2 with LED lights above them. However, the switches do not correspond to the two channels. The "1" switch, switches between channels - LED on is channel 1 and LED off is channel 2. The "2" switch turns the boost on and off. Once I understood this, using the footswitch was no problem. The footswitch is silent - there are no pops when changing channels. Yes! There are also buttons on the control panel that allow you to switch channels or turn the bright and boost functions on and off if you don't want to use the footswitch. .... For 15 watts, the YCV20 is surprisingly loud. It's not loud enough to compete with a pounding acoustic drum kit, but it is probably loud enough for anything else. It worked great when I used it at smaller room gigs miked and run through a PA. And it is perfect for giving lessons, as I can get clean and overdrive sounds at levels that no one objects to. It also records nice. I was able to captured some nice tones using a Sure SM57.

The Sound How does the YCV20 sound? In a word: great. Don't expect high gain recto metal madness, but everything from warm clean tones to tasty crunch can be dialed up. I used my Gibson Les Paul Custom and my (Japanese) Fender Stratocaster (with Kinman pickups) to test the amp. .....I would characterize the clean channel as "warm." It took a little of the brightness off my Strat and made my Les Paul sound thick. However engaging the Bright switch added some sparkle to my Les Paul and made my Strat very bright. The tone controls are very useful and made it easy to tailor the amp to each guitar. The clean channel starts to break up as the gain control approaches 8 or 9 depending on the guitar used. .....The Overdrive/Lead channel has a nice crunch that fits tonally somewhere between a Fender and a Marshall. The boost switch adds a little more gain and volume to your tone making it useful for solos. The distortion tends to become a little harsh for my tastes as it reaches the higher gain settings. …..In my opinion, this amp is better suited for crunching than for screaming. Think late 60's, early 70's rock. The spring reverb is nice but nothing special. It works fine at lower settings, but anything over 3 sounded "sproingy." Plus, higher setting also added a bit of noise to the signal. It''s pretty much a "set at 1 1/2 and forget it" type of thing.

Final Thoughts The Traynor YCV20 Custom Valve 20 packs tons of features and lots of tone into a small, portable package. After spending some quality time with it, I think prefer the YCV20 with the single coil pickups on my Strat (my Les Paul seems to prefer 6L6 tubes.) Those wanting to compete with acoustic drums may want to check out one of Traynor''s higher wattage models, but those looking for a full featured, low watt tube amp at a "working man''s" price should definitely check out the YCV20.

Copyright ©1999-2003 Mark Starlin

-Mark Starlin, Better Guitar Web Site