John Suhr makes top shelf guitars and amps, all high dollar stuff and all highly respected among lovers of boutique gear. The Badger 18 is definitely in the Marshall camp, IMO it’s basically a plexi-ish Mashall circuit boiled down to a single input, with an 18 watt power amp and incorporating a Master Volume (labeled “Drive”) and a “Power Scaling” system licensed from Kevin O’Connor of London Power fame. Power Scaling let’s you reduce the output level of the power amp so you can get the tubes to breakup/distort at lower volume levels.

Suhr Badger 18

This amp was again being tried out by Steve Loeffler of Kingtime, who brought it to band rehearsal to try it out with the band. I took the opportunity to plug in and check it out, as well as listen to Steve try various settings (Steve is looking for a small amp to replace his Fender Blues Jr for rehearsal and small venue gigs. Nothing wrong with the Jr, he’s just looking to upgrade to something that might work better for him, and not be like 10 million other guitar players out there).

Looking the amp over, it’s just gorgeous, Suhr used top shelf components throughout and it’s a beautiful piece of gear. It just exudes quality. But what about the sound? The tone is outstanding. Steve was playing as I walked into the room and the chords and notes were beautiful, full range, warm round tones; though it leaned very heavily toward the bottom end & low mid range. This was a head/cab set up, with a ported closed back speaker cabinet. The cabinet accentuated the low end thump. But it also projects the sound quite a bit, which is very different than an open back cabinet where the sound exits from both the front & the back and fills the room better. Steve standing 2 feet in front of the amp complained that he couldn’t hear it very well, while Gary and I sitting about 10 feet away heard it loud and clear.

In the mix of the band it did not really cut through very well, to be honest. And that is part of the complaint Steve had about not hearing it. The bottom end is so strong it’s competing in the mix for a lot of the same territory as the bass. Even with the Bass control rolled way down, and eventually all the way off it still had a lot of low end thump. It wasn’t “woofy”, the low end wasn’t loose and farty, it was nice and tight, it just was very prominent.

I plugged my Les Paul Special with P90’s into it, and I loved it. It has that classic Marshall tone in spades, at volume levels that don’t make your ears bleed. But in the end, because of the emphasis of low end, and the closed back cab, Steve wasn’t happy with it. And at the cost of over $2k, you got to be happy. So in the end, it’s going back. Steve finished rehearsal using his Blues Jr, and prefers it to the Badger. Just compare the two side by side and the Badger kills the Blues Jr. But in the mix of the band, the Blues Jr more than holds its own. So much for boutique gear. That’s 2 strikes. I think he’s gonna try some more high end amps, he was talking about Tone King next.

And I just want to touch on the Power Scaling feature before wrapping this up. IMO, meh, not much to get worked up over. Here’s the problem with it, as you drop the power, the tubes start to really get distorted, more so than you really want, it’s not crunchy, it’s blah, kind of fuzzy and mushy distortion. That is normal and well known reaction with Power Scaling. To combat this they add the Drive control, which is basically a post phase inverter master volume, so you can turn down the drive and clear up some of that mud. Well, if you’re gonna install the Master Volume, then why do you need the Power Scaling? Technically, the PS allows you to get power tube distortion, while the MV allows preamp/phase inverter distortion. Is there a difference? Yes, but it’s pretty slight. A good post phase inverter master volume really gets you about 90% + of the sound of a cranked non-MV amp, the secret is in driving the phase inverter into clipping, that’s where the magic happens anyway. And with EL84 power tubes, they break up at such low inputs, well, IMO the power scaling really just adds complexity beyond the value it provides. Just my opinion, yours may vary.

Looking to get the most out of your gear? If you are in Orange County, Mark Hamrock at http://hamrockmusic.com can help you get to the next level in your playing!

[schema type=”review” url=”http://hamrockmusic.com/” name=”Hamrock Music Instruction” description=”Guitar lessons in Orange County Ca with Mark Hamrock. Learn about everything guitar and bass related including gear.” rev_name=”Suhr Badger 18″ rev_body=”Guest author Richard Hassebrock reviews the Suhr Badger 18 guitar amplifier.” author=”Richard Hassebrock” pubdate=”2014-09-08″ ]