For many players, 15 watts is a sweet spot. Just enough horsepower to get some tubes humming and a speaker thumping. Amps in this range are favorites at home, on stage, and in the studio. However, one issue that often comes up with 15-watt boxes is how their gain and headroom structures (mis)handle pedals.
This week, Dan & Mick went beyond the bounds of the main amps featured on TPS. They went a little Orange. Classic yet modern, both unmistakable to the eye and ear, Orange has a place alongside other major players in the amplifier market. (If you’re looking for a bio of Orange amps, head over to our Sunday Papers blog, where we offer up a weekly dose of easy reads on guitar and gear history).
One amp in the Orange lineup that is garnering an increasing amount of attention is the OR15. This week on TPS, Dan & Mick put the box through its paces. If you’re thinking this might be the dose of vitamin C your arsenal needs, what do you need to know about its sonic structure and ability to tag team with stompboxes?
The Profile of the Orange Amps OR15
The Orange OR15 is a boutique voiced, all-valve (EL384/12AX7) amplifier head offering sparkling cleans through gritty Brit-style gain. Access for effects comes through either the front end or a tube bufferedloop in the back door (more on that in a minute). To meet the needs of different playing settings, the amp is switchable from 15 to 7 watts. Visually, the amp is a throwback to the 1972 “pics only” hieroglyphs on the control panel. While Orange pioneered the lunchbox-style amp head trend with the Tiny Terror (for more on that, see here), the OR15 is a small-wattage sound all its own. In addition to the sonic slam dunk of the OR15, Mick summed up that the amp’s assets include a reasonable price point, sensible wattage, and compact size.
Assets of the Tube Driven Effects Loop
If you’ve been following TPS for any time now, you’ll know that “effects loop” is pretty much a four letter word. In general, Dan & Mick are fans of loading pedals into the front end of amplifiers. In this case, however, the tube buffered loop caught their attention.
To test the sounds of effects on either side of the loop, Dan & Mick ran a Walrus ARP-87 through the front and compared it with a Strymon Brigadier in the loop. While there were perceivable variations in the sounds, both Dan & Mick agreed “there’s not a million miles of difference.” Where things got interesting was when the amp’s overdrive was factored into the mix.
At this point, signal chain considerations came into the equation. As Dan noted, “the front end is basically limiting, so even with a low delay going into the front end that signal seems louder because the amp is compressing…whereas when that compressed signal is going into the loop you’ve got more control over it.” This came down to a simple pedal order question. Typically, delays don’t come before overdrives. As Mick noted, “if you put your delay into the front end of your amp [and using the amp as the main source of gain] you’re putting it before the overdrive.”
The lesson here? Experiment with your gear and what sounds best to your ear. When it comes to the OR15, you’ve got a solid front end to contend with and a warm, reliable effects loop to tuck some tone in the back if needed.
Thoughts on Stacking Overdrive Sources
Depending on your preferences for building overdrive sounds—amp drive, pedal sounds, or some combination in between—the OR15 could be an intriguing choice. As Mick noted after the first few strums, the onset of get in the OR15 is pretty quick and there’s a feeling that “there’s not much headroom…but it does get loud so there is some headroom.”
Part of this impression, it seems, related to the type of guitar and pickups used. For instance, with the high output sounds of a Les Paul the amp sprinted toward the edge at a good pace but with a single-coil Stratocaster it lingered in sparkly cleans for longer. In both cases, dialing back the amp’s volume allowed for control of this onset. So on its own, the OR15’s gain structure was both dynamic and responsive.
When partnered up with some classic overdrive pedals, the OR15 was somewhat of a surprise. At only 15 watts and with a pre/power amp section already churning out crunch, you might expect the amp to fizzle out with pedals. Two of the bunch, the Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini and Fulltone OCD brought the mids and rock, respectively.
With a foundation on the OR15 for an open yet edgy gain, the Tube Screamer added a bit of honk to the Orange’s native overdrive. As the resident TPS Tube Screamer advocate, Mick commented, “That would definitely work as a solo boost because you get all that extra mid [frequency], but there’s already a good amount of mid in there anyways so it starts to sound a bit vocally.” Even with this doubled up mid-push, Dan noted the value of the pedal was that “it’s working with the sound of the amp.”
On the edgier end of the spectrum, the OCD weighed in for a tag team with the OR15. Dan reflected, “There’s been very few rigs we’ve plugged the OCD into and it didn’t sound fantastic.” No surprise here, the OCD didn’t disappoint. It neither conflicted with the natural drive of the OR15 nor collapsed under the modest headroom of the amp. As Mick concluded: “That’s ace. If you’ve got an OR15, go out and buy an OCD.” Okay, done.
So whether you need a new (or another) delay or overdrive to make the most of your Orange amp, or an Orange amp to get even more out of your pedals, head over to Riff City online or in store and we’ll prescribe the perfect dose of vitamin C for your rig!
TPS Rig Rundown:
Guitars: Gibson Memphis 1958 ES-335, Fender Custom Shop 1963 Telecaster, Gibson 1958 Les Paul Standard, Fender American Vintage ’62 Stratocaster, Fender Custom Shop 1952 Telecaster.
Amps: Orange OR15 head.