Either we're getting taller or amps are getting smaller. Turns out it's the latter, and high-end German manufacturer Engl is right on trend, shrinking its valve technology into the Gig Master 15 (here with a G10N-40 cab).
It's a king-sized £597 for this squat setup (including cab at £161), but there's justification on the spec sheet, with ECC83/ EL84 preamp/power valves, twin channels and a 'Power Soak' that lets you juggle overdrive and output to perfection. All in a chassis small enough to make you feel like Godzilla.
"Engl has shrunken its valve technology into a chassis small enough to make you feel like Godzilla."
The Gig Master 15 isn't as stripped as some valve amps, and a big advantage for live work is the option of setting dedicated gain levels on clean and lead channels (although we'd have liked the Z-4 footswitch, another £77, thrown in).
It's not just the compact dimensions that give this setup a 'take-anywhere' vibe; there's a gig-able 15-watt grunt, while the Power Soak drops the output to five watts, one watt or even 'speaker off' mode.
It's not a radical departure from the 'textbook' valve amp tone, but there's no doubting its sonic character. The clean voice has a warm, brown, full-sounding vibe that's not a million miles from a classic Marshall.
It's got useful headroom, but the best results are dug out when you edge up the gain to allow a hint of dirt into the mix when you hit hard. Nudge the mid boost, meanwhile, and you've got a world-beating rhythm tone.
It can be a battle to get valve amps to supply defined distortion, and that's true here: fat, frayed, Zeppelin-sized riffs tumble from the speakers, but it took a fully pumped Treble and a Tele at the bridge pickup to get that 'hot-knife-through-butter' lead tone that's imperative in a busy mix.
Despite Engl counting Megadeth and Shadows Fall among its clientele, we have to say that you'll need an outboard pedal to really make this amp deliver skull-splitting modern metal tones. Suddenly, that price isn't looking quite so 'micro'…
Valve amps are a lifestyle choice: they're heavy, relatively expensive and lack the presets and effects that help cover all your bases in a fledgling band. That said, if raw tone is your prime concern, they're still unbeatable, and this is a damn fine example, giving that classic, warm tone, and sweetening the deal with tons of features that make it almost as practical as a solid state.
Factor in the cab and the footswitch and it's a heavyweight purchase, but when those valves glow orange, the pleasure you'll get from the Gig Master's undistilled valve tone should be justification enough.