Another day, another miniature valve amp head. The Little Monster comes courtesy of Mooer and offers no frills, one-channel valve tone to die for.
Back in the mists of time, before some genius came up with the idea of the master volume control, the only way to get lovely distortion out of your amp was to turn it up. That's great for playing live, but not so great when your mum's just got back from the night shift and needs her sleep. But that was then and this is now, and we are truly living in a golden age for tiny low-power amp heads.
"We are truly living in a golden age for tiny low-power amp heads"
One such head is the Mooer Little Monster AC. It's inspired by Vox's AC Series amplifiers: the classic tone machines that have powered The Beatles, Rory Gallagher, Brian May and others.
It's hardly packed with features, though. You only get one channel, there's no effects loop or auxiliary input for an mp3 player and the tone controls amount to just two switches. But what you do get is oodles of sweet, sweet valve tone, even at very low volume levels.
Played clean, it's transparent and responsive, allowing the sound of the guitar to come through clearly. True, there's no tone control, but chances are there's at least one on your guitar anyway.
The Thin/Mellow switch is as close to a tone control as it gets, but it produces only a very subtle shift in colour. Flicking it on and off is like going between a humbucker and a P-90, or between the neck single coil on a Strat and the neck and middle pickups together, but much less pronounced.
"The Top Boost switch kicks the amp's arse to make it brasher, louder, toppier and a lot more cutting"
What couldn't be described as subtle is the Top Boost switch, which kicks the amp's arse to make it brasher, louder, toppier and a lot more cutting. It would make a fantastic boost for a solo, if only there were a footswitch included...
With the gain cranked up, there's more shine and shimmer, but with a compelling crunchiness. Plugging in our Gibson Les Paul, the Little Monster kicked out a nice Neil Young bite, but it really comes alive with single coils. The sound we got using a Fender Stratocaster was utterly addictive: jangly, trebly but never harsh and just made for arpeggios. Again, engaging the Top Boost with the gain turned up is like stepping right into Brian May's shoes. It's bloody lovely.
The gain control will only take your so far, however - you won't be playing the riff to Pantera's Walk any time soon. Even the mid-heavy rock roar of Angus Young or Jimmy Page is still a little bit out of reach. Coupled with the limited controls, this is one of our few criticisms: it's not very versatile.
However, a good stompbox is all you need to change that. The other drawback is that for similar money you could get a feature-packed Blackstar HT-5 or similar offerings from Orange and Fender, not to mention Vox itself. But if we're going by pure tone alone, then the Little Monster more than deserves to hold its own among such distinguished company.