What is it?
Juketone has always been alive to the growing demand for smaller, more manageable and affordable valve-driven guitar amplifiers, but with the Trailblazer Head, it has officially joined the lunchbox club.
The lunchbox amplifier is a familiar format by now. Orange pioneered its contemporary usage, with the likes of Victory and Cornell offering boutique lunchbox heads, and EVH and PRS notable for their high-gain offerings. The concept dates back to the 1940s but has really found its stride now.
With its tough steel case, finished in a heavily-textured black paint, its perforated lid, chrome front panel and carry handle, the Trailblazer has the look of the industrial about it. Inspired by Orange’s Tiny Terror, it shares the simplified features set and no-fuss operation.
On the front panel you’ll find controls for gain, tone and volume, two heavy-duty toggle switches for mains and standby, with standby offering two output levels of a full 15 watts or 8 watts. On the rear you’ll find four-ohm and eight-ohm speaker outputs and a series effects loop.
This is an affordable amp, pretty much an entry-level valve head, and yet the quality is impressive.
Under the hood there are metal film resistors, auguring well for low-noise operation, with the brains of the amp organised on two printed circuit boards, the larger of the two housing most of the front-panel controls and valve sockets, the smaller housing rear panel outputs.
The mains and output transformers have a bit of heft about them. The valve setup sees a pair of Chinese Ruby 12AX7 preamp valves complemented by Ruby EL84 pentode output valves.
Performance and verdict
We ran the Trailblazer through a matching Juketone 1x10 open-backed cabinet with a Celestion Ten 30 speaker and used a Strat with Duncan Alnico Pros and a Les Paul with PAF-style humbuckers.
For an amp of modest size and a scaled-down control panel, the Trailblazer has a fair bit of range. There is a lot of gain here. It could certainly handle classic hard rock styles, and borderline metal when full bore. The accent to this tone is decidedly British, with that tight midrange that’s exaggerated a little by the 10-inch Celestion.
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This is great for the rock tones, but for clean tones we would be tempted to us a 1x12 cabinet to open things up a bit. The warm EL84 churn is never too far from the surface, adding heat and character to blues tones, and a bit of sparkle to indie cleans.
The tone control is interesting. At higher-gain settings, there is a more pronounced treble roll-off. With clean tones, there’s less impact on the top end. With the Strat’s single-coils, the Trailblazer responds nicely to picking dynamics; him them hard and the grit is right there. Tickle them and it’s clean.
At 15 watts, there is fair amount of headroom – enough for small gigs. For those, we’d definitely size up the speaker cabinet. At home, and for recording, that 10-inch speaker does a very respectable job and you’ll be glad of it when recording especially, as the slightly squashed midrange bump makes dialing in a tone for the mix a cinch.
The Trailblazer is a fun amplifier. Like the Tiny Terror, the Trailblazer’s simplicity is key to its appeal. With the turn of just a couple of dials you can transform your tone. And, of course, it’s affordable and portable – very on-trend.
MusicRadar verdict: The Trailblazer is an excellent all-valve option for beginners and those on a budget. Its simplicity is a big part of its charm, and there is a surprising amount of tones you can wring out of it.
Honkin' Harmonica / Juketone
- ORIGIN: China
- TYPE: Valve preamp and power amp
- OUTPUT: 15W switchable to 8W
- VALVES: 2x 12AX7, 2x EL84
- DIMENSIONS: 215 (h) x 308 (w) x 150mm (d)
- WEIGHT (kg/lb): 6.5/15
- CABINET: Steel
- CHANNELS: 1
- CONTROLS: Volume, tone, gain
- FOOTSWITCH: None
- ADDITIONAL FEATURES: Series effects loop, Hi/Lo power switching. Price includes free UK delivery
- OPTIONS: The Trailblazer’s ideal partner is the Juketone 1x10” tweed-covered cabinet, loaded with a Celestion Ten 30, priced at £155 delivered. There’s also a CelestionV30 1x12” option at £195 delivered
- RANGE OPTIONS: None
- CONTACT: Juketone