PRS HDRX 20 Head: What is it?
Ask any genie in the lamp what three wishes guitar players ask them for and those surveyed Family Fortunes-style will answer that what many, many guitar players want is to sound like Jimi Hendrix.
Not necessarily to play like him because even fantasies have to be tethered to some sense of reality, but just please, give us his electric guitar tone, and we’ll see what we can do about it. This opens up discussions about the rectitude of various vintages of the Fender Stratocaster, the Flying V, and just what transistors are populating the circuit in that fuzz pedal you bought. It also brings up the question of the guitar amp, and this we know, for Hendrix, like so many of his peers, means the Marshall Super Lead.
If you are so inclined, you could jump on Skyscanner and book a flight to Seattle, where one of Hendrix’s own Super Leads is on display at the Museum of Pop Culture. They won’t let you play it but maybe just standing there will yield a tone epiphany. They did, however, let Paul Reed Smith’s amp designer Doug Sewell put it under the microscope, and his conclusions are now writ large in PRS’s new HDRX line of amps that promise Holy Grail Hendrix tones so that the caterwauling throb of Hendrix’s Woodstock ’69 tones could come to your back garden – just add Uni-Vibe, fuzz, and a throaty wah pedal.
In recent months, there have been 100-watt and 50-watt HDRX models based on this amplifier, but this, the HDRX 20, is the most compact, the most affordable, and let’s be real here, the most manageable from power output POV yet.
Here you have 20 watts from a two-channel amplifier with both Treble and Bass channels running in parallel and always active. They’ve been internally jumpered, so to speak. Each of the amp’s preamps has its own dedicated volume control, with both sharing the bass, middle, treble and presence controls, and there is a master control so you can make full use of those preamp volume dials.
There is a small toggle switch to activate a Bright mode on the Treble channel, and another for the High-Mid Gain boost. Around the rear of the amplifier, you’ll find, well, not much. There are speaker outputs – five in total, two four ohm jacks wired in parallel, two eight ohm jacks wired in parallel, and one 16 ohm – plus external bias controls, the fuse, and the input for the power cable.
There is no footswitch. No effects loop. No onboard IR technology or any of that other 21st-century paraphernalia. The PRS finishing – top quality, classy as you’d expect – is house style. Under the hood, feature-wise, this is an amplifier with the late ‘60s Plexi tones on its mind. You’ve got a trio of JJ ECC803 long-plated 12AX7s in the preamp, and a pair of Russian Tung-Sol 5881 tubes in the power amp. The cabinet is constructed of plywood and the whole thing weighs in at 20 lbs.
PRS HDRX 20 Head: Performance and verdict
Driving a cabinet loaded with Celestion Creamback and Vintage 30 speakers, the HDRX 20 comes to life with little to no noise. The larger, and pricier, HDRX models are hand-wired in the US, this is made in Indonesia, but as with the SE line, the attention to detail and quality is first-rate.
Perhaps the first thing to do – and it’s only right – is to plug in a Strat and go searching for that juicy Hendrix sound. With the EQ serving both channels at once, the two preamp volume controls become all-important in dialling in a sound. While the middle control can take you from scooped spankiness to a sound with some more muscle around the gut, it’s the gain boost switch that accesses those gnarly Hendrix-isms, with more cut, more juice in the upper mids and more clarity.
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When it is off, the tone is a little smoother. The Bright switch only affects the Treble channel and has a more dramatic impact if you’ve got that treble dial rolled back, to begin with. When we switched to humbuckers, it added a high-end sheen, and it’s the sort of quick and efficient EQ solution when swapping from, say, a Strat to a guitar with darker-sounding pickups.
The master volume is a feature not afforded to the US models, but it is welcome here, allowing us to dial in a level of crunch at a decent volume. That said, you want to get that master volume past noon to let the amp really open up and hit its straps. Thereafter it sings, and it’ll sing a whole lot more if you stick a boost or a drive pedal in front of it.
There might not be an effects loop but those channels are voiced for low-to-medium gain and were friendly to whatever we put in front of it.
Everyone loves Plexi tones but good lord who can deal with that volume, who has the venue to open one up? Owning a Super Lead in 2022 is like owning a supercar in a built-up area. What Hendrix have made of this era? The stage volume limitations might have driven him nuts. The pedalboard options might have driven him to new heights. Maybe, just maybe, he might have looked to the HDRX series for his sound.
At least for the indoor venues, where there is a mic, quality pa, and all that jazz, this 20-watt option looks like a practical and inspiring choice. Sadly, Hendrix is no longer with us. Sadly, his abilities place him in another dimension.
But we can take some solace that amps such as this, which walk the line between JTM45 and Super Lead – fertile ground for blues-rock freaks – can at least bring some of those sounds within reach, and with our own pedalboards brought into play we can use this as a base camp for some sonic prospecting of our own, seeking out new guitar sounds with an abandon that Hendrix would approve of.
MusicRadar verdict: The HDRX 20 is another fine amp from PRS that could be considered ‘a Hendrix amplifier’ if that’s the sound you are chasing, but as a time-capsule Marshall-inspired amplifier, with a typically astute modern build, it is a practical and affordable platform for blues and rock guitarists to craft a sound with.
PRS HDRX 20 Head: The web says
"With its medium-low gain channels, the HDRX 20 is a great platform for pedals of all types, but there’s no effects loop, so pedal users will need to place them between the guitar and the input jack, or use a loadbox with a loop or line out, between amplifier and speaker. PRS recommends the Koch LB120 II for the larger non-master volume HDRX 50 and HDRX 100 heads, although there are other suitable products available with varying features."
PRS HDRX 20 Head: Hands-on demos
PRS HDRX 20 Head: Specifications
- ORIGIN: Indonesia
- TYPE: Tube amp head
- OUTPUT: 20W RMS
- TUBES: 3x JJ ECC803, 2x Russian Tung-Sol 5881
- DIMENSIONS: 440 (w) x 230 (d) x 235mm (h)
- WEIGHT (kg/lb): 9/20
- CABINET: Plywood
- CHANNELS: 2, parallel, permanently on
- CONTROLS: Bass volume, treble volume, master volume, treble, mid, bass, presence, high mid gain switch, bright switch
- FOOTSWITCH: None
- ADDITIONAL FEATURES: External bias adjust points on rear panel
- CONTACT: PRS Guitars