Judging by all the chat online the Bugera V22 has become a very hot talking point. That’s no surprise given what it offers for the price - so you’d think there would be plenty of reviews knocking around. Alas the big names - magazines like Guitarist - don’t seem to cover Bugera gear.
One expects this is either due to pressure from manufacturers of rival gear or a misguided belief that Bugera clones gear in a way you’d never see from Marshall, PRS, Blackstar et al. It would be sad if either of things are true. But what of the Bugera V22 itself? At first glance it certainly looks familiar. The styling is clearly influenced - if not downright copied - from Matchless. The control layout and options owe quite a bit to Peavey’s Classic 30. Yet in terms of tone the Bugera V22 is clearly its own beast.
As Behringer’s Australian sales manager Gary Compson explains, "[The Bugera V22] has a clean channel, a distortion channel, a reverb control and not much else to distract you from getting to the business of making music. It’s not a clone either. It has it’s own sound, which is somewhere between a Fender Deluxe and a Vox AC30 - and that’s a pretty good place to be."
Construction For a £250 combo this is a solid beast and quite a heavy one too. The cabinet is most likely particleboard, but it’s tough and well covered and finished. The speaker is a 12" vintage voiced model from Bugera’s own range. Meanwhile the chassis is held firmly in place by eight screws - four on the back and four on top. Covering the amp’s five valbes is a cage - which I chose to remove for easier access to the valves. The easiest way of doing this is to remove the chassis first - getting the cage off is tougher by the more direct route as the speaker gets in the way.
Overral build quality seems to be rather good and the reviewed amp had no loose screws or similar fit or finish issues. The fitted tubes/valves are not of the best quality. In triode mode the amp tended to have a pronounced hum - which disappeared when the EL84 power valves were switched to relatively inexpensive Electro Harmonix models. However I’ve had no real issue with the stock pre-amp tubes. The two 12AX7 and one one 12AT7 (in the phase inverter position) sound pretty good. I have swapped out the 12AX7s for Electro Harmonix offerrings but there’s no major shift in tone. I also experimented with a GrooveTubes 5751M in the V1, V2 and PI positions but found it a little lifeless. Your mileage may vary with tube swaps but I’d suggest at least swapping out the power tubes. Otherwise there’s very little to complain about given the low cost of the amp.
Controls The from of the amp features two inputs - normal and bright. Bugera’s suggestion is that the latter is for more powerful humbucking pickups. My experience is that you should leave it alone as it tends to remove much of the bottom end from the tone. The normal input is fine for most useage. Following the inputs we have chickedhead knobs for clean channel volume, overdrive channel gain, overdrive volume, bass mid and treble EQ, master volume, presence and reverb. Then we have a power indicator LED followed by standby and power switches. Between the clean volume and overdrive gain knobs is a button to change channels with a similar button between mid and treble EQ for switching the mid-boost in.
There’s no switch for the reverb on the amp itself. I really do like the chickenhead knobs, they certainly offer more fine control than the rotary knobs on the Blackstar HT-5 - a similarly priced tube amp. All the pots are smooth and respondive and unlike many amps fine tuning at lower volume on the master control is a breeze. Around the back of the chassis you’ll find send and return sockets for the effects loop, a socket for the foot controller, two speaker outs, a speaker inpedence switch offering 4/8/16 ohms and a pentode/triode switch. The latter cuts the power to around half. The usage of this control is not really about providing a lower volume for practice, but instead offering different tonal options. The triode mode is more compressed, while the pentode mode offers a more chiming ring. As the amp is easy to tame in both 22 watt and 13 watt modes the choice on which to use is down to taste given your situation, both are loud enough to gig.
Sounds Once the tubes are warmed up and you are ready to play you’ll be surprised just how good this £250 guitar amplifier sounds. The clean channel is simple beautiful, particularly in pentode mode and offers lush and bright tones. This is also an amp that loves pedals and putting drives in front of this clean channel works very well. Some gorgeous light crunch can be had by adding a boost or transparent overdrive in front of the clean channel. Meanwhile you’ll be surprised how well this supposedly vintage-based amp copes with some brutal filth lined up before it. I’ve tried running a Marshall Bluesbreaker II in OD mode into a Marshall Guvnor GV2 running at high gain and have been very impressed with the resulting metal crunch tones.
The V22 is an amp that has something of a Marshall midrange to it already and putting these Marshall dirt pedals in front only enhanced that. There’s plenty of headroom to be had on the clean channel, in fact you’ll really have to push it hard to get it to break up. When Bugera says clean channel, it clearly means it. However if you want the same voice with some natural pre-amp tube breakup then the overdrive channel comes to the rescue. In terms of tone it sounds exactly like the clean channel on very low gain and allows you to continue the same tonal journey as an extension of the clean channel. There’s a surprising amount of gain on offer and bluesier and classic rock tones come quite early in the gain knobs rotation. At full chat you’re not really getting metal tones from the overdrive channel but it is cooking along pretty well.
At full gain you really don’t need much from a dirt pedal to push it along into hard rock territory. The V22 dispels the myth you can’t play a good tube amp at neighbour friendly volumes. However there is a caveat to that. At lower volumes the overdrive channel does sound rather fizzy (less so with my change to EH preamp valves). This over-brightness or fizziness seems very hard to tune out via the amp’s own EQ. However engaging the amp’s mid boost controls solves this problem completely - pushing the midrange and making the fizzness all but disappear. For playing at home you may as well leave the mid boost on all the time. At higher volumes the fizziness disappears and use of the mid boost is then down to taste. The lower gain settings have a lovely Plexi-like midrange quality to them, for some classic blues/rock noodling. And while the higher gain settings are somewhat more generic, the tone is conistently strong, smooth and pleasing to the ears. So while I do have a range of dirt medals this channel still gets a work out.
The V22 is a very bright amp and I’ve found myself using much less treble and presence than I have on other amps. But the EQ controls do have a wide sweep and can tame very bright guitars and tones with a combination of these EQ controls and the mid boost. The reverb is a digital one which sounds good at lower levels for colouring your sound. At higher settings it isn’t so pleasing - but not unusable - and I have found that a lower setting works best combined with longer reverbs from outboard effects. There are no complaints about the FX loop and I’ve used it with a Line6 M13 stompbox modeller to great effect, both solely within the V22’s loop and using the four cable method. Just as the V22 likes pedals at the front end, it sounds lush with delays and verbs in the loop.
Final Thoughts The Bugera V22 is a very good amp and just the sort of product that will have big names scared. Marshall for example now sells a line of Vietnam made tube amps - the MA series - but compared to these Chinese built amps from Bugera they seem very expensive. Bugera seems to be aiming to prove that the major players' claims that we have to pay a lot of money just to wire some vacuum tubes together is a lot of old nonsense. This is technology from the middle of the last century and given that your PlayStation 3 was put together in China there’s no sense getting snobby about amps constructed there. The V22 is by no means perfect. I’d have liked a reverb control on the amp rather than just on the two button footswitch. I’d also have liked a control for the mid boost on footswitch too. Having to press a button on the amp for a solo boost is asking a bit much. And in an ideal world I’d really like Bugera to offer the V22 in head form rather than just a combo.
Otherwise it’s hard to find fault with an amp that looks so good, is so easy to use and sounds so good at such a mad low price. For those looking to play at home it really is perfectly usable at lower volumes even in pentode mode. The clean channel is certainly more tonally complex, warm and likeable thasn the one offered on the Blackstar HT-5. Once you’ve figured how to tame the brightness or fizziniess of the drive channel with the mid boost it’s just as usable at lower volumes as the clean channel. Meanwhile there’s plenty of power and clean headroom on offer for gigging. Behringer has certainly put a few noses out of joint with its Bugera range of amplifiers. Many of the other amps in the range are clear clones of famous amps such as the Peavey 6505 and the Marshall JCM900. Leaving aside those companies’ propensity for cloning anyway, Bugera’s models tend to come with more features than the originals and at a much more wallet friendly price.
That’s not to say the Bugera range aren’t budget amps, the cabinet materials and quality of the stock tubes show an amp made to a low price. But what’s important is the tone on offer and the gorgeous sounds available from the V22 for a mere £250 make many rival amp makers seem like they are making fools of us. If the rest of the Bugera range is as good as the V22 then those rivals really do have something to worry about. If you’re after a vintage voiced all-tube amp for home practice and gigging then you really should give the Bugera V22 a try alongside the usual suspects. Ignore Bugera at your peril. You can check out more details, images and the manual of the Bugera V22 over on Bugera's website.
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