Small amps have been something of an un-secret secret weapon for years. I’m sure we’ve all heard the stories about Jimmy Page using small combos in the early days of Led Zeppelin. There’s just something about a small amp pushed hard that sounds great on recordings, and it’s with this in mind that Peavey designed the Windsor Studio.
This little Class A, 15-watt screamer arrives from the factory with two 12AX7 preamp tubes and one EL34 power-amp tube, but can also accommodate 6L6GC, 6550, 6CA7, KT88 and KT66 octal power tubes, as well as variations on those types. Controls include preamp volume, master volume, three-band EQ, footswitchable effects loop (with the in and out jacks located on the front panel – very studio-friendly) and a single 12” Peavey Blue Marvel loudspeaker. The footswitchable boost effectively acts as a second channel by increasing the level of the preamp, either overdriving the power amp for more distortion or for a simple volume boost for solos.
If that’s not enough control for ya, or the volume is too loud for recording with a baby in the next room or something, the Windsor Studio includes Peavey’s new Power Sponge output attenuator, which lowers the power output of the amplifier while preserving tone. Further boosting this amp’s stock as a recording guitarist’s Swiss army knife, there’s a transformer-balanced XLR direct output with microphone simulation, so you can plug directly into a mixing desk live or in the studio.
Although the ability to switch out different power tubes is a great feature, I was glad to see that this amp arrived EL34-loaded, as it’s my personal favourite. I just love that warm, compressed vibe from a cranked EL34. You can also get a rather decent amount of drive out of the preamp. It’s no grindcore amp, but there’s enough gain for most varieties of rock and a few metal styles. Combining your ideal preamp gain level with the punch and whomp of the overdriven power section (with the volume tamed to taste by the Power Sponge), you can attain a very responsive, warm lead tone with great sustain. The open back cabinet adds a nice midrange throw, and while the bass is a little lacking, this isn’t really an issue either in the studio or on stage because you’re likely to trim the low frequencies to allow room for the kickdrum and the bass guitar anyway. So you could say Peavey has already voiced this amp to sit nicely in the mix. This is worth considering and you may see it as a negative if you’ll mainly be playing unaccompanied by yourself at home though. There’s also a nice roundness to the clean tones, which is great for jazz. The amp inhabits that rare, mystery zone where the individual notes of chords maintain their definition, but the sound is still warm and full, instead of sharp and zingy. Personally I like the zing but that’s not for everyone.
The Windsor Studio is obviously designed as a studio tool (and it’s a good choice for those who want monster tube-driven tone at low levels around the house), but it has enough volume for certain live applications, and as long as you trust the PA system you could quite happily use the XLR out to feed the signal directly to the house in larger venues. It’s not the be-all and end-all of amps, and it’s not in the same league as Peavey’s higher-price items, but it its own place it’s a good alternative in the ‘small amp, easy to record’ sector. If you’re in the small amp market you might still want to check out the Orange Tiny Terror, Bogner Alchemist, Vox AC15 and Hughes & Kettner Statesman just to name a few.