Pros: Clean sound, well suited for jazz and blues, pedal friendly, price
Cons: No fx loop, gain control
Manufacturer's Site: http://http//www.kustom.com
The Bottom Line
With the Defender 15H you get tube sounds at bargain basement prices. At this price point, the amp comes loaded with options and the cabinet sounds good for the price. While it might not be the best choice for distortion players, it provides good starting palette for most pedals. Especially good for jazz and blues musicians on a budget.
Easy dial good tone
4 Eq shaping options
Speaker emulated output
Can switch between 4 and 15 watt output
Some distortion/overdrive pedals sound congested with built in speaker
No preamp gain knob
no fx loop
no standby switch
These last few years, we've all been seeing the small wattage budget tube amp make a comeback, thanks to no small part of lower labor costs from Asia. In this case, Kustom enters the market with the Defender series, which is a budget conscious series of tube amp offerings starting from 5 watt combo and going all the way up to 100 watt dual channel combo and head. In our case we reviewed the Defender 15H head and its matching Defender 1x12 speaker. The 15H comes in a “we mean business” black enclosure, with a handle on top. It features one 12ax7 in the preamp section and 2 EL-84 power tubes. This is a single channel amp, with no effects loop, similar in style to the Orange Tiny Terror, Vox AC4TV and Epiphone Valve Jr. What separates this amp from others on the market is that at the front it has a Tone & Bass Response selector, which offers 4 distinct voicings, similar in concept to the design of the new Peavey Penta. In essence each setting is a different sound, starting from American voicing from the left and moving to British to the right, with two settings in between, which blend between the two modes. The amp has one Input, Volume and Tone control, a power output selector labeled Power Output Select (4/15 watts) and a power switch. The amp is missing a standby switch, which might shorten tube life due to tubes running cold at the start of a set. The back of the amp has a Impedance selector (16,8 and 4 ohms), two speaker outputs and a MXR speaker emulated direct out. The matching open-back 1x12 plywood cabinet comes with a 16 ohm speaker rated at 30 watt power handling.
Kustom Defender 15H Guitar Amplifier Head
MS Wattage: 4 / 15 WattsTube Preamp: 12AX7Tone Controls: Tone & Bass Response SelectorPull Bright FunctionPower Tubes: EL84 (x2)Direct Out: Speaker Emulated
Kustom Defender 1x12 Guitar Speaker Cabinet
RMS Wattage: 30 WattsSpeaker: 12-inch, 16-OhmsCabinet: Plywood Baffle boardWeight: 21lbs
Plugging straight into the amp, I was surprised to see the obligatory Standby and Gain knobs missing. I am not sure what the ramifications are for the tubes, but running cold can't be a good thing. Missing the Gain channel was also strange as I couldn't control the amount of overdrive that I'd like to have on tap. Not a deal breaker in this price category, but definitely strange as I've gotten so used to having it on pretty much every amp that I've played. Dialing a good tone on this amp is easy as it is pretty much a plug & play kind of box. I was surprised to find out the cleans on this amp were really clean compared to other single channel amps of this type, which tend to produce a bit of fuzz or tube breakup even on their clean settings. On the American setting, with eq running flat, it even had a Bassman feel with well rounded full tone, although it was missing that high end sheen that the original imparts on the sound. I found that setting to be very good for jazz playing and clean rhythm comping, and with an analog delay in front it was downright heavenly. The Tone section is very responsive, with little movement going a long way. Moving toward the British setting, things start to get a bit raunchy, with a bit more bite and crunch sneaking in the sound. The bass also starts to roll off when moving to the right and the changes impart a drop in volume, even though a lift in the mids similar to a treble boost takes place. This amp generally took most effects that were thrown at it and sounded good. It did sound a bit congested on high gain settings, especially on a H&K pedal. On other tube amps that I've run this through, it did not sound like this, so I suspected it was the speaker. I hooked up the head to a spare Celestion G12H 30 watt speaker and sure enough, most of the congestion was gone. Not necessarily a bad effect but at this point I wasn't too crazy about the speaker sound when it gets hit by heavy distortion. My buddy and fellow reviewer, Andrew Sutton, mentioned that this amp really took well to his Danelectro Black Licorice pedal, so I guess this should be judged on a case by case basis. Overall, the amp by itself produces clean to mid crunch sounds, and when the volume is cranked it starts to impart power tube grind to the sound. The British setting with some overdrive in front instantly got some of that early Black Sabbath sound, especially when we opened up the volume and let it roar to achieve some power tube grind. This can be easily done on the 4 watt setting for home use, but it still gets loud. I have to give kudos to the speaker matching as in this case it handled all the volume well, without much rattle or breakup.
The matching cabinet was surprisingly light, which means that the speaker magnets are definitely of the budget variety. The speaker itself seemed like a re-branded budget Jensen, but we couldn't be sure since there was no designation on it. It didn't provide much coloring to the sound, unlike the Celestion we hooked it up to, which seemed with a more pronounced midrange.
The Bottom Line
For the price (street $220 for amp, $110 for cab) this is a great amp. If you are a no frills player, this amp is real easy to dial and the head and cabinet are real light and portable. I would suggest this amp for jazz and blues players looking to get a good sound on a budget. Sadly, no reverb tank.
Similar amps: Orange Tiny Terror, Vox AC4TV Combo, Epiphone Valve Jr. Half-Stack