Budda Amplification staked its claim in 1995 with the Twinmaster boutique amplifier. Its hand-wired construction and user-friendly tones were hits in the guitar community and led to a broader line of amplifiers that catered to modern guitarists who craved old-school touch responsive. The Baby Budda is an 18-watt lunchbox-style head that pays homage to that first Budda, packing a wealth of tones in a convenient 17-pound package.
With controls for Bass, Treble, and Volume, as well as Normal and Hi Gain inputs, the Baby Budda features high-grade audio components and a hybrid layout with both point-to-point hand-wiring and a brass-eyelet board. The Class AB power section runs off of two EL84s and a single 5U4 rectifier, while the cascading preamp section utilizes two 12AX7s and a custom-wound transformer. Housed in a metal chassis with a carrying handle, the Baby Budda includes an effects loop and a 4-/8-ohm output switch for connecting loudspeaker enclosures. An onboard slave output offers full preamp and power amp characteristics. It’s connected in parallel to the speaker outputs and sends a padded, non-powered signal for direct output for live or studio uses.
With an array of Les Paul and boutique Strat-style guitars on hand, it was time to get down to business. Plugging into the Normal input, it became evident that the Baby Budda is for the guitarist who likes to crank an amp, walk away, and use the guitar’s volume to control their sonic universe. Starting with the Budda’s Volume knob at around 9 o’clock and slowly progressing clockwise, warm and earthy semi-clean tones gave way to cantankerous Bassman-like characteristics. Good guitar amplifiers love to be pushed, and the Baby Budda is no exception. To truly exploit its gifts, the overdrive pedals should be given some time off, the amp’s volume turned up, and the guitar’s volume used for color.
That said, the Baby Budda is a loud 18 watts that adores effects pedals. Whether placed in front of the amp or through the effects loop, seamless compatibility is easy with any variety of dirt- and time-based effects. The Baby Budda is not the best choice for immaculate funk lines or lush jazz chording, but it can be tamed to offer its own personality in those genres. Where it truly shines, though, is in dirty rock and testosterone-fueled blues.
At stage volume, the Baby Budda provides a gritty clean signal from the Normal channel – muscular, no-nonsense, single-note articulation, thickness, and full-bodied sustain. For its part, the Hi Gain channel provides a formidable organic old-school lead tone that is very spanky with single coils and generally much livelier than the Normal input, inviting a world of stinging, gainy Gary-Moore-style blues. But that’s the ceiling (high as it may be) – the risk is annoying volume in the pursuit of more saturation. Metal dudes should seek another amp or simply bust out their favorite distortion pedal. With the lead volume level set, it’s up to the player to dial in their EQ, tame the beast, and create subtleties using their guitar’s volume. The dirt and volume can be brought down to a whisper, the tones still vibrant, punchy, and never muddy.
Though rock cleanliness can be made cleaner with the guitar’s Volume knob, it’s a Jimmy Page kind of clean, not a true clean. Then again, pristine, bell-like tones are not what this amp is about. At low volumes, the Baby Budda has a cloudy, boxy quality (using a Budda 1×12 closed-back cab) and lacks rich top-end sparkle, though that’s mostly rectified via increased Volume and Treble on the guitar.
With the Baby Budda, you’ll need to be a volume twiddler, but with the creative use of this amp’s two inputs, as well as the guitar’s output, pickups, and Volume control, the Baby Budda can provide a wide range of gain and tonal options. And those tones are the big, organic variety, in a small package, to boot – all accompanied by a low learning curve.
This article originally appeared in VG February 2014 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.