deLisle Nickel Box
Price: $609 (list); $729 (as tested)
Low-watt amplifiers have enjoyed a run of popularity. Offering saturated power-tube distortion at volumes that should keep the neighbors from showing up at midnight with tallow torches and pitchforks, they can be ideal for practice and recording. Given the number of choices available, one would think builders are brave, foolhardy, or very clever to enter the market. Jer Lile falls into categories one and three.
His Nickel Box amp is a compact, five-watt, single-ended unit with a single input and controls for Reverb, Vol 2 (drive), Vol 1 (master), Treble, and Bass. It has output jacks for headphone and line level, as well as a built-in attenuator that will drop its power to 1/8 watt. Lile offers customers the choice of a 6V6 or EL84 power tube, with a 12AX7 preceding an EF86 in the preamp. All are mounted to a hand-wired turret board loaded with American-made transformers.
The Nickel Box’s solid-pine, dovetail-jointed cabinet measures just 20″ wide and 18.75″ high, and holds the customer’s choice of a 12″ Eminence or Celestion speaker. Its wiring is Teflon-coated, silver-plated copper, and arguably, its most notable feature is how spooky quiet it is when the power switch is flicked on. The preamp-grid wires are shielded, and filament hum is silenced by the DC-elevated heater supply and the balanced pot. In addition, a unique “star” grounding pattern further helps prevents hum.
Tone-wise, there’s not much “clean” above 41/2 on the Vol 2 knob, but that’s not what most (rational) individuals want when they buy a five-watter. Even with single-coils, the grind makes its presence known at about 5. From there, it’s mostly grit until around 71/2, at which point the distortion transforms into a more-singing sustain. Major chords retain great note definition, even into the higher ranges of distortion.
Tones from the Nickel Box are drop-dead gorgeous, its controls are very effective, and the reverb is very wet-sounding. Risking an oxymoron, even the distortion is neat and clean. The bass is tight, making it extremely easy to dial in just the right amount of grind.
De Lisle offers several choices of covering and grille material, as well as optional features like tremolo, buffered effects loop, and XLR-out. They’ll even build it as a 2×10 or 2×12. Well-crafted and excellent-sounding, the de Lisle Nickel Box is a top contender in the practice/recording amp niche.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s April 2015 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.