Steve O’Boyle got his start converting old tube PA heads into guitar amps. Flash forward nearly 17 years and O’Boyle is at the helm of Ugly Amps, building amps with a growing reputation for great tone at reasonable prices. While most offerings have been low-watt models, O’Boyle is ramping up his wares with the Big Ugly 50 and 100.
The 50 and 100 have two and four 5881 Sovtek output tubes, respectively. In addition, each has five 12AX7 preamp tubes, dual fully independent footswitchable channels, tube-driven adjustable footswitchable effects loop, Mojo Tone black tolex cabinets with silver piping, Alpha pots, metal film resistors, and Magnetic Components Classic Tone heavy-duty transformers.
Control layout includes Power and Standby switches, Presence, Bass, Midrange, and Treble tone controls, and Master Volume and Gain controls for the “Ugly” (overdrive) channel. There are independent Bass, Midrange, and Treble tone controls, and Master Volume and Gain controls for the Clean channel. The rear panel layout includes parallel 1/4″ speaker jacks, a 4-/8-/16-ohm impedance selector, send and return 1/4″ jacks with level controls, and a footswitch jack for the included channel/effects two-button footswitch. All rear-panel jacks and the effects loop level controls are white, making them easy to find on a dark stage.
The Big Ugly 100 was tested through a Marshall 4×12 cab (with Celestion Vintage 30), using a Les Paul Standard, a 1960 reissue Strat, and a TC Electronic Hall of Fame reverb patched into the effects loop.
The Clean channel on the Big Ugly has a classic, slightly scooped tone with chiming highs, smooth even midrange, and round low-end, as well as an abundance of overtones. The channel stays relatively clean and open even when driven hard with humbuckers or single-coils. Overdrive offers up a fairly big variety of overdrives, from moderately crunchy blues to heavily saturated distortion. Even with the Gain control dimed and using the neck pickup in both guitars, the tone never got mushy and note separation was excellent. The tone control circuits in both channels are very well voiced without a ton of overlapping or out-of-phase clutter. The effects loop, with its adjustable input and output controls, allows for seamless injection of ambient effects without significantly changing the tone or levels on the amp.
The Big Uglys are the logical progression for the Ugly Amps lineup – more power, more channels, and more features all add up to great-sounding and versatile amps. They look pretty good, too. – Phil Feser
This article originally appeared in VG’s June 2018 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.