Purchased from: Bob's Guitars, Cedar Falls, IA
Features — 8
The Budda Superdrive 45 (Series II) that I owned was manufactured after Peavey had bought out Budda. I've seen comparisons of pre and post Peavey Buddas and am not convinced that there is a significant difference. That said, I have no experience with the older Buddas at all. The version that I had was a two channel affair with a shared EQ. Being as Budda amps are Vox/Marshall inspired circuits and as such have inherited the somewhat limited flexibility of a passive tonestack, I usually only futzed with the tone controls to either tweak volume or adjust the amount of bass to accommodate a particular room's characteristics. That is to say, I didn't normally adjust the EQ. I don't mean to imply that the tone stack was ineffective, just that it wasn't the radical type of EQ you might get with a Mesa/Boogie Mark amp. Once I dialed in the clean channel sound I wanted, the gain channel was basically where it needed to be.
However, controlling the volume (and this goes for every Budda Superdrive model, I believe) was always a pain in the ass. Make no mistake, Buddas are some of the loudest amps you can play and most of that volume happens in the first quarter of the master volume's range. If you're looking to use one at practice, (i.e., in a household or apartment) you will find it difficult to set it as the difference between practice volume and gig volume is very, very small. I was able to get great tones out of the amp at very low volume, but I had to spend a fair bit of time moving the master in microscopic arcs to do it. I have heard that you can use a volume pedal in the (series) effects loop to get much finer control over sound levels. Never tried it though. Just be warned that this amp, although it can be used quietly, is certainly not designed to be quiet.
Also, you may have heard that balancing the two channel volumes is difficult and it is definitely true. Especially so if you run the clean channel volume higher than 9 or 10 o'clock. There is a known mod to fix this issue...which makes me wonder why the amp isn't that way by default. What helps to alleviate the problem otherwise, is that you can easily stay on the dirty channel 100% of the time and get wonderful edge-of-breakup clean tones with guitar volume adjustments. As a matter of fact, both channels are very adaptable to volume changes and dynamics, a feature that was easily my favorite aspect of the SD45.
The gain on the amp was quite a surprise. If you think this is just a clean, blues, or rock amp, you are mistaken. There's enough gain in the Superdrives to do most types of metal. Very downtuned metal will probably not work all that well as the low end of the SD45 is the loosest of any amp I've used.
One of the challenges I had in using the SD45 was in finding ways to get the amp to track more quickly. At first, I added a TS9 into the input and that went a very long way to tightening up the low end. However, the mid bump of a Tube Screamer in conjunction with the already mid/low-mid heavy voicing of the SD45 yielded a corpulent, honky tone that ended up sounding a bit like a DSL to my ears. So, after running through about a half-dozen overdrives, I landed on the Fulltone OCD. I used it only as a clean boost. That worked very well for the SD45. But still, the low end felt like it had too much sag (note: I play speed metal often.), so I began to look at other aspects of the amp I could tamper with. I retubed the amp with a different rectifier type. The amp came stock with a 5U4GB rectifier which didn't match the 5AR4 type that the manual called for. I contacted Jeff Bober, former designer of Budda Amps (now with East Amplifiers) to find out which one was correct, and he told me that both work, but that a 5AR4 is tighter. So I installed a 5AR4 and it was an instantly recognizable change for the better. Not night and day, but definitely much better. All of that made it much easier to get a good response out of the SD45, but it was never quite as quick or tight as I wished it to be.
There was a push/pull control for boosting highs and lows (sort of an apparent "scoop" setting) that I found did help to get a bit more of a modern type of tone from the SD45. Just be aware that not all of the highs that get added in this mode are pleasant. As a matter of fact, there was a harshness to the very highest frequencies on the SD45 that I could never completely dial out. It was a sort of fuzziness associated specifically with Marshall style preamps. In a band environment, you don't notice it as much, but isolated it can be grating. I turned my cabs backwards to help nullify this with some measure of success.
The loop did exactly what it should. I never felt that using it made the tone suffer at all.
The amp construction appeared to be be extremely well done and thought out. The preamp was a PCB design, and the power section was point-to-point. However, I didn't like the tube sockets used as they were plastic and a little too easy to mangle. Budda earned bonus points in my book for fabricating the chassis out of welded aluminium instead of the usual pressed steel. It was solid and lighter, two things I can appreciate in juxtaposition to amplifier designs that, more often than not, tend toward the absurdly heavy. The tolex seemed to be of the more delicate vinyl type, but I never encountered problems with my amp, though I have heard that some of the earlier Buddas suffered from bubbling in the tolex.
Speaker choice is very meaningful for the SD45. Celestion Vintage 30's and Lead 80's will definitely give you a harder, more metal oriented sound, but I found that much of the harmonic magic that happened in the SD45 could only happen using more of a classic/rock-voiced speaker like a Greenback. I ended up trying a few speakers (the ones mentioned) and found that a 4x12 loaded with Greenbacks was the best fit for my playing by far. Greenbacks allowed the upper harmonics to ring more freely. If blooming feedback is at all important to your playing, I highly encourage you to try them with the SD45. You could of course use a Budda speaker cab (loaded with Eminence Phat 12's) which seems to inspire either love or hatred on the part of users. I never had the opportunity to use them.
Aside from the aforementioned issue with the rectifier tube, the rest of the tube compliment in the SD45 is a good match for the voicing of the amp. Bober has said that he designed the preamp and power section to use current tubes, not NOS or otherwise expensive ones. I did try some other preamp tubes (JJ, EH, Sino, Tung Sol) and found that the stock Sovteks had the best balance. I also tried a set of Gold Lion KT66's in the power section and found that they added a little smoothness to the sound, but it wasn't a huge difference. The stock tubes sounded great as well.
Something I greatly appreciated about the power section was that it was cathode, self-biased. So as long as you used the same type of power tube, you never had to adjust the bias. I understand that biasing isn't all that complicated, but it IS dangerous because of the amount of current involved, so I was more than happy to let an array of resistors handle that job for me instead.
Sound — 8
The clean channel is absolutely stunning. I believe it is intended to sound like a Vox clean. It is in large measure similar, but perhaps shares a little DNA with the Fender side of clean too. It has a little more bottom end and a little less presence than a Vox clean. Set the channel volume lower for greater headroom and you will get a full, harmonically rich, oh so slightly gritty clean that is buttery and alive with tone. It is also massively sensitive to changes in volume and picking. I played this channel exclusively in a praise band without a microphone for a congregation of 60 to 70 and it was breathtakingly great for that. I ran the channel volume around half with the OCD as a boost (on ALL the time). Running that way allowed me to have an excellent rock tone with a humbucker and instantly get a great dirty/clean breakup on single coil. Dropping my guitar volume just a bit lower I got a lush clean. In that setting, I never missed using the dirt channel. However, controlling the volume in a church was definitely a challenge. Beware of that master volume!
The gain channel was an object of love/hate for me. It is supposed to be a mix of Marshall and Vox, but to me, it was much more Vox than Marshall. It felt like a beefed up Vox with a lot of oomph to the bottom end, but didn't have the bark that you typically get from Marshalls. It did have great note separation like a Vox. It sounded killer for rock tones and certain kinds of metal, but it was always just a little too tubby in the lows and low mids to work all that well for heavier and faster styles. Additionally, although I loved the harmonic overtones the SD45 could produce, I disliked the piercing high-highs. It helped to direct the speakers away from you (again, I turned my cabs backwards) which greatly reduced the high end spikes, but nothing ever completely dialed them out. I suspect a good EQ pedal or rack unit could fix it, but I moved on to other amps before I tried. Also, solo tones are very unique on the SD45. They tend to just LEAP from the amp! By that, I mean that higher notes tended to be notably louder. Yet, they also tended to sound a little too thin. It was a combination that I found puzzling and less than inspiring. That isn't to say that you can't get a good lead tone from the SD45.
I have heard a player that goes by the name of Lancenot (or something like that) on the web, who got an incredible lead sound out of an SD30. However, if you listen to any of the Superdrive amps long enough, you will notice that leads have a very particular character. Ultimately, I just didn't enjoy it. I also found that the gain channel really didn't function well for metal unless it was boosted. It is too loose for metal by default, and the OCD boost really did fix that mostly. It just never completely pulled off metal to my ears. It CAN sound huge and brutally heavy if you need it to, but precision and speed are not truly this amp's forte. Lastly, the gain channel's voicing always sounded a bit hollow. It's hard to describe adequately, but it always sounded like just the slightest amount of flange was laying over the top of the gain sound. It was especially apparent when playing big open chords. I liked that to a degree, but ultimately it just wasn't what I needed.
Reliability & Durability — 10
The Superdrive 45 can definitely handle gigging. I never had any reliability issues, and all I had to do was replace the output tubes once in about three years. I've never even heard of people having problems with Buddas aside from the tolex problem mentioned above, and that was ironed out (forgive the pun) after the first run of Superdrives. I also can't say enough about Jeff Bober's attitude toward customers. He was a pleasure to deal with even though I was peppering him with questions about an amp line he no longer owned.
Overall Impression — 8
I played the SD45 against a Mesa Mark V, Bad Cat Hot Cat 30 (Sampson era), and a Jaguar Lead, and the SD45 is definitely in their league. But ultimately, I opted for the Jaguar Lead. However, I think the Budda Superdrives are amps that ANY guitar player should test drive. I think they are criminally underrated at the moment and that most of the reason for this is loose talk about Peavey's influence on the quality of the amps. I think many guitarists would really be surprised by an SD45 or SD80. You really have to be in the room with one of them to truly understand their appeal. They can be had for less that $800 in the used market of late, and at that price, they are serious bang-for-the-buck amps. Hell, I've considered snagging one again just for the clean channel! Don't let hype (or in this case, anti-hype) keep you from checking out a very toneful and powerful amp!