Price paid: £ 100
Purchased from: New From Ebay Shop
Sound — 8
It's a small, inexpensive practice amp so please keep this in mind when reading my views on volume/tone dynamics etc. Volume... More than you'd think from 18w S/State and an 8" driver. Crank it, and it's loud enough to get you into to trouble with adjoining neighbours. There's more than enough there for a home environment. Out of curiosity I tried it with a couple of my cabs. The difference was simply jaw dropping. Now we're talking proper loud! Cab it, and you can rehearse with a loud drummer, no problem. Tone... Vintage. Nice cleans & overdrive, but no more. Cleans are good, not modern glassy cleans, just regular Vintage cleans that start to break up as soon as you add a little gain. Ok then, on to the gain... Vintage gain. Bluesy. Get the picture? Push a little harder on the gain and move into overdrive. Vintage overdrive. Crunchy. Actually that's not fair, it will do distortion with humbuckers and gain on full (think AC/DC and you won't be far off), but it's still Vintage in tone. Don't be put off by the lack of modelling. My Boss ME-70 works a treat on this little amp, and at least the cost of the amp went into it's construction, and not a bunch of cheesy effects. Dynamics The 12ax7 in the preamp section does help the dynamics a little, and you do get some essence of valve-like feel, but next to my genuine valve amp this little Kustom feels closer to solid-state. Dynamics feel rather compressed, and there's a sense of a lack of headroom. On par with other hybrid amps. Noise There's rather a lot of it when you push the gain or master volume over to maximum. Hum & hiss, but mostly hiss. Now don't get me wrong, it's not over the top for a solid-state amp. I've owned S/S amps in the past that have cost 3 times more, and they've been no better. I just think it's worth a mention in case you are under the illusion that this is a high quality valve amp. It isn't. Tone Here's where I think it fares better. It does have a valve like tone (albeit in a slightly fizzy solid-state sort of way) but it's defiantly up there. Given the price of this amp it's pretty amazing. It's defiantly a sound you can fall in love with, and it matches perfectly the look & style of the amp. I hate to keep using the word vintage, but that's what it is, and I like it!
Overall Impression — 9
I'd rather have a quality practice amp like this that does a few tones really well, than a cheap, fiddly modelling amp that sounds bad at almost everything. This is a real amp with it's own character. It's something that won't date easily. Something you could look after and keep, for more than 5 minutes! It's something you will feel proud to own, even if you have much more expensive amplification. Things are a little more confusing at the recommended retail price. I have seen a shop selling this amp for nearly double what I paid for it. At that price you could buy a real valve amp like a Laney Cub 10 or a Vox AC4. They probably aren't as well made as the Contender, plus they don't have as many features (I'd really miss the headphones socket and so would my wife). Also, valve replacement & biasing can be a real pain, but they are true valve amps. As long as you're realistic about what a hybrid amp is good and not so good at, this little gem could be perfect for you.
Reliability & Durability — 9
The Kustom Contender is a cheapie. Like all cheap amps made these days, everything is PCB mounted - so treat with care. However, the solid pine cab is VERY well made for the money. If you're alright with other consumer goods, you should get many years out of it. I would't get too "rock 'n' roll" with it though. No throwing it out of hotel windows!
Features — 9
This review is for the Kustom Contender, the Defender's little brother. I bought this brand new Kustom Condender 18w Hybrid combo from a music shop on ebay. I've read good things about it elsewhere on the net, and although I can't find many video examples out there, I thought it'd be worth a shot as it had 70 knocked off the retail price. It's a small, solid pine, boutique styled practice amp with stitched vinyl covering, and a thick leather handle. Controls provided are Volume, Bass, Treble and Master, as well as Bright and Master Volume Bypass switches. Speaker duties are handled by an 8-inch, 8-ohms, Eminence designed "KEI EPIC" driver. Other features include a headphone socket, external speaker socket, plywood baffle, jewel light, vintage-style power Switch and of course... a 12ax7 tube in the preamp section. The Kustom Contender is very unusual. It's unusual because the moment you pick it up and start to handle it, you feel like you have something very special in your hands. Put simply, it feels EXPENSIVE. Even though a sneaky peak inside revealed that the knobs, pots and tube are PCB mounted (what else would you expect at this price? ), they have still managed to pull the boutique style off. Toggle switches snap into place, and pots are reassuringly stiff & weighty when you turn them. OK, it's never going to last like a real hand-made, hand wired boutique practice amp, but then it doesn't cost 700 either. It's a small practice amp, so with this in mind I'm pleased the designers decided to keep things simple. Controls are fairly clear (would prefer chicken-head knobs), easy to use and effective. This no-nonsense approach means it's easy to just plug-in and go! Perhaps the only thing I would add is a reverb, but a pedal soon fixes that. The important stuff (like gain, speaker & headphone socket) is there.