Bugera, whose products are distributed by Behringer, has been making waves in the amp world by offering affordable tube amps with feature sets rivaling much more expensive amps. Their products seem to polarize many on internet forums where devote haters regurgitate horror stories of reliability issues and Behringer’s history of intellectual property lawsuits while others who’ve given the amps a chance with an open mind praise their tone and affordability. The company’s latest line features vintage/boutique cosmetics and 5, 22, and 55 watt models. Based on the split opinion on the forums, I felt the Vintage 22 (V22) a great candidate for a review.
The Bugera V22 is a 22 watt feature rich tube amp with a normal and bright input, dual channels (footswitch included) with a shared three band eq, presence control, a mid boost, effects loop, foot switchable digital reverb, master volume, and additional speaker output wired parallel with the internal speaker with a three way (4/8/16) ohm selector. Power is delivered by dual EL84s and preamp tones are generated by three 12AX7s. The amp is also quite a looker sharing more in common with the boutique styles of Matchless and Badcat than the amps in a competitive price range. Build quality feels solid across the board with several niceties not included in amps costing significantly more such as a cage to protect the tubes and thick oversized rubber feet. At just over 40 pounds, construction is likely MDF. While Bugera seems to have done their homework with regards to the feature set most guitarists’ needs, the lack of a foot switchable effects loop and clean boost for solos is a slight letdown.
I auditioned the V22 primarily using an SX SST57, Paul Reed Smith Singlecut SE, and Highland Royal loaded with GFS Mean 90’s in a variety of settings to test the versatility of the amp and it sounded good at bedroom volumes with a very nicely implemented master volume but even better when cranked up a bit. Due to the wide sweep of the tone controls and amount of gain available the amp is capable of a range of tones and can do pretty much everything short of modern metal.
The mid boost switch totally changes the character of the amp. Disengaged there is a prominent low end slightly scooped mid range. On the high gain channel at practice volumes the high end can get a bit fizzy if you let it. Engaged the lows and highs get attenuated and the mids (as you might expect) are up front and center and the amp sounds much smoother at lower volumes. In this mode, you can get an AC-15 esque tone using the bright input on the clean channel with the master beyond 7 or on the dirty channel with the gain around 1 or 2 and the presence cranked up a bit. Yet compared to the general Vox overdriven tone, the amp is smoother by comparison with a less crisp high end. Cranking the gain up a bit sounds like a tubescreamer boosted 60's or 70's era Marshall tone. The bright input rather than boosting the high end seems to attenuate the low end combined with triode mode you can significantly cut the power of the amp. Literature claims triode cuts power by 40% and I would subtract ~10% more (based on settings of course) using the bright input. I can say even with those settings, I don't feel comfortable cranking it at home as it's very loud and a bit rude to my wife and son.
The amp [set to triode] got much spongier/saggy...and I was really digging the tones on the dirty channel with the gain set around four, very twangy with excellent snap and midrange punch...
Bugera really did a great job in voicing the channels of the V22 to be complementary. Some amps when you switch channels it feels and sounds like a completely different amp. Not so here. The dirty channel sounds like an extension of the clean channel. At a gig with a groove jazz group using a PRS Singlecut SE, I set the clean channel around five and the lead with the gain at 3 and the volume maxed out then set the master to 7. With those settings, I was able to dial back the guitar and get a decent clean sound while with the pot wide open a nice old school subtle breakup which fit the bands style perfectly. The lead channel picked up right where the clean left off. The aforementioned slight fizzyness of the lead channel at bedroom volumes was gone and it just sang. However, if you need absolute clean headroom at performance volume un miced, you might need a slightly more powerful amp.
I was initially underwhelmed by the tones when the amp was set to triode versus pentode where the amp sounds much bigger and livelier. But at a rehearsal in a small room with a rock trio using an SX SST57 where the PA was less than ideal I was having a hard time getting my vocals to cut though, so we turned down a bit. On a whim I decided to run the amp in triode mode. Wow! The amp got much spongier/saggy (still no where near an old tweed Fender though) and I was really digging the tones on the dirty channel with the gain set around four, very twangy with excellent snap and midrange punch. The amp has plenty of volume run even in triode to gig with the master cranked up.
The Bugera V22 is a surprisingly versatile and feature rich amp which is capable of both bedroom and stage duty. It won’t be the “be all end all” for everyone, but for those searching for a good sounding affordable tube amp you’d be selling yourself short by overlooking the V22.
Price: ~$350 USD
Pros: Good tones with power to gig, feature rich
Cons: Slight fizzyness on the high gain channel at bedroom volumes