As much as we like Fender Vibro-Champs, two major drawbacks are often cited: they’re too small and boxy sounding, and there’s no onboard reverb. Of course, they wouldn’t be viewed with affection if they were entirely devoid of charm, but they’re not quite the ‘crank up at home’ Princeton or Deluxe Reverb that many of us would like them to be.
The ongoing absence of a scaled up and reverberated Vibro-Champ in Fender’s product line is as curious as Marshall’s seeming indifference to the widespread interest in TBM 18-watters. Inevitably, other amp manufacturers have been more than happy to deliver the goods, and the Milkman Sound Half Pint does just that.
This is a valve-rectified, cathode-biased, single-ended four-watt amp that’s handwired on turret board with Jupiter capacitors and Mercury Magnetic transformers. A solitary 6V6 power valve drives a 12-inch ceramic Jupiter speaker and everything is housed in a solid pine cabinet. Fortunately, this is no mere copy and the back panel has a socket for an extension speaker and effects footswitching.
Best of all, the VVR control provides voltage-controlled power scaling to address yet another Vibrochamp issue – for home use, they can actually be a bit too loud.
Milkman Half Pint In use
Comparing our 1984 Fender Vibro-Champ and the Milkman through the same Jupiter speaker and cabinet, the Fender sounds a bit more open and chimey, but it’s also grittier.
The Milkman has a sweeter tone with a more compressed response that really suits single coils, and the midrange scoop is far less apparent. The Milkman’s tone controls also have a wider range and the Jupiter is a better match for both amps because, compared to a 10-inch alnico, it allows you to wind up the treble for shimmery cleans and dial it back to sweeten the edge of overdrive.
There’s a surprising amount of clean headroom: using a Telecaster, overdrive comes in gradually from about 6.5 on the volume control. The tremolo has a wide range and a wonderful feel that remains playable even at the highest depth settings.
If you’re a spring reverb fan, you’re in for a treat because the Milkman’s reverb is unusually controllable and goes from a barely perceptible shimmer to surf city. The overdrive charcteristic is more raucous honk than creamy sustain, but with a touch of reverb and trem it’s evocative stuff for lo-fi blues and garagey grind. You can also dial back the bass and treble to emphasise the mids for a touch more tweediness that works brilliantly with both P-90s and PAFs.
We have mixed feelings about the onboard power scaling as a ragged grittiness becomes apparent when the volume control goes above eight with the power reduction at maximum. It’s a more effective and practical feature when you don’t push the amp or the power scaling too hard, and the tone controls compensate for any changes in frequency balance perceived as a result of reduced levels.
At no point does the Half Pint sound like a small amp, and with its barely perceptible noise floor it could be superb in the studio. If the goal was to achieve a more versatile, practical and open-sounding take on the Vibro-Champ, it’s very much mission accomplished.
• PRICE £2,199
• DESCRIPTION One-channel single-ended 5W valve combo with reverb, tremolo and power scaling, made in USA
• POWER RATING 5W
• VALVES 2x 12AX7, 1x 12 AT7, 1x 6V6, 1x 5Y3
• CONTROL PANEL Hi/lo inputs, volume, treble, bass, reverb, speed, depth
• REAR PANEL Footswitch socket, extension speaker socket, speaker socket, fuse, VVR
• SPEAKER 12” ceramic Jupiter speaker, 4 ohm
• DIMENSIONS 505x406x241mm
• WEIGHT 12.7kg/27.9lbs
• CONTACT Andertons 01483 456777 andertons.co.uk, milkmansound.com