Montarbo 165 NR Reviews 4

I was searching for a nice little tube amp, just to practice in my apartment. Interested by clean and crunch "vintage" sounds, I had read interesting reviews about a few amps with different budgets and sounds (Fender Blues Junior, Vox Valvetronix, Tech 21 Trademark 10,...) and wanted to try them. I finally reached a store in Lyon, France, where I was proposed to try a Fender Blues Junior (new, about 750€) and a "very surprising" (according to the vendor) old Montarbo transistor amp (for 150€, kind of a low budget). In the shop, I tried it with an Epiphone 335 (I play a Washburn 335 copy - good guitar – and a Danelectro baritone – sounds really cool).

What a good surprise ! The amp is quite simple : clean sounds (volume, bass, middle, treble) and reverb (volume, tone), that's all (no distortion). Really nice clean sounds in fact (a sort of Roland Jazz Chorus ?). Warm, precise and wide controls, nice attack : very “Fenderish” bluesy or jazzy sounds with the 335. The reverb is really amazing. Very warm. And wide (maybe too much ?) : you can go from a “little sound reheat” to a crazy “are you playing in the empty cathedral swimming-pool in the middle of a stadium ?”. I personally don’t pass 3 or 4 on the volume : it’s really wide enough for me (4 is already a big reverb effect). There is also a useful pedal to put the reverb on/off. When I went back home, I tried the Montarbo with my baritone. Wow : really cool. The basses are note confuse at all (what is important with this guitar), it sounds really easily surf-like, rich tone and precise attack… This amp is really powerful too (at least 50 or 60 W) : much too powerful for my apartment, but it really sounds good at low volume (hard to have with tubes, unfortunately), and it could be useful as an occasionally gig amp.

I'll just have to complain on one point : the absence of distortion… I’ll have to use a separate pedal to have the crunch sounds I like (love). But it’s not a huge problem.

Another good point is the construction. I don't know the exact age of this amp (more than twenty years at least), but it really seems here for a long time. I guess that people that owned this amp before me took care of it, it's in perfect shape. But every component, judging from the outside (I didn’t open it) seem serious. Montarbo still exists, they make studio products, like sound systems and keyboard combos (they used to make guitar and bass amplifiers, I don't know why they stopped). They have a good reputation concerning the quality of their components.

So this amp wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, but I think I now have a very good one, especially considering the budget. The money I saved will allow me to buy a good crunch pedal, and I’ll have all the sounds I want (I have a couple others pedals, like Boss Tremolo, Vox wha and Big Muff). The reverb, again, is quite satisfying. I really think that’s the best I’ve ever heard (but I haven’t tried a much more expensive Twin Reverb for example). It’s definitely not made for “modern rock” sounds, but it’s definitely not my business. The Fender Blues Junior I tried was a really nice little amp, but much more expensive, and limited to Fender sounds, of course. So if you see one of these amps (they’re kind of rare) and you’re searching for good old-fashion clean sounds, try it, you could be very surprised (and spare money for other gear). I can’t give this amp a 5, it’s not perfect, but it’s hard to give it a 4.

Matthieu (Paris, France) rated this unit 4 on 2003-01-13.

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