So, it’s been a while since I’ve talked toys. It’s been a while since I bought any music toys really. For a bedroom musician, needs are pretty minimal, but during a recent sale I decided to look at mini amps.

My very first amp was a fender mini amp, which I figured was good enough to practice with, and it was, except that it was never quite right and slightly made my ears bleed. I hated it. (Note: I may very well have had a dud. The output jack never worked, even brand new, so it’s entirely possible that I happened to land a crapper that just happened to be shitty across the board. Therefore, don’t take my comments about my fender mini to heart. They’re still on the lists of the best ones out there. Based on my experience, I have no idea WHY because mine sounded roughly like hitting a tin can with a rubber chicken, but maybe I got the exception. Who knows?) I gave it away to someone who really couldn’t use even anything as big as a small practice amp due to apartment living, figuring maybe someone could get some use out of it. It worked, i just didn’t like it, and had hardly touched it.

So, I sort of figured, other than my headphone amp (the Vox that everyone so loves), I just didn’t have any place in my collection for a mini.

Well, things change, so I decided I wanted to give a mini another shot. There were two reasons for this.

  1. So I can practice with my electric when the roomie is home. I usually work with the acoustic, but there are times I really want to hear something on electric, and I will tell you, even at the lowest possible volume, my Marshall amp, once you up the gain a little bit for that gritty electric sound…well, let’s just say the roomie stomped irritably back to inform me he couldn’t hear his TV. That took him all of about 10 seconds into me practicing.  And sure, we might say ‘well, uh, that’s what the headphone amp is for. And sure, if all you need to hear is the guitar, then yes, that’s absolutely what the headphone amp is for, but when I need to hear the vocals with the guitar, I find the headphones tend to interfere with that, making the headphone amp a fuck lot of useless in that situation. It made it clear that I needed something cheap and small that I could get to the tone I was looking for without having the roomie flip his shit on me, because I can’t restrict my electric guitar to ONLY on Thursdays when he’s not home, like every single other thing. There are only so many hours in a Thursday night.
  2. I also wanted something small and portable to use with my uke. The portability of an uke is sort of defeated once you have to tote an amp to go with it.

Both of those things together meant it was probably not my worst idea to start looking at and thinking about mini amps. I wasn’t planning to jump on anything, but it happened that the burgundy and black Honeytone amps went on sale for $17.99, which made it a good time to say ‘yeah, fuck it, let’s see how it goes’.

I opted for the burgundy, since I thought it might be slightly less prone to fingerprints and glaringly obvious dust.

It’s already covered in fingerprints, so I’m thinking this was the smarter choice. If I’m rubbing prints off the burgundy, the black would only have been that much worse.

I’m not really going to do a proper, well-planned review for this thing. I mean, they’re EVERYWHERE. I’m sure people much more experienced than me have already done that. But, I can talk about my expectations and experience with the one I got in testing, and give you some audio samples of me noodling around to test it.

Let’s face it, what I really care about is sound. There are ups and downs here. I actually like the overall tone. I can get some nice sounds out of it, which suit my purposes quiet well. But on the down side, I’m getting a LOT of speaker noise, even at the lowest volume settings.

There seems to be something funky with the input jack. When I first plugged the uke into it, I thought my uke’s jack was acting up, but then the same thing happened to my guitar, so the problem is clearly on the other end. There are a couple of possibilities here that I need to investigate. Maybe the jack is just a bit loose and needs to be tightened up, maybe it has to do with the weight of the cable weighing on the top of a very lightweight device. Maybe it’s just been sitting on a shelf and is just plain full of dust (the latter doesn’t look like the case, but with sale items, you never know, so it’s worth checking).  I’ll have to noodle with it to figure that out, but at the moment, I’m getting some pretty grainy noises out of the speaker that mean it’s fine for playing chords (I can basically play over the noise), but when playing single notes it gets pretty glaringly obvious).

Oddly enough, I had a similar issue with the fender, so I’m wondering if maybe this is just the nature of the beast with mini-amps. I also wonder if – assuming the issue may have to do with the cable weighing down on the input jack – turning the thing over onto it’s side (or someone making a mini amp with this jack on the side rather than the top) might help resolve the issue by improving the weight distribution. Food for thought, in any case. I’ll play around with it. For under $20, even if it ends up just being an experiment in dismantling my toys again, it’s still worthwhile.

Another odd little quirk is that I get literally no sound out of the speaker until I have the mini amp up to almost 50% of it’s max volume. This means more speaker noise, but just generic speaker noise, not gritty clicky nose that cuts out (that’s the issue I need to fix). This is minor to me, since playing masks the sound, but it’s still there. The louder the volume is set, the louder the speaker noise. If you have to default to 50% or higher, speaker noise is going to happen, there’s no way around it.

Still, if I can fix the grainy noise coming from the speaker, which may be as simple as unscrewing the back, tightening everything up, and screwing it back together again, then I’ve ended up with exactly what I needed for less than twenty bucks, which definitely isn’t bad (though I will probably upgrade at some point. The Orange micro amp has my eye as a nice little mini that’s still portable, but with a bit more heft behind it than these teeny things with their thin plastic casing, so that might be something I’ll consider as a possible upgrade at some point, while still being small enough to not piss off the roomie.).

So, I’ve got a kind of mixed-bag feeling on the Honeytone at the moment. I like the tone, but it’s a bit glitchy and needs some fine tuning.

That said, let’s move onto the sound samples. Remember, I’m not attempting to play songs here, just sort of testing them to see what sort of sounds I can pull out of it.

You can hear the speaker noise pretty clearly in the second half of the guitar track:

(The guitar I’m using, for reference, is a Godin Exit 22)

And, here’s how the uke sounds running through it, which I kind of rather dig. With some creative settings and fingering, I can pull some very electric sounding tones out of my little uke, which is pretty darn neat.

(the uke in use is my usual Ibanez UEW20LSME)

So, there you have it guys. That’s the latest addition to my collection. It needs a little work, but for $17.99 I’m not entirely discontent. It’ll keep my roomie happy, and I’ll be able to work with my electric guitar when he’s home, which makes me happy, too, provided I can work around the issue I’m encountering with the jack/speaker, which, really, this is me. You know I’ll either figure something out, or end up using it for some weird, music-related science experiment, in the end.

UPDATE: Some further testing proves that the majority of the issue causing the cutting in and out has to be related to something loose in the input jack. I had a similar issue with my Ibanez uke when I first got it.

First, I tested the amp with a different cable, this time a right angle cable, and I didn’t get the cutting out issue. This narrowed down the guessing game a bit. Either my super cheap (see: random bargain bin crap off ebay) cable was starting to fail, or it was in fact an issue of it cutting because of pressure put onto something loose in the input area, since a right angle cable is just going to be a more balanced fit when the amp is on my desk and the cable is dropping down toward the floor.

Next, tried the first cable with the practice amp that made my roomie mad at me in the first place. Well, the cable worked perfectly fine, so it’s not the cable. Plugged the same cable back into the little honeytone again, and it worked perfectly fine, in spite of the fact it was cutting out on me and giving me these odd grainy and clicky noises the first time out.

So, it seems I’ve got a loose wire somewhere in the input jack area of the new mini amp. Now that I know where the problem is, I’ll open it up and adjust it, and it’ll work just fine for a sort of lo-fi practice tool that doesn’t anger the roomie and irritate the cat.