Baby Boomer

Still go­ing strong, Award Ses­sion’s lat­est gi­ant killer makes its de­but

Guitarist - - First Play - Words Nick Guppy Pho­tog­ra­phy Joseph Branston

The Award Ses­sion name holds fond mem­o­ries for many Bri­tish gui­tarists who were around in the 1980s. Founded in 1979 by elec­tron­ics wiz­ard Ste­wart Ward, Award Ses­sion’s first amp was the valve 15:30 combo, which plugged a gap for a qual­ity hand­made Bri­tish combo in the nascent ‘bou­tique’ mar­ket be­fore the term prop­erly ex­isted. The 15:30 was used by many top pro play­ers, in­clud­ing ses­sion ace Ge­off White­horn. But the de­sign Award Ses­sion is best known for was the fa­mous Ses­sionette 75, which turned into a run­away suc­cess with more than 50,000 units shipped be­tween 1981 and 1988.

The Ses­sionette’s clever all-solid-state de­sign com­bined great tone with valve-like re­sponse, re­li­a­bil­ity and af­ford­abil­ity – a per­fect prod­uct in­tro­duced at ex­actly the right time. Ever since, Award Ses­sion has cham­pi­oned solid-state tech­nol­ogy, which is put to good use in their lat­est marvel, the BluesBaby combo, avail­able in 22 or 45 watt with a va­ri­ety of speaker and cos­metic op­tions. Here we’re look­ing at pos­si­bly one of the most pop­u­lar choices, the Ce­lestion V-Type-loaded BB45 1x12 combo.

Hand-built in Bas­ingstoke, the BB45 is com­pact and por­ta­ble, mak­ing it ideal for

home and studio use, as well as smaller venues likely to be in­tim­i­dated by mu­si­cians ar­riv­ing with 4x12 stacks. The BB45’s Baltic birch-ply cab­i­net is neatly joined and cov­ered, with a slanted baf­fle to help the Ce­lestion V-type loudspeaker’s pro­jec­tion, and for­ward-fac­ing con­trol-panel la­belling.

The tough steel open-ended tray chas­sis is at­tached to the top and sides of the cab­i­net, so the rear panel can be re­moved for easy ser­vic­ing, al­though the BB45’s ro­bust con­struc­tion means it’s un­likely to be nec­es­sary. The elec­tron­ics sit on three printed cir­cuit boards – the main board houses the preamp and power sup­ply, and sup­ports the front panel con­trols, with smaller boards for the out­put stage and rear panel sock­ets. The out­put de­vice is bonded to the chas­sis un­der­neath an over­sized heatsink, while a toroidal mains transformer keeps ra­di­ated hum to a min­i­mum. The in­ter­nal wiring is neat and all hand-sol­dered, with no spade con­nec­tors, re­in­forc­ing the Award Ses­sion’s over­all vibe of pro-grade solid re­li­a­bil­ity.

The BB45 is a sin­gle-chan­nel de­sign, with gain, master vol­ume and con­ven­tional EQ con­trols, to­gether with a level con­trol for the spring re­verb. Two tog­gle switches op­er­ate pres­ence and EQ shift func­tions, re­spec­tively adding ex­tra sparkle for mid-bi­ased hum­buck­ers and mov­ing the EQ’s mid notch to ap­prox­i­mate ‘plexi’ and ‘black­face’ re­sponses.

The clever log­a­rith­mic power driver cir­cuit makes it easy to for­get this amp has no valves in­side

There’s an­other tone-al­ter­ing switch called ‘Fat’, which adds a size­able bass boost. This func­tion can be foot-switched, as can the re­verb, from a pair of sock­ets on the rear panel, which also in­cludes an ex­ten­sion speaker out­let and an aux in.

sounds

In use, the BB45 is elec­tri­cally very quiet in­deed, thanks to care­ful de­sign and the toroidal mains transformer, which sub­stan­tially re­duces mains hum pickup.

The BB45’s tones and drive char­ac­ter­is­tics are more Fen­der than Mar­shall, with rich cleans and a vel­vety dis­tor­tion that flat­ters sin­gle coils and hum­buck­ers. The EQ is smooth and pre­dictable, mak­ing it easy to dial in any gui­tar, with plenty of range thanks to the pres­ence and plexi/black­face switches. Cru­cially, the amp’s dy­namic re­sponse is punchy and crisp, with plenty of vol­ume to spare from Award Ses­sion’s clever log­a­rith­mic power driver cir­cuit, mak­ing it easy to for­get this amp has no valves in­side. Even with rel­a­tively low out­put sin­gle coils, en­gag­ing the Fat switch pro­duces more than enough gain to push the BB45 into se­ri­ous rock ter­ri­tory, with the drive con­trol be­gin­ning to add a hint of edge at around 3. Gui­tarists look­ing for more clar­ity, es­pe­cially with hum­buck­ers, will be pleased to know there’s a switch­able high head­room ver­sion that’s prob­a­bly bet­ter suited for jazz and coun­try. The re­verb de­cay is smooth but could do with be­ing a lit­tle warmer for our ears; even so it’s ide­ally suited to the clas­sic rock/blues/fu­sion sounds the BB45 ex­cels at.

Verdict

Some­thing that’s be­com­ing more ap­par­ent re­cently is that new pro­duc­tion valves can vary. Even if you re­place them with ex­actly the same make, you might still find your prized amp sound­ing some­what different to how you re­mem­ber it. This is where solid­state de­signs like the Award Ses­sion win out, with night-after-night re­li­a­bil­ity and con­sis­tent tone. We may have been se­duced by the wiz­ardry of dig­i­tal modelling for the last cou­ple of decades but good old ana­logue solid-state hasn’t been stand­ing still. While Award Ses­sion’s BluesBaby 45 isn’t the only ana­logue con­tender ca­pa­ble of giv­ing valves a run for their money, its power, porta­bil­ity and all-round ex­cel­lent value make it a com­pelling choice.

1 1. The BB45’s re­verb ef­fect comes from an old-school Bel­ton/ Accutron­ics spring unit 2. The stan­dard loudspeaker is Ce­lestion’s ex­cel­lent V-type, with other mod­els avail­able as op­tions 3. The Award Ses­sion brand rep­re­sents al­most four decades of solid­state in­no­va­tion, still go­ing strong to­day 4. The BB45’s EQ switch shifts the midrange notch to ap­prox­i­mate plexi or black­face-type EQ curves

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