It does indeed look
like it was designed
by mad scientists,
for mad scientists.
Come to think of it,
a lot of guitarists
remind me of mad
scientists. . . .
What: The DarkHorse is an all-tube amp head that can drive 8 or 16 ohm cabinets. You can select between two
separate output stages; a 6V6 pentode stage delivers 15 watts, while a 12AU7-based triode stage delivers 2 watts.
Why: When people listen to recorded guitar amps, they hear sound—not size. And size can be an enemy of small
studios, because it may be hard to fit a full-blown Marshall stack into your space; and even if you can, the neighbors
might not appreciate that you get the tone you want only with the volume cranked. By foregoing massive
amounts of power, the DarkHorse packs features and tone into a compact head at a reasonable price.
Installation: Connect speaker cabinet. Plug in. Turn on.
Learning curve: If you can’t handle four knobs (Gain, Bass, Treble, and Master), two switches, and an on-off
switch, then you probably can’t handle reading this magazine . . . so the point is moot.
Traynor’s DarkHorse features an
Best bits: The tone stack has a switch to allow for either British or American voicing (these put the tone controls
after the second tube stage or between the first and second tube stage, respectively), or a middle “pure”
position that bypasses the tone stack. Dark Horse has the tube sound’s “secret sauce”—an output transformer—
which gives a certain midrange warmth. It’s also really easy to replace the tubes, as there’s a “cage” that’s held
on with four screws. Or, you can just take it off to impress people who like to see tubes glow. Then there’s the
look, which has the vibe of a 1950s sci-fi movie; I expected to flick the 6V6/12AU7 switch and enter a parallel
universe where shredders ruled the world. And you gotta love the included gig bag—it’s about the size of a camcorder
case on steroids.
Limitations: There’s only one channel, which probably won’t be an issue in the studio, but limits the usefulness for
live performance. DarkHorse is basic, which may be a turnoff to some but then again, it does what it’s intended to
do really well.
Bottom line: The DarkHorse has serious competition from the likes of Vox, Mesa Boogie, Orange, etc.—so it
comes down to the tone. Although I haven’t done a head-to-head comparison with the competition, DarkHorse
indeed delivers that big tube sound; what surprised me is that with a little care, you can get clean, sparkly tones
as well. Being able to choose three different tone stacks with the 6V6 or 12AU7 adds versatility beyond the
expected, and while the Traynor
DHX12 extension cabinet is a suitable
companion, any cabinet I tried
with the DarkHorse worked just
fine—so it will likely work with your
favorite cabinet, too. And you
reduce the odds of your neighbors
calling the police when you’re
recording late at night.
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