Living in the West Midlands region of the UK – site of manufacture for the Laney range of guitar amplifiers – I was almost inevitably going to start seeing and hearing them as soon as I got involved with the local live music scene. I first got to talk to a guitarist using a Laney Pro-Tube AOR 30 combo in September 1985, at a central Birmingham bar called Peacocks. I was using a secondhand Peavey Deuce at the time, and whilst I liked the Peavey per se, I struggled to make the overdrive do what I wanted, and I most typically found myself using a Boss pedal for distortion, rather than the amp’s own preamp gain.
Impressed with the overdrive a guitarist in another band was getting during the soundcheck, I took note of the fact that he was using a small Laney combo, and asked how he was producing that sound. At that time, small combos with multiple built-in valve/tube gain stages were an unusual find, so I was surprised to hear that the entire, super-cranked wall of saturated power was “just the amp”.
The guitarist was happy to talk about his Laney AOR 30, and as well as explaining the key features, he said he liked the fact that the amp only had a 30 watt output. In small venues, he said, the power amps of bigger combos could not be pushed to their limit for the unmistakable effect of ‘cooking’ valves, but a 30 watt device could be run at full tilt, creating a characteristic, 'over-the-edge' excitement. I’d heard the evidence, and on discovering that the AOR 30s were selling locally, brand new, for around £230 (with retailer discounts), I set about buying one.
The Pro-Tube AOR 30 of the mid 1980s was an all-valve product with two separate gain stages facilitating anything from a slight, overdriven edge, to a screaming, super-saturated distortion. AOR stood for Advanced Overdrive Response, and whilst the amp produced some extremely nice clean tones (especially at higher volume settings), it specialised in dishing dirt. The amount of flexibility and control over the amp’s drive characteristics was incredible at the time. There were two separate Preamp Volumes and a Level control for the first preamp stage. The first preamp stage was pull-activated on the front panel, or footswitchable with an additional pedal, so you could set up for rhythm/crunch and lead, and switch from one to the other. Note that the ‘split channel’ boast in the ad shown above, relates to that. It wasn’t really two separate channels, with separate controls – you were just switching Preamp 1 in or out.
The AOR 30’s distortion sound was inherently bright and British, but the tone controls, each with a powerful pull-booster, constituted a comprehensive EQ section which could morph the character into pretty much any other territory. The bass boost was a proper floor-quaker. And just in case the combo’s inherent brightness was not bright enough, there was also a Presence knob. A built-in (and also footswitchable) Accutronics Reverb completed the range of sound-crafting tools.
Clean tones defaulted to warmish with a bit of valve 'detail'. It wasn't a crystalline sparkle with masses of headroom like a Roland Jazz Chorus - it was more like an older valve combo in the way the clean sounds gained personality with volume. In the mid '80s, people were likening the characteristics of the clean performance to that of a Vox AC30. A Laney AOR 30 didn't have the definition and sweetness of the legendary Vox, but I could see what they were getting at. With the volume up, clean tones had a 'pushed' feel.
Used stand-alone, the AOR 30 could sound a bit 'flat'. It didn’t sound boxy, and the huge amount of EQ on tap would in any case have addressed that even if it did. But it was a relatively small single-speaker amp, and that often leaves a little to be desired in certain areas of the overall frequency spectrum, as well as in the spatial spread within a room. I’d seen Roman Jugg, lead guitarist with The Damned during their mid ‘80s goth phase, using an earlier Laney combo through 4x12 cabs, and subsequently I used my AOR 30 through a Marshall 4x12. The result was phenomenal. With the big spread and higher definition of a 4x12 cab, you really got a sense of what Laney packed into the amplification section of the combo. Don’t underestimate the amp based on what comes out of the combo as is. With a decent speaker setup these 1980s Laneys could rival anything on the market for sound.
The amp shown in this post’s 1988 advert has a ‘Laney’ logo plate fitted across the speaker mesh. However, when I bought my AOR 30 in autumn 1985, the model was being sold with plain mesh with no logo plate. The date of introduction for the logo plate would obviously be somewhere in between, but from memory I’m thinking sooner rather than later. The logo plate models were probably in the shops before the end of 1986, but don’t take that as anything more than a hazy hunch.
You’ll also see that the price as listed in 1988 was £275.24. In 1985 I believe the recommended price was £250. A moderate retailer discount would typically be applied. That price point really confined any minor gripes about the sweetness of the sound to the dustbin. The Laney AOR 30 managed to creep into the upper end of budget territory, and given its sophistication and all-valve pedigree, that made it an amazing deal.
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