Laney Lionheart L5T-112: First Impressions

Excuses, excuses

So, here’s the thing.  I already have a Laney LC30-II which I’m rather fond of.  However, it has a couple of issues.  Firstly, and you don’t often hear a guitarist say this, it’s too loud.  Not too loud in an absolute sense you understand, but too loud for the vast majority of situations where I use it.  So I never really get to drive it properly.  Secondly, it has taken to hissing, popping and farting in a most distressing fashion when not under load, and has degenerated to the point where even I’ve acknowledged Something Must Be Done.

In (initially) unrelated news, I’ve been struggling with an attack of GAS for some years over the Lionheart.  It looks nice.  The YouTube demos sound nice.  It’s ‘only’ 5 watts, which means it ought to be more suitable for the situations where the LC30 is more than a touch too much. But I didn’t need it, and I certainly didn’t have that kind of money to casually splurge on a whim.

However, when a trusted friend said I really should stop using the LC30 until I’d had it serviced/sorted it out, and I realised that I couldn’t be without an amp for the time that would take, there was a bit of a whoops with the credit card.  Still, I could do with losing some weight, so not being able to eat for a while won’t hurt. And I think I deserve some credit for teasing myself with amp porn for a good few years before cracking, too.  So there. Totally justified.

The dangers of t’InterWebz

I’ve always been a bit shy of buying either instruments or amps online. However, reassured by the distance selling regulations, and encouraged by the opportunity to save the fat end of £150 by using a Web vendor, I cracked.  First minor hiccough was when, after accepting the order, they rang to say they did have one, but only one, and it had been used for display, and all the packaging had been chucked. After clarifying that the words “display” and “demo” most definitely have different meanings, that all the bits were still there, and that it would be packed appropriately albeit not in a box with Laney written on it, we were still good to go, and looking at a slight reduction in the wallet pain for the indignity.

Second minor hiccough was when it arrived.  On time, on the right day. But not what one might term appropriately packaged for a jaunt through courier land.  Three turns of bubble-wrap and a box far too big in all dimensions doesn’t strike me as a good way to ensure a valve amp travels a few hundred miles without incident.  Oh, and the dust cover was conspicuous by its absence.  But apart from that Mrs Lincoln …

To be fair, the vendor responded very promptly to an email alerting them to the fact that they might be getting the whole lot back if it was less than perfect when I fired it up that evening, and have also assured me a dust cover will be forthcoming.  So I’ll sit on naming names for a little while, as they’ve previously given me good service on other items.

Yes, yes, but what about the amp?Laney Lionheart L5T-112

Fair point, this is supposed to be a mini-review after all. The tech specs are readily available all over the ‘net, as well as from Laney themselves. The bare bones are: hi/lo inputs, clean/drive channels, FX loop (but no mix control), shared bass/mid/treble/reverb/tone for both channels.  Footswitch (reverb/channel), mains lead and dustcover (ha!) included. 1 x 12″ Celestion speaker driven by 3 x ECC83 (12AX7) pre-amp and 1 x EL84 power-amp valves.

Oh, and it’s blue, with a definite ‘vintage’ vibe, which I rather like.

Plugging in for the first time

The week the amp arrived I was a rather busy bunny.  Which meant I only had one evening to check it out, and even then not at length; much to do, discipline required. Nearly two hours later … whoops, this isn’t going to end well.

I generally play with a stock Les Paul Studio. Starting with the suggested quick start settings in the manual, then tweaking to see what happened, I lost a very, very happy two hours. From clean and creamy through a crunchy blues to a surprisingly high gain rock, it’s very versatile.  OK, not a great choice for death metal, but … that’s not really the target market, as should be fairly obvious.

Although I was definitely a happy camper, the first couple of hours mucking about did give rise to a couple of concerns. First off, the clean sound could at times be a little too tight and brittle.  Trying to dial that out led to a period where the lower strings became very boomy, and playing an open chord would push the clean channel into break up at relatively low volume.  In the amp’s defence, it was set up on a laminate floor, in a relatively small room, and I was playing at volume.

Ah, yes, volume. It’s important to remember that this is only a 5 watt amp. If only because the Lionheart seems to forget, and is under the impression it’s got a lot more under the hood than 5 delicate watts. The 12″ speaker shifts some air, and it’s a cracking demonstration of “valve watts are louder” …

To summarise my first impressions from just wailing away on my own, experimenting:

  • plenty of volume and kick for a nominally small amp
  • a good degree of headroom on the clean channel (open chords on neck pick-up of a Les Paul excepted); with the amp volume set to around 6 or 7 you can move between clean and just breaking up by varying the degree of attack on the strings
  • very easy to balance volume between the channels, even when tweaking the drive level
  • excellent range of sounds available via careful adjustment of the main EQ plus the additional overall tone control
  • responsive and sensitive – as well as bringing out vibrato etc. nicely, it also showed up how dreadful my fingering can be. Which will be good when it comes to practice, if mildly humiliating
  • with the Les Paul, you have to watch the low end if you want to avoid those embarrassing booming moments …
  • volume (x2) and drive controls have a generally good and linear sweep to them
  • EQ/tone controls seemed less obviously dynamic; to get a distinctly different sound I had to be quite brutal about adjusting all of these, particularly the Tone (more on this later).  Despite that, I was left with the impression that the sounds I want/need are in there, it’s just a question of learning how best to coax them out
  • mild concern that I would struggle to find a good “band tone”, somewhere in the sweet spot between slightly too toned down and creamy, and slightly too brittle; note that it’s definitely not a trebly amp, but if you stuff up the EQ it can be a bit harsh

Oh, and the other thing.  It hadn’t turned me into a guitar god simply by owning it.  So that’s another failure to chalk up.

In use with a band

So far I’ve only had chance to use the Lionheart at two rehearsals (different bands) and for one ‘performance’.  Bear in mind that I generally play for church services, so the role of the band is (usually) to provide the backing, but not to pound everyone into submission. Although one of the bands I’m in does tend more towards gig level volume and style.  In regular services my amp is my backline/monitor, and is mic’d and run through the PA.  Which is one reason the 5w was so attractive – with the LC30 I genuinely rarely get to turn it above “1”, and still manage to upset some of the sound guys, which is just a waste.

So, context set, I can say that it’s definitely loud enough!  Rehearsals with the more full-on band tend to be loud, and it was holding its own just fine.  In fact, I had to turn it down.   Next weekend it will get an outing “for real” with that band, where normally everyone who isn’t me goes through the PA, and I just have the amp. I fully expect it to cope admirably with no change to that arrangement.

As for playing in the more regular context of a standard church service, it was fantastic.  Volume set relatively low, but enough to drive everything properly without being a nightmare for the PA guy.  And when playing with others the tone suddenly becomes much easier to get right.  There’s still a bit of tweaking to go until I get just “that” sound that will be the default setting, but it’s nearly there.  All of the worries, doubts and niggles that I’d just blown money I shouldn’t have on something that wasn’t really quite right for the job have evaporated totally.   I love the little blue beastie, and can’t wait for this weekend when I’ll get to play it almost constantly, with three rehearsals and three services to get through.


It’s not absolutely perfect.  Maybe I’m a tightwad, but for an amp with a modal street price of £629 the plastic of the chicken head knobs is, well, a little plasticky looking.  But I guess it’s harder to get a good white than it is a good black or cream.  Also, although the material for the cover is good and thick, some of the folds and tucks are a bit unweildy.  In a world where you can spend thousands however, a few cosmetic quibbles on something that still looks the dog’s danglies and is very solidly put together may just be me being churlish.  And it really does sound rather delightful.  Which, after all, is the whole point.