The Little Mermaid Amp

One of my most special treasures is Little Lanilei 1/4 watt tube amp.  It’s rounded corners and hand embroidered mermaid grille attracts a lot of attention from the ladies here in Japan. They all think it’s a handbag…

After my crazy reclusive spinster neighbor complained to the police about my Mesa/Boogie F-50, I began auditioning smaller options like the Roland Bolt-30 and Ibanez Valbee (precursor to their TS line of amps). Initially I didn’t like the Little Lanilei because it doesn’t do cleans like I needed for jazz and funk until I started rolling down the guitar’s volume. That discovery totally changed my approach to playing and gear.

The  F-50 had two sets of independent controls for clean and dirty channels.  The Little Lanilei just has a three-knobs and mode switch for medium gain or high gain. Some of the best rock tones I’ve ever had come from this amp, and I don’t really miss my Mesa/Boogie. Pushing it with an overdrive pedal like my Nobels ODR-1 or  Boss OD-1 is a really takes it to the next level. Most fuzz pedals sound great with her, too.

Little Lanilei

The internal 6.5″ speaker is far superior to what you find in an amp like the Valbee (I swapped them for a time). Obviously, it sounds a whole lot better through a larger external cabinet. It can drive a Marshal 4×12  or anything from 4~16Ω because it actually uses a solid-state power amp to drive the speakers. You can’t do that with a tube output stage.

Wait, I thought this was a “tube-amp”? It is. The guitar’s pickup goes straight to a 12AU7 tube! The second is a 12AX7 tube which is wired like a power tube instead of the usual preamp application, and can deliver about 0.25 watts of power in that configuration. The tube’s output is then attenuated by a load resistor (just like a dummy load only smaller), and then reamped by the same LM386 opamp that makes the Smokey Amp sound so cool. The amp’s master volume controls the final solid-state driver section.

There is also a line-out directly from the tube stage that bypasses the solid-state chip, but the signal from the line-out is very hot because it’s coming from a power tube!  This is too much for most effects like my Korg PX4. I used the Pandora for cab emulation and reverb with headphones, but  recently got an old half-rack Boss SE-70 which has a +4b/-10db switch on the input, and at trim pot. The line-out jack also works like an effects loop with a TRS-cable, but will needs an Ebtech LLS-2 Line Shifter to play nice with most pedals.

Just like a real tube amp, you can swap tubes to change the sound. For lower gain, I used 12AU7 tubes in both positions, but found that I’m cheating myself out of the great high-gain tones. A 12DW7 tube in V2 is a nice compromise of clean-up and high gain. A 12AT7 in V1 gives a bit more gain and high end but the amp doesn’t need it. The best combination of tubes I’ve found is aTung-Sol 12Au7 and Mesa/Boogie STR425 (12AX7).

I like the tone of this amp so much I also tried the 3350LT and Super 50 versions of this amp for gigs and jam sessions, but there’s really nothing like the original.

Here are some tips for settings:

Clean: Gain at 9 o’clock or less, tone at noon, Master all the way up.

Low-Gain Drive with Clean up: Gain/tone/master all at 10 o’clock.

Hard Rock: High-gain mode, Gain at 2 o’clock, Tone at 11:30 Master at 3 o’clock.

With Ext. Speakers: Tone/gain all the way up.

With Line Out and High Gain: Tone all the way down.




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