Review: Hehku Custom Nightingale 15
From a guitarist’s standpoint, Finland truly is the land where milk and honey flow. In relation to its tiny population Finland is home to an unbelievable number of first-rate guitar-, effects- and amp-makers.
One such boutique-level amp brand is Hehku Customs from the town of Pori (on the western coast). Hehku’s team consists of chief designer Jarmo Välimäki, as well as Markku Penttilä and Juha Heljakka, who are in charge of R & D, sales and marketing.
There are several examples of different custom amps the company has built on Hehku’s website. Prices for custom amps start at about roughly 1,300 €. Hehku Custom’s cabinet sizes and shapes are standardised, but all other details can be tailoured to each customers wishes and requirements. ”The basic idea is that we want to make our customers’ wildest dreams come true!” says Jarmo Välimäki.
Kitarablogi got a 15-watt Hehku Nightingale 15 combo for testing. This is Hehku Custom’s first standardised model without custom options.
The Nightingale 15 (combo approx.: 1,950 €, head approx.: 1,750 €) is a hand-made, all-valve combo with a single 12-inch speaker, and represents many features typical of Hehku’s design philosophy.
The Nightingale’s cool and original looks make it clear from the off that this combo isn’t your typical Fender Tweed clone.
The Hehku Nightingale is an open-backed combo with easy valve access. All Hehku cabinets are made from Finnish birch ply, which is an outstanding material, both in terms of strength as well as sound.
Birch ply is also relatively lightweight, which is why the Nightingale is easy to carry by its single top handle.
Hehku also offers professional transport cases to go with their amps and cabinets. A road case for the Nightingale 15 would set you back around 260 €.
Hehku’s Nightingale 15 is a very special case for a two channel combo, because its signal path is in series the whole way through.
Most vintage (-style) amps have two discrete channels with separate controls and functions (like ”Normal” and ”Tremolo”), and no channel switching capabilities. Modern amps, on the other hand, may share a single EQ section between two channels, but they offer channel switching, and separate gain and volume settings for each channel.
Hehku’s Nightingale takes its own, idiosyncratic path by offering two switchable channels in a cascading set-up. This means that the Clean channel’s triode and pentode gain settings, as well as this channels two-band EQ (six-position rotary Bass, active Treble), also influence the Drive channel’s tone and response.
You can either use the control panel’s push/pull-switches or the compact footswitch unit (included with the amp) to select triode- and pentode-modes, and to switch from Clean to Drive.
The Nightingale’s back panel sports a handy valve chart for easy orientation.
There’s also a triode/pentode switch for the power amp valves – switching to triode-mode the combo’s output power drops from fifteen to seven watts, and it also changes the amp’s tone somewhat.
Thanks to its four speaker outputs you will be able to connect the Nightingale to virtually any external guitar cabinet you can find.
The clean channel is constructed around a EF86-type pentode. The EF86 (aka the 6267) is known for its great tone, and it can be found in some vintage Vox amps, as well as in Matchless and Dr Z amps. But due to its microphonic nature this tube type is not widely used.
Hehku Customs has solved this problem by using a damper made from silicone, which decouples the EF86 from the mechanical vibrations of the combo.
Overdrive (and phase inversion) duties are handled by a pair of 6N2P-valves, which are Russian, military-spec’ed relatives of the 12AX7/ECC83, offering a slightly different gain structure and sound.
The Nightingale uses a tube rectifier designed around a type 5AR4.
The power amp section runs on a pair of EL84s. You could also drop in two Russian (military) 6P15P/EL83-types, and thanks to the fact that the Hehku Nightingale is self-biasing, you can do this without the need for an amp technician.
A quality 12-inch speaker from Warehouse, the Green Beret, has been selected for its British sound.
With its factory set-up (6N2P + EL84), the Hehku Nightingale 15’s clean channels has plenty of headroom, even for twin humbucker guitars. The six-step Bass-rotary and the combo’s active Treble control offer you a lot of leeway to tune the tone to your requirements. Tonally, the Nightingale’s clean delivery is more ”Vox” than ”Blackface”.
The Nightingale’s overdriven tones are extremely tasty, too. There’s a very juicy mid-range, coupled with a healthy dose of top end grit, which will surely satisfy any fan of classic Rock and Blues sounds.
Here’s a clip recorded with my vintage-reissue Fender Telecaster – you will hear: clean (triode) –> clean (pentode) –> overdriven (triode) –> overdriven (pentode); the power amp runs in pentode-mode:
And here’s a similar clip played with my Hamer USA Studio Custom:
Hehku’s Jarmo Välimäki also supplied me with a set of alternative valves (12AX7 + 6P15P), and the difference in tone and dynamics is easy to hear:
With the alternative set, there’s much less headroom on offer. Even the Telecaster will drive the clean channel into break-up (in pentode-mode), with the Hamer stepping clearly into Blues-overdrive territory.
These valves add more gain to the drive channel, and also result in a slightly flabbier bass and sharper treble. The Nightingale 15 sounds great this way, too, even though my own preferences lean more into the direction of the factory set-up.
Here’s a clip with the Telecaster (the control settings have stayed unchanged, only the valves have been swapped):
And here’s the sound of the amp played with the Hamer’s two humbuckers:
In my view, the Hehku Customs Nightingale 15 is a fantastic all-valve combo with its own voice and an interestingly idiosyncratic overall concept. I like Hehku’s eye for detail, and the fact that the company go their own way in terms of looks and electronic design. The Nightingale is a top-drawer amp, offering its own distinctive looks and sounds, without the need to resort to snake oil or nostalgic tube voodoo.
Hehku’s Nightingale is a modern, hand-made valve combo, with a clear and easy-to-understand lay-out, as well as a very interesting and interactive signal path. The Nightingale is not about trying to imitate any specific vintage amp’s sounds – this amp is a true creative tool, setting you on your path to your personal guitar tone nirvana.
The Nightingale 15 sure isn’t cheap, but in light of the fact that this is a hand-made Finnish product, you can only call the price tag very fair!
Hehku Customs Nightingale 15
approximately 1.950 €
Contact: Hehku Custom
+ voluptious appearance
+ Made in Finland
+ idiosyncratic channel lay-out