The Tex Mini EF86 is an extremely well-built and well designed tube combo with an original and versatile voice, and tons of vintage-inspired tonal character.
Cobbling together tasty guitar amps out of salvaged gramophones, PAs and other tubefired audio gear of yore is nothing new, but not all such ventures are created equal. Among the most legendary of such efforts are the handful of amps crafted by Canadian engineer Bernie Raunig from chassis and transformers pilfered from old Bell & Howell Filmosound projectors several years ago, and no boutique production amp maker has taken this platform further than Tony Teixeira. With acknowledged early help with circuit layouts from transplanted British engineer Martin Newall, this Canadian maker has earned a sizeable reputation for his Tex Bernie model, an amp played by Daniel Lanois, Alex Lifeson Jeff Tweedy, Brian Adams, Bob Rock and Colin Cripps, among others. Now the Mini EF86 Combo springs from that foundation to add a meaty EF86 pentode preamp tube to the brew, while stuffing it all into a compact 18" x 16" x 9" cabinet with a 10" Celestion G10N-40 speaker to achieve a mouse-that-roared-like performance.
Specs-wise, the Tex Mini EF86 delivers approximately 20 watts from a pair of EL84 output tubes in cathode bias. Beyond what's on paper though, a huge part of its appeal derives from both the simplicity and originality of the circuit itself—all further enhanced by the totally hand-wired nature of the build—and the plethora of tasty NOS components that Teixeira puts into it. Open up the chassis, and you'll find highly desirable British-made signal capacitors from Wima and Mullard/Philips (known for their presence in '60s Vox and Marshall amps), alongside military-grade switches and pots and a thick, hand-punched eyelet board. A custom spec Heyboer mains transformer and an output transformer custom-wound exclusively for Teixeira as an exact replica of an OT from a Canadian made Bell & Howell Model 399 Filmosound projector hang on the outside of the petite chassis.
The simple control panel includes knobs for volume, master volume, and tone, but that belies the versatility that these tap into. The circuit under the hood is unlike that in any other conventional guitar amp, and even the one knob tone control reveals a broad, interactive range, adding gain as well as presence as you wind it up. On top of it all, this little combo looks superb—like some long-forgotten British classic, more than anything else—in its grey Rexine-covered cabinet with hinged metal luggage handle and retro white grille cloth.
Tested with a '57 Fender Telecaster and a Gibson Les Paul 1958 Reissue, the Mini EF86 sounds much like some forgotten British classic too, and quickly proves itself a fierce little beastie. Notable are its thick midrange punch underpinning excellent high-end clarity that never gets spikey, and impressive lows for the cab and speaker size. Overall, it's definitely a vintage-like sound and feel, with a gnarly yet appealingly musical edge when you start pushing it hard, and plenty of tactile dynamics throughout the spectrum. Perhaps it most reminds of an early '60s Vox AC4, yet with the bigger voice of the 1x10 (versus 1x8) cab and push-pull output stage, but the same mix of thick midrange grind and EL84-induced shimmer once you get it cooking.
The amp delivers surprising headroom with the master up high or maxed out, where it will do warm jazz or girthsome twang and jangle as desired. However, it probably sounds its best and most dynamic with all three knobs set to right around noon, delivering biting semi-cleans to snarling rock 'n' roll tones, and cleaning up easily via the guitar's volume control or simply by adjusting your picking dynamics.
Donʼt let the amp's petite dimensions fool you, either; this combo is easily loud enough to keep up with a drummer at the average club gig, but it sounds great at a range of output levels, too. Teixeira has voiced this petite cutie to sound big and full through its own cabinet and speaker complement, which together provide some natural bass attenuation.
It's a great sounding little amp with a lot of character—both in tone and looks—and a fun way to grab an original slice of vintage-inspired tonal splendor.
- Construction: hand-wired
- Channels: 1
- Power: 20 watts
- Tubes: one EF86, one 12AX7, two EL84s
- Components: NOS
- Mains transformer: custom spec Heyboer
- Output transformer: custom-wound
- Signal capacitors: Wima and Mullard/Philips
- Board: thick, hand-punched eyelet
- Controls: volume, master, tone
- Outputs: 8Ω and 16Ω speaker outputs
- Speaker: 10" Celestion G10N-40
- Weight: 29 lbs
- Dimensions: 18" x 16" x 9"
- Color: grey Rexine with retro white grillcloth
- Master volume: + $195