What is a high quality but low power guitar amp?
February 7, 2009 2:48 PM   Subscribe

What is a very high quality, low wattage guitar amplifier that will not overpower a small room, but has enough punch to pick up some nuanced playing, and maybe one or two on-board effects?

Mostly just looking for something to keep in the living room for ad hoc songwriting, or fooling around with friends. Doesn't need to have a ton of effects, but don't want the clutter of needing to keep a bunch of pedals around.

Along with a lot of other things I'm downsizing these days, I'm downsizing my guitar rig. I'm an experienced, one time professional guitarist with a pretty deep knowledge of vintage and modern high end gear, but in looking for a serviceable practice amp that doesn't need to be powerful enough to mix with a PA, bass rig and drummer, I'm at a loss.

I don't mind spending a $600 bucks or more on a very, very good one, but if it's completely unnecessary to spend more than $250 on a rig to meet my specs, that's where I'd rather be. So, Line6, Peavey, Crate, Fender, Vox? Anything worthwhile there? I fooled around with some of their digital gear about ten years ago (a POD and a Fender CyberTwin), but I only found that awful, metallic trebly tone when I tried to dial in what was represented as vintage AC-30 or Plexi tones.

Again, appreciate any tips
posted by psmealey to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
From my husband:
crate V series are good amps for the money - all tube, able to generate lead tones at bedroom volumes, reasonably well-built. no effects on board except maybe reverb, but you sound like you don't like modeling amps so i'd recommend going with a tube amp and suffering through plugging in FX if you want them.
posted by kellyblah at 3:01 PM on February 7, 2009

Best answer: If this isn't for playing live, Line6's modeling amps are decent -- something along the lines of the Spider series. It's like the POD you tried, but better. They sound great when not pushed too hard (the digital amps don't sound too great loud), and they give you a decent range of styles and sounds to play with. I found that the metallic trebly sound you're describing is really present when you crank the volume up.

For a more "pure" vacuum tube sound, I'd buy a used Vox AC15 -- a bit pricey for what they are, though, and a lot of that price is unfortunately for the name. But they sound excellent, and are surprisingly versatile -- it's one of those amps that you have to try, and if you love it, the $600 you'd spend on it seems reasonable.
posted by spiderskull at 3:02 PM on February 7, 2009

An Epiphone Valve Junior is a dead simple, fairly nice sounding tube amp. They're not boutique, but they'll fit your needs nicely. Combine that with something like a Line 6 digital processor and you'll have a compact yet flexible setup that will work well in the living room and sound great mic'd or DI'd into a PA.
posted by Benjy at 3:59 PM on February 7, 2009

I hear rave reviews from everywhere about the Laney LC30 - 1x12 celestion cone, 30W, tube, two channels, good clean sound and even better crunch, light and also cheap.
posted by _dario at 4:11 PM on February 7, 2009

Best answer: I cut down my gear a couple of years ago. I think the big companies are beginning to understand that all us hobby players don't need gigantic, high-wattage, stadium-overpowering amps in our apartments and condos. When I was looking there were a number of 5-watt and under amps on the market. The Valve Jr. has been mentioned. I ended buying a Fender Champ 600 for a good price and I thought it sounded better with my strat's single coils. Combine that with a few classic pedals (tube-screamer comes to mind) and you'll get a good sound with relatively low volume. If that's still too loud, there's always the 1/2 watt zvex nano. You won't get such a wide range of tones, but you have is something classic.
posted by pantagrool at 5:45 PM on February 7, 2009

_dario has it: in my experience, a 1x12 speaker, 30W tube amp is perfect for the beginning rocker. I have a Peavey Classic 30 which I bought all nasty used and I love it to death. I did originally have a Crate practice amp, but I chucked it because, while it was good for practicing quietly, it was totally depressing to not be able to actually turn it up and rock out. Also, smaller tube amps are way better than smaller solid state amps. Tube amps only sound awesomer the louder you play them; solid state amps sound thin and broken past a certain point.

I have since used my Classic 30 to play in bars a few times &emdash; I just have the sound guy mic it out through the PA. Works great.

Get a used one and retube it if necessary. The tubes just plug in like light bulbs and you'll save a chunk of cash that way.
posted by mindsound at 7:15 PM on February 7, 2009

IMHO the Classic 30 doesn't really shine until you get it up to drumkit volumes. A great amp, though, especially for the price, but perhaps overkill for the question.

The advantage of a small tube amp is reaching saturation at a more manageable volume.
posted by Benjy at 9:52 PM on February 7, 2009

Pignose, now in tweed.
posted by caddis at 11:02 PM on February 7, 2009

Best answer: I have a VOX AD30VT - it's their answer to Line 6's modeling amps, and I like it better. There's a real tube (albeit low power) in the amp to add warmth, and the digital models are excellent. Not surprisingly, the one that impresses me most is the AC30 model. It has a dozen amp models and some basic effects.

They have a 15W version and a 5W version too, I believe. Mine sounds great at low volumes, and gets way louder than I've ever wanted. (I keep the volume at 25% or less at home, and about 40% when practicing with drummer / vocalist / bass player).

If you get a "real" tube amp instead, I'd look for a 5-watter, because if it's 15 or 30 you're never going to get a good tube-saturated tone at living room volume levels...
posted by mmoncur at 11:55 PM on February 7, 2009

check out old funky 'beginner' amps from silvertone, alamo, kay, supro, fender etc. the older the better, in many ways. champ clones are where it's at!

i was at a guitar store a few years ago and found a silvertone 1481 (6" speaker, 3 tubes, 4 watts). plugged it in, turned both knobs all the way up, and left the guy working there speechless. he just spent 2-something grand on a dumble, and the s-tone had similar if not better tone and vibe (at much lower volume, naturally).

he was pissed when i bought it (the tag said $50, IIRC)

still have it, still love it.

any vintage amp will probably need a trip to a good tech for new caps and tubes, but that shouldn't more than double the price.
posted by KenManiac at 7:39 AM on February 8, 2009

I have a Roland Cube 30. Brilliant amp, diverse as hell. Also pretty cheap.
posted by gergtreble at 8:12 AM on February 8, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for chiming in and your always great advice. After trying out many of the amps above (Roland Cube, the Vox15 and 30s), I decided to go with the Line 6 Spider Jam amp. It has a decent enough sound at low volume, but has some nice on-board features notably, a tuner, a decent set of effects, editable jam tracks (can change key and tempo) for practice, a basic drum machine, an an ability to record song ideas when they come up. This satisfies my wife's requirement for keeping it in the living room (no pedals or other "clutter") and my own for sound.

Thanks again for all the help.
posted by psmealey at 5:28 AM on February 11, 2009

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