Help me find a midsized guitar amp!
September 16, 2010 8:24 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking of getting a new amplifier!

I've been using the same Fender Bassman Ten as a guitar amp for 13 years. It's been a champ, and I love the sound I get out of it... but it's huge and bulky, it's probably more powerful than I need (I typically have the master volume at about 4 during practice to keep from blasting out the room; it's gone higher for shows occasionally, but we usually play places that mike amps), and sometimes I feel jealous of people with their fancy-dan reverb built into the amp, etc.

So, recommendations. Looking for something lower-powered (I think the Bassman's 80 watts), but powerful enough to hold its own in a practice space with a couple other guitars and a loud drummer. Tube strongly preferred, unless you can convince me otherwise. I'd love something priced so that I could cover most of the cost by trading the Bassman in, but that's also not set in stone.

I know that the final decision'll come down to taking a guitar into the store and plugging in and trying some amps out, but I'd like to have some direction for my search.
posted by COBRA! to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
One very important factor is the kind of music you play. We might recommend something different for metal as opposed to jazz.

Personally I have a Vox AC15 and love it. If you're used to an 80 watt amp you might want the AC30 instead, but they're great amps. Wouldn't recommend them for heavy distortion, though. I play Christian worship music and we use a lot of cleans with some light distortion here and there.
posted by DMan at 8:29 AM on September 16, 2010

Response by poster: It'd be used for rock, I guess falling into indie-rock. This stuff.

How distorted would be too heavy for a Vox? I'm kind of all over the place on the clean/distorted scale.
posted by COBRA! at 8:35 AM on September 16, 2010

I've been very happy with my Fender Hot Rod Deluxe. 40W 1x12 all tube with clean, drive, and more drive channels plus reverb. The drive channel uses preamp tubes while the more drive uses a chip, giving you a choice of overdrive tones. It is easily loud enough for what you want (I'm usually at 3 or 4 on the master too), and runs about $800 new.
posted by InfidelZombie at 9:05 AM on September 16, 2010

I play guitar in an indie/classic-ish rock band and in an electronic music outfit. I also like to play very heavy at times.

While I have a few amps, my go-to amp for gigs and most rehearsals is a beat-up Fender Hot Rod Deluxe that I put a Jensen speaker in. I cannot recommend that amp enough. One 12" speaker pushes more than enough air for any gig. 40 class-a tube watts is more power than you'll ever need, no matter where you play, and the amp, without any outboard effects, can go from sparkling Fender clean tone through subtle break-up and about 90% of the way to metal distortion. And it has two channels - clean and dirty, plus a "more drive" button for the dirty channel. And built-in spring reverb (which is, for me, a dealbreaker on any amp). Then I have an old Boss Super Overdrive and an original ProCo Rat fuzz pedal that will easily push it to as metal a sound as anyone would ever want. It's not heavy, it's easy to transport, fits in the trunk of a small car, has extremely versatile sound (much more versatile than a Vox), and will blow the doors off of pretty much everything volume-wise.

The amount of power the amp has is a big issue when playing medium-sized and smaller venues. If you play a high-power tube amp, you cannot push it hard enough to get good tone unless you play so loud that you ruin the mix. The key to playing any size venue is to have a tube amp with low enough wattage that you can push it to the point where you, personally, like the tone without ruining the mix.

I also have an old Ampeg Jet that has, I think, 12 or 15 watts, with a single channel and reverb. With the low wattage, you can push it all the way to the limit without ruining a mix, so it's perfect for heavy, QOTSA-type stuff that you can really only do by pushing your amp all the way to 12. But my band-mates don't like when I use it for practice, because it's so directional that it's either too quiet or too loud (for those standing directly in front of it).

One good option could be the Fender Supersonic amps that came out a few years ago. They are easily the most versatile and enjoyable Fender amp that I've played, and you can find them used at good prices, I've noticed.

Finally, if price is no object, I would look at an older Matchless Chieftain. But they're really expensive, and they have a signature sound that needs to be what you're looking for if you're going to spend that much money. Really, the Vox AC-30 and AC-15 and a lot of the Fender amps are that way, too - they have a signature sound and have a hard time getting away from that specific sound.
posted by The World Famous at 9:16 AM on September 16, 2010

And, on non-preview, I concur with InfidelZombie. I picked up my Hot Rod Deluxe on Craigslist for $300.
posted by The World Famous at 9:17 AM on September 16, 2010

Response by poster: Hot Rod Deluxe looks like it might be a winner. There's one thing I wonder about, and I guess this has always been a prejudice of mine: I got it into my head somewhere that with 12" and larger speakers, you need to driving them pretty hard to get them to sound decent. Have you guys experienced that at all with the Hot Rod? Or is this just my years of self-justifying using 10-inch speakers talking?

Finally, if price is no object, I would look at an older Matchless Chieftain.
I've wanted a Matchless ever since I saw one at a Golden Smog show, but I assume that's something I'll have to just keep wanting for a long, long time.
posted by COBRA! at 9:30 AM on September 16, 2010

I prefer 12" speakers over 10", as I find that they have a warmer, fuller sound generally, and they push more air, which I like. I've had amps with 10" speakers, and the only one that didn't sound thin to my ears was the '59 Bassman reissue with 3 tens - and that's an amp that has to be pushed super hard. Now, one issue with Fender amps is that they really only seem to have three volume levels: Way too quiet, just right, and way too loud. They should just put a three-way switch on there instead of a knob that goes from 1 to 12.

My little Ampeg has 12 or 15 watts pushing a single 12" speaker and it sounds like heaven at any volume and starts to break up at about 4, which is apartment-volume. I also have a JC-120 that has two 12" speakers and more power than I'll ever know what to do with, and it sounds gorgeous at any volume.

A good overdrive pedal like an old green Ibanez Tube Screamer or a Super Overdrive is also a very important part of my tone, since it can be set to push the amp just enough to make it sparkle - or to push it over the top without fuzzing out. There are a lot of "boutique" overdrives out there these days, but they're all just some variation of the same chip that's in the Tube Screamer and the Super Overdrive. When Zakk Wylde came out with his signature model MXR overdrive pedal, I read an interview with him where he said that it's just an exact copy of the Super Overdrive that he was already using. That made me chuckle, since I paid $20 for my SD-1.
posted by The World Famous at 9:44 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your Bassman Ten is actually rated at 50 watts – not much difference from a Hot Rod Deluxe (which BTW is not a class A amplifier). If you want noticeably less power than you have you'll need to go down to the Princeton/Deluxe size of amp (12 to 20-watt range). You pretty have to mic those in a large, noisy room though.

Four tens to one twelve *is* a big change though. I think one twelve is a classic rock guitar sound, but it might not be to your taste.
posted by timeistight at 9:56 AM on September 16, 2010

Response by poster: Your Bassman Ten is actually rated at 50 watts

Damn, I should've known that.

Hot Rod Deluxe (which BTW is not a class A amplifier)

OK, profoundly stupid question: is that a technical term, or do you just mean it's kind of a second-echelon amp?

I'm kind of realizing that I have a lot of opinions about amps, but very little actual knowledge.
posted by COBRA! at 10:09 AM on September 16, 2010

Hot Rod Deluxe (which BTW is not a class A amplifier)

Oops. Sorry about that!

Class A is a technical term referring to very techical aspects of the electrical schematic (or something).
posted by The World Famous at 10:19 AM on September 16, 2010

I have a Peavey Bravo 112 from 1993-ish (it was my first amp when I started learning to play). It's an all tube, 25W, 2 channel, 1x12" combo with a decent sounding spring reverb tank. I LOVE it. Tubes are EL84s and 12AX7s, so you can go from a good Fender-ish clean sound up to a VERY loud crunchy distortion (the other guitarist I regularly play with has an AC30 and I can more than keep up). Channels and reverb are foot-switchable, although I had mine modded to switch the gain boost on the distortion channel on/off rather than the reverb. The stock speaker in the amp is just okay, but it sounds great played through a 2x12" cab. They pop up on eBay occasionally for around $200 and are a steal at that price.

That being said, I played through an AC15 a couple days ago while trying out a new overdrive pedal at the store and it was really, really nice. Nicer than the above-mentioned AC30 in fact, although I think that's just because my buddy doesn't know how to set his very well. If my amp blew up and I had to buy a new one, I would look hard at the Vox, the Fender Super-Sonic head, and the Orange Dual Terror.
posted by sbrollins at 10:24 AM on September 16, 2010

I love my Fender Tweed Deluxe (5E3) clone, it's 12-15 watts, 2 6V6 with a single 12" Jensen. Depending on your room and your style it might be ideal but it won't be clean turned up. Fender's version is $2600 list, but I've seen clones on craigslist for $500-$600.
posted by tommasz at 11:35 AM on September 16, 2010

Response by poster: I think my biggest problem is going to be figuring out what wattage bracket I need to be in. I know the 50-watt job I've got now is too much, and I know 15'd be too small (I tried bringing a 15-watt Fender Bronco in to practice a couple of times and it got totally buried). So I guess I'm thinking 30-watt range.
posted by COBRA! at 11:47 AM on September 16, 2010

Fender Vibrolux ftw.
posted by brand-gnu at 11:52 AM on September 16, 2010

One great option is the Mesa Boogie Lonestar Special, which has two channels and is switchable between 5, 15, and 30 watts. And it sounds truly amazing.
posted by The World Famous at 12:03 PM on September 16, 2010

Best answer: Well, I'd honestly recommend just keeping the amp you have now and supplementing with pedals as needed.

I've wheeled and dealed enough to realize that if you trade in an amp you really like, just because you think it's too much amp or you're bored, you'll find things to not like about the new one. Granted, if you have no car let's say, it's going to be tough to carry a 4x12 around. I get that. If you 'love' the sound of the Bassman, stick with it. Those early 80s Fenders are pretty rock solid, USA made and not MDF (crap non-wood construction) and PTP (that is, made like only the fancy-fancy boutique amps these days). You have reliability and tone you love. Even a great Matchless/Vox is going to be quite a different sound than a Fender.

The current Vox stuff is made in China and most Fender stuff is made in Mexico- you're taking a quality dive for sure with some of this new stuff, as good a value as it may seem. I've played most of the above stuff and I would second the Vibrolux and Supersonic recommendations, and of course the Matchless. I quite like the precursor to the Supersonic, the Prosonic, which I definitely should have held onto. I had a Peavey Classic 30 years ago which was really not bad, though IME not enough for a loud drummer.

My current, and currently only amp is a Marshall 1974x which I just LOVE, but mine has had reliability issues that piss me off considering it's $3200 new.

YMMV, just thought I throw the alternative options in there for you.
posted by tremspeed at 9:45 AM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

new = list $$$. sorry.
posted by tremspeed at 9:46 AM on October 12, 2010

Response by poster: Weird, tremspeed, you pretty much laid out the thought process I wound up going through. The Bassman abides.
posted by COBRA! at 9:50 AM on October 12, 2010

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