Good small tube guitar amp
June 17, 2005 3:47 PM   Subscribe

What's a good, small tube guitar amp? Something small enough to practice with, but loud enough to gig moderate-sized places.

My previous amp was a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe. I loved the sound but couldn't turn it above 2 even when gigging in moderate-sized places. I liked the footswitch, too. I was thinking of the Blues Junior, but was wondering if there are other amps that compare for the money. My planing is about 1/2-1/2 distorted rock and clean tone.
posted by gottabefunky to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The Carvin Vintage 16 has been getting good user reviews for the playing situations you describe. Or perhaps, a Vox AC30TB.
posted by mischief at 4:26 PM on June 17, 2005

I always like to match my guitars with my amps. Fender amps rock, but I'm curious to know what guitars you are using.
posted by snsranch at 4:30 PM on June 17, 2005

Perhaps something on the Bassman lines (2x5881 or 2x6L6 w/4x10" speakers) might work, but it's going to bigger than what you're using now. It should do fine with the clean tone requirement in moderate-sized rooms. There's a '59 Reissue, that you can use either a solid-state or tube rectifier in, depending on your preferences. It's 53 lbs., though, so factor that in if your back isn't in great shape. The Bassman circuit is fairly popular and you can get it, or something similar, from other manufacturers if the Tweed look and form factor doesn't work for you.
posted by tommasz at 5:28 PM on June 17, 2005

My favorite all around practice/gig amp is the Fender Twin Reverb (late '70's model) It's 80 watts though. It sounds like you want to scale down the size and the wattage.

I would go make noise at local guitar shops and fall in love with something. Don't be afraid of trying old used amps. Like guitars, they build up some soul over time and each one is different.
posted by snsranch at 5:41 PM on June 17, 2005

An old Fender Tweed Princeton or Tweed Deluxe would fit your requirements most nicely. Good ones are starting to get a little pricey though. I think there are some reproductions being made and if you are handy, Angela Instruments has plans for a Princeton clone.
posted by caddis at 6:05 PM on June 17, 2005

As indicated by the previous poster, the Fender Princeton Reverb might be a good choice. It's lightweight and you can play out w/ it in many situations. (or mic thru pa in larger spaces) , here are some reviews. The Princeton can be pricey but they're sometimes not..look around. ebay has em all the time. Also, the Fender Champ may be something to's smaller than a Princeton and tube driven. If you ever get ahold of either fine amplifiers, don't ever let them go.
posted by The_Auditor at 6:48 PM on June 17, 2005

Ah Fender amps. The usable range of the volume knob is between two and four. Below two, it's inaudible and above four it never gets any louder, just crunchier.

But moving on...

In the same price range and tonal range, the Peavey Classic 30 is a screaming amp. Decent clean sounds, good tube overdrive, cheap, and light. For probably more money that they're worth, silverface Princetons are awesome amps. They run to clean though, and that may not be ideal. One of my guitarists runs one with a Weber California speaker in it and it'll get a little crunchy and fill a 100 or so capacity room. If more volume is needed, it gets mic'ed.

Another option is an old silverface Bassman head. If you through an inefficient speaker in it, the 40-watt version distorts quite nicely. I believe that it's the same circuit as the non-master volume Marshalls. Currently, Bassmans (Bassmen?) are a tremendous bargain as they seem to go for between $250 and $500 in the monstrously inflated vintage amp market in my neck of the woods.

For more money yet, Dr. Z makes a mess of screamin' amps that are pretty inexpensive for a hand-wired, point-to-point amp. I've got a soft spot for the Carmen Ghia as it's got an absolutely brain dead control panel. Two knobs: Volume and tone. I don't think you can crank them any way that doesn't sound good.

For a substantial chunk of change, THD build the Univalve head. This is a 15-watt, class A head with a built-in power sink. This means that you can crank the power tubes to their sweet spot and then cut the signal before it reaches the speaker and blows you off the stage, across the room, and into the sound guy. It's a lovely feature. The amp is also designed to take a huge number of different tubes and allow re-biasing on the fly. I'd buy one, but I'd never make it out of the basement on account of I'd spend all day tweaking the amp. The tone of the amp is almost infinitely tweakable. As they are shipped, they seem pretty vox-y in character, with all of that gorgeous, singing distortion and infinite sustain and such goodness. However, a little tweaking and the amp should get you that medium-gain sound that you're looking for. I have known pedal steel players, who are second only to bassists in their need for headroom and raw power, to use this amp. Usually the head replaces a Twin or Dual Showman.

But yeah, there's a lot of good stuff out there.
posted by stet at 7:03 PM on June 17, 2005

My vote is on the Blues Junior. I've been gigging/rehearsing/practicing with one for years. Plus, they're about $390.
posted by sourwookie at 7:53 PM on June 17, 2005

fender champ blackface. run you about $500 and you'll love the sound. and it's tiny. or perhaps a zvex nanohead ( -- 1/2 watt but it sounds astounding!
posted by n9 at 8:22 PM on June 17, 2005

My college roommate's a pretty serious guitarist, and he swears by the small Mesa Boogie that he's been playing for about 20 years now--pretty compact, sounds _amazing_, and can absolutely fill the house on a gig.
posted by LairBob at 9:38 PM on June 17, 2005

Look at the Peavey Classic range if you want to buy new, not break the bank, and have something you can carry with one hand (unlike a Fender Twin).
posted by armoured-ant at 3:35 AM on June 18, 2005

I'd get whatever you want or keep the hot rod delux (which is what I have), but use a power sink. I've used the marshal power brake which is pretty OK.

I've gone pretty far with sound reducing concepts. I suggest you try

The ultimate solution if you have time is to build an isolation cabinet. Essentially, I first built a box, about the size of a foot locker, and built a smaller box with a speaker in it. I hooked this up to the amp and put a mike in the box and put the box in the closet. It was pretty close to silent but the speaker quality was mediocre. It leaked bass too.

Next attempt was an actual box built around the whole amp. Which sucked because you'd have to open the box to tweak the controls. So obviously the next step was to take the controls out of the amp and put them in a "head" I built.

It works great. It's quite space consuming (pretty much a whole closet) but it's absolutely silent. I don't gig but if I did I might be inclined to take it along with me and feed the mike into the board.

If you're thinking that you should get a smaller watt amp so you can play in your apt, think again. a 15 watt amp is barely quieter than a 50 watt amp -- "loudness" is a logarthmicly varying quantity so if you want something half the volume of the hot rod deluxe (65 watts) then you really want a 6.5 watt amp, not a 32.5 watt amp. 1/4 as quiet, you need a .65 watt amp. spends a lot of time looking for good 1/2 watt amps. There are some pretty decent 5 watt amps out there (boutique) , which are not cheap. To gig with them you'd just need to take along your microphones. As a benchmark, a trumpet played full blast is about like a 15 watt amp at the sweet spot.
posted by RustyBrooks at 5:29 AM on June 18, 2005

They aren't cheap, but Fargen makes some pretty good amps. The Blackbird 20 might be what you're looking for.

Also, Nick Greer makes a 15 watt amp with loving care.
posted by fletchmuy at 6:45 AM on June 18, 2005

Besides the usual suspects mentioned here (thumbs up on the Fender Blackface and Blues Junior), you might check out the Emery Superbaby. It might not be powerful enough for loud club gigs, but it sounds unbelievable.

But what really sets this amp apart from the rest is hot-swappable tubing. They are all exposed and easily accessible, and for an extra 200 bucks you can get a set of 12 different types of tubes to mix and match sounds to taste.
posted by kidhuevos at 8:50 PM on June 18, 2005

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