Roundup: Nine 1x12 Combo Amps

January 30, 2014

AS HAS LONG BEEN THE CASE, COMBOS REMAIN the most popular guitar amplifiers for reasons of convenience, portability, and the ease with which they can be tailored for a wide range of needs. Whether it’s a 5-watt practice rig or a 50- or 100-watter for stage use, a workhorse combo always seems to be the go-to choice for the situation. Combos come in so many varieties now, from single-channel retro types (the format often seen in hand-wired boutique models) to multi-channel fire-breathers with closed-back cabinets (really just shrunken stacks) to digital modeling combos that pack dozens of amps and effects for those who want it all in one convenient package.

For this roundup we selected eight tube combos and one new digital rig, all of which have a single 12” speaker, can hang onstage with a band, and offer varying degrees of utility for home recording or practice.

We tested these amps with a variety of humbucker and single- coil guitars from Gibson, Fender, PRS, Fernandes, Fano, and others, and evaluated them all for tone, flexibility, and quality of construction. —ART THOMPSON

3rd Power Dream Weaver

THE DREAM WEAVER CONJOINS FOUR AMPS INTO A KIND OF SUPER GROUP combo that aims at replicating many of the guitar sounds you’ve heard on classic rock records. The left channel offers up a choice of ’63 Blonde or ’59 Tweed Fender Bassman voicings, while the right channel toggles between ’68 Marshall Super Bass and “hot-rodded” plexi Marshall tones. For each voice, over 20 dedicated components are selected by a single front-panel toggle switch. Powered by two reissue Mullard EL34s, the power stage offers a choice of 38- or 18-watt operation, making it easy to tailor the amp to the venue size.

Coming up with something new in the boutique market is not easy, but the Dream Weaver abounds with unique features. For starters, the rear panel has a Master Volume control that simultaneously synchronizes AC signal attenuation, DC current limiting, and DC voltage regulation. I didn’t need an engineering degree to decree it the best master volume I have encountered. The basic tonality remained unchanged throughout its range, and the only thing lost when turning down the Master was some of the sheer size and interaction with a vibrating guitar produced solely by raw volume.

The Dream Weaver’s two channels can be bridged with a jumper cable (included) and blended— or switched and blended—with an A/B/C box (not included). Analog summing mixes the preamp signals without audible phase cancellation, while analog noise reduction eliminates noise and hiss at lower gain levels and minimizes it at higher ones.

Some may recall 3rd Power making a splash with stackable, triangular external cabinets. This idea was no gimmick; the Dream Weaver combo uses a similar triangular design inside the speaker chamber to eliminate standing waves. It also allows the chassis and tubes to be located in separate compartments isolated from the movements of the speaker. The design takes into account speaker cone diameter and depth to create a larger sound than the cabinet’s dimensions would seem to warrant. The single 12" Eminence Legend equipped Dream Weaver definitely sounded bigger than any 1x12 combo I can remember, evidencing the low-end and thump normally associated with a 4x12. The cabinet also sports a triangular tuned port that can be left open or closed, depending on the room you’re playing in and the response you want.

The Blonde setting was like a Bassman on steroids, not so much gain-wise, but in its increased harmonic richness. Toggling over to Tweed kicked both the highs and gain up, yielding Texas blues bite. The Plexi setting on the right channel offered up the high-headroom, open sound of a 100- watt Marshall, while the louder Orange Glow broke up sooner and quite beautifully. All the settings had so much depth and dynamic response that the lack of reverb wasn’t an issue—although there is an effects loop if you want to add it. Each guitar I used sounded like a winner, sustaining well above its pay grade, and, at higher volumes, bloomed into harmonic feedback on the tail of almost every sustained note.

The Dream Weaver combo is pricey, but when you consider that you’re getting the equivalent of four hand-wired amps in one package it starts to sound like a bargain. Bottom line: Whether for road or studio work, the Dream Weaver will get you through it all in high style. —MICHAEL ROSS


PRICE $3,299 street


CONTROLS Tweed/Blonde side: Tweed/ Blonde switch, Volume, Bass, Treble. Plexi side: Orange Glow, Plexi switch, Bass, Middle, Treble,
POWER 38 watts/18watts switchable
TUBES Three 12AX7s, two EL34s
SPEAKERS One 12" Eminence Legend
WEIGHT 57 lbs
EXTRAS Effects loop. Input and Jump jacks to combine channels.
KUDOS Four harmonically rich classic amplifier voices. Bigger than usual 1x12 sound.
CONCERNS A significant investment.

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