Reviewed: BluGuitar Amp 1

October 21, 2015
Players in search of a super compact guitar amp now have a new choice in the Amp 1 by BluGuitar, a German company founded by an über-talented guitarist and product developer named Thomas Blug. Blug’s goal was to create an amplifier that would have the features and power needed to cover any gig, allow the user to create and store tones for instant recall, and be compact enough to fit into a gig bag. Amp 1’s features include a 100-watt class D Nanotube power section; Clean, Vintage, Classic, and Modern channels (with selector switch); three integrated footswitches (Channel, Boost, Reverb); 3-band EQ, Reverb level, a headphone/recording out with cabinet simulation, an FX loop with series/parallel and level switches, 3-postion noise gate, dual speaker outs (8Ω and 16Ω), and an AC mains socket that automatically switches for worldwide voltage. There are also six side-mounted trimpots: a Tone control for the Clean channel, independent Volume and Tone controls for the Classic and Modern channels, and Boost level. The MIDI 1/Remote jack is used to connect to the optional Remote 1 footcontroller ($349 street) via a standard guitar cord, or to the optional MIDI 1 interface cable.
The vacuum tube in the fan-cooled Nanotube power section is a Russian-made, sub-miniature type designed for military and aerospace applications. Its lifespan is reportedly three times that of a 12AX7, and the tube is hardwired into the circuit to eliminate problems associated with sockets.
Amp 1 has two basic operating modes: In “Standard Mode” you switch between the Clean channel and one of the Overdrive channels using the left-hand footswitch. The middle switch toggles the boost on/off, and the right-hand switch activates the reverb. In “Preset Mode” you can assign the footswitches to select between any three amp sounds, with or without boost and reverb.
 
 
Adding Remote 1 gives you full access to all of Amp 1’s sounds. In “Direct Access Mode” Every switch on Remote 1 is assigned to one of Amp 1’s functions, so you can select channels, as well as switch the boost, reverb, and FX loop on/off. Remote 1 also packs a PowerSoak control that reduces power in the output stage to create the sound and feel of an overdriven power amp, but at reduced volume. This triple-function control also sets the level of the second Master Volume—another footswitchable function that can be used as a volume boost,  and to give every preset an individual gain setting.
 
Remote 1’s “Preset” mode (the Mode switch lights up blue when active) initiates a fully programmable system with 4 banks—each with 9 memory locations—where you can store customized sounds for each channel (including boost, reverb, FX loop, Master, and PowerSoak settings). Want more programmability? For each switching state, Remote 1 simultaneously sends a program change command for switching external MIDI devices that are connected to Amp 1’s MIDI 1/Remote port. To facilitate programming your effects pedals to activate with Remote 1, BluGuitar offers the optional Looperkit, an extension module with four true-bypass relay loops that can be individually assigned to each preset.
Amp 1 is extremely convenient for gigs compared to lugging around a combo or half stack. Paired with a 1x12 cabinet fitted with a lightweight Alessandro Neo 12 speaker, the whole rig—including Remote 1—weighed in at about 22 lbs. BluGuitar also offers its own lightweight speaker cabinet, although we didn’t have it in time for this review. Amp 1 can be mounted to a pedalboard (an optional kit with magnetic attachments makes it easy to remove), and it also sits nicely on top of a speaker cabinet thanks to a channel on the underside of the housing that’s designed to straddle a top-mounted handle.
By itself or in combination with a pedalboard, Amp 1’s tones were always inspiring.  Using just the Clean channel and running effects pedals into it sounded every bit as good as my Deluxe Reverb, and by scaling back the wattage using the PowerSoak, it was easy to mimic the dynamic feel of playing an 18-watt tube amp. I also like Amp 1’s digital ’verb, which has a realistic spring-like character. I just wish it had a little more level.
Noise-wise, there’s a fair amount of hiss on all channels—particularly when the Master is more than halfway up—but the gate’s “soft” setting reduces it significantly without cutting off sustained notes to any appreciable degree. The “metal” setting provides more aggressive gating.
The Vintage, Classic, and Modern channels are progressively higher in distortion, and once you get the Gain, Volume, and 3-band EQ dialed in, it’s off to the side-mounted Volume and Tone pots to balance levels and get the right EQ response on the Classic and Modern channels. In BluGuitar’s words, Classic’s Tone pot sweeps from smoother “70s rock” to “rock/metal,” while Modern’s trimmer ranges from “classic lead to “ultra metal.” With a little experimentation, it was easy to find settings that worked well with my G&L ASAT Classic and a new PRS McCarty.
The Vintage channel serves up very stringy and badass tones with Gain set just below 5 and Volume at 6. By keeping the Master cranked and using PowerSoak to control level at the output stage, this channel worked beautifully for rhythm and lead playing—its chiming grind and dynamic responsiveness giving the feeling of playing a revved-up Vox or Matchless amp. Just adjust your picking attack and/or guitar volume to clean up or get dirtier. Clicking to Classic brings on a more aggressive Marshall-like tone, with enhanced midrange presence and gobs of sustain when you click on Boost for extra saturation. The Modern channel is reminiscent of a Mesa/Boogie Mark IV. It offers massive gain, and while voiced for heavy stuff, it tracks guitar volume changes very well and can tame down for blues, slide playing, fusiony jazz, and anything else where thick distortion and smooth top-end is the aim. Most importantly, Amp 1’s tones have a weight to them that feels like you’re playing a big tube amp, and, believe me, this rig can get insanely loud when you let the Master loose and run it through a 4x12.
The Amp 1/Remote 1 combination is an impressive system that delivers great tones and a ton of flexibility in a package that’s small enough to fit into a backpack. For players who do a lot of fly dates it could be a godsend, and it’s definitely worth checking into if you’re looking to significantly lighten your load without downsizing your tones. Well done! —Art Thompson
 

SPECS
CONTACT bluguitar.com
MODEL Amp 1
PRICE  $799 street
CHANNELS 4
CONTROLS Clean Channel: Volume, Tone. Overdrive channels : Gain, Master, Bass, Middle, Treble.  Additional side mounted Volume and Tone controls for the Classic and Modern channels. Boost level. FX loop with Level and Series/Parallel switches. Gate switch (metal/soft/off). Reverb and Master controls.
POWER 100 watts, with power reduction down to .15 watt
EXTRAS Speaker jacks (8Ω, 16Ω). Recording/Headphone out. FX loop Send and Return jacks. MIDI 1/Remote jack for connecting to optional Remote 1 footcontroller or MIDI 1 adapter. 36 custom presets available via Remote 1. 128 presets via MIDI1 adapter
SPEAKER Tested with a 1x12 cab equipped with an Alessandro Neo 12 speaker, and a Bad Cat 4x12
WEIGHT 2.6 lbs
BUILT China
KUDOS Excellent range of tones. Well designed. Smart features.
CONCERNS Could use a bit more reverb level.
 
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