5 Mid-Power Amps

December 1, 2010

WHEN VOX INTRODUCED THE SECOND-GENERATION OF AC30 combo amps in the late ’50s, powered by a quartet of EL84 tubes rather than the original EL34s, 30 watts was still considered to be a substantial amount of power (the 80-watt Fender Twin available across the Big Pond was likely viewed as a thundering behemoth). For most gigs, a 30-watt 1x12 or 2x12 combo was more than adequate, and even after the era of 100-watt stacks was in full flower, amps with less than half that power remained popular, particularly among non-rock players and session musicians working in all genres.

Three of the five amps reviewed here continue to utilize that now classic complement of four EL84s in their power sections, while one employs two 6L6s, and the fifth allows you to select between pairs of 6V6s and 5881s. In fact, one amp included in this roundup, the Vox AC30C2X, is directly descended from its mid-’60s ancestors, as Vox revisited old schematics and other historic documentation in an attempt to impart as much vintage vibe as possible. Another amp, the Carr Artemus, was largely inspired by the magically simple circuitry of the old AC30s, but Carr modified a few things and added a few others to create its own distinct take on the iconic design. The third EL84-driven amp, the Fryette Memphis 30, charts new tonal territory via an inventive feature set that includes a novel approach to lowering output wattage.

The Randall RT-50C pumps out 50 watts—bringing it in just under the wire as a “mid-power” amp—and takes a more, um, aggressive approach to visual design and tone creation than the others in this roundup. And in the “truly other” category, the BC Audio Amplifier No. 7 completely transcends historic designs by being built into an army surplus ammunition can (it is also available in a fancy wooden cabinet for $100 more). Despite its diminutive size, novel cabinetry, and non-EL84 tube selection, however, classic AC-30-style tones are among its sonic repertoire.

The amps in this roundup were tested using a variety of guitars that included a Fender Telecaster, a Fender Stratocaster, a Gibson SG Custom, a Gibson Les Paul Custom, and a PRS Custom 24 Brazilian.

More from this Roundup:

BC Audio Amplifier No. 7
Carr Artemus
Fryette Memph
Randall RT-50C
Vox AC30C2X
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