The Seven Most Anticipated Tube and Solid-State Amps of 2015—Reviewed!

We explore seven of the coolest and most anticipated amps of 2015.
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While there’s some truth in the saying that money is better spent on lessons than gear, the fact is most guitarists put an immense amount of focus on guitars, amps, effects, and other things that promise to help them play and sound better. A good amp, of course, is a necessity, and when new ones show up at the office it’s always a rush to dive in and hear how they sound. That’s the fun part about working for a music magazine, and for this installment of our ongoing series of multi-product reviews, we’ve lined up recently arrived tube-powered models from Dr. Z, Magnatone, Supro, and Vox, along with a couple of intriguing solid-staters: The new Blackstar ID:Core BEAM and the Roland JC-40 Jazz Chorus. In fact, GP got an exclusive first look at this downsized version of the famed JC-120, which, in case you haven’t kept count, was introduced 40 years ago!

We tested these amps with a mix of guitars that included a Gibson ’59 True Historic Les Paul, a new PRS McCarty, John Page Classic Ashburn and K-Line Strat-style axes, and an ultra-boutique DeTemple Series 52. As always, we evaluate each amp for quality, features, sound, and utility; and this lineup has plenty to offer in all categories. It’s always impressive to see what’s available for players who don’t have unlimited budgets, and these six models all do a good job of bringing affordable performance to the amp scene.

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BLACKSTAR ID:CORE BEAM

Answering the question of “How much cool stuff can we cram into a tiny amp?” is this amazing little ID:Core BEAM from the folks at Blackstar. No bigger than a lunch pail, this magic box can amplify electric, acoustic, and bass guitars (and a whole lot more, honestly), and wirelessly broadcast prerecorded music, thanks to its Bluetooth connectivity.

I plugged a PRS Mira into the BEAM (Bass, Electric, Acoustic, Music…get it?), and auditioned the sounds. You get a total of 12 voices, and each one can be saved as a preset. They’re all musical and useful, with my favorites being Clean Bright and OD 2. There is plenty of gain on tap for the overdriven tones and I was able to get singing feedback when I cranked it up a bit. My only complaint is that there is a pretty drastic noise gate on the distorted settings that chokes off notes as they fade away and doesn’t allow super-light picking to come through. The noise gate’s sensitivity can be adjusted via Blackstar’s free Insider software, however, or removed entirely.

Many of the BEAM’s knobs perform double duty and a quick glance at the manual will help you navigate. For the Clean settings, for example, the Gain knob becomes a Compression control. On the Bass voices, the Reverb control lets you select between four types of bass distortion.

The tones themselves are sweet, but you can take them up several notches with the cool-sounding onboard Super Wide Stereo effects. The reverbs and delays are particularly expansive, with longer settings truly sounding like they’re coming from behind the amp or way off to the side. Very cool. All of these settings can be stored along with your Gain, Level, and EQ tweaks as presets.

You can use the BEAM as a direct recording device, thanks to the speaker emulated USB output, which allows you to send your signal to the computer as a stereo tone with effects, or as two mono tracks, one effected, one dry. How freaking cool is that? And if you want to learn a tune, play over a backing track, or simply listen to some mp3s, the BEAM will link to your phone or iPod instantly, making it a cool little hub for many musical applications.

The ID:Core Beam is a smart-looking, great-sounding, compact multi-tasker that would be a welcome addition to any room in your house. I don’t think I know a single guitarist or bassist who couldn’t find a bunch of ways to employ this well-thought-out amp.—Matt Blackett

MODEL

ID: CORE BEAM

CONTACT blackstaramps.com
PRICE $389 list/$279 street

SPECIFICATIONS

CHANNELS Six electric voices, two bass voices, two acoustic voices, two acoustic simulator voices
CONTROLS Voice, Gain, Volume, ISF (Infinite Shape Feature), Super Wide Stereo Effects (Modulation, Delay, Reverb and Distortion), Effects Level, and Tap Tempo
POWER 10 watts
TUBES N/A
EXTRAS mp3/line input, USB, speaker emulated/headphone output, Bluetooth connectivity
SPEAKER 2x3"
WEIGHT 8.6 lbs
BUILT China
KUDOS Cool sounds. Tons of features. Attractive, compact design.
CONCERNS None.

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DR. Z Z-LUX

The classic 1x12 tube combo has long been one of the most essential tone tools ever created for guitar players. In the guise of the Fender Deluxe Reverb in particular, the format has been part of untold numbers of recordings over the decades, and, of course, when the session was over this workhorse was often carried straight to the live gig for more hours of delivering great tones. There are more choices today in small combos than ever before, and Dr. Z alone has some 34 tube models that carry single or dual speakers in sizes ranging from 8" to 12". And among them is the new Z-Lux 1x12 combo (a head is also available), which incorporates popular features like spring reverb and tremolo (both footswitchable), while adding things like a footswitchable boost function that bypasses the tone stack for a little extra gain, and a four- 6V6 output stage that makes 40 watts and can be throttled back to 20 watts via a half-power switch. Power is fed into an Eminence-made Z-12 12" speaker fitted into a redesigned cabinet that is lighter and more friendly to players who haul their amps around on a regular basis.

As Dr. Z reports, the Z-Lux’s front end is borrowed from the MAZ amp, and features hand-rolled Jupiter caps, Mallory 150s, and classic “orange drop” caps that are selected for each stage. The output stage is lifted from the Remedy model, and the reverb and tremolo are both tube driven. The circuitry is very neatly hand-wired, and the tube sockets, pots, and jacks are sturdily mounted to the aluminum chassis. Rugged and easy to service, the hand-soldered innards of all Dr. Z amps are one of the factors that make them extremely good values in the world of boutique guitar amplification.

True to form, the Z Lux has a richly detailed clean sound that is awesome for rhythm playing, and gets even better when you lay on some lush-sounding reverb for a touch of airy reflection or a drenched “surf” effect. Setting the Volume knob to around 3 o’ clock and the Master to suit the room, harks to the best clean tones I can get from a Deluxe Reverb, but the Z Lux has yards more headroom and can take things significantly higher in volume without becoming flubby or ragged. The 3-band EQ is voiced so well that it was possible to set the knobs at noon and adjust them a little to either side to get great sounds from a Gibson Historic ’59 Les Paul or a John Page Ashburn with three single-coils. The tremolo throbs deliciously, and its range of depth and speed allow for anything from hypnotic, Bo Diddley-style rhythmic pulse to highlighting a break or a song ending with some shimmering modulation.

The Z Lux isn’t a super high-gain amp, and although it will get fairly distorted when the Volume is cranked up with the Boost engaged (even more so if the power stage can run free), I found it more practical to use overdrive pedals (an Xotic SL Drive and a Seymour Duncan 805 among others) in the front end for more sustaining rhythm and lead tones. With or without pedals, however, this dynamically responsive amp readily follows where your guitar wants to go, and always clean up beautifully when you roll down the volume. But if you are a pedalboard user, you’ll definitely appreciate how well the Z-Lux integrates distortion, delay, and modulation effects into its core tone.

A fine combo by any measure, the Z-Lux is a welcome addition to the Dr. Z line. It’s kind of a Deluxe on steroids, but it is also a very open and complex-sounding amp that’ll go in any direction you steer it: country, blues, rock, jazz … you name it. With 40 watts of backbone in a package that doesn’t weight much more than many amps of half its power, the Z-Lux is one impressive machine and it earns an Editors’ Pick Award. —Art Thompson

MODEL

Z-LUX

CONTACT drzamps.com
PRICE $2,399 street; head $2,049

SPECIFICATIONS

CHANNELS One
CONTROLS Volume, Treble, Bass, Mid, Master, Reverb, Speed, Depth
POWER 40/20 watts
TUBES Five 12AX7s, one 12AT7, four 6V6 output tubes
EXTRAS Hand-wired circuitry with top shelf components. Half power switch. Footswitchable reverb, tremolo, and boost (two footswitches included). 4Ω, 8Ω, and 16Ω speaker jacks. Fan cooling.
SPEAKER Z-12 50-watt 12" (made by Eminence)
WEIGHT 45 lbs
BUILT USA
KUDOS Excellent build quality. A very toneful and flexible amplifier with excellent reverb and tremolo.
CONCERNS None.

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MAGNATONE

SINGLE V HEAD AND 2X12 CABINET

In the late ’50s and early ’60s Magnatone’s throbbing, pitch-shifting vibrato did its thing for seminal artists like Bo Diddley and Buddy Holly, but otherwise, these amps were known for sounding bold, rich, and warm. Great for jazz players, but not ideal for the overdriven sounds that rock and rollers were chasing in the late ’60s. Fast-forward several decades, and Ted Kornblum (whose family founded St. Louis Music Supply in 1922, and used to be a Magnatone distributor) is now on his own and has set his sights on resurrecting the famous Magnatone brand and to make them better then ever. A revitalized Magnatone line hit the ground in 2013 (GP reviewed the Stereo Twilighter in September of 2014), and the popular Single V combo has now be reconceived in this head and cab set.

Circuit-wise, the Single V doesn’t cling to any particular vintage Magnatone model. Instead, Larry Cragg (who is also Neil Young’s long-time guitar tech) came up with the concept for this model, which he explains thusly: “Way back at the beginning, I was asked, ‘if I were king what amp would I make?’ I said, ‘A tweed Pro with two 12-inch speakers, reverb, and a pitch shift vibrato.’ Obeid Khan [formerly of Crate, Ampeg, and Reason] tried to make this combination a reality, and after a couple of years and many examples, he got it right, and it even sounded better than my favorite 2x12 tweed Pro amps.”

So the Single V on deck here represents a great mid-’50s tweed Pro—known for its juicy, versatile, broad-spectrum rock and blues sound— to which Khan grafted the famous two-stage Varistor vibrato of the original Magnatone 280 of the late ’50s (also switchable to standard tremolo), with improved reliability for modern use, plus a tube-driven spring reverb. In addition to the included footswitch for activating the reverb and vibrato, there’s an optional rocker pedal available for remote speed control. A pair of 6L6s delivers 30 watts of fixed-bias Class AB power, governed by an interface that’s classic in its simplicity: Normal and Bright channels with independent volume knob-sharing a set of tweed-style EQ controls. The set retains the swank brown-and-gold cotton-textile covering and Esty-era styling (complete with gold-plated chevrons), and the generously proportioned open-back speaker cab carries two custom U.S.-made ceramic Magnatone-branded speakers by WGS. Removing the head’s back panel exposes a steel chassis with a circuit comprising Mallory signal caps, carbon-film resistors, and SEC and Tube Amp Doctor filter caps that are hand-wired on a thick glass-epoxy board. The pots, tube sockets, and switches are chassis mounted, and on a second smaller board reside the speaker, switching, and remote pedal jacks.

I tested the Single V rig with a Gibson Les Paul and a K-Line Strat-style guitar, using a variety of overdrive pedals in the front end. Played straight up, effects off, and fairly clean, the amp definitely evoked the meaty texture and dynamics of a mid-sized ’50s tweed amp, with a bold voice for a 30-watter. The Les Paul induced some chewy breakup just shy of noon on either dial, but the Strat-style guitar needed the volume up around one o’clock before it started to grind. The breakup was classic, old-school rock and roll, with good midrange grunt and a musical balance between lows and highs. It was loud by the time I hit the good stuff, though, and a lot of players would need an attenuator to control volume in many situations. It also made an excellent pedal platform with either an Analog Prince of Tone or a Z.Vex Box of Rock engaged to take leads over the top.

The Single V really put its wares on display after I stepped on the vibrato switch and dove into that lush, thick, and phasey effect. It was bags of fun to play and authentic to my memory of the vintage Magnatone sound. The tremolo sounded great, too, and the reverb was superbly deep and watery. All in all, the Single V Head and Cab is a great-sounding choice if your gig calls for textured, euphonic, old-school effects. —Dave Hunter

MODEL

SINGLE V HEAD AND 2X12 CABINET

CONTACT Magnatoneusa.com, info@magnatoneusa.com
PRICE Head $3,199 street, 2x12 cabinet $899 street; covers by Victoria Luggage Co. included

SPECIFICATIONS

CHANNELS Two
CONTROLS Normal Volume, Bright Volume, Treble, Bass, Presence, Reverb, Intensity, Speed, FM/AM switch (for true vibrato or conventional tremolo)
POWER 30 watts
TUBES Five 12AX7s, one 12AU7, one 12DW7, two 6L6 output tubes, GZ34 rectifier
EXTRAS Speaker out with 4/8Ω switch, line out, jacks for Remote Pedal (vibrato speed) and footswitch
SPEAKER Tested with Single V 2x12 loaded with custom- made WGS ceramic-magnet speakers
WEIGHT Head 46 lbs, cab 48 lbs
BUILT USA
KUDOS Excellent build quality in a revamped vintage classic. Solid tweed-leaning core tones and outstanding pitch-shifting vibrato.
CONCERNS An attenuator or other volume-reduction solution may be needed in some playing situations.

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PEAVEY 6505 MH

If you love the awesome rock tones of the celebrated Peavey 6505 but are tired of throwing your back out trying to lift it into your car, this is your lucky day. Peavey has taken the 6505’s cool cosmetics, smart features, and positively insane levels of gain and put them into the cute, portable, and blessedly lightweight 6505 MH you see here. This little beast has so many cool features it’s tough to list them all, but here goes.

You get Rhythm and Lead channels like on the big brother, and the Rhythm channel has a footswitchable Crunch mode for more gain. This channel is capable of great clean tones with tons of sparkle that you can add some hair to in Crunch mode. Sweet and flexible. Because there is so much gain on tap, you can easily use the Rhythm channel for super-dirty power chords or as a singing lead tone. The EQ is powerful and can be used for ultra-scooped-mid metal, throaty boosted-mid single notes, and a whole lot more.

Of course, most users will get their lead tones from the Lead channel, and it has ungodly amounts of distortion and sustain. It’s easy to see why this amp has been so popular with shredders and metal players. These tones are thick and hot and will feedback musically all day long if the Gain is anywhere near halfway. Wow! The Lead channel won’t really get “clean” per se, but its low Gain/high Volume tones are great for rock rhythm playing or Gary Moore-style high-energy blues.

None of this is really new to fans of the 6505, but there’s more. The MH is switchable from 20 watts to five or even one watt, making it a snap to get heavy tones at low volumes. Because the one-watt setting is still plenty loud, you might want to hit the Speaker Defeat switch and listen through headphones or record direct thanks to the Microphone Simulated Direct Interface via either the XLR or USB out. Brilliant! Peavey also throws in an onboard reverb, which is a welcome addition although at extreme settings it was a little crashy. If you have a processor you prefer, throw it in the footswitchable effects loop. And if you’re concerned about the health of your power tubes, check the TSI (Tube Status Indicator) on the front panel, which will tell you if a tube goes bad and which one you need to replace.

All in all, the 6505 MH is a great choice for anyone who wants a classic rock machine in a flexible, compact package. Check it out! —Matt Blackett

MODEL

6506 MH

CONTACT peavey.com
PRICE $499 street

SPECIFICATIONS

CHANNELS Two
CONTROLS Channel Select switch, Rhythm/Pre-Gain, Bright/ Crunch switches, Lead/Pre- Gain, Low, Mid, High, Rhythm/ Post-Gain, Lead/Post-Gain, Reverb, Resonance, Presence.
POWER 20 watts
TUBES Two EL84 power, three 12AX7/ECC83 preamp
EXTRAS Power Attenuator (1 watt/5 watts/20 watts), Ohm switch (16/8), Speaker Enable/ Defeat switch, Mic Simulated Direct Interface (MSDI) XLR output, USB Record Out (mic simulated), 1/8" headphone output, effects loop, footswitch inputs.
SPEAKER N/A
WEIGHT 15.4 lbs
BUILT China
KUDOS Classic rock and metal tones. Great feature set. Super compact and light.
CONCERNS Reverb can be a little crashy.

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ROLAND JC-40 JAZZ CHORUS

How appropriate, given that 2015 is the 40th anniversary of the Roland JC-120 Jazz Chorus, that a 40-watt version of this legendary solid-state amp is making the scene this year. Obviously, the JC-120 is a wonderful amp with a much sought-after clean tone, and that sensual and giddy, “makes the hairs stand at attention on your arms and at the back of your neck” chorus, but it’s a bear—let’s say, “a bear who ate Hulk Hogan, Chevy Chase, and Kevin James, and is still eyeing a truckload of strawberry cheesecakes”— to lug around. That’s why those helpful and iconic casters are at the bottom—it’s a gentle warning. Roland has produced lighter—and heavier—versions of the JC during its four decades as a must-have amp, but the JC-40 may be the hippest upgrade of the line, as well as a great balance of portability and power. [Sneak Peek: GP will publish a full historical report on the JC-120 in the November issue.]

Although it’s miniaturized a good bit, the JC-40 still possesses the tank-like exterior of its bigger sibling. Trust me, this thing is a weapon. Clumsy roadies can’t hurt it. You can’t hurt it. Knock it over. Toss it into a van. Watch your bass player roll an Ampeg SVT right over it. It. Will. Not. Break. This is obviously great news if you’re a traveling musician, because few catastrophes will be able to render you broken down and amp-less at a gig. It’s also a minor ergonomic feature, but a thoughtful one, that the control knobs are big and easy to adjust. In addition, the control sections are well laid out, and the lettering is relatively large and easy to read—even in low-light situations. If you’d never used a JC before, and found a JC-40 sitting in a provided backline at a club, you’d be able to grok all operations nearly instantly. And even if you’re a veteran JC user, it’s nice to know that if some surly maladroit inadvertently dimed the Bass knob, you can dash back, quickly find the proper knob, and terminate any offending lows, even if panic struck. (Hey, it happens.)

Sonically, Roland says it has “modernized” the vibrato, distortion, and reverb effects of this marvelously clean and articulate amp. Full disclosure: I’ve always been a hater when it comes to JC-120 distortion. To my taste, it was brittle, cranky, and unrealistic in an uncool way. But, I must admit, the JC-40 offers a very nice, musical roar—to a point. I loved it when utilized as a throaty, crackling, and surprisingly dynamic overdrive with the Distortion knob set no higher than 5. Cranking the knob to distortion-ville kind of brought me back to my past aversion— though it’s a very useable saturation to be sure. The reverb is lush and delightful, and it can get you to a surf-y, faux Dick Dale wash when the knob is full up. The vibrato really takes me back to the ’80s new wave movement, and all those spooky, vibey arpeggios—think Siouxsie and the Banshees or the Cure. I simply put the Speed and Depth knobs both at 5, and get transported.

Of course, the big dog here is the fantastic Roland Dimensional Space Chorus, and it’s as stunning and gorgeous and striking on the JC-40 as it is on vintage JC-120s and beyond. Again, the classic sound—at least to me—is achieved by putting the Speed and Depth knobs at 5. I know I should experiment with different settings, but, on the other hand, why? I’m home. I’m happy. Done.

The JC-40 adds a true stereo input to the package—which means you can take full advantage of its internal stereo sound if you want to plug in a pedalboard with stereo stompboxes, or a modeling processor. Like the JC-120, the clean tone on the JC-40 really makes your pedals shine, as there’s very little coloration added by the amp itself. All-in-all, 40 years of brilliant sonic history definitely live inside the JC-40, making it a near-essential tool for ambient aficionados, clean-toned artists, and edgy iconoclasts. —Michael Molenda

MODEL

JC-40

CONTACT rolandus.com
PRICE $599 street

SPECIFICATIONS

CHANNELS One
CONTROLS Volume, Treble, Middle, Bass, Distortion, Reverb, Vibrato/ Chorus switch, Speed, Depth, Bright switch, Effect Loop switch, Bright switch.
POWER 40 watts
TUBES N/A
EXTRAS ¼" headphone output, ¼" stereo line outputs, ¼" inputs for optional footswitches (Boss FS-5U/5L, FS-6, FS-7, etc.), Series/Parallel switch for effects loop.
SPEAKER 2x10 Roland Heavy Duty
WEIGHT 34.8 lbs
BUILT Malaysia
KUDOS Classic clean tone. Super sexy chorus. Portable.
CONCERNS None.

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SUPRO 1650RT ROYAL REVERB

In the early 1930s, a merger between Dobro and National led to the formation of Supro and Valco, with the latter building amplifiers that carried the Supro name. Supro amps became popular with blues players on the south-side Chicago scene, and by the mid ’60s Jimi Hendrix was playing through a Supro Thunderbolt during his stints with Little Richard and the Isley Brothers. A few years on, Jimmy Page was getting some of his classic Led Zeppelin tones in the studio with a customized Supro 1x12 combo.

This review focuses on the flagship of the modern Supro line, the 1650RT, which is an updated version of the Royal Reverb combo from the mid 1960s. Re-imagined by amp designers Bruce Zinky and Thomas Elliot, the 1650RT is a retro-styled beauty with “Blue Rhino” Tolex covering and a woven silver grill that protects a pair of Eminence-made CR10 speakers. The control panel features a set of Volume, Treble, Bass, Verb, Speed, and Depth controls, along with a Rectifier selector with three settings: 35W (class A, tube rectifier, 35 watts), 45W (class AB, tube rectifier, 45 watts), and 60W (class AB, silicon rectifier, 60 watts). The amp carries reverb with tube drive and recovery, along with a tremolo circuit that modulates the output tubes (both footswitchable). Note the symbiotic relationship between the Rectifier switch and tremolo circuit: in 35-watt mode the effect is softer and its waveshape more asymmetrical, as per the original amp’s tremolo. In the higher-power modes you get a deeper sounding tremolo with a more symmetrical waveshape, and a greater degree of amplitude modulation.

Taking a look inside the chassis, we find a modern-style PCB layout with board-mounted pots and tube sockets. Not much to zone on here, but this type of circuit construction definitely helps keep the cost down. Though a compact affair at 23 5/8" wide, 16" tall, and 10 ½" deep, the 1650RT weighs in at a chunky 65 lbs.

Testing with a Gibson Historic ’59 Les Paul, a new PRS McCarty, and John Page Ashburn S-style, the 1650RT delivered great tones across the board. Even in low-power mode it’s still a pretty clean-sounding rig with good headroom and an easy transition into sweet distortion as the Volume is rolled up past noon. On the 35-watt setting, the 5U4 rectifier makes the playing feel more pliable, and that holds true for the 45-watt mode as well—albeit the volume is more intense when the amp is turned up enough to get the power tubes cooking. The 60-watt setting extends the clean headroom, and the feel also gets a little tighter owing to the silicon rectification. This can be cool for pedalboard users who don’t want a lot of coloration from the amp, but I like the slightly looser 35-watt mode, and I also had good results using an Xotic SL Drive for high-gain tones. With or without effects, though, the 1650RT’s clean-to-overdriven envelope provides options aplenty for rhythm and lead playing, and a sweep of the guitar’s volume knob is all it takes to go from mean to pristine. The Bass and Treble provide for basic EQ tweaking, but this is the kind of amp that gets its tone on easily and doesn’t need anything further to sound good.

Low settings of the Verb knob add nice dimension to the sound, and the reverb can get very wet without losing its enveloping character. And since the reverb drives into the tremolo circuit, the pulses take on a dimensionality that you don’t usually hear from in-amp tremolos. The effect also sounds noticeably denser and presencier in the 45-watt and 60-watt settings, which is reason enough to stick with those modes if you’re a trem freak.

Finally, kudos to the 1650RT’s speakers, the latest in a 25-year collaboration between Zinky and Eminence. These U.S.-made drivers feature ceramic magnets, custom voice coils, and stiff-but-lightweight paper cones. The aim was a speaker that delivers vintage Jensen-type tone, but with much greater power handling and efficiency. I think they nailed it too, as the CR10s sound warm and full, but with firm bottom and a clear top-end that doesn’t get raspy or unfocused at higher volume. The two 10s work wonders here, helping to give the 1650RT a sound all its own, and one that’s very complementary to humbuckers and single-coils.

The 1650RT Royal Reverb is an interesting and inspiring amp that stakes out its own turf in the mid-power combo market. If you think you’ve heard it all, give this new Supro (or any of its siblings) a try. You may be pleasantly surprised by what you’ve been missing. —Art Thompson

MODEL

1650RT ROYAL REVERB

CONTACT suprousa.com
PRICE $1,499 street

SPECIFICATIONS

CHANNELS One
CONTROLS Volume, Treble, Bass, Verb, Speed, Depth. Rectifier selector
POWER 60/45/35 watts
TUBES Four 12AX7s, one 12AT7, two 6L6 output tubes, 5U4 tube rectifier, silicon rectifier
EXTRAS Class A and two modes of Class AB operation. Output-tube tremolo. Tube driven reverb with long 6-spring pan.
SPEAKER Two 10" Supro CR10 (made by Eminence)
WEIGHT 65 lbs
BUILT Assembled in the USA
KUDOS A well-conceived, updated version of a retro classic. 3-way Rectifier selector. Excellent reverb and tremolo.
CONCERNS Heavy for its size.

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VOX AC10C1

Many players love the idea of playing a Vox AC30, but far fewer can deal with the price, weight, and deafening volume of that classic 2x12. The AC10C1 allows you to grab a good deal of that magic in an affordable, lightweight, sonically manageable package. The original AC10 wasn’t produced for long back in the ’60s, making this updated reissue a very welcome addition to the line. It features a different circuit and more-modern control complement than the original. Instead of four inputs and vibrato (actually tremolo), the AC10C1 has a single input, a master volume, and a digital reverb. It also features a closed-back design and an external speaker jack.

The first thing you notice when you plug in is that this amp sounds freaking amazing. The tone is rich and full, with incredible detail and amazing top end. It is also surprisingly loud for a 10-watt 1x10. With the Volume on full and the Gain at 9 o’clock it is gorgeously clean and punchy. Inching the Gain up brings on delicious, touch-sensitive grind and impressive volume. Setting the Volume low and the Gain high gives you thick distortion that remains clear and articulate. It sounds beautiful for power chords but holds up well for complex voicings and arpeggios and is thick enough for single-note lines. Cranking the Gain and Volume produces a tone that is not only loud as hell but is also one of those magical tones that can kind of do anything: It’s big and heavy when you lean into it, cleaner if you pick lightly, and squeaky clean and sparkly if you turn down even just a touch. Unreal!

The onboard digital reverb is a great perk. It has a surfy, springy wash at even low settings and makes the sounds really bloom. There is so much ’verb on tap that turning it even halfway up almost sounds like there’s no dry signal, a la the end of “Over the Hills and Far Away.” Not a sound you would use all that often but kind of cool to have on hand.

One of the best features of the AC10 is its extension speaker jack. I love the sound of its 10" Celestion, but running the amp into a Bad Cat 4x12 transforms this cute little combo into a massive-sounding beast. It’s truly amazing and makes an already great amp ten times more flexible.

It’s tough to say enough good things about this great amp. You’ll most likely need to mic it onstage, but it will sound amazing. In the studio, it could be the perfect amp. Run it clean, overdriven with amp distortion, or with pedals in the front end—there’s nothing it can’t do. —Matt Blackett

MODEL

AC10C1

CONTACT voxamps.com
PRICE $599 list/$449 street

SPECIFICATIONS

CHANNELS One
CONTROLS Gain, Bass, Treble, Reverb, Volume
POWER 10 watts
TUBES Two 12AX7 preamp tubes, two EL84 output tubes
EXTRAS External speaker out
SPEAKER 10" Celestion VX10, 16Ω
WEIGHT 27 lbs
BUILT China
KUDOS Gorgeous, dimensional tones. Lightweight. Great recording amp.
CONCERNS None.

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