The amplifier market is rife with models that deliver high-grade tones in packages that aren’t always available through you local Guitar Center or other large music gear retailer. Some of these amp companies sell direct, while some have a select network of music shops that cater to the bourgeoning boutique market. If you’re looking for an amp that gives similar performance to some of the most hallowed vintage models from the 1960s, but is probably more reliable and may have a set of features that make it better suited for modern players, check into what these companies have to offer. The boutique amp market is in some ways similar to the small-lot wine industry, and often it takes a bit effort to find the really good stuff—go “tube tasting” and you may find a custom combo or head with a tone that truly inspires you.
In no particular order we’ve spotlighted 12 companies that, with the exception of Mesa/Boogie, build relatively small numbers of amplifiers that are designed to satisfy players who are looking for something that’s been painstakingly crafted and voiced to satisfy a discriminating taste for tone. There are many other makers and a lot of interesting amps out there, so good hunting!
VINTAGE TOMBSTONE RADIO AMP
This hand-wired 5-watt vintage radio amp is modeled after classic amps of the 1950s. Features include Mercury Magnetics transformers and a Tone Tubby 8" alnico Speaker. Ball amps are custom built using old suitcases, radios, or TVs for the cabinets, which makes them all essentially one-of-a-kind designs.
Custom builds starting at $12,500
A new offering from Alessandro High-End Products, the AZZ is designed and built for the discerning, professional musician. Drawing its tone and feel from the most significant amps of yesteryear, the AZZ seamlessly blends its vintage vibe in a form to be used with today’s modern pedalboards. The AZZ delivers 50 watts with two 5881 power tubes or 90 watts with four 5881s. It features a Lead channel with Volume, Treble, Middle, and Bass controls, as well as a Rhythm channel with identical controls, plus Reverb, Speed, and Intensity knobs. The channels are voiced to be layered together, so you can utilize the Rhythm channel full time and then switch on the Lead channel to bring all your pedals and effects on line. This keeps the Rhythm signal path free of tone sucking pedals and cables, and the individual EQ and level controls allow for fine-tuning to get the voices to blend and layer musically.
The Skylark reflects an appreciation for classic small ’60s American amps, such as the Fender Harvard (to name but one), which deliver organic tube tone at real world volumes. The point-topoint wired Skylark takes this concept to the next level by featuring reverb, a built-in power attenuator, a Hi/Low gain switch, and extended range Mid and Presence controls to provide an incredible palette of sounds from a Celestion A-type 12" American voiced speaker. The tube complement of two 6V6s, two 12AX7s, and two 12AT7s provides 12 watts maximum, and you can lower the power to 1.2 watts and all the way down to zero.
DEVILCAT MR. TERRY
$1,459 street; $1,559 with “1957” finish
Handmade in the USA, this class A combo pumps 30 watts into a 16Ω Jensen Jet Falcon 12" speaker housed in a maple-ply cabinet. Power comes from 6L6 or EL34 output tubes, and there are also three 12AX7s and one ECC803 in the preamp. The Dirt channel has Gain and Volume controls, while the Clean Channel features Gain, Volume, Low, Mid, and High controls. Other details include a cascading-channel function, switchable Boost, Contour and Master Volume controls, and an FX loop. A 2-button lighted footswitch is included for remote activation of Dirt and Boost.
$1,995 street; combo $2,295
This 50-watt, dual-channel amp brings the ODS tones for which Fuchs is known to a more affordable price range. Part of Fuchs’ Casino family, the Fullhouse-50 uses dual 6L6 tubes and features a 3 x 12AX7-based preamp with shared Bass, Middle, and High, controls; a discrete Clean channel; and a separate Gain channel with its own Output, Tone, and Level controls. A footswitchable gain boost works on both channels, allowing clean, clean with crunch, overdrive, and high-gain overdrive tones. The 16-bit digital reverb is mixed in via a sidechain so it has zero effect on the dry signal whether used or not. Assembled in the U.S., Fullhouse amps feature custom transformers, mil-spec aluminum chassis, series buffered FX loop, a two-way footswitch (channel/gain), and worldwide power.
HOMESTEAD AMPS WH50 COMBO
The WH50 Combo is a 50-watt, single-channel amp powered by two 6L6s driving two 10" Celestion V-30 60-watt speakers. It has Hi and Lo inputs, and the controls consists of Volume, Treble, Bass, Reverb, and Master. Switchable functions include half/full power, Bass Cut, Mid Boost, and Bright. The WH50 was specifically voiced in the studio while Warren Haynes and Railroad Earth were recording their latest album, Ashes & Dust. Between takes in the studio, guitar tech Eric Hanson and amp tech Peter McMahon re-voiced the amp to Warren’s specs and modified the tone and reverb section. All slide and lead guitar parts on the album were recorded using the WH50. Incredibly versatile and able to give the player large amounts of clean headroom, the WH50 is, according to its maker, “Probably the most touch-reactive amplifier being built today.”
MESA/BOOGIE MARK 5
$2,249 head, 1x12 combo $2,399
This 90-Watt Simul-Class Legacy model features 45 years of classic Boogie sounds. Features include three footswitchable channels, nine modes, a 5-Band graphic EQ with channel specific Preset controls, Multi-Watt Channel-Assignable Power (90-, 45-, 15-watts), Reverb, FX loop, and an included footswitch. The Mark 5 is one-stop-shopping for a library of classic Boogie amp sounds, including those of the Mark I, Mark IIC+, and Mark IV. What an amazing feat of amplifier technology!
Ever considered building you own tube amp? This single-channel amplifier kit is a good way to get started. The MOD102+ is a cathode biased, class A design that delivers 8 watts into the speaker of your choice using one EL84 power tube, one 12AX7, and a silicon rectifier. Its controls consist of Volume (pulls for “turbo”), Bass (pulls for mid boost), and Treble (pulls for bright). modkitsdiy.com
3 MONKEYS AMPS NASHVILLE HOWLER
This amp has been described as a “tweed Deluxe with a British accent.” It uses two 6V6s running in cathode bias and delivers 15 watts into a 12" Celestion G12M-65 Creamback speaker. Features include 8Ω and 16Ω external speaker jacks, and the controls consist of Volume, Treble, Middle, Bass, and Presence. Designed in conjunction with Grammy winning artist Gordon Kennedy—who wanted a Marshall-style amp he could use at smaller gigs and in the recording studio—the Nashville Howler has plenty of clean headroom and is the ideal practice and small venue amp.
TUNGSTEN CREMA WHEAT
The Crema Wheat is a 20-watt, 1x12 combo with a GZ34 rectified dual-6V6 power section. A modern take on the classic “tweed” 5E3 circuit, the Crema Wheat amp has two individually voiced channels and four inputs. Custom Mercury magnetics transformers help to give it more headroom and dynamic range, making it great for small bands and studio work. A resonant pine cabinet covered in lacquered tweed houses either a Scumback M75 12 or a variac treated Celestion G12H30 Anniversary speaker.
SIOUX GUITARS SWIFT
The Swift sports Volume, Bass, and Treble controls, and is designed to “deliver thick meaty tones, yet be transparent enough to let P-90s growl, single-coils twang, and humbuckers sound rich and full bodied.” This amp features four 6V6 power tubes, and it can be ordered in four versions: head ($1,200), 1x15 combo ($1,450), 2x12 combo ($1,525), or 4x10 combo ($1,650). The Swift comes in red and white only and is built to order with a delivery time of about eight weeks.
ZEPPELIN DESIGN LABS PERCOLATOR
$339 direct, kit; $489 assembled
The Percolator is a 2-watt, 1x8 combo that’s offered as either a DIY kit or ready-to-play. Weighing in at 12.7 lbs, the Percolator has a solid poplar cabinet that houses a Jensen CR8 ceramic-magnet speaker. It features an all-tube signal path and uses just one NOS 6AF11 Compactron tube, which was originally designed for use in color televisions. The single Volume knob allows for warm, rich, clear tones at lower levels and aggressive, overdriven sounds when turned up—all at a moderate volume, making it ideal for practice, studio, or stage.