TESTED BY THE GUITAR PLAYER STAFF
THE STATE OF THE ART IN LOW-WATTAGE TUBE AMPS IS such these days that it’s not uncommon to find models with 21st Century features rubbing shoulders with virtual knockoffs of amps that were made in the 1950s and ’60s. As in all things having to do with the guitar, players often have very different needs and expectations when it comes to amplifiers. Some are focused on vintage- style amps with minimal knob counts because they lust after primal guitar tones or are using pedals to get their distortion, modulation, and other effects. Others may opt for a more modern design with multiple channels so they can get clean and distortion sounds entirely from the amp and not have to bother with choosing a pedal that delivers satisfyingly amp-like overdrive sounds.
What most of today’s smaller amps have in common, however, is that they all seem capable of delivering more decibels per watt than ever before. Where it used to seem that 30 watts of power was the minimum you could get away with for a “gig” amp, now the threshold has dropped to where a pair of EL84 or 6V6 output tubes pumping out 15 to 20 watts can deliver enough volume— especially when driving a 2x12 or 4x12 cabinet—to cut it in a band alongside loud bass and drums. With some help from the P.A. system, no one in the audience would even be aware that you were playing an amplifier with so little power.
Another cool aspect of the new breed of small combos and, especially, heads is their compactness and light weight. If you can tote a guitar and amp on your shoulders and carry a small speaker cabinet in your hand, that could mean not having to make that extra trip back to the car to grab more gear—and what a nice thing that is when you’re running late and the nearest parking space is two blocks from where you’re playing!
Suffice to say we’re pretty stoked about the new tube-powered 20 watters that have been arriving here lately, and the five heads and combos on review this month from Dr. Z, Egnater, Mesa/Boogie, Victoria, and 65 Amps cover the gamut of what many players are looking for in terms of their features. We tested these amps on gigs and in our studios using a variety of guitars that included a Fender Telecaster, a Gibson Les Paul and SG, and a PRS SC245 and Modern Eagle II. We also ran the heads though the following cabinets: a Bogner 1x12 loaded with a Celestion Vintage 30, a Dr. Z 4x10, an Egnater 1x12, a Hermit Cab 1x12 loaded with an EV12L, and a Mesa/Boogie Recto 4x12.
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