THE MINI-AMP IS ALL THE RAGE THESE DAYS, AND THE format makes perfect sense in this age of sound-level enlightenment where the less-is-more axiom very often holds true when it comes to guitar amplification. Thanks to the advanced monitoring systems used today, pro players can get away with much smaller amps on even the stages of large concert halls and arenas. The benefit here is two-fold, as the lower levels coming from the amp’s speaker are less able to damage hearing, while the player typically gets a better sound due to being able to run his or her amp harder to obtain the sonic goods that only overdriven output tubes can provide.
That said, amps powered by a pair of EL84 or 6V6 output tubes that are cutting it beautifully on concert and club stages can easily be too loud for rehearsals and home studio use. Crank up a 22-watt Fender Deluxe Reverb or a 15-watt Vox AC15 to its sweet spot in your living room and the neighbors are likely to complain, or at least grumble and give you bad vibes when you’re out mowing the lawn. Knock the output level down below eight watts or so, however, and you just might get away with keeping your 6-string wails within the walls of your own abode.
This month we’re looking at four amps that range from a “mighty” 20-watter down to a modest 8-watter that, like a toy poodle with an Akita attitude, still aspires to give you big-amp tone and feel at much-reduced volume levels. We tested these amps with a variety of guitars that included Fender Strats and Teles, Gibson SGs, and two axes from PRS: a humbucker-fueled Custom 22 and a single-coil-equipped 305.