THE DESIRE FOR A SMALL, TUBE-POWERED COMBO amp that can deliver great tones for live playing, recording, and practice is something that most guitarists share. There’s a huge comfort in owning an amp that you can carry in one hand that will perform with authority and clarity, and won’t leave you with that feeling of being tonally under-gunned when the band starts kickin’. While the concept of an “all around” combo amp seems pretty simple, in truth, a lot goes into designing something that can satisfy a wide variety of players, styles, and tonal tastes. For example, an amp that’s designed to deliver browner tones and a compressed response might not work for someone who wants a tougher and more slicing sound that will cut through well at higher volumes. There are also the issues of how much gain an amp offers (i.e. how much sustain it can produce), how tight or squishy it feels, the quality of its clean and distortion sounds, the coolness of its reverb, and how well it reacts with stompboxes.
Cost is another big factor, and is usually proportional to how time consuming an amp is to build. You’ll nearly always pay more for an amp with hand-wired circuitry because it requires way more man hours to solder parts together one at a time than it does to have them placed by machine onto a circuit board. Hand wiring doesn’t necessarily mean an amp will sound better than one with PC board construction, but there are advantages to hand wiring— such as ruggedness and ease of servicing—that go beyond the mere esoteric qualities of vintage- style electronics fabrication.
The six combos on review here all offer between 40 and 50 watts of power, but they differ significantly in construction, features, and the kinds of sounds they excel at. We tested them all with a mix of guitars that included Fender Telecasters, Gibson Les Pauls and SGs, and PRS SC245 and Mira X models.