Dear friends of Yoga Logik!
I wrote a lot of the following half a year ago, but a lot happened since then (new baby boy, new job in a new town) and I finally came around to finishing it.
I wanted to write about my experiences with different amp setups that I used during my career so far. Everything is just my opinion of course, so let me know what you think about it!
Amps I owned and/or used since the early nineties:
Squier 15 W
Dynachord Keyboard Amp
Marshall Valvestate 8240
Mesa Boogie Caliber 50 +
Digitech GSP 2101 + Rocktron Poweramp + Marshall 1×12“ Cab
Digitech Valve FX + Rocktron Poweramp + 2 Marshall 1×12“ Cabs
Marshall JMP1 + Marshall Valvestate Poweramp 8008 + Marshall JFX 1
70’s Fender Silverface Super Reverb
70’s Fender Silverface Bassman
Fender HotRod Deluxe
Roland JC 120
Peavey Classic 30
Line6 Spider Amps
Vox AC 30
Vox AC 15
Marshall JTM 30
Marshall 18W Bluesbraker Clone from Tube Amp Doctor
18W lite Head from Ampmaker.com
Like any guitar player I started with a small solidstate amp that sounded really bad, I guess the clean sound was not as bad as the crunch and lead sounds, still I loved it.
The bassplayer of my first band had a Dynachord keyboard amp he didn’t need, so I used this for rehearsals and first gigs. It was sooo heavy, but it was a great improvement.
I then got a Marshall 8240 Valvestate Amp and was really happy with it for a while.
Back then that was „the“ amp for rock guitar players with no budget. I also think I used the digitech RP5 with this amp, it had a lot of effects and I couldn’t get enough of it. I sometime would play with a delay on max repeat, until I had a complete chaos going on and then listen to it slowly fading away. I loved it. Some years ago when I took it out of the basement to check it out again, I immediately gave it away. Sounded terrible.
The first really good amp I got a while later was a Mesa Boogie Caliber 50 +, fifty watts of tube power with a very heavy 12“ EV speaker inside, I don’t think I ever cranked the volume over 3, it was loud! The Mesa clean sound was very good, I never used the crunch/lead options, but used Stompboxes like Marshall the Guvnor and the H&K Tubeman Mark 1. I also borrowed a Mesa Mark Two from a friend which kicked major butt, but was also very expensive.
Then again I started going into the Digitech world, A guitar player from a local Metalband I heard used the GSP 2101 and I just had to have it. Later I got the ValveFX that sounded even better.
When I got the Marshall Rack with JMP1 (Maiden uses these still I think) JFX1 and the Valvestate poweramp I had a rather goodsounding combo, that was much more down to earth than what I had before. The JFX did only reverb, delay and chorus, but did that very well and the JMP had very good straight Marshall sounds. Used this for a long time.
A friend of mine had an old silverface super reverb and gave it to me. Loved it for a while, though it was a major pain to carry it to my apartement (third floor)
A lot has changed since the early nineties when I started playing the electric guitar, so instead of writing my personal history of amps , I’ll describe some different setups and what their pros and cons are.
I’ve used a lot of different stuff as you can make out from the list.
Imho there are three main categories:
solid state amps
Each category has it’s values and you can’t just say this is shit and that is the only thing to get.
Solid state amps have one big advantage – they are cheap. When you start out as a player you almost never have a lot of money to spend. Also they often are small and not too heavy to carry around which can be important as long as you don’t have a car. They also can sound ok when used at very low volumes, which is almost never true for tube amps.
There are some outstanding solid state amps, jazz classics like the Polytone Minibrute, which George Benson used or the Roland JC 120 Jazzchorus Amp, the latter is often requested by pros that can’t carry their own equipment and want to have a reliable amp on stage, as with a solid state amp, there won’t be no things like „worn out“ tubes.
Most straight solid state amps are amps that you start out with, some of them have very good clean channel, a lot of them have bad overdrive/lead channels.
Most of these beginner type amps can sound good at home, but don’t work in a loud rehearsal or gig situation. Can be very frustrating to find that out ;D
Today most beginner type amps are modelling amps.
These digital amps try to emulate the sound and feel of famous amplifier systems, like a Marshall fullstack, a Blackface Fender Twin, or a Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier.
My knowledge on these is not quite up to date, as I never liked using them.
There are different classes of modelling amps, some are extremely versatile and sound and „feel“ very good, the pricy ones… The Kemper Profiling Amp or the Fractal Axe FX 2 are the benchmark for these kind of machines right now. (both are preamps, cost a lot and have to be combined with excellent poweramps and cabinets)
The midrange maybe are the top products from Line6 and similar companies.
Most of the modelling amps that I encounter are small combo amps, stuffed full with emulations of famous amps and effects.
Imagine a fullstack Mesa Dual Rectifier and shrink it to the size of a small 1×10 cabinet. It will sound like a truck engine in a two-wheeler.
Another problem with the emulation or modelling is, you have to convert the signal, there are AD and DA stages in the signal path, and by converting the analog signal to a digital signal, you loose part of it, it will sound less transparent, and the process takes some time, which leads to lag.
Lag means the signal will take longer to get from the guitar to the speaker. This often can’t be heard by a bystander, but you will feel it while playing.
So, I’m not a big fan of modelling amps, but they can be useful, I played a Vox Valvetronix amp in our Amanora Mall concert 2013, it was pretty good.
At last I want to write about tube amps.
There’s a huge number of different tube amps out there, some small, some huge and heavy, some as rack systems or heads & cabs, others combos.
These kind of amps are often more expensive, have a higher risk of getting broken (tubes get worn out, or just broken, or you can kill the output transformer by operating an amp without plugging a cabinet…) they are often heavier and bulky and they often have to be operated at higher volumes (!) to reach their potential.
But most of the time they sound much better!
I like very simple amps most, like a Vox AC 15, Orange Tiny Terror, Fender Deluxe Reverb, Peavey classic 30…
My two main amps at the time are both clones of an old Marshall 18w design, one from a renowned German company, Tube Amp Doctor, which cost about 1500 euros (preassembled by a local store) and is a real boutique amp, the other one is an amplifier head I soldered myself from a kit I bought from ampmaker.com, was 300 euros and sounds a little different, but as good as the other one.
(Marshall Blusbreaker Clone from TAD on the bottom and Ampmaker 18w lite on top)
For me these amps do the trick because nothing gets in the way. You have to live with the limitations, no effects loop, no reverb, no channel switching, but they offer punchy, transparent sound, crisp highs, and beautifully saturated overdrive. It just feels right for me and I use stomp boxes to add more versatility. (FX blog to come ;-))
(My friend Felipe Ramos, awesome bass player from Chile, posing behind my Yogablaster 2000 and a Framus cab)
There are a lot of other amps to choose from, some are good for special kinds of music, like Mesa or Engl for heavy metal, or brownface Fender for blues (Neil Young), Marshall for classic rock…
Modern tube amps offer several switchable channels, onboard reverb, fx loops and enough power to remove your neighbours tooth fillings.
So once more, it’s up to you, what do you need?
Start with a cheap but cost-effective amp (meaning not the next cheap peace of sh…) and then try a lot, ask your friends and colleagues, and try to invest smart.Few of us will require a hundred different amp models, or a load of effects. For most of us, a 100W tube amp won’t be the best investment, because you almost never get to crank it, it will be too loud for most venues. (and tube amps don’t sound as good at very low volumes)
Your taste in amps will develop and change, as did mine, so it’s hardly possible to buy the one amp of your life right away.
If you have limited access to midpricerange amplifiers, maybe you should try to build one yourself. Takes a lot of work, but can be very rewarding!