Five of the best from 2015
The humble combination amplifier, or combo, is a vital tool for many guitarists, particularly those who don’t relish the thought of lugging separate amp heads and speaker cabs up and down flights of stairs as they travel from venue to venue. Combining the amp’s internal gubbins and its speaker in one handy, easy to carry unit provides players with a huge amount of versatility.
2015 has seen the release of some cracking combos, covering a range of different styles and budgets. Here we have chosen five great combos from this year for your delectation.
Blackstar has made a concerted effort to spread its wings over the past couple of years. The British brand, featuring ex-Marshall staff, has grown enormously since it started in 2007 with the launch of the Artisan series. Since then it has created its own ‘everyman’ range, the HT series, a range of metal amps and, more recently, an extremely well received roster of modelling amps called the ID Core series. Where as other practice amps tend to offer imitations of existing amps, e.g. Fender Twin or Marshall JTM, the ID Core series instead allows players to create their own tones by altering the characteristics provided by the different types of valve. It was a masterstroke, appeasing both the budding practice player and also the more experienced amp fan.
Not content with sitting still, Blackstar has embraced the world of Bluetooth, introducing the Blackstar ID Core BEAM this year. The BEAM (an abbreviation of bass, electric, acoustic and music) is an all-in-one box designed for complete versatility. It’s equally at home powering pretty much any kind of stringed instrument you can think of and, when practice has finished, it can stream music from your smartphone or other Bluetooth enabled device. It boasts the same robust build quality as the rest of the range, and nicely bridges the gap between practice amp and home audio system. Job well done.
Ok so this is a reissue, but just look at it – it’s glorious! This Fender Blues Junior Lacquered Tweed looks like it’s been teleported in from a dusty old blues bar in Louisiana, and is begging to have some soulful Strat tones fed through it.
Wistful nostalgia aside, this limited edition 15 watt combo is largely similar in functionality to the standard Blues Junior, but is the third iteration meaning it has an upgraded Jensen speaker for improved clarity. Fender has produced a number of different versions of the Blues Junior, including some rather glittery red ones, but it is this tweed reissue which has truly stolen our hearts.
Another one which isn’t technically new or, if we’re honest, particularly groundbreaking, but then that isn’t what this amp is about. What’s important here is 5 watts of gloriously creamy Marshall overdrive, in a package small enough to reside in your living room.
The Marshall Class 5 Roulette comes resplendent in a natty black and red colourway – hence the name – and is perfectly geared up for practicing and even small gigs without sacrificing tone.
Vox’s Valvetronix range of combo amps have long found favour with players looking for an accurate blend of tone and versatility in a unit small enough to be played at home. The Vox VT20X continues this trend by combining plenty of different amp models and effects all in one handy package.
Tones can be deep-edited using software on your computer or smartphone, while the VT20X’s ace in the hole is the hybrid analogue and digital capability, which offers players a broad range of high quality tones to choose from. In truth, there are plenty of combo amps out there at similar prices, each with similar functions, but the newly released VT20X might just be the best one yet.
We’ll end this article with a look at one of the hottest tickets in the guitar world in 2015. The Blackstar Fly 3 is a tiny – and we mean tiny – combo amp which you could take anywhere. It’s battery powered, further increasing its portability credentials, and comes with a surprisingly decent selection of included tones to choose from.
You can hook up a supplementary speaker cabinet to give it stereo sound, and the included delay effect is a nice touch. For a shade under fifty notes, you can’t fair go wrong with the Blackstar Fly 3.
So there we go, five great combos from 2015. As you can probably see, there is a lack of so-called ‘big’ amps, e.g. 100w window-shatterers, but each and every one of the amps listed above will provide you with great tone in a package which can be comfortably transported around without the risk of back strain.