Nail that sound with these classic combinations
With so many different types of guitars, amplifiers, pedals and other gizmos, it can be hard to know where to start to get the sound you’re after. Sure, most modern equipment is reasonably versatile so you could, for example, get a passable metal sound from an old blues amp using the right combination of pedals, but there are certain rigs which are just meant to make certain tones. There’s a reason why they’re classics, after all. It makes sense, therefore, to look at some well-known guitar and amp double acts from over the years.
This has been one of the harder articles to put together on account of it being so subjective. Put simply, there isn’t a general consensus that one particular combination sits above all others for achieving a certain sound. This is true of all genres. Different players preferred different gear because that’s what gives an individual his or her sound. So, rather than looking at specific players’ rigs, we’ll focus more on a few different genres of music and, if you’ll excuse us, in a fairly generic way. This gives us a bit of leeway, and the ability to recommend more than one potential combination for a specific sound. So, without further ado, here’s a look at some of the best guitar and amp combinations around today.
Ah blues, the famous old sound of love, lament and loss. One of the easiest styles to start with but also one of the most difficult to master. It’s true too that most modern guitar styles have some sort of grounding in the blues, making it one of the more versatile styles there is. There are however are few select pieces of playing gear which keep rising to the top, gear which will always be associated with a classic blues sound. And, as with many styles, the choice often comes down to either a American Standard Fender Stratocaster or a Gibson Les Paul. We’ve plumped for the 1957 Reissue Goldtop here, because it’s…well, just look at it. Look back at any of the famous blues players and you’ll more than likely see a Strat or Les Paul in their hands. Clapton, Hendrix, Green; all defaulted to the guitar world’s ‘big two’ when they needed to nail that warm, slightly overdriven tone. To complement the guitar, you’ll need an amp which offers a woody, mid-range heavy sound. The obvious choice to accompany the Les Paul is a Marshall, and the specific choice we’ve made here is the Class 5 Roulette combo which, at just 5 watts, is small enough that you can get that natural power valve drive without shattering any windows. Gibson into Marshall. It just doesn’t get any more iconic than that. Alternatively, if you’re more biased towards a Fender, then the ideal amp to complement the Strat would be a Fender Blues Junior which has that creamy, mild overdrive down to a tee.
At the other end of the spectrum sits jazz, with its unrelenting quest for tonal clarity. Often you’ll find jazz players favour big-bodied semi acoustic guitars plugged into high-headroom amplifiers which veer far away from the overdrive so sought after in other musical styles. As the more esoteric strands of jazz incorporate ever more obscure chord voicings, so it figures that the players want an amp which will allow their sound to be heard accurately no matter the volume. For this reason, many Jazz players will favour something like a Fender Deluxe Reverb, which boasts that famous Fender sparkle and enough headroom from its 6V6 power tubes to remain clear at any volume. The included reverb adds the necessary warmth, ensuring the tone doesn’t sound too surgical at high volumes. We’ve paired that with Gibson ES-335 hollow body guitar, which will complement the Deluxe Reverb nicely and sound gorgeous together.
Metal is slightly more formulaic in its requirements; mahogany bodies and multiple gain stages are order of the day here. Without getting too genre-nerdy, there are so many different strands of metal that it’d be impossible to recommend a one-size-fits-all combination. The thrash guys will find certain high-gain rigs too dense and wooly, while the sludge guys need more mid-range so an ultra-scooped EQ section isn’t going to cut it for them. Increasingly, Orange has become synonymous with modern metal. It’s Rockerverb and Thunderverb amps are the dream ticket to a range of different metal sounds, yet for history’s sake we’re going to recommend the classic Marshall JCM800. Despite originating in the 1980s, the JCM800 is still one of the hottest tickets in metal, used by everyone from Slayer to Bullet For My Valentine, and its exceptionally hard-edged tone means it remains at the forefront of this genre. We’re pairing that with an ESP E-II Eclipse because, although there are bigger names in the guitar world, there are few whose stall is so set at the door of metal and by using the Eclipse with the JCM800 you could access a range of tones which border on pure filth.
Even after writing this it has become apparent that there are no easy or obvious combinations. There are broad, generic, obvious links between certain brands and genres, but picking specific guitars and amps is slightly more difficult. No doubt people will have their own ideas and we welcome the debate but, for now, there’s our list of the best guitar and amp combinations.