Best Amplifiers For Indie
Broad strokes for a broad genre
Indie is one of those catch-all terms which seems to cover a disproportionately wide base of musical styles. From its spiritual heyday in the 1990s, through to the bands we see now, we could all point out an indie band but could we truly nail down the indie sound?
Looking at it more positively, the fact its sound cannot be easily pigeonholed means it is ripe for progressive bands to bend its arbitrary rules and create entirely new sounds.
As a case in point, you can easily tell a metal sound. Whether it’s the buckets of distortion, the downtuned guitars, the pace or the vocal style, metal is quick to make itself known. Same with hiphop, or jazz, or classical. But indie is a different beast. Some indie features jangly guitars, some features more angular riffs, some dispenses with guitars altogether (shock, horror!). There isn’t one standout element that makes indie. It is, by its nature, a broad term which comes as a result of it being named after the ‘independent’ record labels which published the more esoteric, harder-to-pigeonhole bands in the past.
Perhaps the best way to categorise is to look at the different ways the amps will end up being used. With that in mind, here are some of the best amps for indie.
In all my years of watching bands live, from all genres, one thing has always rung true. It’s that when a so-called ‘indie’ band plays live, they can sometimes surprise you with how heavy the guitars can be. Seriously. I recall watching a performance in the late 1990s of a band called Ooberman, from Liverpool. On record they were quite typical, enthusiastic indie. Nothing too special, wouldn’t say “boo” to a goose. But live, it was completely different. So much energy, power and volume. A huge part of that came from the time-honoured combination of Gibson Les Paul into Marshall JCM stack. So simple, but so effective.
Because an amp for live music requires a different skill-set to one you’d practice on, or use in the studio, we’re going to stick with Marshall and suggest you check out the Marshall DSL40c. The DSL range covers a wide range of sounds effortlessly, and can switch between a glorious clean sound and a punchy overdriven sound with ease.
Alternatively, you might be interested in the new Orange Rocker 32. This 30 watt combo operates in stereo, meaning if you are an effects lover then you can have some great fun utilising the stereo elements to give time-based effects like delay a new lease of life. It also features incredible clean sounds which break up wonderfully at higher volumes, and an amazingly rich gain tone which will stand out in a live setting. Noel Gallagher was a famous lover of Orange amps too, so they’re definitely worth checking out.
In a studio environment, there’s more scope for finding the right amp for a specific sound. Live, you need something which will cover most bases but in the studio you can find the more specialist gear. Well respected among the indie fraternity are the various mid-high power Fender valve amps. The Fender Blues Junior, for instance, is a great example of a high quality, amazing sounding amplifier with enough tonal variety and range to ensure you can dial in most of the light to mid tones you require. The built-in reverb is also quite incredible sounding, and in a studio you should be able to bump up the volume to unleash those glorious power-valve harmonics.
Higher up the price scale is the Fender ’68 Customer Deluxe Reverb, which is a top-grade amplifier for anyone after those famous Fender cleans. Away from Fender, you could do a lot worse than look at the classic Vox AC30C2 amplifier, which has been at the forefront of guitar music for (seemingly) the past 6,324 years. Any of the three amps listed here will work well with pedals too, which is always handy.
Different again to the power/volume required for live use, and the high grade excellence required in the studio, is the need for a do-it-all amp you can practice on. You don’t need multi-megawatt power here, you just need something that can access a wide range of usable tones, and spark ideas for when you come to write or record. Thankfully we’re not short of options.
Two specific amps from Blackstar stand out here. The British company has quickly established itself as one of the more innovative, exciting amp brands out there, and they have plenty to offer in the way of small practice amps. The Blackstar IDC-20 is a 20 watt modelling amp with a tonne of extra functionality. It has two speakers so can offer stereo sound, along with a USB output for recording directly onto a laptop or computer. Alternatively, the Blackstar ID:15 is a phenomenal guitar for those needing a range of different tones. It differs from regular modelling amps in that it doesn’t attempt to mimic specific models. Instead, it features changeable voices which imitate specific vaccum tubes, so you can hone in on some extremely professional sounding tones quickly and efficiently.