A Design For Life
When you buy top quality, you’re making an investment for the future. Not many of us have the buying power to sink a couple of grand into high end amplifiers on a whim. So, it’s important to do your research before purchasing, weigh up the pros and cons before making your decision. You want something that’s going to last years and years with minimal maintenance costs and as much quality as you can get for the money.
Help is at Hand
Luckily, we’re here to help, having narrowed down some of the best amplifier choices available today. All of these amplifiers have plenty of heritage, with decades of building experience and all the associated craftsmanship poured into them to ensure the highest quality result.
The following list contains amplifiers that are equally adept on stage or in the studio and you will find these on many touring guitarists backlines. The following is not a list of items you might ‘Drunk Shop’ on a Saturday night!
1. Laney GH30R-112 1 X 12
Laney are a British manufacturer founded in the 60s. Lyndon Laney was building amplifiers out of his garage when the Laney signature tone began to make waves after being utilised on Black Sabbath’s eponymous and influential first LP, from there he moved to a proper manufacturing facility and the Birmingham based company have been going from strength to strength ever since. Having been popular with players such as Randy Rhoads, Paul Gilbert, Joe Satriani and of course, Tony Iommi, when you get a Laney you know you’re getting an amplifier that has bags of heritage.
The Laney GH30R-112 is an all-tube powerhouse that gives you crisp clean sounds as well and a downright dirty distorted tone. With four 12AX7 valves in the preamp and a pair of EL34s in the power amp stage, the classic valve combo, you get plenty of powerful punch that is suitable for any stage and a wide variety of styles. Whether you’re a chicken pickin’ country player after those jangly tones or a heavy metal-head looking for high gain destruction this amp does both and everything in between equally well.
In terms of connectivity, everything is covered. Speaker extension outputs for when you wanna double down on your output, Ground Link and Cabinet Emulation switches alongside a DI socket for PA and recording are all present. The FX Loop for your time-based effects has a handy dB switch that lets you drop the level for the pedals in the loop or bypass them completely and there’s a connection for the included footswitch that lets you change the channel and activate the built-in reverb on the fly.
2. Fender Tone Master Twin Reverb
Fender are a musical powerhouse that makes guitars, amplifiers, effects and pretty much anything else you can imagine. Prized by guitarists worldwide you’ll find one of these in pretty much every recording studio and since its inception in the mid-60s, it has become an indispensable tool in the guitarists and recording engineer’s arsenal. With a base-level clean tone to die for the Twin Reverb takes pedals incredibly well, providing a rock-solid backline for some of the most gorgeous guitar tones you can imagine.
Fender clean tones are well known for their crystal clarity and consistent chime. When you switch on a Fender amplifier you know what you’re getting. Now whilst this amplifier stands apart from the rest on the list as it’s the only non-valve amplifier listed, the Tone Master Twin Reverb appears on this list for good reason. In a Fender first, utilising new modelling technology whereby a 200-watt digital power amp accurately models the original circuitry of an 85-watt original Twin tube amplifier, you get the all-tube tone in a package that’s half the weight of the real thing. In Fender’s own words it is virtually indistinguishable from an original Twin!
The Tone Master has an XLR line output with cabinet sim switch and the incredibly handy output power switch that lets you dial down the wattage so that you retain all your tube tone when you play at home. With the classic Fender amplifier silver-face on a black cabinet, the only way anybody is going to realise it’s not an actual Twin is if they help you with load out!
3. Blackstar HT Stage 60 212 MkII
Blackstar are another British amplifier manufacturer, based in Northampton. Founded by a group of ex-Marshall employees, who were bandmates at the time, they spent two and a half years intensively researching in a garden shed before forming Blackstar Amplification. Quickly gaining traction in the rock music scene they’ve acquired admirers in the form of Gus G, Jared James Nichols and James Dean Bradfield of the Manic Street Preachers. Blackstar as a company are all musicians and this shows in the quality of their products.
The Blackstar HT Stage 60 212 MkII has a pair of ECC83s in the power amp and two EL34s in the preamp stage, delivering those beautifully saturated tube tones that really sing. Blackstar have an ace up their sleeve in the form of the Infinite Shape Feature, a patented technology that allows you to shape your tone across the full frequency spectrum, rather than being limited to the manufacturer’s preference. Versatility is the name of the game here, with the clean channel having two modes for British and American sounds, whilst there are two separate drive channels for when you want to get your hands dirty.
A USB audio out gives you the option to output up to four channels of the guitar signal into the DAW of your choice, making this amplifier great for home recording. Additional emulated speaker outs alongside DI and an FX Loop mean that you’re covered every situation whether on stage or in the studio and, as often found on modern tube amplifiers, a power output reduction switch lets you utilise 10% of the total output but still keep your full volume tube tone.
4. Marshall Studio Classic SC20C
Another British company, Marshall need little introduction being one of the most recognised amplifier manufacturers in the world. Even if you’re not a musician you’ve likely seen a Rockstar or two standing in front of a Marshall stack, letting rip with a blazing guitar solo. Originally a drum company, Jim Marshall began to make amplifiers after many a frustrated guitarist came into his store, complaining that the amps didn’t have enough volume. Amongst these guitarists were legends Ritchie Blackmore and Pete Townshend, who were amongst the first guitarists to receive the very first batch of what would become the world’s most iconic amplifier.
With two ECC83 (plus 1 ECC83 phase splitter) in the preamp and two EL34s in the power amp, the Marshall Studio Classic SC20C perfectly recreates the original crunch that Marshall amps are famous for. Despite its diminutive size this amplifier packs a punch, so much so that Marshall has included a power reduction feature to let you play at home without getting yourself an ASBO, reducing the 20-watt output to a much more manageable 5-watts.
Based upon the original JCM800, this amplifier is all about simplicity, turn up, plug-in and play on. The simple EQ controls are present alongside a High input for dirtier tones and a Low for when you want a cleaner sound. On the back panel, there are the usual cabinet loudspeaker outputs for when you want that classic look and sound of a Marshall stack as well as FX Loop and DI out for sending your searing tone straight to front of house or the recording desk.
Any of these amplifiers will serve you well whether you’re sessioning, gigging regularly or just starting out. The names here have plenty of rock and roll heritage, so you know you’re getting the best in terms of quality craftsmanship. With all the features you’d expect of modern amplifiers, these tone machines will last you a lifetime and keep delivering night after night.
Get the Gear
Check out the full range of amplifiers available on our website.
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Matt is a multi-instrumentalist, music geek and current Content Creator at Dawsons Music. He composes, records and produces out of his home studio in Manchester as well as playing in two bands, China Moon and Sawbones.