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Price, weight, and tone, for starters
I’m sure you’ve noticed that music stores are full of small amps these days. Let’s define that statement as amps with 20 watts or less, into a 10″ speaker or smaller for combo style amps, and a separate 10″ speaker cab, or less, for head/speaker style amps. This article is an exploration of why people like these amps and why more and more of them are being used every day.
Names such as ZT, Orange, Roland, Danelectro, Line 6, Ibanez, Vox, Bugera, VHT, Blackstar, Fender and Pignose, to just break the surface tension on this pool of small amps, make some really incredible little tone monsters. There are hundreds of them, in any price range you care to name from $19.95 to $600.00, so… why use one?
Most of the small amps are less costly than their big brothers even though they may provide many of the same features. In the case of small tube amps, getting that tube tone in a cheaper package is always a good thing. As I stated above, prices start around $19.95 (the Danelectro) and range all the way to the $600 mark (Blackstar Mini Stack). Most of the good quality, lots of features amps, are in the $150 to $299 area which make them a pretty good bargain when you consider that some of them are tube amps!
Big cabinets and big speakers mean big weight. They also mean hard work lugging them around. In some venues, you’re almost “too pooped to play” after setting up! For those of us who are older or have an injury which prevents us from lifting over 25lbs, a small amp is a gift that allows us to enjoy our passion for playing without losing our tone and versatility.
Let’s be honest here, tone is an all important commodity no matter what amp it comes from, large or small. Being able to get it without blowing out the neighbor’s windows or shattering grandma’s crystal can be really cool. I want a certain sound when I play, same as you, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s at 300db or 10db… the sound must be the same. The smaller amps are able to get some killer tones at levels that won’t wake the baby in the next room. (In case you haven’t noticed, the Marshall Plexi does not have a headphone jack.
I guess this is where the rubber meets the road. Will a small amp get enough volume to do the job at hand? Well, it depends on the job somewhat, but the answer is yes, usually. For example: my local store, Orcoast Music, has an open mic night every Friday from 6 – 9 pm. Bring your guitar, amps are provided. We have three Roland Cubes set up for use there and they have no problem overpowering this 16 X 40 ft room, which will seat about 35 – 40 people. There’s a Peavey sound system, with 15″ spkrs and horns, for mics and a powered mixer.
Last Friday night, I played my Ms. Etta (an older Ibanez G10) through a 20W, 2 channel Cube (8″ spkr) with the volume set on about 3, and I had no problem being heard over keyboard, 2 other guitars and percussion. On previous evenings, I’ve played both Christine (’88 MIA Strat) and Madam Rose (’83 Takamine w/ K&K Sound System) in the same, packed house room, and never had a problem being heard.
I have a mid ’80s Peavey Backstage Plus and I love it. I have no need for anything bigger at the moment although I’m not playing in a band. Many of the small amps have external speaker jacks so you could increase the loudness factor with a nice, closed back, 2-12 cabinet, and keep up with the bigger boys from next door. Then again, they really don’t need that help if you can mic the cab. There are so many choices that the possibilities are really slaved to what your wallet can part with. As usual, the more you spend, the more you sometimes get. You decide.