The Jemsite guide to amps
Since people ask here the same question on a regular basis, "What amp should I buy?" or "Any amp suggestions?" or one of its infinite variants, I though it might be neat to compile a "Jemsite guide to amps" sort of a thing. I scribbled down quickly something off my memory, feel free to add to it. Maybe someone (Glen, myself, anyone?) could, after the 100+ posts :roll: , compile & edit the text to be the first source of info for the player in search of a new amp. Then make it sticky or whatnot, I guess it might save some server space or something. Or just close it down and let it drift into oblivion. :wink:
The point is not to make some brand stand out, but to bring out the good qualities of any amp known to public. Your cup of tea may not be the one for the rest of us, so please try to be objective, so this project will not start to resemble something like Harmony Central at its worst.
Here we go then. Many manufacturers (like Budda, Cornford) and loads of info are still missing, so like said, go on and add your knowledge. Maybe a reference list of distinct amp tones on recordings might be useful as well.
The Jemsite guide to guitar amps
This article of reference was put together by jemsite members in order to help you to choose the very amp for you and your needs. It is by no means endorsed by any company, but based on the subjective experiences and opinions of individuals involved in guitar playing.
If you are in search of a new amp and wish to get some suggestions, please refer to this article and the manufacturers' web sites, and then please do a site search before posting a new thread. Thank you and happy hunting!
Flextone, POD Pro XT, Vetta
- Versatile, non-tube amps with efx. Should give enough gain without an OD pedal (depending of the model of course) for metal stuff as well. Models include Fender, Marshall, Soldano, Boogie and Matchless amps. Some people don't like modelling amps because of their "lack of response and feel". Line6 products have found their way into many recording studios, homes and stages around the world, and were a huge factor in the breakthrough of modelling amps during the last few years.
JCM 800, JCM 900, DSL, TSL, JMP, 1959, Mode Four
- Marshall has defined the "industry standard" rock sound, the British tone, over its 40 years of history. Their sound is saturated and not so mid-heavy. Marshall users include Zakk Wylde, Slash, Scott Ian, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Johnson, Eddie Van Halen and Steve Vai, and many others.
- Marshalls do not have the "highest gain around", but seem to excel at "cruch"-type tones. Many players use high-output pickups and an OD pedal to kick the amp to fierce distortion. For heavy rock and metal tones, the JCM 800 is the weapon of choice of many. Arguably the best ones are the 50 & 100w single channel heads from the early '80s. Although lacking in controls and multiple channels, they deliver the thing they're built for: rock tone. Vai's Passion and Warfare was recorded mostly with modified JCM800s. The 1987 Jubilee Series is also worth checking out: They're one of Jim Marshalls favourites, Slash's amp of choice, and Steve Morse has sang praises for the 2550 head, which he has used extensively for recording. JCM800s are still available for reasonable prices in the second hand market, as are the Jubilees. The JCM900s are used by many metal players.
- The most sought-after Marshalls are the vintage ones made in the '60s and '70s. They have been used by Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen to create legendary tones. The old ones are not high gain amps, and were ofter modified by skilful amp techs for more preamp gain. But as with all Marshalls, the tone gets very impressive at loud (most would say ridiculously loud) volumes; responsive, dynamic & huge. Only the 1959 Reissue is currently in production, and the prices for vintage amps are sky high. The JMP amp made in late '70s to 1983 can still be found at somewhat affordable prices, and is the poor man's ticket to vintage vibe without a second mortgage.
- The newer Marshalls like DSL (Dual Super Lead), TSL (triple-) and Mode Four offer more channels and versatility. Marshalls are ofter dissed for lacking a good clean sound, but these multi-channel amps also deliver those goods for the players who need best of the both worlds. DSL, TSL and Mode Four also deliver very high gain sounds suitable for soaring leads and metal music.
Mark IIC+, Mark III, Mark IV, Dual & Triple Rectifiers, Caliber series, Nomad
- Mesa was started by Randall Smith as small amp shop which modifier small Fender combos for more gain. Soon the word spread, and with users like Carlos Santana Boogie became one of the big names in the industry. Other Boogie men include John Petrucci, Eric Johnson, Metallica, Jerry Cantrell, Andy Timmons, Cannibal Corpse, Helmet, Tool and almost every nu-metal band out there.
- Boogies deliver fierce gain and a good clean sound. They are versatile amps, and you can get plenty of tones by tweaking and using your guitar controls. Although Mesas are based on Fender designs, they have a distinctive voice of their own; a slightly darker, less fuzzy and more focused in the midrange than Marshalls, known widely as the "Califonia sound". Many players prefer Mesa especially for lead work.
- The Mark series is the first one by Mesa. Mark I and Mark II have more "vintagey" vibe, but Mark IIC+ is a great tool for rock, and is the weapon of choice of John Petrucci's. Too bad Mark IIC+ amps are very sought after and thus very expensive. Mark III has a reputation of a solid rock amp, and was used along the Caliber .50 amps by Metallica in the '80s. The Mark III's got three channels, but common eq, so getting the sounds you want requires some tweaking. Mark IV is a favourite of many, has knobs to spare and is very versatile amp, being able to cover anything from a jazz gig to a headbanging festival. Mark IV and Mark I reissue are still in production.
- The Rectifier series are at their best in heavy rock and metal music, and are mostly responsible for the nu-metal sound. Rectos deliver massive gain with good crunch, and enough power and definition to cut through any loud band. The clean channel of the Rectifier amps isn't that applauded, but if you go for a Recto you probably won't need it anyway.
- Nomad series amps have three channels with separate eqs, and are loved by many for their many options.
Carvin Legacy www.carvin.com
- The Legacy was designed after the needs of Steve Vai, and is his main amp. It's got a very pronounced midrange and is great for lead playing. With 100 watts of power, it won't get lost in the mix either. Some feel it hasn't got enough gain for heavy rock playing and decide to beef up things a bit with an OD pedal. The amp's got rave reviews all over the world, and is quite affordable as well.
Peavey 5150 www.peavey.com
- The Peavey 5150 was designed with Eddie Van Halen. The amp delivers loads of gain, and has been widely accepted among hard rock and metal players, such as Steve Morse, Carcass and Devin Townsend, as well as EVH himself of course. An upgrade of 5150, the 5150 II, has been released as well, but still many prefer the vibe of the original design.
R-series, M-series, Sedona etc.
- Rivera amps are designed by Paul Rivera, who designed amps for Fender, among others, before starting his own company. The idea of dual-channel Riveras is to have a Fender-like clean channel and a Marshall-like distortion channel. Riveras are known to be versatile and well made. They deliver anything from jazz to metal, thus becoming favourites of many studios players and performers. Users include Mike Keneally, David Torn, Head & Munky of Korn, Steve Lukather, Ani DiFranco and Chris Duarte.
Shiva, Ecstacy, Uberschall
- Bogner amps are designed by Reinholdt Bogner, who started out as an amp tech modifying Marshalls for big names on the West Coast. Bogners are known for their great tone, versatility and power (not to mention a discouraging price tag). The Bogner Ecstacy was Steve Vai's amp of choice for the Alien Love Secrets album, give it a listen and you'll get the idea. The Uberschall is designed for playing loud metal music with detuned or six string guitars. It delivers an insane growl and massive bottom end thump, and is considered the ultimate metal amp of all times by many hard-boiled headbangers.
- The Soldanos are children of Michael Soldano, and are great rock machines. The quality of these amps is very good, and they are used by various artists ranging from Nuno Bettencourt and Steve Vai to Mark Knopfler and Loud Reed.
- Solid British amps for the musician on budget (hey, that's almost all of us, right? :wink: ). Endorsers include Paul Gilbert, Tony Iommi and Mattias Eklundh. Especially their 15 and 30 watt, EL84-based combos have been reported to deliver serious tone for the buck.
- Fender has made many classic amps during the years, like Deluxe Reverb, Super Reverb, Twin Reverb, Bassman, Vibrolux and Champ. Fenders are mostly known for their fabulous clean sound, which has become a benchmark for all clean amp channels around. Many amp schematics, like early Mesa/Boogies, are based on original Fender designs. Users include Eric Johnson, SRV, Bill Frisell, Jimmy Bruno, Wayne Krantz and many more.
As stated, Fenders are known for their great clean tone and reverb, not their high gain structure, so they are not the choice of heavy metal players or many hard-rockers. On the other hand, blues, country and jazz cats are delighted with the fat tone and big headroom the amps provide. The newer Fenders such as Hot Rod Deluxe deliver more gain than the earlier amps.
Most sought after Fender amps are the '50s and '60s models, Tweeds and Blackfaces (which refers to the colour of the amp's fron panel). In the '70s after Leo Fender sold the company to CBS, they changed the original design with not-so-fantastic results (silverface models). Sales dropped, and they went back to original designs. So the silverfaces are not all bad, and the "bad" ones can be easily modded to BF specs.
The '80s did not result in too many classics, and the "red knob" versions, the Twin & Super 60 and others, can be found used at affordable prices.
In the '90s Fender started to make Reissue models of their most popular amps. While purists might disagree, many feel that Fender has done good job with their Vibrolux, Bassman, Twin Reverb and Super Reverb reissues.
Other factors to be taken into consideration
Once you know approximately what you are looking for and what manufacturer might provide the amp for your needs, you need to go out to the real world and listen. "Test drive" as many amps as you can, preferably with your own guitar. Play quiet, play loud. Never mind people who stare or the shop personnel giving you an eye: you're the customer who's about to pay money for something.
List prices are usually to be found on manufacturers' sites, call your local dealer or surf the net for street prices.
Guitar construction, scale length, bridge type and especially pickups have a big impact on the overall sound. If you need heavy metal sounds, you don't put Duncan Vintage pickups in your axe; and vice versa, Dimarzio X2N might not be the best pickup for SRV-style blues. Remember that also other manufacturers than the one endorsed by your favourite player may offer outstanding pickups that suit your needs.
A rule of thumb is that a higher-output pickup will help to overdrive the preamp, delivering more distortion. A lower-output pickup will keep the preamp cleaner and is thus more suitable for clean tones. Elementary, my dear Watson!
Please refer to pickup manufacturer sites for more info:
http://www.fralinpickups.com Arguably the ultimate Strat replacements.
http://www.billlawrence.com Good & affordable pups.
http://www.seymourduncan.com One of the biggest names.
http://www.dimarzio.com The other big name.
http://www.kinman.com Totally noiseless & great sounding strat pups.
http://www.riograndepickups.com "Texas tone bad to the bone".
http://www.emgpickups.com The most popular active pickups.
http://www.joebarden.com "The world's best sounding, highest quality guitar pickups for Stratocasters, Telecasters, Les Pauls, and other solid body guitars." If he stands behind his words, this guy rules!
www.vanzandtpu.com Pups for all needs, respecting the tradition.
As far as power is concerned, a 30-watt tube amp is loud enough for rehearsals and gigs. If you want loads of clean headroom, you might want a more powerful amp. Already with a 50 watt tube amp you might have some volume issues. Plugging into an extension cabinet gives even more volume.
As far as tubes are concerned, there are different types available, and different amps are designed around different ones. Here are a few brefly described, just to scratch the surface a bit:
- Most usual ones are EL34, used in Marshalls, Bogners, Boogies, Riveras, Carvins; they deliver a mid-rangey tone very suitable for rock. A pair delivers 40-60 watts, and a quad 80-120 watts of sheer annihilating power.
- The other popular one is 6L6 (or 5881), which is used in Fenders, Boogies, THDs etc. It is not as midrangey and breaks up a bit earlier than the EL34.
- The third common tube is EL84, used in lower wattage amps such as Vox, Boogie, Marshall, Laney, Bogner etc. A pair gives ya circa 30 watts, a quad delivers about 50 watts of power. EL84 has very nice clean sound and a smooth singing distortion when overdriven. It is smaller and cheaper than EL34 or 6L6.
- Preamps mainly use 12AX7 tubes, aka ECC83s.
For more info, please read on the replies in this thread below, or refer to www.eurotubes.com and www.watfordvalves.com, in addition to Googling like a maniac.
Finally, the truth that must not be forgotten: Your sound is always a combination of your ears, hands, guitar, amp and cab. Please contemplate on the subject.
definitely a great idea and a great job summarizing the info!!! i would make a few suggestions if this becomes a sticky...
-more of a list form (instead of the sentence form) for players coupled with definitive albums/songs by the artists that used the amps (so someone could track down what it sounds like)
-a bit more of a break down of individual models esp. for marshall and fender which have so many models
-a list that's organized by "style" and then lists the best amps for that style (since that seems to be a question that comes up very often in this, and other sites, ie-"best amp for funk?)
-average new and used prices...
including links to manufacturer sites is brilliant!
i only make these suggestions because i think it would shortcut a lot of the questions that people have
this is a great idea! it would be awesome to have a forum topic that was the jemsite guide to gear...amps, effects, rack....*drool* with no discussion...
Might wanna add Laney in there somewhere(www.laney.co.uk)..
Definitely not a company to overlook, great british sounding amps, usually at starving musicians' prices.. :)
True. This is a good idea for a thread however none of the descriptions should be slighted in any way. We have to remember that tone is mostly from the player. It's all in how you play and how you use your gear. There are players of one style that are getting phenominal tones from amps and other products often associated with other musical styles.
I think we do have to consider popular opinion, reputation, and changing times among all of the brands. A lot, if not most, companies out there, have gone through some "questionable periods" in regards to quality and service. Most amp companies are manufacuting a more diverse array of amplifiers as well as improving on the versatility of a single model or line. Price ranges are getting wider, too. We are no longer in an era where you get Marshall for dirty, Fender for clean, and a Vox w/ a Rickenbacker for British invasion sounds. A lot of people only try a few amps and form an opinion about the entire brand or the series of which it is affiliated which can ofetn be very inaccurate these days. The last few years in the music retail world has been very much like: "Wow! I never thought THIS could do THAT!"
I'd say this would be great if there was a rule that personal bias toward any brand is not welcome on this particular discussion topic/thread. I'd say if we could do this with facts and no opinions (that's hard) this would be great. (Myself included-I'm pretty brand-loyal when it comes to amps.)
Mike 777 Haug
Nice idea Orange. It would take some extra searching, but it *might* be a good idea to include links to popular threads about the amps. Like a few good ones out of the thousands of "should I buy a Legacy?" or "how does a Triaxis sound?" threads.
My best advice to the newbies - never buy anything brand new unless your main intent is to return the damn thing after a couple of days and say that you "don't like it". "Regular" (i.e. non-vintage/rare) amps cost much less if you buy used. Sure, you'll most likely have to change the output tubes (if it's a tube amp), but if you decide to sell the amp, you won't lose more than a hundred bucks, provided that you've got a good deal on the amp in the first place.
Having said that, my experience is - don't be cheap when you buy a used amp. You can afford the creme of the crop for the same money as a brand new amp would cost you, so buy what you KNOW sounds good, period, not just "good for the money". You will be very unhappy with the latter and sooner or later you'll dump it anyway (and lose money). At the end of the road you'll realise that you could have bought TWO good amps and saved yourself a ton of cash had you bought the right thing right from the start. That's my experience anyway, your mileage may vary.
Also, be cautious of reading those web forums where some 15 year olds (how do you know I'm not a 15 year old? :lol:) say how good their Diezels are and "recommend" you whatever fad-du-jour brand name comes to their mind at any given minute. At the end of the day you're the one who's spending his hard-earned money, not they, so they can happily "recommend" you stuff until you find yoursel living in a cardboard box right with your Dumble Overdrive Special and PRS collection.
I've noticed there are TONS of people like that at Harmony Central forums. They don't even play their guitars/amps/effects, they collect them, brag about them, show them off, post the photos all over the web. Yet if you ask them for a sound sample, they become very quiet, because even though they've invested tens of thousands of dollars in their gear they can't play well enough to justify it.
So the point is, when you hear someone brag about the latest and greates t (or earliest and greatest if you're into vintage stuff) amp ever, ask for sound samples or better yet, play the amp yourself if possible. Some people will ridiculously exaggerate the tonal qualities of an amp just because they don't want to look stupid after dropping a couple of grand on it.
Hey, another thing that would be important to add are cases I saw all too frequently in my retail days: avoid trying to sound like exactly like another player because it's really not going to happen. Another is to avoid trying to get that rhythm sound you hear on the CD since these sounds are most often (at least) double-tracked.
Mike 777 Haug
You forgot fender! The Audacity!
I'm trying not to get sucked into the "I NEED TONE" state of mind... Just irritates me that there's so much out there and I don't know where to begin. This is an excellent idea for a thread though... as for the legacy, I'm looking into it, and reading up on what people feel about it, so far it's 50-50. I'm one of the thousands I suppose : )
Fender amps are swell. Take the early 70s bassman 100 head. It has one of the best clean tones I can speak of, and can be had for 300$. Or the twin with its sweet reverb, and vibrato.... The twin could quite possibly be the most used amp of all time(don't have any figures to prove it).
Fender needs to be in the amp guide.
Updated... comments are welcome.
Re: The Jemsite guide to amps
Yea, as i understood it the 6l6 was a smoother tube, if you get me?
no list of amps can nowadays afford to be without the mighty mighty cornford.
they are truly the greatest things invented since the miniskirt.
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