Where this category would typically only include high-end tube amps, surprise, surprise: there’s a digital modeller that we think deserves a place in the list of best amplifiers released this year.
Check out all the nominees here, then cast your vote for your favourite at the bottom of this article. Vote in all of our Gear Of The Year polls by 4 November to stand a chance to win a Music Man Valentine Tremolo worth £2,649!
1Supro 1812R Blues King 12
At just £599 and packing in expensive-sounding tones in a cool, compact and affordable package, Supro’s Blues King 12 may just be the Blues Junior killer we’ve been waiting for.
Plugging in and exploring the 1×12 combo’s array of sounds with a decent Stratocaster, our first impression is how full-bodied the tones are. And with the reverb around two o’clock, the EQ set flat and the master and volume at one o’clock, it’s a delicious platform for neck-pickup noodling with plenty of that dark sparkle that characterises some of our favourite American amplifiers of the 1950s.
2Orange TremLord 30
Orange describes the TremLord as “our very British take on the 1950s amplifier”. With the EQ set to tame the low end and add a little sparkle, lots of reverb and a subtle slow tremolo throb creates a beautiful fog in which to get lost. The vibe is decidedly more vintage than we’ve become accustomed to from Orange in recent years. Armed with a Custom Shop Strat and an R9, the tones on offer wind back the clock to Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac and the era in which London was swinging and Orange founder Cliff Cooper first opened the doors at New Compton Street.
Carr’s amps are fêted for their genuine point-to-point wiring, mid-century modern styling and above all, fantastic tone quality. The Telstar ticks each of these boxes, but its unique selling points are thin-wall cabinet construction and mismatched power valves. It provides an impressive range of clean and driven variations on a defining theme that is full, harmonically rich and sublimely touch sensitive. Carr’s smaller amps always have solid-state rectification, and yet the feel is always player friendly.
4Marshall Studio Series SV20H
The two-channel, non-master volume SV20H head is based on the Marshall 1959 model – better known as the 100-watt Super Lead or ‘Plexi,’ due to the original’s Plexiglas front panel. It succeeds in channelling the spirit of a vintage Marshall head in a lower-power format and it delivers big-box Marshall tone at volume levels that are better suited to modern gigging and recording environments.
The SV20H feels far less stiff than original 100W Super Lead we owned back in the day, and removing the necessity for ludicrous volume levels simply to sound any good is very welcome indeed.
5Supro 1696RT Black Magick Reverb
The 1696RT Black Magick Reverb is based on the 6973-loaded Supro that Jimmy Page acquired in 1974 and later loaned to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame museum. Not exactly the right era, perhaps, but a good indicator of the sort of Supro amps he was into during his Zeppelin days.
As you can probably guess, this version of the Black Magick has an added spring reverb and separate treble and bass controls. Rated at 25 watts, the Class A power stage is cathode biased and coupled with a custom-made BD12 speaker.
6Blackstar Silverline Stereo Deluxe
There are no tubes in sight in Blackstar’s newest amp, the Silverline Stereo Deluxe. Rather, a high-performance SHARC floating-point processor and the brand’s own proprietary tech simulates the whole valve-amplifier signal chain as accurately and viscerally as technologically possible.
The result? An amp for big rooms with valve-like punch and gloriously immersive stereo effects. Recreating valve tones using a mixture of digital and solid-state tech isn’t only about the sound, of course – feel is a real deal-breaker for many players. There definitely seems to be a greater immediacy from the Stereo Deluxe here than we’ve experienced with Blackstar’s prior digital designs, which further adds to the impression that Silverline is a culmination of ideas rather than a stopping point on a journey.
7Boss Katana MkII 50
Three years since Boss launched the Katana, the second-gen models have arrived. That includes this small, portable and affordable 50-watt 1×12 combo: the Katana-50 MkII. The main advances are in tonal flexibility: there’s now a ‘variation’ option for each of the five amp types, effectively giving you 10 to choose from, and the effects section has been redesigned so you can use up to five at once instead of three.
Stay tuned for our full review of the Katana MkII 50!
8Rift Amplification Aynsley Lister Signature
The British bluesman’s signature amp takes the form of a 1×12 valve guitar combo amplifier with solid-state rectification and spring reverb. But specs aside, we find instant gratification by plugging straight in and bathing in harmonically rich, dynamically responsive cleans with a gorgeous halo of reverb that augments rather than dominates. Plug in a decent Strat, flip to the neck pickup and be prepared to lose a few hours – if the Rift just did this and this alone, we’d already be sold.
9Two-Rock Studio Signature
Two-Rock describes the Studio Signature as a lower power version of the Classic Reverb Signature, but it’s downsized, more portable and produces 35 watts from a pair of 6L6 output valves.
The Studio Signature is also billed as a versatile clean amplifier, but the operative word here is ‘clean’ – it may not conform to everybody’s idea of versatility. Even so, Two-Rock’s claim has some justification, because it offers a lot of scope for fine-tuning frequency response and dynamic feel within the context of a very high-end, medium-power pedal platform.
10Blackstar HT-20R MKII
Versatile, affordable and hard to beat for small gigs and home practice, this 1×12 combo replaces Blackstar’s HT Studio 20 but adds a few bells and whistles. These include footswitchable alternative voicings for each channel and a switchable power output to facilitate driving the twin-EL84 power section hard at sociable volumes. Tone-wise the HT-20R runs the gamut from pedal-friendly cleans to an edgier ‘British’ character to, yes, modern metal riffs.
Click here to cast your vote, or use the form below.