Floor-based amplifiers have been mounting a serious challenge to traditional units for some time now, and the launches over the past 12 months have been inspiring, to say the least. That’s perhaps why two of the five nominees for the best guitar amps of 2020 are floor units – they join yet another digital amp as well as two classic tube-based models. Find out more below.
Hughes & Kettner Black Spirit 200 Floor
The H&K floor unit isn’t an alternative to your amplifier – it is the amplifier. The basic specs suggest this device isn’t so much a Swiss Army knife as a Red Army tank regiment, with the power and range to cover most players’ needs both live and in the studio. And it’s programmable – with 128 editable presets – but it’s analogue, with H&K’s proprietary Spirit technology claiming to recreate the tone and feel of valve-based circuitry. The core amp sounds are remarkably good – it’s all very ‘valvey’ and makes this just about the most versatile non-digital amp we’ve ever used.
Blackstar JJN-20R MkII Jared James Nichols Signature Combo
This collaboration between Blackstar Amplification and blues-rock force of nature Jared James Nichols is a 1×12 combo version of his EL84-powered signature amplifier. While ostensibly a twin channel amp, the JJN-20R MkII features two distinct voicings for both clean and overdrive channels, offering the player four footswitchable voices to explore, with accents from both sides of the Atlantic.
Matchless Laurel Canyon 112R
Though the original Matchless models were influenced by classic British designs, the new Laurel Canyon has been inspired by sounds and circuit designs that are much closer to home for the Californian amp company. But the Laurel Canyon is still every inch a Matchless, with stellar point-to-point wiring, a steel chassis, a heavy Baltic birch plywood cabinet and a custom-voiced UK-made Celestion Heritage G12H30.
Fender Tone Master Deluxe Reverb
What if there was a way to get the classic Deluxe Reverb and Twin Reverb experience without the associated weight and volume, at a more affordable price point? According to Fender, that’s where the new Tone Master amps come in.
The amps couple the latest digital processing with hefty solid-state power sections in lightweight and resonant pine cabinets that house neodymium Jensen N-12K speakers. Plugging in, it’s instantly clear the modern amplifier does a mighty fine job of recreating much of what’s so great about the original. The similarity is striking and there’s no fussing with buttons and menus or saving presets – just pure Fender amp tone.
While it might look like an everyday stompbox, it’s helpful to think of the Iridium as an amp itself, sitting at the end of your signal chain the way one of the three vintage amplifiers it simulates – dubbed ‘Round’, ‘Chime’ and ‘Punch’ – might. ‘Chime’ is modelled after the Brilliant channel of a Vox AC30TB, the ‘Round’ voicing is based on the Normal channel of a Deluxe Reverb, and ‘Punch’ is based on a 100-watt Plexi with additional gain on tap after two o’clock on the drive control. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg here.