Gear Of The Year 2016 – Best Amplifier Over £1,000

There’s never been a better time to bring boutique tone home…

Another year goes by and another clutch of high-end amplifiers gets added to the ‘play before you die’ list. Any member of this quintet could have scooped the prize and it was a close-run thing, but in the end the winner is an amplifier that can hold its own in the living room as well as it can at small gigs.

Tone King Falcon Grande

• Price £2,199
• First reviewed Vol 27 No 07
• Contact Coda Music www.coda-music.com

With its sharp retro looks, 20 watts of all-valve power, onboard attenuator, spring reverb and three distinct tones – rhythm, tweed and lead – the Tone King Falcon Grande isn’t cheap, but for smaller gigs, home practice and recording, it’s simply outstanding.

The bigger brother to the original 12-watt, 1×10 Falcon, whether you throw garage blues, yacht rock, classic-rock, funk or pretty much anything else at it short of modern metal, the Grande delivers with aplomb. In an ideal world, every home or studio would have one.

Dr. Z Z-Lux

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• Price £2,099
• First reviewed Vol 27 No 03
• Contact Peach Guitars www.peachguitars.com

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Many players love the Deluxe Reverb because you can crank it up in pubs and clubs.
The drawback is that 22 watts doesn’t necessarily provide enough clean headroom when you’re playing bigger gigs or with a loud drummer.

The Z-Lux has four 6V6 power valves and a half-power switch, so it can run at 40 or 20 watts, while maintaining the juicy 6V6 tone that we love from small- and medium-sized American amps, with sonic fairy dust to die for thanks to outstanding reverb and tremolo.

SWART MOD 84

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• Price £1,699
• First reviewed Vol 27 No 12
• Contact Coda Music www.coda-music.com

North Carolina’s finest is fast becoming a favourite American amp brand for several members of the team.

Michael Swart’s amps are so resolutely Americana that it was surprising to see him use Brit-flavoured EL84s in this magical-sounding amp with superb touch-response and beautiful, unobtrusive onboard reverb and tremolo effects.

Elektra 185

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• Price €2,445
• First reviewed Vol 27 No 06
• Contact www.elektra-amps.com

Huw Price: “Resurrecting a pre-WWII amplifier may seem inauspicious, but the Elektra 185 is a painstakingly accurate recreation of the Gibson EH-185.

Cathode-biased ‘coke bottle’ 6L6s combine with three 6SQ7 octal preamp valves to send 14W through a Celestion Gold speaker. From old-school jazz tone to Neil Young meltdown, this is an outstanding amp built by a true enthusiast.”

BAD CAT USA PLAYER’S SERIES CUB 15R

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• Price £1,329
• First reviewed Vol 27 No 12
• Contact Coda Music www.coda-music.com

For the USA Player Series, Bad Cat swapped its customary hand-wired, point-to-point construction for PCBs and introduced plate-style digital reverb instead of a spring tank, all to drive down costs and assembly time and make for a more affordable amplifier for the real-world player.

The EF86 preamp mode is aggressive and complex: a real slice of boutique EL84 tone for sensible money.

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