Six of the best – Low-Power Valve Gigging Combos
While the sound of a 100-watt valve amp at full tilt is a uniquely thrilling experience, it’s rarely practical. Meet six great, low-power valve combos.
Fender Blues Junior III
This 15-watt classic is arguably the most popular low-power valve combo in the world and for good reason. Delivering the goods at low volumes thanks to a pair of EL84 output tubes and a 12AX7 preamp, the Blues Junior has found uses in pretty much all genres of music and is also a decent pedal platform too. This latest incarnation brings upgrades in the form of a black control panel that Fender says is easier to read than the previous silver version, vintage Fender dog bone handle, shock absorbers for the EL84s and a Fender Special Design Eminence `lightning bolt’ 12-inch speaker. A must-try.
Marshall 1974x Handwired 18W
This handwired version of the original 1974 model packs classic late-60s overdriven Marshall sounds into a portable 18-watt package. Think mini-Bluesbreaker and you’ll be in the right ballpark ± it’s the sound of sixties Clapton in a portable package. It features two EL84s in the power amp, three ECC83s in the preamp, an EZ81 rectifier tube and a valve-driven tremolo that may, however, prove a little `marmite’. Speaker duties are handled by a reissue of the original amp’s 20-watt ceramic magnet Celestion T1221.
Blackstar Artist 15
Blackstar’s Artist 15 and its big brother the Artist 30 are intended by the British manufacturer as `affordable boutique’ relatives of the handwired Artisan series. This means they’re PCB-based and powered by 6L6 output valves rather than EL84s – and in the case of the 15-watt version, fitted with a single 12-inch Celestion V-type speaker, resulting in Fender-like thump. The Artist 15 is a well-built, robust combo with two distinctly voiced channels. It takes pedals well, produces sparkling cleans and impressive medium-gain overdrive and is a portable, lightweight option at a very attractive price.
Swart Atomic Space Tone
It’s a slightly left-of-centre choice but our editor can testify that this wondrous little combo from North Carolina not only sounds utterly delicious (and brilliantly raunchy when cranked) but it can out-gun even the most bombastic drummer with a suitably efficient driver installed. Beautifully handwired internals, hypnotic tremolo, cavernous reverb and a lightweight pine cab make this a ludicrously portable tone machine for gigs.
The VC-15 is Laney’s answer to the AC15 (below), and although the Vox influence here is closer to The Beatles than Bryan May, the Laney’s lovely tube tone that can be pushed into more contemporary high-gain territory. The vintage look is aided by handsome mini chickenhead knobs and white piping around the black and grey speaker grille, while three-band EQ, clean and drive modes and in-built reverb add to the range of tones on offer. Weighing in at just over 11kg with a single 10-inch speaker onboard, it’ll fit nicely on your singer’s lap in the front seat of the car on the way to gigs, too.
Vox AC15 C1X
Vox’s AC30 and AC15 need little introduction and the Vox sound has been one of the central pillars in the development of rock ‘n’ roll music, reaching iconic status during the British Beat Boom era. For those seeking authentic 60s sonics, the optional Celestion Alnico Blue speaker provides a huge upgrade on the G12M Greenback when it comes to chime and harmonic complexity. The Blue will make sure you punch through the mix at band practice and gigs, too. If you haven’t yet experienced the unique jangle and top-end sizzle of a Vox AC15, what are you waiting for?
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