There comes a time in the life of both amateur and professional guitarists, when after loading and unloading your gear for the millionth time, your back starts to beg you to shove your vintage 30 kilo head and ‘70s 4x12 cabinet where the sun doesn’t shine, and start to consider the health of your neck, spine and the rest...It is then that small valve combos come into your life, and you begin to realise that the relationship between your back and your quest for the perfect tone can continue to be splendidly at peace.
The aim of this article is to shine a light on small amps, very transportable and lightweight that also give you all the sound you’re looking for when you buy something of the brand that proudly displays its logo on the front of the cabinet. The future is here my friends, and it looks like a valve combo.
Fender Blues Jr III
We’ll begin with what Guitars Exchange considers the main course of the 10 on the menu. Why? Simply put, it's incredible value for money. It is likely the Fender amp that you can most beef up, meaning it doesn’t have the crystal-clear chime that is usually the Fender landmark when talking about valve amps, however, it has natural valve thickness that makes the tone a real treat to play, especially in styles like blues and rock. Don’t be swayed by the low cost, it’s an amp very much present in many recording studios nowadays. A safe bet.
Vox AC15 C1
The little brother of the legendary AC30 by Vox gives us an awesome array of sounds around its 15 watts of power. It’s a little more versatile than the Blues Jr by allowing us to play cleaner sounds with brutal crispness, perhaps a bit more brilliant than the Jr. What makes us opt for the 15 watt Fender instead of this one? Its weight, as the AC15 tops the scales at almost 22kg...it’s not such a small amp.
Blackstar Artist 15
Two channels and a 12” Celestion speaker make up this Blackstar brand that has become famous over recent years with this type of amp, and even home amps with just 1-5 watts which are getting more and more devotees. Its best feature is getting a sound with the tubular quality at low volume.
Koch Studiotone 20
This is one of our favourites on the list because of its versatility in just 17 Kgs of weight. It’s an all-terrain amp that provides an amazing variety of textures thanks to its 3 channels, from the funkiest to the bluesiest right up to playing metal with it, something greatly appreciated because it allows you to work with the amp signal without having to add pedals.
Laney Cub 12R
The option this brand has to offer, which has been making really good material for years, is attractive for a hefty reason, its weight, and ironic as that is, it scales in at just 11Kg. The only thing holding it back is that its sound isn’t as versatile as we would like it. But if you like a clean sound, not too thick, with a bit of warmth, this is one of your best options.
Peavey Classic 30
Its creators must have been very confident when they put this on the market, but it lived up to its name, and with its classic sound, adds to the fact that it has found a home on thousands of stages and venues around the world. This smaller version of the Classic 50 is the most powerful one on the list that deserves a mention here because it weighs less than the AC15. For many this should be an amp that can get ‘pissed off’ or ‘peaved’ with just one channel, but this version has always come standard with one clean channel and one saturated, making it an all-terrain amp.
Engl E310 110
The Engl brand focuses its typical brilliant dry sounds on this valve 15 watts that make it similar in concept to the Studiotone by Koch but with one channel less, so it weighs less and costs half the price of a Koch.
Hugues & Kettner Tubemeister 18
18 watts with one 12” speaker, two channels and an added effects loop make up this amp by Hughes & Kettner with which they intend to get into the bidding to become the crowning jewel on the list of small valve amps. It’s an amp that gives us a modern taste. If your sound is far from the classics, this is an amp to consider.
Orange Rocker 15
We haven’t had the chance to get our hands on this beauty, but not for lack of wanting to. This Orange amp is like a wet dream come true, with that ‘British’ sound that you expect in an Orange head with 15 watts of power. From its 10” cones we can get classic sounds and others more 21st century, and with a beautiful, original look on top, AND only weighs 13.7Kg! Another winning bet!
Fender Deluxe Reverb 65
We started with Fender and we’ll finish with Fender. Perhaps it’s a bit cheeky to add this amp revered by anyone on this list of 10, but it can’t really be left off for lack of watts, it has 10, nor weight, it weighs 20Kg. It is one of the best amps on the market. Everything you want in the Fender sound you can find in a Deluxe, the classic bellringer of the brand, with a crisper pure valve Fender sound that you always wanted. Of course, the volume to get this sound is very high, it’s not an amp for the home, but to play on any world stage or any studio. It’s a classic!