Posted on28 November 2017 10:00 AM GMT

4 Great Power-Scaling Tube Amps for Home Use

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It’s taken me a while, but I’ve really fallen into a pattern for the kinds of amps I like. Being an entirely home player, I really don’t need anything above 50 Watts, and in fact 99% of the time I need a lot lot less. The thing all home-play amps need to have is some kind of attenuation or power scaling - so that you can achieve fully saturated tones at low volumes.

 

One of the key reasons home players use so many pedals is that it’s usually the best and sometimes the only proper way to achieve high gain saturation at relatively low volumes. Even then as all the pros will tell you, you will typically not achieve the same fully realized stereoscopic textural phenomena you get via a fully cranked amp, but it’s as close as you can get within the circumstances and within that context.

 

I currently have 4 amps - 2 solid-state and 2 all-tube versions - they are assembled in 2 dual stacks - with solid-state on the left and tube on the right. You may have read in previous posts that I like to mix up the frequencies to attain a richer texture - and ideally use a variety of different tube sounds. For me its usually a mix of EL34 style and EL84 tubes - the former gives you crunchier rock distortion while the latter - and as typified by Vox AC30 style amps give you more sparkle and clarity - so they work really well together.

 

To achieve tone nirvana at lower levels you have to have power scaling built-in - yes you can buy external attenuators, but I like mine built-in for sake of simplicity, and there is really plenty of choice in that area. I also like to have a 12" speaker, as the smaller speakers can’t give you that full low-end flex, which is important for mostly solo home players - it makes a real difference to have the full-frequency range at your disposal.

 

For practicality reasons and stackability I also like the control-panel to be front-facing. The key advantage of having front-facing amps is that you can quickly and easily see what settings are applied - rather than having to crane your neck over the amp. Moreover - I like to stack my amps, so the one sitting on the bottom would be useless for access if it had a top-facing control panel. In fact that is currently my situation with 3 of my amps - both my solid-state ones - my Fender Mustang IV V2 and Boss Katana 100, and my Hughes & Kettner Tubemeister 18 Twelve. I also prefer my amps to be combos - also for reasons of practicality and ease-of-use. I have already decided that I will swap out the Fender Mustang and probably the H&K too, while the other 2 are definitely keepers, and I love my Katana so much that I can put up with its lack of front-facing panel - it sits on top in any case.

 

For the longest time I had decided that my ideal dream amp was the flagship MESA/Boogie Mark V - yet this has a total output volume of 90W and you can only reduce that to 10W per Channel - which is still way too much for home. All of my current amps have power scaling and on a couple of them I rarely need to go above the 1W setting! For my Carvin V3MC - the volume is barely notched on - on the 7W setting - so the Mark V amp is not really suitable at all, and I’ve set my sight on the MESA/Boogie Express Plus 5:50 - which is significantly less money too!

 

I’ve kind of already decided that I’m going to swap the Mustang for a Peavey Vypyr Pro 100, as with everything though I may change my mind on that too eventually. For now the 4 amps in contention here are really contending as replacements for the Hughes & Kettner 18 Twelve although I may keep that one too anyway. My next likely amp switch is still likely the Peavey for the Fender, followed by the acquisition of one of the following:

EVH 5150III 1x12 50-watt Combo - £1,103

  • Tubes / Valves : 7 x 12AX7, 2 x 6L6
  • Channels : 3
  • Speaker : 1 x Celestion 12" EVH G12, 16Ω
  • Power Output / Scaling : 1W - 50W

I'm still a huge fan of Eddy Van Halen and the core tone he originated in the late 70's - and this is a pretty decent offering with all the appropriate bells and wistles - made by Fender I believe. There is a new EL34 loaded head recently available, so there may be a EL34 version of the combo available soon too. But all-round a decent offering at a reasonable price.

Hughes & Kettner TM36C Tubemeister Combo - £904

  • Tubes / Valves : 3 x 12AX7, 4 x EL84
  • Channels : 3
  • Speaker : 1 X Celestion 12" Vintage 30, 8Ω
  • Power Output / Scaling : 1W / 5W / 18W / 36W

I have the smaller brother of this one - the Tubemeister 18 Twelve - and this pretty much doubles up on everything - you have 2 sets of EQ to control the 3 Channels - while the junior version only has a single set. These amps tend towards bright - so you need to be aware of that, but they are very sparkly and crisp sounding with stellar cleans.

Laney Ironheart IRT30-112 Combo - £572

  • Tubes / Valves : 4 x 12AX7, 2 x 6L6
  • Channels : 3
  • Speaker : 1 x HH Acoustics 12" Custom, 8Ω
  • Power Output / Scaling : 1W - 30W

Birmingham's Laney Amplification is often overlooked by the masses, even thought they've been at it for decades and have some wonderful legendary amps to their name. This is a real swiss-knife of a 3 channel amp with lots of smart functions and at a really great price point. Laney have sort of thrown a spanner in the works by also releasing the superb GH30R-112 maintains a number of the smart features of the Ironheart - but with a lot fewer controls and one less channel - it also comes loaded with EL34 power tubes. It has yet to fully hit distribution as only relatively recently announced, but I'm sort of conflicted as to which one to buy - the newer release has more dynamics to it, while the former has higher gain.

MESA/Boogie Express Plus 5:50+ - £2,150

  • Tubes / Valves : 5 x 12AX7, 2 x 6L6
  • Channels : 2 (2 modes each) [Clean | Crunch | Blues | Burn]
  • Speaker : 1 x Celestion 12" Custom 90, 8Ω
  • Power Output / Scaling : 5W / 25W / 50W

So this has taken pride of place in place of the Mark V. This is very much a Mark V junior - with the clever EQ still in place, alongside the smart Preset Contour dial. It certainly does not have all the bells and whistles of the Mark V but gives you most of the key features of that in a more compact and easier-to use format. This one is twice the price of all the others, but still my frontrunner in the amp stakes. But you never really know what happens when you get to that purchasing decision - there are always new contenders, circumstances change etc. But this is most certainly the kind of thing I look for in my favourite amps.

Stefan
Posted by Stefan
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