There are so many guitar amps on the market today.
And each year more are launched.
So, which should you choose?
In this post, I’m going to review 6 great amps for playing the blues.
Now, to be clear – this isn’t a “best of” list, but it is a list of amps I’ve tested or owned over the years.
Let’s dive right in:
- Should you choose a head and a cab, or combo amp?
- What about speaker type?
- What about power tubes?
- Is there one genre you’ll play more than anything else?
- What do you like the sound of?
- Pedal platform, versatile amp or both?
- How much wattage do you need?
- How many channels do you need?
- What extra features do you need in your tube amp?
- How easy is the amp to maintain?
- Wrapping it up
1. Vox AC15 Combo
The Vox AC15 has been around since the late 50s and comes with a unique flavour of British tube tone.
My review of the “Vox AC15C1X with Alnico Blue Speaker” (pictured above):
If you haven’t experienced a vintage inspired tube amp before, the layout of this amp may seem unusual.
You can plug into two different channels. The “normal” channel which just has a volume control, or the “top boost” channel which features a bass, treble and volume control.
Then you’ve got a built-in reverb and tremolo, with a volume and tone cut for the master section. Each channel has a slightly different flavour – regardless of which, you’ll notice that beautiful “chime” that Vox is known for.
Since there’s two channels to plug into, you can use an A/B pedal to add the ability to switch channels.
The channel volume controls are really just gain controls. So, the higher you crank the volume, the more breakup/distortion you’ll get. You can then control the overall level with the master volume.
On the back, you can hook up some extension speakers and a footswitch (not included). But there’s no FX loop. The footswitch jack gives you the option to turn the reverb & tremolo off/on.
I opted for the slightly more expensive version which came loaded with a Celestion Blueback speaker. But, in hindsight, I’d of been better off buying a Greenback speaker separately and fitting it myself – it’d be cheaper and I’d have a spare speaker. Ah, the benefits of hindsight.
The Vox AC15 is capable of putting out a wide range of tones – far more than you might expect. And it sounds great – some of the best tones I’ve got out of this amp have been through P90 loaded guitars.
Of course, tone is entirely subjective. While this may be built overseas, it’s at a good price point and just so happens to be one of my favourite amps.
Wattage: 15 Watts
Price range: Around $850 (or $680 with the Greenback speaker)
The AC15 is available in a variety of configurations. As a head, 1×12” combo, or a 2×12” combo. And with various speaker options. Limited edition handwired models are also available.
Want something louder? Check out the AC30 – it comes in a range of configurations as well.
2. Supro 1690T Coronado 2×10 Combo
I recently reviewed the Supro 1605RH Head amp, and while this 2×10” combo has plenty of vintage vibe, it’s a completely different animal.
My review of the “Supro 1690T Coronado 2×10 Combo” (pictured above):
This was the first Supro I added to my collection – the amp that kick started my fascination with the brand.
35 watts. Dual 6l6 output stage and 100% Class-A.
This 2-channel amp is simple but it has a few surprises up it’s sleeve. The first channel is “channel 1+2”, so when you are using channel 1, you can turn up channel 2 and combine both pre-amps. The result? More volume and more gain.
That makes channel 2 the cleanest channel – ideal for your pedals. And this setup should work well with an A/B pedal to give the ability to switch channels.
There’s no reverb on this amp but it does come with tremolo, if that’s your thing.
There’s no FX loop or anything like that and there’s only a volume and tone control for each channel. This is as simple as it gets and that’s one of the things I love about this amp. And it makes a great pedal platform thanks to offering plenty of head room.
So, what does this amp sound like? It’s a stark contrast to the chime of the Vox. The Supro offers warm and full tone, with plenty of character and grit, when you play hard.
Wattage: 35 watts
Price range: $1350
The Coronado appears to be a discontinued model now. But Supro’s latest line of vintage inspired amps has plenty to offer. The Legend Series seems to be the closest fit, with a range of combos, head amplifiers, and matching extension cabinets.
3. Victory V40 ‘The Duchess’
Victory Amplification are a British amp manufacturer that have become rather popular in recent years.
My review of the “Victory V40 ‘The Duchess’” (pictured above):
‘The Duchess’ is a single channel lunchbox style head amplifier. Despite its size, you get a lot more features than you might expect.
And the fact you have a master volume means you can crank that pre-amp gain to give you some great breakup.
In terms of controls, there’s also the treble, middle, and bass. You’ve also got a digital reverb which you can control from the front of the amp, or with the included footswitch. There’s a mid kick which adds some extra juice to the mid range, and 2 voicing switches.
A toggle switch on the front, gives you the option to put the amp in high power or low power mode.
On the back, we have a few different jack sockets to go to your speaker cab, FX loop, and bypass switches for the reverb/FX loop, etc.
There are plenty of tones on offer with this amp. Especially with the help of those extra switches on the front. The onboard digital reverb is good and it’s nice to have, although I much prefer a real spring reverb. And this little amp offers far more headroom than you might expect.
While we’ve covered mainly vintage re-issue amps up till now, ‘The Duchess’ definitely isn’t that. There’s a lot less compromise than what comes with vintage re-issues. And the size makes it far easier to gig with.
The V40 ‘The Duchess’ may not be forgiving but it’s extremely well built, sounds great, and comes fully loaded with features. If you get the opportunity to try one – it’s well worth it!
And, coupled with my 1999 Les Paul, the V40 produces some of the best overdriven sounds I’ve heard so far.
Wattage: 40 watts (scalable down to 7 watts, or even lower in single-ended mode)
Price range: $1,239
Victory have a great range of amps to suite a variety of different needs. If you want the benefit of a second channel, check out the V30.
Want actual spring reverb? Victory released a higher end version of this amplifier (the V40 Deluxe), with slightly different styling, and most importantly, real spring reverb.
4. Orange AD30H Head Amplifier
Orange are one of longest standing British amp manufacturers. And they’re best known for their dirty tones, so if you like your blues dirty, this could be the option for you.
My review of the “Orange AD30H Head” (pictured above):
The AD30H is a 2-channel head amplifier capable of delivering some great vintage tones.
I was half expecting these channels to sound exactly the same. But, as it turns out, it’s more like 2 different amps in one. Each having their own flavour – one is thick and creamy, the other is much tighter with a faster attack.
It’s capable of nice cleans, and has a good amount of gain on tap. The gain offered by the AD30H isn’t overwhelming. It’s just enough. I guess we could say well balanced.
Each channel has a master, treble, middle, bass, and gain control. Each channel is footswitchable (sold separately). On the back, there’s not much to write home about – there’s a footswitch jack socket, as well as speaker connections – no FX loop to speak of.
The AD30H is well built and capable of a sizeable tonal palette. The unique twin channel design offers even more tonal options.
While it’s pricey than a lot of others on this list, don’t count it out. This amp doesn’t get nowhere near the attention it deserves. And it’s one of my all-time favourite amps for dirty tones.
Wattage: 30 watts
Price range: $1,660
While Orange have plenty of amps on offer, the AD range consists of just this amp – there’s nothing else quite like it. Although, if you’re after built in reverb, you may want to explore the TH or Rockerverb models.
5. Mesa/Boogie Lonestar Special
Mesa/Boogie are one of those brands that I looked at with so much reverence when I was growing up. Now, this is the most expensive amp on the list, so does it warrant the extra $$? Let’s take a look.
My review of the “Mesa Boogie Lonestar Special 1×12 Combo” (pictured above):
Here we have a 2 channel, class A amp running EL84s. Each channel has a gain, treble, mid, bass, presence and master control.
But, there’s a power soak built independently into each channel. So you can choose to go from four EL84’s, to two and even down to one. So it scales from 30 to 15, then to 5 watts.
There’s a tube rectifier on 5/10 watt modes, and diode rectifier at 30 watts.
Each channel has identical controls apart from the 2nd channel’s additional “drive” control. This control can be enabled or disabled via a toggle switch. Great in case you need a bit (or a lot) more filth.
What else is on the front? There’s a footswitch jack, channel selector, and “thickness” control. Taking you from normal to thick, or thicker.
Finally, we have the output and solo controls. The output controls the overall level of the amplifier. Think of it as the master to your master channel volumes. It’s also the level control for the FX loop return.
When the included footswitch is connected via the DIN jack, you can use the solo function. That can be used to add some extra boost, as it’s level can go above that which is set by the output control.
On the back, we’ve got a send level, FX send & return, hard bypass for the FX loop, reverb controls for channel’s 1 and 2. There’s a toggle switch to go from warm or bright reverb, external switch jacks for channel/solo switching, fan toggle switch, and a slave level & jack output (I’ve never had a need to use this).
And, just underneath there is a jack socket to connect a footswitch to control the reverb. The footswitch for this isn’t supplied but according to the manual, any “tip-to-ground, latching-type footswitch” will work.
I’ve got to say that having the reverb controls on the back of the amp are inconvenient but they make sense from a logistical standpoint. Especially considering how many features they’ve packed into this amp.
Oh, and it comes with wheels!
The ability to “power soak” channels individually is great – especially if you want to play at home. And the tube driven FX loop is a nice touch.
The controls on this amp are extremely responsive, allowing for a lot of tonal variation. From beautiful cleans to cranked gainy tones. And the thickness switch offers even more variety. Their manual considers the “thick” setting to be a “plexi switch,” and I’d be inclined to agree.
Overall, this may be a pricey amp, particularly for those based in the UK. But, this is a high end amp that’s got an incredible feature set, it’s extremely well built and sounds great.
There’s so much to love about this amp.
Wattage: 30 watts (can reduce to 15 and 5 watts, on a per channel basis)
Price range: $2,000
The Lonestar Special is also available as a 2×12” combo, head, or rackmount head. There’s also the Lonestar models which come loaded with EL34 tubes, instead of the EL84’s in the Lonestar Special.
So, if you’re after more clean headroom, you may want to consider the Lonestar instead.
6. Fender Blues Deluxe
Two of the things I love about Fender amps: spring reverb and great cleans. So, if you find yourself wanting to partake in lush beautiful reverbs and beautiful glassy clean tones, without shelling out for a Deluxe Reverb or Twin Reverb, definitely check out the Blues Deluxe.
My review of the “Fender Blues Deluxe in Emerald Green (Limited Edition)” (pictured above):
Here we have a limited edition FSR Blues Deluxe in Emerald Green.
Inside, we’ve got two 6L6 power tubes delivering 40 watts of classic Fender tone, three 12AX7 tubes and an upgraded 12” Eminence Governor speaker.
This model has 2 channels – normal and drive. There’s an FX loop which together with those great Fender cleans, makes this amp a decent pedal platform.
But, what I especially like about this FX loop is the controls are on the top, next to the rest of the controls. So, it’s great news for anyone who wants to use pedals with this amp but without the hassle. The footswitch jack socket is on the top too, and the included footswitch will control channel switching and reverb.
On the subject of the footswitch, it has a jack socket rather than a molded connection which is good so you can swap out the included cable with something decent.
EQ controls are shared between both channels and you’ll be able to shape that tone even more with the addition of a bright switch and presence control.
The matching Fender cover is a nice touch too.
Now, I’m not a fan of this stainless steel & reversed lettering on the top panel, but that’s just me. And the power cable is molded – not the usual 3 pin “kettle” lead you’ll find on most amps. This is the only Blues Deluxe I’ve tried out so it’s entirely possible that this was done to ensure the build was as close to vintage spec as possible.
For clean tones, this amp is excellent. The spring reverb sounds just as you’d expect from a classic Fender – awesome. I know the drive channel isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s far better than some of the comments I’ve seen on forums might suggest.
For the money, this is a seriously good amp. Solid build, great tones and a more affordable price point than a lot of others on the market.
While this particular model is no-longer available, you can usually find it in black, or tweed, although not always with the upgraded speaker.
Wattage: 40 watts
Price range: Around $800
If you want a smaller amp for home use, check out the Fender Blues Junior. It’s single channel but it’s got those classic Fender cleans and great sounding reverb. Here’s a photo of mine:
If you want more volume, you may want to check out the Hot Rod Deluxe or Hot Rod Deville. I haven’t tried these myself, but I hear they’re quite popular as backline amps in clubs.
Wrapping it up (and a few frequently asked questions)
Now, there are a lot of great amps out there for playing blues. These are a few of the amps I’ve had the pleasure of testing/owning over the years.
Here are a few things to consider when choosing your next amp, especially if you don’t have the option to try before you buy:
- Head room – This is the difference between the total output and the output volume you want from the amp. And the more you have, the less the amp will distort as you crank it. When choosing an amp, I typically go for one with a lot more power than I need. It’s worth considering when you buy.
- Head or combo? – I find head amps more convenient. I can easily switch out the speaker by changing the cab, and they’re lighter. You’d need a speaker cab, but you can opt for a space-saving speaker cab to give yourself more room.
- Do you need an FX loop? – Amps like the Vox, Supro, and Orange don’t have an FX loop. Some say that an FX loop will impact the tone. Regardless, it’s nice functionality to have in an amp.
- Do you need two channels? – Having two channels can be useful, but it’s not always essential if you’re going to rely more on pedals.
Thanks for stopping by and good luck on your musical journey.
Hey, I’m Adam, a guitarist and writer from the UK. Some say I have way too many guitars. But, the truth is I need just one more. And maybe another after that…