Other Amps

At What Point Does A High Quality Amp Enter The Equation?


I have a nice variety of guitars to cover a wide range of tone and playing styles:

G6118-LTV 125th Annie, Gretsch Spectra Sonic with TV Jones Powertrons, a Rickenbacker 660-6 with Toaster pick-ups, and a Reverend Charger with P-90s.

I play all of these through a Fender Deluxe Reverb Reissue and a few select pedals. I have seldom played with this amp above "3" on the volume knob. Overall, I'm pretty happy with my options here.

But I was wondering about a VOX AC-15 hand-wired amp, or something in that boutique category that would give me even sweeter options. I guess the question is: how much sweeter sounding are these hand-wired amps verse how much more expensive than the standard version of this amp. For example:

Vox AC15-C1 is about $600 new vs. a Vox AC15HW at ~ $1200. That's twice as much cost for "X" amount of better tone. Solve for "X" ...


X obviously is not only for tone. It's what Jonathan says...

... + materials (electronic parts, cabinet) + manufacturing costs (working hours, conditions, wages) + tbc.


I agree with both comments. My major concern, especially with tube amps, is serviceability. I play through mostly 60's Blackface amps and whenever there have been issues, I have been able to get them repaired. With the modern, PCB amps, I struggle to find repair people who will work on them. The good thing is that reliability on the new amps is pretty awesome, and if they are going to fail, mine usually fail quickly and while still under warranty.

I have the Vox AC10C1 and can't say enough great things about the sound.

I just like knowing that I can get handwired stuff fixed fairly easily and locally. I don't mind paying extra for the extra costs to produce them, when I can afford it!


It's hard to quantify, but X is usually not a huge number. The old 80/20 rule might apply - and 20 would be a lot.

However, depending on your application, whatever X is - be it 20% better or 5% better - it could be the difference not between "really good" and "a little better," but between "eh, whatever" and "I love this!"

Most guys accept that the DR reissue, frinstance, is a good-enough representation of the classic blackface tone; some find it a little harsh and shallow compared to whatever original DR they've heard. From my perspective, a speaker swap will frequently resolve that kind of deficiency - if you hear any deficiency. Would a boutique blackface make you happier? You'd have to compare some to know.

When you mention Vox, you're off in a completely different tonal domain, and without a fair bit of listening and playing through amps of that type, it will be hard to judge which is a good one. My sense is, though, that in this instance the current base AC15 doesn't have quite as consistent a reputation as a good Vox example as the DR has in the Fender domain.

I'd never had a Vox (or particularly wanted one) till 7-8 years ago, when I bought an AC15. I was wildly underwhelmed. I held onto it for a couple years, doing my best to bond with it, find SOMETHING I liked about it, but nope nothing. I suppose it looked good (if you like the Vox look, and I'm agnostic about it), but it was stupid heavy, the reverb sounded cheap, it was ungodly loud by the time I got ANY pleasing tone from it, and that tone was marginal. Clean or crunchy, clank clank clank.

I don't know if a more deluxe iteration of the model would have lit me up, but it was moot: "too heavy" and "too loud" would surely still have applied. An AC30 could only have been worse. Maybe Vox just wasn't the tone I was looking for - but a short time later I heard a Matchless Lightning Reverb (supposedly at least a relative of the Vox design) and I was smitten. Three TIMES the money - but certainly worth it to me. In that case, I guess the boutique option was what it took to get me into that tonal world.

But since for the most part I've been happy with off-the-shelf midrange general-issue amps, I'm constitutionally skeptical of claims of boutique superiority. (Given that some of my favorite amps are OLD, which may be a relative of boutique - but I either bought them when they were just ordinary amps, or I didn't pay boutique/vintage prices.)

But because I WANT to believe - or am at least willing to be convinced - I take every opportunity I find to play through high-end and boutique offerings. I have to admit they're always nice - none of them suck, and I could be happy playing through most any of them - but very few have really lit me up. The first few times I WAS knocked out, I second-guessed myself and was slow to accept that what I'd just heard was as great as I thought it was.

I guess the same thing can be said of vintage or just plain used amps, but the ones I look at are generally cheap enough that if I likem, I buyem. Which is how I ended up with the 60s Ampeg Reverberocket and Portaflex (at least the Reverberocket is a cold dead hands piece) and the lowly but indispensable Classic 30. The one vintage amp I should have bought on the spot was a brown-face Showman head, which had a tone unlike anything I'd heard before or have heard since. 1,200.00, and I thought it was too much.

That seems to be the price at which my reluctance to believe an amp can justify its cost kicks in. Of all the boutique amps I've tried (maybe a few dozen), only the Lightning has ever induced me to spend more.

But y'know what? I spend more time in the Classic 30.

Apparently boutique quality is wasted on me.

I'd say you need to go shopping in person. I have much better luck buying guitars sight unseen than amps sound unheard. I think when you hear it, you'll know.


Thanks for the feedback all! I think I might take a road trip to the Chattanooga area with a few of my guitars in the near future and see and hear what Humbucker Music has to offer. They seem to have a good variety of hand-wired amps that would be worth checking out.

The most expensive piece a of music gear I ever bought without really giving it a try first was the Rickenbacker 660-6 ... and I think I just got lucky with that one. I really don't want to spend nearly $2K for an amp I haven't tried or on word of the "web" alone.

BTW Proteus - my interest in checking out the VOX tone is just to provide other options than what I can currently get from my Fender DRRI.


Opportunity + Lust + Room on you credit card = Amp


my interest in checking out the VOX tone is just to provide other options than what I can currently get from my Fender DRRI.

Of course! Understood.

Opportunity + Lust + Room on you credit card = Amp

But no room on the amp wall. Sadface. But wait! Sell big amps, get little amps. More amps on the wall. Happy face!


Opportunity + Lust to build an amp + Knowledge to build = Amp


For me, I'm not sure I'd pay big money on an amp unless I already knew I loved that general amp family. If I was experimenting with amp sounds, I'd probably play with some cheap modelers for a bit first.


I have a cheap modeler. But then you see a big Victoria that reeks of hot glass.

Opportunity is very wide spectrum covering factor in the equation. It covers money, knowledge and amps popping up.


I found my Carvin Belair 2 X 12 tube combo has a great tone of its own that falls somewhere in between the tonal range of a Vox and a Fender. It has two channels, a clean and a "soak" which has a pre-amp knob added to that channel to boost some natural distortion. In the clean channel the amp is very clean like a Vox but a bit smoother on the high end like a Fender. On the drive channel it delivers more of a Fender type tone but rounds out the high mids that define the Fender tone. Carvin sells a 16 watt version with 1 12" speaker that may be worth checking out.


Carvin has always been pretty honorable. But they're having their going-out-o-bidniss sale. Is that amp really available?


I've had Carvin amps and they sounded pretty good. Problem was that they used proprietary parts, hard to source when they break.


"give me even sweeter options" I suppose it depends on what YOU mean by sweeter

You are wise to take your guitars to test. Even better if you take your amp and hear them side by side.


Boutique amps in general will offer:

  • higher quality components

  • thoughtful derivatives of classic circuits

  • solidly built cabinets

  • hand wired construction

Beware of anything labeled as boutique that doesn't meet at least those four criteria.

The first two are where you're going to get superior sound quality. It could be better transformers that don't fart out at high volume (or an output transformer that's designed to fart out, if that's the sound you're going for), or a high quality alnico speaker, or artful placement of carbon comp resistors in all the right places (a dubious improvement, but some people swear by it). That brings me to my next item, thoughtful design. Even if someone is recreating a vintage classic, the boutique amp will often have some deviations from that classic that either overcome a weak point of the classic, or allow it to be used in ways you couldn't use the old one. It could be a master volume, or tweaks to the tone circuit, or an extra gain stage, or a Deluxe with EL84s.

For a concrete example I will offer up Tavo's own Blondeshell amp. He took a classic bass amp circuit that has been used by guitarists to great effect over the years, and made it more guitar friendly. He got rid of the channel that no one uses, sourced high quality transformers (which are not the same as the later Blackface spec transformers, as he won't let us forget), added Reverb, and a F-hole/Plank switch which allows the user to dial in the bass properly whether they're using a Tele or a Gretsch.

There are boutique amps that are wholly original designs not based on vintage classics but that's a whole nother can of cats.

The latter two items on my list contribute to the serviceability aspect. With hand-wired construction (either on a tagboard/turretboard or true point-to-point), problems can be easily diagnosed, and components can be easily replaced. This is a feature vintage and boutique amps share, as it used to just be the way things were done. Now it's no longer econominal to hang with a circuit in the age of PCBs and disposable technology.

If you want an amp with the serviceability of vintage but the price of a production amp, there are beaucoup deals to be had with Silverface Fenders.


When I made most of my living on stage, I played through an early silverface Super Reverb that I took to my tech every two years for new output tubes and a good look under the hood, and in the fifteen years I gigged it pretty heavily, it had one pot replaced, and that was it. Never any trouble with it. That amp was eventually stolen, and I do miss it.

Now, my main player is a Headstrong (which qualifies as "boutique" I guess) tweed Bandmaster that's been tweaked a little. (old Super reverb OT) I got a great deal on it used, and it's a fantastic amp. It's got a sweetness and depth to it that I don't hear in say, a reissue Bassman, even a well-played broken in one. And it hasn't broken down even once. I say a quality amp is worth the money - most cheap to midprice production amps I get to play sound/feel stiff, harsh and one-dimensional to me. I know all the "audience can't tell the difference" arguments, but my snobby amps make me happy is all I can say to that. I can have a lot more fun with a squier guitar and a well maintaind quality vintage amp/boutique amp than with an L5 and a Fender Blues Deluxe amp. IMO, YMMV, blah blah blah.


A great debate! I have a bit of experience that might be handy, so here's an anecdote:

My group has a second guitarist who follows the opposite acquisition theory as you and me, Brian_66. That is, he has one guitar with over a dozen amps. Each are either some wicked vintage number or a BOO-tique (it is almost Halloween and the prices are scary to me) contraption.

All of those amps sound mighty nice, but no one (either player or civilian) has made a big deal about the tone. If anything, people comment that they're impressed at what I wrangled out of a run-of-the-mill PCB reissue. For reference, I use the Vox AC15C1 (in purple!) or the Fender Twin Reverb RI (with some mods for volume taming) depending on venue size.

(Side note: There is a big tonal difference, but it's fun to mix and match for me. I have volunteered the AC15 for backline many times and some people loathe it. Proteus is right that you need to plug into it and put it through the paces. You might hate it too.)

To me, the difference is how much work you want to put into knob tweaking and getting your hands dirty under the hood. All of the other guitarist's amps sound pleasing. He spends no time dialing in tones and swaps out pedals constantly because they generally always work with any of those nice combos and stacks. They're fun to play through, but no more inspiring than anything I have owned.

There are definitely "yuck" tones in my PCB reissues. I've spent a good many hours reading about speaker combinations, tube pairings, and other tips and tricks to get the most out of a less-expensive amp. There's some trial and error involved. I avoid the yuck and the differences seem moot.

In short, the "X" is convenience. I'm a firm believer of the ol' "Good/Fast/Cheap" mantra and this is no exception.


I've developed a love for some boutique amps over the years. Overall, I've found they have superior and fuller tones and much more variety in tonal capabilities. Example -- nearly 7 years ago I bought a Standel 25L15 (new, not vintage). As I began to work with it and explore its sounds I had several moments where I began to think I would have to set up an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of the wonderful tones that I REALLY liked.....

Besides the Standel, I've had a lot of experience with Victoria, Carr, Swart and Alessandro ("Working Dog", not the VERY expensive ones). All are really hard to beat.

I see Humbucker Music stocks Victoria, Carr and Swart (and others). So that sounds like a great place to shop. Do yourself a favor -- go on a weekday and allocate a LOT of time. Take your main guitars with you and your amp if feasible.

Besides the Standel, a Carr Skylark is my current favorite amp -- fabulous sounds and a lot of them.

Side note -- Standels are not carried by any dealers that I know of. Not even sure if they are still made. When I first looked, the waiting list was 18 months...... A few years later, that was more reasonable (about 3 months). Last time I checked there was still a website but it had not been updated for a decade or so......


Serviceability is obviously a fine attribute - though at least so far it's been my observation that inherently unreparable amps don't sound good enough to me to buy in the first place, so I haven't been hurt by losing a great amp to a problem that simply can't be fixed.

With the exception, I guess, of the fabulous but tragic Seymour Duncan Convertible - surely the very definition of boutique at the time (though edge-connectored PC boards were a crucial part of its convertibility, itself a large part of the appeal). I could never get a bad tone out of that amp - and there was a limitless supply of tones across a bewildering range of convertible configurations. While the PC boards were deployed entirely differently than in today's cheapity amps, the same heat and vibration eventually killed the amps (I had two of them, trying my best to keep one going) when circuit traces simply couldn't be patched anymore, and the spring teeth which held the daughterboards gave up their tension.

That amp was a weird case where PC boards were not used so much for economy as to provide a noble attempt at serious, component-and-circuit-level on-the-fly configurability. It was like the physical equivalent of Bias Grid's iOS software which permits a theoretical amp designer to combine (sims of) circuits and components.

But other than THAT, I've not been much seduced by the tone of a modern all-PCB amp. The Hot Rod Deluxe, years ago, was at first superficially attractive in the store - but its one-dimensionality wore me out on the spot before I was even tempted to buy.

That said, I've been inside my beloved Classic 30, and it's certainly no citadel of point-to-point or tagboard construction. In fact, the 3D configuration of PC boards in there looks positively improvised. I assume there are reasons - Peavey stuff is not haphazardly engineered - and given the results, I'm willing to believe those reasons may be as much electronic as economic. In any case, of the two C30s, one (bought used at GC) has never needed opened for any reason, taking only the obligatory periodic tube change. I bought the other used online, and it had a pesky problem from the git-go that two amp techs were unable to find (though neither complained about serviceability). Ultimately I sent the chassis to Peavey, and they repaired it for something like 70 bucks. So - reasonably priced up front, sound good to me, AND serviceable - a nice combination. (These are older, pre-redesign C30s, I believe still made in Mississippi; I can't speak for the newer generation.)

Anyway. When I say I'm happy with mid-range off-the-shelf amps, I guess I should be more specific. I'm not advocating or defending every modern 200.00 - 1,000.00 amp made. I haven't played them all, and of those I've played I've been inspired by few. I guess I just don't buy brand new amps (when I count back, all I can recall is are the Peavey Pacer and Bandit in the 80s - and the Quilter Microblock I got two weeks ago, if that counts).

So when I'm evaluating the boutique amps I've tried, I'm comparing them to my old Fenders, Music Mans, Ampegs, 90s-design Peavey Classic series, and the Tech21 Trademark 60 which is my sole modern all-SS (probably PCB) amp. All of those (except the T21) have proven to be serviceable - which is a good thing, because they've all needed service. (The T21 has been faultlessly reliable in the 8-10 years I've owned it, but I haven't worked it very hard.)

I can subscribe to all the points on Otter's checklist of characteristics of a boutique amp. All are important components to whatever improvement a boutique box offers over an everyday factory amp. All would contribute to my inclination to buy one, with those characteristics combining in various proportions depending on what I was looking for from such an amp.

Frinstance, if I KNEW a particular vintage circuit and configuration was EXACTLY what I wanted (and I never seem to know that), then quality components, construction, and build quality would be everything. I'd be comparing a new amp, with all the promise of reliability that implies, with my chances of finding a nice vintage example I could trust and afford. Boutique builders who simply make the best possible version of a classic - without offering anything "new" - undoubtedly provide a valuable service for those who know what they want.

But providing "thoughtful derivatives of classic circuits" is where boutique builders are more likely to attract me in the first place - IF I knew just what tweaks, mods, or adjustments I really wanted. I might be able to figure this out from their descriptions, or sound clips, or real-world use examples. Like I "get" what Tavo's Blondeshell is and does from the description of the intersecting design parameters. It was built to a pretty specific purpose, and I know the quality of the build is superb. I've heard it, and it sounds magnificent.

When someone else plays it, for the music they play. It doesn't suit my playing or purposes (which, Tavo, is why I haven't bought one, forgive me).

Many builders explain what they've made by giving me the Fender chassis numbers, then telling me what is different, usually in component-technical terms. I understand why they do that: it's the world they live in, and those components and circuits are to them what colors and lines are to artist, or words to a writer. It's their medium. They can combine them to get a particular effect.

But I don't know what they are, and have never been compelled by sufficient curiosity or need to know to remember them. I know model NAMES, and I've heard most of the amps. But when I have to go look up the numbers, I just assume I'm not enough of a Fender amp geek to appreciate what I'm being offered. A more knowledgeable player can shop based on chassis codes and specify what circuits, tubes, or characteristics he'd like combined. I gotta be told the name of the amp, or who plays one on what song - or, ideally, HEAR and if possible play through the amp.

Then I'm better able to appreciate what a designer/builder has done. And I think I like best those boutique designs which are most creative, combining existing ideas in, yes, "judicious" - but novel - ways. Those are the amps that sound most interesting to me (or maybe I just hadn't heard the circuits they're based on).

I think our man Billy Zoom has come up with some pretty original designs - or at least amps that sound unique and compelling to me. His little blue 12-watt "killer," which I've played through on a couple of occasions, haunts me. No idea what the voodoo is in there, other than "Baxendall Circuit" (which is a cool enough name to make the amp sound better even if it does nothing) - but I remember it as a singularly sweet amp with a unique voice.

And when I hear an amp that really gives me the grins, then I start to care more how well it's built, the quality of the parts, its future serviceability, etc.

I'm ALSO a sucker for how an amp LOOKS - great design and/or woodwork always impresses me - but at least so far I've never bought an (expensive) amp just for its looks. (Can't say the same about guitars...)

At this point, I think for another boutique amp to knock me down and take my money, it would have to be something I'd heard and played through and which made my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth. It would have to suit me in a way I'm not even able to articulate, or maybe even to predict. I think it's possible that a really talented designer, with great ears, who understood my tonal vocabulary, maybe took the time to hear me play through my stuff and somehow sense what I'm not getting from my amp(s), and which would take me to expressive tonal nirvana if I had it...might be able to concoct an amp I just couldn't live without.

It might just take a tweak or two to an existing circuit, might involve morphing two dissimilar types, might be about damping, might be the speaker - I don't know. And since I don't know, I can't spec it myself. Absolutely the WORST kind of customer. Doesn't know what he wants, doesn't know if there's anything better for him than he already has, doesn't know the language. Hopeless.

I'm Tom Hanks as Joe in the back of Marshall's limousine wanting to go shopping; Marshall says...

An amp makes the man. I believe that. You say to me you wanna go shopping, you wanna buy an amp, but you don't know what kind. You leave that hanging in the air, like I'm going to fill in the blank, that to me is like asking me who you are, and I don't KNOW who you are, I don't wanna know. It's taken me my whole life to find out who I am and I'm tired now, you hear what I'm sayin'?

I don't need an amp builder, I need a COUNselor. From what I understand - and from my conversations with him, I'm inclined to believe it - Jer DeLisle (mugsy) might have that knack. He has the reputation for hearing what guys tell him, translating that into his own build vocabulary, and devising something that ideally suits them. I know his build quality is superb, and his prices are reasonable, and he's not even that far away. The one DeLisle amp I've played through made me want to take it home; I'm afraid to go visit and play through a bunch of different options, for fear I'll have to spend money.

And one of the last things I need is another amp. Why do I keep obsessing about amps?

Walter sez:

I say a quality amp is worth the money - most cheap to midprice production amps I get to play sound/feel stiff, harsh and one-dimensional to me. I know all the "audience can't tell the difference" arguments, but my snobby amps make me happy is all I can say to that.

And I hear that, absolutely. I'd agree with that evaluation of many (maybe most) cheap to mid-price production amps: stiff, harsh, shallow. Conversely, I'd say that virtually all the boutique amps I've played through sound deeper, more complex, more 3D. (When I'm playing an amp and think "this doesn't even need reverb," I know it's a good one.) But it obviously doesn't follow that every boutique amp is therefore just what I'm looking for.

And I don't conclude that only boutique (or vintage, or really expensive) amps can have those deep, transparent, lush, dimensional characteristics. Again, I get enough of it from my Classic 30s to keep me amused. (Though, admittedly, the Matchless has a bit more of it - as the Gretsch Variety has more of it than, say, my 80s Fender Concert.)

You just have to listen to and play through a lot of amps.


I long ago lost track of all the amps I've owned/used since I got my first good amp — an AC30 — back in 1963. Fender, Marshall, Peavey, Selmer, Gretsch, Vox and the rest. Right now I have two excellent tube amps — a Traynor and a Burman — but they're heavy and they're getting old (like me). All I know is that right now I'd like one of the new Supro Jupiter amps. Yep, I'd find that heavy, too. Maybe they'll make a head version.


I found my Carvin Belair 2 X 12 tube combo has a great tone of its own that falls somewhere in between the tonal range of a Vox and a Fender. It has two channels, a clean and a "soak" which has a pre-amp knob added to that channel to boost some natural distortion. In the clean channel the amp is very clean like a Vox but a bit smoother on the high end like a Fender. On the drive channel it delivers more of a Fender type tone but rounds out the high mids that define the Fender tone. Carvin sells a 16 watt version with 1 12" speaker that may be worth checking out.

– BuddyHollywood

We have the same amp.

I was going to go Mesa Boogie or the Hand Wired route because I wanted a top notch amp that didnt need modifications or have the limitations of a mass produced amp. Ive had a few Fender ,Marshall and Vox tube amps , and for whatever reason I always had some sort of issue or another.

I stumbled across A Non-Working Carvin on Craigslist,and for the price tag, I just coudnt pass it up. I reattached the speaker wire (that was all) plugged her in and Wham. Everyone that has played thru it has had nothing but praise,and given it good reviews. Smooth useable volume from 1 to 8 ,not overpowering or harsh,for whatever reason I can get very good tone at any volume something that I could never do with any amps Ive owned. I am very satisfied with it. Someday I just might get me that Boutique Amp/ Holy Grail amp, but for the moment all my needs are covered.

Someday I might swap out the Chinese Vintage 30's for some British ones but for the current sounds coming out of that wooden box, why bother.

Good Luck on your quest.


Tim, there's one thing, not unimportant I think, that hasn't come up in this thread, but that we had an email conversation about last week : overdrive. You mentioned to me that in your average playing conditions, you get most of your overdriven to distorted tones from pedals, because the volume constraints of the settings you play in don't really allow you to open up the amp.

I usually play on the verge (or slightly over) of amp breakup and only use pedals to add to that, extend the breakup and compression I already have. And that's exactly where the "quality amp" thing comes into play in my experience.

Once your amp is "nice enough", say your Peavey C30 (as opposed to say, some Crate monstrosity or whatever), and you have some nice pedals, you can get the driven tones you're after.

In my case, every time I've been confronted with anything from the Peavey Classic range as provided backline (flying gigs), I've been frustrated that I couldn't just "plug in and turn it up" as I do with the vintage Fenders or boutique fender based designs I'm used to. Turn a Peavey classic on the clean channel up to where it breaks up, or a Fender Hotrod, and you get the dreaded harsh, crackly tone I so dislike about amps in that vein. And in the case of the 4X10 versions of those amps, it just gets too painfully loud to comfortably stand in front of with a big hollowbody guitar. And the master volume/overdrive channel on those amps doesn't do the trick either, that's just more ugly.

And I've found the same goes for a Deluxe Reverb reissue : it's louder, tighter and a lot more harsh than a nice blackface, silverface or boutique-ey version of the same, once you try to get some breakup from the amp without pedals.

I've seen quite a few blues/roots/retro/rock and roll musicans who play flying gigs get Quilter heads and play them into the speakers of whatever combos the promotor provides - the Quilter might not their dream amp, but at least they know what they're in for, can get some breakup tones without going deaf or investing in a bunch of expensive pedals, and it's infinitely cheaper and more practical than taking a tube head on flying gigs. I've been taking my Quilter head to gigs with provided backine too, for the same reasons.


My own tube amp quest took place several years ago. Since I don't do a lot of gigging on guitar I wanted something smallish enough to be manageable (one piece, not separate head and cabinet), but I knew it had to have one or two 12" speakers, as I've never been happy with the tone I got from 10" speakers in a guitar amp. It had to be loud enough to play clubs in a loud band, but also deliver satisfying tone at low volumes for practice. I also couldn't justify a big budget for the (small) amount of use it would get.

Shortly after I began the quest, I happened to see one of my all-time favorite guitarists (Terry Haggerty) playing through an Epiphone Blues Custom 30. Sounded great with both hollow and solid body guitars, clean and crunchy. So when I sometime later saw one on close-out (less than 400 bucks) at my favorite local music store, I plugged in and put it through its paces, and took it home. It's switchable from 15 class A watts to 30 class B watts, with 2 footswitchable channels, two Eminence 12" speakers, and plenty of tone shaping knobs, and has a tone somewhere between classic Fender and Vox clean.

A few years later I happened to see a used-but-like-new Mesa Boogie Nomad 45 at the same store (now under new management with a new name, but most of the same staff) and tried it out. 45 watts, three channels, one 12" speaker, and it also did everything I could want from a tube amp. It's smaller than the Epiphone, but purtnear as heavy, and for $600 I couldn't say no. It's sonic territory is different from the Epiphone --- I tend to use the Epiphone for clean or slightly dirty tones, but the Nomad does the creamy Mesa/Marshall/Dumble kinds of driven tones to perfection. Carlos Santana, Larry Carlton, and Robben Ford all live in there, and Hendrix and Robin Trower sometimes too. And I can get warm, clean jazz tones a la Wes or Kenny or Joe Pass as well.

Now I'm only very rarely tempted to even try out other amps --- the two I have make my ears completely happy.

What I learned, though, is that you just gotta play 'em to know. Another player may sound great through a certain amp, because it responds to his or her playing style --- which may be very different from yours. The only way to know what lights up the "happy tone" lobe of your own brain is to play YOUR guitars through an amp and fiddle with all the knobs until you either get the sound or don't.

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