Other Amps

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


The amp is more important to the equation than the guitar. The amp is the part that makes the sound.


The amp is more important to the equation than the guitar. The amp is the part that makes the sound.

– Billy Zoom

Yeah, but I'm the part that makes the sound bad.


The amp is more important to the equation than the guitar. The amp is the part that makes the sound.

– Billy Zoom


Except without a guitar plugged into it, there IS NO sound. The signal originates at the pickups.

Maybe a better question would be...

Which group has more differences in tone amongst itself:

Telecaster-Stratocaster-Les Paul-6120-Rickenbacker-Jackson

Champ-Deluxe Reverb-Marshall-Standel-Ampeg-Mesa Boogie


Proteus, Do you still have the Excelsior?

I do. I have two Excelsiors, both modded slightly differently, with different replacement speakers. (Why two? Well, I couldn't resist the whole retro vibe and cheap no-better-than-she-should-be concept when the amp came out, then I couldn't resist the green one when it appeared a year earlier, and I'm always thinking stereo.)

I like'm, but they never became my core tone. No good reason why not - they'd work fine. Lower volume breakup, for sure. Maybe it didn't make sense to start with amps with such a funkily distinctive tone, then pedal them up. While the ampsIusuallyuse do have "character" (or I fancy I hear some), they're much more nearly a blank slate than the Excelsiors, and thus a more transparent platform for pedals. The Excelsiors are more "unique purpose" amps, not "generalist." In my thinking.

Also, I used them as a pair once with the Nord keyboard, and loved what they did to B3 and Rhodes/Wurli electric piano sounds. Guess I started thinking of them as a keyboard setup!

Maybe I'll bring them to the next Roundup so more guys can play through them. See what they're like when really wrung out.


Billy the Zoom, himsed:

The amp is more important to the equation than the guitar. The amp is the part that makes the sound.

Then the Ruger9 sez:

Except without a guitar plugged into it, there IS NO sound. The signal originates at the pickups.

But but but...I thought tone was in the fingers!


Billy the Zoom, himsed:

The amp is more important to the equation than the guitar. The amp is the part that makes the sound.

Then the Ruger9 sez:

Except without a guitar plugged into it, there IS NO sound. The signal originates at the pickups.

But but but...I thought tone was in the fingers!

– Proteus



Most of the guitar sounds that I heard growing up during the 60s & 70s came out of Fender amps or Marshalls. The Marshalls were cranked; early Clapton & Peter Green sounds. As a consequence of that, I only like Marshalls when they are cranked and when I plug into most good Fender tube amps, they just sound right, clean or cranked. Also, my search for speakers stopped after purchasing my first Weber; it just sounded right, probably because he nailed the vintage Jensen tone, the ones in most of the Fender amps that I heard growing up. Conditioning or did they simply get it so right back then that some sort of paradigm was established?


Amps are weird things.

The great ones sound fabulous when tried live and standalone.

As soon as you start recording, everything changes. It is next to impossible to capture the full grandeur of a great amp. Strange small and seemingly unusable amps can sound amazing when recorded. You can even use a DAW plugin and skip the entire amp. Check out Softube Amp Room and hear it yourself.

Only few amps really stand out when played totally clean. Most kind of sound alike then. I think you might be able to find solid state amps that sound top when played clean.

Right hand crunch is where the tube amp has the most character. Unfortunately, 80% of even the tube amps go from clean directly into metal. No added tube value there. The few good ones are amazing when the clean suddenly gets a grumpy edge. That's an amp you should try find, in my opinion. That is tube amp territory. Only the very latest Blues Cube solid state can do this too. And the solid state Quilter somewhat. Fender has a few small tube amps that excell at half crunch. And some boutique amps. The TIM and Drive Thru pedal can also create a good half crunch. Still, I prefer the low watt tube most.

Full crunch is something only some very small tube amps can do well. I like a bluesy complaining sound. Not a howling metal siren. Unless you're Brian May on a Vox.

I heard the brownface Vibroverb from '63. That's a very cool sounding tube amp. It sings. I like the Elektra of course. Toneking, Victoria, many Fenders and the Magnatone. When do you buy such amps? When you can and want to. The valid reason would be when your playing deserves it. But I bought some in advance. I might become poor one day...


There are other considerations. Cost justification---can I justify the cost of an amp or does the money need to go elsewhere? Skill---am I a good enough musician to justify an amp (or a guitar, for that matter) of this quality? Need---how badly do I need a certain amp? Why buy a 100 watt stack when all you need is a 5 watt bedroom amp? Image---Are you just "showing off"? Is it a fad? Since "everyone" is getting one, I should too. Hype---your favorite star uses XYZ so you should too. Esthetics---It "looks" cool. It has a lot of features (will you use them all?) It's not new enough. Dominance---everyone else in the band is using AC15s and Deluxe Reverbs. Do you opt for a Marshall stack? Home considerations---Do you need that stack for home recording or practice? Does your wife mind it sitting in the living room or bedroom? Kids sleeping? Neighbors? Transport---do you have a way to move it on your own? Finally---are you buying an amp just for the sake of change?


How about this? The guy is enjoying himself, playing through a Princeton reverb studio amp thing and an attenuator. Nice vista tone pickups, nice crunch sound. I think he sounds like he enjoys himself and don’t care too much what anyone else worries about


Have a look at his other videos, often playing an old Oahu amp. Always happy and has that ‘no worries’ vibe. Life is good.


That's the best reason. Only when you earn your money by making music, you may NEED an amp (although my friend Holger gigs ampless). But most of us WANT an amp. If you think you can be happy with an amp like above mentioned guy, AND you can afford it, you probably should go for it. Especially when the amp once belonged to Vince Ray.


Ha, glad the Exec found a good home. I sold all my top range gear including a beautiful White Falcon and with both the amp and guitar, I played them just before selling and thought...,wow, that sounds fantastic, why am I selling? But I needed to move on, down size and down grade to get the super shitty sound that was in my head.

And that’s why I like the videos above. I’m seeking contentment with what I have, just enjoying getting in the groove. Not worrying about what may be different or better. Sometimes the journey is the best bit though


" I’m seeking contentment with what I have, just enjoying getting in the groove. Not worrying about what may be different or better. Sometimes the journey is the best bit though"

Man oh man. That's exactly where I'm at. Well, almost at. I'm actually looking forward to selling quite a bit a stuff this winter, when I have the time to PLAY all of it again. I don't need 8 guitars, and truth be told, 1 would probably do me. Well, 2: 1 electric and 1 acoustic. And the electric wouldn't even be a Grestch

I often yearn for something like I mentioned- Jim Campilongo's setup- while he does own about 6 guitars and more than a few amps, when you hear him, it's really just an old '59 tele into an old Princeton Reverb. Even Setzer, as convoluted as his setup is (Space Echo, 100ft cord, pushing the amp with the echo, etc...) it's really just a '59 6120, the Space Echo, and the 6G6-B.

My problem is, I don't really have a style of my own; I love SO many different styles, that I mimic everything from Charlie Christian to Steve Vai. Kind of hard to do with just 1 guitar. Good pedals and/or a modeler can take the place of amps for different tones (lots of "Marshall pedals" out there).... but I haven't yet found anything that sounds like my tele into Paul's Playboy... I think I'm going to have to get a Playboy. It's one of the 2 greatest amps I have ever played (the other one being a Swart AST)

Sorry, didn't mean to go to far afield there. The whole "simplicity" and "Playing instead of gear" thing has really come forward for me lately. At least I've finally realized the gear IS about the journey: I'm no longer looking for the "end game" or the "holy grail" where I stop buying gear, I'm just enjoying the journey... experiencing the NOW of owning stuff for awhile. Experiencing a 335 for awhile... experiencing a strat for awhile... etc... But I'd still like to pair down, guitars and pedals. I only have 3 amps, and only 1 is a "real tube amp", one is a modeler for lower volumes, and 1 is a Microcube for taking on vacations.


Totally agree ruger9. And I was talking to myself a bit with all that. As I’m getting older and have young kids and a house to keep up...any time I get to play and enjoy gear is appreciated.

And yeah, funny thing about a lot of our hero’s. Setzer, dick dale, they found gear they liked and stuck with it. But Brian DOES own a lot of space echos, 6120s and Bassman amps!


Only few amps really stand out when played totally clean.

The original EF86 Vox AC15 is definitely one of them. They're unbelievably rich and 3D at any volume.


great and informative thread...

i have really let the amp equation slide over the years. As the guitar factor got more complicated ( stereo rig for both acoustic and electric, simultaneously), it exponentially forced either an absurdly expensive amp scenario -- even with mid priced amps -- or much more realistic and compromised paring down of the setup -- which is what i went with.

Earlier in the thread, Baxter made an interesting point about familiarizing with an unknown amp make's basic footprint via a modeler first. Thats a route I took, and i had some interesting experiences.... i'm drawn very much to the Vox tones from the RP500 and/or also the Tech 21 Liverpool, but I m not won over by a Vox AC15 in person and the AC30 in person can be glorious but really hard to dial in (and way too big to move around, especially for a stereo configuration). That said, my two Vox Pathfinder 15s kill it in the right small room.

so i prefer the modeler's Vox over the real thing. Same with Fender tones. mid to Higher gain amps, however -- Marshalls -- i much prefer the real McCoy .

i think my favorite amp rig tone wise i can remember having was a Marshall 1987x head through a 4x10 slanted cab. That was perfect for what i was doing at the time.


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.

– WB

My experience with this is much as Walter says. I don't use dirt, prefer to add a little clean boost only to a basically clean, good sounding amp, then let guitar volume do the work. So many amps I try just don't have whatever it is I need. Which makes me wary of generalization. What could be worth buying, whether your playing merits it, how much to spend ... all entirely personal. What works for me, inspires me with amps might have nothing to do with you.

At least for me, experimenting with amps has been even more revealing over time than just trying out guitars. And that alone makes the investment worthwhile. MD



Circuit boards are fo TV’s.


Awesome thread. I've read a lot of interesting thoughts which I share. I'm currently back to playing after some time, and one of my purposes is exactly to focus in what I really need and enjoy, and sell everything else to develop my own style better than spending my time changing guitars, strings, pedals, etc.

I'm not a pro player, I just play for fun a few hours a week, so I can't justify to spend big money in more gear. I just want to sound the best I can with my Gretsch/Gibson and my Deluxe Reverb RI. My amp is one of the earliest RI, it was a 2nd hand bargain, and has never had a single problem. Power tubes replacement every 2-3 years and that's all. I agree that the overdrive harshness might be improved with speakers, or transformers, and I might do it at some point. But by now I'll stick to what I have and try to get the most of it.

So I think the answer to the question is different for everybody. Of course I think that you should get the best amp you can afford. If you have time and money, why don't you try and get every single amp you like? If you are a serious player your amp is a tool and so you'll need a reliable one, so as has been said, I wouldn't choose a reissue either. In terms of sound, I think it is a matter of subjective details, tastes and trade-offs what makes the difference. So it's not a straightforward question. A pleasure to read you all!

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