For the small stage, recording studio, and the bedroom. Here’s a list of the best combo amps for the Blues guitarist.
Eric Clapton, B.B.King, Buddy Guy, and Muddy Waters all got plenty of miles out of their combo amps. This list of greats is just scratching the surface. The combo amp is the perfect partner for the blues guitarist, especially since they are most often easy to transport. Combo amps are usually lower wattage which means that you can drive them harder without turning your neighbours into enemies. The blues, probably more than any other style of music, puts the guitar right up front with very few effects to mask any imperfections in the playing or the sound. For this reason, Blues players need to have a quality amplifier. To get a real authentic blues guitar sound most people would agree that a tube amp, with very few exceptions, is the only way to go. Solid state amps and digital effects just don’t seem to communicate the blues like tubes and analog gear.
Fender ’65 Deluxe Reverb
One of the most recorded amps of all time, the Fender ’65 Deluxe Reverb has been the standard by which many guitarists judge tone for more than 50 years. This two-channel, 22 watt combo amp has two normal inputs, two vibrato inputs, and a single Jensen speaker. Its legendary sound emanates from four 12AX7 tubes and two 12AT7 tubes in the preamp section, and two 6V6 tubes and one 5AR4 (Rectifier) tube in the power stage. This amp is loud, full, and clear. It weighs just 42 pounds so it is very manageable. The second channel features a tube-driven spring reverb and vibrato with speed and intensity controls, and each channel gets its own two-band EQ to carve out the perfect sound. The included two-button footswitch turns the vibrato on and off. This is one of those amps, like many others on this list, that you just can’t find any bad reviews of. Nobody ever says this amp sounds bad and you don’t stay king of the hill this long for nothing.
Fender Bassbreaker 15
Sporting a modern-retro look featuring grey tweed, the Fender Bassbreaker 15 is relatively lightweight at only 40 pounds, making it pretty easy to lug around. Two EL84 power tubes and three 12AX7 preamp tubes are responsible for its pronounced midrange tone, high gain, and abundant sustain. The Bassbreaker has a three-stage “Gain Structure,” giving the amp three distinct tone signatures which take it from smooth clean to a very heavy crunch. A three-band EQ, a “bright” switch, and an unusual room reverb just add to this amp’s tonal versatility. The sound is output through the Celestion G12V-70 12-inch speaker, adding to this amp’s “British” character. If you’re planning to record your guitar, then this amp has you covered. The Bassbreaker features an XLR output for sending a silent, balanced signal to the recording console, bypassing the Celestion speaker (i.e. no need to mic it). The Bassbreaker 15 also has a “mute” switch and an effects loop via 2¼-inch send/return jacks. Live performers can make use of the effects loop though the amp is well known to have no problem with pedals plugged into the front of it. Live performers will like the fact that this amp is impressively loud and you can add an additional cabinet via the ¼-inch extension speaker jack.
Rivera ’68 Deluxe with Stage 2 Modifications
The Rivera-modified ’68 Deluxe is a great example of something already great being improved further by the “community.” The “community,” in this case, is a reference to Paul Rivera, Sr., who has modified amplifiers for the likes of Chet Atkins, Steve Lukather, Vince Gill, and many others. You have heard Rivera’s highly sought-after modded amps on countless records. Paul Rivera modified the Fender ’68 Custom Deluxe, turning an already great amp into something really special.
The Modified Deluxe is a two-channel, 22 watt combo amp, weighing in at 42 pounds, so it is fairly easy to move around. A combination of four 12AX7, and two 12AT7 tubes deliver nice quiet gain in the pre-amp, while two 6V6, and one 5AR4 tube deliver an amazingly warm and even tone in the power section. An Eminence Legend EM12 is provided, which is a clone of the original speakers used in Rivera’s mods. The approach here is to let you push the amp a bit harder.
The first channel is the clean channel, which produces a straightforward dry sound. The second channel is the “magic” channel with the addition of a six-position “fat” switch to give your sound just the right midrange thickness. There’is a pull-out “boost” added to the master volume for more crunch at lower volumes, and a two-band EQ with pull-out notch filters to further tweak your sound. Classic spring reverb is also featured here, and for something a bit unusual, on the back of the amp Rivera added the tremolo controls.
Fender ’68 Custom Twin Reverb 85-watt 2×12
The ’68 Custom Twin Reverb Amp is a tribute to the legendary late ’60s Fender Twin Reverb featuring that retro “silver face” design. Two Celestion G12V-70 speakers are driven by 85 watts of tube power, perfect for any small to medium venue. It is a little bit heavy at 64 pounds, but that is to be expected with the two 12-inch speakers and added bracing. This Custom Twin Reverb has two channels but unlike the original Twin Reverb both channels have the classic reverb and vibrato, and something called Reduced Negative Feedback for “greater touch sensitivity.” The two channels make use of four 12AX7 tubes and two 12AT7 tubes in the preamp section, and four 6L6 tubes in the power section, to deliver that creamy Fender Twin sound. The custom channel has a Bassman Tone Stack while the Vintage channel has the original tone. Each channel has its own three-band EQ for further tone tweaking and you can use an A/B/Y foot pedal to blend the two channels together for a third tonal option.
Fender Blues Junior Lacquered Tweed 15W 1×12 Combo
The Fender Blues Junior is a perfect example of a big thing in a small package. It packs a serious punch (sometimes it’s hard to believe that this amp is only 15 watts). Using three 12AX7 tubes in the preamp stage and two EL84 tubes in the powers stage, the Blues Junior keeps it simple and delivers a warm and buttery tone, with lots of sustain. Breaking up easily at low volumes, this amp is great for the apartment while still holding its own out on the stage. The single 12-inch Jensen speaker more than delivers that “tweed” sound with plenty of headroom and stability. This combo amp weighs only 31 pounds, so it is easily transported, and is well constructed. The Blues Junior has a three-band EQ and a footswitchable “FAT” button that fattens up the midrange and can help you cut through on that big solo. The classic Fender spring reverb that we all know and love is also present. Only one ¼-inch input jack and one ¼-output speaker jack show that the Fender Blues Junior is all business. Just plug in, play the blues, and sound great.
Pignose 7-100 Portable Amplifier
The Pignose is the only solid state amp on this list, but don’t let the lack of tubes fool you; this amp is legendary! This combo amp is portable, weighs less than five pounds, and runs on six AA batteries. It’s not too clean, and not too dirty, just bluesy. The Pignose’s five watts and five-inch speaker are loud enough to produce some nice reverb in that back alley littered with garbage, and it doesn’t drain the batteries too fast so you can get plenty of playing time in between changes. The only knob on the amp is the volume control, and the sound gets dirtier — in a lovely way — as you turn it up. Probably the coolest thing about this amp is that it is built into a sort of briefcase, so you can open it to change the tone (or have a friend open and close it while you play to get a wah-wah sound). At only about $100 the Pignose is perfect for a dedicated slide guitar combo amp.