Ask the Expert – low wattage valve amps and small speaker combo

Ask the Expert – low wattage valve amps and small speaker combo

Advice on a guitar amp for church use

Andy Herbert from    emailed saying:

“I’ve been reading Andy’s recent posts with great enthusiasm because, as a recent switcher from acoustic to electric guitar, I’ve made a few bad decisions with regards an amp & multi-effects without really understanding what I was doing.  Because of this I currently own a Line 6 Flextone 3 (2×12″ combo) which, whilst it sounds OK, does need to be played at a high volume before it provides a lot of the sounds I’m trying to reproduce – not to mention the absurd difficulty I have lugging the massive unit to and from Church each week!

Having read the post on small valve heads it really opened my eyes up to understanding where I’d gone wrong in my original purchase – something I’d like to put right.  One question I have, which may possibly be a new post I guess, is whether there are any low-wattage valve amps with 8-10″  speaker combos you’d recommend to replace my behemoth so that I can get a sweet sound without deafening myself and the worship team (let alone the congregation)?  Alternatively would you suggest one of the small heads you discussed with a dedicated small cab?  We play what I guess you’d call modern worship by artists such as Tim Hughes, Hillsong, Aaron Keyes etc.  To make life particularly hard I’d like to keep the cost as low as possible, ideally no more than £400 for the whole thing – but i’m open to saving up for something more permanent it hitting that cost is unfeasible: basically I don’t want to jump in and make another ill-informed purchase again.  If there’s any advice you can give around this so that I can begin looking (and listening) for a replacement I’d really appreciate it”

Andy Chamberlain replies:
Interesting thoughts on the Flextone 3. I’ve never played one but the whole premise of the digital modelling stuff was to get valve type tones at any volume level. Sometimes the stock ‘patches’ are set up for your first plug in session in a music shop and not really for live and so need a bit of tweaking. Often the overdrive sounds have too much gain and too little mid to cut through a live band, so do have a good mess around with it before you completely abandon it. That said that trouser flapping physical movement of air by a speaker at high volume is a wonderful thing and very hard to replicate. But I’m with you on the weight thing. I really don’t want to lug around a big heavy amp if I don’t need to.

If you want to go for a small combo my advice is to check out the basic clean tone on as many models as you can before you buy. A lot of these small combos are really designed for bedroom rockers who want a proper tube overdrive at acceptable home volumes so the neighbours/wife won’t have you evicted. Therefore the clean tone on some models can be a bit lifeless and dull. For me, playing in worship, I want a really beautiful clean tone that I can overdrive with one or two pedals.

Also just check out how those 8 or 10 inch speakers sound. They can be a bit bass light especially in small cabinets so it’s worth doing a bit of research before you buy. I’d listen to as many demos of my shortlist on youtube and read some reviews too. If you really want to properly check one out, see if you can do a deal with your local and friendly music shop where you could hire 1 or 2 of the shortlist before you buy. Good music shops will sometimes work hard to win peoples business and that personal service can well be worth paying a little extra for.

As for whether I’d go for a combo verses a head just depends on the application. Combos of course are less fuss with less stuff to plug in and lug around but a head gives you more flexibility. For instance my 5 watt chassis I had put into a 1×12 combo is fine on power for church but not loud enough for other situations. But if I hook it up to an old Marshall 4×12 I’ve got a much bigger sound. Speakers make a massive difference to the overall volume and tone of your set up so with a cab the choice is yours.

So if you are looking for a small low wattage combo for under £400 I’d check out the options below and do a bit of research with the options I’ve mentioned in previous posts to see if they have a combo variant that comes in on budget. (Price wise this probably equates to stuff you can buy for $400-$500 in the US) As ever, do add suggestions everyone for stuff you know of.

Epiphone Valve Junior – good, very cheap place to start and many 3rd party upgrade mods available if you are so inclined. I’d start by chaining the speaker. Lots of pre modded amps available on the web and ebay if you do some digging.

Blackstar HT 5 – twin channel great value 5 watt combo. I’ve heard differing reports on the clean tone so check it out for yourself. The 20 watt HT venue is amazing value too.

Fender Blues Junior – Very popular 1×12 do it all Fender 15 watt combo. A good place to start if you want the Fender sound.

Carvin Vintage 16 – switches between 5 and 16 watts. Patchy UK availability but a sweet tone and often a used bargain too.

Orange Tiny Terror – Ive seen these in both 1×10 and 1×12 cabs so it’s a good comparison point if you can try both.

Laney Cub – Laney’s amps have always been solid and dependable but their marketing and kudos in the UK has never quite matched the level of their competition

Marshall Class 5 – Get that Marshall sound at low volume levels – that overdrive is terrific for your Hughes/Tomlin stuff but check out if the clean tone is what you want too.

Valve Train Concord – don’t think they are available directly in the UK yet but are great value for a hand wired 1×10 combo at $499.

Also thought you’d like to know I’ve got a new Intermediate Guitar DVD currently in edit that is designed for electric players in worship and has some sections for acoustic players switching to electric.

Other posts you might like

Small amp, great sound –  part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 and part 5

Buyers Guide – small, classy acoustic guitars

Buyers Guide – good acoustic guitars

Buyers Guide – DI boxes

Why DI?

Which pedals do I need to start playing in a worship band? Part 1, part 2 & part 3

Acoustic guitar amp recommendations

Gear confessional- guitars

Gear confessional – pedals

Gear confessional – amps

Mini tube heads