Measuring Up Micro Amps
You’ve seen ‘em before, the pint-size Marshall
stacks and Fender combos. They’re like mini
monuments to your favorite tones, but taken to
the next level—you can actually play them. And
while they’re probably the last stop you’d make
on your journey for tone, micro amps might just
surprise you. We’re not suggesting that you
budget $50 for your next touring rig and set
yourself up with one of these little guys; we are
suggesting that you might have a little fun in
places your full stack just can’t go.
Have a desk job? They’re discrete enough to
stand in as desk décor or a paperweight, proclaiming to your co-workers, “Hey! I play guitar,”
all the while waiting for everyone else to go
home so you can wail away in 1W, 9V-powered
heaven. They’re also a good option if you want
to rock out in the wilderness. Of course, their
portability is useful for some gigs, like an electric version of the Naked Cowboy, or providing
live elevator music. Kidding aside, we’ve really
enjoyed spending some time with these little
guys. Here’s our rundown.
Fender Mini Deluxe MD- 20 $32–$50
The Mini Deluxe is an itty-bitty (1W) version of
the Hot Rod Deluxe combo. It has four mini-chickenhead knobs for Volume, Tone, Drive and
On/Off, along with 1/4" Input and Headphone
Out jacks, and a standard AC power jack. The
enclosure is plain plastic, which is less appealing
than some of the other amps, but the chrome
control plate was a nice touch. It would’ve been
nice to have a 1/8" headphone jack, rather than
the 1/4", since most of our ‘phones are 1/8"
and we’re probably not going to run this to an
extension cab that often.
It’s got pretty crisp cleans with single coils at low
Vol/Drive, good for cowboy chords and country
pickin’—though it’s as tightly mid-focused as
you’d expect. Dime it to get a fat, hairy fuzz
tone that’s louder and edgier than you’d imagine. If you’re practicing up for your psycho-punk-abilly-surf-rock debut, this is the micro for you.
Danelectro Honey Tone N- 10 $20–$40
The Honey Tone probably wins the “cutest”
award, resembling a cross between a ‘50s radio
and a toaster. It comes in Burgundy, Aqua or
Yellow, though the Aqua model we received
looks more like Seafoam Green. There are
controls for Off/Volume, Tone and Overdrive,
a 1/4" input jack, 1/8" headphone jack, and a
standard AC power jack. The amp’s soft leather
handle and belt clip are a couple of thoughtful additions; this was the one of two amps to
include a belt clip, which made it even more
mobile, if not a stunning fashion statement.
With low OD settings, the Honey Tone label is
an apt description: smooth and lightly sweet
with a little thickness. It’s very middy, and has
more gain than its tiny speaker seems to be
able to handle, so it may not be the best choice
for practicing your leads, but it is somewhat
sensitive to playing dynamics. It can go from
warm and snappy to a gritty, chewy rhythm
tone quite nicely just by digging in, and would
be a good choice for all-around desktop use.
Fender Mini ’ 57 Twin-Amp $40–$60
The Mini Twin-Amp definitely makes the best
first impression. It’s one of our bigger micros, and
features wood construction and authentic tweed.
It has the same controls and features as the Mini
Deluxe (chickenhead knobs for Volume, Tone,
Drive and On/Off; 1/4" Input and Headphone
Out jacks and AC power jack), but adds a second 2" speaker to handle its single-watt output.
The leather handle is a nice upgrade from the
Deluxe’s plastic one, and is long enough to actually carry the amp around comfortably.
The dry cleans here are more “amp”-like than
the other micros, with some sponginess and a
decent ring. It’s got similar attack characteristics
to its larger brethren. Not quite cranked, the
overdrive is juicy and more open-sounding, less
restricted to the mids, with a crunch that’s fairly
well controlled by the guitar’s volume. Dimed,