Petite Tube Amps
You may have heard the saying, “bigger isn’t
always better.” This certainly holds true for
guitar amps, especially in the studio! Just
because an amp is small, with low wattage,
doesn’t mean you can’t get a screaming huge
tone out of it. These days, little tube amps
seem to be popping up everywhere and
are rapidly gaining popularity. Why? It’s the
combination of being able to get quality tube
saturation at low volume in a compact package and at an appealing price point. Most
small amps also seem to handle guitar pedals
and effects well.
Collect Them All
Some of the most popular of these little
buggers include the Orange Tiny Terror, Vox
Night Train and AC4, Fender ’ 57 Champ and
Champion 600, Marshall Haze and Class 5,
and the Epiphone Valve Junior and new Valve
Junior Hot Rod. The recently announced
Mesa/Boogie TransAtlantic also has a huge
buzz going. However, there are many more.
Small amps are available in head-and-cabinet
or combo formats, and their street prices
range from $130 to $1000. Each model provides its own unique tone and features, and
some even have selectable output-power
levels for more volume control when you’re
going for maximum breakup.
Low-power tube amps such as these models from Fender, Randall, and Vox can be lifesavers in the studio.
customize the tone quite a bit. On the other
hand, a compact combo with a small speaker
yields interesting tones that cut through in
the upper midrange. (This sounds great on
leads, by the way.) And you can’t argue with
the portability of a tiny combo. It’s all about
what works best for you.
What’s the Big Deal?
As most of us know, tube amps like to be
pushed. But try getting those classic, cranked
tube tones with a big, powerful amp and
your ears will be ringing for days! With a
tiny amp (in the 5-watt or so range), you can
open the amp wide up to take advantage of
overdriving the power tube(s) for that massive, dynamic tube tone we all love—without
shredding your ears or annoying your neighbors. Plus, the price and size are right. I’ve
started collecting these like guitar pedals
due to their portability and reasonable cost.
They’re also easy to hide from my fiancée!
Let’s Have Some Fun!
I recommend trying different new old stock
(NOS) and new tubes in your petite amp(s) to
customize the tone and response. I also like
to plug into two different tiny amps at once
using an ABY pedal and blend the two for
new tones, great stereo effects, and recording
a full sound without having to track overdubs.
Just place a mic in front of each amp and pan
one hard left and one hard right to achieve
a nice, wide tone. And to make things larger
than life, mix in some stereo delay.
suggestion to try a different amp. Breathing
a sigh of relief, I reached for my secret weapon, the 4-watt, 1x10 Vox AC4TV combo. I
cranked it, slapped a Sennheiser e609 mic on
the grille, and we got to work. A few hours
later, we had layers of big, present guitars
with killer tone. The band was happy, the
neighbors weren’t disturbed, and my ears
weren’t ringing! Even though it’s a tiny amp,
the AC4TV produces that classic Vox class-A
tone, but it breaks up at a very reasonable
volume that’s ideal for most studio situations.
This is just one example of how small amps
can be great tools. No matter what genre or
tone you’re after, there’s a compact amp that
can crank it out for you!
A few months back, I was recording a local
band in my studio. The plan was to track
live, which I had done in the past with great
results. When the lead guitarist arrived, he
was carrying a Vox AC30—a great amp,
but extremely loud. I knew this would be a
problem, especially if he wanted the thing
to break up. Sure enough, he turned it way
up and the earth shook…ouch There was
no way we were going to isolate that amp
from the other instrument mics. Fortunately,
he trusts my engineering skills and took my
I encourage you to get your hands on one or
more of these amazing, petite-sized tube amps
to increase your tonal diversity, achieve greater
portability, and make recording a lot easier
and more practical. I’ll warn you that they’re
addictive, though. Once you try one, you’ll
want them all. Fortunately, most are reasonably
affordable, and having a bunch of them scat-
tered around your jam room looks cool!
Head vs. Combo
Should you go with a petite head or combo?
This can be a tough decision, because they
both have advantages. A head is great to
have because you can combine it with different types of cabs, which allows you to
Sweetwater Sales Engineer TJ Walstrom has been a musician and engineer for over 10 years. He owns a professional
home studio with an extensive collection of guitars, basses,
amps, and outboard gear. Contact him at (800) 222-4700 ext.
1226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.