Reader’s Choice: Top Amps For Blues

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Every so often Seymour Duncan likes to take the pulse of their readership to see how their tastes in gear run specific to certain genres. Sure, it’s clever marketing, but it’s more than that. It’s also a lot of fun to see how things break down when you simply ask the question(s). In recent months we took polls amongst readers in order to determine what the favored amplifiers among rock and metal players were. In those cases many people’s answers fell into the “what you’d expect” category – no surprise Marshalls showed up in the Rock AND Metal rundowns. Occasionally, however, some answers were surprising and/or enlightening (“Really? You can use ‘x’ for ‘y’?”). This time we asked what amps Blues players preferred. The results, while not completely shocking, ended providing perhaps a few outside the “standard” choices.

Generally the blues isn’t about flash or effects. It’s more about feeling. It’s characteristically a down-and-dirty affair: the sound of fingers and strings, wire and wood. Did Albert Collins, Lonnie Mack or Stevie Ray Vaughn need MIDI-switching? NO! (Though to be fair SRV did switch between and combine a couple of amps for his signature tones – nothing wrong with that either). For the purposes of this discussion, however – we wanted to know what one amp would be your top pick as a blues guitarist.

When we asked Duncan readers what their go-go choices were, not so surpassingly Fender took the lead, specifically the Blues Deluxe, along with the other long-heralded favorites like the Twin, Twin Reverb and the Twin/Bassman. The Blues Deluxe is a 40-watt single 12″ speaker design sporting a specially designed Eminence speaker. The ’65 Twin reissue is an 85-watt all-tube monster with a single 15″ Eminence speaker. With the same chasis, the ’65 Twin Reverb model is the two-Jensen 12″ equipped powerhouse version.

The ’59 Bassman reissue  is a 50-watt 4×10 speaker equipped beast originally designed for the then-new Precision Bass that found favor among guitarists due to it pure tone and snarl when cranked. These amps are all about pure tone. If you’re not the plug-straight-in type, put a Tube Screamer or something similar in front of one of these babies, maybe a wh pedal – and you’re pretty much good to go. These are the amps that defined early electric blues, and went on to spawn other iterations based on their designs. They’ve rightfully earned their place at the top of the (amp) heap.

Also not-so-shockingly Marshall showed up on the list, a lot of times just as “Marshall!!!”, but of the responses that mentioned a specific model at all the standout was of course the workhorse JCM800. The JCM800 is one of those iconic amps that is never going away. A lot of that has to do with the fact that you can use it for rock, metal, blues…anything. It plays well with pedals, not that a blues player would use many. But its versatility has been proven over decades of use. It too has been thankfully reissued. Also given props was the aptly-named BluesBreaker. Originally given the moniker because of being used by Eric Clapton with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, the 1962 Bluesbreaker is a 30-watt tone machine equipped with two 12″ Celestion 25-watt Greenback speakers.

Another classic British manufacturer name that scored high was VOX. Seemingly evenly split among the readers that mentioned it were the AC15 and AC30. But since the two were originally only differentiated by their power sections, (the AC15 sporting a duo of EL84s, the AC30 a quartet) that split could likely come down to the size of the rooms the people that answered are playing. Their two-channel design features a Normal and Top-Boost mode. Both versions are now available in hand-wired reisusse incarnations. The AC30 is a fave in the Duncan Tone Lounge.

Mesa-Boogie also showed up as well, with the standout model being the Lone Star. The Lone Star is touted as the next logical evolution of the original Mark I design’s flawless tone. Capable of power settings from 10/50/100 watts in Class A or A/B via it’s “Multi-Watt with Duo-Class” power section, it can cover a variety of tones at a variety of volumes. It specializes in cleans and classic breakup, but it does high gain sounds as well. It’ll also let you decide between EL34 or 6L6 power tubes to further tailor your sonic mojo. Surprisingly my personal fave the Mark III was mentioned as well (no, not by me), but I’m not a Blues player and that amp is still (much like the also-amazing Mark IIC+) discontinued and yet-to-be reissued as of this writing, sorry.

Last but not least, one “outside the usual” and yet fully understandable choice that got a few mentions was the Soldano SLO-100 one including the appropriate honorable Gary Moore mention. Of the other amps on this list, only the JCM800 can keep up with the Slo-100 Super Lead Overdrive’s 100-watt power section, but even it can’t match the SLO-100’s creamy high-gain lead tone. It may be a little too gainy a choice for some blues purists, but either no one told Gary that – or he didn’t care. Either way, that’s a good thing.

What would your “outside the box” blues amp choice be?

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40 Comments

  1. JCM900 SL-X. Discontinued Marshall High Gain Amp. Moderate gain settings and a home built 2×12 with Eminence Legend 1218 instead of the classic Marshall 4×12 1960A

  2. Best small amp I’ve used is the 80watt Trace Elliott Super Tramp, awesome blues sounds from this 1 x 12 combo with a valve in the pre amp. I’ve since replaced it with a Trace Elliott Speed Twin 100w all valve head through my Marshall 4 x 12….. awesome sounds.

    1. i worked for TE when these amps were released in the early/mid 90s… the Trident was the most awesome combination of AC30, Twin, Marshall JCM and Dual Rectifier you ever heard. this amp had everything and was designed by my friend Paul Stevens who now works for Peavey in the UK.

  3. have been messing with a JCA22H and cab filled with Neodymium Lil’ Texas drivers… was good with a Jackson, sublime with Les Paul!!!

  4. I have two great little blues amps: my 30w Super Champ XD into a 1×12 cab featuring an Eminence Cannabis Rex; and I’ve been very surprised at the great tones I get from my new (to me) 100w Fender Mustang III v2 with an Eminence Swamp Thang.

  5. I’ve always seen Gary more using a Boogie Mrk 4 or a Marshall, my first choices (in my Dreams) would be Original Tweeds, Deluxe, Princeton or Pro. No mention of the veritable giant of the Blues a Blackface Super Reverb makes think that not many real Blues players responded.

  6. Love my dad’s Fender Frontman 212. Yep, solid state, but the 2nd distortion channel is perfect for blues. With the gain at 12 o clock, a Tube Screamer + wah, it’s perfect. Using a Strat, clean tones are a volume knob twist away.

  7. while I’m partial to my ’65 Super Reverb and ’66 Bassman, I just purchased what may be the most versatile tube amp for recording and gigging I’ve used so far. It’s the newest Peavey ValveKing II 1/5/20 watt. Check it out, the features are as jaw-dropping as the sound. I’m running it through a 2-12″ cab with an A/B switch to my Bassman or Super through 2 – 10″ cab on the other side of the stage. Talk about a big sound!

  8. “is says Blues in my name” [rolling my eyes]
    a Marshall Bluesbreaker is the COMBO VERSION of a Marshall JTM 45… That Being Said, The JTM 45 was BASED on the 1959 Fender Bassman…. SO HAH!! 1959 BASSMAN FTW!!!!

  9. I love the blues tone from my Acoustic Control Corporation 164 (apparently a Mesa Boogie copy), but it’s tone only emerges at impractically high volumes

  10. Bassman has always been my favorite… The Marshall 1974x is 2nd up. But when it comes to blues, there are two distinct flavors of classic blues…. American and British. British blues is dirty, high gain, lots of sustain blues with a Les Paul or ES335. Unlike the Chicago Blues using Stratocaster/Tele into a Fender Bassman amp. Old school players lean towards Chess records playlist. Many “modern” blues players look at Joe Bonamassa, Gary Moore, and Rory Gallager. Different sound all together.

  11. Believe it or not, it’s my Tech21- Trademark 60 with a 12″ Eminence Red, White, & Blues Patriot in it. I can tune the sound to any room I play in, and change the tone characteristics at will. Oh yeah, It’s analog transistor, so call me a heathen. But hear me first.

  12. I consider myself a purist. Plug a quality axe into a quality amp, apply an appropriate amount of reverb, and I’m good to go. My fave go-to for Blues, is a Gibson Super GoldTone 30w head and 2 x 12/2 x 10 half stack. Most versatile amp setup I own. It will articulate the best tone possible out of any guitar and sounds great at virtually any volume. I also have two 1948 Gibson GA-25s that overdrive nicely when coupled with the Vintage47 tube reverb unit I got. My third option is a Bill M. Audio modified tweed Fender Blues Jr.: Recorded some tracks with this little gem that resulted in some sharp, wicked lead tones… having a talented, astute engineer helped, of course, but the amp provided what he expertly captured. The only ‘tweaking’ was some subtle, short, tight delay to fatten things up a
    smidge. Surprise of the year… no one who has heard it believes that tone came out of that amp… but it surely did.

  13. The one that makes sound come out. Preferably the tube one. ideally 30 watts or less.
    Then mod it, cuz feeling special makes your tone better. ; D

  14. The Carr Rambler is easily one of my favorite amps, blues or otherwise. Victoria is also a great amp. Both are tweeds. I greatly prefer these over the Fender Twin, Twin Reverb, Super Reverb, Princeton, or the Bassman. They’re seriously expensive, though, but that’s what happens when you pay for hand-wired amps made in the U.S. Anyway, I figured I’d mention these two amps since they’re so unbelievably gorgeous sounding in case this helps someone…and they have deep pockets.

  15. I have a Twin Reverb and AC30, but I don’t use either for blues. For blues I like the creamy sounds I get with a Strat through my Band Master and 2×10 cab.

  16. Love my mid 70’s Fender Vibrolux. Beautiful tone. If I am doing a blues /soul gig i like to run a splitter and combine the Vibrolux with my VoxAC-30. Not for volume, but I really like the tone this produces.

  17. Personally, I like my Vibrolux with my Strat and my Egnater Renegade ½ stack. Either A/B or run stereo through my TC T2 reverb with my LP or PRS.

  18. Having owned and played through nearly every fender (I regret selling the concert and tremolux), and a few Marshalls, I think the best discovery I have made was the Laney AOR’s……I loved my AOR 50 (would match it against any marshall) and presently keep an AOR-30 combo and a Lionheart – both are extremely versatile, have great tone, are extremely “rugged” and don’t kill the piggy bank !

  19. Love my Fender Deluxe Reverb but when I want a little more hair my Blackstar HT20 is awesome as well.

    1. Boosting the front end of your Deluxe Reverb with the Seymour Duncan Pickup Booster or 805 Overdrive will provide that extra bit of hair you desire, in as much or as little of an amount as you want.

  20. I love my Gibson Super Gold Tone half stack… 30 watts, 2 10’s and 2 12’s in the cabinet. Great cleans and natural breakup. Sounds cool at any volume, BTW. Unlike alot of amps, this one doesn’t have a signature sound… rather, it clearly puts forth the true tones of your instrument and the sum of its components. You read reviews of guitars on sites like HarmonyCentral, where someone is claiming the pickups sound muddy or whatever. But, they rarely mention what amp they’re playing through. Some amps will color your sound and can make you think your guitar is a piece of junk. This Gibson always brings out the best qualities of whatever you’re playing through it. A friend of mine put his pedal steel through it and wanted it there on the spot.. the tone was so pure, it verged on angelic.

  21. Well, the Blues Deluxe is a great amp IF you change the speaker to, say, a Patriot or T-Rex and you change the v1 from an 12ax7 to a 12ay7. Now, you have an absolute killer blues amp that will keep up with any other fender, marshall, black cat or vox. I own them all and I can assure you it’s a great sleeper. Ignore the dirty channel—just use pedals and you’re in great shape.

  22. And, by the way, I should have also mentioned the Peavey Delta blues 115. I first discovered them when I was playing in Memphis and bought one a week later. A really great blues amp as well as the ones mentioned in my last post.

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