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.