Performer’s Guide to Lunchbox Amps

The past two years have seen an explosion in an exciting new product category – the lunchbox amp. There have been a lot of questions about just what, exactly, a lunchbox amp is, and what it can do for you, the guitarist. We’ve put together a short primer that should help answer those questions, as well as some recommendations for some of our favorite models.

WHAT IS A LUNCHBOX AMP?

A lunchbox amp, much like the name suggests, is typically about the size of a lunchbox, and was designed to solve a few basic problems that guitars players have been struggling with for years – how do I get a great sound without lugging awkwardly large, heavy amps and cabinets to gigs; and how can I get amazing tones at a more reasonable volume?

Traditionally, a guitar amplifier’s true tone is really unleashed when you start to push the tubes to their limit, creating overdrive. The problem is that guitarists have been lugging around 50-100 watt amps, which means that cranking these beasts into overdrive will also split your eardrums (not to mention your audience’s). Enter the lunchbox amp. No longer do you need to schlep a Marshall stack to that small club gig.

The lunchbox design takes the great tones of larger tubes amp heads, and brings down the size, weight and wattage. Now, you might be thinking that reducing the amp’s power would negatively affect the tone. But quite the opposite is true with these models. With a lower power rating, you can more easily distort and overdrive the pre and power amp tubes at a far lower volume, meaning you can get the benefit of the amp’s signature tone without the police showing up at your door. You can also carry these amps and transport them much more easily than a traditional head/cab or tube combo amp.

Most models feature a built-in handle, which is not only cute, but very handy. They can also feature selectable power outputs, allowing you to control the overall output wattage. What this means is you can get even crunchier tones at lower volumes. And speaking of volume, don’t be fooled by 5-15 watt ratings. Remember, power is not related in a linear fashion to volume. For example, 50 watts is not 10 times as loud as 5 watts. Without getting into too much math, you’d really need to multiply your wattage by a factor of 10 to double the volume. So rest assured, those tiny lunchbox amps can let out some monstrously loud sounds!

OUR TOP PICKS

ZT Amplifiers The Lunchbox – $299

Notes: One of our favorites, and the category’s namesake. This small wonder is a marvel of modern engineering, and we’ve had the opportunity to put it through its paces. Our conclusion? For pros and bedroom tweakers alike, there’s no beating the ZT Lunchbox for tone, style and control.

Features:

  • Ambience effect (open-back cabinet simulation)
  • Variable Headphone/DI Output
  • Custom Ultra-High Performance 6.5″ Speaker, Switchable
  • External Speaker Output (8 ohms min.)
  • Aux Input on 1/8″ Stereo Jack
  • Voltage switch 115V/230V

System Design:

  • 200W Class A/B Power Amplifier
  • Ultra-low latency circuit for player responsiveness
  • Pure analog front-end, with diode overdrive capability
  • Proprietary dynamic tone shaping
  • Vintage modeled tone stack
  • Class A/B output stage with unregulated linear supply
  • Sealed-box speaker tuning

 

Orange Amplifiers Tiny Terror – $599

Notes: The Tiny Terror lives up to its name (and practically invented the product category). You want crunch? You’ve got it here. That’s what it excels at, and it does it with the traditional Orange punch.

Controls:

Gain / Tone / Volume

Features:

1.5 mm Zintec Chassis w/ Steel Vented Top Case. Padded Gig Bag.

Output:

15 Watts ‘Class A’ / 7 Watts ‘Class A’

Preamp Tubes: 2 x 12AX7

Power Amp Tubes: 2 x EL84

Speaker Out: (1) 16 Ohm, (2) 8 ohm

Weight: 7kg/15lb

 

 

Vox Night Train – $499

Notes: Our pick for some of the sweetest, more Vox-y sounding tones you’re likely to get in this category (no surprise, of course). Yep, it can get plenty mean, but it also produces a better high-end chime than some of the other models out there.

Rear panel controls

  • Mains Input (Fused)
  • 8 Ohm Speaker Output
  • 16 Ohm Speaker Output

Valve/Tube Complement:

  • 2 x EL84/6BQ5 — 2 x 12AX7/ECC83

Model Dimensions/Weight:

  • Dimensions: 308(W) x 160(D) x 177(H)  mm /12.13(W)  x  6.30(D) x  6.97(H)  (inches)
  • Weight: 7.7kg /16.98 lbs

Power Output:

  • 15 Watts RMS into 8 or 16 ohm

 

Mesa/Boogie Transatlantic – $1499

Notes: Yep, they’re late to the party, but fashionably late, wouldn’t you say? Where the Mesa/Boogie lunchbox shines is in its ability to put out both great American and British overdrive sounds – something some of the other models just can’t manage.

Specs:

  • 2-channel all-tube head
  • 4 x EL84 power tubes
  • 6 x 12AX7 preamp tubes
  • Multi-Watt channel assignable power amp
  • Select from 2 power tubes operating in Class A mode (15W), 4 power tubes operating in Class A mode (30W), or 4 power tubes operating in Dyna-Watt Class A/B (40W)
  • 2 fully independent channels with 5 Style Modes
  • Fixed bias for consistent, maintenance-free performance
  • 2 x 4-ohm and 1 x 8-ohm outputs

 

Egnater Tweaker – $399

Notes: We couldn’t have said it any better than Egnater, “The Tweaker is an ultra compact and amazingly versatile all-tube amp that offers a unique and sophisticated tone with seemingly endless tonal variations via the on-board ‘Tweaker’ selector switches.”

Specs:

  • 15 Watts Amplifier
  • 2 x 6V6 Power Tubes
  • 2 x 12AX7 Pre-amp Tubes
  • Master Volume, Gain and 3-Band EQ
  • Modern/Vintage Amp
    Voicing Switch
  • Buffered Effects Loop
  • Selectable AC, British and
    American Tone Controls
  • Clean/Hot Gain Selector
  • Tight & Bright Voicing Switches
  • 100V / 115V / 230V Switchable

 

Epiphone Valve Junior – $129

Notes: Don’t be fooled by its low price tag – we’ve included the Epiphone Valve Junior here because it offers up some pretty tasty blues tones and a clean, but slightly overdriven jazz jangle – definitely something worth checking out if a heavy crunch just isn’t your thing.

Specs:

  • 5W power
  • Single-ended Class A tube circuit
  • 12AX7 preamp tube
  • EL84 power amp tube
  • Tubes have DC filaments for reduced noise
  • Single chicken-head volume knob
  • 4-, 8-, 16-ohm outputs for speaker flexibility
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