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The days of lugging around 100-watt Marshall stacks to club gigs are long behind us. So, unless you’re Iron Maiden and flying a jumbo jet filled with gear, you’re probably better off looking at some low-watt amps, or just small amps in general, that can still pack a punch, but won’t kill your back. We’ll be taking a look at four of our favorite models that won’t break the bank. Without further ado…
We totally fell for the Yamaha THR10 modeling combo amp when we first saw it debut at NAMM a while back. It’s lightweight, has a ton of tonal options on tap, and comes in at a ridiculous $299 price tag. Basically, everything Yamaha builds, they overbuild. And the THR10 is no exception. For the modern player who’s tracking demos or doing full-on recording at home, the small footprint and USB output will be key features. Presets can also be edited over USB, so shaping your sound is hella easy, and the modeling capabilities will open up a new world of textures for your next track or studio sessions.
The guitarist who wants a mobile, versatile rig at a low price.
Great range of sounds, built-in fx and headphone output.
On-board speakers aren’t mind-blowing.
You want portable? You got portable! When we first got our hands on the Piranha, we were amazed at how much beef was packed into such a small burger. In other words, this tiny amp head, which is about the size of an external hard drive and weighs about two pounds, is powerful enough to run full cabs with ease. Now, what you give up is some tone-shaping capabilities, things that you might find on the Yamaha THR10, for example. But the Piranha is priced accordingly, and if you want a ludicrously mobile amp rig for stage and studio use, you owe it to yourself to crank up the Peavey Piranha and hear what this beast can do in action.
The guitarist who wants a monster sound in a tiny, mobile package.
Ultra-tiny and ultra-portable, big sound when run through a more robust setup.
Limited tonal options.
Still affordable, and equipped with those lovely valves the Brits refuse to call tubes, the OR15 packs enough crunch to make you an official captain, if you catch our drift. We were mighty impressed by Orange’s solid-state combo offerings, and at $699, we’re kinda baffled at how this tube head can pack such a wallop, and yet still come in under 700 bucks. The crunch channel is obviously the selling point here, and if you know the classic Orange sound, it’s here in spades. Simple controls line the front panel (sans text, as per usual in Orangeland), and you’ve got the choice to switch between 7 or 15 watts with the flick of your wrist. 15 will open up a little more headroom if you do want to clean things up a tad, and lowering to 7 will enable you to enter saturation territory with more ease, especially at lower volumes.
Cruuuunch time party animals!
We couldn’t find any. You might have better luck coming up with a flaw here…
The H&K TubeMeister 18 features some pretty grown up features for such a small head – including EL84 power tubes and the ability to flip between wattage and even go silently direct for recording purposes (a great touch for home recorders!) We weren’t quite prepared for the roaring high-gain madness the TM18 had in store, but were pleasantly surprised with just how raunchy (yet defined) this beast can be when really opened up. Featuring an all-tube design at such a great price point would be enough to win us over, but add in the DI capabilities, power switching, and a neat tube safety control that monitors your valves to ensure proper performance, and we couldn’t ask for much more. All in all, we must say the versatility of this amp shocked us, and made us eat a little crow after initially thinking it wouldn’t have a lot of usable tone-shaping capabilities on hand. Shame on us.
Serious recording artists who want power and control.
Fantastic overdrive, DI built in.
Great for stage and studio, there simply are no cons here.