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Looking for a small amp for recording...very low wattage.
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Cole.
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#1
19th January 2012
Old 19th January 2012
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Looking for a small amp for recording...very low wattage.

Hey folks,

I'm looking for a half-decent tube amp for recording.... 5w or less. Actually, 1 watt or less would be fine, too. A combo amp, small speaker, etc.

I'm working out of a small studio, and there are other folks in the house, so keeping things on the quieter side would be nice.

I'm using Strats and Teles... miking things with an AT3035 and a 57.

Just wanted to know what the options are! Amps smaller than Champs/etc don't really come along on my local Craigslist/used market very often (Vancouver).

Budget-wise, I'd be looking for something on the lower end of things.

Thanks!
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19th January 2012
Old 19th January 2012
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I have an Epiphone Valve Jr. That I really like. I run it thru an old Fender 2x10 like you used to see with the Bassman. 5watts and the only control is a gain knob. It breaks up really nice and growls in a real creamy way with a Tube Screamer in front of it. I picked it up for $100 brand new at Musicians Friend.
Cole.
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19th January 2012
Old 19th January 2012
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For sure, I've seen a few of those pass through the used market up here. I bet they're still pretty loud... possibly louder than what I'm looking for, but you can't beat the price.

Tone-wise, I'm looking for clean and warm.... not too much overdrive needed.

If something like this stayed clean enough (and was cheaper, or could be found used), I'd be into it. One quarter watt.
Little Lanilei 1/4 watt Tube Recording Amplifier - Mahaffay Amplifiers Tube Amps, Tube Amplifiers, Amplifier Accessories

Any other takers?
#4
19th January 2012
Old 19th January 2012
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Okay, so now there's something else on the wish list! You're right, the Epi can get pretty loud, and clean isn't a word I'd use to describe any of the sounds I pull from it.
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19th January 2012
Old 19th January 2012
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I would suggest that focusing on wattage is the wrong thing. Obviously you want quality tone at low volume, and the main thing is being able to control the output level.

If you get a really low wattage tube amp, there is no headroom and all it can do is dirt with no clean. If you got some thing like a 30W Orange Rocker, you can control the volume down to really low levels, with an excellent range of clean through to full on grind, and with good tone contol.

I have an Epiphone Valve Junior head, and I think it is a good low budget choice, and sometimes just a good choice period. But generally I prefer my Rocker 30. I don't have the space to crank a large amp, so quality tone at low level was a big issue for me and I had to reject many otherwise good amps.

I would suggest buying heads and cabs, so you can mix and match them for different tones. Also is better for tubes not to hang upside down rattling in front of speakers. Also keeps transformer hum (acoustic and EMI) away from mics. Allows you to have the head in the control room. Preserves your ears. Etc, Etc, Etc.

The VJ with pedals is a good combination - I have a bunch of the usual suspects. If you go for reamping, you can hit this amp with plugin compression, eq, etc and effectively give it what is missing.

Vox Nighttrain is another great little amp i'd like to own.

The Orange Tiny Terror nearly won me over, but I tried the Rocker 30 and that was that.
#6
19th January 2012
Old 19th January 2012
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I have a 1/4W Little Lanilei and, while cool for overdriven tone, it won't do clean.
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19th January 2012
Old 19th January 2012
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Fender vibro champ
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19th January 2012
Old 19th January 2012
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AC4.
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19th January 2012
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Cole.
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19th January 2012
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Kiwi - Thanks for the options. Yeah, as a live player, I used amps in the 30w range all the time... I just sold my '73 SF Vibrolux, and one of my other guitarists actually used the Orange Rocker 30.

To get the kind of tone I'm seeking from a recording amp, I had to set the Vibrolux to about 3.5, which is far too loud for my home studio.

I won't need the option of lot of gain... just a good tube clean at a pretty low volume. A 5-watter like the Epi VJ might have to be the call for now. Basically, I'm hunting around for something that can deliver a Fender-like tube clean at the lowest possible volume. Think finger-picked, neck-pickup Strat tone through a vintage Deluxe or Vibrolux...
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19th January 2012
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Cole.
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19th January 2012
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Actually yeah - The Blackstar and the AC4 seem like a good time.
#13
19th January 2012
Old 19th January 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kiwi View Post
I would suggest that focusing on wattage is the wrong thing. Obviously you want quality tone at low volume, and the main thing is being able to control the output level.

If you get a really low wattage tube amp, there is no headroom and all it can do is dirt with no clean. If you got some thing like a 30W Orange Rocker, you can control the volume down to really low levels, with an excellent range of clean through to full on grind, and with good tone contol.
^^^^ this.

My 30w Marshall combo (Artist 4203 w/C13 mod) is clean and beautiful at moderately low volumes and stays clean pretty loud. Reverb is lovely. Wouldn't trade it for the world, and I'd try to replace it if something ever happened to it. Worth mentioning that the clean channel isn't worth a damn without the simple mod (clip one cap to remove the annoying & permanently engaged brightness).
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#14
20th January 2012
Old 20th January 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cole. View Post
Kiwi - Thanks for the options. Yeah, as a live player, I used amps in the 30w range all the time... I just sold my '73 SF Vibrolux, and one of my other guitarists actually used the Orange Rocker 30.

To get the kind of tone I'm seeking from a recording amp, I had to set the Vibrolux to about 3.5, which is far too loud for my home studio.

I won't need the option of lot of gain... just a good tube clean at a pretty low volume. A 5-watter like the Epi VJ might have to be the call for now. Basically, I'm hunting around for something that can deliver a Fender-like tube clean at the lowest possible volume. Think finger-picked, neck-pickup Strat tone through a vintage Deluxe or Vibrolux...
The Blues Jr. Would be a pretty great fit. Surprised no one's mentioned it yet...
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20th January 2012
Old 20th January 2012
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Emery Microbaby is an obvious one. At the low levels folks are looking to use these amps at, it will do clean. It won't do clean over a drum kit but anyone looking for this low a wattage amp isn't looking to play it over a drum kit, but probably to record in an apartment. It won't do the Fender Twin type clean, but it's just not that sort of design so I don't think it's a matter of head room. And you can swap tubes easily on it, to go between more power amp/less pre-amp and more pre-amp/less power amp modes, for more or less headroom.

A Vibrochamp is another good one, though you'll need an attenuator to crank it up all the way and get that lovely breakup, at least in an apartment anyway. Even the Microbaby might need a little attenuation.
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#16
20th January 2012
Old 20th January 2012
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Does it have to be cheap? If it does, nothing touches the Valve Jr. by Epiphone. If it doesn't matter, then try the Red Iron Lil Mo or 5 watter. You'd be looking at about $399 for the 1 watt Lil Mo or $550 for the 5 watter. Check out clips on the site.

:: Red Iron Amps - AMPS - 5 WATTER ::
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#17
20th January 2012
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Bought a used Valve Jr. for $50 and liked the tone but it was a little too loud. Added a used PowerSoak for $20. Experimented with tubes in the Valve Jr. - It came with a JJ 12AX7 which went from dirty to over the top crunchy. Tried a Telefunken 12AX7 and though it was still Balls-To-The-Walls dirty, the Balls had a much tighter tone. The problem was that it still was limited to a range from Dirty to Really Dirty. Tried a few more tubes and stopped when I tried a National 12AU7 - Bluesy clean to Mild Grit. Went out and found another Valve Jr. for $55 and put the Telefunken 12AX7 in it. Now have the best of both world at a volume that can be brought all the way down to headphone levels. Just recently picked up a used Blackheart Little Giant for $65 which has bass/mid/treble tone controls, gain, and a 3/5 watt switch. 3 Watts is more than enough - makes me wonder why they didn't go the extra $10 of parts and make it an adjustable output volume instead of a 3/5 switch. I still want to experiment with a few different tubes - but it doesn't sound bad at all. I know both the Valve Jr. and Blackhearts have dozens of cheap mods available on the internet, but other than possibly adding a reverb, I like them the way they are.
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20th January 2012
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New: check out Swart. Vintage: check out things made by Valco in the 40's and 50's (branded under Supro, National, etc).
#19
20th January 2012
Old 20th January 2012
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Quote:
Budget-wise, I'd be looking for something on the lower end of things.
Quote:
check out Swart.
So $800-$2,000 is lower end of things nowadays??
#20
20th January 2012
Old 20th January 2012
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You might want to check out the Vox AC4 or the Marshall Class 5.
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20th January 2012
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#22
20th January 2012
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There is also this one:

ZVEX AMPS

I've never tried it, but have heard good things about it
#23
20th January 2012
Old 20th January 2012
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I saw the title and was going to recommend the vox night train! An absolute monster in the studio! Remarkable tone easily achieved at low levels. From my experience passive single coil as well as humbucker loaded guitars sound stunning through this little devil! I've never tried an active set of pickups through it, though I can imagine it would need a bit of a high roll off, as the Amp is very bright already. That being said, I haven't really used the amp with many effects, other than a line boost and simple delay, or tubes creamer. It takes those pedals very well. So I'd say give it a shot it's well worth checking out if it seems to suit your needs!
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20th January 2012
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So +1 on the night train!
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20th January 2012
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I'm about to get beat up for this one, but take a look at the Bugera V5. It's got a 5w, 1w, and 0.1w settings, so it should be plenty quiet. I've not actually played one, so I can't comment on it directly, but I do own a Bugera V22 and I am completely blown away by the way that thing sounds! Seriously! I bought it as an amp to leave at my drummer's house for practice. I wanted something cheap that I wouldn't have to worry about getting stolen or damaged. Sound quality was not important, which is why I am floored every time I plug it in! It's not my best sounding amp, but it beats several amps I have/have played that cost many, many times more! It's easily on par with anything in Fender's current line of amps including their reissues.
#26
20th January 2012
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why not go with an attenuator. I know they often get a bad rep, but I have built one myself using an L-Pad and it works amazingly great. Now I can use any of my amps at any level. I have yet to find a setting that degrades the tone. Of course you still need to move air to get the tone you're after but I can usually find a good balance of volume VS perception.

Here is the one I built, for free since I had all the parts need.

Regis's Coppertone Attenuator
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20th January 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tedpenn View Post
The Blues Jr. Would be a pretty great fit. Surprised no one's mentioned it yet...
+1000 on the Blues Jr. It puts out some nice tones at very low volume, and it's loud as heck, should you ever need that. It's solid, reliable, and gets along well with external cabs. Nice verb. Fat switch is great.
I've had a gigging BJ since the late 90's that gave me no trouble until last year. Then I had to change out the tube sockets to ceramic and replace all of the pots (they tend to break away from the board after extensive use), but now it back 150%. The other is a tweed about 5 years old. No trouble after extensive use, yet.

If you're bent on driving a few watts into saturation, I can also recommend the Valve jr. head. I've had one, put upgrade tubes in, and it was a nice recording head with a quality 12" cab. You can spend a fortune on point to point boutique and all, but the sound is there for a few bucks with the Valve jr.

I would imagine that the small Blackstar is a similar design and sound, and a good value. Never owned one, but I know people I trust who like them.
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20th January 2012
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As far as having a small, quiet tube amp to do clean AND dirt at bedroom levels for under $500, well, I have a shocker. . . (puts on a flame-******ant suit) . . . There isn't one. People have different definitions of what's clean. Also what's loud. If you want the warm, full, slight bit of hair clean that comes from turning up a larger Fender amp to about 2-3 at volume levels that won't leak through apartment walls, your best bet on a budget is EMULATORS (GASP! Oh no he didn't!).

Seriously. I am a tube amp junkie and I hate to admit it, but it's true. To get that lush yet glassy blackface clean with a mic, you've got to move some air and get the room vibrating, which you're not going to do with a low-powered amp barely pushing a little speaker. If you have a great guitar, good preamp you can run direct into or good quality DI and good pre, you'll be surprised at the quality of a clean tone you can get from emulators. At home on my demo rig, I run my Suhr Custom Classic T into the direct input of my Apogee Duet, and I have a patch I made on Logic 9's built in Amp Designer plug using the Brownface model as a base. There are several times where I've thought I would rerecord something I did at home like this at the pro studio where I work, but I have ended up not seeing the point because the tracks already sound great.

To me, it almost makes it not worth it to mic an amp for clean tones. I have a Vibrochamp, Harmony copy, Vintage Sound VS112P (custom made blackface princeton reverb clone with 12" speaker), Mesa Boogie 0.22+, Mesa Lonestar, and have owned other amps. Only the Vintage Sound can do the cleans I want at reasonable volume, but it's a $1500 amp. The Vibrochamp cleans are just too tinny on that little 8" speaker. Mesas too sterile, Harmony too underpowered. I've heard some good Blues Juniors, but they're too loud once they get that just on the edge of breakup clean that I prefer.

If you want convincing tube distortion that sounds good though, you're going to need an amp.

If you want something cheap, vibey, and classic-rock dirty, and you don't want a Champ, find a silvertone or harmony (or other knock off). A lot of the old "Radio 5" tube amps (because they use a tube set most common to old tube radios) run about 1.3W and get real funky at bedroom levels, think Jimmy Page's tone on Black Dog at conversational levels. Just be careful to have it checked out by an amp tech to make sure the grounding scheme is safe (a lot of the old Radio-5 amps like this have two-prong plugs and use the chassis as both ground and cold strand, so they could really **** you up if there's a short). It's a relatively easy mod to make them survival-compatible.
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20th January 2012
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Egnater Tweaker!!! Try one out and you'll probably leave the store with it. Such a cool little amp. Buy the head and a couple Avatar 1x12 cabs with different speakers and you're set.

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20th January 2012
Old 20th January 2012
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Wow, thanks for all the awesome responses. Hearing about lots of smaller amps I wasn't aware of...

I should add this tidbit, especially after reading what taherbert had to say - I went downtown the other day to pick up an old amp from a friend's house.... I had forgotten that I even owned this thing hah.

It's a little silver amp from the 60's... It uses the Radio 5 tube layout. I had thought it to be a Garnet or a Silvertone or something along those lines. Cabinet may or may not be original, speaker is an unmarked 12". It has 4 inputs, a gain knob, a tone knob, and a separate tremolo circuit (currently not working).

I remember this thing getting some pretty cool old tones, and it was definitely in the right ballpark volume-wise for home studio recording. It won't give me the "bloom" of a good Fender, but that's not a huge deal.

Here's the thing: It's seen some rough times, and would definitely need a comprehensive tune-up. The tubes are most likely stock radio tubes (Philco mostly). It used to work just fine at low-medium volumes, but anytime I really stepped into my playing, it would cut out, and occasionally some arcing/smoking in the back would follow!

Anyway, I'm definitely game to work with this little guy, and there are a couple of good amp guys in Vancouver ....but I'm wondering how much I might have to pump into this thing to make it worthwhile as a recording amp. Things like: Switching to a grounded plug, possibly replacing the tubes, checking out the speaker, upgrading the overall wiring situation, etc.

What do you guys think I should do with it?
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