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Cheap lunchbox tube head for cleans
Old 25th July 2020
  #1
Cheap lunchbox tube head for cleans

I'm in the market for one of those 1 or 5 or 15 watt tube heads. From what I've heard, I like the Bugera and the Blackstar (I guess I'm not that hard to please).

I'm looking for a warm clean sound only. Zero interest in overdrive or even crunch. Bedroom volume is fine really, just a nice clean tube sound, built in reverb would be a plus, even if it's cheesy. I will be playing it through a small bass cab for a poor man's Super Reverb kind of thing.

Am I missing any other options in the sub-$500 range? Suggestions welcome.
Old 26th July 2020
  #2
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Mertmo's Avatar
 

I have a Peavey Classic 20 head that fits your description. I picked it up for under 400 used. GREAT clean sound, very smooth. Lots of cool features, I’ve gigged and tracked with it. I love that head, one of my favorite guitar related purchases. Plus I just love the tweed look...

I’d put that head on your list For sure
Old 26th July 2020
  #3
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mertmo View Post
I have a Peavey Classic 20 head that fits your description. I picked it up for under 400 used. GREAT clean sound, very smooth. Lots of cool features, I’ve gigged and tracked with it. I love that head, one of my favorite guitar related purchases. Plus I just love the tweed look...

I’d put that head on your list For sure
Thanks, these were definitely on my radar -- I was looking at the Classic 30 but thought it might be too much power. But I guess for clean you want the headroom. Appreciate the suggestion!
Old 26th July 2020
  #4
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Mertmo's Avatar
 

The Classic 20 head can switch between 20 watts, 5 watts, and 1 watt! That’s a lot of range. And although of course the three settings sound a little different from each other regarding sag/compression... they all sound good! The 20 watt setting is straight up loud! And at 1 watt it’s almost bedroom level. All dependent on cabinet pairing of course...
Old 26th July 2020
  #5
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mertmo View Post
The Classic 20 head can switch between 20 watts, 5 watts, and 1 watt! That’s a lot of range. And although of course the three settings sound a little different from each other regarding sag/compression... they all sound good! The 20 watt setting is straight up loud! And at 1 watt it’s almost bedroom level. All dependent on cabinet pairing of course...
Oh okay, got it, that's perfect. I really don't need a lot of power but I push a lot of low frequency, which takes more power than a typical midrangey guitar sound. A little more than I wanted to spend but I'll keep an eye out for deals. I want to buy only once so no hurry.
Old 27th July 2020
  #6
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I didn't really get to try a lot of small tube amps but I did get the chance to play on an Egnater Tweaker 15w which I liked a lot, check this one out if you haven't already
Old 27th July 2020
  #7
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The "magic" of tubes is how they perform as they transition from clean to crunch and to distortion so smoothly and seamlessly. Even when clean the tube sound is about how they introduce pleasant and fundamental harmonic distortion to the sound.

If what you want is "clean", then you shouldn't rule out looking at some transistor amplifiers. Also, for a clean sound only, some power for headroom can be very useful. 15 watts would be sufficient for home or recording. 5 watts for clean would be pushing the lower limit in my view yet if you try them out and find one that proves me wrong then all is good.
Old 27th July 2020
  #8
Quote:
Originally Posted by AnthonyG View Post
The "magic" of tubes is how they perform as they transition from clean to crunch and to distortion so smoothly and seamlessly. Even when clean the tube sound is about how they introduce pleasant and fundamental harmonic distortion to the sound.

If what you want is "clean", then you shouldn't rule out looking at some transistor amplifiers. Also, for a clean sound only, some power for headroom can be very useful. 15 watts would be sufficient for home or recording. 5 watts for clean would be pushing the lower limit in my view yet if you try them out and find one that proves me wrong then all is good.
Thanks this is helpful. It's exactly that harmonic distortion that I think is the clean sound I am looking for. To me, it seems like the difference between tube and transistor clean sounds is all in the attack -- which is maybe softer on a tube amp? I bet if you recorded guitar clean and cut off the attack and just played back the sustained clean tones, tube and SS would be indistinguishable.

Sound is not just in waves in frequencies, but also random peaks and deviations from a frequency that are not repeating even once. Anyway I think it's in the attack, and the clean sound of a Fender Princeton or Super Reverb, or even one of those Peavey classics, is awesome to me. But I don't need so much power or to spend for a SR. You're right about the headroom. I have a clean SS amp that is fine, but I want that tube chime on a clean strat-attack.
Old 28th July 2020
  #9
Went and played the HT-5 today, and I have to say the switchable wattage thing is awesome. The lower wattage of 0.5 watt is sort of playing in your apartment volume, and like everybody says, 5 watts is louder than you'd think. I really don't need more volume, it's only a question of headroom, and some of these amps seem like they are never fully clean.

I wouldn't say it is a holy grail clean tone, but it's nice, and for the money it's a great amp.

Also tried a Bugera v22 which sounded pretty good but with the limited eq options and the built-in speaker I couldn't gauge how it would sound with my more bassy setup.
Old 2nd August 2020
  #10
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vashuba's Avatar
VHT makes a few heads. The Special 6 & Special 12/20. I have the 12/20, never played the 6, but I can tell you this thing will not breakup at all. It pretty much needs pedals for dirt. Plus you can swap power tubes.
You should look into the 6. my 12/20 gets loud.

or AMpeg GVT 5 - i have one of those well. basic single 6v6
little breakup when you crank it all the way but nice cleans
Old 3rd August 2020
  #11
Quote:
Originally Posted by vashuba View Post
VHT makes a few heads. The Special 6 & Special 12/20. I have the 12/20, never played the 6, but I can tell you this thing will not breakup at all. It pretty much needs pedals for dirt. Plus you can swap power tubes.
You should look into the 6. my 12/20 gets loud.
Thanks I wasn't aware of this one. It seems like there are a lot of one-preamp-tube one-power-tube amps that just sound kind of thin. I'm starting to lean more toward a Fender Champ maybe.
Old 8th August 2020
  #12
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foldback's Avatar
Marshall DSL 1HR

I really like the little 1-watt Marshall DSL heads.

If you're tight with your dealer you can pick these up new for $250, I've got stomp boxes that cost more and deliver a lot less.

I run it into a Marshall 4x12 filled with V30's and it sounds great for all sorts of guitar tones.

The little head has channel switching and even a digital reverb (better than none, it's defeatable also).

Besides sounding like a Marshall wrapped up in a very tiny box my favorite feature is the effects loop in the back. Marshall has engineered this loop to work well with a variety of signal levels, from stomp boxes to rack units.

The owners manual is a bit vague so I corresponded with Marshall in UK about an almost secret feature, the built-in dummy load. You can run this amp without a speaker attached but you must unplug the speaker BEFORE you turn the amp on. NEVER turn the amp on, use it with a speaker for a while and then unplug the speaker, you'll fry the amp. Unplug the speaker before turning it on.

The DSL 1 also features speaker emulation technology by Softube in the UK. This signal is delivered through a 1/8th inch stereo output jack on the rear of the amp. You can also use this jack with headphones to play quietly late at night.

Lastly, the little DSL 1 comes with a footswitch to switch between clean and distorted channels.

Good music go you!
Old 8th August 2020
  #13
Quote:
Originally Posted by foldback View Post
I really like the little 1-watt Marshall DSL heads.

If you're tight with your dealer you can pick these up new for $250, I've got stomp boxes that cost more and deliver a lot less.
Thanks, Marshall was not on my radar because I'm not a high-gain guy, but this amp sounds pretty good clean. Definitely Hendrix-clean, with that upper-midrange clank. I'm not tight with a dealer, but this is one to check out.
Old 17th August 2020
  #14
I'm surprised nobody seems to have mentioned the Monoprice 15 watt amp - switchable to 1 watt, which is amazing for the money, punching way above its weight. I got mine when they were $150, but even at $100 more it's an amazing deal. Celestion speaker, spring reverb.

I don't get to play through mine much because my lead player appropriated it for his rig.

https://www.monoprice.com/Product?p_id=611815
Old 17th August 2020
  #15
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Bob Ross's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by John Eppstein View Post
I'm surprised nobody seems to have mentioned the Monoprice 15 watt amp
My complaint with the Monoprice 15 watt amp is the same as my complaint with most of these 1- and 5-watt mini amps: If you genuinely want clean sound, it won't get loud enough to play with a band that has a conventional rhythm section.

And by "conventional" I guess I really mean insensitive.



(Actually, my biggest complaint with the Monoprice 15 watt amp is that the one I bought sh!t the bed the fourth time it got used!)
Old 19th August 2020
  #16
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Ross View Post
My complaint with the Monoprice 15 watt amp is the same as my complaint with most of these 1- and 5-watt mini amps: If you genuinely want clean sound, it won't get loud enough to play with a band that has a conventional rhythm section.

And by "conventional" I guess I really mean insensitive.



(Actually, my biggest complaint with the Monoprice 15 watt amp is that the one I bought sh!t the bed the fourth time it got used!)
Welp, in the end I bought a Super Reverb. So much for "lunchbox" sized amps. Got a great deal on a rat-rod early 70s amp that needs some work.

In the end, yeah, you need some power to get clean headroom, even at very low volumes with tube amps. It's hard to tell how much power because apparently the rating is how many watts it puts out up to 0.05% THD so it's all over the map. I had tried a Blackstar HT5 and it was way louder clean than the Vibro Champ XD (both 5 watts) clean. But it didn't sound great. I may yet go back and get one because they're smaller and not expensive, but it's not the Fender tone.

But the Super Reverb is just the Queen of amplifiers. Tone trumped everything else.
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