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Practice amps - modelling or valves?


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#1 Bradwell

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Posted 19 December 2014 - 11:50 AM

Looking for people's opinions on guitar amp heads for practice. I don't like combos and have cabinets both at home and at my band's rehearsal space so I'm not going to be shifting speakers about.

However, the three amps that I have are all heavy 60 Watt+ heads which don't sound particularly good at low volumes, the volume controls are quite sensitive between 0 - 1 and they take up a fair amount of space in the car.

Can anyone recommend some decent practice amps for rock/punk/metal? Nothing too expensive, just good at levels suitable for bedroom playing to small gigs.

I prefer valve amps but haven't much experience with modelling heads. Played a couple of Marshall valve states but hate the sound of those. Was thinking along the lines of Blackstar or Line 6, nothing too expensive (£200 max) and easy enough to pick up second hand.
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#2 DorsetBlue

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Posted 19 December 2014 - 02:16 PM

I have just acquired a secondhand Line 6 Spider III for £75. Originally I was going to buy a secondhand Peavey valve amp but the reverb tank was shot and I was unable to get a sound I liked from it. The Spider III (other than Line 6's annoying tendency to use proprietary locked down protocols for their external footswitch circuit) just produced a great sound on most of the default settings for practice and it seems to have a good clean sound too, when I turn off the effects. I was very tempted by a Blackstar ID:TVP but couldn't quite justify the expense, seeing as I just muck about on guitar at home.
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#3 Weststarx

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Posted 19 December 2014 - 06:16 PM

I've got a Line 6 Spider, and its perfect for home practice, has loads of different sounds for different genres etc
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#4 sifi2112

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Posted 19 December 2014 - 07:18 PM

I use a Traynor Darkhorse 15w / 2w valve head & swap between guitar & bass cabs I built as I also play a bit of guitar too ...
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#5 Bradwell

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Posted 21 December 2014 - 02:48 PM

I will take a look at Line 6 amps, good to know that most of the tone settings on them are alright. The cheap solid-state & valve-state amps I've played they were generally too bright and cutting, no amount of playing with the tone controls could get rid that.

Doubt that the proprietary footswitch would be too much of an issue, however, it's nice if companies use open source software and allow third party equipment to be used. Would probably just use distortion pedals etc before the amp and do any necessary switching through the front panel. Having a bunch of different sounds would be good for recording too, maybe I need to get over my tendency to keep everything as separates and accept that multi-fx built into an amp isn't a bad thing.
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#6 Stephen Houghton

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Posted 30 December 2014 - 02:25 AM

I have a Blackstar HT-5 head (valve), this is an amazing amp and has great tones I would highly recommend it, you can pick them up second hand for about £150 - 160 ish, I got one for £100 as it had no Blackstar badge. Rang the amazingly helpful people at Blackstar and for something like £2.95 they sent me a new one. it comes with two channels clean and overdriven both sound great, and it has an emulated output button which gives you a 4/12 or 1/12 output cab sound. Good EQ with an IMF dial which gives you a classic American or British sound or anywhere in between. Also has an effects loop.
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#7 mike257

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Posted 06 January 2015 - 08:09 AM

Not knocking the views of previous posters but I engineer at a bunch of venues and the sight of a band loading Line 6 Spiders in the door makes me want to cry. Maybe it's user error but they invariably disappear in the mix. are fizz city for high gain tones and don't convince for low gain edge of breakup stuff at all. Not a fan. If you want valves on a budget I hear a lot of good things about the Jet City stuff, well worth a look.

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#8 Weststarx

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Posted 20 January 2015 - 01:47 PM

View Postmike257, on 06 January 2015 - 08:09 AM, said:

Not knocking the views of previous posters but I engineer at a bunch of venues and the sight of a band loading Line 6 Spiders in the door makes me want to cry. Maybe it's user error but they invariably disappear in the mix. are fizz city for high gain tones and don't convince for low gain edge of breakup stuff at all. Not a fan. If you want valves on a budget I hear a lot of good things about the Jet City stuff, well worth a look.

What about solidstate?

I might be involved in a band soon playing guitar but not keen on the sound of valve amps (even though everyone says they have the best tone)
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#9 6v6

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Posted 20 January 2015 - 03:19 PM

View PostWeststarx, on 20 January 2015 - 01:47 PM, said:

What about solidstate?

I might be involved in a band soon playing guitar but not keen on the sound of valve amps (even though everyone says they have the best tone)

There are plenty of great solid state amps, if that's what floats your boat - Roland JC120, MusicMan HD130 (valve power stage with SS pre), some of the Fender "red knob" series, Session, etc etc.

If you want loud and clean (which I'm assuming you do, if you don't like valves) SS isn't a bad way to go, but IMHO valves trump SS every time if you want a bit of musical compression, grit and warmth.

Back to the OP's question - a very small valve amp such as the BlackStar already mentioned would be good (I've played an HT5 and they are good), for pure home practice though it's hard to ignore the practicality and convenience of a modelling pedal, amp or even iPad app nowadays (they're much better than they once were, and that's coming from a total ampaholic :))

#10 Ancient Mariner

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Posted 25 January 2015 - 02:59 PM

I'd be inclined to go along with Mike257's comments about Line 6 too, especially the food grade stuff.

For pure home practice have a look at the Yamaha THR series mini-amps. Relatively expensive, but very good & versatile.

Westarx - what don't you like about valve amps? There's a huge range of different tone types available, depending on what you want. If you muct have SS then check out Tech 21 trademark series and Polytone amps (avoid Session SS - nasty, fizzy stuff IMO).
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#11 JapanAxe

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Posted 25 January 2015 - 03:16 PM

View Postmike257, on 06 January 2015 - 08:09 AM, said:

Not knocking the views of previous posters but I engineer at a bunch of venues and the sight of a band loading Line 6 Spiders in the door makes me want to cry. Maybe it's user error but they invariably disappear in the mix. are fizz city for high gain tones and don't convince for low gain edge of breakup stuff at all. Not a fan.
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#12 hairychris

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Posted 30 January 2015 - 12:10 PM

TBH home practice and band rehearsal/small show are 2 completely different sacks of spanners, so to speak. Most of my home practice is done on a Boss BR600 digital recorder running into phones or my desk -> hifi for example.

Laney, Blackstar and Orange do good low-wattage tube amps or combos that can be hooked up to an external cab. The various Orange Terror heads get a lot of use, even from touring acts.

+1 on avoiding the Line 6 Spider. There's something very weird with how it sounds that makes it go completely missing in live mixes. Either none of the users know how to dial in mids or it's something fundamental. I've heard better things about the Spider Valve though.

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#13 Ancient Mariner

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Posted 30 January 2015 - 02:21 PM

View Posthairychris, on 30 January 2015 - 12:10 PM, said:

+1 on avoiding the Line 6 Spider. There's something very weird with how it sounds that makes it go completely missing in live mixes. Either none of the users know how to dial in mids or it's something fundamental. I've heard better things about the Spider Valve though.

There's something about older modellers (not listened to anything in the last 5 years) that takes away presence and cut - they make a lot of noise, but it's like using far too much fuzz and you get a mushy background sound until they become too loud and swamp everything. Or maybe they're just really hard to set up well? I've seen (heard) similar issues with Vettas, flextones and the big HD heads when used live. Older Vox modellers suffered similar problems, though less than Line 6 kit.
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#14 hairychris

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Posted 30 January 2015 - 04:08 PM

View PostAncient Mariner, on 30 January 2015 - 02:21 PM, said:

There's something about older modellers (not listened to anything in the last 5 years) that takes away presence and cut - they make a lot of noise, but it's like using far too much fuzz and you get a mushy background sound until they become too loud and swamp everything. Or maybe they're just really hard to set up well? I've seen (heard) similar issues with Vettas, flextones and the big HD heads when used live. Older Vox modellers suffered similar problems, though less than Line 6 kit.

That sounds about right. Last one I remember was a now-defunct band of mine played a show, band on before us's guitarist used a Spider head and it was... invisible over the drums & bass. What exacerbated the problem was my lot going on stage afterwards with a Diezel & Engl (carefully EQed for maximum gonad-punching). Not a good look for the other chaps!

Modern modellers are a lot better but I am still not 100% convinced. I've seen a few folks using Kempers/AxeFx units, including with tube power amps, and although very nice tonally seems to lack the punch.

As for Westax - solid state aren't as bad for getting lost in the mix, especially clean, but you can get perceived volume problems if upping the gain levels. I think that it's the way that silicon distorts when driven as opposed to vacuum tubes. The JC120 is pretty much an industry standard clean amp but isn't the lightest to lug about!

Edited by hairychris, 30 January 2015 - 04:10 PM.

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And because people seem to like this sort of thing:
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#15 gadgie

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Posted 30 January 2015 - 04:16 PM

HT-5 is good I think. did a band practive with one not long ago. It was loud enough with a PA going, drummer and another guitarist.

#16 MoonBassAlpha

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Posted 30 January 2015 - 11:25 PM

Another+1 for the HT-5. I'm borrowing one at present and its fine sounding. With a telecaster the clean channel doesn't go too loud but you can apply a clean boost and it sounds nicely on the edge.
I find the distortion channel starts a bit too fiercely, I'd like to be able to transition from the clean to on the edge in a more gentle manner, but that's just my taste.
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#17 Bradwell

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Posted 05 March 2015 - 02:37 PM

Update on this old thread: I picked up a Vox Lil Night Train yesterday - 2 Watts with a 10" speaker cab. Ebay bargain that was local pick up and priced quite low due to being modded - the bright cap has been clipped, popular mod that's easy to undo.

Got a good range of tones from fairly clean to dirty bluesy distortion by playing around with the gain/volume/bass/treble and bright/thick switch. Definitely what I'm after in a practice amp and will be excellent for recording. Nowhere near load enough to keep up with a rock drummer but I figured it will suit my more immediate needs.

The speaker cab is decent for it's size and the whole package light enough to carry about for small jam sessions, however, putting it through a big cab improves the tone a lot.

Looking forward to spending more time with this one - trying a few different guitars and cabs with it this evening. :D
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#18 Ancient Mariner

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Posted 06 March 2015 - 08:32 PM

Excellent find. If you want a bigger sound out of the same cab then consider a replacement speaker - Emi Ramrod or Ragin Cajun would probably be a straight swap and be more efficient.
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