“Who needs an amp anyway?” asked Mick at the outset of the episode. If you’re an acoustic player, the answer is simple. For the rest of us, an electric guitar doesn’t quite speak for itself unless there is an amp and cab on the other end of the patch cable. Yet the surge of small format power amps that have cropped up on the market recently may require a new way of answering the question.
So why might you consider packing one of these pint-sized powerhouses? As Mick commented, their simplicity and size make for ideal backups in the event of an amp failure. Additionally, with advances in the tonal architecture of power amps they’re increasingly an option for players who want to do away entirely with a clunky head. Finally, as Dan & Mick demonstrated at episode’s end, a micro power amp can also aid in setting up a stereo or wet/dry rig (more on that below).
Whether you’re looking into power amps for use as a spare, stand alone, or to augment your current rig, Dan & Mick took a tour through three options worth considering.
At a size that would make a standard Tube Screamer feel pudgy, the Magnum 44 is a true power-amp-in-a-box. It will literally fit on a pedal board or could be tossed in a gig bag last minute for peace of mind.
As Dan noted, “It does sound great, but you’ve got to tweak the tone control” on your chosen preamp or overdrive pedal to enhance the Magnum’s spark on attack and character on lead riffs. Similarly, if using the Magnum for a clean sound it seemed to require another pedal on the front end for balance, clarity, and tone. Yet, as Mick reminded us, “That’s entirely explainable, you’re hitting a power amp straight from your guitar.” Whereas any other traditional amp derives much of its tone and character from a carefully crafted preamp, the Magnum 44 is a loud maker by trade.
When cranked up, the Magnum 44 also interacted well with a gritty gain pedal, like the Keeley D&M drive. As Dan noted, “the top end changes as you turn it up,” which gave the amp a surprisingly amp-like character. In the end, both Dan & Mick agreed: for its size and price tag, the Magnum 44 was “pretty impressive” and boasted a particular strength when tag-teamed with a preamp style pedal.
In a footprint that is small even for the lunchbox amp category, the MV50 packs a full fifty watts of power and even gives off a warm blue glow to boot. The glowing heart of the MV50 is from NuTube technology, which produces a familiar analog warmth. Yet as Dan & Mick bantered back and forth, it’s not a tube and that’s okay because it sounds great. Mick commented that, “It’s got an element of the Vox sound, it’s got that kind of hairiness in the overdrive, I think it actually sounds as good or better as lots of transistor amps I’ve heard.” In short, as Dan summed up, “Just let it be it’s [own] thing!”
Like any of the power amps featured in the episode, the MV50 can plug in to any cabinet kicking around. Yet to complete the pair, Vox designed their micro heads to run into the BC108 cabinet.
Seymour Duncan Power Stage 170
New at winter NAMM 2017, Seymour Duncan expanded their pedalboard friendly product range to include the sleek and modern Power Stage 170. With on board 3 band EQ and a knob for adjusting output level, the Power Stage perhaps had the most familiar interface to a traditional amplifier. Spoiler alert: the Power Stage was also the front runner on the TPS power amp experiment.
When hit with the Marshall Plexi-like preamp of the Kingsley Constable and a dose of reverb Dan instantly remarked, “Now we’re talkin’!” The Power Stage had a natural feel that arguably came closest to the response and character of a full-featured hi-wattage amp head. One of the clearest assets of the Power Stage was its high clean headroom. As Dan reflected after Mick cranked the level, “First thing to note: you’ve gone loud and it’s still clean.”
When paired with any of the preamp pedals in the TPS rig, the Power Stage received Dan & Mick’s top marks across the board: loud (check), dynamic EQ response (check), tone rich (check), clear on cleans and gritty on gain (check, check). As Dan concluded, “If you want a power amp to do an actual job that is worthy of a gig situation, that’s awesome.”
Using Power Amps for Wet/Dry and Stereo Rigs
Near the close of the episode, Dan & Mick demonstrated a gear hack for using a stand-alone power amp as part of your existing full rig. In short, one side of the Victory V40’s reverb out was sent to the Power Stage, which fed its own speaker cabinet.
As Dan summed up, “You’re actually having stereo reverb, but with a single preamp [from the V40].” This solution is an excellent—and more economical—option for a wet/dry or stereo rig, particularly if you’re already keen on the sound of a favorite amp yet can’t afford to clone it in real life. This type of signal route also allowed for running effects into either side of the rig to add further dynamics to the tonal landscape.
Whether you’re in the market for a combo amp, head, cab, practice amp, or a power amp that won’t eat up a lot of real estate, check out our full range of amplifier options over at Riff City. We’ve got you covered from bedroom rockers to arena ready and everything in between.
Guitars: Mick: Fender American Vintage ’62 Stratocaster, Duesenberg Bonneville, Duesenberg Poloma. Dan: Fender Custom Shop ’63 Telecaster, Nik Huber Kratster II.Keeley D&M Drive, Kingsley Constable, Van Weelden Royal Overdrive, MXR Phase 90, TC Electronic Flashback 2, Empress Reverb, D’Addario Chromatic Tuner.