Carvin Vintage 16
Carvin has been building quality American guitar amplifiers since 1949, and its new Vintage 16 model will be a Holy Grail for many players; this all-valve 1x12 combo's looks wouldn't even disgrace the poshest of living rooms.
It's switchable down to five watts for practice or recording with real, grownup tone, yet at full power can handle rehearsals and even small gigs. The amp comes with a tweed covering, and is also available with a range of vinyl colours (black, brown, navy, red, white… take your pick) for just £20 extra.
Anyone whose taste encompasses The Shadows, The Beatles, Queen, Bryan Adams, Stereophonics and many others, will know the chiming tone of an amp fitted with EL84 valves. The daddy of these is Vox's trademark AC30, but boutique brands like Matchless and Bad Cat also love the formula.
What sets the Vintage 16 amp apart from its counterparts, though, is its price: two grand plus for a 15-watt Matchless, or £479 for this? Admittedly, not the biggest dilemma ever…
A concealed switch on the back panel drops the amp from full power down to just five watts. Doing this means you benefit from the components working hard, which is when that musical 'sweet spot' happens.
While dropping the power does lower the overall volume of the amp, you could still find your neighbours pinning ASBOs to your front door if you crank it.
The front panel is simple, with bass, middle, treble and reverb rotaries plus volume and what Carvin calls 'Soak'. This is your gain control - turn this up and the master down for the most drive, or the other way around for the clean tones.
Out-and-out distortion is not what this amp is about, though; fabulous, driving tone is.
It's simple and intuitive to use and if you need of more fizz, just plug in your favourite pedal.
Great valve tone in a US-made amp rarely comes this cheap. And when it's as versatile as the Vintage 16, £479 seems like a steal.
If you want authentic pop, blues and rock tones look no further, but metallers will probably want to venture elsewhere. And while this delightful combo will shine at rehearsals, in the studio and on small gigs, it might struggle against a loud drummer. Flip the low power switch, though, add a splash of reverb and your bedroom concert hall beckons.
Brilliant value. Lush tones. Looks.
Only handles the smallest gigs.
This isn't an amp to rock stadiums with but on a smaller scale, if you're looking for a fab tone at a great price, this one's a no-brainer.
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Audio Output Power
All-valve, 1x12 combo amp. Valves: 2x EL84, 3x 12AX7. Controls: Soak, volume, bass, middle, treble, reverb