9. Vox Valvetronix VT40X
After receiving over 50,000 votes across 11 categories, this year's Total Guitar readers' polls were fiercely competitive. Now, the results have been tallied, and we're ready to announce what you voted the finest gear and guitarists of 2015.
These are the nine powerhouses that would win a place in your rig, starting with…
Vox Valvetronix VT40X
Vox introduced its Valvetronix amps way back in 2001, and they're still going strong today, outlasting most of the modelling amp competition along the way.
There's no real secret to this; they sound superb – and while they aren't the cheapest, the sounds and build quality more than compensate for that. After such a long time, however, it was clearly time for a refresh, which has given us the newer, better VTX series.
The 40-watt 1x10 VT40X has a restyled sealed cabinet, with a clever bass reflex design to enhance the 10-inch driver's bass response. Inside the chassis, there's a new digital signal processor that, along with other components, takes advantage of 15 years of technological progress to offer more realistic sounds than ever before.
"The new VT40X and its stablemates have extra added zing in many departments, making them even more desirable."
5 out of 5
FULL REVIEW: Vox Valvetronix VT40X review
8. Blackstar ID:Core BEAM
Back in the 50s, cash- and amp-strapped guitarists plugged into their radios to save investing in the combos of the day. Now, we've come full circle, and we're happy to play through amps that double as music playback systems, which not only give more bang for your buck, but also save space in your living room. Blackstar's BEAM represents one of the most evolved forms yet, introducing Bluetooth streaming alongside its wealth of models and rugged good lucks.
The BEAM concept is simple: it's a more compact entry in the ID:Core line (291 x 169 x 166mm, as opposed to the Stereo 10's 340 x 265 x 185mm), packing the same principle electric models and adding Bluetooth for wireless music playback.
"While the original ID:Core line provided the blueprint, we reckon Blackstar's nailed the desktop amp formula with the BEAM."
5 out of 5
FULL REVIEW: Blackstar ID:Core BEAM review
7. Laney L5-Studio
Low output valve amps are easier to turn up to that point where you can hear the creamy, thick drive effects of power-stage distortion without risking an ASBO, which makes them ideal for recording. However, very few include built-in features to make recording easier. Happily, Laney has spotted this and provided a proper solution for the 21st century home recordist, in the shape of the L5-Studio.
From the front, the L5-Studio looks like the rest of the Lionheart range: smart, retro-styled and easy to use. Meanwhile, there's a host of very desirable features borrowed from Laney's very powerful IRT- Studio preamp on its back panel. We like the 60s-influenced blue vinyl, basket-weave grille and chrome control panel with white chickenhead knobs.
"It's another brilliant amp from Laney, which is on a roll with some innovative and highly desirable products at very affordable prices."
5 out of 5
FULL REVIEW: Laney L5-Studio review
6. Orange Crush 35RT
Over the years, Orange has had plenty of time to improve and refine its solid-state Crush practice amp range, culminating in a new series of combos announced at this year's NAMM Show. There's a range of sizes to suit all bedrooms and pockets, topping out with this one, the Crush 35RT...
There was a time when the humble practice amp was a cheap-as-chips second fiddle to its bigger brothers. How things have changed. With digital electronics and effects costing next to nothing and offshore manufacturing keeping costs down, the modern equivalent is often the only amp many players need.
The Crush 35RT is a proper two-channel design, with separate volume controls, an overdrive gain control and a shared EQ, plus a 3.5mm aux input jack, and a handy headphone socket that doubles as a speaker-emulated recording/line out, using Orange's CabSim circuit.
"An amp that's primed for the transition from the bedroom to the stage."
5 out of 5
FULL REVIEW: Orange Crush 35RT review
5. Yamaha THR100HD
When Yamaha came up with the THR combos a few years ago, a lot of guitar players liked the novel 'third amp' concept that drove their design.
You had your big amp for gigs and a smaller one for band rehearsals, so what you needed was a small, unobtrusive, lounge-friendly amp that wouldn't annoy your significant other by taking up valuable floor space.
Add stereo speakers, great onboard effects and a handy USB recording interface, and the THR was a great success. So much so in fact, that lots of THR users started to use the amp for gigs as well, which in turn drove the development of the head you see here – the all-new THR100HD. It's a THR, but this time one that's intended for live use.
"All things considered, the THR100HD could be a game-changer."
5 out of 5
FULL REVIEW: Yamaha THR100HD review
4. Blackstar Artist 15
It's been just eight years since Blackstar's Frankfurt debut. Fast forward to today, and the Brit brand is firmly established as a major global force in amp manufacturing, with an impressive user list and a broad catalogue covering practically any musical need.
As you might expect, high-gain amps feature in abundance for 2016, and Blackstar has added two much-anticipated new Artist Series combos. "The concept behind the Artist Series was to create an affordable boutique amplifier that's within reach of gigging guitarists," explains Blackstar's Joel Richardson.
Drawing on the Artisan's vintage tone and style cues, the Artist combos also reflect modern trends, with dual-channel low-gain hybrid valve/solid-state preamps driving a dual-6L6 output stage, which powers one or two 12-inch Celestion V-Type speakers.
"The Artist 15 looks set to be a new classic."
4.5 out of 5
FULL REVIEW: Blackstar Artist 15 1x12 combo review
3. Peavey 6505 MH
The 6505 Mini Head is based on Peavey's flagship 6505 design, with the same gain structure and similar front panel features.
These include separate rhythm and lead preamp and master volume controls, low, mid and high EQ, a bright switch on the rhythm channel, power stage presence and resonance, together with a footswitchable crunch mode for the rhythm channel.
"Metal and modern-rock players should make a beeline for the 6505 with its huge overdrive capability and lightning pick response."
3.5 out of 5
FULL REVIEW: Peavey 6505 MH review
2. Marshall JCM 25/50 2555X Silver Jubilee Reissue
Way back in 1987, Marshall celebrated 25 years of production, and founder Jim Marshall celebrated 50 years in the music business, by releasing a unique limited- edition head called the 25/50 Silver Jubilee.
Clad in silver vinyl, with an eye-catching chrome control panel, the 25/50 was only sold in its special finish during the anniversary year. Consequently, silver-vinyl originals are now very collectable.
After months of rumour, Marshall finally announced a reissue of the original silver 2555, with the model designation 2555X, earlier this year. And here it is.
"A great reissue of one of the most coveted Marshalls - we'd love to see a 2554 combo version, too. After the perfect Slash tone? Time to live the dream..."
5 out of 5
1. Orange Micro Dark
Almost a decade ago, Orange scored a major worldwide hit with the release of the Tiny Terror, with over 30,000 sold and many more if you add in the subsequent designs.
Beyond any doubt, the Tiny Terror was a major boost to small 'lunchbox' amp popularity, and today practically every manufacturer has one in its catalogue. Now there's a new product from the legendary British manufacturer that threatens to do it all over again and create a new cult for even smaller amps: the Micro Dark head.
"Christmas is coming and the Micro Dark has every chance of being a runaway success. If you want one on your list, then we urge you to act now!"
4.5 out of 5
FULL REVIEW: Orange Micro Dark review