GEAR EXPO SUMMER 2022: The lockdowns and isolation periods around the world of the last few years have spurned new demands for the guitarist looking to improve their home setup, or even take up the instrument for the first time.
It makes sense then that most of the best new guitar amplifiers emerging in 2022 have a distinct slant towards practice and/or portability. From Positive Grid’s Spark Mini to Blackstar’s new St James range, the amps here tell a story that takes from home use through to the tentative steps back to touring life…
Harley Benton DNAfx GiT Mobile
This handy little mobile amp might look familiar to fans of Fender’s wildly popular Mustang Micro. It borrows 14 amp models from the firm’s DNAfx GiT Pro floor unit and also throws in 14 effects, including reverb, delay and modulation.
In addition, you can use it as an audio interface (via USB-C connection), connect external audio via Bluetooth 5.0 and offers a five hour battery life. It’s roughly half the price of Fender’s unit, so it will be interesting to see just how much tonal bang you get for your buck, but Harley Benton usually has good form in that area.
Read more about the Harley Benton DNAfx GiT Mobile
Blackstar Carmen Vandenberg CV10
£679 / $799
The second signature amp for Bones UK guitarist Carmen Vandenberg is a 10-watt take on her larger CV30 model. It’s got a 12” Celestion Seventy-80 speaker, a 6L6 tube in the power section and an ECC83 in the preamp.
The result is a ‘hot’ US-style combo, ideal for blues and heavy rock styles, but one that reportedly still plays very nicely with pedals, as per Vanderberg’s preference. There’s a built-in footswitchable boost and drive, an onboard digital reverb and it’s beautifully-finished, too, in blue-green tweed Tolex with gold piping.
Read more about the Blackstar Carmen Vandenberg CV10
The premium Super Lead Overdrive 100-watt tube amp is reborn as a 30-watt solid-state mini head and at a fraction of the cost of its predecessor.
Mike Soldano promises the same “cascade of gain stages”, plus a choice of Normal and Deep voicings and Crunch and Overdrive modes. It also captures the SLO look, but it has a 4 lb weight and a price tag of just $249.
Read more about the Soldano Mini-SLO
Vox Custom Series AC15 Rich Blue Vinyl
Call us predictable: every year Vox releases a limited edition finish for a selection of AC models and every year we fall for it. But a Vox AC15 or AC10 in Rich Blue Vinyl is nonetheless an appealing page.
The inside remains unaltered, meaning you can expect iconic chiming mids and the classic 12AX7/EL84 tube-based build, for which the amp is renowned.
Read more about the. Vox Custom Series AC15 Rich Blue Vinyl
Magnatone Starlite 5
£1,299 / $1,299
Magnatone’s builds are usually renowned for their stunning tones and being loud as all hell, but the single-channel Starlite is the brand’s first attempt at a lower wattage combo.
The result is an all-valve Class A, 5-watt combo with a 6V6 power tube and a 12AX7 in the preamp. It’s great for getting those glorious tweed tones at useable home volumes, while the tone control moves things between those classic ‘50s and ‘60s Fender builds, for added flexibility.
Read more about the Magnatone Starlite 5
Positive Grid Spark Mini
The original Spark 40 proved wildly popular, combining thousands of tones from Positive Grid’s BIAS engine with the benefits of a physical control set. Now the Spark Mini packs it all into a punchy, portable package.
There’s also an eight-hour rechargeable battery, bluetooth audio streaming, four programmable preset slots and a set of 2” stereo speakers. It also works as an audio interface, so you can quickly record when inspiration strikes.
Read our full review of the Positive Grid Spark Mini
Blackstar St James range
£999 / 1099 | €1199 / 1299 | $1199 / 1299
Getting back to their roots as valve-amp innovators, Blackstar’s St James range offers a powerful, 50-watt boutique-style build in a far lighter chassis – clocking in around half the weight of the Fender or Marshall equivalent.
There are two choices within the range: the high-gain, US-style 6L6 (think EVH, or MESA-style tones) and a low gain pedal-friendly EL-34-based model that offers bags of headroom. They’re available in head and combo format but you can’t go wrong with either, though, to be honest. Both received five stars in our recent review…
Read our full Blackstar St James review
Line 6 Catalyst 100
£465 / $399
The Catalyst, as with all Line 6 products, deftly treads the line between modelling tech and traditional usability. It offers six onboard amp models, with dedicated EQ, master volume and gain controls, plus boost and reverb sections, meaning there’s plenty of control at easy access
The original amp voicings and onboard effects have been created using the same tech behind Line 6’s well-received Helix gear. You can even load two voicings simultaneously and switch between them. There’s also a power switch that ranges from 1/2W to 100W, covering all applications from home to the stage.
Read more about the Line 6 Catalyst
Fender Frontman 20G
£109 / $129
Fender has a long, proud history making beginner-friendly practice combos. The Frontman 20G adds a 20-watt version of the 10G to the brand’s entry-level line-up. There’s an aux input, a headphone jack and two channels, with independent volume controls. It’s simple, effective and perfect as a first amp option, with an appealing price to match.
Read more about the Fender Frontman 20G
Orange Marcus King MK Ultra signature head
£2,499 / $3,299
Marcus King has been granted the honour of having his name on the first Orange head to be designed and made in the US. The iconic British amp firm’s MK Ultra, is a hand-wired, 30-watt valve head that is based around a pair of 12AX7 preamp tubes and a pair of 6L6GC tubes in the power amp section.
It‘s a beautifully stripped-down, minimalist affair, offering just three controls on the front panel, including Deep (bass), Volume and Sing (treble). As such it‘s described as a dream pedal platform and Orange brags that its custom voicing makes it “impossible to dial in a bad sound”.
Read more about the Orange Marcus King MK Ultra
Blackstar JJN 3
£79 / $79.99
Another signature box, Jared James Nichols collaboration with Blackstar is a jazzed-up take on the amp firm’s popular Fly 3 portable practice amp. The limited edition JJN 3 offers two-channel, three-watt build with an MP3 input and a speaker emulated output.
There’s also a built-in delay effect, EQ control and ‘Blues Power’ overdrive channel. It’s all wrapped-up in Nichols signature graphics, featuring a lightning bolt decal on the speaker grille and beige control knobs. It’s a package that punches above its weight and is hard to argue with for the price.
Read more about the Blackstar JJN 3