GEAR EXPO 2023: Hand-held amps, floor-based amps, amps that look like bluetooth speakers, take anywhere amps… You name it, we have all sorts of amps in all sorts of shapes and sizes rounded up here. Plug into these and play and practice wherever you wish in 2023.
At one time, the best guitar amp you could hope for was a cumbersome item you either left in one place or employed some muscle to shift for you. Now, you can take them anywhere, they can be thrown into a handbag - or indeed look like a handbag - but still kick out the kind of sound something ten times the size would be proud of.
Welcome to the world of guitar amps, 2023 style.
Positive Grid Spark GO
We loved Positive Grid's Spark 40, citing it as "the ultimate at-home amp" in our review. And we also rated the company's Spark Mini with another five stars calling it "a fantastic sounding mini modelling amp".
So Spark GO has a lot to live up to, but looks like it might just do it.
We've tried an early version of this new five-watt modeling amp and can confirm Positive Grid have pulled it off big time with this tiny unit. The Spark GO is an ultra-compact practice amp that's going to surprise a lot of players with how big it sounds. The tones we experienced are expansive and rich in ways an amp this tiny should have no business delivering.
This is one for taking anywhere you go, with a robust rubber casing, and is perfect for your gigbag or rucksack.
You can position Spark GO in two ways: flat for omnidirectional sound with its passive speaker underneath, or upright for a louder and more focused response. Plug your headphones in for quiet practice. We even tried it flat facing up at us while sitting on our leg while we played electric and electro-acoustic and it worked out very well indeed.
Like the Spark 40 and Mini, the GO can stream music via Bluetooth and you can jam along with your guitar too. It can also store four presets for your tones on the amp itself – the Spark GO features all the same superb Positive Grid BIAS Engine electric, acoustic, and bass amp and effects models as its big bros too. That's 33 amps models and 43 effects.
The GO also includes the same Spark App connectivity via iOS and Android as the other Spark models; which means Auto Chords to analyse and transcribe chords for millions of songs in real-time, access to ToneCloud's huge library of tones to download and use as presets, and Smart Jam using AI to build a backing track. You can also upload video of your playing from the Spark App and use Spark GO as an audio interface for recording. That's a lot for a little amp!
Spark GO retails for $149, but there's a special preorder offer on right now for $109 / £89 . There's more info at positivegrid.com.
Blackstar Amped 3
Blackstar's superlative Dept. 10 Amped series has been bolstered with Amped 3, a 100-watt floor-based guitar amp that offers mighty headroom and gain, all within a pedalboard-friendly unit you can throw in a backpack.
As with previous amps in the series, this has everything you need except a speaker. But, of course, if you are going direct when playing live or recording, there is Blackstar’s proprietary CabRig speaker simulation tech to make it happen.
With its three Clean, Crunch and Overdrive channels, each with two voicings, the Amped 3 is designed to go from sparkling cleans to high-gain metal guitar tones.
The Clean channel offers Warm and Bright voicings, Crunch has medium-gain Crunch and a punchier Super Crunch voicing, while the Overdrive channel has a super-tight and focused high-gain rhythm voicing and a full-bore voicing for going full metal jacket with your electric guitar tone. It has controls for Bass, Middle, Treble, Presence plus Blackstar’s patented ISF control.
With the Amped 3, there are options, and plenty of them. But at heart is the idea is that it offers an authentic tube amp feel from what is a digital/Class D hybrid design.
Amped 3 also ships with studio-quality reverb with a freeze function. There’s a footswitchable boost that can be programmed pre or post and has its own level control. And you have all the connections you need to integrate your pedalboard or multi-effects unit, with an effects loop that can be switched from series to parallel via the accompanying Architect software, and a pair of auxiliary 9V DC outputs that are inevitably going to come in useful or life-saving in a live scenario.
With MIDI, USB-C, stereo TRS and XLR mono DI connections, you have pretty much everything you need for stage or studio.
The Dept. 10 Amped 3 is available now, priced £499 / $599. See Blackstar for more details.
Rather than including old school features like knobs and buttons, Fender has integrated all the controls on a very clean looking maple interface on the top of the unit. Treble, Bass and Volume controls are denoted on three lines; slide your finger along the ridges of the interface to adjust the EQ or volume.
The RIFF is packing 60 watts, and while it looks like it might be a simple speaker setup, there are six custom-tuned drivers secreted behind the black grille cloth. Around the back of the unit you’ll find a 1/4” input for your instrument, the on/off switch, a 3.5mm aux input, and a USB-C charging port. At full charge you will get about 26 to 30 hours of wireless playback. And there’s an aux-in cable included with the speaker.
RIFF will auto-EQ itself to whatever room you have it in - simply download the accompanying smartphone app and it’ll do the rest. It also fits within the wider digital eco-system Fender is creating, so you can pair it with your Mustang Micro for more tone-shaping options.
Finally, there’s a Party mode to make the decibel limiter nervous; in this mode you can connect it with up to 100 RIFF speakers.
The speaker ships with a carry strap, and it is designed to be dust and splash proof. It is also designed to confuse significant others and flatmates that it is just a nicely designed little home audio speaker, so this could well be the practice amp option we can keep in the living room 24/7.
The Riff is priced £429 / $469, and it is available now. See Fender for more details.
Laney Ironheart Loud
Laney's Ironheart Loudpedal is a compact 60-watt twin-channel guitar amp in pedal form that is packed with features and yet super affordable. Indeed, you might well pay more for a lot of overdrive pedals, and this… Well, it’s an entire amp, all you need to drive a cabinet.
Not that it looks it. The Loudpedal is no bigger than a twofer deluxe drive pedal. Each channel has it’s own Volume and Gain dials, with a mini-toggle on Channel 1 to switch between Bright, Natural and Dark voicings. Channel 2, meanwhile, has a three-way toggle for Clean, Rhythm and Lead voicings.
The red knob is a boost. Simply dial it in, 1 to 10, then activate it via its own dedicated footswitch. Just the thing to push your sound for a solo.
Each channel shares a passive three-band EQ. LEDs light the way to let you know whaAround the rear of the amp you will find a transformer isolated effects loop so you can integrate it with your pedalboard while also mounting it on said ‘board.
There is a balanced XLR output with switchable ground lift and switchable analogue speaker emulation for sending your signal direct to a guitar audio interface for recording.
There is an 1/8” headphones output to facilitate silent practice or monitoring, and an aux input so you can play along to external audio - as Laney says, this is a practise anywhere device - and there’s an 8 ohm speaker output, too.
While it designed to be primarily a fly-rig, a none-more-portable option for the player on the go, it can also be incorporated into a conventional rig. You can use it as a twin-channel drive or boost pedal and hit the front end of another amp with it.
All this weighs a shade just over 1kg, which could be your entire rig if needs be. And this being an Ironheart Foundry series amplifier, there’ll be no shortage of gain.
The size and form factor obviously positions this as an amp option for those on the go, but as to kind of guitar players who’d enjoy the tones, it’s something of a blank canvas, with multiple voicings per channel, allied to the boost, making for a versatile set of tones to play with.
At £189 street in the UK, and a $299 list price in the US, it is a cheap amp option by anyone’s money, and we’d imagine that more than a few guitarists might want to grab one as a backup for live performances.
The Ironheart Loudpedal is out now. It is, as Laney says, loud, and for more details and pics, head over to Laney.
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