NAMM 2018: With another sunny Anaheim in the bag, we now take time to look back at our highlights from the show, and this year’s amp cohort deserve particular attention.
There was a wider range of amps than we can perhaps remember, with competition in lower-wattage arenas set to get notably fiercer, with new offerings from PRS, Marshall and Orange all delivering impressive, player-focused feature sets at reasonable prices.
Innovation was in abundance, too, with a totally wireless combo from Boss, a Nutube-equipped multi-channel Vox beast, and Positive Grid’s downsized BIAS Mini. Higher-wattage, pro-level heads were also in abundance, with Friedman, Two-Rock and Victory all delivering the goods.
Head on through the gallery for a closer look and more info on this year’s must-have backline…
For more of NAMM 2018’s finest, head over to MusicRadar’s best of NAMM awards.
WINNER: PRS MT 15
Alter Bridge guitarist Mark Tremonti secured his first signature amp this year, and as he and Paul Reed Smith testified to us, it was a real labour of love.
In-booth demos confirmed it has tone in spades, too: a 6L6-fuelled 15W output that spans snappy Twin-style cleans and boutique distortion unheard of at its $649/£499 price tag.
Marshall Origin series
The Brit amp legend delivered something fans have been clamouring for: a range of single-channel heads and combos that hark back to its JTM/Plexi heritage.
Designed for pedalboard players, the EL34-powered amps offer two preamp voicings, power switching and a tilt control, which offers tones similar to jumping multiple inputs on original Marshall amps.
Positive Grid BIAS Mini
Not content with giving BIAS Amp a major overhaul for its sequel, Positive Grid also brought new downsized pedals and, most enticingly, BIAS Mini heads.
Available in guitar and bass incarnations, the amps deliver 300 watts, weigh just over five pounds and boast 16 onboard presets, as well as full BIAS Amp integration. Throw in the $799 price tag, and it’s hard to beat for sheer versatility.
Friedman BE-50 Deluxe
When amp designer to the stars Dave Friedman dubs it "the best amp I’ve ever made", you know it’s got to be good, and the BE-50 Deluxe certainly delivers.
Combining his BE and HBE circuits, and the cleans of the Buxom Beauty, it promises to be one seriously versatile head. Accordingly, it’s $3,499, but this is pro-quality stuff.
Vox MVX150 Nutube head
We first spied it at NAMM 2016, and now a fully featured Nutube head is finally a reality, as Vox launches what it’s calling the “next generation” of tube amps, with the MVX150 head, combo and cab.
Packing a Nutube in both the preamp and power amp, the 150W MVX amps deliver two channels, which promise to span pure cleans to modern high-gain.
Besides full EQ and various tonal modes per channel, there’s also an onboard digital reverb, wet-only output, emulated line out, plus a bias adjustment knob per channel, and overall power level control, taking the amp down from 150W to 1/2, 1/5, 1/30, 1/150 and mute.
Markbass Marcus Miller Little Marcus
Italian bass specialists Markbass collaborated with session king Marcus Miller once again for the Little Marcus bass head, available in a variety of formats.
Key among its features are two EQs: EQ1 delivers five pots (including ultra-low and high-mid), while EQ2 promises old-school tones and slap-ready sounds via the Millerizer control.
Victory VX100 Super Kraken
We loved the original Rabea Massaad-developed VX The Kraken, and for 2018, Victory has supercharged the format into a 100W behemoth.
New features include a footswitchable clean mode and Preamp Focus to add “juice and cut” to all modes, as well as MIDI switching capability and a 30W low-power mode.
Orange Brent Hinds Terror
Boasting two channels and a new gain structure, the Mastodon guitarist’s take on Orange’s ever-popular Terror format is seriously heavy.
Power switching from 15 to 7, 1 and 0.5W is onboard, taking the EL84-fuelled output down to bedroom levels, while there are some ace visual touches all over.
Okay, so it was actually unveiled at CES a couple of weeks before NAMM, but Boss’s Katana-Air marks the world’s first totally wireless guitar amp system: that means no power cables and no guitar cables.
A built-in wireless system boasts motion-sensitive technology, so it knows when your guitar is being played, while five amp sounds, Bluetooth playback and battery operation are also included.
Blackstar Unity Bass Pro
The Unity Bass Pro marks Blackstar’s first foray into the bass amp market, and boy, do they pack a punch.
Besides a range of outputs, the amps pack three power amp stage voicings; overdrive, distortion and fuzz tones; plus a compressor, chorus and sub-octave - throw in the footswitch, and you can ditch your pedalboard.
DV Mark Smart Multiamp
With a “next generation processor”, the Smart Multiamp integrates with mobile devices for parameter editing, with Bluetooth, USB and Wi-Fi connections.
From the front panel alone, 12 types of clean, crunch and lead are available, while many more user and artist presets will be up for download upon release.
Two-Rock Bloomfield Drive
The brand of choice for discerning blues players, Two-Rock launched the Bloomfield Drive, a two-channel cascading gain stage head or combo with 100/50W or 40/20W power scaling.
Footswitchable lead and tone bypass functions are available, while slate grey and tube reverb make for one seriously classy package.
The Black Country amp vets unleashed a further downsized version of its flexible Ironheart line, the Ironheart-SLS.
Promising to be “the ultimate fly-rig”, the SLS packs 300 watts of power, switchable down to 60 watts - ECC83 tubes are onboard, as is USB connectivity, updated cab simulation and enhanced pull EQ shifts. We have high hopes for this one.
Randall Satan 50
YouTube icon Ola Englund certainly knows tone, and Randall was pleased to grant him a second version of his no-nonsense Satan head.
Its 50W offspring features two channels with independent tone controls and boost, plus presence and depth controls, and several FX loop configurations.
Fender Hot Rod DeVille 212 IV
Along with the Deluxe, Blues Junior and Pro Junior, Fender revamped the Hot Rod DeVille for 2018.
Based on player feedback, the DeVille now features a modified preamp for “smoother overdrive, enhanced note definition and smoother-sounding spring reverb”.