NAMM 2019: Ears shaken, bones rattled, eargasms delivered - it was another vintage year for guitar amps at NAMM, and ahead you’ll find our highlights.
In many ways, this was the year of the downsized head, with Friedman, Marshall and Peavey all shrinking 100-watt designs to more practical formats.
But there was innovation aplenty from the likes of Kemper and Boss, while Orange, Fender and Laney leaned towards the vintage side of proceedings.
Head on through for our picks from the show...
WINNER: Marshall Studio Series
The Brit amp legend shrunk its iconic Plexi and JCM designs into 20-watt heads this year, adding power switching and speaker-emulated line outs into the mix.
The Studio Vintage pictured above offers High Treble and Normal channels and four inputs, just like the original - as any seasoned Plexi player will know, jumpering the inputs via patch cables allows you to blend the channels.
Friedman JJ Jr
A 20-watt version of Jerry Cantrell’s all-powerful signature head is a guaranteed formula for success, with two channels, a series effects loop and a cabinet-emulated DI out.
Dave Friedman says it’s designed to emulate the tones of the full-sized amp, and with his tonal knowhow, we’re inclined to believe him.
Orange TremLord 30
A 30W 1x12 all-valve guitar combo with built-in valve-driven tremolo and reverb the TremLord is Orange’s “most vintage guitar amplifier ever”.
It’s packing EL84 valves, promising plenty of clean headroom for pedals, plus a valve tremolo with two footswitchable speeds, and a two-spring reverb tank.
There’s also a post-tremolo effects loop, specially designed Laboce 12” speaker and Headroom (30/15W)/Bedroom (2W/1W) power switching.
Blackstar JJN-20R Jared James Nichols
Blackstar had a storming NAMM, with a monster five announcements, but none more so than this signature head for show favourite Jared James Nichols.
An EL84-fuelled head, the JJN-20R features clean and overdrive channels, plus a footswitchable BLUESPOWER voicing, as well as power switching, built-in reverb, plus USB and XLR DI outs. That Racing Green finish is awfully purdy, too.
The Periphery mastermind’s second outing with Peavey is essentially a 20W, scaled-down build of the pricey Invective.120.
It's equipped with EL84 power and 12AX7 preamp tubes, and staggering array of features for its size, including footswitchable Tight, Gate and Boost functions, MSDI XLR output, USB plus power switching down to 5W or 1W.
Boss Waza Tube Amp Expander
Okay, so this was announced back in November, but this ingenious command centre was on show for the first time at NAMM, and turned a number of heads, as Boss seeks to modernise the tube amp experience.
There’s a host of functionality packed onboard, including a variable reactive load, active analog power stage, mic’d cab sim, IR loader and USB recording interface. There are also compressor, delay and reverb effects, with the option of deep editing via software, plus a wide range of connections and the ability to store 10 onboard setups.
Supro Blues King 12
Finally bringing Supro’s traditionally high price tags down to the mid-range, the Blues King 12 is a 6L6-powered, Class A all-tube amp with footswitchable boost and gain modes, which utilise cascading FETs to deliver “face-melting levels of distortion and sustain”, according to Supro.
There’s also a three-band EQ, analogue spring reverb, plus an effects loop and line output, while a custom-made BK12 speaker projects the sounds.
Two-Rock Silver Sterling Signature
The boutique blues favourites unveiled an update to its revered Sterling head this year, adding half-power switching using the company’s own output transformer design, which promises no performance loss.
There are also footswitchable tone stack and high/low filter switches, while the whole package is available in 150W and 100W guises.
Fender ‘62 Princeton Chris Stapleton Edition
The Grammy-winning singer-songwriter refreshed the legendary ‘brownface’ ‘62 Princeton this year, featuring the same hand-wired 6G2 circuit, adding an Eminence 12" Special Design 'CS' speaker and an output tube-biased tremolo circuit.
Laney LA100SM Supermod
This faithful recreation of the original ’60s LA Supergroup adds a master volume, allowing players to use the LA100SM at non-ear-splitting volumes.
Like the original, it features are hi and low bass and treble inputs, plus a three-band EQ and presence control.
The profiling pros kept this one quiet, but two years of R&D have led to the Kemper Kabinet, designed for use exclusively with the Profiler.
The 1x12 cab features the company’s Kemper Kone to imprint speaker characteristics onto a single 12” speaker, with switchable full-range and imprinted speaker sounds.
Taurus Stomp-Head 1.VT
The Stomp-Head 1.VT is the Polish co’s most compact pedal tube amp yet. Designed to capture a ‘vintage’ sound, the 12AX7-driven amp features a three-band EQ, as well as presence, gain and volume controls, plus a footswitchable boost.
A speaker cab-enabled line out, effects loop and power switching are also included.
IK Multimedia Micro Amp
While it looks rather similar to a certain other manufacturer’s micro amp, IK’s effort has the added bonus of audio interfacing capability to send the signal to a mobile device or computer.
In regular amp mode, it features three channels - clean, drive and lead - with bass, mid, treble and gain controls, and can output 15W plugged in, or 7.5W in battery mode.