This year we changed our approach to recognise the growing demands for flexibility from players and the market's response. And the fact the pedal amps we've included are to all intents and purposes guitar amps, not effects pedals. Even so, the results have been surprising.
1. Universal Audio UAFX Dream '65
Yes, your number one is a pedal amp. No it doesn't have a headphone output, and it's another UAFX pedal without MIDI. But what it does have are the best modelled Fender Deluxe Reverb tones and feel we've experienced. Actually these are some of the very best simulated valve amp tones we've heard anywhere. And for £349 that was clearly an attractive draw for you voters too.
While UA honed in with its three amp emulators, the six onboard speaker sims and three boost modes here upped the versatility alongside the signature features of spring reverb and vibrato.
These Fender Black Panel tones are a showcase of UA's abilities and just how far modelling has come in recent years.
2. Fender Tone Master Princeton Reverb
Clearly, people love Fender tones here – and who can blame them? Especially when Fender themselves are offering them without the back-straining weight and valve anxiety. The latest in Fender's Tone Master series delivered as you'd expect.
The valve Vs digital debates can be distracting – if it sounds and feels good to you, who cares? But here it's much more open to a comparison. And though it's certainly the cheaper option compared to the valve Princeton, this is a pricey solid state option.
3. Victory V4 The Jack
British companies Blackstar, Orange and Victory have proved diversification doesn't distill their traditional amp offerings. The latter company were keen to add v4 preamp valve pedals to their line up early on and that have evolved into the full shebang with pre and power amp sections in the V4 pedals.
This year saw the V4 line upgraded with Two notes DynIR technology adding an improved digital element to the valve equation, alongside Victory's own Valve Response Circuit and a headphones output for an enhanced home 'silent practice' experience.
The Jack - formerly called The Countess – helps to fill the void left by Marshall's apparent lack of interest in the pedal amp market so far. A tube-driven preamp (trio of CV4014s and a single EC900) feeds into a 180-watt Class D power section here.
4. Positive Grid Spark Mini
This is up there with our favourite gear releases of the year because when we had it for our review, it made us play guitar at home more. And have more fun while doing it.
The fact it's so compact and mobile (with a rechargeable battery that's compatible with your USB-C phone adaptor) means you don't think twice about taking it where you want to play. It also sounds far bigger than we expected with a punchy and bright character that's full of clarity and addictive.
Backed by Positive Grid's sonic armoury of BIAS modelled amp and effect tones, it's impossible not to find sounds to inspire you and start jamming along to your favourite songs via Bluetooth. An amazing practice and travel amp before you even consider the learning features of the Spark amp.
5. PRS HDRX 20
The PRS HDRX line is based on close study in 2018 from Paul Reed Smith and company amp designer Doug Sewell of the 1969 100-watt Marshall Super Lead Hendrix reportedly used at the Woodstock Festival. Now it's available in this 20-watt model.
"It’s a fairly straightforward build with the right parts and circuit," said Paul Reed Smith of the series. "We kept historic specs where it made sense, and we made substitutions based on availability, safety, and experience."
The high-mid gain boost here also adds more of the 'snarl and chime' of the original to proceedings. A low wattage Plexi-style recreation of a legend's amp for under $1,000 certainly seems like the perfect match for the SE Silver Sky also released this year.
6. Blackstar St James EL34
The best guitar amp Blackstar has released to date? We're going to say yes. It combines everything the company do well to create a superb amp for clean and classic rock and blues gain, with some new USPs that are appreciated.
It's the lightest 50-watt valve combo we've ever tried with the added flexibility of Cab Rig speaker modelling for recording direct.
7. Soldano SLO Mini
Like the Positive Grid Spark Mini, the SLO's solid-state debut proved how much fun you can have with a practice amp that doesn't break the bank. A legendary amp shrunk down into affordable territory.
8. Boss GX-100
Multi-effects pedal OG's Boss made their presence felt in a big way with the GX-100 this year; with its first touch screen interface on a processor and a feast of amp and cab models alongside more effects than you'll ever need.
8. Universal Audio UAFX Ruby '63
'Oh Ruby, don't take your love to town,' sang Kenny Rogers. Well how about taking two legendary AC30 models anywhere in a compact amp pedal? Joint eighth in your votes and again, UA and its designer James Santiago knocked it out of the park here with the most convincing models of the legendary '61 and '63 Top Boost we've heard.
Are they going to do Marshall next? We can hope!
9. Fender Pro Junior IV SE
The Pro Junior IV takes the little wonder Fender tube amp combo format into a new era with a 10-inch Special Design Fender speaker. A black Tolex 15-watter with a pair of EL84 and 12AX7 valves and one tone and volume control. Simple but oh so effective.
10. Line 6 Catalyst 100
Pedal, practice, valve, solid-state and multi-effects… the range in this list says a lot about how versatile tastes are and the options to cater for them now. But here's a good 'ol 100-watt… modelling amp?
From one of the masters of the art, no less. Helix saw Line 6 affirm its rightful place back at the forefront of the field and for us the Catalyst 100 used its HX modelling with a more streamlined approach to help face down some of the snobbery that surrounds relatively affordable digital modelling combos.
Line 6 clearly wanted to address the issue of option paralysis that can accompany modelling amps too; honing in on six new amp models in a two-channel amp here.