They’re out there. Decent well-build reliable great sounding secondhand valve amps for less than £500. I think of them as the Hot Rod Deluxe alternative, and a great alternative they are. You could do a lot worse than get one of these as your workhorse. ‘Handwired’ amps from the 70s and early 80s can be had quite cheaply and are infintely repairable and very robust. Once you get one sorted out it will run and run and put up with far more drops off the back of the van than any modern PCB amp.
The best second-hand bargain I know is the Rivera-period (80s-ish) Fender Concert – the one in Blackface trim usually labelled ‘Concert II’. This has a beautiful Fender clean sound and, footswitch-ably, an excellent smooth ‘American-style’ overdrive. They’re point-to-point circuit board wired – possibly the last ever Fender amp to be built this way – and include good things like a valve effects loop, and come in combo and in head form. Cool, cool amps, so much better than a Hot Rod they’re in a different universe, and cheaper too. And they’ll last forever. Quite a few of them around in UK 240v versions.
The 80s Super Champ is another wonderful little amp from Paul Rivera’s golden period, but then you knew that.
Silverface Princetons and Princeton II amps are lovely but you’d need to mic one up in most bands. Starting to get pricey.
I’ve been hesitating about mentioning this next one. Maybe I should just keep schtum, take out a second mortgage and buy every one that comes up. But because it’s you, I’ll tell you. You know how much people will pay for a JCM800? Well, just before they made them, in the late 70s, Marshall were putting out the last of the JMP master volume amps. Lovely beasts, absolutely classic Marshall rock amps that really do make ‘That Sound’. There are quite a few 50w two-speaker combos about, and some heads too. Basically they are JCM800s. It still seems to be possible to pick up a master volume Marshall combo from the late 70s for about £400. Some twerp must have dissed them on the internet or something. Anyhow, go and buy one, do. However, be careful not to buy an Artiste instead (fairly pointless amp from the same period that looks a bit similar).
Going back in time the Carlsbro 50 Top (not the reissue, don’t know about that) is a great-sounding simple reliable well built amp. Let me give yours a little tweak and we’ll get some fantastic plexi-type tones out of it.
If like many sensible people you’ve decided you want a clean loud amp with a good valve sound and you’ll use pedals to get the rest, the Selmer Treble’n Bass will not let you down and is superbly built. Early Fenderish-styled ones are a bit dear, but the one with a full-depth aluminium faceplate and the knobs spread all over it is still quite cheap. Throoughly recommended. Nice compact size too.
Want to pay a bit more for a new amp but find that the reviews in Guitar Porn Monthly tend to repeat one particular brand name again and again, and you went into *****’s and tried one and it sounded like shit? Well yours is not a unique experience. My favourite new amp has a really lovely clean sound and also a nice crunchy overdrive. It is…the VHT Pittbull. Silly name I know, makes it sound like it’ll chew your head off but actually it’s a nice, civilised, very versatile amp. They’ve been trying for years to make an amp that does a great Fender clean and a nice Marshall crunch; this is the nearest they’ve got.
Oh, one more thing I’m inspired to add as I move this article from my blog to the main site: the best value I have seen for a brand new amp is… the Epiphone Blues Custom 30. All-tube, 2 x 6L6 30watt output, made in China, nice modern simple circuit design, not a clone of anything as far as I can see but a good design from scratch, very good build quality (PCB but it’s a nice thick one with wide-spaced traces), Two 12″ Eminence guitar speakers. It’s 30 not 50 watt because the 6L6s are cathode biased, giving a bit more softness and compression than you’d get from a classic Fender. Conversion to EL34s is possible quite easily for a crunchier overdrive tone. Under £400 the last time I saw one new – don’t know if they are still current production but I do recommend this sweet gigging amp which for a mass-produced machine gets everything right, in my view.
There you go, don’t say I never tell you nuffink.