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. Heavy things though.
The 80s Super Champ is another wonderful little amp from Paul Rivera’s golden period, but then you knew that. Over £500 these days sadly.
Going back in time the Carlsbro 50 Top (the 70s amp not the shortlived reissue, don’t know about that, it’s probably fine) 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. Thoroughly recommended. Nice compact size too.
Coming more up to date – a real bargain: the Epiphone Blues Custom 30. All-tube, 2 x 6L6 30watt output, made in China in the early 2000s, 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.
A real left-fielder: how do you fancy a 15 watt 2 x EL84 112 combo, built in Chicago in 1962-4 for export to Europe with a UK mains input, all hand wired and pure genuine point to point, with some nice old wax paper coupling caps etc, and an original Jensen speaker? Bias-modulating trem like a Vibrolux? Two channels, two inputs each, can be jumpered, breaks up sweetly on 6 or 7? I am talking about the Harmony 307x. These come up from time to time, and make a lovely – and cheaper – alternative to a Blues Junior (no reverb though) and are quite easy to bring up to scratch. Keep an eye out, there aren’t many well-kept secrets left but this is one of them. At the moment you could get one for under £400.
There you go, don’t say I never tell you nuffink.