Powerful, Small Combo Amps for Jazz Guitar

I’m going to try to summarize my research on solid state, light-weight combo amps in this post. My interest is amplifiers that are appropriate for jazz and acoustic applications. Size and weight (how portable) are important to me, so I emphasize small and light. For me, this means that the combo amp weighs about 20 pounds or less and his a ten inch or smaller speaker — but these aren’t rigid requirements.

Earlier this year I saw Julian Lage in concert. I was impressed that the only amplifier he used was a model I have, the ZT Lunchbox. He mic’d his amp to play through the house system. It sounded fine. I was impressed that he used the same model amp I own. The important observation is that the ZT Lunchbox is a solid state, high powered, small-sized amplifier that is being used by jazz guitarists.

I’ve noticed other jazz guitarists using smaller, high-powered, solid state amplifiers with some frequency. Some of these amps are designed specifically for jazz guitar. Others are generic acoustic instrument amplifiers while a few try to meet the needs of any guitarist. The amps mostly do best if you prefer a clean sound. If your jazz tone is different (chorus, overdriven, or some other color) then these may not be for you.

I’ve written about this subject previously. For example, I reviewed Solid state Jazz Guitar Amps last year. Before that, I reviewed some popular amps for jazz guitar. The two features that I’m currently interested in are acoustic amplifiers used for jazz guitar and small but powerful solid state amplifiers for guitar. I’m ignoring tube amplifiers and practice amps. There’s nothing wrong with tubes. I sold my Princeton Reverb last year. I miss it. But it was heavier than I cared for even though it was on the small side. It also needs more maintenance than solid state amps. Practice amps are also fine for their purpose. I have a small, older Vox DA5 which is perfect for sitting and practicing in my den.

I’ve grouped the amplifiers by the purpose for which they seemed to be designed. Some amps might fit in more than one group.

A note regarding prices and availability: I’ve rounded the prices up to the nearest value ending in zero (nearest 10). These are the prices I found online during October 2016. Prices change regularly and a merchant that carries a brand today may not carry that brand at a later time. Use this information as a comparative guide to price and a starting point in your research. You may find these same items for less, more or find they are no longer available. The manufacturer may even be out of business since I reviewed them.

Acoustic Amps

Acoustic Amps are designed to not add any color to the sound of your instrument. Some jazz guitarists have found acoustic amps to be a good fit for the sound they want from an archtop guitar. The problem that some have with this amp when in a combo form is due to the speakers more than the amp itself. Acoustic combo amps are designed to have a wide frequency range, often due to the use of tweeters in the speaker cabinet. Those amps designed for jazz guitar that also have tweeters (next group) usually have a switch to cut out the tweeter. Otherwise, the amp sounds too bright for most people’s taste.

The amplifiers I’ve selected as examples are usually those that come closest to meeting my criteria. There are often larger, more powerful and more expensive options available from the same companies if you are interested.

Acoustic Image. Example: Acoustic Image Coda Series 4PLUS – 2 Channel Combo Amplifier

$1500 from Soundpure.com. 10-inch down firing woofer and 5 inch forward facing mid-range. Head (< 4 lbs) can be removed and used separately. Cabinet is less than 22 lbs. 650 watts at 4 ohms with dual outputs for speakers. Includes reverb and effects loop.

AER (Acoustic Electric Research). Example: AER Compact 60/3

$1200 from Amazon. 8-inch speaker. 14.3 lbs. 60 watts. 2 Channels with reverb.

Fishman. Example: Loudbox Mini.

$330 from Amazon. 6.5-inch woofer and 1-inch tweeter. 60 watts with reverb and chorus. 19.7 lbs.

Roland. Example: AC-60 Acoustic Chorus Guitar Amplifier.

$500 from Amazon. Stereo 2 x 30 watts with 2 x 6.5-inch speakers. Includes chorus, reverb, and delay. 21 lbs 10 oz.

Schertler Amps. Example: Schertler Jam 100.

$600 from Amazon. 24.25 lbs. 6-inch woofer, 1-inch tweeter. 80 watts, three channels with reverb.

Guitar Amps designed for Jazz

The biggest difference between a jazz combo amp and the acoustic amps above is the speaker cabinet for jazz either does not have a tweeter or the tweeter can be turned off to reduce the highs. Otherwise, the intent of the two types of amps are similar: produce an accurate tonal representation of the instrument without adding additional color to the sound.

Benedetto. The Carino is a 10-inch, 120-watt jazz guitar amplifier. At 32 lbs it is a bit heavier than what I want to carry around. Price is $1300.

Evans. Evans Amps has an excellent reputation. But like the Benedetto, the lightest Evans combo, the RE300, weighs in at 29 lbs which is on the heavy side for a lightweight amp. It has a 10-inch speaker and 150 watts power. Price is $1400.

Henriksen. The Bud is the lightweight model for those wanting something smaller than the 310 and 312 current models (10 and 12-inch speakers). The Bud has a 6.5-inch speaker in a 9x9x9 inch cabinet. The amp is 120 watts and only weighs 17 lbs. The price is currently $990, reduced from $1100.

JazzKat. I reviewed these amps previously. However, their website is gone and they may now be out of business. I don’t remember the specificiations of their amps but my guess is their ten inch amp is closer to 30 pounds than to 20. Still, the were well made and reviewed amplifiers which you might find used or even new stock in a shop.

Phil Jones is known for their bass amplifiers. It is difficult to find their Guitar Cub series, but they have gotten good reviews. The CUB II AG-150 Acoustic Guitar Amplifier is 100 watts with 2 x 5-inch speakers and weighs only 15 lbs. It has 2 channels but no reverb. Price is $690.

DV Mark. I reviewed the Little Jazz amp from DV Mark previously. It’s 45 watt solid state amp in a 10.5 x 10.5 x 10.3 inch cabinet that weighs 15.2 pounds. There are larger and more powerful models but they also weigh more. The reviews of the amp have been mixed. Users like the sound and most other things about the amp except for the fact that there is a cooling fan. The noise from the fan can be annoying when the amp is played at low volumes. The amp does include reverb.

Guitar Amps for any genre

Acoustic amplifiers are a somewhat specialized niche market. The market for jazz amps is even a smaller than the acoustic market. It is therefore not surprising that amp makers are looking to design products that appeal to a wider range of players and styles. The following amps are all usable by jazz guitarists when set to clean tones but are capable of overdriven tones for blues, rock, and metal guitarists. The goal is to have an amp that any musician can use regardless of the genre they play. One of the features that these guitars try to incorporate is the ability to work with effect pedals. Jazz guitarists don’t care much about pedals but many non-jazz guitarists do care.

Quilter. I’ve reviewed Quiltar guitars previously. They are one of the most innovative and respected makers of solid state guitar amps to have recently entered the market. They have many models that have been used by jazz guitarists, yet they’re marketing is aimed towards rock and other guitarists, not jazzers. The Mach II 1×8 inch model comes closest to meeting the size and weight range I’ve stated. It weighs 19 lbs with 100 watts of power. It is two channels with reverb and available for $900 from Amazon.com.

A new addition to the Quilter lineup is the Aviator Gold 8 inch. This amp has an open back instead of a sealed cabinet. The controls are more familiar to most guitarists than those on the Mach II series. The weight for the 8-inch speaker model is 22 lbs with 100 watts per channel. It’s $700.

ZT Lunchbox. I own this amp and have written about it more than once. I’ve had problems with my amp and I’ve grown more critical of the sound. Ignoring the problems I’ve experienced, the amp sounds adequate for a small sized amp with limited controls, but in my opinion, not great. Still, Julian Lage used it and apparently liked it. It is small and powerful thought not as powerful as their 200 watt claim. That’s likely peak power, not RMS power. The speaker is 6.5 inches in diameter. There are few controls and no true reverb (there is Ambience). It currently is selling for about $450 from Amazon.com. I bought it on sale for much less which made it more desirable. It weights 12.5 pounds.

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