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Guitar pedals are the most obvious choice for guitarists to use when looking to shape and create certain tones. Unfortunately, if the right amp isn’t used, the results can be somewhat lackluster, and maybe even unpredictable at times.
If you’re somebody that uses a wide range of different pedals, finding the ideal amp is absolutely crucial. Take a look and consider the following pedal-friendly amps when you are doing research for your next amplifier.
Roland JC-120 – Best Overall
This 2×12” 120W combo amplifier is a total beast, but it’s a little bit different than most other amps. The most obvious difference here is the fact that the JC-120 uses solid-state technology as opposed to vacuum tubes.
At its core, the JC-120 has 2 separate channels with a pair of 60W drivers for the stereo speaker setup. If you’re familiar with 2-channel Fender amps, this will feel relatively familiar.
Both channels have a low-gain and high-gain input, a brightness button, volume control, and a 3-band EQ. The second channel has expanded capabilities, primarily with the addition of effects.
When using the 2nd channel, you’ll have a 1-knob dial for both distortion and spring reverb levels.
If you know anything at all about the JC-120, it’s that it has an amazing chorus and vibrato unit. Only one can be engaged at a time, with basic control knobs for speed and depth.
At the back, you’ll find a stereo line-out as well as the send and return for an effects loop. Roland has gone the extra mile in offering footswitch capabilities to engage every onboard effect at will.
The JC-120 is truly built for the regular stage performer. It even comes with casters so that the amp can be easily moved without necessarily having to carry it.
Plus, today’s current JC-120 has the same vintage aesthetic design as the original models. This design is what makes it so readily identifiable to any audience member who is vaguely familiar with the amp.
What’s So Great About The Roland JC-120?
Out of any amplifier on this list, the JC-120 probably does clean tones the best. Its use of solid-state technology ensures that there is no natural distortion present at any volume.
However, that does mean that, if you prefer to utilize an amp’s natural breakup tendencies, this won’t be for you. In fact, you’d probably find the JC-120 to be a little too sterile for your tastes.
With that being said, because of its pristine cleans, the JC-120 is extremely suited for pedalboards of any size. You’ll be able to dial in consistent settings that do not change, no matter what volume is being played.
For pure pedal platformers, the JC-120 is almost untouchable for this simple fact alone. When you consider everything else it comes with, the JC-120 becomes hard to ignore, even for tube amp players.
Of course, let’s not forget that the amp’s stereo speaker configuration is perfectly suited for massive sounds. The onboard chorus effect is one of the most iconic choruses of all time, particularly because of the stereo setup.
Having the ability to turn the onboard effects on or off with a footswitch is an invaluable addition. You won’t have to fiddle with the amp face, which is almost impractical and unrealistic in most situations.
Is The JC-120’s Cost Justifiable?
The real question you will need to consider revolves around its price. For a solid-state amplifier, this is not a cheap amp by any stretch of the imagination.
Is it worth paying for a brand new JC-120 when used models from years past are half the price? This is a question that only you can answer, especially after trying them out firsthand.
Part of the dilemma is that very few things have changed with the amp’s construction. Even models from the mid-1980s will have very similar features.
However, this lack of change is simply because the JC-120 has had a winning formula from the start. Still though, it might be hard to justify buying a brand new version when considering this.
What I can say is that the JC-120 is probably one of the most durable options you could opt for. Tube technology can be incredibly fragile and something like the JC-120 will hold up easier under touring conditions.
No matter what route you choose, the JC-120 will be a dependable amp that will hang around for years. This really is an amplifier that you could pass on to the next generation.
What’s even better is that it will operate for them in 40 years just like it would for you today.
Fender '65 Twin Reverb – Best Premium
If you can spend a little extra, consider going with the Fender ’65 Twin Reverb (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon). You’ll want to take a closer look at this if you’ve been searching for a pedal-friendly tube amp.
The '65 Twin Reverb is a modern reproduction of the classic vintage circuitry that has graced many stages and recordings. Let’s not beat around the bush, the Twin Reverb is one of the most historically-important amps of all time.
This 85W combo amplifier has a pair of 12” speakers driven by a versatile combination of preamp and power tubes. These tube sets include:
- 2x12AT7 (preamp section)
- 4x12AX7 (preamp section)
- 4x6L6 (power tube section)
What this ultimately means is that, for a tube amp, you’ll have a ridiculous amount of clean headroom. The Birch speaker cabinet also helps to ensure that the guitar’s tone never ventures into “boxy” territory.
Like most Fender tube combo amps with a stereo speaker configuration, this amplifier has 2 input channels. Both channels have separate inputs for low-gain and high-gain, as well as volume control and 3-band EQ.
Each channel also has a 2-way brightness switch to shift the guitar tone to bias the treble. However, using the 2nd channel is where much of the '65 Twin Reverb’s magic is located.
As you’ll notice, the 2nd channel of the amplifier is labeled as Vibrato. Using this channel will allow you to utilize the '65 Twin Reverb’s onboard effects, including vibrato and reverb.
The '65 Twin Reverb is built like a tank and was made for the regularly performing professional. It even comes with the angle stand so you can tilt the amplifier to direct the speakers as needed.
Is The Fender '65 Twin Reverb Worth The Money?
Out of just about any tube amplifier, the '65 Twin Reverb is one of the best for using guitar pedals. This amp really does have its own legacy and guitar pedals have played a serious role in its reputation.
There really is something noticeably different about a guitar tone being emitted from a tube amplifier. Solid-state can feel a bit stagnant in comparison.
However, you must take into account that not all tube amplifiers are created equally. In fact, the '65 Twin Reverb is one of the staple tube amps in terms of what people generally expect.
You could say that the '65 Twin Reverb is the “holy grail” of amplifiers. That statement has been used time and time again, and it’s a statement that’s remained consistent throughout time.
With that being said, the '65 Twin Reverb is loud enough for just about any large-sized venue. The real kicker is that the amp maintains its crystalline cleans at a seriously ridiculous volume.
Ultimately, that means you won’t have to worry much about natural distortion at higher volumes. Your tone will remain consistent regardless if you’re playing a house show or a theater.
Out of all the amplifiers I have experienced in my near 20-year career, this one has a special place. The tones it delivers are truly visceral and if you’ve been seeking that sound, it’s right here.
Not to mention, you also get an iconic vibrato and reverb included with this amazing amplifier. The reverb is such a signature aspect in that it is one of the most emulated reverbs of all time.
Dialing in some vibrato will give you those luscious, vintage vibes at the turn of a knob. This vibrato acts more like a unique tremolo, and was the inspiration for the JHS 3 Series Harmonic Tremolo pedal.
Plug a guitar into one of these amplifiers and you’ll quickly see why they are so highly sought after. Just make sure that you’re in a room that allows you to experience its capabilities at a high volume.
It might be a pricey amplifier, but this is about as good as it gets without venturing into boutique makes. Many heavy pedal users seek out the late 1960s Twin Reverbs, but those aren’t always the most economically practical options.
Is The '65 Twin Reverb Right For You?
If you’re like me, you’ve probably had the Twin Reverb on your amplifier list for quite some time. After all, there are few amplifiers that have the legacy and reputation that this amplifier has for pedal users.
Even if you can afford the '65 Twin Reverb, it might not be the most practical amplifier for your needs. In fact, this is the very revelation I’ve found in my own professional experiences.
Outside of price, there are a few things about the '65 Twin Reverb that you need to be aware of. Highlighting these aspects are intended to show you what comes with the territory, not detract from the amp’s value.
First of all, this amplifier is unbelievably loud. If you’re going to be playing at quieter volumes, purchasing this amplifier doesn’t make sense.
Playing at bedroom volumes is pretty much out of the question unless you invest in an attenuator. If you live in an apartment, you’re guaranteed to have a few upset neighbors.
And really, that’s kind of the stark reality for most common musicians who might be looking at this amp. Most of us play in venues that are too small to really accommodate something of this volume capacity.
Even if you’re playing at a bar, you might be too loud unless your band is the venue’s main focus. Most people like to be able to have a conversation and this amp is sure to get in between.
Another thing you’ll need to be aware of is that the '65 Twin Reverb is fairly heavy. Having to lug this amp around has a chance of getting old after some time has passed.
With that being said, it’s best to invest in a case that has casters for easy transportation. That way, you push the amp where it needs to go while only having to do minimal lifting.
These caveats aside, if you’re a serious musician playing venues of various sizes, this amp is pure gold. The clean headroom on this tube amplifier is unparalleled.
Roland Blues Cube Hot – Best Budget
Many pedal players seek out tube amplifiers for the natural distortion, using it as the basis of their clean tone. It’s usually unheard of for a solid-state amp to have perfect emulation of this type of tube amp characteristic.
This 1×12” combo amp is perfectly suited for players of all experience levels. It’s simple enough for beginners but capable enough for performing professionals.
The amp has a single input channel, with controls for:
- Master volume
- Input volume
- 3-Band EQ
- Reverb level
Selectable mode buttons are also included for volume boost and tone boost.
At the back of the Blues Cube Hot, you’ll find jacks for:
- Line out
- Footswitch (for boost or tone mode settings)
Another notable feature with the Blues Cube Hot is that it has a USB output. This means you can plug it directly into a computer to record guitar parts in your DAW of choice.
One of the most interesting features on the Blues Cube Hot is its power attenuation settings. This will allow you to run the amp at variable wattages, including:
Using the attenuator will engage the amp differently, particularly affecting its simulated tube crunch. This alone makes it one of the best budget solid-state solutions for tube emulation.
If you didn’t know any better, you probably would think this is just another combo tube amp. The sound and the visual aesthetics fit the bill to a T.
What Are The Benefits Of The Blues Cube Hot Over Tube Amplifiers?
The Blues Cube Hot gets a ton of things right when it comes to its construction. This amp takes obvious inspiration from some of the most iconic amplifiers in its range.
Just looking at the amplifier would readily confuse you into thinking it was a Fender Blues Junior. However, you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong in thinking that the Blues Junior played a role in its design.
Aside from the technology, the 2 amps share many similar characteristics. This includes things like:
- 1 input channel
- Open-backed speaker cabinet design
- Basic input volume/master volume and EQ controls
- Built-in reverb
On paper, the 2 amps are almost identical. However, the Blues Cube Hot might have some things going for it that may tilt your favor in its direction.
The first thing of note here is that the Blues Cube Hot can be used in literally any scenario possible. Its headphone output means that you can practice quietly, while churning out volume for moderate-sized venues.
This amp is by no means as loud as something like the Fender ’65 Twin Reverb. However, in the event you needed more volume than this could produce, you’d probably be using a microphone anyways.
You’ll also find that the Blues Cube Hot’s built-in reverb is surprisingly practical for a preset effect. So many solid-state amp reverbs get too washy and synthetic to be used in a realistic setting.
The fact that it also has a USB output is incredibly valuable to those who don’t have an audio interface. This addition lowers the barrier of entry to being able to track guitar parts on a computer.
Something like this is perfect for somebody who needs to record demos to give to their bandmates. It also ensures the amp’s utility as a recording and practice tool rather than just strictly performance.
Plus, this amp is noticeably lighter than most tube amps due to its solid-state design. It’s also a little lighter on the wallet while providing tube amp characteristics that many seek out.
Is The Blues Cube Hot Right For You?
The biggest deciding factor in whether or not the Blues Cube Hot is right for you depends on preferences. Are you somebody that desires to utilize the natural distortion tendencies of tube amplifiers?
If you’re somebody who wants an amp that remains consistently clean, this might not be the best fit. The amp doesn’t have the same clean headroom that the historic solid-state Roland JC-120 has.
However, the Blues Cube Hot wasn’t necessarily designed to be like the JC-120 in any capacity. This is only ideal for the person that wishes to use a clean overdrive tube tone as their foundational tone.
Let’s say you play in a blues-rock group as your main gig, but have a psychedelic band on the side. This amp is versatile enough to be able to handle your basic blues tones as well as the extreme.
However, like any amplifier, this is one that you will need to use in conjunction with your pedalboard. This will give you a better idea of whether it can handle the duress you may subject it to.
But, as far as an everyday amp that can get the job done, the Blues Cube Hot is worth consideration. I wouldn’t think twice if I had to use this for any gig of the various genres I’ve played in.
Plus, there’s much less maintenance to have to worry about in that you’ll never have to swap out tubes. You also won’t have to constantly worry about ensuring that your tube amp’s delicate parts remain intact.
Peavey Classic 30
Are you somebody that prefers practicality with needing to have anything fancy? If so, the Peavey Classic 30 is one of the best choices you could make.
This 30-watt tube amplifier comes stocked with a single 12” Celestion Midnight 60 speaker. It’s a worthwhile modern version of a longstanding, time-tested amp that can withstand about anything.
The Classic 30 has a standard interface, offering 1 channel with a 3-band EQ, volume, and pre/post gain controls. Dialing in your ideal clean tone is a relative breeze, and is easy to replicate with each playing session.
For a 30-watt tube amp, the Classic 30 has a surprising amount of headroom. The amp does have slight breakup at higher volumes but can easily accommodate numerous pedals simultaneously.
If you’re a fan of natural tube amp overdrive, the amp does have a tasty crunch, controllable by footswitch. It also has a sparkly-clean spring reverb that can provide the perfect sustaining touch.
For those on the fence, I will say that I used a Classic 30 from 2003 for about 7 years. The amp was extremely dependable and took the brunt of many extreme pedal situations in venues of various sizes.
This modern upgrade has a few things worth having over the readily-available used models of years past. The first is its standby switch, which helps keep tubes warm while cutting the signal completely.
Secondly, I have a feeling that the tubes are wired in parallel, rather than in series. Tubes are prone to rattling during transport and my old Classic 30 had series wiring.
Like a strand of Christmas lights, one tube shifted just enough that the entire amp stopped outputting sound. This required multiple trips to my amp tech, who eventually said he would no longer do repair work on it.
And really, that’s the only reason I parted with the amp I had grown with as a young professional musician. These modern versions are the same amount of workhorse minus the finicky issues of years past.
Fender Blues Junior
Need a reliable tube amp that is extremely portable, performs well, and doesn’t break the bank? The Fender Blues Junior (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is an amp that has a fabulous reputation among its users.
This amp is on the more inexpensive side of Fender’s tube amp lineup. However, it has more than enough power to play in small theaters and outdoor spaces.
At its core, the Blues Junior is a 15-watt amp with a 12” Jensen ceramic speaker. The amp’s interface is probably the most simplistic out of all the amps featured in this article.
Dialing in a tone is relatively simple, as the only controls on the amp include:
- Input volume
- Master volume
- 3-band EQ
- Reverb level
The amp does have a “Fat” switch, which does beef up the tone significantly like a heavy compressor. However, it’s generally not recommended to use the amp with the “Fat” switch permanently engaged.
So, if the Blues Junior is such a simplistic amp, what makes it worthy of use with guitar pedals? Again, the answer to this is the fact that it maintains its cleans at a reasonably loud volume.
If you’re wondering what I moved onto from the Peavey Classic 30, it’s actually this amplifier. For the 5+ years I’ve had it, the Blues Junior has been perhaps the most dependable amp I’ve ever owned.
Like every amplifier, the Blues Junior has its quirks, but eventually, these quirks can be utilized as strengths. The tone can seem boxy or harshly clean sometimes, but patience usually irons these problems out.
This amp’s onboard spring reverb is quite excellent as well and really helps tone down the amp’s shrillness. There’s plenty of reverb here, with low levels around 3-5 being about standard heavy wash.
Unless you’re dialing in some insane distortion levels, the Blues Junior will likely be a great fit for you. It’s extremely dependable for technically being a budget tube amplifier.
Plus, it doesn’t weigh a ton and its small size is invaluable in space efficiency when playing small stages.
What To Look For When Buying A Pedal-Friendly Guitar Amp
Most guitarists seem to think that the guitar and guitar pedals are the most important aspects of tone. In reality, much of the secret sauce to good tone actually lies in the amplifier and speaker combination being used.
The act of buying an amplifier should contain a few different processes, with research being a primary aspect. Yet, so many choose to opt for whatever is convenient rather than taking the patient high road.
While going the convenient route might work for basic players, it often leaves a lot to be desired for most. This is even more true when you start to throw multiple guitar pedals into the mix.
Like the guitar, the choice of amplifier being used is a personal thing dependent upon individual needs. Properly analyzing these needs will help you to find an amplifier that meets those needs as best as possible.
If you’re feeling nervous that you don’t know what your needs are, don’t fret. The following sections will help guide you through common things and questions you’ll need to ask yourself.
By the end, you will hopefully have a better understanding of what your ideal amplifier is. Knowing this will be especially advantageous when you begin to look at different amps while comparing and contrasting features.
Consider How You Will Be Using The Amplifier
When buying an amplifier specifically for guitar pedal accommodation, there is one thing, in particular, you need to know. Do you desire an amp that doesn’t color tone, or do you desire to work with its natural tendencies?
Being able to answer that question will be the single most important thing you can do for yourself. Sometimes, though, it isn’t always the easiest to answer without having some experience to draw from.
Some amplifiers are notorious for being almost transparent in the way they emit sound without coloration. This allows guitarists to rely solely on guitar pedals to craft their tone, usually resulting in consistent results.
However, many guitarists also like to utilize an amp’s natural characteristics in combination with pedals. This can be pure synergy but the results might not always be the most consistent from gig to gig.
There is no wrong answer as to what your preferences should be when answering this question for yourself. Perhaps the only wrong answer is not taking the time to formulate an answer at all.
Amplifier Type & Headroom
Once you have answered the previous section’s questions, you can then begin to do your amplifier research. As you probably know, amplifiers come in both tube and solid-state varieties, with each having its own characteristics.
Again, there is no right or wrong when it comes to choosing either tube or solid-state technology. In fact, there is actually some overlap present between available amplifiers and tone-coloration preferences.
The one thing you will want to look out for is whether or not the amp has a large amount of headroom. You could think of this as how loud an amplifier can get without having any sort of distortion present.
Both tube and solid-state amplifiers have a massive amount of headroom. However, tube amps are the most prone to experiencing this natural distortion (it’s often emulated with overdrive pedals).
Tube amplifiers are the most practical if you’re a fan of how an amplifier can color the guitar’s tone. If you’re looking for a flat, transparent response, solid-state amps are probably your best bet.
Consider Where You Will Be Using The Amplifier
Another thing you need to consider when buying an amplifier is the locations you’ll be playing it at. As you are probably aware, amplifiers are built to various sizes and volume capacities.
Take a few moments to take stock of where you currently are in your guitar journey. Are you primarily a bedroom player starting your first band, or do you have regular weekly/monthly gigs?
Furthermore, you will want to think about the size of the rooms you will typically be playing in. While this does tie into the previous question, asking it alone actually serves a specific purpose.
Some tube amplifiers are considered to be legendary pedal platforms, but it often comes with a caveat. More often than not, they are almost too loud for the rooms they are being used in.
Most tube amplifiers have a “sweet spot” volume range where the amp is just about to break up into distortion. Depending on its capabilities, running even a few pedals simultaneously might distort the amplifier more than desired at lower volumes.
Once you know where you’ll be using your amp, you’ll probably have a good idea of your current guitar needs. Being aware of whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, etc., does play an important role in an amp’s purchase.
First of all, it keeps you honest as an individual and helps to keep you from spending beyond your means. Most guitar-related gear is sold on a large price spectrum that correlates to general skill level.
For instance, with guitars, most guitars designed for beginners and young players are often the cheapest. It simply does not make sense to spend a fat stack if you’re not a working musician.
Most of the amplifiers on this list are more appropriate for serious hobbyists and working musicians. However, cheaper amps can be found if you take the time to do your research.
Take care to explore the used market if you’re looking for a serious deal on an amplifier. Just be sure to try it before you buy it, if at all possible.
Best Brands For Guitar Amps That Work Well With Guitar Pedals
Navigating any market can be a challenge if you aren’t familiar with the big brands in the industry. Big-name brands are not always the most ideal, but when it comes to guitar-related things, they are trusted.
In the guitar industry, establishing yourself as a name brand only happens when you gain a stellar, widespread reputation. Guitarists are notoriously opinionated about everything, and nothing worth buying would have a good reputation.
As such, consider looking at the following brands in your research for pedal-friendly amplifiers. Each of these brands is a solid establishment with an aspect of their reputation relating to guitar pedal-friendliness.
The major guitar brands are so iconic that even non-guitarists are familiar with their names. Fender is a name that is known the whole world over for its lines of signature guitars and amplifiers.
While the company made its name with guitars, its amps are noted for their bright, clean response and excellent headroom. Almost all Fender amplifiers can handle guitar pedals exceptionally well.
Roland is a brand that primarily made its name in the electronic instrument niche, specializing in synthesizers, keyboards, and drums. It was only a matter of time before Roland branched out and tested the waters by creating guitar-related gear.
In turn, Roland’s Jazz Chorus amplifier line is one of the most-storied solid-state amplifiers of all time. Shoegaze players seek out the JC series exclusively for their pure cleans and ability to handle guitar pedals.
Best Guitar Amps For Pedals, Final Thoughts
At the risk of sounding redundant, you should take the time to try out an amp before purchasing. Purchasing something sight and sound unseen tilts the results toward the probability that you will be disappointed.
After all, the amplifier itself might be the most important piece of gear in your entire rig. It might not be the sexiest thing, but it’s one area of your signal chain that should not be overlooked.