Valve guitar amps for blues rock


At the end of 2012 I made a resolution to play guitar in a band regularly by the end of 2013. Four months on and things are coming together. I’ve played two gigs with Rhino & The Ranters and I’m starting a blues rock band with Alistair Jones. After two Ranters gigs and rehearsing with Alistair at Highbury Studios, I’ve found that I need a better guitar amp.

It’s not all about volume (okay, a bit). Yes, I want something to fill a bar-sized venue for when the local PA doesn’t cut it (or exist). More though, I’m looking for an amp with two channels, plus a big stompable footswitch to swap channels and boost overall volume. An uncomplicated amp that’s easy to use live with minimum fuss. Less buttons, less gadgetry, less to worry about.

I’ve gigged rarely in the last 15 years. On those occasions, I relied on a Digitech RP12 pedalboard, a dinky 30-watt Fender Switcher amp and being mic’d up through the local PA. While I love the Switcher’s tone, it’s too gentle for live work.

The RP12 pedalboard, on the other hand, has always proved frustrating to me (and bandmates) while I tweaked its settings in confusion. Frankly, you need to be a programming Eno-genius to get something out of the RP12. Achieving consistent volume between effects proved impossible. It may come in useful for recording but I don’t want to use it live again.

Fortunately, the gods of rock shone last month. I posted my amp feature wishlist on and received brilliant advice. I’ve shared a Google Doc with the valve guitar amps ideal for blues rock recommended by the forum members.

Fender Hot Rod Deville badgeOn an unexpected day off work I found a second-hand Fender Hot Rod DeVille 212 going cheap. It’s a great-sounding valve amp with all the features I was looking for and (I hope) at a bargain price.

It’s hard to describe how happy this makes me feel. It’s difficult to communicate to non-guitar gear people, which admittedly is almost everyone!

I’m not materialistic. This isn’t about acquiring a top name product or “getting the right gear for the right image”.

This amp excites me so much because, for the first time since I started playing guitar 25 years ago, the tone I hear from the amp matches the tone I hear in my head. The DeVille’s loud, crystal-clear valve sound and, lorcs alive, volume (it goes to 12) is perfect.

On the clean channel you can get the clear lead of a BB King or Robert Cray in full flight. Pop an overdrive pedal in front and you’re into Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Strat quack ‘n’ crunch. Switch to the drive channel at low volume and it’s Paul Kossoff, Rory Gallagher, John Lee Hooker and Neil Young. Increase the drive and it’s Billy Gibbons’ Texas chug, Jimmy Page in his pomp and Cream-era Clapton. Crank it further and you get the searing Les Paul leads of Gary Moore and Joe Bonamassa. Simply wonderful!

Now, if only I could actually play the guitar like any of those blues titans. Time to practice…

Featured image credit: Tube Glow by Bee Collins (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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