Guitar World Staff Picks: Paul Riario’s Top 5 Amplifiers of 2011
This has been an interesting year in amplifiers.
Never before have I seen so much tweakability on the front and top control panels of the many amplifiers that have shown up at our door here at Guitar World.
The emergence of numerous slider-switches, mini-toggles and push buttons seem to have suddenly taken up real estate normally reserved for control knobs of amplifiers! At this point it’s not enough just to have gain, volume and EQ to achieve your sound.
Manufacturers have given guitarists added flexibility with these switches in amp-voicings, gain stacking and structure and additional EQ options — and I haven’t even mentioned the sophisticated back-panel features of some of these amps!
Regardless, it’s nice that these options are available, and it’s probably what guitarists are looking for these days. But I’m a firm believer that you can’t have your amp do it all. It’s more about finding an amp that suits your style of playing and sounds great with the least amount of fiddling.
So with that, here are my choices of my favorite amplifiers of 2011, whether you’re a fiddler or plug-in-and-play guy (or girl).
Paul Riario on Paul Riario: I try very hard to remain under the radar, despite being on camera as gear editor at Guitar World, but in this age of social media, it was only a matter of time before it had to come to this. So with that, I will make my blog painless and a quick and easy read so you can get on to more important things like practicing guitar and sweep picking, or if you’re like me, getting tiger blood transfusions and figuring out how to be Olivia Wilde’s boy toy. I will use this blog to inform you of things I find cool; like new gear I’m playing through and what I’m watching, reading or listening to at any given moment. So feel free to ask me anything that’s gear related — or if you have a problem with your girlfriend, ya know, life lesson stuff, I’m pretty good at that too — and I’ll do my best to answer or address it here.
05. Fender Super-Sonic 100 Head
The Super-Sonic is a hot-rodded amplifier in all the right ways. The power is there, but it sounds great at any volume. Whether I wanted sparkling or hefty cleans, I got that on the dual-voiced Vintage channel with massive headroom. Switching to the Burn channel, I found smooth overdrive and distortion sounds thanks to the dual gain controls. Pair this head with your favorite speaker cabinet, and you’ll never look for another amp.
04. Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister 18
There has been a growing trend among manufacturers to create lunchbox-sized, 15-watt heads. Surprisingly, many of them have been great, but this one made me smile the most. The Tubemeister looks industrial cool and is a loud 18-watt amp, but you can dial the wattage down to 1 watt for your bedroom, plus it has a built-in Red Box direct out for silent recording that preserves its pristine clean tones and smooth distortion.
03. Blackstar HT Club 40
If I had to choose an amp that delivers that British-flavored classic rock sound with mid-range bark, Blackstar is it. This HT Club 40 is a two-channel, single 12” Celestion speaker combo that delivers 40 watts of EL34 tube power and has an ISF knob that allows you to shape the EQ curve without affecting the standard EQ controls. Because of its authentic hard rock and metal tones, this is the amp you hear on almost every gear review video GW makes.
02. Fishman Loudbox Mini
I play a lot of acoustic guitar and this Fishman Loudbox Mini is the ultimate portable acoustic guitar amp. It’s lightweight and pumps out 60 watts of power, which is plenty for any venue, and comes equipped with two channels, digital reverb and chorus. I used the Loudbox Mini to play solo acoustic at a wedding and everyone complimented how beautiful the acoustic sounded. Little did they know it was the amp that made my acoustic sound so good.
01. Hughes & Kettner Coreblade
Let me get this out of the way: This amp isn't just for metal. With four channels (two hi-gain) and three independent digital processors for its built-in effects, the CoreBlade integrates tube tone with digital effects and is for guys who like to tweak but without the headaches. It has 128 user banks for presets; if that isn’t enough, you can save your presets on a USB stick and access them through any other CoreBlade amp plus share them online.