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Small Wonders: Five Essential 15-Watt Guitar Amps

Small Wonders: Five Essential 15-Watt Guitar Amps

Let's face it, bringing a 100-watt guitar amp to your average weekend bar gig is a lot like taking a Lamborghini to Shop Rite for Sunday-afternoon grocery shopping.

You simply don't need all that power (Unless Shop Rite also happens to be hosting a Sunday-afternoon drag race).

Which is why several amp manufacturers have spent a lot of time, effort and money developing less-powerful and more-portable (not to mention affordable) amps, namely those of the 15-watt variety. Unlike larger amps, including 50-watters, you can really open up a 15-watt amp at a gig and take advantage of all its features, including that beautiful, natural gain that magically appears at high volumes.

Here's a list of our five essential 15-watt guitar amps. As always, this list was compiled by a group of Guitar World editorial staffers including Technical Editor Paul Riario, the guy who tries out every piece of gear that arrives at Guitar World. He also appears in one of the five demo videos in this story.

As always, the amps are presented in no particular order.

Marshall Haze MHZ15

There's nothing hazy about this choice, Marshall's Haze15.

The amp runs on three ECC83 preamp and two 6V6 power amp tubes, providing this two-channel head with a pure-tube pedigree. The amp's traditional EQ section of Bass, Middle and Treble allows massive amounts of control; the Normal and Overdrive channels create beautiful clean and distorted tones — and everything in between.

Turning up the Normal channel volume takes the clear tone and adds tube drive, compression and bite, which can be adjusted through your guitar’s volume control. Engaging the Bright function adds sonic sparkle and an extra cutting edge. Switching to the Overdrive channel sees the amp really start to roar with Volume and Gain controls allowing direct access to your sound.

At low volumes, the Haze15 offers smooth, rich overdriven tones. When it's cranked up, you can look forward to classic, fat, Marshall distortion.

What does it sound like?

Here's our own Paul Riario trying out the Haze15 in a GW video from 2010:

MSRP: $840 | Visit marshallamps.com for more about Marshall's Haze series.

From its humble origins in the back of a small music store in London, Marshall Amplification has defined the sound of rock for generations of guitarists around the world. The History of Marshall Amps: The First Fifty Years by Michael Doyle and Nick Bowcott tells the story of Jim Marshall's remarkable life and documents the many innovations of Marshall amplifiers, from the famous “stack” to the most current offerings. It's available at the Guitar World Online Store.


Orange Amplifiers Tiny Terror Series TT15

Lunch, anyone?

Orange Amplification's Tiny Terror Head — known by fans as the original lunchbox amp — is a best seller for a reason. When driven, this tiny amp has almost as much gain as most four-stage lead channels.

The Tiny Terror puts a host of boutique amps to shame with its clean crunch and full-on overdrive sounds. At mid-gain settings, this tube-driven head has plenty of vintage British character. The Tiny Terror was designed to the same specs as larger Orange amps, and its portability makes it perfect for gigging around town or rehearsing. As an added bonus, the Tiny Terror can go from 15 to 7 watts for studio use, recording and practice.

What does it sound like?

Here's an official demo video from Orange:

MSRP: $769 | Visit orangeamps.com for more info about this amp.


Fender 65 Princeton Reverb 15W

I own one of these babies, so I can vouch for it from years of personal experience. This is simply a great amp for the majority of gigs I play — bars and clubs. There are four guitarists in our band, and this amp never gets lost in the mix.

The 65 Princeton Reverb is versatile enough to go from the living room to the recording studio to the small gig. It's got plenty of vintage vibe, plus dynamic clean and overdriven tones, spring reverb and tube vibrato.

The amp delivers 15 watts through a 10-inch Jensen Special Design speaker. It has two inputs (one channel), plus a footswitch, and control knobs for Treble, Bass, Reverb, Speed and Intensity. The tube complement consists of a trio of 12AX7s, a 12AT7, dual Groove Tubes 6V6s and a single 5AR4 rectifier tube.

What does it sound like?

This video wasn't created by Fender or Guitar World, but it does a fine job of demonstrating the sounds and features. You'll notice the model being tested is the recently introduced Surf Green version of the amp:

MSRP: $1,299.99 | Visit fender.com for more info about this amp.


Vox Night Train NT15H/V112NT

Simply put, this is one cool-looking, mirror-finish 15-watt amp.

The industrial-looking amp, part of Vox's Night Train series, is a solid, all-tube, portable head. It runs on two 12AX7 preamp tubes and two EL84 power tubes; this is the same tube complement as the company's classic AC15 amp.

The Vox Night Train's single switch lets you select between Pentode or Triode tube operation. In Pentode mode, the amp delivers 15 watts of power. In the Triode mode, the power is cut to 7.5 watts. The Triode mode also relaxes the tube power stage, letting the mellow tube character shine through.

Night Train greets you with a clear, simple panel design, offering the familiar Gain and Volume controls. The Tone controls include Treble, Middle and Bass, allowing you to dial up just the right character for your individual, signature tone. In addition, the preamp section features a mode switch, offering both Bright and Thick options. The Bright mode accentuates the high-frequency components for a clear, ringing tone; the Thick setting bypasses the tone circuit to boost the gain and create a chunkier, heavier sound.

What does it sound like?

Here's an official video Night Train demo video from Vox:

MSRP: $700 | Visit voxamps.com for more info about this amp.


Mesa Boogie Transatlantic TA-15

The guys at Mesa Boogie noticed everyone else was bringing lunchboxes to the amp party, so they decided to make their own. They did a fine job; the TA-15 is a tasty, portable amp that packs in a lot of features.

The TA-15 packs all the performance found in high-end, full-size models and offers classic British and American sounds in a 12-pound package. Two channels feature five modes; choose a preamp style in each channel, then select the perfect power for it from three output choices: 5 Watts (Single-Ended Class A), 15 Watts (Class A) or 25 Watts (Dyna-Watt).

From Mesa Boogie: "The Channel Modes start off with lower gain NORMAL and higher gain classic versions of the iconic TOP BOOST sound in Channel 1, which includes an ingenious Pull MASTER on the CUT control that can be Hard Bypassed for purists. Channel 2 houses three Modes; a gorgeous TWEED clean, a British high gain in HI 1 and a classic Boogie Lead in HI 2."

What does it sound like?

Check out these seven audio TA-15 samples available on mesaboogie.com. Here's Mesa Boogie's official demo TA-15 video:

MSRP: $899 | Visit mesaboogie.com for more info about this amp.



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