If you’re anything like me, you love guitar effects pedals.
However, even if you pick out all the right effects and set them up in the proper order, your amplifier of choice can have a massive impact on your sound.
Which kind of amplifiers let your pedals work to their full potential?
This is where “Pedal Platform” amplifiers come into play. In this article I’m going to give you a quick overview of picking out an amp that could work as a great pedal platform amplifier, as well as give you my top picks.
Snapshot: Top 6 Pedal Platform Amp in 2021
- Fender Blues Jr. III – Best Budget
- Supro 1970RK Keeley Custom Amplifier – Best Small
- Roland Jazz Chorus 40 – Best Clean
- Orange Amplifiers Rocker 32 – Best Combo
- Fender Tone Master Deluxe Reverb – Best Low Wattage
- Suhr Bella – Best Overall
How to Pick a Great Pedal Platform Amplifier
So where do you begin? How do you pick out the right kind of amplifier to serve as a platform for your pedals?
Great pedal platform amplifiers typically have the right combination of high headroom and a balanced EQ. Just because you’re relying on pedals doesn’t mean that you want an amplifier that sounds flat and sterile – this is why PA or FRFR monitors don’t work for pedal platforms.
In creating this list, I wanted to incorporate amplifiers of every style including Tube, Solid State, and Amp Modelers.
Pedal platform amps aren’t cheap; there’s no way around it. In order to get that high headroom and warm, responsive tone, you have to pay for it. That being said, many of the options on this list are well under $1,000 and are worth the investment.
While these are all what I consider to be fantastic pedal platforms, I made sure to include amps that served a wide array of approaches to pedals including amps with attenuators, amps with effects loops, and tried and true classics.
If you’re ready to find the perfect amp to pair up with any array of pedals, this is the list for you. Here are my top picks for the best pedal platform amplifiers in 2021.
6 Best Pedal Platform Amps in 2021
1. Fender Blues Jr. III – Best Budget Option
- Classic warm tube tone provided by the EL84 power tubes and 12ax7 pre-amp tubes
Fender amplifiers are often synonymous with the term “pedal platform” as they have the proper EQ and ample headroom to work with pedals. The Fender Blues JR. III is the perfect example of a Fender amplifier that sounds clean, is loud enough for club gigs, and is relatively affordable among most tube amps.
This 1×12 combo, tube powered amplifier comes in a tweed lacquer covering that harkens back to the tweed amplifiers of the 50’s. It pushes 15 watts, which may seem small, but this amp retains its headroom with the right balance of the Master and Volume controls, making it perfectly suitable for small club gigs. It has built in reverb, is powered by a EL84 tubes, and is stocked with a single 12” Jensen speaker.
This is about the cheapest, professional level sounding tube amplifier you’ll find that is ideal for use with pedals. While I’m a huge fan of the Fender PRO series, the extra $100 or so you spend upgrading to the Blues Jr. amplifiers is well worth it if you plan to use clean tones at higher volumes.
The Blues Jr. keeps its controls simple and laid out across the top of the amp. There are knobs for Volume, Reverb, Master, Treble, Mids, and Bass. There is also a Fat switch for added low end and gain. The 3-Band EQ tone controls are really drastic and can give everything from a Fender Champ to a Deluxe Reverb sound with the right settings.
What makes these controls so perfect for pedals, however, is the use of the Volume/Master controls. This makes the Blues JR. perfect for those that want early tube distortion at low volumes, or crystal cleans at higher volumes.
It’s my opinion that the Blues Jr. is one of the most flexible amps that Fender has to offer. While some of their other models like the Princeton or the Twin Reverb undoubtedly do the “Fender thing” well, they can sometimes be too bright, or their character is too strong.
The Blues Jr. is a chameleon that can fit into any genre with the right combination of settings, from low volume rocking grit to high volume cleans that can be altered by your favorite pedals.
The inclusion of Reverb means you don’t have to buy a pedal and the Fat switch eliminates the need for a boost, meaning that this amp can save you money to buy other pedals.
- Type: Tube (EL84 Power, 12AX7 Pre)
- Power: 15W
- Channels: Single
- Speaker: 1×12” Jensen
- Features: Master Volume, 3-Band EQ, Reverb, FAT switch
Final Thoughts on the Blues Jr. III
While the Blues Jr. can hardly be called a “budget amp”, it truly is a bargain for all the tonal flexibility it has to offer. When it comes to pedal platforms, it’s better to get a mid-level amp like this that works well than a piece of junk for a couple hundred less. This is an awesome amp that could easily compete with amps twice its price point.
2. Supro 1970RK Keeley Custom Amplifier – Best Small
Who better to trust when it comes to amps that pair well with pedals than the man who started the boutique pedal revolution, himself? Robert Keeley paired up with Supro to create this stripped down amplifier that is perfect for letting your pedals do the talking.
After meeting at NAMM, Robert Keeley (Keeley Electronics) and David Koltai (Supro/PigTronix) collaborated on a custom amplifier that would be the ideal pedal platform. The 1970RK preserves the tones that Keeley imagines his pedals are meant to be paired with, resulting in the decision to use a custom, single 10” speaker and 6V6 power tubes.
The amp is stripped down with no reverb or tremolo (Keeley explains that pedals can do this job), and instead includes a transparent effects loop. The result is a streamlined, great sounding, and small pedal platform amplifier.
The features on this amplifier are limited, but are also the bare essentials for use with a large amount of pedals. There is a Volume control, Master Volume Control, as well as a two band EQ (Bass, Treble). The Volume control works as a preamp volume control and can be thought of as Gain, while the Master Volume determines how loud the amp will be overall. In between these two controls are the inputs for the Send/Return of the effects loop, giving optimal placement of modulation and time based effects.
Compared to the rest of the amplifiers on this list, I find the 1970RK has the most character to it. I find it has a classic, snaring tone that is typical of Supro amps – think Led Zeppelin! This can be a good or bad thing for pedal users. For those that prefer to get their overdrive tones from the amplifier, this is a good thing.
For those who rely on pedals for their gain, this may be less than desirable. The 10 inch speaker lends a really magical midrange to the amp and adds to the amp’s character, while remaining responsive and crisp enough to work well with pedals.
The effects loop is truly transparent and is the optimal place for reverb and delays, especially when pushing the tubes of the amp.
- Type: Tube (6V6 Power, 12AX7 Pre))
- Power: 25W
- Channels: Single
- Speaker: Custom 10”
- Features: Effects Loop
Final Thoughts on the Supro 1970RK Keeley Custom Amplifier
The 1970RK is small, but has the power to stand up to club volumes. The interactive Volume/Master controls paired with an effects loop in a small combo amp makes this a real heavy hitter that you won’t mind carrying along with you on tour. Even if you don’t use pedals, this would be a fun amp to play.
3. Roland Jazz Chorus 40 – Best Clean
- Legendary Roland “JC clean” tone in a small, gig-ready combo amp
The Jazz Chorus 40 from Roland is a modern classic known for is stellar clean tones. It also made it onto our list of the best amplifiers under $1,000.
Those who are familiar with the Roland JC120 famously used by the likes of Robert Smith (The Cure) and The Edge (U2) will be well acquainted with the JC-40 right off the bat. This is essentially a smaller, gig worthy version of its bigger brother the 120. It is a 2×10, solid state combo amplifier with built in Reverb and Chorus/Vibrato.
At 40 Watts, the JC-40 is more than loud enough to get you through your weekly cover gig. It has an effects loop, as well as inputs for footswitches that can be used to activate the amp’s built in effects.
The controls for the JC-40 are split into two sections that are color coated blue and yellow. The Blue section of the amp controls the amp’s gain and EQ settings, with controls for Volume, a 3-Band EQ, Distortion, and Reverb. There is also a bright switch and stereo inputs to the left of this section.
The right, the Yellow section has the controls for the modulation including Speed, Depth, and a Chorus/Vibrato rotary knob. The back panel has inputs for headphones, stereo line out, a stereo effects loop, and inputs for footswitches.
Though most argue that solid state amplifiers don’t work well with pedals, they obviously haven’t played through a Roland JC amplifier. With the right settings, the JC-40 can sound warm and brilliantly clean at ear-shattering levels.
It certainly has a different feel than a tube amp (it responds rather quickly), but this is a perfectly suitable tradeoff for the miniature stereo rig you’ll be taking out night after night with little to no maintenance to follow.
The Reverb and Chorus effects are classics and may save you money on those types of pedals should you choose to forgo them. The Distortion tones are admittedly shrill and thin, but I would disregard this and just focus on the awesome, classic clean tones this amp is famous for.
- Type: Solid State
- Power: 40W
- Channels: 1
- Speakers: 2×10” Roland Speakers
- Features: Effects Loop, Reverb, Chorus, Vibrato, Headphone Jack, DI
Final Thoughts on the Roland Jazz Chorus 40
When it comes to picking out a clean amplifier to showcase your pedals, the Roland JC-40 offers ample features and a lightweight design in addition to its classic tone. Not to mention, it sits at an affordable price point and features a solid state design that is reliable for use on the road.
4. Orange Amplifiers Rocker 32 – Best Combo
- Power: 30W (tube) Attenuation: 30W, 15W, 7.5W Tubes: four 12AX7, two 12AT7 (preamp); four EL84 (power amp) Two channels Single input Speaker: 2x10 Voice of the World Gold Label Controls: volume...
Alright, you get it, clean amplifiers are awesome for use with pedals, but what if you want to tube saturated overdrive sounds straight from the amp? This is where a dual channel amplifier comes into play and the Rocker 32 from Orange Amplifiers is the perfect combo amp for just this purpose.
The Rocker 32 is a 2×10” combo amplifier operating at 30 or 15 watts. It has two channels, labeled Natural and Dirty that offer you both clean and driven tones at the flip of a switch. The amp is open back, giving the amp some breath and a little less weight. It comes in either the classic orange basket weave or black for those who like a more subtle design.
As with most Orange amplifiers, the Rocker 32’s controls are represented by graphics instead of words, so it may take some adjustment or a peak into the user manual to understand exactly what each knob does. In short, there is a single Volume control for the Natural channel. This side of the amp functions like any traditional, no-master volume amp.
The Dirty side of the amp, on the other hand, has both a Gain and Volume control so you can dial in heavy tones at just about any volume. There are also controls for Treble, Mids, and Bass in addition to a switch that lets you attenuate the amp down to 15W.
This amp definitely has the Orange DNA in it, especially in the Dirty channel. It’s throaty, foggy, and bright, but with some added grit and sustain that makes it suitable for modern applications. The clean channel, on the other hand, is tighter in the low end than a Fender but still retains warmth and responsiveness that’s perfect for use with pedals. The 2×10 design allows for stereo effects while retaining a smaller footprint.
- Type: Tube (4xEL84 Power, 4x12AX7 Pre)
- Power: 30W or 15W
- Channels: 2 – Natural and Dirty
- Speaker: 2×10 Orange Voice of the World Gold Label
- Features: Stereo FX Loop, Attenuator
Final Thoughts on the Orange Rocker 32
Dual channel amps like the Rocker 32 are really powerful and extend the capabilities of your pedal board. The fact that the Rocker 32 does this in addition to giving you a 2×10 stereo sound in a small footprint makes it a truly great combo amp.
5. Fender Tone Master Deluxe Reverb – Best Low Wattage
- Massive digital processing is used to faithfully Modeling the circuitry and 22-Watt power output of an original Deluxe tube amp
It’s hard to dispute the fact that Fender amps are perfectly tailored for use with pedals, and in my opinion the Deluxe Reverb does this better than any other in its family. While the original tube amps are also fantastic (and arguably better), the Tone Master series offers features for modern players that are worth considering.
The Tone Master Deluxe Reverb is all digital – no tubes here – and is an amp modeler that Fender specifically modeled after the original 60’s Deluxe Reverbs. It has a single Jensen n-12k neodymium speaker, as well as DI out capabilities that include two onboard impulse responses.
You might be asking: “Is 22 watts really ‘low wattage’”? 22 watts is more than enough to get you to club level, but the Tone Master Deluxe Reverb features an attenuator that can take the amp all the way down to .2W! To me, that makes this the ultimate low wattage amplifier.
Just from looking at the Tone Master Deluxe Reverb, the amp looks identical to its old school counterpart. It has two inputs for each of the Normal and Vibrato channels, as well as a 3-band EQ for each channel. There are knobs for Reverb and the Tremolo Speed and Intensity.
The magic of this amp is on the back side though, with controls for an attenuator that lets you drop the volume of the amp from 22W at full power down to .2W while retaining or tone. There is also a knob for the DI volume and a switch that lets you choose between two impulse responses.
The big question is, does the Tone Master sound as good as the tube amp? The short answer is… almost. It’s really close. The response is different, but the clean, chiming character is absolutely there. This makes the amp a great choice for pedals.
It is plenty loud enough for clubs, and also quiet enough for bedroom practicing. The Deluxe Reverb tone is a classic that doesn’t need much more explanation, and this amp gets you about 98% there in my opinion.
- Type: Amp Modeler
- Power: 22W – .2W
- Channels: Dual – Normal and Vibrato
- Speaker: Jensen n-12k neodymium
- Features: Reverb, Tremolo, Attenuator, DI w/ Impulse Response
Final Thoughts on the Fender Tone Master Deluxe Reverb
While tone purists may not be over the moon with this amp, I think it is the better choice for gigging musicians. It has less maintenance, a lower price, and more features that are ideal for a wide array of uses – including incorporating a wide array of pedals.
6. Suhr Bella – Best Overall
- Bella is a portable, American voiced, hand-wired, all-tube amplifier, designed to be the ideal grab-n-go amplifier and the ultimate platform for your pedalboard.
If price is of no issue, then it’s time to look into the boutique level of amplifiers. Even in this price range, I don’t think any other amp offers you tonal clarity, balance, and features centered around pedal users like the Suhr Bella does.
John Suhr developed the Bella to be the ultimate clean platform amplifier that is also portable enough for regular gigging. I personally own this amp and would argue at its portability (as it weighs around 50 pounds), but this is my only complaint with the amp.
It can be played at either 44 or 22 watts depending on the room you’re in and is paired with a Celestion V-Type speaker. It has a buffered effects loop that can’t be beat, as well as boost and bright switches. Newer models also come in head form and include built in spring reverb.
The amp has a 3-position bright switch that plays well with fuzzes and can really help you shape the top end of the amp. There are controls for Volume, Treble and Bass (John suggests that some amps just don’t need that middle control, and I have to agree here) as well as a Presence control.
The Boost can be controlled on the front of the amp or from a foot switch. The back of the amp has Send/Returns for the buffered effects loop, as well as a volume control for that portion of the amp.
I think Suhr really achieved their goal with this amp. The Bella is a clean platform that manages to deliver a balanced tone and high headroom that accentuates your pedals, but doesn’t in the least bit sound sterile. It’s like the ideal American style amp. The effects loop isn’t even noticeable it’s so transparent.
In the 22W mode the amp can be cranked up for really satisfying crunch tones that are perfectly suitable for pairing with fuzz and overdrive boxes. Even at cranked volumes and with heavy bass, the low end never gets flabby, which is a major plus for pedal users.
- Type: Tube (2x6L6GC Power, 3x12AX7 Pre)
- Power: 22 or44W
- Channels: Single
- Speaker: Celestion V-Type
- Features: Boost, Bright Switch, Effects Loop, Presence, 2-Band EQ
Final Thoughts on the Suhr Bella
The Bella is the ideal pedal platform amplifier no matter what size of stage you’re playing on. The voice of the amp is satisfying and unique, without getting in the way of your pedals. You get to decide how you sound through your pedals with this amp. If you’re really serious about pedals, you can’t go wrong with any of the variations of the Bella that are out in 2021.
Pedal Platform Amps Sound the Way You Want To Sound
The biggest thing I would hope you can take away from this article is that just about any amp can be a pedal platform amp if you like the way it interacts with your pedals.
That being said, clean amps with plenty of headroom and a balanced voice are the best place to start if you want your pedals to speak for themselves (and thereby for you). These amps come in a wide array of prices and aren’t limited to tube amps.
The best pedal platform amp is the one that lets your pedals sound the way you want them to. These amps work for you, not the other way around.
Trust your ears and, as always, have fun!
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Davis Wilton Bader is a professional guitarist/writer based out of St. Louis, MO. He plays in the bands Lumet and The Outskirts.