So, you’re looking for a small amplifier.
While some believe that bigger is better, I’m here to say that there are many uses for small amps.
Maybe you’re tired of lugging around heavy amps to your gigs.
Or maybe you just like the way they sound.
Let me tell you, small combo amplifiers have a sound unique to their own. Single speaker combo amps (especially tube powered ones) have always been my favorite traditional amp design. There’s something magical about how the entire amp resonates as a single unit that gets lost in head/cab setups.
I’m not alone in that feeling either.
Countless famous guitarists opt for small combo amps as their go-to amplifier. This includes the likes of Neil Young, Bonnie Raitt, and Jeff Beck, who have all used small combo amps on stage at some point in their careers.
If a small combo amp is on your wish list, but you aren’t sure which amps are the best, then this list is for you.
Snapshot: Best Small Combo Amplifiers
- Fender ’57 Custom Champ
- Line 6 Spider V20 (mkII) – Cheapest
- Fender Bassbreaker 007
- Supro Blues King 10
- Fender ’65 Princeton Reverb Reissue – Most Expensive
What Makes the Best Small Amp?
Defining the term “small amplifier” was more challenging than I thought it would be. There are a lot of different terms that get thrown around for small amps. These include terms like “practice amps” and “lunchbox amps”. What about pedal amps like the Orange Terror Stamp? These revolutionary designs are possibly the smallest amps available, but are they what most people think of when it comes to small amp designs?
One of my goals for these articles that has remained constant is to give suggestions for musicians that are practical and enjoyable to play. This is why I have decided to focus on my favorite example of small amplifiers: combo amps.
While the amp types I listed above have their uses, I consider them to be specialty or situational amplifiers. They don’t always sound good for live use. They also sometimes require a separate cabinet that can be much larger than the amp itself.
A small combo amplifier is the best of all worlds. It has a speaker already built into it, so there are no extra connections or need for carrying extra gear. You can show up to a gig with it without breaking your back or taking up too much space in your car.
Combo amplifiers can certainly come in many shapes and sizes. To keep with the “small amp” theme of this article, all of the amps on this list have to be a combo design (amp and speaker in one housing) and the speaker has to be 10” or smaller. They of course have to sound good and I don’t care how that is achieved.
Without further ado, here are my top 5 small combo amplifiers!
The 5 Best Small Combo Amps In 2020
1. Fender ’57 Custom Champ Review
- Power: 5W (tube)Tubes: one 12AY7, one 12AX7 (preamp); one 6V6 (power amp)Single channelTwo inputs: normal, brightSpeaker: 1x8 Weber Special Design with Alnico magnetCabinet Material: Finger-Joined...
- Renown for its flexibility, ease-of-use and knockout tone this is the classic sound heard on thousands of recordings
- A wide variety of playable tones inhabit this hand-wired performerfrom crisp, classic cleans to naturally compressed overdrive that responds remarkably to guitar volume and picking dynamic changes
The Fender Champ has been one of the most popular amplifiers for over half a century and for good reason. This amp is often known as the “secret weapon” in professional studios. For only having 5W of power, this classic tweed combo amp is packed with big sounds.
Whenever I think of the iconic tweed amplifier, I think of the Fender Champ. It is a 1 x 8”, 5-watt, all tube powered combo amplifier. The finger joined, solid pine cabinet is covered with a classic tweed lacquer, creating an amp and an image that has withstood the test of time in the minds of guitarist and studio engineers.
Underneath all that American tweed is a hand wired 5F1 circuit, with a 12AY7 and 12AX7 preamp section for more headroom and a period correct sound. The combination of a single 6V6 power section and an 8” Weber Alnico speaker stays true to the classic Champ tone and is truly vintage through and through.
It can’t possibly get any simpler than this: just one Volume control. Leave the volume control on lower settings for cleaner tones. Then crank it up for natural tube distortion sound. At 5 watts, the amp is appropriate for rehearsals and in the studio, as well as at small gigs. It has an input for low or high output instruments, so no matter what guitar you have the Fender Champ is ready to work with you.
The Fender Champ has a naturally bright tone to it due to the smaller speaker. Since there isn’t a tone control on the amp itself, it’s up to you to tame that brightness using your guitar’s tone knob. The amp does Fender cleans really well and would make for a great clean tone on any record.
When pushed, the amp delivers heavy blues distortion that is super touch sensitive. That’s what makes this amp so great in my opinion. It forces you to use your fingers and guitar controls to get the tones you need out of it. Being a simple amp, it is as versatile as you are.
- Type: Tube Combo (6V6)
- Power: 5W
- Channels: Single (2 inputs)
- Speaker: 1 x 8” Weber Special Design Alnico
- Features: A volume control (what more do you need, right?)
Final Thoughts on the Fender ’57 Champ
Fender Champs are some of the most versatile, classic, and magical amps that have ever been designed. You’ll have to pay a pretty penny for it, but the sound quality and craftsmanship are worth it. It’s a great option if you are looking for a straightforward signal path and if you want a tweed amp with great dynamics.
2. Line 6 Spider V20 (mkII) Review
- New classic speaker Mode for Enhanced sound and feel
- 16 presets with 3 simultaneous effects and independent reverb
- Easy-to-use tone and effects controls
On the complete opposite side of the small amp spectrum is the Line 6 Spider V20 (mkII). This solid-state amp has more features packed into it than almost any other on the market. The Spider V20 is an amp for those that want every tone under the sun in a small amp enclosure.
The Spider V20 is a 20-watt, solid-state combo amplifier. It has an 8” speaker with the updated “classic speaker” mode found in all Line 6 Spider mkII amps. This allows the tweeder to be disengaged for traditional electric guitar amplification. It also has over 200 amp/effect models available via the Spider V remote app in addition to already installed presets that make the amp sound good out of the box.
Did I mention it has presets for Acoustic and Bass guitars, too?
The controls on the Sider V20 give you a wide variety of tonal options and combinations. Starting with the Preset knob on the far left, you can choose your core preset tone ranging from acoustic, to clean, to heavy metal, to bass tones. The amp has controls for overall Drive, Tone, Volume, and Reverb. The Smart FX control lets you choose from color coded effects that are assignable to three slots.
It also features a tap tempo and Preset Save button, so if you create a sound that you want to keep, its as easy as pressing a button. The Master knob controls your master volume so you can keep the same tone no matter what size room you’re playing for.
The inclusion of the Classic speaker setting is probably the biggest improvement in sound from the mkI to mkII Spider amps. This makes the amp sound like a traditional electric guitar amp is supposed to. The 8” speaker isn’t as satisfying as the bigger siblings of the Spider line, but this is more than made up for with the tonal variety available in one amp.
While not all of the tones are a home run, this is a great option for someone just getting started that wants to explore a wide array of effects and amp styles.
- Type: Solid State/Amp modeling Combo
- Power: 20W
- Channels: Single
- Speakers: 1 x 8” Line 6 Speaker
- Features: Built in FX, Tap Tempo, Amp model presets, USB connectivity
Final Thoughts on the Line 6 Spider V20 (mkII)
Though maybe not satisfying enough for the professional musician, the Line 6 Spider V20 (mkII) is a major improvement from previous iterations of the Spider Line. It showcases just how far solid-state amps have come.
It has enough fun/convincing effects and amp models to inspire beginners and help explore all the tonal possibilities one can find in a guitar, giving it a well-deserved spot on my list of best small combo amps.
3. Fender Bassbreaker 007 Review
- Explore rich harmonics and overdriven tube tone with a single EL84 power tube and 2- 12AX7 pre-amp tubes pumping out a glorious 7 watts of big tone
- Take your tone far from clean with the vintage-style treble-booster circuit that adds pre-amp gain and additional harmonics.Single 10 inches 8-ohm Celestion Ten 30 speaker
- Use the ¼ Line Out Jack to feed the line level output of the amp to a recording device or another line input of an amp
Fender amps make it on this list multiple times. It was nearly inevitable, considering that they have made some of the best small combo amps time and time again throughout their history. The Bassbreaker 007 is Fender’s attempt to combine classic circuitry with modern aesthetics and versatility in a 7W small amp package.
The 007 gets its name from the fact that it is a 7-watt combo amplifier. It is powered by a single EL84 tube in the power section and features a 10” Celestion Ten 30 speaker. If that isn’t enough for you though, the amp has outputs for an 8 ohm speaker, so you can connect this to a large cabinet if you wanted to. It can also be connected line out directly into an interface for easy recording.
The cabinet is covered in a new, gray tweed lacquer that gives the amp a classic getup with a modern twist. This new look is also accompanied by Fender’s bold pointer control knobs.
The controls are typical for a single channel amplifier: Gain, 3 band-EQ, and a Master volume control. However, this simple control layout is all you need to explore the Bassbreaker’s wide array of British style tones. Perhaps the most exciting control is the Treble Boost switch, which sounds so good you may never turn it off.
What really sets the Bassbreaker 007 apart from other Fender amplifiers (especially their small combo amps) is that it has a distinctly British voice to it. If I had a blindfold over me, I would think that this is a Marshall of some kind.
The clean tones are chimey and midrange heavy, while the lead tones are super saturated and smooth unlike any other traditional Fender amp. It definitely has a slightly more modern flare to it. As I said before. The treble boost on this amp is stellar and demands to be left on at all times.
- Type: Tube Combo (EL84)
- Power: 7W
- Channels: Single
- Speaker: 1 x 10” Celestion Ten 30
- Features: Treble Boost, Line Out and Speaker Out
Final Thoughts on the Fender Bassbreaker 007 Combo
There’s not much of a chance that the Bassbreaker will go down in history as one of Fender’s classic combo amps, but that’s kind of the point. This is a great departure from Fender’s usual amplifiers and it’s a great option for those who are looking for a British voiced sound in a small tube combo amp.
The fact that it has modern design concepts like direct line out and its low cost only sweeten the deal.
4. Supro Blues King 10 Review
- 5-watt 1 x 10" Tube Combo Amplifier with 2-b EQ
- Footswitchable Boost/Gain
- Spring Reverb
Supro has created a small combo amp that harkens back to Chicago blues sounds of the 1950’s. In doing so they have created one of the most well-built and character filled amps out on the market today. Don’t let the name fool you. This amp is ready for blues, jazz, country, rock and more.
The first thing you’ll likely notice about the Blues King 10 is its retro, 50’s comet model design. It not only looks cool, but it also contributes to the amp’s tight tone. The cabinet is made of poplar wood and it houses a 5-watt, Class-A tube powered, 1×10 amplifier.
The amp is powered by a single 6V6 tube in the power amp section and utilizes an FET boost and Pigtronix FAT Drive circuit to get saturated lead tones at any volume. It also has an analog spring reverb and direct out capability as well, giving the amp some extra dimension for its small stature.
Even with all of those features, the amp manages to remain simple when it comes to the controls. You have a knob for Volume, a 2-band EQ, a single Reverb control, and a Master Volume control. The Boost and Drive circuits can be switched on the amp via the two flip switches, or they can be accessed from a footswitch as well.
The right combination of Volume, Master, Boost, and Drive give you a substantial amount of control over your tone, no matter what volume you’re playing at or what guitar you’re playing through.
The 6V6 tube and 10” speaker give the Blues King a big sound for such a small amp. The amp responds well to player dynamics, especially when set just on the edge of breakup. The analog spring reverb is warm and makes the amp feel like it occupies more space than it actually does. Built in reverb is usually missing on these small amps, so it is definitely my favorite feature. The Fat Drive is also a great sounding feature, as it gives you higher gain sounds at low volumes.
- Type: Tube Combo (6V6)
- Power: 5W
- Channels: Single
- Speaker: 1 x 10” BK10
- Features: Direct Out, Analog Reverb, Pigtronix Fat Drive, Boost
Final Thoughts on the Supro Blues King 10 Combo
If I had to pick a personal favorite off this list for my own playing style, this would be my choice. The Supro Blues King has great versatility and tone control for whatever volume you play at. I can’t help but love the way that it looks too.
5. Fender ’65 Princeton Reverb Review
- 15-watt all tube amp (including tube rectification) offers stellar tone for small stages and the studio.
- 1-10" Jensen C-10R, 8 Ohm, 40 Watt Speaker with Ceramic Magnet
- Legendary long-spring Fender reverb and tube vibrato.
Rounding out our list is yet another class Fender amplifier: The ’65 Princeton Reverb. Unlike the ’68 line of amps that tries to improve on old designs, Fender’s ’65 line of amps aims to faithfully recreate their old classic circuits. This amp lives up to that old reputation and is used by many professional musicians including Chris Stapleton.
The ’65 Princeton Reverb looks just as the old Silverface models did with black cover, silver grill, witch hat control knobs, and a retro Fender logo. Under all this vintage garb is a 15-watt, all tube, 1×10 combo amplifier with built in spring reverb and tremolo. It even has a tube rectifier.
The 10” Jensen C10R is paired with an open back design, giving the amp a real airy quality to its sound. The amp also comes with a two button foot switch to control the onboard reverb and tremolo, making it a very stage friendly amp.
The Princeton Reverb only has a single volume control. It is with this knob that you dial in both your volume and resulting gain. At 15 watts, this means that you’re going to have to crank the amp up pretty loud to get crunchy tones, but it also means that there is ample headroom for those looking for a clean amp to take to gigs.
The amp has a 2-band EQ that allows for ample tone shaping. The long spring powered reverb is controlled by a single Reverb control that dials in both volume and length of the effect. The tremolo has two controls, one for speed and one for intensity.
Next to a Fender Deluxe, I consider the Princeton Reverb to be about as classic Fender as you can possibly get. This is a great sounding clean amp that takes pedals well. However, you could get by just using the amp alone thanks to its natural tube compression, reverb, and tremolo.
The amp can get a bit bright, especially with single coil guitars. In my experience, I like to keep the treble under 4 and the Bass around 7 or 8 to thicken the sound up, or use a guitar loaded with p90 pickups.
- Type: Tube Combo (2 x 6V6)
- Power: 15W
- Channels: Single
- Speaker: 1 x 10” Jensen C10R
- Features: Spring Reverb, Tube powered Tremolo, Footswitch
Final Thoughts on the Fender ’65 Princeton Reverb Combo
This is the perfect, compact amplifier to take out gigging. It’s especially useful if you are looking for some extra headroom to get clean tones at louder volumes. 15 watts may not sound like a lot, but it will get can plenty loud enough for small club gigs. I think Fender did a fantastic job of recreating an old classic.
I am sure that many will be thrilled to have this one added to their collection.
Small Amps for the Modern Player
If you’ve ever played a gig with a sound engineer present, I am sure you have been asked to turn your stage volume down. It may be disheartening to hear, but small amps are the perfect solution. The fact is that most guitarists don’t need large amps as they can easily overwhelm the mix.
Large amps are also not very practical at home or in the studio, unless you have an attenuator or a reactive load to bring your volume down. Small amps are more practical in the studio as you can get natural tube powered overdrive at lower volumes.
Call me sentimental, but I also think they have a certain vibe to them that head/cabinets just can’t recreate. They vibrate as a single unit, making every part of the amp design contribute to the final tone.
The options for small combo amps are really impressive these days. In fact, they always have been, which is why companies like Fender and Supro are re-releasing their old models in updated forms.
From this list alone, you can find an amp that has lots of headroom, one with Marshall-esque gain, even one with built in effects. They are all here for you to choose from. So, the next time you think about getting a new amp, instead of upsizing, consider downsizing instead.
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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.