When you are talking about a pedal platform amp, you want one that has a lot of clean headroom. Clean headroom is another way of saying that you can crank an amp up without it breaking up and becoming distorted. Being able to maintain a clean tone at high volume gives you lots of ‘room’ to add effects without distorting their sound. A great pedal platform amp will have an incredible clean sound with rich harmonics, touch-sensitive responsiveness and a tone that can pierce through the mix under any circumstance. Obviously, if they come equipped with an effects loop, all the better!
The first thing you might assume when you are looking for a pedal platform amp is the more modern the better. In certain respects, there is some truth to this, in so far as modern amps are often designed to take pedals and are likely to come equipped with an effects loop and controls that allow you to blend your effects into the sound. But, on the down side, many modern amps are designed to deliver large amounts of gain without pedals and don’t have the clean headroom that some of our favorite vintage amps have.
On the other hand, thinking that vintage amps don’t make good pedal platform amps would be a serious oversimplification. Many of the vintage amps that are among the most recorded amps in history, from manufacturers like Vox and Fender, have massive amounts of headroom and play great with pedals despite being designed before some of the pedals we use today even existed. In fact, saying that vintage amps are not appropriate for pedals would take many of the best pedal platform amps in history out of the running!
Whether you have an enormous pedalboard, or just a handful of pedals, you need an amp that can play well with your pedals, getting you as close to the sound you hear in your head as possible. In this article we’re going to recommend 6 amps that play great with pedals, and give you a run down of why they are so good, including a few modern amps as well as some vintage favorites.
Is it ironic that there are so many modeling amps and pedals on the market today designed to give you the vintage Vox chime? They are all trying to capture that warm, vintage Vox tone which drove the British invasion of the 1960's and is still one of the most sought after sounds in music today.
The Vox AC15C1 is an EL84 driven tube amp that delivers 15 watts of British valve tone into your choice of either a Celestion Greenback or Alnico Blue speaker. A real workhorse, the AC15C1 delivers the classic chime and shimmering clean sounds that Vox is famous for in a package loud enough for gigging and physically small enough for portability.
The AC15C1 is a perfect example of a vintage amp with enough clean headroom to take any pedal, despite the fact that it doesn’t have an effects loop. The AC15C1 is one of those rare amps with the rich clean tone and complex harmonics, built-in spring reverb and an incredible onboard tremolo that adds an amazingly musical shimmer to your tone before you’ve plugged in a single pedal. Any pedal savvy guitar player over the last 40 years will tell you vintage Vox amps take pedals like no other! Everyone from Queen to Radiohead have run their pedals through Vox amps (especially the AC30), and you know how that turned out. Plus, the AC15C1 retails under $700 and can be found on the used market for even less!
If you need more power, look into the legendary AC30. While many people think it is basically the same amp, only louder, the additional tubes that give the AC30 its additional power, also give it more headroom, making it an even better pedal-platform amp option.
Vox AC15C1 Demo:
The only solid state amp on the list, the Roland Jazz Chorus 40, is a favorite of the shoegaze and Indie Rock genres for its legendary headroom and ability to play nice with pedals. In fact, the Roland Jazz Chorus may be one of the only solid state amps that players look for specifically for its legendary clean sound, incredible built-in chorus effect, and deep, rich stereo sound.
The Roland Jazz Chorus actually qualifies as a vintage amp, but today’s version has been updated for modern music. Equipped with stereo 2X10“ Celestion speakers, stereo outs and a stereo effects loop, the Roland Jazz Chorus 40 provides the ideal clean foundation for guitarists, and keyboard players, to run effects pedals and sound processors through.
Is there a downside? If there is, it would have to be that, for a solid state amp, the Jazz Chorus models are a bit pricey, but the JC-40 is compact enough to be portable and loud enough for gigging, and can really take pedals like champ!
Roland Jazz Chorus Demo:
The Fender '65 Deluxe Reverb just oozes with vintage American tube tone. Powered by two 6V6 output tubes, one 5AR4 rectifier tube, four 12AX7 preamp tubes, and a pair of 12AT7‘s pushing 22 watts of vintage tube power through a 12-inch Jensen speaker, the '65 Deluxe Reverb is gushing with vintage Fender tube tone that is legendary in the music world.
The perfect amp for a variety of styles, including rock, country, and blues, as well as for players who want a moderately powered amp you can crank up on gigs or in the studio, the fat, snappy tones that come from the Deluxe Reverb offer plenty of headroom, delivering the perfect clean foundation for your country, rock or blues pedal board.
The Fender ‘65 Deluxe Reverb offers two foot-switchable channels, normal and vibrato, and comes with built-in onboard tube-driven tremolo and vibrato so you can get that vintage shimmering sound of vintage vibrato before you even plug in your pedals. The 22 Watts of output is tube powered output, making this vintage Fender plenty loud enough for most gigs and an external speaker jack lets you easily play larger venues. While this vintage Fender reissue doesn’t come with an effects loop, you’ll have no problem plugging your pedal board into the front end. That rich, snappy clean sound that has graced so many recordings, gives you all kinds of headroom to work your sonic magic!
Fender 65 Deluxe Reverb Demo:
The Blackstar Artist 15 is a two-channel tube amp that delivers a potent dose of tube power in a small boutique package. The heart of the Blackstar Artist 15 is two 6L6 power tubes and two ECC83 preamp tubes pushing a single 12" Celestion V-Type speaker. This switchable two-channel amp delivers a clean channel that you can crank all the way up and only get a little bit of dirt. This gives you tons of headroom when you play with pedals!
The Artist 15 comes complete with an array of modern features including an effects loop, emulated line out (great for recording), and Blackstar’s patented ISF control, which gives you a wide range of both British and American tube sounds. Both channels produce bluesy tones with the volume set at 12 o’clock, with the second channel breaking up enough at this volume to deliver an amount of grit appropriate for heavy blues, modern country or raunchy rock. Both channels have enough headroom for effects, but if your sound depends on a heavy dose of pedal-generated tones, you will love the clarity and responsiveness of channel 1.
Boutique amps like the Blackstar Artist 15 can often carry hefty price tags, so the good news is that this beauty comes in under $800 and can be found on the used market far less than that! The downside for this amp is its weight. For a small boutique amp, the Blackstar Artist 15 is definitely on the heavy side.
Blackstar Artist 15 Demo:
Another great classic British amp, but this time on the more high gain spectrum than the Vox, the Marshall DSL 40 offers a potent amount of ‘valve’ power. The DSL 40 is powered by a pair of EL34's with a single ECC83, and a preamp section featuring three ECC83‘s, pumping out 40 watts of tube power through a 12-inch Celestion Seventy-80 speaker. Featuring 2 switchable channels (Clean and Overdrive) divided into 4 total stages (clean, crunch, Lead1 and Lead 2), the DSL 40 gives you a range of tones from vintage clean and crunch to classic overdrive and modern high gain.
Usually purchased for its high gain capabilities and range of onboard classic Marshall tones, loved by a range of guitar heroes from Jeff Beck and AC/DC to Yngwie Malmsteen and Slash, the DSL 40 is actually an amazing pedal platform amp, with a clean channel that can give you all of the lush British tube tone you could ever want with tons of headroom to work your pedalboard magic.
The Marshall DSL 40 is also a modern amp like the Blackstar, with an effects loop so you can run your pedalboard through the back of your amp, and an emulated speaker out which is great for recording.
Coming in under $800 and available for less than that on the used market, the Marshall DSL 40 may be the complete solution for the modern guitarist looking for an amp that provides power, volume, clean headroom and high levels of gain.
Marshall DSL 40 Demo
In the gig-worthy combo amps under $1000 category, in which many of the amps on this list qualify, the Paul Reed Smith Sonzera 20 has been recognized by Guitar World as one of your leading options. The Sonzera 20 is a 20-watt tube combo with a single Celestion V-Type 70-watt 12-inch speaker, featuring a pair of 6L6‘s along with one JJ ECC83 in the power section, and three Ruby 12AX7AC5 tubes in the the preamp, overdrive and reverb sections. The 20 watts of tube power delivered by the PRS Sonzera is plenty loud enough for most gigs, while modern features make it great for recording as well.
The Sonzera offers a clean channel that is lush, thick and crystal clear, providing a perfect foundation for any pedal-based rig. The clean channel begins to break up around 12 o’clock on the volume control, retaining the amazing sparkle and lively dynamic responsiveness. One of the best features on this combo is its tube driven spring reverb which is extremely ambient, adding depth to your sound whether you are on the clean or overdrive channel.
The PRS Sonzera 20 comes with an array of modern features that make it great for gigging and recording. The Sonzera offers five 1/4-inch speaker output jacks on its back panel (one 16-ohm, a pair of 8-ohm and a pair of 4-ohm), a mono effects loop and an included footswitch controller for switching channels and turning the reverb on or off.
PRS Sonzera 20 Demo:
This is just a drop in the bucket of great pedal-platform amps out there. If you have any questions about these or any amps please contact us and we’ll be happy to help you find the perfect amp for your pedal-based rig!