Long story short, I got a job. To celebrate, I'm putting money aside from my first few paychecks to buy my first new amp in almost a decade! Unfortunately since I haven't looked at an amp for almost a decade, and my budget was closer to $500 at the time, I don't have the best grasp on what's available in my price range nowadays. So, I was hoping to get some advice on what to look for.

  • Budget: $1,000. Going over by maybe $100 or so is okay, but I really want to keep this no higher than one grand if possible.
  • Cleans are a necessity. I like clean tones, and I use them quite often. An amp with amazing gain but no clean tone isn't very useful to me.
  • I'd like something with decent onboard gain. I've been using a Blues Junior for the last eight or so years, so the most onboard gain I've had has been a mild bluesy overdrive, which isn't bad, but I'd like more than that out of the amp. I don't need heavy metal gain, but I'd like a little more punch out of the amp. A lack of gain is acceptable if the cleans are amazing.
  • Reverb is not a necessity. I like a good reverb, so having it built-in is a big plus, but l don't ever turn it up very far, so I can live without it for a month or two while I put money aside to buy a decent external reverb.
  • High wattage is not a necessity. I'm not going to be doing any large gigs with this. The highest my Blues Junior's master volume ever went was around halfway, I don't need a ton of power. Roughly 20 watts is what I've been looking at.
  • Must handle pedals well. There's almost always one pedal on in my setup, whether it's an OD, a delay, a chorus, something is almost always on. To that end, whatever amp I end up with needs to be pedal-friendly. On that note, an effects loop is a huge plus if the amp's onboard gain is any good.
  • The fewer tubes to worry about, the better. I'm not working minimum wage, but suffice to say I don't have a very large paycheck. The fewer tubes I have to worry about randomly dying and needing to replace, the better. Only worrying about four is better than worrying about seven.
  • Switchable wattage is a huge plus. I do not live in a large house, and in all likelihood that will not change within the next few years. Being able to switch down to a lower wattage mode for practice or recordings is a massive bonus for me. Double bonus if it can switch down to five watts or less.
  • Combos and heads are both acceptable. I'd prefer a head so I can finally get off my lazy ass and buy a decent cab, but since that would require fitting a cabinet into the budget, combos are also a welcome option.
  • Tonally, I'm mainly looking for something that can cover cleans and moderate gain well. I don't play very much metal, so I don't need ultra high-gain. I have a Fulltone OCD I'm very happy with to provide an extra push for the rare occasions I do want some more singing high-gain type sounds, so the absolute most I'm looking for out of the amp's distortion is a nice old-school crunchy tone for rhythm, and a tone along the lines of what Guthrie Govan had on Erotic Cakes, where it's very clearly dirty, but still clean and low-gain enough to be very articulate and defined. Please no fizz! The speaker in my Blues Junior isn't the friendliest to gain, so if there's much high-end on a dirty tone, it turns into a fizzy, squishy mess. I'd like the cleans to be along the lines of a Fender clean, but with a little more meat on them; even EQing to try and make it punchier, my Blues Junior's cleans can still sound a little lacking.

There are a few that I have in mind right now, but I'm very open to suggestions on any additional amps that someone with more hands-on experience thinks may do the trick.

Marshall DSL40C
Pros: Plenty of power. Seems to pack pretty much everything that I'm looking for in at $700. Sweetwater's selling it with a free speaker upgrade to a Celestion Creamback, which should help with the whole "no fizzy gain" issue. I've tried it and really liked it in-store.
Cons: The lowest power mode it switches to is still more power than my current amp. Granted its master volume is much more controllable than my Blues Junior's, but it's still a concern for once it's into my confined little space. When I tried it in-store, I was using a Les Paul and a Custom 22. I mainly play through a modded stratocaster, so suffice to say I don't know how it'll sound with my main guitar yet. I also tried it almost a year ago, and my desires with distortion have become much lower-gain since then.

Orange OR15H
Pros: I've always liked the sound of a cranked-up Orange amp. From everything I can find, the OR15H is a really well-made amp for $700, and sounds much higher-quality than its pricetag suggests. Switchable wattage.
Cons: Every demo of the cleans I've heard has sounded uninspired at-best, and I'd prefer not to spend $700+ on an amp that I'm only happy with when it's dirty, and as I've said before, good cleans are a must. The few local Orange dealers around here are very inconsistent with what they stock, so chances to try it out first may be limited. No switchable wattage. No reverb.

Fender Deluxe Reverb
Pros: I played through one at a session gig a few years ago, absolutely loved its clean tone.
Cons: Priciest amp here. The highest-gain I've heard it with was a Tubescreamer set fairly low. I have no idea how it will perform with any gain whatsoever. The one that I liked was a vintage one from 1964, and suffice to say that pre-CBS Fender is probably going to be a bit better than a modern version. Nine tubes to worry about! The prospect of more than six makes me nervous, going up to almost ten is a very unsettling proposition until I have a higher-paying job and can actually afford to maintain all those valves. No onboard gain. No effects loop. No mids control. No switchable wattage.

Hughes & Kettner Tubemeister 18 head
Pros: By all accounts it appears to be designed with versatility in-mind, which is a big plus to me. Seems like a really great deal for what it offers. Switchable all the way down to one watt.
Cons: I have never seen an H&K amp in-person. Nobody around here sells them. If I buy it, I'm buying it without ever trying it out, which is not a prospect I'm fond of. On that note, I've never tried an H&K amp out, so I don't know if I'll actually like playing through one. It seems like a great deal, but I'm very wary of any deal that seems too good to be true. No reverb.

Egnater Tweaker 15 head
Pros: Affordable enough that, if I buy it, I can probably actually afford a decent 212 to go along with it. I tried one out years ago, and I remember really liking it.
Cons: It's been about seven years since I tried it out, and I don't trust me from seven years ago. No switchable wattage. No reverb.

Again, I'm very open to suggestions, so if you have an amp I didn't mention that you think would fit the bill for me, I'm all ears.

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It's a bit different than what you're looking at, but I'd try to find a used mesa boogie Mark V 25.

You wouldn't touch the Mark IV setting or the Extreme setting, but you could set up a great clean side on the clean channel (potentially with a bit of dirt) and then use the iic+ mode on the heavy channel for more mid-gain lead tones.

You should be able to find one for about...800ish used (maybe a touch more, I can't find any right now, but hopefully you'll have better luck), it has amazing cleans (very Fender-y but with a bit more gain on tap), it has spring reverb in it (never been a crazy fan of mesa boogie's reverb but...it's not bad), it's a reasonable wattage (can do small gigs, but not much more), it is very pedal friendly and has an effects loop, it does have 8 tubes (womp womp), but I've had...4 mesa boogie amps for a total of like..8ish years between them, and only had one tube give, switches down to 10 watts, yeah. Despite being a bit unconventional, I think it hits a lot of what you want.

This is kinda the setup I was thinking for it:
Fender Princeton cleans, world class reverb, epic singing OD at the ready? Mesa. None of the Brit amps above really do glassy Fender clean. They sound good when cleaned up but never like Fender/Mesa.

So now, which Mesa? This one ticks a lot of your boxes:

Fender Supersonic is another choice that covers your needs:

Switchable wattage is a pretty useless feature for home practice or recording. Even 1w cranked is 100db, (20w is 113db) so far too loud for home practice. Just get an amp with a modern master volume and turn it down when needed. It's a bogus marketing tool not a "must have"

Quality tubes last from 5-15 years so their replacement cost or convenience is not really an issue unless you are touring with 250 dates per year. A fresh set is around $80 for most 20w amps so they would average $8.00/yr. A non issue, ignore tube count.
"Your sound is in your hands as much as anything. It's the way you pick, and the way you hold the guitar, more than it is the amp or the guitar you use." -- Stevie Ray Vaughan

"Anybody can play. The note is only 20 percent. The attitude of the motherfucker who plays it is 80 percent." -- Miles Davis

Guthrie on tone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmohdG9lLqY
If you want to go used and save some $ I'd look into a Mesa F-50 or a Peavey Classic 30.
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Consider the Fender Bassbreaker and Carvin V3 or Legacy amps- all in your price range.
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tfizzle20, Cajundaddy: I looked a little bit into Mesa, but unfortunately there's only one Mesa dealer in my state, and they're all the way on the other side of it. Assuming the local Orange dealer gets their shit together, I can try all of the other amps out before buying, with the exception of the H&K, which is only there because it seems like a ridiculous value if it's as good as it seems. That said, there are a .50 Caliber+ and an F-50 used at a local shop. Would either of them be worth a try for my needs?

Also, on the subject of switchable wattages and tube costs: Fair point about the cost. I've only had three sets of tubes in the time I've owned my Blues Junior, and that's including the stock tubes. I guess it's just in the back of my head, I want as few moving parts as possible to minimize the risk of the amp crapping out when I need it. As for switchable wattage, I've really liked it when I've tried it out in-store, but then again I've never really had an amp with switchable wattage or a decently effective master volume inside of a small room that gets loud fast instead of a big store floor, so it's very possible it's not as useful as I'm assuming it is.

metalmingee: Will give that used F-50 I mentioned a look then. Weirdly enough I never liked the Classic 30. It seems right up my alley, but something about it just feels disappointing every time I give one a shot.

dannyalcatraz: Tried out the Bassbreaker 15 and 7, wasn't overly-impressed with either. They weren't bad, but not enough that I'd spend $650 on them. How's the 45W compared to the 15? I looked into Carvin, but every demo of their amps that I find is ridiculously trebly. I want to assume that's just the EQing, but I have yet to find one that isn't excessively bright. That said, I haven't tried any of their amps in-person, because they're Carvins, as they're a pain to track down. The same local shop with the F-50 has an old Legacy 1 though, I'll give it a shot when I try the F-50.

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you got Mesa MK 5 .25 wrote all over you .... buy your mesa on line , they are built tuff , doubt you would ever have any trouble with it and they hold decent resale value
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Sorry, haven't had a chance to test drive a Bassbreaker yet- they're always sold out when I have time to demo one!

Carvins ARE a bit more trebly than most, but you can EQ a bit of that away..
Sturgeon's 2nd Law, a.k.a. Sturgeon's Revelation: “Ninety percent of everything is crap.”

Why, yes, I am a lawyer- thanks for asking!

Log off and play yer guitar!

Strap on, tune up, rock out!
Yeah I'm thinking a used Mesa would be a good grab, if you can find one possibly a used Lonestar/Lonestar Special. You may could find an old Mark I/II or even a III. The IV is cool (I have one) but if cleans are a priority the others may suit you better.

The Mesa Heartbreaker is another good option. An Express might be okay, I've never been super impressed by one though, just my experience.

The Fender Super Sonic that was recommended is an excellent choice.

Really going used you can get amps that are a tier or two above what you were considering before. I honestly don't consider any of the amps you mentioned in the opening post to be real upgrades from the Blues Jr., and that's not knocking them, that's how highly I think of the Fender. You may have to take a leap and buy without trying, which, admittedly, is scary. I think if you do your research right, really investigate every demo and online review on every site, go forum hopping and see what people say in casual conversation, you will have a good enough base of knowledge to make a decision.

To put it to you this way, I have bought, traded, and sold a LOT of amps over the years. Many of these were online transactions, and using what I mentioned above, I've almost always found what I was looking for. If I was dissapointed with an amp, it was most likely because I didn't do enough research.

In any case, it's your money (and a grand is nothing to toss around frivolously), and your decision. Just thought I'd throw my perspective out there.
I love the Express, it is a very versatile amp. It is designed as one in all amp, and I think it needs a little help but it really shines with a few effects. I'd go for Mesa Express 5:25 even brand new for just a few hundred more.

Also - look at Orange used. Very distinctive tones and the builds are exemplary. TH-30C perhaps or even a Tiny Terror or Dual Terror would work great. The OR series if you want more of a vintage vibe.
Last edited by diabolical at Jun 20, 2016,
Used orange Rockerverb combo would be a great option. I saw one at $1000 online used.

I agree on the Mesa Mark series. Used mkiii and mkiv combos are in your price range.
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Mesa 5:25, F-30, F-50, and 50 Cal will all take you where you want to go. All are built like Sherman tanks designed to gig every night for a very long time. They also have useful Master volumes so they sound decent at very low volumes. The F-30/F-50 have cab-voiced line out/headphone out for silent jamming or recording. Go play through a couple and see what you think.
"Your sound is in your hands as much as anything. It's the way you pick, and the way you hold the guitar, more than it is the amp or the guitar you use." -- Stevie Ray Vaughan

"Anybody can play. The note is only 20 percent. The attitude of the motherfucker who plays it is 80 percent." -- Miles Davis

Guthrie on tone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmohdG9lLqY
Some other heads to consider that are within your budget are:
- Rivera Knucklehead KTre Reverb (amazing Clean all the way to high gain)
- Bogner Alchemist (40W), my favorite MIC, love it's Clean, gigged hard for 5 years and still solid.
- Soldano Lucky 13, you can find one for around 1000 if you're really patient.

Instead of the TubeMeister 18, I'd go for the 36, still pretty light, and better Clean at high volume.

There are also tons of used Mark IIIs and IVs below your budget on CL and sometimes GC used.
Last edited by Ippon at Jun 21, 2016,
Just got back from testing a bunch of amps at a local shop. Unfortunately, the used F-50 had sold, and the .50 Caliber was underwhelming. It had a nice clean, but I'm not sure it's a clean that was worth its pricetag. Gain didn't appeal to me, too grainy for my liking. The Carvin Legacy was nice, but it had too much thump in its low-end, and I didn't even get to try out the dirty channel because it was so loud that if the gain was anywhere above 4 while the volume was beyond 2, it was taking my head off, even in the half-power mode.

I also played a little with the Bassbreakers again, specifically the 30/18. I actually really liked the 30W channel, but it felt a thinner and treblier than I want, especially with a drive pedal on it. The 18W channel was plain disappointing. The 15W amp was the same as I remember it, nice, but not worth its pricetag for me.

I did like a PRS SE20 combo that the store had, but I want to test it out more thoroughly before putting money down on it. I'd also like to see if I can A/B/C between that, a DSL40(Store was out of them, so couldn't try one today), and the .50 Caliber again(I was underwhelmed, but I'm convinced I just need to spend more time dialing in the graphic EQ), with a Blues Junior as the control since I know how to get the right sound from them.

Ippon, I'll keep an eye out for those, but I've never seen a Soldano or Revera in-person, so I'm not sure how likely finding one will be. I played an Alchemist a few years ago, it was nice, but also way more than I had at the time

dementiacap1, Appreciate the perspective! If I had a higher-paying job or a more concrete idea of what I'm looking for, I'd be more comfortable buying online, but I'm still not making a ton of money and I'm still not 100% sure what I want, so for at least this amp, I want to try before I buy.

Baltimore Orioles: 2014 AL Eastern Division Champions, 2017: 75-87
Baltimore Ravens: 2012 World Champions, 2017: 4-5
2017 NFL Pick 'Em: 92-54