Are boutique amps worth it?

Messages
25
I think if you are digging the new expensive guitar, get a good amp. I'm currently looking to upgrade myself. Amp shopping is hard right now because of Covid and a lot of the bigger music stores don't really carry boutique amps that you might want to try. I had my eye on a 65' Princeton Reverb reissue with a 12" speaker (instead of 10") speaker to replace my Blues Jr., but that amp has no Master Volume, which could be a pain at home. I have enough pedals to get an overdriven tone at lower volumes but still, you want to be able to play the amp wide open every now and then on its own. So basically I'm in the same boat. Been looking at Swart, they seem cool but they're expensive even for the 5 watt models. And I have nowhere to try one out. You could always go with the Pro Jr. and resell it - my Blues Jr. came with a gold coloring and a Greenback speaker, which does make a difference, I tried a few out when I bought it years ago. So I may do the same, but only if I find one I'm really happy with.
 

mlj_gear

Member
Messages
2,907
The original question is really way too broad to be useful. There are some great sounding, mass produced amps that regularly sell used for under $750, and there are some amps made by boutique builders that, in my opinion, just do not sound good. I mean, in my experience, even some models made by builders who make some fantastic sounding amps sound are massively underwhelming. But yes, there are some fantastic sounding boutique amps out there. You'll never know whether they are worth the additional money to you without trying them. If you don't live near a shop or two that specializes in boutiques, it may be worth making a special trip to a city that has such shops. Heck, even most Guitar Centers have a few used boutique amps in stock these days if you want to keep an eye on their website and use the filters to restrict searched to your area.

Without even getting into boutiques, though, I can say that a Classic 30 was my first tube amp, that I loved that thing, and that it got me hooked on tube amps. The SuperSonic 22 I use most often these days is a much better sounding amp, though, and I think it cost me about $600. (Now if Fender would only finally do something about the much complained about level of idle noise... hah.) I think Carr Ramblers and Sportsman sound phenomenal, and if money were no object I'd get one for my clean tones and for use with pedals, but the SS22 sounds really good to me, and after being through maybe a hundred tube amps and a lot of life, I just no longer lust after a Rambler like I used to. Similarly, I do miss my Aiken Invader sometimes, and for that certain type of crunch, it's hard to beat, but my lowly DSL20 head makes me happy enough these days. I'm also lucky enough to have a couple of early silverface Fenders, and those beat the SS22 by a relatively modest margin, in my opinion, but I'd be less sad to be without then than I would have been 10 years ago. (It's worth noting that I think the Bandmaster Reverb head that I bought it beautiful condition less than five years ago cost me about $600; you definitely don't need to spend a grand to get great tone.)

It's also hard to ignore the fact that some of my musician friends who's musicianship I admire the most play mass produced Fenders and Peaveys. They play and write music orders of magnitude better than I do.

Lastly, after being through dozens of them, I've pretty much given up on the idea that I'll ever be truly blown away by a 5-ish watt single-ended amp, so I guess to me those boutique amps definitely aren't worth it. Even if you really, really want that sort of tone, you can usually find a beat up old Supro for two or three hundred bucks that will do the job just as well without too much trouble. Anyway...
 
Last edited:

Cedar

Member
Messages
257
Here's my current hot take on this.

If you look at sound alone, you're talking about a clear order of magnitude most of the time to get into clear and obvious differences in the same sort of gear. A £300 basic valve amp might be consistently outperformed by a £3000 basic valve amp. But the difference between a £300 and a £600 valve amp, or a £600 and a £1200 unit might be harder to pick, unless you're going for a different type of amp, in which case all bets are off.

So you'll get a return on your investment of an improvement at some level of additional payout. But to suggest that things that are expensive inherently sound better is, I think, being led by the eyes and the wallet rather than the ears. Factory-made stuff tends to be more expensive because of the things it can do, rather than because someone has gone and sourced a better part to do the same job, so the increases in price from £400 for an Origin 50, to £900 for a JVM205H is partly there in where it's made, and partly that the JVM just does more stuff and so has more stuff in it.

The 1987x, which is probably the next thing up from the Origin, at £1200, is probably enough of a difference in the bits they've used to make it such that we could pick the one from the other by the sound alone, but even then, I'm not convinced.
Say, what are all them L looking thingies next to your numbers, anyhow? :dunno
 

mlj_gear

Member
Messages
2,907
One more thing: Lil' Dawg and Winfield are boutique builders in my mind, and you can get a lot of brand new amp from them for less than a grand. If you haven't tried something like a well-built 5E3 and don't mind starting your boutique amp explorations off with a straight-up reproduction, it can be a real treat to find out how good such a simple circuit can sound.
 

De Batz

Member
Messages
2,673
Say, what are all them L looking thingies next to your numbers, anyhow? :dunno
You want to be thankful I didn't start quoting prices in guineas or some weird non-existent unit like that.

Although it is worth thinking about this: if (all) humans had six fingers on each hand, our counting system would go up in powers of 12, not 10.

But the Imperial / avoirdupois system would still be eye-wateringly confusing.
 

ProfRhino

Member
Messages
6,628
You want to be thankful I didn't start quoting prices in guineas or some weird non-existent unit like that.

Although it is worth thinking about this: if (all) humans had six fingers on each hand, our counting system would go up in powers of 12, not 10.

But the Imperial / avoirdupois system would still be eye-wateringly confusing.
hell, not even your pounds are proper 500g ! :bumpbump
rotfl,
Rhino
 

megatrav

Supporting Member
Messages
1,142
I think the answer to your questions lies in asking this question:

Who has bought boutique amps and then went back to more mainstream amps?

That is something that may have mixed answers.

Some people on here act like if you don't pay $2000 + for an amp then it will just end up being garbage, yet tons and tons and tons and tons of musicians use factory amps like the Hot Rod Deluxe for years and years without any issues. A Hot Rod Deluxe is probably about the furthest thing from a boutique tube amps as it comes.

I'd say, if you want something boutique and can buy it, you will probably be happy with it, but if you're just needing something reliable it is a fallacy and complete non-sense that you have to have something super expensive and boutique to have good tone or good reliability.

EDIT: I will take the above statement a step further and bet that most gigging musicians and people playing in bands (especially original bands) are probably not using boutique amps.
 

De Batz

Member
Messages
2,673
hell, not even your pounds are proper 500g ! :bumpbump
rotfl,
Rhino
I do some good routines in school about famous scientists named after units. I started riffing on there being some French bloke called Monsieur Calorie the other day, but a general lack of classical education among the young folk there assembled meant that was a pretty flat joke.

I wonder if, post-Brexit, we will return to a random-number-multiplier system of units just to wind up the rest of Europe.
 
Messages
5,317
It really depends. Can't tell you yes or no as we all have different thresholds. It's worth it to me, but I take my playing and my tone seriously and it means a lot to me... much of the reason I find it worth it is because of durability/build quality and longevity.. and be aware that different builders will have different levels of quality in this sense. I go with Carr because they sound exactly like I want to sound, and they're built like tanks. I pay a pretty premium for that, and if I didn't take my sound and guitar in general so seriously, I would not. If it's more casual, I'd happily bump around with a Vox or Fender tube amp and just replace when they go on me. To me boutique amps give you that extra 10% of tone you're looking for + assurance in build quality.
 

Rmccamey

Member
Messages
111
Agree. Add Gries amps to that list.

One more thing: Lil' Dawg and Winfield are boutique builders in my mind, and you can get a lot of brand new amp from them for less than a grand. If you haven't tried something like a well-built 5E3 and don't mind starting your boutique amp explorations off with a straight-up reproduction, it can be a real treat to find out how good such a simple circuit can sound.
 

ProfRhino

Member
Messages
6,628
I do some good routines in school about famous scientists named after units. I started riffing on there being some French bloke called Monsieur Calorie the other day, but a general lack of classical education among the young folk there assembled meant that was a pretty flat joke.

I wonder if, post-Brexit, we will return to a random-number-multiplier system of units just to wind up the rest of Europe.
you mean, like naming persons after the wildly successful Johnson modeling amps ? :p
at least you can't deny that makes them unique ...
sorry, couldn't resist,
Rhino
 

tinverse

Member
Messages
43
Absolutely, I just bought a Friedman and it is amazing. I will say you need to do your homework on what you want and then start looking for who makes what you're looking for. Don't just buy a Morgan or Friedman because someone said it sounds good, buy something that sounds good to you.
 

Senor Forum

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
3,168
No. IMO the better you can play the less the amp matters. That doesn't mean you shouldn't have a decent 4-$700 tube amp.
While I do agree that good playing can make a not great amp sound decent, I definitely know, from A LOT of experience, that a 4-$700 amp is simply not going to compete, tonally, with a lot of the more expensive boutique amps I've played.

I've been through A LOT of sub-1000 dollar amps, and nothing has come close to touching my Carr Sportsman, and my Mesa Lonestar, or my most recent Two Rock Studio 35.

I'd rather be a good player playing through any of those amps, than a good player playing through a Rocker Terror 15, or a Blues Jr.
 

Tone chader

Member
Messages
349
I'm wondering if it's worth getting something fancy.

I'm a bass player mainly, have spent big bucks on good gear before.

Guitar playing is mostly a hobby for me.
Have bought mostly less than $500 guitars and amps.
Just bought a $1,500.00 guitar and love it.
So it's making me think about a fancy small home amp.

I don't know much about such amps, and am learning about different brands
from this website.
I have a Peavey classic 30, with an extra 12" cab and a
Fender pro junior III.

I need to fix the Fender, and the shop local to me makes fancy amps.
(Savage Audio).
Tempted to make the leap.

Would an amp, say between $1,000 -1,500, really be that much better?

Thanks!
I recently picked up a Tone King Gremlin. It is the perfect home, studio, small gig amp. It is worth looking into.
 

Dean_E

Member
Messages
395
Sounds like you live in Minnesotah? Nate at Willies in St Paul used to carry Savage Audio back when I lived in town.

I'm wondering if it's worth getting something fancy.

I'm a bass player mainly, have spent big bucks on good gear before.

Guitar playing is mostly a hobby for me.
Have bought mostly less than $500 guitars and amps.
Just bought a $1,500.00 guitar and love it.
So it's making me think about a fancy small home amp.

I don't know much about such amps, and am learning about different brands
from this website.
I have a Peavey classic 30, with an extra 12" cab and a
Fender pro junior III.

I need to fix the Fender, and the shop local to me makes fancy amps.
(Savage Audio).
Tempted to make the leap.

Would an amp, say between $1,000 -1,500, really be that much better?

Thanks!
 

NatGardner

Member
Messages
313
While I do agree that good playing can make a not great amp sound decent, I definitely know, from A LOT of experience, that a 4-$700 amp is simply not going to compete, tonally, with a lot of the more expensive boutique amps I've played.

I've been through A LOT of sub-1000 dollar amps, and nothing has come close to touching my Carr Sportsman, and my Mesa Lonestar, or my most recent Two Rock Studio 35.

I'd rather be a good player playing through any of those amps, than a good player playing through a Rocker Terror 15, or a Blues Jr.
Here in the Tampa Orlando area some clubs still allow smoking. I agree that there are better sounding amps than a Fender deluxe or a Peavy classic, but these are gigable amps that I don't fret over if they get smelly or even worse tipped over, dropped, bounced around in my truck or even stolen.
 




Trending Topics

Top