The Dating Game, Part One: Guitar, Meet the Perfect Amp-in-a-Box that Doesn’t Exist

Airline guitar

Guest blogger Rob Roberge let’s his guitarist imagination run loose, and comes up with his ideal combinations of Eastwood guitars and classic, vintage amps. An interesting read…

One of the coolest movements in pedals over the last decade or so is the ‘amp-in-a-box’ pedal. Many have been around a while (Tech 21’s Blonde and the rest of that fine series comes to mind), while others have cropped up in the last five years or so. For just one example, you’ve got pedals that will bring you, say, Neil Young’s Tweed Deluxe sound, or any other Tweed Deluxe sound you might want. But, really…as great an amp as the Tweed Deluxe is meant for aggression (as are its many available copies/clones). If you play in a rock band and need to get over a drummer…well, you bought your Tweed Deluxe (or, a copy out there that costs less than a house) to get…yeah, that Neil Young sound. On that one amp’s sound alone, I can think off the top of my head of the above Tech 21 Blonde, the Catalinbread Formula 55, the Boss Tweed, and Fender series that mimics the amp in question. There are more. And this doesn’t count the clones of the copies. Or the clones of the clones of the copies. Something like the Joyo “American” pedal, which is a total rip of the Tech 21 Blonde pedal and they are dirt-cheap and perform really well. This pedal (like its inspiration) is even a cool backup if your amp dies, as it can go directly into the board, using Tech 21’s great old Sans amp technology with cab sims and so on. None of these are endorsements, just some examples of a growing market trend.

Anyway. That’s the Tweed Deluxe. There are other amps in a box that will give you your AC 30 (top boost switch on nearly all), your various Marshalls, but especially the Plexi’s and Bluebreakers. Pedals to give you the Mesa Boogie sound (for some reason…I apologize to the Boogie folks oy there…yet clearly not enough to erase this). There are impressive Silvertone/Dano pedals, Valco/Supro, and so on.

It would be kind of easy (if also a lot of fun) to pair Eastwood and Airline models with the amp or amps that would sound great with them from our available choices. Say, an Airline H78 with, let’s say, a JHS V2 Silvertone 1484 pedal. But, no…since I don’t have to be bound to reality here, I’m going to have some fun and match some Eastwood/Airlines with pairing of amps I think would be a great choice…whether anyone’s bothered to recreate them in a box or not (I believe the answer is “not” in all cases). Feel free to play along at home and add your idea in the comments section. Remember, I’m just naming some great/funky choices amps to pair with the guitars. The choices are FAR from the last word. Fire away in the comments.

I had to limit the number of models I was going to go through just for brevity and space’s sake. But, there could be another (and another) having fun with these combos. Maybe we’ll expand to pedal boards next. Though that can go insane, as many comments on YouTube display.

But…for these the guitars…the amp-in-a-boxes don’t exist. I am also taking the liberty of hitting these amps with a boost in front, but no overdrive or dirt pedals for this experiment. Just going with the amp and a boost to bring out more texture that’s in there.

  • Well…what does the Airline 59 model pair with? Duh. We have a Silvertone/Dano 1484 pedal (since there not a 1485 one, that’s as close as we can get)…but that’s way too easy. And besides, the fine pedal exists. Considering the guitar, in which the humbuckers can run into some trouble going into the off-brand “cheap” amps of the day, as most were pretty dark (no pedals, remember…an EQ alone would change this thought experiment, clearly). So…what’s a good pick? I’m going for something out of left field here…well, about as left field as I can get while still using a major and well-known amp maker. The Ampeg Reverberocket is a fabulous amp. Nearly every version used 7591 output tubs, which have a fabulous breakup all their own in the right circuit. I’m going with those models, even though there was a one year only outlier where Ampeg used 6V6’s in the output of the Reverberocket (I could VERY easily be wrong, but if memory serves, it’s the 1963 or ’64 model). This choice in output tubes, as one might guess, broke up at a lower volume than the others. Everett Hull hated distortion, and put a stop to this design after one year. That circuit would never show up in that model (or any) Ampeg amp again. That version of the amp, however, was justly described by Trainwreck guru (and former Ampeg muckity-muck Ken Fischer as the sleeper amp in Ampeg’s history. I could go either way, as I have both a couple dual 7591 and 6V6 amps coming up on the list in a bit. But I’ll go with the 6V6 Ampeg. Great breakup, but plenty of treble unlike so many of the fabulous bargain (then) priced amps. Great tremolo and distinctive reverb many enjoy more than Fender’s, and you’ve got a really cool combo. 
  • The Guyatone L-50. This is a no-brainer for the cool factor alone. Though the glory is somewhat dampened by the fact that there’s very little chance the pedal could look quite as cool as the ampo, but I’m running the L-50 into…yes, the Guyatone GA-530A amp. A 12” speaker driven by two EL 84’s, smooth, slightly trail-y reverb and tremolo. The EL84’s aren’t getting pushed too hard, so there’s more jangle and warm clean to be had on this one. Lovely cleans. It can be pushed to breakup, but it takes a stronger nudge than most on this list. A beautiful amp, by the way. Stunning aesthetics. I’m imagining (since, hell, I’m making it up) the pedal to make the amp proud. *The clean jangle of this pedal would be a fun pairing with the Mandocaster of Tenor or any instrument that loves tto jangle at lower volumes.
  • Eastwood Spectrum 5? Here’s where I’m picking something with even more of a killer clean. A late 760-s twin-twelve Sano with dual 7591’s. An amp with a truly distinctive voice—they are not the Ampeg clones some take them for just because of their relation at Sano’s origin and some similar setups (and the use of 7591’s when not many companies were using them). But they have their own thing going…and they have a rich heavy bottom and a clean and not at all harsh treble. Great balance in these amps. It would pick up the underrated bass range and thick bottom of the Spectrum, which allowing for glistening mids and highs. It can rock, but it can really surf or cover any rich clean tones. Also, its (relatively) high headroom threshold takes dirt pedals extremely well, for a tougher rock sound if you like. Add fabulous trem and reverb and it would make a hell of a pedal. Someone should actually get on this one, since it’s a fabulous sounding circuit and the amp is about a thousand pounds. Someone who could lift two SVT cabs at once would hurt themselves lifting a single Sano twin twelve. They could use this amp on ABC’s “World’s Strongest Man” contest. Men race up hills with refrigerators strapped to their back on that show. Why not a Sano 2X12? Fridges would be nothing in comparison. Of course, I have never run uphill carrying either. Perhaps that was clear prior to my admission…so, amp-in-a-box Sano, please.
  • Bill Nelson Astroluxe Cadet DLX B…a really crazily cool one-of-a-kind look with an equally cool and slightly whacky amp. One that will never be made into an effects pedal, but should for a couple of reasons (and one dominant one I’ll mention in a moment…stay on the edge of your seat…it’s my Perry Mason surprise victory moment, I promise): the Teisco 100 head and cab. I’m cheating a bit. I’ve heard a Teisco 50…its smaller sibling. And it was a fine amp. A sort of version of a Blackface-era Fender…like a Super Reverb or even a Twin. Takes a fair amount to push the 50 into breakup…I would imagine more for the 100. So…how in the world can I pick an amp I have literally to my knowledge never heard, even on a recording? Because the 50 was really cool at half the power, but it was missing the crucial detail. The 100 has a VU meter! Bam. Case closed. Period. Full Stop. Even though I’m not done. Find me another amp with a VU meter and I’ll consider another pairing with the Astroluxe Cadet DLX B. Actually, I’m not being entirely goofy (well, perhaps mostly). Another clean amp that should take pedals extremely well at low and high volume. Great for the player who wants to work on a wide palate of sounds, while also showing off the coolest amp and VU-equipped amp in a box. VU meter. Or you wouldn’t be on this page. Admit it!
  • Airline Tuxedo: going for smooth warmth beyond belief with a little hair, the amp-in-a-box of the Gibson GA-T50 of the early 50’s. I played a friend’s 1951 and did run my Tux through it, and boy would jazz and jump blues players love this combo. Neck pickup and you are in a solid Charlie Christian tone—as close, I’d argue, as one can get without the distinctive pickup of Christian’s. Play with just a thumb, and get a depth the pick doesn’t quite capture at lower volumes. The amp’s slight, but not overly hairy breakup would make it stand out among most of the slight dark early amps. On the bridge pickup, some more bite, but hardly a Les Paul Goldtop hitting a Marshall or something.

So, there are five ideas for Eastwood/Airline guitars with Amp-in-a-Box pedals that don’t, should, yet probably never will exist. Let’s see some of you ideas in the comments. Though not too many, as I have to come up with some new pairings next time around.