The Categories:
Low Wattage/High

Loud as Hell
Fresh Approach
Nice Price
Redux Deluxe
Vintage Vibe
Branching Out
Don''t forget to check out our Best of 2008 list with all of the top rated gear of the year, along with links to the reviews:
The Best of 2008
As the year comes to a close, we’ve been reflecting on the 200+ pieces of gear that came through our doors. How lucky are we to be living in the golden age of gear! Our reviewers plugged in, played, eyeballed, and otherwise tested just about a ton of exquisitely good gear this past year—so much outstanding gear, in fact, that we couldn’t fit it all in these pages. We’re putting the entire list of top-rated gear (4.5 or 5.0 ratings) we reviewed during last yearhere, so you can see everything at a glance and read any (or all) of the reviews with just a click.

Rather than repeat ourselves in a nutshell here, we’ve gathered a select group of items from all that gear, to show you a few things we thought were really special, and broken it down into twelve categories. All the gear we’ve singled out here either exemplified a trend, represented new ideas, displayed first-rate attention to quality, was real bang for your buck, or possessed some other quality that’s harder to name. Whatever the name, you can be sure our reviewers thought it was something worthy of your attention. Of course, a lot of this gear could easily fit into more than one of these categories, but we tried to put things where we thought they would best highlight the reason why each reviewer was so impressed. Watch for “revisited” products, where our reviewers give you some extra input, now that they’ve let the gear’s effects soak in.

Without further ado, the 2008 Premier Gear Awards go to…

There’s no denying the impact that the low-wattage resurgence has made on the amplification industry in the past decade. This year saw a mind-boggling number of amps checking in at increasingly miniscule wattages, yet somehow retaining tonal qualities that blew our minds. We averaged nearly one low-wattage amp review per month this year, so the pool for this award was broad. The Premier Gear Low Wattage/High Performance Award recognizes those companies that broke away from the pack.
Reinhardt SV 18

Not all low-wattage amps are quiet, as evidenced by the gig-ready Reinhardt SV 18. Starting with the same basics as the Marshall 1974X that spawned the entire genre—three 12AX7s, two EL84s and a EZ81 rectifier tube—Bob Reinhardt created an amp that sounds great at pretty much any setting. This versatility made the amp great for a number of genres, but fans of old-school Marshalls should take special note.

“Reinhardt Amplification has come out swinging, and in the process has placed the SV 18 near the top of a crowded field.” – March ’08
Reinhardt SV 18
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Goodsell SuperSeventeen Mark III Goodsell SuperSeventeen Mark III

The SuperSeventeen Mark III lent an EL84 chime and sparkle that shined the brightest somewhere between clean and dirty. If 17 watts is too high, it is switchable down to 5 watts, which opens up even more tones. Said reviewer James Egolf [August ‘08], “Although the Mark Three always sounds like a Mark Three, it hints at a bastard amalgam of an AC15 and a tweed Deluxe in 17-watt mode, and suggests an old Princeton in a 12” enclosure when producing 5 watts.”
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Watch the demo...

Retro King 18-Watt Combo
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Watch the demo...
Retro King 18-Watt Combo -- Revisited

“I actually purchased [the amp], which alone speaks volumes about it, as I already have a number of great amps in my stable. The decision to do so was based on one thing alone: the tone. I discovered that when using the amp with the master at various positions, the degree of output tube saturation could be so varied that I could use the amp for a much wider palette of tones than I had imagined. I have occasion to play a variety of types of gigs both live and in the studio, and the light weight and smaller size made it a great choice for both of these venues. With my Les Paul and the BSM Rory Gallagher booster pedal I am able to get an absolutely vicious harmonic-laden octave sustaining tone that I think any rocker would die for. With my Strats and Teles and using no pedals at all I could do all the modern snarly country and blues licks with great touch sensitivity and feel. It’s not the loudest amp on the block, but it speaks more convincingly than most others.” – Kenny Rardin

Carr Mini Mercury Carr Mini Mercury

Want low wattage? Try a variable output that gets as small as a tenth of a watt. The Mini Mercury’s downsizing to a 10” speaker (from the Mercury’s original 12”) gave it a completely new sound when coupled with the amp’s EL34s. The amp’s Boost circuit was the top draw, however, bringing a smile to the face of reviewer James Egolf, who said [March ‘08], “If you’ve ever uttered the words ‘British’ and ‘Top Boost’ in the same sentence, the Boost circuit alone is worth whatever price Steve [Carr] wants.”
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