The essential thing to know about Amp 1 isn’t that it’s the size of a large-format stompbox, easily mountable on most pedalboards. Or that it churns out a blistering 100 watts. Or even that it’s uncommonly versatile, with four highly customizable channels.
The key fact is that Amp 1’s tones range from darn good to ridiculously good. It’s not just for players who need to travel light. Even guitarists with muscles and a minivan will find lots to love about this ingenious little amplifier.
Straight Outta Saarbrücken
Amp 1 is the debut product from BluGuitar, a company founded by German guitar hero and longtime Hughes & Kettner contributor Thomas Blug. Blug has pulled off quite a feat: Amp 1 boasts gee-whiz engineering and delivers tones that reflect the savvy of a seasoned player and sound designer.
Amp 1 combines a tube-powered preamp with a solid-state Class D power amp. Class D designs, which can generate massive power using relatively small, light components, have become common in compact bass amps, though their ultra-clean tones make them rarer in guitar amplification. Meanwhile, the preamp employs a subminiature Russian vacuum tube. (According to Blug, it performs like a 12AX7/ECC83, but has a far longer lifespan.)
I evaluated Amp 1 alongside Remote 1, a $349 pedalboard option that adds extra functionality. Both are ruggedly constructed. A metal shell encases the plastic Amp 1 enclosure, while the Remote 1 enclosure is entirely metal. All footswitches feel solid and stage-worthy. There’s even a recessed channel on Amp 1’s underside so it can sit astride top-mounted speaker cab handles.
Let’s first look at Amp 1 as a standalone device, and then we’ll see what Remote 1 adds to the mix.
Amp 1 has four modes: clean, vintage, classic, and modern. The leftmost footswitch toggles between clean mode and a high-gain mode of your choice. (To access others modes, just twist the mode-selector knob.)
Clean mode evokes a big blackface-era Fender—perhaps an especially sweet-sounding Twin Reverb. Notes are crystalline and chimey and free of pinprick edges. Vintage mode reminds me of a dual-6V6 Fender combo—a nice little Princeton, maybe—though Blug describes it as “British.” (Perhaps I would have had a different impression if I’d listen through a Vox-style speaker rather that a Fender-style 1x12 cab.) Whatever the inspiration, the tones transition smoothly from clean to furry, retaining vibrant sparkle even at higher-gain settings. They are fat, funky, and remarkably similar to those of a small 50-year-old combo.
Classic mode is full-on plexi, with virile midrange distortion, harmonically rich highs, and deep fundamentals. It sounds remarkably Marshall-like, even through my 1x12 cab. But to my ear, modern mode, inspired by high-gain metal amps, is less convincing. The distortion, sustain, and response are just fine, but the core tone lacks the textural nooks and crannies that are the hallmarks of modern macho metal amps, and note attack doesn’t seem sufficiently crisp and defined for ultra-fast riffing.
A Player’s Palette
Despite some touch-dynamic shortcomings in high-gain settings, most modes exhibit the responsiveness of the full-sized amps that inspired them. Small variations of touch come through loud and clear, and everything reacts dramatically to guitar-knob adjustments. You can dial in a dirty setting in vintage or classic mode and veer from crispy-clean to mega-crunch via the guitar. There’s also a dedicated boost switch to goose the gain in any mode. The nuance doesn’t stop there: A set of small side-mounted pots lets you tweak level and gain settings per channel and set the sensitivity of a built-in noise gate.
The 3-band EQ section works beautifully in all modes. Tone changes are more dramatic than on vintage tone stacks, with less interactivity between bands. You can dial in extreme character changes, yet the controls provide usable tones throughout their ranges. The reverb is rich, musical, and convincingly spring-like. I just wish there were more of it. The maximum-wet setting falls far short of surf territory. The dedicated reverb footswitch works in all modes.
Rear panel connections include an effect loop, 8-ohm and 16-ohm speaker outs, and a recording/headphone output. The latter incorporates extra filters for above-average speaker emulation, though I got the best results miking a speaker. There’s also a jack to connect a standard TRS dual footswitch (not included) to toggle from clean to drive, and to activate the reverb. That’s also where you connect Remote 1. Speaking of which …
Remote 1 doesn’t just let you pilot Amp 1 from a distance—it adds significant functionality. It works two ways. In direct access mode there are dedicated footswitches for each amp mode, so you can access all four without stooping. There’s also an effect-loop on/off, a power-soak pot for generating high-gain tones at low volume, an extra master-volume stage, plus reverb and boost controls as on Amp 1. MIDI in and out jacks let you change tones on MIDI-equipped effects or use external controllers to access Amp 1 functions. Alternately, you can select preset mode, where you can save and recall up to 36 Amp 1 settings, arranged in four banks of nine presets each.
BluGuitar also offers the $249 Looperkit (not tested), which plugs into the left side of Amp 1 to provide four programmable mono effect loops. The company also sells two cabinets designed specifically for Amp 1 (also untested).The Verdict
Amp 1 tackles a challenging set of tasks—miniaturization, power, interface design, versatility, and tone quality—and succeeds at all of them. Most of its tones convincingly mimic the traditional amps that inspired them. The build quality is solid. The controls are remarkably simple given their range and nuance. The accessories add meaningful functionality. Amp 1 is a triumph of both engineering and sound design.
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