Can one man take on the boutique industry with a Bluesbreaker-inspired 18-watt tube amp for just $650? We take the People''s Amp for a ride to find out.
|Download Example 1|
Vol. & Tone 9 o'clock
|Download Example 2|
Vol. noon, Tone noon
|Download Example 3|
Vol. 5, Tone 3 o'clock
|Recorded with a Nash S63, clip 1 w/ Lollar neck & middle pup; clip 2 w/Lollar bridge pup, Vol. 3 - 8; clip 3 w/bridge pup, Tone 3; all clips recorded in Sound Studio on a MacBook Pro using Digidesign Mbox (SM57; MXL 990).|
Apparently, Wohlwend’s dissatisfaction with off-the-shelf gear and his interest in tube amps lead him to start building for himself, which is all to the good; his success with simple designs and affordable materials apparently lead him to question why so many of the so-called “boutique” amps of similar design cost so much more. That’s a “big” question, but to be frank, I have to say that the chip-on-the-shoulder, “anti-boutique” stance of the website seems a bit strident for me. That said, I know plenty of players feel the same way he does.
Power to the People
The expanding diversity of the market, the integration of modern production methods and a DIY ethos, even the unrestrained scrapping that flourishes in discussion forums—all of this is good news for guitarists. It’s true that some parts of the market are witnessing skyrocketing prices, but that isn’t restricting our freedom of choice. Choice is good; choice means you can get what you want. The first step to figuring out what to do with the fact that some gear costs much more than other gear is in not confusing cost with value. The value of your gear is not what it costs you, but rather what it’s worth to you. A dollar figure is never going to sum that up by itself. Some players want lots of features, while others prefer to think of them as frills. Some are satisfied only when they know they have the best quality components they can get; others will swear that if they don’t hear or feel the difference, then no one does. Add to these differences a huge range of options in construction, versatility, availability, aesthetics, etc.—if freedom of choice makes us crazy, we’re all crazy now.
What's in a name?
Sometimes less is more; sometimes less is just less. Whether or not a stripped-down, minimalist offering like the People’s Amp falls into one category or the other depends entirely on what you want and how you measure it. For example, we could take first impressions. Do you like kitsch? The stenciled “People’s” label bookended by a pair of red stars immediately calls to mind a piece of Soviet-era military surplus hardware. Even if the design is an ironic send-up of the motivation behind the amp, providing old-school tube tone to the masses, it’s still a bit of a mixed metaphor: slightly kooky, but potentially quite cool, depending on who you are.
How about features? With nothing but On/Off and Standby switches, a volume knob and a single tone control, is the People’s Amp unpretentious and user-friendly, or is it a substitute for cash-strapped, tone-hungry players who can’t afford more? You can dial up a really classic glassy EL84 bite in seconds, but that’s all you can do; is that good or bad? That’s hard to say, but it’s only a moot point if People’s Amp is your only amplifier.
Like everything else about it, cabinet construction is motivated by cost saving, which could mean a trade-off, depending on what you expect from your gear. It’s built out of 1/2" voidless Baltic birch plywood, which means it’s not shabby, and it has been given a hand-rubbed oil and wax finish to give it some durability, but there’s nothing particularly attractive about uncovered plywood, and I don’t personally think of Tolex as an extravagance. Plastic handles are fine with me, but some are better than others. On the other hand, I can see how the difference in appearance might appeal to some. I can’t say how long it would take for the amp to start showing the signs of belonging to a working musician, but if it were my amp, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be a long, long time. At the very least, it should have corner protectors—our review model has already recieved one noticeable corner dent, and that’s just from being moved around our offices during a recent jam session (sorry, Karl).
In some ways, it does just look low-grade: the labels on the control panel face are hand engraved, uneven and somewhat ham-fisted. I wonder what would’ve been so expensive about a stencil. The screws holding the plexiglass to the inside of the front opening start to poke through the wood on the valence, and the telltale bumps are a little too “shop class” for me. On the other hand, Wohlwend has made it clear that it’s the sound and feel of the People’s Amp and not its looks that engaged his attention. On that score, he deserves compliments—and some respect. It is indeed what a good amp ought to be: an instrument that responds to the guitar you plug into it, as well as to the way you play. It’s got plenty of sensitivity, and though it’s not the most dynamic amp I’ve played recently, controlling it with only the guitar’s volume knob is no chore.
Hit Page 2 for plugged-in impressions and the rating.
There is only one tone in this box, but it’s a good one: a nice sag and lots of compression, so it’s very warm even on the cleanest settings; obviously, there’s not a ton of headroom, but it doesn’t lose any of its clarity as you crank it up. An amp like this doesn’t call for lots of clean time anyway, since classic blues-rock is where this thing lives—and it’s got its act together. If you like that sound, this amp will reward you, and no need to screw around dialing in the sweet spot. If you want the smoothest overdrive, this amp is not for you; but if you dig the raw edge and bite of the EL84, you’re not going to be disappointed. I could wish for a bit more fine control over the tone shaping. The amp has a very bright character, so you have to be careful about the guitar you plug in. Hotter pickups can push into harsh territory pretty quickly, and I haven’t been able to push the single tone past 3 o’clock without gritting my teeth—but it’s perfectly usable up to that point.
When you push the People’s Amp, it’ll give you a lean, sinewy distortion that’s not too creamy or fat; at lower volume it’s a bit dry, so greater sustain would be desirable. Of course, the cabinet you run this amp through will make a big difference, too. I happened to have on hand Category 5’s slant-front 2×12 loaded with G12H Heritage speakers. That seemed like a pretty righteous match, but I have to say that even with the ample low-end response of this cabinet, the amp is much stronger at the top end. I thoroughly enjoyed the pushed tone with my Nash S63 strat outfitted with Jason Lollar’s pickups—straight up with pedals, very Texas blues sounding. Plug in some mellow humbuckers, crank the volume, dial up the tone just to the edge of brittle, and you can do gritty slide blues à la ZZ Top all day.
The Final Mojo
For the recording studio, or someone who’s looking to expand a collection of smaller, lower power amps, the price tag on the People’s Amp would make it a pretty easy choice. For small club gigs, rehearsal, or a full PA setup, the choice gets a bit harder to make. For a big stage, or regular road trips, I’m not so sure. It has its limitations, but it does what it does pretty damn well. While I wouldn’t recommend it as a workhorse, it would make a solid addition for players who want that sound, or who find its unorthodox looks appealing.
you're looking for an inexpensive low-power amp for blues-rock.
you need more control over your tone.
Street $650 - People's Amplifier - peoplesamp.com
Kick off the holiday season by shopping for the guitar player in your life at Guitar Center! Now through December 24th 2022, save on exclusive instruments, accessories, apparel, and more with hundreds of items at their lowest prices of the year.
We’ve compiled this year’s best deals in the 2022 Holiday Gift Guide presented by Guitar Center.
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About Mystery Stocking
Each year, Premier Guitar likes to put out these mystery boxes as a part of bringing some fun to the holiday season. Remember, this is supposed to be a fun holiday treat! If the contents of this box will ruin your holiday, deplete the last of your bank account, or end your ability to see the good in humanity, it may not be for you.
- This year's Mystery Stocking will cost $44.95. ($39.95 + $5 Flat shipping)
- Each box will be guaranteed to contain $40 or more in value.
- US only. (Sorry World.)
- Make sure your shipping address is correct.
- Have your credit card ready to go before you refresh the page. Paypal is not available. Autofill may not fill in your information.
- There will be NO REFUNDS given.
- There has been a huge demand for these in the past. We really did sell out in less than 4 minutes last year. When they are gone, they are gone.
- One per household, one per person.
Q: What's in the Mystery Stocking?
A: It wouldn't be much of a surprise if we told you, now would it?
Q: Will I definitely get my money worth?
Q: Can I return it if I don't like it?
A: Nope. All sales final.
Q: What if I live outside the US?
A: Sorry, US only.
Q. How much is it?
A. $39.95 Plus $5 shipping
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A. On or before December 10, 2022.
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A. Credit cards only. Sorry, no Paypal for this.
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Q. I tried last year and didn't get one. Will I get one this year?
A. There is an overwhelming demand for Mystery Stocking. Be sure you have a fast internet connection and be ready when they go on sale. Last year we sold out in 3 min 33 seconds.
Q. I want to buy 5. How can I buy 5?
A. You can't. This year, we're limiting to one per household, so more people can get in on the fun!
Featuring the Adaptive Circuitry recently introduced on their Halcyon Green Overdrive, Origin Effects have brought us a pedal with a character all of its own and a new flavor of drive.
Origin Effects introduce the new M-EQ DRIVER mid booster & drive pedal. Based on a vintage Pultec studio EQ, this unique pedal offers a range of mid-focused tones, from a subtle mid boost to thick, resonant overdrive. Featuring the Adaptive Circuitry recently introduced on their Halcyon Green Overdrive, Origin Effects have brought us a pedal with a character all of its own and a new flavor of drive.
A choice of three mid-range frequencies ensures that you can boost just the right part of your guitar signal and, when pushed harder, can elicit a range of saturation from a classic “mid-hump” overdrive to fierce “cocked wah” distortion. Thanks to the Adaptive Circuitry, the high-end roll-off of the Cut control is reduced as the pedal cleans up. This allows for a smooth transition from warm overdrive to bright clean tones in response to playing dynamics or guitar volume knob changes.
Introducing... M-EQ DRIVER || Mid Booster & Drive
Built-in the UK to the highest standards, the M-EQ DRIVER continues the Origin Effects tradition of vintage, studio-inspired tones in modern guitar pedals. The Origin Effects M-EQ DRIVER is available now from Origin Effects dealers worldwide.
RRP: 259 GBP (Inc VAT) / 319 USD (Ex TAX)
For more information, please visit origineffects.com.
The new finish, according to Lava Music, is “inspired by the beauty of the golden hour,” a shining time just before sunset and after sunrise when photographers covet to capture stunning pictures.
With bright and warm golden hues, the new finish adds a brilliant metallic glow to the surface of Lava ME 3, complementing its AirSonic 2 carbon fiber unibody which features L3 Preamp with FreeBoost 2.0, delivers industry-leading sounds by breakthrough acoustic technologies, and houses a multi-touch display powered by Lava-developed HILAVA system.
Speaking of the HILAVA system, Lava Music also added four new effects: Nebula, Desert Rose, Cassette, and Edge of Breakup. As unique as their names sound, they are very much different from what we normally know about effects. Programmed into the HILAVA system, each of the four is powered by the company’s latest ArctanDrive algorithm and incorporates effects like Pitch Shift, Delay, and Reverb. And every one of those incorporated sub-effects comes with various parameters that players can adjust to design unique, overdriven sounds by just tapping on the multi-touch display. That said, those effects enable users to play with overdriven tone on an acoustic-electric guitar without even plugging in any external gear.
LAVA ME 3 | Now in Golden Hour | LAVA MUSIC
Lava Me 3 in Golden Hour is now available starting from $999 on LAVA MUSIC, Amazon, and local guitar dealerships near you.
For more information, please visit store.lavamusic.com.