BluGuitar AMP1 Review
Since I got the BluGuitar AMP1 in November 2016, I've used it in many different contexts, but primarily for gigging. Now that the honeymoon phase is over, I think I can give it an honest review. So here goes:
The AMP1 is an all analog compact 100 watt guitar amplifier that uses a mix of traditional vacuum tube technology and solid state circuitry to acheive its tones. A nano tube sits in the power section of the amp and provides the characteristics of a tube power section that we all know and love. In the preamp there are switchable solid state circuits for the three different overdrive channels.
All four channels share the same three band EQ, but the overall character of each channel (except the vintage one) can be modified by a small trim pot located on the side of the unit. The volumes of the classic and modern channel can also be adjusted in this way. There is a built in digital reverb and a boost function. The factory configuration of the channel switching allows you to jump between the clean channel and one selected overdrive channels with the left foot switch. You also have the possibility to customize this configuration so that you can access more channels with the other foot switches originally designated for reverb or boost.
I must say I’m impressed with the clean channel of this amp. It does everything from jazz to country or blues. This channel has no preamp gain and offers beautiful cleans with lots of headroom. When you crank up the volume past halfway it will eventually start to break up slightly depending on your pickups. At full master volume you can even get a great power amp distorsion.
This channel is supposed to modelled on a JTM 45, and while I haven’t played one of those classic amps for long enough to really be familiar with the feel, the tone of this channel is definitely that of early Marshall Plexis. While the gain control allows you to add in more preamp distorsion than you’d normally be able to do on a non master volume plexi, this channel really shines with the gain set low and the master set high, just as you’d expect from the original. It’s very dynamic, and will clean up nicely with a turn of the guitar’s volume knob or with softer picking. Add in the boost or a good overdrive pedal and you have screaming lead tones. Single coils give this channel a very Hendrixy vibe, it sounds punchy and percussive on the neck pickup just as you’d expect. A set of humbuckers gets you into instant AC/DC territory.
This channel just screams hot rodded Marshall. Think Nuno Bettencourt or George Lynch. With a little bit of tweaking you can even get a convincing EVH brown sound out of it. The tighter bottom end and better string definition at high gain settings makes this channel better suited to palm muted chunk and meaty heavy metal riffing than the vintage channel. Turn up the gain and you have instant 80’s lead tones, singing sustain and harmonics that jump at you. Makes me smile every time. This channel is sounds best with humbuckers IMO. I tried it with single coils and it sounded a bit thin and fizzy.
For my taste and needs, the classic channel has more than enough gain and makes the modern channel superfluous. Besides, the overall character and gain structure of this channel is just not my cup of tea at all. I just don’t ’get’ modern metal tones so I will leave this channel for someone else to review.
The AMP1 weighs about 1,2 kgs (less than most wah pedals), and is very compact. You can easily fit it into the gig bag of your instrument or on your pedalboard.
While you might find that you need to do a little bit of tweaking to get there, this thing has lots of potential for achieving fantastic tones. It nails those classic Dino tones and even the clean channel sounds really sweet. Run it through your favorite cabinet and you’ll hear just what I’m talking about.
Authentic Tube Feel
Not only does it sound very close to a full valve amp, it also responds the way that you would expect a tube amp to respond to your playing or settings on your guitar. Extremely dynamic and sensitive to pick attack, turn down the volume on the guitar and it cleans up nicely. If you turn it up loud you will start getting breakup from the power tube. This is not a simulation of power amp distorsion like on its digital counterparts, but authentic tube breakup coming directly from the nano tube that you can see lit up beneath the front panel. In other words, the real deal.
I’ve had no problems with any of my pedals in conjunction with the AMP1. overdrives, fuzzes, reverbs, modulation. It has performed well with all the effects I’ve thrown at it so far. Currently I’m using it with a tube screamer to boost my solos and a Fulltone Octafuzz for some heavy fuzz tones.
The recording out is a very practical feature which allows you to plug straight in to a mixing console, an audio interface, or use headphones, with a standard quarter inch plug. The signal even has an added cabinet simulation, achieved by an analog filter. This might not be as true to life as the digital impulse responses you can add in your DAW, but it will provide a decent simulation of a guitar speaker while preserving the all the analog qualities of the signal. To my ears, the tones you get by going direct with the recording out are actually pretty good. I’ve used it for a few gigs where I couldn’t bring my 2x12 cab, and the results have been very pleasing. Also, I LOVE the fact that I can record demos silently with MY tone, and MY pedals, straight in to Garageband, without any hassle.
The AMP1 has a built in power soak feature (an internal attenuator) which allows you to turn up the master volume and get power amp distorsion at much lower levels of volume. However, it can only be activated and controlled through the external switching system Remote1 which is *drumroll* sold separately. According to the manual it can also be activated via a MIDI controller, but to make that happen you need to be a bit tech savvy. The power soak is a very useful feature and it sounds great, so it’s really a shame that a control for this feature wasn’t integrated into the AMP1 itself. I have a feeling that it was a intentional move from the marketing department in order to sell more Remote1 units. If there ever will be an AMP2, this is the first thing that should be adressed IMO.
The reverb on this unit is one of the few digital features, and while it's nice to have, especially when playing through headphones, it doesn’t really hold up that well against any decent reverb pedal in the FX loop. It’s is modelled on a spring reverb, but the effect is quite subtle, even with control turned all the way to 10. I’m not saying it’s bad, but it definitely has room for improvement. Since I use a Strymon Flint that sounds spectacular in the FX loop, I can live without this feature.
The AMP1 is a highly versatile tool for the gigging and recording musician. I’d recommend it to anyone who is tired of carrying around heavy tube amps but who’s not yet ready to go down the digital path. At the same time, it offers many different possibilities of usage without you ever feeling lost or with option paralysis. Thomas Blug has really made an effort to make an amp that suits all styles, and the tones that come out of this thing sound VERY convincing. The tweakers amongst us would probably have liked a separate EQ for each channel, but the individual trim pots at least makes it easier for you to find one EQ setting that gives you a great tone across multiple channels.
Currently, I have it fixed on my pedalboard, and one of the obvious benefits of that application is that the length of the signal path between your guitar, pedals (especially those the in the FX loop), and amp, is kept down to minimum. Also, I can set up and gig in no time, just two cables and the rig is up and running. For the price I think it would even make a great backup amp if your tube head would break down before or during a gig. As you can tell, this product really lends itself to various different applications.
Its appearance might give you the wrong idea of it’s use. Despite a sturdy construction and aluminium chassi, it kind of looks like multi effects unit or maybe something that would be a competitor to a lunchbox sized tube amp. However, plugged in to a 4x12 cabinet and turned up, it will deliver the volume, headroom and punch in the chest that you will never get from a low wattage lunchbox tube amp. If you mainly play at home, a lunchbox style amp will most likely outperform the AMP1 at bedroom volumes, but in my opinion it’s not really a direct competitor to bedroom amps. If the power soak feature would have been integrated it might have been though.
I made this short video to show how the power amp distorsion sounds in comparison to the preamp distorsion. Keep in mind that he samples were recorded using the Recording Out of the AMP1 straight into an Apogee One. There is no impulse response or speaker simulation other than the analog filter integrated in the AMP1.