Gig Rigs On The Go - Modern Hybrid Amps

January 6, 2017
Written by PGS Staff
Hybrid Moments Leading to Modern Marvels
Until recently, hybrid amp technology seemed to have been on hold. I remember in the mid-to-late ‘90s, one of my first half stacks was topped with a Marshall VS100 head. The Valvestate technology was all the rage for budget-minded guitarists back then. To this day, I know a few folks who still get a perfectly serviceable Marshall crunch through their blunt-burnt, beer-stained Valvestates and early AVT amps. I also used to have a Vox VR30 combo that sounded amazingly rich and chiming considering I picked it up for around $50. In fact, it was my go-to practice and home jamming amp for years—even when I had some serious all-tube jobbies about the house.
Tube preamps working with solid state power sections was and is a clever means of getting decent dynamics and tone at all volume levels, so why was the development of this approach abandoned for so long? I remember around the turn of the century when the intermediate-level amp market shifted focus from hybrids to the then new-fangled digital modeling approach; needless to say, I stuck with my hybrids for low-wattage applications and vintage Marshall JMP for gigs. Then, toward the end of the ‘00s, the lunchbox amp craze kicked off and guitarists of all budgets and skill levels could enjoy an all-tube signal path and cook the power section to sweet spot-heat without going deaf or broke.
So, is there a gap in the market for hybrid amp technology today? I say yes, particularly for urban gigging guitarists who use a train, bus or their own two legs to get to the gig. I can personally attest to the fact that schlepping a small lunchbox head, minimal pedalboard and guitar strapped to the back can start to feel like wearing a lead suit. Especially after factoring in weather, stairs, blocks of walking and long periods of standing in crowded small spaces. But, it isn’t all about portability. There have been long strides taken recently toward a better sounding hybrid amp design and today’s feature will detail three stellar sounding modern hybrid highlights.

What’s gold and black, breaks your back and sits on a stack? Ah, the JCM800—undisputedly one of the greatest British Rock n’ Roll machines ever built. But that classic crunch comes with many side effects. Bouts with this tonal heavyweight result in damaged vertebrae, tinnitus, tube-swaps, biasing, recapping and power lifting after a hot sweaty gig. If the JCM800 is the champ of kerrang, the new Matrix VB800 is the contender that punches well over its weight (of less than 4lbs) with a rollicking 400 watts of power.
Matrix Amplification achieves this amazing feat by recreating the preamp section and tone stack of its classic cousin and magnifying two 12AX7s with their world-famous and valve-like GT-FX class A-B MOSFET power amp, which has been a go-to power amp for Fractal fanatics for years. In between the cooking preamp and massive power section is a serial, adjustable effects loop that can accommodate racks or pedals with ease. In fact, it is even possible to stick the VB800 on a pedalboard to get rid of the extra stage spaghetti caused by the four-cable effects routing method we all love to hate. I use a smaller board, so my grab and go gig rig with this little tone monster would be; guitar, VB800 and a delay sitting right on top of it running through the loop with a couple of patch cables. It is also worth mentioning that there is a matching 1x12 cab that houses a neodymium speaker and is built with light-yet-resonant European tonewoods. It is also bass ported for some extra thunder. I would love to get caught in this storm.

To say German uber-guitarist and engineer Thomas Blug is ambitious would be an understatement of the lowest limbo. His flagship hybrid amplifier extraordinaire is called the AMP1 and it simply defies any comparison. In short, it boasts five 100-watt amplifiers, each with separate master volumes, a built in boost, onboard spring reverb emulation, noise gate, series or parallel effects loop, emulated speaker output, and universal operating voltage for global gigging. All of this is crammed into a futuristic floor and amp-top adaptable enclosure no larger than a small multi-effects unit. Unreal.
In the heart of the AMP1 lies a Nanotube, which derives from the ones developed in the ‘40s to withstand Armageddon conditions. These sub-miniature tubes are said to last 20 times longer than a 12AX7, so if this becomes an heirloom, the great grandkids might have to do a tube swap. Strangely, the tube is employed in the output stage to achieve that larger tube amp dynamic. With clean, vintage, classic and modern settings on board, there is a library of tones on tap that range from swinging sultan clean, to napalm deathly mean, and all points in between. I am half-tempted to build a small pedalboard rig around the AMP1 with just an expression pedal and an Eventide H9 Max in the loop. I would have a full rig in one hand and my guitar in the other. This would be the carless townie mobile rig—21st Century-style.

We’ve covered the British-built hybrid head and the futurist, feature-laden German modern marvel, so now it is time for some good ol’ USA-made boutique hybrid action, courtesy of Demeter Amplification. The Mighty Minnie spawned from Sonny Landreth’s call for a head that could fit on a pedalboard, while sounding miles better than the subpar rental amps he often encountered on his musical adventures. What amp guru James Demeter whipped up was a single channel amplifier that pairs the hand-wired clean channel preamp section of the famed TGA-3 with a next-generation audiophile Class D power amplifier. This is the perfect pedal-freak hybrid amp with its cleaner input stage, small size, and simple tone stack for fine-tuning. I would happily gig with my TC Polytune Mini, Crowther Hotcake, Source Audio Orbital Modulator and a good analog delay running straight into the input at the end of the chain. All I would need then is a long speaker cable going out to a house cab and a daisy chain for pedal power, because the TGA-1-180D has a nine-volt output on the face of the amp.
All-tube tone hounds have sniffed at hybrid amplifiers for donkeys’ years. Like all new technology, teething stages can be hit or miss, but I personally think solid state and tube circuits work perfectly together when they are engineered properly. In theory, anyone who sticks an overdrive or boost pedal in front of their $3000 boutique amp is turning it into a hybrid anyway, so beware naysayers. Sometimes it is nice to have the warm tube compression coupled with the immediate tight low end attack of a super-efficient solid state power section. This to me is the hybrid experience so far and I love being able to plug into any old cab without worry. However, with a growing number of PA companies and power amp specialists getting in on the guitar game, the sky is the limit for hybrid analog guitar amps.


  1. Dan says:

    Although not hybrid, the Quilter Tone Blocks run well as low weight, high power, great tone (IMO) heads that do the same job as these cool little beasts as well.

    posted on January 6, 2017 at 10:09 am
  2. mike carol says:

    I was reading 20 year old guitar player magazines last week and the ad was for the new Yamaha solid state amp that turns it’s own knobs! And the concept—finally the solid state amp is as good as the tube amp. It has been going on for a long time. The virtues of the solid state amp have now passed the tone of the tube amp. Ha. Only if you have ears for brittle harsh tone.

    posted on January 6, 2017 at 10:23 am
  3. Shaun says:

    mike carol:

    I have a BluGuitar Amp1 , and I can assure you there are plenty of tones available that are not “brittle harsh”. It is a really cool unit w/ lots of modular options, and it just sounds plain good.

    Not cheap, mind you, but well worth the price IMO…

    BTW, my tube amps sound good, too!

    posted on January 6, 2017 at 12:05 pm
  4. Meestar Beeyess says:

    This is attractive because of the size,but I cant imagine my pedals sounding the same without hitting a tube head first.

    posted on January 6, 2017 at 12:15 pm
  5. CaptPostMod says:

    Hybrid? Heck, I’ve gone full solid-state with a Quilter 101. Don’t feel like I’m missing anything except 50 pounds!

    posted on January 6, 2017 at 12:42 pm
  6. s sanborn says:

    I have been using a hybrid practice amp (Behringer) for 6 years now. I did not like the stock China 12ax7 it came with but found some old and new old stock Sylvania and G.E. 12AT7’s and 12AU7s that work with this amp.

    posted on January 6, 2017 at 1:28 pm
  7. Michael says:

    It would be nice to see a effects loop in the demeter. They make the great stuff and I own lots but putting my time effects between the pre and power is a must for me. Even better would be a parallel effects loop to bleed in reverb and delay _ would still buy this unit on reputation alone, Then the Blu G second

    posted on January 6, 2017 at 1:43 pm
  8. Michael H. says:

    You say “the NEW VB800”, but it’s at least a few years old.

    Still a good mention, though. It doesn’t get enough mention and praise.

    posted on January 6, 2017 at 2:11 pm
  9. Michael H. says:

    @ Meestar Beeyess

    It does hit tubes, though… Whatever “hits the tubes” into the front would be hitting the tubes of the pre-amp, which is the case with these. The power=amp is solid-state, but it tends to matter a little less in terms of sound. As they said in the article, it can tighten up the response a bit.
    So I don’t think it would drastically change the sound of your pedalboard.
    However, of course different amplifiers, regardless of their technology, would sound different from each other. They all have their own sound, so it would always change to some degree.

    posted on January 6, 2017 at 2:18 pm
  10. Berington Van Campen says:

    I’ve had several fairly-to-very inexpensive small hybrid combo amps, one Marshall, which really sounds pretty Marshall-ish considering it’s got a 10” speaker, a 2 or 3 small Vox amp, who to me have kinda headed the class as far as hybrid combos and their ValveTronix designs. Still have an AD-50 2x12 modeling amp, which is a great amp, but I found myself wondering why I was using a Vox amp to model a Vox amp, for the most part.  I use a Vox hybrid/modeller, the VT40 for practice & jamming with friends, and it’s a fine little amp. When they came out with the AC30VT, it seemed to hit the sweet spot.  No modeling… what is, is. and with the 2-12s, it pushes enough air for anyone. About 30 lbs less than the AC30CC, but uses the same cabinetry exactly.  It doesn’t have tremolo in it, & I’m not a big fan of the digital reverb (it’s just not that strong), but Line 6 takes care of that stuff anyway. So for me, the AC30VT looks right in the the classic Vox sense, sounds AMAZING, and packs all the wallop I could ask for.  From “clean Beatles” (a mainstay) to serious crunchy rock & blues, it kills. Not afraid of hybrids anymore… they make great sense!

    posted on January 6, 2017 at 3:34 pm
  11. Scott Grove says:

    Johnson Millennium The first, the best and nothing has come close since.  20 years and all of them are going strong.  So, great track record and heavy tour use.

    posted on January 6, 2017 at 4:40 pm
  12. John Flegal says:

    I’ve Used A Hybrid Since ‘77!! Musicman 112-65!! When I Heard “Eric Clapton In Concert Using Them (at That Time) I Went “NUTS!” Bought One And Loving It Ever Since!! My Amp Tech Checked It Out About 2 yrs Ago And Said “One Of The Finest Amps He’s Seen Or Heard!” ( AND Still Has Original RCA Tubes!!!! ) Now Don’t Get Me Wrong, I’m An AMP JUNKIE!! Have Everything From Fender to Marshall and A Few Others (8 amps & counting) Anyway My Point Is There Are Some Great Sounds Available! (Although My Musicman Is NO Lightweight) Enjoyed The Article THANKS!!

    posted on January 6, 2017 at 11:10 pm
  13. Michael James says:

    I have a Marshall VS100 2x12 from the 90’s - played hundreds of shows on it.  I now use a Mesa Boogie but sometimes loan the Marshall to other players.  Everyone who uses it offers to buy it.  It was such a simple clean design.  3 channels, 3 EQ’s, 3 volumes, with a footswitch. No lights clean, one light dirty, two lights dirtier. 

    Look on line and the older ones are not expensive at all.  I also have a Vox Valvetronix 15 for practice that I have used a few times in a simple rehearsal.

    The later Valvestates were too complicated and less appealing.  True to Andy’s words I never needed any drive or boost boxes in front of the Marshall or the Mesa (obviously)

    Of course now I am looking for a small lightweight USA made all tube combo that has 3 channels and doesn’t cost as much as my old Honda.

    posted on January 7, 2017 at 12:18 am
  14. Glenn D. says:

    I like my Orange Micro Terror. Played i t through a 4x12 and sounds fine!

    posted on January 7, 2017 at 12:21 am
  15. Dean Aldworth says:

    I have a Johnson Millennium stereo 150, Have used it for 15 years.It took me forever to understand it because it is programable just like a computer and i had very little computer knowledge at the time.I had Dean at Harmon update it for me quite a few years ago now i am having speaker trouble or i think.    Once you get to understand the functions you can get any sound you like with it.I heard people saying it was to complex I think it was way ahead of it time and the technicians i spoke with agreed just a little to much at the time for most people to understand. I love it now and run it in combo sometimes with a tube amp just to get the authentic sustain from tubes.

    posted on January 7, 2017 at 12:30 am
  16. John Parker says:

    The interesting thing about the Music Man amps - and what differentiates them from the amps in this list - is that they have a solid state preamp and a tube power section. I’ve been rocking my 210 Sixty-Five for over 25 years now and while I’ve had lots of other (mostly all-tube) amps over the years I’ve always come back to this one. Loud, clean and takes pedals great. I can’t speak for the new ones manufactured by Markbass (as I haven’t had a chance to try one), but the ones built by Leo Fender’s Music Man were great.

    posted on January 7, 2017 at 12:31 am
  17. Meestar Beeyess says:

    +Michael H.  Yes,you are right that there is a preamp tube..but I said “tube head”.I used a 100 watt valvestate head for a year or so,playing thrash metal. I use a Matchless combo now(3 yrs),playing all sorts,and have never had a better tone. At 40 lbs,my amp is hard to wrangle up and down stairs,but I will do it until something better comes out(smaller/lighter,too).The valvestate and 4x12 was a good metal rig,but lacked something….the way the mids sounded was a bit wonky,ear fatiguing.Perhaps that is the “warmth” people refer to when they describe tube amps??
    The VS did not take od pedals well,but I only needed 2 tones for thrash.The Matchless is a brilliant pedal platform.

    posted on January 7, 2017 at 1:12 am
  18. Pete says:

    I’ve been using a Dean Markely RM-80-DR for a long time.  It has an ECC83 tube in the preamp, active tone controls, and clean and distorted channels.  Great sounds & plenty of power.

    posted on January 7, 2017 at 1:50 am
  19. Sam says:

    The whole point of the article was that you can now get good reliable tube type tones in a package weighing less than 5 pounds and small enough to mount on a pedal board.  You can take your whole rig with you on the bus or carry it on foot to gigs without having a chiropractor standing by.  Plus, when you get to the gig your rig will sound better than the majority of “house amps” or “rental amps” that may be provided.  I enjoyed this writer’s observations and comments as he is a gigging musician himself.

    posted on January 7, 2017 at 3:05 am
  20. David says:

    Also great tones with an alternative approach to hybrid amp.
    Have been Marshall fan for years and lucky enough to have a few, including 87 JCM800, JTM1 custom, etc. But my got to jam/gig amp is the under appreciated JTM 50 and 100. I have both. 501 and 100h. Once the power section is @4 or higher, the Softube front end gives you decades of very pleasing tones. The effects are good enough for jams and gigs. I sometimes feed the JTM1 into the fx loop, still have effects, and pure el34 power. So I am a fan of hybrids done proper!

    posted on January 7, 2017 at 3:10 am
  21. Meestar Beeyess says:

    Yes,a good article.The terms “tone” and “good sound” are entirely subjective.I am very skeptical as I have heard all of this more than once since 1980.The size and improved performance may win people over,if the performance has been significantly imroved beyond some hucksteristic lingo.

    posted on January 7, 2017 at 4:53 am
  22. James Demeter says:

    Thanks for the Great article. It was great to be included. I just wanted to add that we can add an effects loop as well as pre-set channel switching to the TGA-1 if ordered with those options. Contact us for more info.

    posted on January 7, 2017 at 5:14 am
  23. mike kearney says:

    Quilter definitely belongs in this conversation. The mouse that roars. The Mach2 8” with a DI that the sound guys love, produces amazing sound(s)... then my backup is a Quilter 101 that only weighs a couple pounds. Leaving the boutique stuff home these days.

    posted on January 8, 2017 at 4:06 am
  24. Matt H says:

    There is no way I’m swapping my Li’l Dawg Champ/Deluxe lunchbox head for a hybrid amp. I get a laugh out of Roland’s Blues Cube amps, that sell you expensive ‘tubes’ to sound like certain artists….

    posted on January 9, 2017 at 6:44 am
  25. K.B. says:

    Have a 90’s VS-65 1-12” I bought new back then, threw a Vintage 30 in it right off the bat which REALLY improved the sound. The clean tones are great, accutronics reverb pan works well enough you can play surf tones loud. Crunch tones are mean and snappy (speaker helps a lot), very responsive like my SS rectified tube amps.

    Professed amp and pedal junky with way too many of both but I’ve held onto the Valvestate. Tube, Hybrids, Solid State, I like em’ all.

    posted on January 9, 2017 at 9:42 am
  26. Billy Lindsay says:

    I have the BluGuitar Amp 1.  This is a great amp sounds great at all volume levels.  I use it on a pedal board with a couple of pedals in front and a couple in the loop for delay etc.  It has a speaker emulated DI out which sounds really good too.  Takes pedals no problem.  I run it into 1x12 for smaller gigs and hae ran it into 4x12 too for an outdoor gig.  When space is a premium when you are transporting equipment to a gig this is a great space saver without sacrificing tone.

    I use many different amps depending on the gig, this is a great one for all round use.

    posted on January 12, 2017 at 9:16 am
  27. Dave in S. Cal says:

    I had a solid state Peavey Classic that I bought in 1979, which I played the dickens out of for many years.  Perfectly good amp.

    Never did understand how one can be a “tube purist” and use a bunch of solid state pedals anyway.

    posted on January 25, 2017 at 7:37 am
  28. Scott B says:

    I’ve been gigging a Tech 21 NYC TM60 for the past 2 years. My Rivera R55 is resting in its flight case and my back has never felt better. I play covers, and the dancing girls don’t seem to mind that I don’t have tubes on stage.

    posted on January 27, 2017 at 10:39 am
  29. Darren says:

    After lugging around an AC30 for years, I took a punt on the Amp1. It took me a while to find my mojo with it but now that I have my head around it, I doubt I’ll ever go back to a regular format amp again! I walk into a gig with my amp/pedalboard in one hand a Parker Fly in the other and I’m set up in seconds. I don’t even bother with a cab for small gigs, just straight to pa and put it in my monitors! Best thing is, there is no compromise on tone or feel…I think that’s the part that’s hard to get your head around, you expect it to sound like crap and have no feel. It challenges every preconceived notion you have about solid state amps. It’s a great time to be alive!

    posted on February 17, 2017 at 10:11 am

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