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Worship Structures & Melodies:
Triadic Improv


Worship Guitar Chord Structures & Melodies Workshop

November 21st | 2014 by Bobby Kittleberger
Full Article

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Worship Guitar Chord Structures and Melodies: Triadic Improvisation Workshop

Speaking to yourselves in Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Ephesians 5:19

Christian worship is our context.

If that's not your thing, rest easy. You can still benefit from learning melody if you're any kind of musician. The context doesn't exclude those who aren't involved or interested in Christian worship.

But it does give us a type of music that has, in my opinion, been uniquely successful when it comes to creating and maintaining good melody, especially when it comes to how the electric guitar has been utilized within the genre.

So it's the backdrop of our canvas.

This article is ideal for guitar players who serve as worship leaders or musicians, though it's not irrelevant to other musical fields.

Much of this material I've referenced from this lead guitar workshop by Ben Gowell.

Developing Structures: Chord Shapes and Triads

Our goal is to learn musical structures, how melody fits into them and then how to develop our own melodies.

More specifically, we'll form melodies that are complimentary of vocal leads and music that's driven by a narrative in addition to a beat and bass line. We'll use the following approach: Instead of focusing on raw note-by-note progressions, we'll setup structures first in the form of triads and then build over top of those structures.

But what exactly is a triad?
A triad is any three notes that are played in unison as a chord.
These shapes are important because they allow us to pull melodies out of pre-defined chord structures saving us from inefficient movements or trying to guess at what will sound good.

Our shapes will come primarily from three different chords:

  1. D Major Form

  2. C Major Form

  3. Power Chord Form

You should have a passing familiarity with these concepts in order to make sense of what we'll be covering.

Let's look at our C form chords:

Now our D form:

The power chords we'll work with will include the following moveable shapes:

We'll derive our triads primarily from these six chord shapes

So let's go ahead and establish the actual triads we'll be using so that we have two layers of structure with which to build our cozy, melodic home.

You don't need to memorize the triads yet. Just be aware that we'll draw from these diagrams throughout the workshop.

Spend some time playing the chords and triads and getting familiar with them before moving on.

We won't necessarily use every single one, but the patterns are all worth getting familiar with.

Starting with Arpeggios

We'll use arpeggiated chord shapes throughout most of this workshop, so it makes sense to start by simply playing through one of our original chord shapes.

Our first exercise is to take the C major chord and pick through it, like this:


Now this isn't technically a triad.


As you probably noticed, there are only four notes. We need to remove one.

If you want to use the last note (at the first fret on the B string) you can, but go ahead and omit that one for now and play the following triadic arpeggio:


So, when you're dealing with a worship song in the key of C (and there are many) how do we make this sound good?

Played through a clean amp signal, it's tough to hear or visualize how that could sound like much of anything, other than a raw C chord.

But let's work with it a bit.

The first thing you can do is transpose the pattern, but in this case we don't want to change keys. In Gowell's article, he mentions the importance of playing on the higher parts of the fretboard, so let's move our shape up an entire octave to get a different sound while maintaining our key.


The higher frets tend to do two things to your tone. First, the higher pitch is more clear and defined than the lower strings.

You might get a nicer "ringing" sound and resonance with the pick.

The second thing it can do is cut down on your sustain because the length between the fretted string and your picking hand is now considerably reduced.

That can be good for what we're going to do next.

Adding Effects

For this example we're going to use delay to begin decorating our melody.

We're not done with the actual melody yet (the notes are still going to change) but we want to start getting a feel for what the final product is going to sound like.

I'm going to use my Line 6 DL4 delay modeler to dial in a better sound.
Interested in purchasing a new delay pedal? You can checkout our review of the DL4 modeler for more information.
If you don't own a DL4, just do your best to dial in a delay effect with whatever pedal you have handy.
Now it should sound more full at this point, but it might also sound kind of straightforward and lifeless.

How do we fix that?

Adding a Dynamic Story

Triads in and of themselves do not make melody.

They're structures for melody, but playing straight through in a repetitive 1-2-3, 1-2-3 pattern isn't always going to work.

It can in some cases. But here, we need to add something more dynamic. We need a story line; something more substantive.

I have my own take on this (which we'll get to), but for now, just start by varying the picking pattern.

Try something like this:


We establish more of a root note presence and go between two major-third intervals before grabbing the G-note on the 12th fret.

It's simple, but it makes a big difference.

I'd like to build this out a little more. Since I've got everything I need here for a great melody, a little more creative experimenting yielded this:


So you can see the complexity starts to increase, but we're still using the same triad and the same three notes, with one added on the 12th fret at the fourth string.

The other notes, key and original chord shape, have all remained intact.

This pattern is more dynamic, interesting and collectively more creative than our original arpeggio.

The D Major Chord Shape and Our Second Arpeggio

Now that we understand the process and have a concrete example under our belts, we can delve into another arpeggio; this time, based on the D major chord shape.

First, the D major chord shape is heavily used in the realm of contemporary worship music.

It's so frequent that Jordan Taylor was able to have a little fun with it.

What you see in Taylor's video is actually quite true. And what I'm saying is that you should get away from boring and predictable patterns in favor of more dynamic and melodic lead sequences.
That way "the riff" will actually be worth listening to.

Starting Simple

Since it's the D major chord shape, I like to start with a basic D chord when teaching it. Here's our triadic pattern:


Now remember what we said about our triadic shape? It's a structure and not necessarily a note-for-note blueprint.

With this particular triad we can easily add notes that will work well with the root (in this case D) and allow us to create a more interesting and dynamic melody. Think of it as adding more chapters to the story.

Here's what the diagram would look like. It basically becomes a free-form scale.

I've highlighted the original shape with hollow circles and a connecting dotted line. The notes around it can serve as extra tools to use as we craft our melody.

Take the note on the second string at the fifth fret for example.

We can add it to an arpeggiated pattern and begin to draw out our original tab.


Let's take it a step further by adding a couple more notes.


Emulating Chord Changes

You might notice that we haven't actually played the root D note (which in this case would be the open fourth string).

That's on purpose, since our goal is to create melody and not to lay down a thick rhythm line.

But what if we wanted to track with the chord changes a little bit?

In this particular shape, you can do that by treating the notes on the third string as your root note, and moving them in a tetrachord pattern.

What is a tetrachord, you might ask?

It's basically two whole steps and a half step, making it a building block of the major scale.

In this case, we'll simply reverse it, going one half step and two whole steps, giving us the following pattern:


Try playing through this next tab and pay close attention to how the notes on the third string sound.


Now, if you combine this pattern with what we came up with earlier, you have a lot of different notes and options to work with.

So instead of just playing the second fret on the third string the entire time, you can change it up and move along with the chord change or bass line of whatever you're playing.

Once you get familiar with the sounds, you can mix things up on the top three strings, (G, B and high E) in order to come up with your own structured melodies.

Contextual Example

So how does this actually work?

How do we apply it in the real world?

I think the best way to illustrate this concept is to come up with a melody and add it to a song that we can easily become (or already are) familiar with.

Phil Wickham's Singalong albums are great for this sort of thing, because it's just Phil and his acoustic guitar.

The song we'll work with is off Singalong 2 and is a short rendition of "Spring Up Oh Well".

Here's the track for you to play along with:

Our goal is to come up with a melody to compliment Phil's vocal line and the chord progression he's playing on his acoustic guitar.

Ideally, this should be purely driven by your own creativity at this point.

You've got all the music theory and structures in place, so there's nothing left but to use those tools in order to add something to the song.

If you feel stuck, I'll go ahead and give a few examples.

First, let's go over the chord progression:

        I've got a river of life, flowing out of me.

        Makes the lame to walk and the blind to see.

       Opens prison doors, sets the captives free.

       I've got a river of life, flowin' out of me.

So our chord progression looks like this: D-G-D, D-G, E-C-G and Em-C-D-G.

Our song is thereby in the key of D.

That means a good place to start would be here:


If you know the notes on the fretboard, you can target your root note and then setup the triad from there.

We'll set our triad at the seventh fret on the third string, based on the root D at the fifth fret.

I've added one more note that I want to use. The following pattern I thought sounded good with the track.


Here's one way you could expand on the pattern:


Remember to add your effects and apply what we learned earlier about dynamics. At this point, it's up to you to find out what works and what doesn't.

Here's a full set of notes, including an embedded tetrachord that gives you a grid to work from.

Breaking in More Triads

Now that we've been through the process we can work on developing some familiarity with a few other triads.

If we go back to the triadic shapes we started with, there are two particularly familiar patterns I'd like to cover in more detail.

For now, don't worry about which key we're in. Just get used to the shapes.

You might notice that the second shape can be easily turned into the D major shape we've already covered.

We can expand this pattern on the fourth and third string (D and G) to give us what begins to look more like a regular scale.

You can think of this as a scale and it's also wise to memorize it as one. Just run through the pattern like you would any other scale shape.

Here's your tab:


Once you get that many notes together and you can make sense of them, your musical options really start to open up.

With just this pattern you can play almost any melody (in a major key) you can think of without even moving away from the third fret (or whatever fret you start the pattern on). I'll give you two of my own examples, but I'd encourage you to use the skills you've learned and come up with some tabs of your own.



Now let's do something with the second pattern I highlighted, which is basically an F chord moved up to the third and fifth fret.

We can quickly access the notes highlighted (in hollow circles) on the fifth and sixth fret to expand this triad.

Try the following tab:


Got any of your own variations? You've got the structure.

The rest is up to you.

How it Works in Worship

I want to setup the process for how we get to our end product in a worship service. If you're a lead guitarist, how does this actually work?

First, I want to lay some basic musical structures and then talk about melody and how it relates to the God of the Bible and our modern worship services.

First, the musical structures.

The Structure Behind Melody

We've already mentioned playing in key and playing something over a given chord progression.

For most of us, that process is going to be instinctual as we'll come up with lead patterns and melodies that sound good, simply by using our ear.

But it's helpful to understand what's actually happening, in addition to being a good ear player.

The two disciplines should coexist.

So if you want to understand how to get from silence to a melodic lead guitar pattern, here's how the process goes:

  1. A Song's Key: Usually the first chord of a song will give away the key of the song itself.

  2. Bass Line: The bass line will be made of notes that correspond to the key. For example, if the song is in the key of E major, there's a predefined set of chords and "common" chord progressions. .

  3. Chord Progression: Usually chosen before one would identify the key of a song, a chord progression is technically derived from the key it is played in. It serves as the backdrop and canvas on which a melody is painted.

  4. Melodies: Often made up of single notes, either from human vocals, piano or guitar, these notes make a melodic, musical line that are laid over top of the chord progression. This helps to distinguish it from other songs that share the same progression, as many of them do.

This is the track that you travel (whether you realize it or not) when you create melody. It makes your music unique and identifiable.

Because a beat, bass line and even a chord progression by itself doesn't make a song unique.

It might make a good backing track, but there are often songs that share one or more of these qualities. So while you don't need to think about process every time you play a lead pattern, it's helpful to know and study initially so that you understand the ground on which you're standing.

But why is melody so important when it comes to worship in the Christian church?

Why Melody is Important in the Church's Music

I believe there are a few specific reasons Christians should aspire to be more melodic guitar players and musicians.

1. Melody is the primary carrier of creativity and variety.

The work of God's Spirit is evidenced by originality and uniqueness within a given structure.
And he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs. (Exodus 35: 31-32)
While the musical realm is highly structured it also gives us room for an incredible amount of artistic expression and movement.

For as much as artistic culture claims to esteem creativity and self-expression, their music is often extremely repetitive, predictable and without any real variety, even down to lyrical choices.

Worship of God must be different.

As a guitar player you have unique opportunity to make it different by developing original melodies.
Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men. (Proverbs 22:29)

2. Melody expresses and/or compliments words.

The scriptures instruct us to sing to the Lord a new song, which again would lead us to believe that originality is of some value.

But additionally we see the importance of singing and using words to offer worship.

We can even see a correlation between melody and our vocal praise. In Isaiah 23, making a "sweet melody" is followed by instruction to "sing many songs." In Isaiah 51 we read about "the voice of melody."

The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians is even more explicit.
Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; (Ephesians 5:19)
So if we can use our guitars to develop, anchor and compliment the vocal aspects of our music, we doing something more than just "adding flavor."

We're actually engaging in a firmly scriptural and beautiful aspect of musical worship.

3. It's the most effective musical tool for retelling history and God's redemptive story.

Once again, I'm going back to Phil Wickham for my example. The dude is just an excellent musician and songwriter.

If you listen to "Mercy" off of The Ascension Wickham tells the story of redemption almost entirely with the melody of his own vocal cords.

The rhythm and chord progression are both exceedingly simple.

And that's not to say that rhythm and chord progressions aren't valuable, but they can't tell stories or illustrate ideas on their own. Melody is what we use in music to retell God's story of redemption and to look forward to what he's going to do in the future.
“May the church not be formed by the world in which it lives, but by the narrative to which it belongs, the story of God.” - Robert Webber, author of Ancient-Future Worship

Learn Melody and Learn to Tell the Redemptive Story

Modern music is easily replicated and imitated.

As Christians, the music we use to glorify God should be expressly different than that. It should actually be much more difficult. Not necessarily in terms of technical prowess, but in that we need to carefully craft our music to tell God's redemptive story.

In other words, our music (just like our preaching, community, study, etc.) should be Gospel-centered.

The best way to do that is to learn melody and be able to use it as a way to compliment or illustrate the Gospel narrative.

Your thoughts?

If you'd like to comment but don't see a comments section (that's on purpose by the way) you can catch up with us on our Facebook page or via Twitter and Google Plus.

For contact info check out the bottom of our about page.

Flickr Commons Image Courtesy of jareed

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About Robert Kittleberger

Robert is the founder and editor of Guitar Chalk and Guitar Bargain. You can get in
touch with him here, or via Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus.


Line 6 DL4 Review and Buying Guide: Delay Modeler and Effects Pedal

Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler Review and Buying Guide

I've wanted the Line 6 DL4 for a long time and a couple weeks ago I finally bought one.

But I'm an admitted delay junkie. I just absolutely love what it brings to both an electric and acoustic guitar rig. So my impressions and thoughts about it might be a little biased, but I can tell you up front that this is one of the best delay pedals in its price range.

I could've told you that even before I bought it.

Widely used by pros and amateurs alike, this green box is capable of modeling just about any delay sound you can think of.

We'll cover the broad capabilities, sound quality and a few of the specifics in this review of the Line 6 DL4.

Overall Sound Quality

There are so many different delay sounds available in this box that it's difficult to assess each one on its own. However, the quality of each effect is incredibly good, as they don't feel cheap or "thrown together."

In other words, it doesn't feel like a low-end multi-effects pedal.

Here's a shot of all the delay sounds available:

Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler Review and Buying Guide
Two of my favorite modes are the Rhythmic Delay and Auto-Volume Echo. The volume echo simply does an automatic volume swell whenever you pick a note, and allows you to set the amount of time that it takes.

The Rhythmic Delay is designed to work with strumming or repetitive patterns, but I find it to be one of the better-sounding modes for lead guitar riffs as well.

All the sounds are full, with good definition that doesn't compromise the tonal integrity of your amp.

A Quick Overview of Functionality

Tap Tempo and Time

Tempo can be controlled via a Tap button that's the right-most button on the pedal.

This essentially allows you to control delay time, with a tempo response that's completely accurate.

The speed will be half of the tempo with which you tap the button.

In other words, if you hit the button twice, two seconds apart, the delay tempo will repeat every second. If you hit the button every second the delay will repeat every half second, and so on.

Delay Time and Repeat Knobs

Delay time changes the length of time between each delay, which is similar to the tempo, though you've got to do it by hand. The Repeats knob does exactly what you would guess, changing how many times a single frequency will repeat after it has been engaged.

Turning the knob clockwise will increase the number of repeats, while counterclockwise will decrease it until it is not repeating at all.

Looping Feature

The pedal also comes equipped with looping and playback capability. Though it's not immediately clear how to use it, the learning curve isn't terribly steep.

This is an excellent demo video from that showcases some of the pedal's sounds and abilities:

For having so many sounds crammed into one box, the quality of the effects is certainly above reproach. This is just something that Line 6 tends to do really well, both with their amps and other pedals, and the DL4 is no exception.

Overview of the Modes

Many of the other modes are modeled after popular delay models, both digital and analog. Here's a quick list of all the sounds available to you:

  • Tube Echo: based on Maestro EP-1

  • Tape Echo: based on Maestro EP-3

  • Multi-Head: based on Roland RE-101 Space Echo

  • Sweep Echo

  • Analog Echo: based on the Boss DM-2

  • Analog Echo with Mod: based on Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man

  • Lo Res Delay

  • Digital Delay

  • Digital Delay with Mod

  • Rhythmic Delay

  • Stereo Delays

  • Ping Pong

  • Reverse

  • Dynamic Delay: based on T.C. Electronic 2290

  • Auto-Volume Echo

A short, and handy description of each effect can be found in the user's manual.


Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler Review and Buying Guide
Here's a review of the five controls straight from the DL4 Pilot's Handbook. Keep in mind first that depending on the mode, these knobs will do different things; though this can be thought of as a general overview of each one's functions.

Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler Review and Buying Guide

Delay Time

This knob changes the length of time between each delay, effectually speeding it up or slowing it down. It can also be thought of as changing the tempo.


The repeats knob does what you would expect and changes the number of times that a delay repeats or echos.


This control is unique to certain delay models, which are addressed in the description of those models in the manual.


The same goes here as this function is only utilized by certain modes.


This knob sets the mix between the dry (direct and unprocessed) signal and the process signal. So essentially it's changing the level of the effect's influence on your original tone. You can turn the knob counterclockwise for a more dry and unimpeded signal.

Retail Pricing and Value

Retail cost for the DL4 is $250, which is a bit high, but not unreasonable if you consider how many sounds you're getting in one box.

It's also quite common for used versions to dip below $200.

So if you get this delay for $190, and most single delay pedals like the Boss DD-7 cost over $100, you're getting a lot of value since the DL4 gives you such a high degree of customization. As someone who uses a lot of delay, I find it to be pretty ideal.

If you don't need or want all those sounds, you might be better off to go with a smaller, less loaded box.

So in light of the value you're getting, it's hard to complain about the price tag.

Final Grades

There's little not to like as the DL4 takes strong marks for sound quality, price and reputation, as it makes frequent appearances on professional rigs.

Shinedown's Zach Myers, Ace Frehley, Phil Wickham and Sarah Lipstate are just a few of many who've made the DL4 a regular guest of their pedalboard.

If you want some more concrete and down-to-earth endoresments, some of the Amazon reviewers provide helpful information.

I would speculate that most negativity about this pedal would have to be a matter of preference. One could make the case that since it has been out so long (since the late '90s) it should be dropping in price. But that's a small complaint for a stomp box that I personally think is well-worth $250.

Make sure it's not more than what you need, but if you're confident that scope is not a problem and you're not overbuying, it should be pretty ideal for you.

Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler Review and Buying Guide

Your Experience

Do you own the DL4 or a similar delay pedal? What has your experience been?

Are there other delays you prefer?

Let us know over on Twitter and Facebook.

Or perhaps you've got a product you'd like me to review. Get in touch via our about page or email me and we'll talk.

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About Robert Kittleberger

Robert is the founder and editor of Guitar Chalk and Guitar Bargain. You can get in
touch with him here, or via Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus.


Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

I've written a lot of buying guides about guitars and pedals.

But until now, amplifiers have been neglected for a couple of reasons.

First, I'm not what you would consider an "amp expert." Not that I don't know my stuff or that I can't tell you what brands and models you should target, but I was never into them as much as some guitarists are.

I've got my Line 6 Spider IV modeling amp and I'm happy with that.

So I'm calling this a "roundup" or a list of popular, reliable amp models and brands; a tool to provide the novice or uncertain buyer with some direction.

Skip to the Amps

Amps Really Matter

A cheap amp can ruin your playing experience.

Even if you have a great guitar, a cut-rate amp will still have the final say about your tone.

My advice for serious players is to spend a little extra on their amplifier, even in the earlier stages of learning the instrument.


Because a cheap amp makes you sound bad no matter what, and that can be especially frustrating for the beginner.

So invest in a good amplifier.

You'll be glad you did.

Why combo amps?

As the title denotes, we're focusing only on combo amps.

Not interested in a combo amp?

Perhaps you're more interested in amp heads and speaker cabinets. Unfortunately we won't be covering those here. We're sticking to combo amps primarily because they're the most popular method of amplification.

They're simple, easy-to-use and often much lighter, thereby easier to carry. If you don't like them, that's cool.

But at the same time, this roundup might not be of much interest to you.

If you are in the market for a combo amp, read on in confidence.

Marshall and Fender are pretty much my choices, right?

Well, they are certainly your primary choices.

I'm not going to try and say that Marshall and Fender amps aren't the gold standard when it comes to guitar amp popularity.

They're by far the best-selling and most popular companies among both the professional and amateur guitar-playing community. At the same time, there are a lot of other great companies and amp models worth looking at, so we'll include those in our list as well.

It's an all-of-the-above approach.

Chances are you'll find something that fits your own goals that's also practical for your situation.

So there's no need to limit yourself to Fender and Marshall products.

A word about our links:

We use zero banner advertising and do not sell advertising space on this blog. We do however use Amazon Associate links and accept donations via PayPal.

Those Amazon links are used in this post.

That means if you click through an amp picture, it's taking you to the same old Amazon you've always known and loved. No foolin'.

It's a great, non-intrusive way to support the site, coming at no cost to you.

So enjoy a banner ad-free internet experience. If you feel so inclined to support us, you have our undying respect and gratitude.

With housekeeping out of the way, let's get to work.

3 Things to Look for When Buying an Amp

We'll start with three bullet points to keep in mind when making your purchase. These questions can narrow your search, thereby making your shopping experience a little simpler and more streamlined.

Modeling or not? Modeling amps have built-in effects and amp models which factor into the cost of the box. Decide ahead of time whether or not you want to pay for this feature. If not, avoid the amps with heavy modeling systems built in, like the Line 6 Spider series.

Tube or solid state? Tube driven amps will have a more classic or "vintage" sound and are often coveted by guitar players as a genuine form of amplification. Keep in mind though that tubes can go bad and will need replaced every few years or so depending on how often the amp is used.

How many channels? Most amps have at least two channels, which means you'll have two different sounds you can configure and switch between. Consider your ideal channel number (usually one to four) before you buy.

While there are other factors to consider, these are the three primary issues to keep in mind before you go through the list.

Here's a little sample of what you might want to jot down:

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers
Additionally, consider price and the number of speakers you'd prefer in your amp. Anything from one to four is going to be pretty typical.

If you can filter your options with broad categories, there are a lot of amps you can write off and avoid researching.

What This List is For

Be aware that I'm not claiming to have played through all of these amps or to have extensive expertise with each one.

That said, I have played guitar for nearly two decades and am intensely familiar with brands, models and the general popularity and/or value that many of them carry. Even for the ones I have used and played through, I'm not advocating for them simply because of that.

Instead, this list is primarily for two things:

  1. To give you a direction as you're looking to buy.

  2. To help you become familiar with good options.

So I'm not saying this list is exclusive or that you can't find great amps outside of it. But for combo guitar amps, these are some of your best options of the past year. Together, they provide a grid from which to make an informed decision.

Hopefully, it'll save you some frustration, confusion and maybe even some money.

We'll kick things off with some Hughes and Kettner.

1. Hughes and Kettner Tubemeister 36

According to the Hughes and Kettner website the combo version of the Tubemeister has all the benefits of the head, plus the built-in 12" Celestion Vintage 30 speaker.

Here's a list of the features, courtesy of the H&K Tubemeister 36 page:

Midi Controller - Effects Loop - Three Selectable Channels - Power Soak - Red Box - Foot Switch - Tube Safety Control

Additional features include a power selection option, where you can actually turn the speaker off, as well as access a silent recording capability.
Thus the perks are pretty extensive.

Musician's Friend reviewers have essentially nothing negative to say about it.

So as for tube amps, this unit is as comprehensive as you could ask for.

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

2. Marshall MG30CFX MG Series 30-Watt

Getting your hands on the Marshall brand is usually expensive.

Not in this case.

This little 30 Watt from Marshall gets nearly unanimous positive feedback by Amazon reviewers while providing four channels, built-in effects and an MP3 input.

This demo by Nevada Music is of an older model, but still gives you a solid picture of what you'd be investing in.

One thing I will point out is that this amp is on the small side, with only one 10" speaker.
That makes it more of a practice amp than a gigging amp.

Yet it does have great tone, especially for the $199 price tag. If that's your price range and you want to get your hands on a Marshall, this could easily be your best option, if you're willing to tolerate the practice amp feel.

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

3. Line 6 Spider IV 75 Watt

For such a small amp with only one 12" speaker, this modeling box has a lot of power at 75 Watts. Mic'd up it provides respectable stage presence (at least for small to mid-sized venues) and comes housed with a lot of digital effects to choose from and save as presets.

The amp comes with 300 presets that are already customized to sound like various popular artists and guitar players.

I could do without all that.

It's just nice to have a built in chorus and flanger that sound good. Never mind the pandering presets meant to sound like Pete Anderson.
What's great about this amp is that it allows you to save and switch between four presets (channels) at a time. That includes the EQ settings like bass, treble, mid and even volume.

So again, it's not one of the big timers, but it does the job well enough.

Retail is about $300.

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

4. Fender Mustang IV (V.2) 150 Watt 2x12

The Mustang series is Fender's attempt to get in with the modeling amp crowd.

It adds the muscle and vintage appeal of Fender amplifiers with the modern flavor of digital effects. If you're not a purist and you want a taste of both the vintage Fender and modeling amp worlds, this is a good choice for $500.

It's also loud.

With two 75 Watt speakers, this amp is well-suited for mid-sized or even larger gigging venues.
Features include the following:

100 Presets - 17 Amp Models - 44 Built-In Effects - USB Computer Connection - 150-Watts 

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

5. Fender '65 Deluxe Reverb 22 Watt

Sure, this one is big money; four-figures unless you get really lucky on EBay or Craigslist.

However, in its price range it's one of the most desirable amplifiers that Fender has ever made, mostly because of its rich reverb and vibrato effects that are built in.

I will say that it seems a bit strange that there's only one 12" speaker for such a large amp.

But the 8-ohm Jensen C-12K speaker packs a lot of power and clarity when paired with the amp's Groove Tubes.
At 42 pounds it's not small, but also not one of the bigger amps you'll find. Personally, I prefer a smaller amp, even for larger rooms and venues since it'll always be mic'd anyway.

If you're interested, here's a slew of demo clips and more info.

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

6. Marshall AS100D Acoustic Series

Two speakers and 100 Watts for your acoustic guitar get packed into this little box.

The feedback controls and included digital effects make this amp the total package for someone who regularly needs to play their acoustic guitar at higher volumes.

That said, it is a bit pricey.

To spend $700 on an acoustic amp, you almost need to be exclusively an acoustic guitar player.

If you are, this is one of the better models available and certainly worth consideration based on the brand name alone.
Maybe the kicker should be the digital effects.

They're costing you more, so if you don't want them, look for an acoustic amp that doesn't bother to include them.
Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

7. Vox AC15C1

There isn't much to dislike about the 15 Watt version of Vox's AC series.

A 12" Celestion speaker takes care of the noise housed in a classic Vox cabinet that has a stylistic, vintage appeal.

Two channels are included; normal and top-boost, each with their own volume control.

Built-in tremolo is included with adjustable speed and depth, along with spring reverb. Vox sweetens the deal a bit more with a footswitch (which you would think every multi-channel amp should come with).

Also, it's tube powered.

This model is going to be more appealing to the vintage and classic rock crowd, but is also a good all-around amp that will suit most, if not all, styles.

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

8. Line 6 Spider IV 150

Yep, it's the same thing as what you saw earlier.

Except it's twice the wattage at 150 with two Celestion speakers. I will point out that I think it's really sad that his amp doesn't come with a simple footswitch.

You can buy it separately, but that's just nonsense in my opinion. Come on Line 6, give us the channel switcher.

There are more effects with this one and an easier method of saving them. So in my opinion, the 150 model is worth the extra coin, that is, if you want to go the modeling amp route.
I wouldn't recommend going higher on a Line 6, because you'll end up paying too much money for an amp that's not really considered to be top-tier quality.

Don't get me wrong, they're good amplifiers (I own two of them), but they're not Fender, Marshal or Mesa Boogie material.

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

9. Rocktron Velocity 50 Watt Stereo Amp

Ok, so I'll admit that Rocktron doesn't get a lot of press, but who says we've always got to talk about the big players?

This amp comes with a built-in digital delay, stereo chorus, clean and dirty channels, noise reduction and two 8" speakers. You get 25 Watts per speaker for a total of 50, and unfortunately, the footswitch is sold separately.

Again, that's one of those things in life that I just don't want to accept.
I guess if I ever own my own amp company, I'll find a way to include the footswitch, or at least work it into the cost of the amp itself.

With the clean and distorted channel, along with the two effects, there's plenty to like about this amp.

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

10. Randall RG Series RG1503-212

The appeal of a Randall amplifier can be pretty clearly seen in the artists who use them.

Jim Root of Slipknot, Scott Ian of Anthrax, Dan Donegan of Disturbed and of course Dimebag Darrell, all use Randall amplification in varying capacity.

The dude from Mudvayne uses them too.

The 1503 is one of Randall's most popular combo boxes, and includes three channels, spring reverb and yes, a footswitch.

Good job Randall.

That said, Randall is definitely more on the metal side of the guitar amplification world. Those who are looking for a more subtle, perhaps blues or jazz-sounding rig might not be as happy with the Randall sound.

Although I suppose that an amp is what you make of it.
You might look a bit funny playing soft jazz through a Randall box, but it'll sound fine.

One more positive note: You'll notice from the picture that each channel has both a gain and volume knob dedicated to that channel. That makes for really easy adjustments, especially for those who want varying levels of distortion between channels.

Retail is under $500.

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

11. Fender Hot Rod Deville

One thing you'll notice about this amp right away is that it's really tall.

In fact, it looks like a straight speaker cabinet because the knobs and inputs are on the top and hidden from view.

A tube preamp, Fender-style reverb and four 10" speakers (thus the stature) gives this amp all the appeal in the world, especially to the classic rock fan who wants a little extra power from their rig.

It's also one of the more smooth and warm-sounding amps that you're going to find. This is pretty typical of Fender amplifiers, where Marshall amps are known more for their higher frequencies.
So if you're wanting something with a lot of low end and classic tube feel, this is one of the better options that comes in south of four-figures.

Usually $950 is where you'll get it.

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

12. Fender Blues Deluxe Reissue

This combo amp is outfitted with a total of five Groove Tubes, a 12" Eminence special design speaker and an included footswitch.

It's also tweed. I guess that means the color or pattern? Like a tweed jacket, right?

Remember what Michael Scott had to say about that?

"I feel the need...the need for tweed."

Couldn't help it.
Anyways, everything else you would expect from a Fender amp is included, like a bright button, a cover and built-in reverb. But there's no question, you've got to come to terms with the dang tweed look, and personally, I'm not digging it.

But that's a preference. If you disagree, this one can be yours for around $760.

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

13. Fender '68 Custom Vibrolux Reverb

This amp just looks fantastic. I think the blue jewel pilot light does it for me.

Powered by Groove Tubes and two 10" Celestion speakers, you get everything that you would expect out of a four-figure ($1200 retail) Fender amplifier. Warm Fender tone with nice low ends, vibrato effects with controls and of course built-in reverb.
Per Fender's website, this amp features modified all-tube circuitry that has been wired by hand.

I suppose that accounts for some of the extra cost. Well worth it in my opinion.

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

14. Traynor YVC80 Custom Valve Tube

Now I know that Traynor isn't exactly a well-known company, but I like this amp because of the high wattage (80) and the all-tube construction with a total of seven tubes.

This model features a "scoop switch" that can be used for heavier lead sounds.

Nice feature.
I also like the XLR direct output and effects loop, which can solve a lot of stage problems and prevent you from having to mess with a microphone. You can also turn off the internal speaker for recording or quiet practice.

It's not Fender, but if you want to break from the mold a bit, this is a good way to do it.

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

15. Fender Hot Rod Deluxe III 

When you're talking guitar amps, it's hard to get away from Fender for too long. In fact, I'd be willing to say that their venture into amplifier construction has been every bit as successful as what they've done with the Stratocaster and Telecaster.

The Hot Rod Deluxe is a step down from the Deville, and a good deal shorter.

However the sound is going to be similar with warm low end and the familiar spring reverb that Fender is known for.
You also drop from four 10" speakers to just one 12", though it's still an incredibly loud amplifier. That lower speaker number also means you're getting a cheaper amplifier, usually retailing around $730.

The Amazon reviews for this one are pretty helpful and informative.

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

16. Marshall JVM205 JVM Series 50-Watt

The JVM series from Marshall is thought by many to be one of the primary standard bearers in the world of guitar amplification.

One of the only downsides here is that you'll pay quite a bit to get one, as $2000 isn't unusual.

Even used options tend to stay around $1900 or $1800, simply because of their consistent popularity.

The JVM series amps are listed as "Valve" amplifiers, where a valve is another term for a vacuum tube. So valve and tube amps are essentially the same thing, with a few minor technical differences.

If you want to geek out on it, Wikipedia has you covered.
Other features include reverb, two channels and a programmable footswitch. If you want to drop two grand on an amplifier, this is one of the best ways to do it.

Check the Marshall site for a demo of the JVM205 series.

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

17. Fender '65 Super Reverb

Once again we find ourselves in the Fender camp, and again, with four 10" speakers.

I dunno why, but there's something about these amps that just makes you feel good when you get that many speakers involved.

Would you be better off just to get a half stack? I'll let you be the judge of that.

By now, you probably know the drill.
All-tube circuitry, reverb and vibrato, Groove Tubes, 45 Watts and 65 pounds to haul around, all for the fairly high price of $1550. But as is usually the case, you get what you pay for. If you need a little more convincing about this one, here are a few notable artists who use the '65 Super Reverb:

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

18. Marshall DSL Series DSL40C

Wait, you mean you don't want to spend $2000 on a Marshall amplifier?

Neither do I.

First, I'm not really a "Marshall guy." I understand and can appreciate their quality, value and appeal, but at the same time, I just like other amps better, and I'd rather not spend tons of money on a Marshall.

But if you want the Marshall tone and quality but don't want to take out a loan to get it, the DSL series is a great fallback.
One 12" speaker, valve circuitry (four valves total), reverb (digital), an effects loop and a footswitch are all included. So you get a lot of what you probably wanted from the JVM series, at a much more affordable price tag.

How affordable? $700 retail is typical.

It doesn't quite make our "budget" tag, but it's still not a bad price.

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

19. Orange CR120C

With Orange amps, it seems like you're either going to spend a ton of money (as in, more than if you buy a high end Marshall) or you're going to spend a hundred bucks on something that feels like a headphone amp.

The CR120C is one of the happy mediums that avoids those two extremes.

Though for its size, it's got a lot of power at 120 Watts, which is a but unusual for a mid-sized amp. And hey, you've got to love the aesthetics, right? A lot of the pros certainly do.
Jim Root of Slipknot, Tom Linton of Jimmy Eat World and Lee Malia of Bring Me the Horizon are all on board.

Two channels (dirty and clean), reverb, two 12" speakers (60 Watts each) and nearly 64 pounds of amp are all included.

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

20. Roland JC-120 Jazz Chorus

This one has been around for over 30 years and has become a standard bearer in the guitar amp industry.

The amp actually includes two separate 60 Watt RMS power amps, which give you a true stereo chorus sound. Each channel has two inputs and its own three-band EQ.

Other features include a stereo effects loop, distortion and adjustable vibrato.
Notable artists include David Evans (The Edge) of U2, Michael Padget of Bullet for My Valentine and The Cult's Billy Duffy.

To get one new you'll usually pay $1200.

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

21. Mesa Boogie Express 5:25 Plus

Pound for pound, Mesa Boogie makes some of the nicest amps in existence and are also some of the most expensive.

They're also considered boutique amps, having less mainline dealers and availability.

So generally speaking, they're just tougher to get your hands on.

Mesa's take on a combo amp (more often you'll find the pros using heads and cabinets from them), features two completely independent channels, an additional built-in five-band EQ, all-tube reverb, a three-button footswitch and 50 Watts of power.

The amp has an additional power tube that allows you to switch between 50 and five watts.
Retail is around $1400, and in some respects you're paying for the name and the boutique appeal. But there's no question that this is an excellent amplifier with great sound and plenty of features.

To list the number of pros who depend on Mesa Boogie would require a post if its own.

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

22. PRS Archon 50

Speaking of boutique guitar amps, Paul Reed Smith actually makes a really nice amplifier as well.

The Archon 50 (there's also a 25 version available) is PRS's primary take on the combo amplifier and actually comes in the head variation too.

It comes with a power switch that allows you to go from 50 to 25 Watts, in case you've got to settle volume down a bit, perhaps for a smaller room. The amp is powered by four total power tubes and six preamp tubes with a single Celestion speaker.

The amp comes with two completely separate channels and a two-button LED footswitch.
If you checkout the Archon 50 page on PRS's website you'll find a fairly detailed description of the amp's electronics near the bottom of the page.

The combo amp retails for $1650 on SamAsh.

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

23. Mahalo DR20 Combo

Mahalo's combo version of the DR20 features one 12" speaker, 20 Watts of power and a hefty price tag at $2400.

Again, it's a boutique product and fairly rare, which accounts for some of the high price tag.

However, you're also paying for superior construction, hand wiring, six tubes and the fact that these amps are built in the good ol' USA.
This one is described as a good option for pedal lovers, since you get a lot of clean headroom with the three preamp tubes.

The 40 Watt variation is the second one pictured.

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

24. Vox Valvetronix VT40 Plus

For such a small amp it has a lot of guts with 60 Watts and tube-driven reactors. It also comes with eight user programs for you to save your settings.

The following digital effects are included:

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers
So it's essentially a tube and modeling amp mixed into one. That makes it a pretty popular choice amongst today's guitar players.

The unit enjoys nearly unanimous approval on Amazon Reviews.
At only $250 the VT40 is one of the best bargain amplifiers on the market in that price range, if you're looking for tube power and modeling diversity.

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

25. Bugera V22 Vintage Two-Channel

This single-speaker amp has a boutique feel with a vintage design and a simple two-channel configuration.

The 22 Watt unit is powered by two valves, along with a two-channel preamp that's driven by three valves.

A bright/normal switch can be found alongside the amp's three-band EQ.

Per customer reviews, a footswitch is included.

Comparable amps would include the Fender Blues Junior, which is nearly $200 more expensive at $530 retail.
So the price is definitely a big selling point for this amp, though you've got to trust a less reputable company that doesn't get much press or love from the professionals.

A couple more notes: There's a tube life monitoring system (replace tubes when the lights are red) on the back of the amp, which is a nice touch. An effects loop and two speakers outs are included as well.

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

26. Fender Champion 20

You might not know from looking at it, but this little amp actually has a number of digital effects built in.

At only $100 you've got to consider it an "economy" amplifier, but the unit enjoys a glowing reputation and has a lot of features for such a small box. It also includes four different amp voicings (Tweed, Blackface, British, Metal) and an auxiliary input for an MP3 player.
If you want to spend small and go the economy route, the Fender Champion 20 is a good compromise.

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

27. Fishman PRO-LBX-600 Loudbox

Fishman has some authority when it comes to acoustic guitar amplification, thus its Loudbox is easily one of the most popular and widely used acoustic amps on the market.

This model retails at about $550 which is a manageable price for an amplifier.

Features include two separate instrument channels, each with their own feedback control and three-band EQ. Eight different effects, as well as a dedicated effects loop are also included. D.I. outputs are included for each channel.

If customer reviews matter to you, this one might be a winner.
Broadly, this amp has everything you need to add some volume to your acoustic. The effects feel a bit unnecessary, but for some people they're nice to have.

Look no further for a workable acoustic amp in this price range.

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

28. Ampeg GVT Series GVT52

You get 50 Watts with dual power mode that allows you to cut it down to 25, when and if you feel the need to do so. All sound comes through one, 12" Celestion speaker. The preamp and power amp are both driven by tubes while the rectifier is solid state.

The gain levels on the amp are switchable from a footswitch that is included with the amp.

The reverb is footswitchable as well, though the unit required to do so and to work the effects loop (switch on and off) is sold separately.

Dual channels are included with a dedicated EQ for each one.

$685 is typical retail.
Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

29. Tech 21 Trademark-60

You get two channels and 60 Watts, where channel one is better for Fender-like clean tones and channel two is more suited to the raunchier, Marshall sounds.

This one is also 100% analog with reverb and basic EQ included. The two channels are switchable via an included footswitch.

The controls are worded a bit strangely, so I'd recommend reading through them first and possibly checking out the rest of the Trademark-60 information page. For $610 you'll want to know what you're getting and how to work it right out of the box.
And I wouldn't necessarily call the strange wording a detraction, but it's something the consumer should be aware of.

If you're not wanting a dual-channel amplifier, I'd recommend looking elsewhere.

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

30. Blackstar HT-1R

It's small, with just an  8" speaker, but aren't small amps the thing now?

It might be your thing with a $320 price tag and tube driven power. Two channels, an infinite shape feature and stereo reverb are all standard in the HT-1R series.

Blackstar isn't a "household name" when it comes to guitar amplification, but this model in particular has enjoyed a surprising amount of positive feedback on Amazon.
At the time I'm writing this, zero negative reviews.

That's pretty remarkable Blackstar. I didn't think you had it in you.

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

31. Roland GA-112

For its size, this amp can do a lot of damage at 100 Watts. The foot controller is sold separately, though is worth adding to this amp that provides four different channels.

This Roland model also includes a feature called progressive amp, which (if I understand it correctly) allows you to "morph" through different amp sounds and levels by using the drive knob and/or the "boost" button.
I could do without that.

But the amp itself is a solid box with the ability to make a lot of noise. For the small amp fans among us, this would make an ideal small to mid-sized gigging companion.

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

32. Marshall 1962 Bluesbreaker

This vintage valve combo amp is one of the grandaddy Marshall models that's still available from most major retailers.

The price is pretty steep though.

At $2700 retail, the Bluesbreaker is a tough sell to the casual amp buyer. But for those who want something vintage and are willing to spend top-dollar, it could be a perfect fit.

Two Celestion speakers and 30 Watts of power go along with an included footswitch and built-in tremolo.
Unfortunately, no built-in reverb here.

However, buying a Marshall amp at this price guarantees you a wonderful vintage tone and the quality we've come to expect from the company over the years.

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

33. Kustom KG100

The KG100 is one of the larger combo boxes from Kustom's KG Series. It's also one of the more powerful options and a solid stage choice at only $290 retail.

Features include two custom 12" speakers, reverb, delay and chorus effects, a lead and rhythm channel, a dedicated effects loop and an external speaker jack.
The primary attraction of this amp (other than the price) is the power you get.

100 Watts and two speakers can be pretty loud, which is why this combo can be an ideal solution for someone trying to outfit a live rig.

Guitar Combo Amp Roundup 2014: 33 of the Year's Best Amplifiers

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About Robert Kittleberger

Robert is the founder and editor of Guitar Chalk and Guitar Bargain. You can get in
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