When it comes to dialling in killer blues tones, ‘amp in a box pedals’ can make a great addition to your rig. In fact, depending on your budget, current setup and the tone you are searching for, they could help you to create the tone you have in mind, whilst saving you both time and money.
In this article then, I will be covering everything you need to know about amp in a box pedals. This includes:
This will help you to understand what amp in a box pedals are and why they could make a great addition to your rig. It will also help to provide you with some of the most popular styles of this pedal, and examples of some of the best pedals currently available.
So with that in mind, let’s get into it. Here are the best amp in a box pedals for the blues:
What are amp in a box pedals?
Before we start looking at specific amp in a box pedals, I think it is first worth briefly running through what they are, and why they can be very beneficial for blues guitarists.
Amp in a box pedals are overdrive or distortion pedals that aim to create the sound of classic amps. And they try to do this fairly independently of the rest of your set-up. In other words, the idea is that you can put one of these pedals between any guitar and amp and create the sound of a specific and totally different amp to the one you might be using.
There are a wide variety of these different overdrive pedals available. And each one of these is based on a different amp. These range from Dumble and Fender, to Vox, to pedals based on a number of classic Marshall amps. Increasingly, there are also amp in a box pedals based on modern amps.
Why are amp in a box pedals popular?
As I will explain in more detail below, there are a number of key benefits of adding an amp in a box style pedal to your setup. And this has resulted in amp in a box pedals becoming increasingly popular in recent years.
Each of these benefits relates back to a single point. And I believe this helps to explain their popularity. This is as follows:
Most blues guitarists have a range of tones that they want to create. Often these tones sit at opposite ends of the tonal spectrum. For example a lot of players love the warm and slightly broken up tones of players like B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Derek Trucks and John Mayer.
Yet at the same time, they also enjoy playing with heavily overdriven guitar tones in the style of players like Eric Johnson, Jimi Hendrix, Rory Gallagher, Jimmy Page and Gary Moore.
Recreating tones on either side of this spectrum is challenging. And this is largely because these players use different amps and set those amps up in different ways.
Broadly speaking, blues guitarists playing with heavy tones have predominantly used Marshall and Vox amps. Conversely, guitarists playing with more mellow tones have typically used Fender amps.
As I explained in much more detail in this article here – different types of amps are ‘voiced’ in totally different ways. This means that creating heavy Marshall tones with a Fender amp is difficult. The same is also true of using a Marshall amp for warm and clean Fender tones.
This is where amp in a box pedals can come in very useful. Opting for an amp in a box pedal can help you to craft sounds on the opposite ends of the tonal spectrum.
It is worth noting however, that you can only move across this tonal spectrum in a single direction. In other words, you can start with a clean amp – and by using one of these pedals – can create a totally different overdrive tone. The opposite however, is not true. You can’t use these pedals to create clean tones.
Amp in a box pedals are overdrive pedals. They cause your signal to overdrive and distort. So if you have a Marshall amp but you want to create warm, Fender style cleans – an amp in a box pedal will not help you to create those tones. In that case, you would have to look at using a different amp.
This might sound obvious, but I think it is worth pointing out. The pedals listed here will help you to create overdriven and distorted tones. And they will help you to recreate the classic overdrive sound of various different classic amps. They will not transform your current amp into something totally different when you are playing with a clean tone.
The benefits of amp in a box pedals
With that caveat out of the way, let’s now look at the benefits of amp in a box pedals. As noted above, this style of pedal can help you to create an overdriven tone that is quite different to your base clean tone. And they can help you to do this without having to buy multiple amps or pedals. There are a number of key benefits of this, which are as follows:
Cost. Buying a single amp in a box pedal (or even a couple of pedals) will almost always be significantly cheaper than buying another amp. Not only this, but as I will explain in more detail below – opting for an amp in a box pedal could save you having to buy other pedals too.
Space – Pt I. Amp in a box pedals offer a practical benefit. You don’t need to have multiple amps to craft different sounds. And this is very helpful if space is a concern for you and you don’t have room for another amp.
Space – Pt II. Adding an amp in a box pedal to your set-up can also keep your pedalboard nice and streamlined. Rather than having to buy multiple different overdrive pedals to create the sound of a particular amp, you can just use one pedal.
Simplicity. The final benefit of this, is that it keeps your rig nice and simple. Whilst a lot of guitarists enjoy the process of choosing different pedals and tweaking them all, others favour simplicity. If you fall into this second category, then an amp in a box pedal could work very well for you. You don’t have to worry about stacking a lot of different overdrives together and tweaking them to get the perfect blend. You can step on a single pedal and then you’re good to go!
‘Bedroom’ Tones. Lastly and significantly, amp in a box pedals can help you to dial in beautiful blues tones at lower volumes. A lot of overdrive pedals sound best when you are pushing your amp and really cranking the volume. But this isn’t always possible. And this is especially the case if you are predominantly playing at home and need to be mindful of your volume. Amp in a box pedals aim to produce the majority of their tone in the pedal. They aren’t so reliant on you driving the volume on your amp. And in this way you can create some beautiful blues tones without disturbing the neighbours.
As you can see then, there are some significant benefits of using amp in a box pedals. So now that we have covered what they are and why they work well, let’s look at some of the best options out there for the blues.
Marshall style pedals
Of all of the amp in a box style pedals out there, many of the most famous are modelled on Marshall amplifiers. Of these, those that are best suited for the blues are designed to recreate the classic tones of early Marshall ‘Plexi’ amplifiers.
Marshall Plexi amps are synonymous with the sound of British rock and blues. They were almost universally favoured by guitarists during the 196os who were looking for heavy, overdriven tones. At that point, PA systems were still in early production. As such, guitarists needed to use high powered amps in the large venues in which they were playing. The first 100 watt Plexi amp was actually created following the request of The Who’s Pete Townshend. At the time, he told Jim Marshall that the 50 watt amps then in production were not loud enough.
Of course, Marshall are still building amps. And in fact they offer reissue versions of many of their early Plexi amps. However if you already have a different amp, you don’t want to buy another amp, or you just want those higher gain Marshall tones on occasion, then the great news is that there are a variety of Marshall amp in a box style pedals. Some of the best of these are as follows:
These are just some of the many options out there. But each of these will help you to dial in those classic blues rock tones.
When it comes to actually deciding on a particular pedal, I would recommend first assessing the budget that you have in mind. After that, decide whether you are looking for a single pedal, or a dual overdrive pedal that has a boost on one side. Finally, think about whether you are looking for a pedal with a lot of different controls, or for one that is simpler.
Once you have made those decisions, go and try a few of these pedals out and see how you get on!
Fender style pedals
Over the years, Fender have produced some of the most iconic guitar amps of all time. Generally speaking, Fender guitar amps have beautiful clean tones and a lot of ‘headroom’. This means that you can play them at a greater volume without their sound breaking up. As such, they are generally associated with clean, rather than overdriven blues tones.
Yet when Fender amps do break up, they produce a warm, soft and beautiful sounding overdrive. Just think about the tones of players like B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Peter Green and Derek Trucks, amongst countless others.
When it comes to Fender style amp in a box pedals, the majority are modelled after the early Fender ‘Tweed’ amps. These were the amps that Fender manufactured between the late 1940s and early 1960s. And because of this they have come to be synonymous with those early rock and blues tones. As the writers of Guitar magazine put it so succinctly:
Tweed sound has become a bit of a byword for a particular type of tone. For most of us, it means old-school overdrive with fat mids, slightly loose lows and clear treble that falls somewhat shy of the shrill glassiness you can sometimes get with later Fender designs.
So if you are looking for warm, and slightly more mellow overdrive tones – one of the following pedals could work very well:
Not all of these pedals are modelled on Fender Tweed amps. For example the Vemuram Jan Ray – one of the most popular pedals in this style – is based on a Fender ‘blackface’ or ‘black panel’ amp from the 1960s. As the name suggests, this is also true of the Mad Professor Super Black Overdrive
The basic premise with these pedals however remains the same. They will help you to dial in a warmer and more mellow ‘American’ sounding overdrive that lacks some of the drive and bite of the Marshall style pedals.
Vox style pedals
Like Marshall, Vox amps are also associated with heavier and more overdriven British guitar tones. They were first made famous by bands like The Shadows and The Beatles. Then some years later, blues and rock guitarists like Rory Gallagher and Brian May used them to create their signature tones. In fact, Brian May is arguably the player that has come to be best associated with the amp.
Compared with Marshall, Vox amps have a more pronounced top end. They produce sharper and more biting tones. You can hear this on early Rory Gallagher tracks like ‘I Fall Apart‘, ‘Messin’ With The Kid‘ and ‘Crest Of A Wave‘.
When it comes to recreating these searing blues tones, a lot of players opt for treble booster pedals. These help to accentuate the highs in your signal and cut out some of the bass tones. This gives you a more ‘focused’ tone and adds clarity and bite to your sound.
As such, ‘Vox style’ amp in a box pedals are a little more difficult to come by. This is particularly the case when compared with some of the other pedals listed here.
Having said that, there are still some great options to consider. Some of the most notable of these are as follows:
These pedals will allow you to dial in a range of fiery and treble intensive blues guitar tones. And they will do so in a way that gives you that classic Vox tone. For whilst using treble booster pedals will help you to add grit and bite to your sound, they won’t help you to recreate that distinctive Vox ‘chime’.
These ‘Vox style’ amp in a box pedals however will do just that. So if you are looking to recreate the tones of players like Rory Gallagher and Brian May, one of these pedals could be a great choice.
Dumble style pedals
Manufactured in California in the 1960s, Alexander ‘Howard’ Dumble produced boutique amplifiers that are now recognised as some of the best amplifiers ever made. Dumble initially took inspiration from amps like the Fender Bassman. So tonally, Dumble amps have a similar voicing to Fenders. The biggest difference is in their dynamic range. As long time Dumble user Robben Ford noted when talking about his Dumble Overdrive Special amp:
(There is) a perfect sonic curve, the lows are deep and rich but not unclear, it doesn’t mush out like some amps will. You have the frequencies there for your use. The mid range (is) punchy and clear and the high end, bright, clear but doesn’t hurt your ears. It’s loud but it sounds good
Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughan and John Mayer are just some of the notable guitar players to have used Dumble amps. And this – in addition to the fact that only around 300 models were originally made – has resulted in Dumble amps gaining a legendary status.
Their prices are reflective of this status.
If you can even find a Dumble amp (they are not that easy to track down) they are extremely expensive. Depending on the model and it’s condition, you could easily expect to pay upwards of $50,000/£42,000. And it is likely that you would have to pay much more.
Luckily, over the last few years pedal manufacturers have brought out a range of ‘Dumble style’ amp in a box pedals. All of these offer a viable option to help you recreate those legendary Dumble tones in a much lower price range. Some of the most notable of these are as follows:
Compared with some of the other pedals listed here, these provide you with many different options for tonal tweaking. So if you are looking for warm, vintage style overdrive tones – and you also want more control over your tone – one of these pedals could make an excellent addition to your rig.
How to use amp in a box pedals
If you have decided that an amp in a box pedal makes sense in the context of your rig, then the next step is looking at how to maximise your use of the pedal.
Arguably the most common way to use an amp in a box pedal is as I have discussed throughout this article. You set your amp up with a clean tone, and then use an amp in a box pedal to create your overdrive tone. In this way, you can create tones on opposite ends of the tonal spectrum. And you can do so quickly and easily, without having to use a lot of gear.
This is particularly useful if you like to play different styles of blues, or if you are gigging and have songs in your set list that require very different tones. It is also useful if you favour simplicity or you want to keep your rig streamlined.
Yet as is the case with all guitar pedals – you also have the option for almost endless tweaking here. So if you enjoy the process of tonal tweaking and you like having a few more pedals in your set-up, then here are 3 further ways that you can use amp in a box in a pedals:
1.) Amp in a box pedal + overdrive pedal(s)
You don’t have to use your amp in a box pedal independently. You can stack it alongside other overdrive pedals. In this way, you can create an interesting blend between the drive sound created between the different pedals. You can then alter the amount of drive on the different pedals to create quite different sounds.
Let’s say for example that you have a Marshall style pedal. You could use that as your predominant drive sound. If you then stacked it alongside another drive pedal(s), you could create a Marshall style sound that was blended with the characteristics of the other pedal(s) you are using.
You could also do the opposite. You could set the Marshall style pedal at a lower drive level, and get most of your drive from other pedal(s). This would create a different but equally interesting sound.
The specific pedals that you use, as well as how many pedals you use, will both have an impact on the type of tones you create. And in this way, you can create a wide variety of different tones.
2.) Amp in a box pedal + amp overdrive
Some of the most famous blues guitar tones of all time were created using two different amps. A lot of players stack different amps together. They blend the characteristics of the amps together, and this allows them to create new and interesting tones that can’t be achieved with a single amp.
You can create a similar affect by blending the overdrive on your amp with an amp in a box pedal. In this way, you are able to take characteristics from both your amp and the pedal, and merge them together. This can help you to create a range of interesting tones and almost simulate the affect of using two amps.
3.) Amp in a box pedal + amp in a box pedal
As I noted in much more detail here, combining different overdrive pedals together is one of the best ways to create a broad range of overdrive tones. And you can do the exact same thing with amp in a box pedals.
This can achieve a similar effect to above. Except this time you can combine the sounds of two amps that are different to the one that you might be using. Let’s say for example that you have a Fender amp. You could buy a Dumble style and a Marshall style amp in a box pedal. The pedals alone would give you the option to create quite different tones. And if you so wish, you could then blend the sound of the two pedals with the overdrive on your amp.
In this way, you would be able to create multiple gain stages, and give yourself the option to create a wide variety of different tones.
Well there we have it – some of the best amp in a box pedals for the blues, and how you can use those pedals in a practical context.
As a final point, it is worth noting that the pedals listed here are just some of the many amp in a box style pedals out there. In each of the above categories there are a wide variety of further options to consider. So before you buy a specific pedal, I would always recommend deciding the budget you have in mind and the features you are looking for, and then search and test a few before you buy anything. This will ensure you choose the right pedal for your set-up.
It is also worth noting that many amp manufacturers now offer pedals based on some of their most famous amps. For example, Friedman amps offer the Dirty Shirley overdrive pedal, based on the amp of the same name. Likewise, Bogner amps have the Blue Ecstasy overdrive pedal, modelled on their Ecstasy amp.
So the good news is that if you want to recreate the tone of an amp other than one of those listed above – chances are there is an amp in a box pedal out there for you.
As such, I would recommend treating the information outlined here as a guide. Use it to help focus your search. Look at the different types of pedal out there, and whether they will help you to create the tones you have in mind. And in this way, you can ensure you choose the right pedal(s) for your set-up.
Good luck! If there is anything at all I can help with, or if you have any questions, just pop them in the comments below or send me an email on email@example.com. I am always around and happy to help! 😁
References & Images
Music Radar, Marshall, Pedal Town, The Gear Page, Sweetwater, Producer Hive, Guitar Pedal X, Pedal Haven, Wampler Pedals, Guitar Pedal X, Wikipedia, Delicious Audio, Guitar World, Guitar Pedal X, Guitar, Tone Report
Many of the links embedded in this article are affiliate links. As such, if you buy one of the pieces of gear I recommend, or an item from the same store after clicking one of these links, I will earn a small commission. I never recommend pieces of gear that I wouldn’t use myself, and I include these affiliate links to ensure that I can keep this content free. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ve had the pleasure of playing thru 2 differnet Dumble amplifiers over the years but I do not own one. After much experimentation I am having great sucess using the J Rocket DUDE version 1, into the normal channel of my 1971 Fender Bandmaster Reverb , open backed 1970 Sunn Solarus 2×12 speaker cabinets loaded withe vintage Chicago Jensen P 12N’s, or JBL E 120’s or EV’s EVM 12 L’s. With my Telecaster or SG or 335 plus an old analog Fender outboard reverb it sounds VERY Dumble -esque. In coversations with both Jon Herrington, guitarist in Steely Dan, and Robben Ford both also recomended the Hermida Zen Drive version 1, which I also own. Its is also a VERY Dumble like device. Both it and the Dude have a lot of gain. I just happen to prefer the J Rocket Dude, which to my ears sounds a touch smoother on the high end, while the Zen Drive has more brightness which in some live situations will cut thru the live mix really well. Speaker choice will also have a Huge influence of the results too. I recommend both the Dude and Zen Drivefor those looking for a Dumble-esque approach.
Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and share your experience Mike, I really appreciate it. It sounds like you have a great setup – and to get feedback and advice from players like Jon Herrington and Robben Ford is just amazing. Ford in particular has a tone which I just think is so beautiful. The slightly off clean tone he plays with on the Tiger Walk album on instrumentals like ‘Freedom’ are some of the best blues tones ever recorded in my opinion. And so although I don’t currently have the Dude on my pedalboard, I think that might have to change!