You're grasping for the grail of country twangy amps, and this modest guide is here to help you. Combing through fan favorites of country amplifiers, here's a list of actually not 5, but 6(!) amplifiers to get your research started.
In reality, a lot of the great "country" twang amps are actually also loved for funk, rock, blues, and other genres. These are those classic amps like the Fender Twin Reverb, and other timeless classics. Hopefully, by digesting this guide, as well as the suggested amplifiers, you can zero-in on your path towards upgrading your gear collection to achieve those twangy country sounds.
Somehow, country music has become the Nickelback of music genres. At cocktail parties, where you're trying to say the right thing, it's "cool" for people to hate on country music, but secretly it's pretty damn catchy. In fact, the Nickelback analogy is a bit rude to country music, as Nickelback does actually suck.
The tones used in country guitar, whether it's old school Chet Atkins or Albert Lee, or Keith Urban and Brad Paisley, that classic twangy sound is something worth chasing, even if your focus isn't entirely to become the next Brent Mason.
A key way to slam that bullseye of the twangy country sound is with your amplifier. Of course, your own fingertips matter most, but your amp matters too! If you're curious about what amplifiers can aid you with your country twang, you've arrived at a decent guide for that. Here, you'll briefly learn a few factors for achieving that twangy sound, as well as some amp selections to help get your search started!
What is Country Twang?
Those intangibles, when it comes to talking about music, like country twang, are tricky to pinpoint. You might define "country twang" as the "southern drawl" of vocal accents, but lent to the sounds of a guitar. It's the cadence of the notes' rhythms, the sparkle of the sound, and the attitude of the riffs.
Can an amplifier, with the proper tonal settings convert any guitar player into being Albert Lee? The answer is (sadly) a resounding "nay", but, at the opposing extreme, playing through a 1W solid-state practice amp from the local garage sale would certainly limit you too! Therefore, having the right amplifier won't give you that country twang alone, but it helps!
Ways of Getting Country Twang, Beyond Amplifiers
Beyond the amplifier (which you can skip ahead to learn more about), here are other factors to help you achieve that country twang.
1. Your fingers and technique
As any well-travelled country twang gunslinger will tell you, the real twang exudes straight from your fingertips and technique! The way you finish a dazzling run of notes in the heat of the moment, with a gnarly bend; the extra digging-in you do to give your guitar's sound some extra meat on the bone. Those types of "feel" factors matter mightily in achieving the sound you'd like!
Although Derek Trucks and Jeff Beck aren't country players, they're great examples of excellent guitarists who could play a tin box and still capture some essence of their sound. After all, the definition of an amplifier is literally that it just boosts a signal louder - and that signal comes from your calloused mitts!
Therefore, in achieving great country twang, keep shedding your Albert Lee licks, and burning the midnight oil. By the time you upgrade your amplifier, you'll have the double-barreled affects of a nice sounding amp, and even nicer sounding hands.
2. Practice with an acoustic guitar
Combing through the guitar greats, from Chet Atkins to Doc Watson to Merle Travis to Merle Haggard, all those giants whose shoulders we all sit on started with acoustic guitars!
Yes, it's not quite as flashy to just play with the earthy sounds of mother nature - sometimes you really just want to crank to 11 and shred like you're at the Opry, but it's tough to deny that acoustic guitars are the great equalizer in how they put a mirror up to your own playing! If you bum a note, it's a tad more apparent. Or, if you don't quite nail the hammer-on, you can't rely on your string of pedals to sustain the note!
One awesome acoustic country player is Mr. Trey Hensley. He plays on acoustic guitar, but good god he's attached at the hip to country twang! Surely, if you ever hear him play electric guitar through just about any amplifier, you'd hear those twangy sparkles - but it's not coming from just the amp!
3. Try different picks
For a more powerful, meaty sound, sometimes it's worth experimenting with a meatier pick! Or, hell, maybe even a much thinner pick. Just changing up the setup you've gotten so used to over the years can inspire your playing to do things you didn't expect.
When it comes to guitar picks, you could even look around at your favorite players who have that country twang, and see if their picking technique is different than yours! On top of the pick thickness, that technique could be a key factor to elevate your twangy sounds to the next level!
4. Change up your string gauges
Similar to your picks of choice, you can switch things up even more by changing your string gauge. Oddly, a lot of times guitar players can treat string gauges as a meat-size competition, thinking the thicker the string, the more alpha the player. Not true! It all depends on your own hands, feel, and what inspires your playing the most! Hell, this year 9's might fit you right, but next year 11's might be what you're looking for!
5. Copy the licks of great players
Honestly, this might be the most important factor of all, so I'm not sure why this is numbered as the 5th way to get that country twang! To really nail certain sounds, it's odd sometimes when you've spent $4,000 on gear and still haven't achieved the tone you want. Sadly, unlike day-to-day life, dumping cash doesn't always solve artistic problems!
In fact, often times, achieving a certain sounds isn't about tweaking the tone knobs and pedal settings to perfection, but actually in the notes and rhythms you play. Perhaps you've had that experience where you really practice a twangy country riff - really, really working it out until it's one with your fingers, and you get that great twangy sound whether you're playing the riff on a $100 beater acoustic, or a $10,000 rig! For that reason, it's never a bad idea to work out the riffs and licks of players who have the sound you want to achieve. As they say, imitate, assimilate, innovate!
What Kind of Amp Should You Look for?
As you soak in your favorite country guitar music, hone in on the sound. Observe the tone with your ears, and note what stands out. For example, that great twangy sound might be characterized by the sparkly, crystal clear sound. Or, if there's some overdrive, the purity that still comes through the distortion. In that case, you'll be looking for amps with "clear as a bell" tones, with lots of headroom so you can still have that clarity at high volumes.
Tube amps are often a great choice here, because they offer that juicy yet clear sound, with tons of power to back all those licks you've been practicing. Plus, they can drive some distortion if you're looking to play with a little bit of dirt!
Solid state amps are still great, though, the amps reviewed below don't include solid state amps. They probably don't quite have what you're looking for in that classic country twang, and the old and new greats usually go with tube amps, from what this author observes.
Dial in Your Sound
Once you've gotten your ideal amp for country twang, then how should you arrange the knob settings? Well, that's really part of the fun of your new gear. You can be the mad scientist creating your Frankenstein country twang tone, tuned exactly to your liking!
With that being said, here's a quick idea of what you can get started with,
- Set your volume knob at a level that's suitable for your playing environment
- Keep the gain somewhere in the middle, so it's not too dirty, but still gets that extra drive
- Keep the bass somewhere around 12 o'clock for some fat support, but not too dominating
- Have the mids pushed higher, if you want a thicker sound, or below 12 o'clock if you'd like it a bit more piercing
- Set the treble knob somewhere past 12 o'clock for that shimmering, bright sound
- A bit of reverb to fill out the sound a bit
- And maybe even a hint of delay to fatten things up even more
While there are certain boundaries and borders in music, at the end of the day it’s up to you to find that tone and dial in those settings that sound and feel the most comfortable!
Some of the Best Amps for Country Twang
And now, here's what you've likely been looking for this whole time! These are a handful of amps that country players have identified as being particularly twangy, listed in no particular order. They're mostly all tube amplifiers, so you can have that fat yet shimmering sound, with plenty of power. You'll find a brief description of each amplifier, some specs which you might find relevant, as well as vendors for where you can order them from. Hopefully this helps you get on your way to finding the perfect country twang amp for you!