The Hot Spot For Watts? Is the 15 watt combo THE perfect amp for most of us?

This past August, Dennis Kager departed this world for some place better. He made innumerable contributions to the world of amplification through his associations with names like Ampeg and Pignose and his tirless work as an amp tech and repairman. His shop experience eventually led him down the path to his own line of amplifiers, called Sundown. They’re somewhat rare today, but their innovative-for-the-time features like true discreet channel switching, captured the attention of six-string jazz giants like John Scofield and Allan Holdsworth.

Kager’s legacy and ingenuity live on through a new amplifier, the K50-15.  It’s something Kager was working on before he passed, and unfortunately the man himself is unable to give us insight into what inspired this latest creation. But one thing that stands out is the overall configuration: a 1×12 combo, switchable between 15 and 50 watts, efficiently laid out and ready to rock.

Which brings us to the title of this article. When we go beyond the K50-15’s unique lineage, we see a versatile, tried and true format for guitar amps. A 1×12, “low watt” combo (for our purposes, we’ll set a range of roughly 15 to 40 watts  as “low.” Debatable I know, but it’s my article!). It’s an amp configuration that can handle pretty much every task you throw at it. It’s a natural in the studio, especially if it’s tube powered.  With modern PA and sound reinforcement systems, a small combo can also fill a stadium just as easily as a small coffee house. The convenience of a combo can also not be overstated; lugging even a half stack to a gig can be a physical and logistical nightmare. It’s also an amp that’s right at home…at home. You can keep things at bedroom levels, but also have a little fun and crank it a bit when you have the place to yourself.


The 1×12, low power combo is also a highly accessible package, which means the K50-15 will have its work cut out for itself (a challenge we here at think it’s up to). Fender, possibly the most famous maker of combo amplifiers, has one for nearly every budget; the infamous Blues Junior is a mainstay model available for under $600 dollars. A ’65 reissue Deluxe Reverb, possibly the most famous studio/session amp ever, rings in at about $1100. For those sporting American Express Platinum cards, the somewhat under-the-radar “brownface” ’62 Princeton has been reissued in cooperation with country music star Chris Stapleton to the tune of $2000, while those seeking tweed tones can tap into the gnarly roar of Fender’s 12-watt ’57 Deluxe combo for about the same price. If you go for Fender’s handwired runs, be prepared to pull out even more bills.

While Vox is more famous for its 2×12 crunchy spitfire of an amp, the AC30, recent reissues of the AC15 and AC10 amps ( as well as a 1×12 version of the AC30) are all available for under $800. And though they’re not 1x12s, Marshall’s new Studio series reissues some of its most iconic designs in 20 watt, 1×10 combos as well as heads. Meanwhile, Mesa Boogie’s new Fillmore 1×12 delivers vintage crunch between 18 and 23 watts for around $1600.

There is also a plethora of “boutique” options out there if you’re in the mood for something a little off the beaten path. One of this writer’s favorites, the 3rd Power Wooly Coats Spanky combo is like a souped-up Princeton with a 12-inch speaker and a Mid control, something not often found on Fender “blackface” amps. Those start at around $1700 and go up in price, depending on options. Milkman Sound also dips its toes into the F-style pool with the 1×12 “Pint” model, which seems to run for around $2200.  Meanwhile, the highly regarded Dr. Z looks across the pond for its popular MAZ Jr.s 1×12 combo, borrowing the best bits from Bletchley (Marshall) and Kent (Vox) to produce a unique take on British tones. The MAZ Jr. also starts north of $2000, with speaker options available. We figure, given that Kager was someone who was probably more well-known in professional circles than by Average Joe/Jane Guitarplayer and the KG50-15’s $1850 price point, this is where that amp will ultimately stake out its identity.

I could continue on, but this article would end up being nearly as long as “Infinite Jest.” But here it is: no doubt about it, big stacks and tough, multi-speaker combos are a ton of fun to play, and it’s definitely worth having at least one in your arsenal, even if you’re “bedroom” player. If you’ve ever had your playing pouring out of a hot 4×12 and pounbding you right in the sternum, you know what I’m talking about. It lifts you up in a very unique way.

But if you’re a traveling pro without Zeppelin-like resources, someone making the open mic scene, or juggling multiple jams and opportunities around town and beyond, a “low watt” 1×12 combo makes a ton of sense. There are a huge range of options out there. You can find them as bare bones or as feature-laden as you like. They’ll fit in the back of your Fiat. Hell, you could probably even lash one to the back of a Vespa scooter if you’re careful enough. And, with even modest venues incorporating relatively sophisticated sound reinforcement systems, you can play one just about anywhere (and tear down is pretty easy).

Dennis Kager may not have known that his last big project was going to be the K50-15, but after all his innovative contributions to industry we here at think he knew where it was headed. The KG50-15 may be a hefty investment for some, but you’ll truly own a piece of important history.



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