If you’ve ever wanted the option between a good practice amp for low volumes at home or in the apartment, and an amp with enough juice for practicing with the band or gigging in clubs, then the Vox VT-15 Valvetronix is worth checking out. I was in this position recently after moving. I needed an amp that could do a few things for me – be small and light, be loud enough to hear through a full band, and of course have good tone. After a bit of searching on craigslist I found a used Vox VT-15 for sale. I checked it out online (much like you might be doing now), and with a 12ax7 in there for real tube power and 15 watts, this seemed just right, plus, Vox is a pretty reputable brand.

I’ve been very impressed with mine so far. The tone is great, and depending on which of the 22 amp types (through a great amp modelling system I might add) you can really dial in your own tone. They have everything from Vox AC30 and AC50′s to Marshall stack, tweed amps, and Mesa-Boogie type models. For me, I use my effects to colour my sound, so the most important thing for me was getting a nice clean sound that I liked, and it wasn’t hard at all! You’ve also got your frequency controls, as well as independent reverb, and built in effects. As I mentioned, the effects don’t matter as much to me since I purely use my pedals, but for those who want them, there 12 independent effects built right in, as well as room for 66 preset sounds for limitless amp modelling and sound creation.

With the presets, you can choose your amp model and tone, as well as your effects, making it easy (especially with a footswitch) to change sound from song to song. If you purchase an additional footswitch, you can also turn on or off effects, cycle through you own or the built in presets, and turn on/off reverb. Another aspect about this amp that’s great is that you can dial in the amount of power it uses with the volume attenuator, switching through 5 watts to 15 watts, allowing you to get more crunch and response if you want to drive the master volume. It also has a 1/8th inch headphone jack great for practicing or recording.

I highly recommend this amp for beginners or pro’s alike. It offers a variety of amp models and effects, and comes in sizes for everyone. My model was the smallest, the 15 watt version with a single 8″ speaker, but still has some serious power and tone. It’s also available up to a full 100 watt amp with 2×12″ speakers. I chose the smallest model for portability and ease of use, but for those looking to use it for gigging and need the power, there are options for that too which is great. Overall, the Vox VT-15 and Vox Vt or Valvetronix series has some serious bang for it’s buck.

After looking at two different multi-effects pedals, I’m going to change gears here and talk about the Fender Noiseless Pickups.  Now pickups are one of the MOST crucial parts of your guitar, let alone your whole set up!  If you have a great amp and killer pedals, none of it really matters a whole lot if you’re not using right pickups, or if you’re using poor quality ones.  While there are a lot of pickups to talk about, today we’ll focus on the Fender Noiseless Pickups, just for those strat and tele players out there.

Before I switched my tele over to Vintage Fender Noiseless Pickups, I was struggling with noisy pickups.  Every time I stopped playing, a relatively loud hum kept going, especially if I had any overdrive or distortion on.  Fluorescent light made the problem even worse.  Once I went noiseless, all my problems were resolved.  I was worried they wouldn’t sound as good as my custom shop ’62 reissue pickups, but once I popped them in there, I was more than happy with the sound.

Here’s a brief youtube video demonstrating a Stratocaster with noiseless pickups:

Fender offers a variety of noiseless pickups for those looking to improve their sound and clarity without being limited to one or two types of pickups.  One of the most popular sets is the Vintage Fender Noiseless Pickups for Stratocasters or Telecasters.  These offer a nice vintage strat sound that so many strat players crave, in a pickup with 5 beveled alnico 5 magnets and enamel coated wire.  If the vintage Fender Noiseless Pickups don’t do it for you, there’s also the Hot Fender Vintage Noiseless Pickups. With more DC resistance, these offer a more screaming sound on the bridge with high gain, suitable for harder rock, but switch to the neck pickup and settle into a smoother bluesier tone.  You can buy these pickups either individually, or in a set of 3 (for strats, 2 for a tele) with pots, resistor and a capacitor.

Now there’s another option as well in the noiseless pickup department, the Fender SCN (Samarium Cobalt Noiseless) Pickups.  Samarium cobalt refers to the fact that these combine traditional magnets with samarium cobalt.  These pickups offer the same great noiseless ability, but have a slightly different tone than the hot or vintage pickups.  There is definitely a bit more of that traditional snappy strat sound with these, and a lot of player who play with higher gain prefer these (or the hot noiseless as well).

In short, if you’re like me and you can’t live without a nice Fender single coil axe in your lineup, and you’ve got this nagging hum, Fender Noiseless Pickups are the way to go.  With Hot, Vintage, or SCN, you can let your tone be your tone, and leave the single coil hum behind.  Fender makes the benchmark single coil guitar, and with the Fender Noiseless Pickups, they’re the cleanest sounding out there.