I mentioned a post or two back that my wife got me one of those Spark amps for Christmas. She got me the Spark Pearl variety. Now that I've had it for a month, I feel like I can give it an unbiased review. And I've really been digging it!
First impression out of the box was that it's bigger than I expected, but that's because I had gotten the idea that it was tiny for some reason. Rough guess is that it's roughly 7" tall x 7" deep x 14" wide. The width is what caught me off guard. I was thinking it'd be more like 10" wide. Even so, it's small enough to be used as a travel amp. I wouldn't fly with it because it's not going to fit in a suitcase, but it's small enough to stash in the back on a road trip.
The one that I got is the white version they call Pearl. It doesn't have a handle, but inside the box is a tolex strap to carry it. The strap buttons on it are pretty standard guitar size, so, if you wanted, you could actually just use a guitar strap for that. Also in the box was the power supply, some basic documentation, a usb cable, a card to remind you to sign up for your free copy of Presonus Studio One Prime (which is always free from Presonus), and a carrying case.
The carrying case seems to be well enough made. I think it's made out of cordura. I don't see this amp as being a road dog, and the case, to me, seems to be made to match that. It'll take the rigors of the occasional trip, but I don't think it'd hold up to constant use. I could be wrong on that. Even though it's not something that I would use often, I do appreciate its inclusion. Since it was included, the chances of me taking it on a trip are much greater.
The amp itself seems to be well made. The fit and finish seem to be there. It feels solid to me. On the control face, you have 7 types of amps along with all the expected controls (gain, B/M/T, Master Vol, mod, delay, and reverb effects, and Output Vol. It has a tap tempo button as well as 4 user selectable slots where you can save your favorite amp model. There is a separate volume for whatever you're piping into it through your bluetooth. The amp also has a 1/8" aux input on the back. I haven't used that input so I can't really say if it's good or bad. All that said, the amp is really intended to be used along with the app.
The app is where the amp really shines if you choose to use it. It increases the amp models from 7 to 33, and it gives you a whole slew of additional effects. I'm not going to list all of those out, but you can find them easily enough on the interwebs. The app gives you control over all the amp models and effects. You don't like the crunchy amp? Well just go into the app and change the Marshall to a Vox model. Chorus too swirly? Go into the app and reset the parameters for that effect. Don't like something? You can probably change it in the amp.
The app also has a section in it where you can go and find jam tracks and play along with them. If you're not the best at following chord changes, that section has a feature that tells you what chord to play and when to change to the next. The times I have watched it, it usually seems to be pretty close on the timing and the chords. There have been a couple of times that it was off a bit, but it's close enough for having fun.
Since the app connects through bluetooth, you can also use the amp as a bluetooth speaker. That's actually my favorite use for the amp. I'll connect it to my phone (even without the app), turn on my Amazon music, and jam to whatever playlist I turn on. Or, I'll go to my practice files, put one of them on, and use it for actual practice time.
The thing on the app that I like the best is the amp/effect section that works in conjunction with the 4 buttons on the top of the amp. You can set up your favorite tones by bringing in your fave amp model, setting it just right, and then adding the effects that you want to use with it. Save that, and then, just by hitting the button, you have your favorite amp ready for use.
Pretty quickly after I started playing with the amp, I had those 4 user selection slots filled up. 1 is set for a smooth, clean tone. 2 is set for some Vox-y crunch. 3 is set to a Fender Bassman kind of sound. And 4 is set for more Vox-y crunch. I really need to edit one so I don't have 2 Vox sounds, but I spend most of my time on slot 1 since it has become my practice amp.
One complaint I've heard online is that the amp is too dependent on the app. Although I can see why they say this, I don't really agree with them. Granted, without the app you don't have access to all the amp models and all the effects, but you can change any of the parameters using the knobs on the amp. You want a clean sound with a little chorus and reverb, you just click the knob to the Clean amp model, adjust the Mod and Reverb knobs, and you have a clean amp with chorus and reverb.
The user selection slots really work well for that. Pick the amp that you want, couple it with the effects that you want, save it, and then just remember which slot it is. Makes it easy. Then when you go to adjust, for instance, the reverb, you know exactly what reverb you're changing. And, you can choose the amp model/effects through the button on the face of the amp, and then adjust everything within that selection from the knobs. Truth is, outside of just playing around, since I setup my 4 presets, I hardly ever use the app. But it's nice to know it's there if I want it.
The overall sound on the amp is good. The amp models in this amp are more impressive than the amp models on the very first modeling amp I bought nearly 15 years ago now. Since it also works as a bluetooth speaker, it seems they set it up to be more full range speakers (read here more bass response) than your usual guitar amp, but tweaking the EQ on the amp models or changing the EQ knobs on the amp, and you can get around that a little bit. Not totally, but enough that your guitar sounds like it should. It's also louder than I thought I was going to be. In my little practice space, I usually have it turned to about 9 o'clock - that's only 1/4 of the way up.
Overall, in the month that I've used it, I've been really happy with it. I wanted one to replace the little Fender GDEC amp I've been using for 10 years. I used it solely because it had the SD card slot on the front where I would put jam tracks or practice songs/scales/whatever so I could play along with them. I never actually used it with my guitar. Everything the last few years has gone streaming, so I thought it would be nice to get an amp that had bluetooth capability.
That is where the Spark really shines for me. Like I mentioned, I can easily connect my phone (or laptop), bring up Amazon music, and play along to whatever I want. The amp models and effects also sound good enough that I actually use this one as a guitar amp and not just a music player. I have an Xbox in my music room as well, and, truth to tell, I use the Spark as a bluetooth speaker when I'm gaming. Not for the games, but like I described a second ago, to listen to music while I'm playing.
I've been impressed enough with my Spark that I'll give it 6 strings out of 6. The longevity of the amp is still to be determined, but it seems to be built well enough to withstand and survive normal wear and tear. It sounds great as a bluetooth speaker thanks to those full range speakers. The amp models and effects that I use (I'm not a high gain person so can't really judge those) are pretty believable. I can change most anything through the knobs on the top. The app is really cool and gives access to a whole host of other amp and effect parameters. It's not going to be something that you're slogging to gigs, but as a practice amp, this is a great piece of kit.
As usual, the pics below aren't mine. I ripped them from the Positive Grid website. They always seem to have a sale going on their site, and, as of the moment, I believe they're running $269 direct from the manufacturer or $359 from your favorite retailer.
Also, bonus points to you if you get my joke in the title. Although, to get it, you probably had to grow up in a Baptist church in the south during the 80s.
So I mentioned in my Best Gear of 2021 post that my new Epiphone 335 was the best gear I had bought last year. I still think that. I still don't see it becoming my main player, but, lately, it's the one that I've grabbed first when I walk into my music room. It's just a fun guitar to play, and it sounds really nice.
It's a gold top. Cream colored binding but all the rest of the plastic is black. Epiphone's Alnico Classic Pro pickups are in it. If I remember correctly, those are Epi's version of Gibson's 57 Classics, with the Pro signifying that they're 4-wire instead of 2-wire. Aesthetically, the one thing I wish they would've done would have been to paint the inside edge of the f-holes black instead of body colored (gold). The Gibson 335 I had for a while had that, and I just always thought it looked better that way. I haven't measured it, but I think it has the same neck that is on my Standard 50s Les Paul. It has that same handful of a feel that I've come to really like instead of the really thin necks that a couple of my older Epiphones have.
Sonically, it's not bad. That's not to say that it's not good. It is. But, remembering back to the Gibson, the Epi pickups sound nice, but they're not as articulate as the ones that were in the Gibson. Granted, that's sitting in the quiet of my practice space. It's not something I think I would notice if I were playing out somewhere. It may also be that I'm not remembering the 57 Classics as they really sounded. After all, it's been over a year since I traded that one off. I'm in no hurry to upgrade the pickups (they really do sound pretty good), but it is something that I will probably end up doing some day. Kind of like my Gretsch, one day I'll come across the right pickups for the right price, and I'll know that it's time to go ahead and upgrade them. Until then, they will definitely serve the purpose.
Playability is just fine. The action out of the box (out of the store?) was right about what I would've tried to dial in, so, after I got it home, all I did was clean up the guitar-store-funk on it and change the strings. After playing it for a while, one thing I do need to do to it is get it back on the bench and smooth some of the frets up in the squeaky-zone. I don't play up there on a real regular basis, but I've been working some stuff that has a bend on the 17th fret, and every time I hit it, I think it scrapes a little bit.
It's turning out to be a great guitar. It didn't just blow me away like the Standard 50s Les Paul did. But, in all fairness, it was that Probucker 1 at the neck of the LP that continues to pull me back to that guitar. I just really like that sound of that pickup in that guitar. So, didn't blow me away, but it did reach out and grab me at the store, make me take it home, and continues to make me leave it out on the stand and grab it at some point most every day.
Bang for the buck, dollar to value ratio, whatever you want to call it, Epiphone continues to step up their game. This new 335 just further convinces me of that.
Snarf is a wannabe musician who currently resides in the great state of Texas. His wife is his favorite. If Coca Cola was alcohol, he'd be a raging alcoholic. He dislikes going to the grocery store. And he still misses his dog who was taken by cancer 2 years ago. Check out his Reverb shop and see if he has any gear he's trying to get rid of.