I can’t remember the specifics of what first attracted me to Smokey amps.
Realistically, I probably just thought they looked cool. I know I’d been thinking about getting one, then I read that Suede and Foo Fighters had been using them in the studio, and I think that swayed me a little bit.
Every guitarist dreams of being able to have custom gear, and this is probably the cheapest piece of custom gear anybody can get their hands on. You just send them your empty box of smokes, and they’ll build an amp into it. It’s quite remarkable really.
I’m currently on my second one. One of the negative points about such a diminutive sized amp is that yes, they can be lost. I can’t even remember when I got my first one, If it’s not ten years ago, it’s very close. The one used here is made with a UK cigarette brand called Benson and Hedges.
If you super-hate smoking, as many people do these days – isn’t it weird watching TV shows and movies from the 90s and before, where it doesn’t even matter? – don’t worry. Smokey also provide the amps in a regular, smoke-free plastic casing. It’s the same amp.
|What’s its output?
|Valve, solid state or hybrid?
|You can’t fit tubes in a cigarette box – solid state right here
|What speaker configuration does it have?
|One one inch speaker
|How many effects does it have?
|How many channels does it have?
There’s not much to say about the parts used in putting this little thing together. Firstly, and most obviously, there’s a cigarette box. It really is quite a distance from the weighty, carefully crafted chassis of regular amps.
The next most obvious thing is the speaker that now adorns the back of a cigarette box. It’s two inches wide. It’s nothing fancy like a Celestion. With an amp this size and at this price, and given the prestige of a brand like Celestion, they don’t need to adapt for what might be perceived as a gimmicky item.
The closest thing to describing a control panel on a Smokey is telling you about the jack plugs that now sit at the bottom of the box. There’s a line in for your instrument input, and a line out. The line out can be used to go to a guitar cabinet, so you get the tone but with the benefit of a full-sized speaker, or to go to an amp, where the Smokey will act as a fuzz box.
This is made out of a cigarette box, rather than birch plywood. With that in mind, the quality of the construction of this amp is as sturdy and durable as a cigarette box.
I’ll concede that doesn’t sound the most promising evaluation of an amp’s construction. At the same time, it doesn’t need to be heavy duty. If this is leaving your living room or studio, you’ll be putting this in your pocket or bag, rather than lifting it up or down directly bringing it to wherever you’re bringing it.
It’s unlikely you’ll be leaving it directly on the floor, and it doesn’t have as much weighty, expensive internals as a full-sized amp.
Ultimately, while the amp isn’t exactly bulletproof, it is actually relative to what you need.
If you’re used to a regular amp for playing through, there’s a good chance you could be quite dismissive of the Smokey. Why would you have a 1 watt amp, with a two inch speaker, with a single channel and no controls whatsoever?
I would agree that all of that is a very valid and legitimate concern.
I mentioned that there aren’t any controls on the Smokey, so any tone shaping will have to come from the guitar. Despite its size, this a surprisingly loud amp. I very, very rarely play it at full volume. I normally roll of the volume knob to seven or eight.
However, being a long-time user of the amp, I can testify to three distinct uses I have for it. I’ll go through them in turn.
Practicing at home
This is the most obvious use. It’s small so it can be left pretty much anywhere – on a shelf or mantlepiece. It’s so easy to have around to just plug in and play. As I favor humbucking guitars, here’s a little demo of what that sounds like.
I’ll start playing at full volume, then roll it off to seven or eight. I’ll be using both pickups.
I think this is actually where I use the Smokey the most. I only use it on choruses though, and only with my Strat, and only for barre chords.
My first time recording in a proper studio, I was advised that you need to focus on higher end parts of an arrangement in a chorus to really bring it out.
The Smokey has a little speaker, so it’s not going to generate any thundering lows anyway, so it seems like an ideal use for it in the context of recording music.
Here’s an example of what that might sound like.
As mentioned in my last point, given the one inch speaker, it’s a given that the Smokey was not designed for using with bass guitars. I don’t let that stop me though.
When I was running through the parts, I mentioned that the Smokey had a line out, where it can be used as a fuzz box, placing it between the bass and the amp. I love a good scuzzy fuzzy bass, so that’s precisely what I use my Smokey for.
There was one gig where the organizer hadn’t ensured there’d be a bass amp for me. There wasn’t, and I literally miced up my Smokey. It was ridiculous, I couldn’t hear anything I was playing, but so goes life in a local band.
I don’t actually own a bass amp these days, but here’s what it sounds like through the Smokey’s own speaker.
That should give you an idea, so just imagine that, but louder and fatter going through a 15 inch bass speaker. Mega!
When I’m recording music, I have been know to put the Smokey between the bass guitar and the audio interface, recording that fuzzy sound directly. It’s the exact same principle. I’m sure somewhere I’ve double-tracked the bassline with a clean and a Smokey version, panned one out each side, and thinking it sounded glorious.
It’s difficult to say much about the playability of such an odd and minimalist piece of kit. At the same time, I’ve just shown you three different uses I have for it!
I think if you’re a brave guitarist who likes to think outside the box, you’ll find no end of ways you can play with the Smokey. With the controls on the guitar and some effects, you could do pretty much anything you want.
I’d highly recommend the Smokey as something guitarists, and even bassists, should have on hand, even if you never use it beyond the living room. Think of it as a cool little toy to have knocking around the place. You never know it might inspire!