Product Review: Smokey Amp

The Smokey Amp is a guitar amplifier and speaker built into an old cigarette case. We’ll examine here if it’s any good.

Just the facts:

  • It’s powered by a standard, replaceable 9v battery inside the case.
  • It can apparently power a 4×12 cab.
  • The box is reinforced, so it’s fairly sturdy – but don’t use it to prop up your speaker cab.
  • There are no controls on the amp. That means you control everything with your guitar’s volume.
  • The amp will distort with a recognisable transistor distortion if you turn your guitar output up all the way.
  • The speaker cone is hard plastic.
  • You can forget about getting any bass response out of it.
  • It comes in three slightly different versions – built into an actual cigarette packet, a special design edition, and a plastic case.
  • It’s not the only mini amp you can buy – both Orange and Marshall do mini versions also, which do have some controls.
  • It costs about £25 in the UK, and about $32 in the US.

So, how does it sound? Well, at low guitar output it sounds like exactly what you’d expect – slightly tinny – but it is lovely and clear. Hooked up to a better speaker, I imagine it would sound rather nice. Turn up the guitar output a tiny bit, and the signal will start to break up. It’s at that point the Smokey starts to sound quite nice. Rack your guitar up all the way, and you’ll have a smudgy mess – you really are getting transistor distortion. There’s no modelling here – this is an amp for real men. People who use 8 track. People who growl and rub their chest hairs.

As a sideline, I’d add that using this amp will help you get to know your guitar a lot better than you do now. I can’t emphasise the rawness enough – you’ll get to hear exactly what all of your pickups, tone controls and coil taps actually sound like, and that’s important for anyone who cares about tone.

So – is it worth it? If you need a mini amp for whatever reason – I’d say yes. The alternatives are too much like a poopoo excuse for branding – no matter how good it is, a six inch high Marshall isn’t going to give you Marshall tone. Not here – the Smokey was born to be a mini amp, and it does it well.

Book review: Freakonomics

Freakonomics cover
I was looking forward to reading Freakonomics because a lot of my friends have it, and the cover looked interesting.

In essence – it’s enjoyable, but you could probably compress the useful stuff onto a couple of sides of A4.

Here’s the executive summary:

  • It’s about asking strange questions and finding surprising answers, which it does
  • It’s not really a book, it’s a collection of interesting articles
  • It’s full of rhetoric
  • It gets a bit boring and repetitive 2/3 of the way through
  • It has a really interesting cover
  • It does contain some nice insights into social behaviour

Here’s some more detail.

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