Acoustic guitars are a pain in the ass to travel with. They’re bigger, frailer, and often more expensive than their solid-body electric guitar counterparts—and they make us look lamer too. So why do many of us lug them on airplanes or toss a hard case in the back of the SUV for a camping trip? Volume. Ain’t no guitar amps in hotel rooms or the woods.
But, like … what if there were? That’s where the new Positive Grid Mini comes in. It’s an app-controlled Bluetooth speaker that lets you play your favorite tunes and your favorite axe at the same time. It has USB-C recharging for easy juice-ups, and it even comes with buttons for a guitar strap, should you want to play on the move.
As far as portable guitar practice, performance, and even recording goes, the Spark Mini is a one-stop shop for non-studio jams. Bring along a beater solid-body electric guitar (or bass) and an instrument cable, and you too can badly imitate Eddie Van Halen anywhere.
The Spark Mini has a ton of functionality available inside Positive Grid’s app, but the device itself is very plug-and-play. Unbox the 6-inch cube, charge it up, and the small amp (which really does look like a shrink ray hit your favorite Marshall) is ready to rock. Much like its predecessor, the full-size Spark (8/10, WIRED Recommends), it was designed for practice and recording use in bedrooms and small studios. This newer version is smaller and has a battery.
Press a power button on the back and hold the Bluetooth pairing button to connect to your phone. Now you’ve got yourself a great little stereo Bluetooth speaker, with volume controlled by a knob on top that’s labeled “Music.” Plug your guitar into the quarter-inch jack on top, pick between one of four amp presets, and you can play along to your tunes, using a “Guitar” knob to match the music volume. It’s a simple, elegant system that will have you playing in under a minute.
The little amp has feet to steady it and guitar strap holders on each side to tote it around, with anything from a string to an actual leather strap. It comes in white or black, which is a nice touch for matchy-matchy people with white guitars. You can even swap the standard gold and black speaker grill for a red one if you want it to look a bit more metal.
Beyond that, it doubles as a guitar interface for recording, via the USB-C port or line-out jacks on the back, which is hugely helpful for sketching out song ideas if you’ve got a laptop in tow (see below for some basic recordings).
Ten watts of solid-state amplification push sound to two small angled drivers, aiming to give you decent stereo effects even when you’re sitting pretty close to the amp. The four main presets linked to the far left knob (Custom, Solo, Lead, and Rhythm) offer basic sounds with various amounts of crunch, reverb, and delay, but you’ll really be able to get the most out of the Spark Mini by using the Positive Grid app and customizing your tones in there.
Inside the app, you can choose between (and edit) thousands of different presets, with tons of simulated amps and pedals, for literally any guitar tone under the sun. You can map new sounds to the preset knob, which makes it super easy to switch between rhythm guitar and lead tones for soloing. You just need a free second to twist the knob. Positive Grid also makes a footswitch, but at $100, I’d save the cash unless I was playing live a lot.
The app also lets you play along with songs, and it can even detect chords if you’re struggling to figure out how to play something. These are features I don’t really use, but if you’re a beginner they could be helpful. It’s nice that they’re just bundled for free. You can also tune your guitar using the lights on the preset knob, but to be honest it’s pretty difficult, and it won’t tell you if you’re tuned to the wrong note entirely. Stick to a headstock tuner or an app on your phone.
I’m more impressed with the sound itself. It’s amazing how far guitar amp-style digital signal processing (DSP) has come in the past decade, and the Spark Mini is a shining example of the cutting edge. I own and regularly play through vintage Fender and Roland guitar amps, and the Spark Mini does exceptionally well at replicating those tones—albeit with a bit less oomph than I hear out of two 10- or 12-inch speakers.
Out and About
As the weather has been getting nicer here in Portland, Oregon, I’ve taken to playing with the Spark Mini out on my patio toward the end of the day. It’s a welcome respite from the windowless room I usually practice in. A change of place can often be the key to finishing a song I’m struggling with, or for letting go after a long day at the keyboard. Having cool electric guitar tones (and actual songs to play along to!) makes me feel much less like a poor man’s Jack Johnson.
Bass players will like that this is a solid option for them, too, though low end from the small included woofer is somewhat limited. Still, it’s good enough to hear yourself (and has decent tone at lower volumes).
As an interface, it offers stereo outs, and the recording quality is solid. For studio sessions, I’d still reach for my Universal Audio OX and a real tube amp, but lead lines or single-note stuff from the Spark Mini could totally make it onto a final track. I’ve included a few sound samples so you can get an idea of what I mean. (Pardon my noodly blues playing and out-of-tune barre chords, I’m a drummer first!)
For under $200, it’s really tough to name a guitar-playing tool I like more. I wish that it got more than eight hours of battery life, but otherwise I can’t find much not to love. If you like playing electric guitar alone (or with a small band) outside of your bedroom or studio, this is the way to go.