Whether you’re finally making the switch for acoustic guitar to electric guitar, or simply looking to upgrade your old starter kit guitar amp, there’s a lot to choose from.
From small, 10w digital modelling amps that could almost fit in a backpack, to full-on, hair-raising 100w stacks that can pack out a stadium, electric guitar amps run the full gamut.
You’re probably feeling a little overwhelmed by the possibilities, and possibly a little intimidated by all the options available.
Don’t worry, we’ve got your back.
Fender Frontman Reverb Amp
This comprehensive resource teaches you everything you’ll need to know about guitar amps, and includes reviews of the 15 best guitar amps available right now. Whether you’re looking for a bedroom practise amp, a blue blaster, or a shredding machine, there’s something in here for everyone.
What Is A Guitar Amp?
It might be a question that’s a little bit obvious to some of you. If that’s the case, feel free to just move on to the good stuff.
For those of you who are new to the world of amps, let me break it down a little.
Guitar amps (short for amplifiers) are electronic devices that take the signal from your guitar and, well, amplify it.
Of course, this is a pretty basic run-down of what they do, and it’s definitely a more fitting description of where guitar amps came from.
You see, originally, that’s all an amplifier was, a means to turn the relatively low output of an electric guitar into one that can actually move a speaker. As time went on, guitar players started pushing their amps to their limits, resulting in a nice breakup of the tubes and speakers, now known as overdrive.
As the desire for this sound, as well as other mechanisms of modifying the sound of the guitar (such as EQ controls) grew, guitar amp manufacturers started incorporating such features into their desires.
Marshall Valvestate Amp Controls
Today, electric guitar amps come in a variety of shapes and sizes (excuse the cliche, but it’s true). Some of them are single-channel amps with little drive or distortion, others have multiple channels with different EQ sections, reverb, and other effects built-in.
Let’s take a quick look at some different types of amps, and the different features to choose from and considerations that need to be made when choosing your next guitar amp.
Different Types of Guitar Amps
There are essentially four different kinds of guitar amps
Tube Guitar Amps
Tube amps (also known as valve amps depending on where you’re from) are the original form of guitar amps.
They use vacuum tubes to amplify your guitar and to provide overdrive duties, and tend to have a slightly warmer and more “vintage” sound than other types of amps.
To be fair though, these days, they are pretty much on par with solid-state and modelling amps. Though many purists still believe the tube amps are the way to go, solid-state amps still do an excellent job.
Still, most more expensive amps you’ll find will be tube amps, as most of the upper echelon of the guitar amps use this design methodology.
Solid-State Guitar Amps
These amps use tiny transistors to deliver the desired distortion and amplification. Many of these amps seek to replicate the sound of traditional tube amps; that’s what they were originally created for.
Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to see and hear really high-quality solid-state guitar amps, especially in more budget-friendly models.
Modelling amps use digital technology to model or replicate various different styles of amps. These come in a variety of different styles and qualities.
At the lower end, you have amps like the Line6 Spider, and at the top end you have offerings like the Fractal Audio FX.
There’s quite a range in between these two, in terms of both price and sound quality, so for that reason, they cause a lot of confusion.
Like most things in the world of guitar gear though, you get what you pay for.
Lastly, we have hybrid amps, which blend two different styles of guitar amp into one.
Modern guitar amps have two stages, the preamp stage and the power amp stage. As a general rule, the preamp stage provides color and tonality, and the power amp stage simply lifts the level of the signal. It’s a little more complex than this, and there is some crosser, but I did say general rule.
Hybrid amps might employ a tube preamp stage, and pair it with a solid-state power amp stage. Some amps have more than one channel, which means a hybrid amp could potentially use a solid-state clean channel and a tube drive channel.
It’s really down to the manufacturer and their specific model design, though these aren’t all that common compared to the other three types of guitar amp.
Before You Buy – Features & Considerations
Before we get into the amp reviews (don’t worry, they’re coming), there are a few things you need to know.
Like anything, guitar amps are a very personal choice, so you need to be aware of the specific features you may or may not find on your new guitar amp.
Number of Channels
An amp can theoretically have as many channels as the manufacturer wants it to. That said, most amps have between one and four channels, with the most common being a twin channel.
Having more than one channel doesn’t mean you can plug multiple guitars in (that would be multi-input). An amp channel is like a specific ‘sound’, such that if you have a two-channel amp you’d be able to dial in two separate tones, switch between them.
The common approach to this is to have a clean channel and a drive channel, though there are many variations on this theme.
Orange Thunderverb 50
Reverb is the quintessential guitar effect. It’s short for reverberation, and essentially seeks to emulate the sound of the guitar amp in a space such as a hall or stadium.
Typically, guitar amps will either use a digital reverb unit or an analog spring reverb, meaning the amp actually has a box of springs in the back of it that the sound travels through to create the reverb sound.
Reverb isn’t the only effect you’ll find on guitar amps. Other common examples are tremolo, vibrato, and even delay.
It’s ultimately up to you whether you decide you need any of these effects built into your guitar amp. It’s also not the end of the world if your amp doesn’t come with any at all, as the majority of guitarists rely on effects pedals for these duties anyway.
EQ (equalization) is a function that allows you to manipulate the frequency range of your guitar’s tone. That means you can make it brighter, duller, or more (or less) present.
When choosing a guitar amp, you’ll want to make sure you get one that has the EQ controls that will give you the flexibility you need to dial in a nice tone. Different manufacturers have different approaches to EQ, as do different amp models, so there’s no one way that it’s done.
On most amps, you’ll see three-band EQ controls (high, mid, low), and on others, you’ll simply have one tone control which controls all of them.
Another thing to keep in mind here is that if you purchase an amp with more than one channel, the individual channels may or may not have their own EQ controls. In some amp designs, the EQ section is applied across both channels.
There are many other variations of this, so it can be tough to know what you’re looking for when you’re purchasing your first guitar amp. The best thing to do here is to find an amp that has a simple three-band (high, mid, low) EQ section. That should give you enough flexibility to get the hang of dialing in different tones.
Footswitches allow you to change amp settings from a pedal on the ground, but not all amps come with one!
Not all of them need one, but if you have an amp with more than one channel, or one with reverb, then you’re probably going to want to buy an amp that comes with a footswitch to control these, so you can keep your hands free to keep playing.
Electric Guitar Pedals
15 Best Guitar Amps
Best Amp For Metal: EVH 5150 III
Designed for the legendary Eddie Van Halen himself, the EVH 5150 III is the third iteration of the famous amp (originally made by Peavey), and is by far the most versatile.
The 5150 was always trodden on for its average clean tones (which was really not what it was designed for anyway), but the latest version which is made by Fender completely flips that on its head.
I mean, obviously, it’s Fender.
Still, where this amp really shines is the red channel. Whether you’re playing New York tough guy hardcore, or West Coast death metal, the EVH 5150 III has more gain on tap than you’ll ever need, and it has that classic tone that you’ll find on pretty much all of your favorite metal and hardcore records.
Runner Up Amp For Metal: Mesa Boogie Mark V 25
If there are two names going head to head for the best metal amps, it’s usually the 5150 and the Mesa Dual Rectifier.
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the Dual Recs, and I find the Mark V to have a much more refined tone that’s still heavy as hell. It’s a fair bit more expensive though, so there’s that.
The Mark V 25 is a 25w mini (ish) head, and there is a big boy version that gives you up to 90 watts of Californian chug.
The 25w model seems to be enough for most though, and it gives you all of the available tones on offer from it’s older brother.
Plus, it has a sick little graphic EQ section which is just plain sexy.
Best Amp For Rock: Marshall JCM800
There is perhaps no more well-known name in rock circles than Marshall.
The British amp manufacturer probably sells more amps than anyone else and has more than enough different models to make your head spin.
The JCM800 is generally regarded as the classic Marshall amp for distorted tones (as well as maybe the Plexi), and with a pedal like a Tubescreamer in front, you can get some deliciously soaring lead tones as well.
This model of the JCM is a no-nonsense, single-channel hard rock machine, using seven tubes between the preamp and power amp stages to deliver that classic British distortion tone you know and love.
Runner Up Amp For Rock: Orange Dual Terror
Keeping it British for a minute, let’s take a look at the Orange Dual Terror.
I’m actually a huge fan of this amp for certain metal tones, though it can be a little bit fuzzy in some scenarios. I absolutely love the Fat channel though, which can be nice and dynamic if your guitar is equipped with high-output pickups and you dial in a medium amount of gain.
Best of all, the Dual Terror is a tiny little bastard, and though Orange certainly offers much smaller amp heads than this, it’s still incredibly compact.
That makes it really handy for gigging musicians, as massive 100W all-tube heads can be damn heavy.
Best Amp For Home Use: Fender Super Champ 15W
When you’re practising at home, you simply don’t need a massive 100W stack. Not least because it’s way too loud, but you also don’t get the sonic beauty of pushing an amp to its limit.
Which is why many guitarists use a small amp like this for home playing.
The Fender Super Champ has an epic 16 different voices, including pretty much all of Fender’s famous amps, making it the best guitar amp for using at home.
Best Amp For Busking: Fishman Loudbox
Busking amps serve a very different need than normal guitar amps.
They need to be able to reach far and wide to attract people in, and they also need to be suited to acoustic guitars, as most buskers play.
Most importantly though, busking amps need to have a microphone input as well, which no other amps ever have.
The Fishman Loudbox ticks all of these boxes, and even has a chorus effect on the guitar channel and reverb on the mic channel, which is perfect for solo buskers.
Best Amp For Pedals: Vox AC15
If you’re a massive guitar pedal fan, then you’ll probably be basing most of your tone off of those fancy little footswitches.
It makes sense then, that you need a quality guitar amp that provides a decent sonic base upon which your pedals can build. The Vox AC15 is the baby version of the classic AC30, but it’s every bit as awesome.
It’s an all-tube combo amp with two 12-inch speakers, and it breaks up beautifully when pushed harder, but offers sparkling clean tones that compliment any pedal you put in front of it.
Best Amp For Electric Guitar: Blackstar HT Stage 60 MKII
Looking for the best guitar amp for live performances and band practice?
The Blackstar HT Stage 60 offers a huge variety of tones from its three channels, and the distortion can get as heavy as you need it to, making it ideal for shredding rock and metal players.
If you’re looking for something a little more laid back though, the OD1 or Clean channels on the HT Stage 60 are less in your face and take effect pedals well.
What I love about this amp is that its semi-open back design allows for a nice open-sounding guitar tone that is still not overly flabby when you pump up the drive.
Best Amp For Blues: Peavey Classic 30
This amp sounds incredible, and it’s actually going to be my next gear purchase.
Having played a few different models, including digital emulations of the Classic 30, I can say with confidence that this amp offers absolutely glorious semi-dirty blues tones.
With a nice drive pedal like a TS9 boosting the front end, you can get some massive overdrive tones, perfect for blues leads channelling the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan.
The cleans are super creamy, so if you’re looking for something a little more chimey and crisp, then this might not be the amp for you. I personally love the clean tones this amp has to offer though, especially when you’ve got the spring reverb cranked up.
Runner Up Amp For Blues
If you’re looking for a nice blues amp but don’t have the cash to splash out on something like a Fender Bassman or a Peavey Classic 30, the Fender Blues Jr is an epic amp.
It’s a 15-watt combo amp, so it’s quiet enough for home use, though you can certainly crank that 12-inch speaker pretty loud if you’re after louder volumes.
The Fender Blues Jr is an incredibly full sounding amp, which is all thanks to a redesigned tube preamp circuitry.
Something else I really like about this amp is its simple one-footswitch design. Interestingly, it’s a single channel amp, so the footswitch actually engages a fat mid boost, dramatically altering the tone of your guitar.
Best Amp For Jazz: Roland Jazz Chorus
There is no amp more famous or widely used among jazz guitarists than the Roland Jazz Chorus. I mean, it literally has the word jazz in its name.
The cleans are sparkly and jangly, bright, and pronounced. This is no subdued, creamy clean tone. Which is exactly why jazz guitarists love it.
One of the biggest features this amp has to offer is its famous Space Chorus effect, but it also has tremolo, spring reverb, and distortion. That said, distortion really isn’t what this amp is about, so don’t expect too much from it.
It’s a beast of a combo being a 2×12 tube amp offers 120watts, but Roland has been kind enough to put this baby on casters, making transportation easy.
Best Amp For Beginners: Fender Mustang
Just getting started on guitar? Then the best amp for you is definitely the Fender Mustang.
The Fender Mustang is a modern, versatile amp, with digital modelling of several different kinds of amps, as well as EQ and gain controls.
The amp modelling is what makes this the best amp for beginners, as it allows new guitarists to really get a feel for different tones and different kinds of guitar amps, so they know what they like most when they eventually upgrade to a bigger amp.
Best Guitar Amp For Recording: Kemper Profiler
If you’re going to be doing a whole bunch of guitar recordings in-studio or at home, then the Kemper Profiler is definitely the best and most versatile amp.
It’s a digital profiling head, which means it can profile any ‘real’ amp and accurately model it, basically giving you access to a world full of amplifiers in one little rack-mounted box.
Plus, because this amp is so popular, many guitarists share profiles over the internet, so you can literally download the profiles used by your favourite guitarists on your favorite records.
The Kemper Profiler is much more than that though. The amp also has a bunch of in-built effects, as well as reverb and a noise gate.
Best Guitar Amp For Clean Tones: Fender 68 Custom Deluxe Reverb
There is probably no more classic a clean tone than is offered by the Fender 68 Custom Deluxe Reverb.
The distinctive amp styling isn’t the only thing that’s striking, it’s gorgeous clean sound and flexible EQ section make this a super versatile amp for clean tones.
Something unique about this amp is that it has a total of four inputs, which are spread out over two channels: Custom and Vintage. The Vintage channel has much more control, including the effects section, but the Custom channel is what this baby is known for.
So, given it has two inputs on each channel, you could technically plug two guitars into the same amp. It’s really designed for low and high output guitars though, but that won’t stop us!
Best Digital Guitar Amp: Boss Katana
With digital modelling and cabinet profiling becoming more realistic every day, it’s no surprise that many guitarists are switching over to digital modelling amps like the Boss Katana.
This amp offers a massive variety of different amp tones, including an acoustic mode, and allows you to switch seamlessly between the different tones.
For live players, this is a godsend. That’s because it essentially means you can switch amps for different songs, or use one amp profile for a clean tone and a different one for distortion.
Switching between different amps live is almost impossible (it is doable though), and it’s certainly out of the price range of most guitarists, given the number of amps you’d have to buy to compete with an amp like the Katana!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best home guitar amp?
When you’re looking for an amp for home use, you’ll want to be going with something small. For most guitarists, this means a 15-watt practice amp like the Fender Super Champ.
What is the best guitar amp brand?
The short answer is there is none!
There are tonnes of different guitar amp brands available, many of them are super well-made. That said, there are some cheaper ones which are less good.
A few brands should look out for include:
What is the best guitar amp for beginners?
I’d recommend the Fender Mustang. There are many great amps for beginners, but the Mustang is, in my opinion, the best one as it’s a digital modelling amp that offers new guitar players a whole host of different tonal options.
That means that you can get used to what different kinds of amps sound like, and be better equipped with knowledge and experience when you decide to upgrade.
How much is a good guitar amp?
Like anything, the price of guitar amps varies significantly.
You can spend as little as $100, or you can spend several thousand.
The golden rule is always to spend as much as you can afford, but I’d say aim to spend at least $300 for a nice guitar amp that will sound fantastic and go the distance.
Old Marshall Guitar Amp
Is it worth buying a tube amp?
Some will say yes, and some will say no.
The truth of the matter is this: tube amps and solid state amps sound different. Not drastically, but it is noticeable. That doesn’t mean one is better than the other though.
If you’re worried about getting a solid state amp because you’ve been told they dont sound as good though, ignore that. I’ve used plenty of these amps and they can sound incredible.
What amp does John Mayer use?
On most records, you’ll find John Mayer using a Fender amp. Whether it’s a Deluxe Reverb or Bassman, he’s pretty much used them all.
These days, John uses a PRS J-MOD 100, which is his signature amp designed and manufactured by PRS. He also plays PRS guitars now, as they’ve made him a signature model.
Is 20 watts loud enough to gig?
It really depends on the specific amp, as well as the type of gig you’re playing, in terms of size and genre.
Tube amps tend to be a bit louder than solid states at the same wattage, but I wouldn’t be too worried about 20 watts not being loud enough.
I’ve played in hardcore bands using a 15 watt Laney IRT Studio head, and that was more than enough to compete with a 5150 on the other side of the stage.
Plus, many venues will mic up your amp anyway, so you only need to be loud enough to hear yourself on stage.
Why do tube amps sound better than solid state?
Again, this is a pretty subjective question.
Many guitarists prefer the sound of tube amps over solid state because the overdrive and breakup sounds more natural.
After all, solid state amps were designed to emulate this.
In any case, solid state amps still sound fantastic, so wouldn’t say that all tube amps necessarily sound better than solid state ones by virtue of their design.
Hopefully by now you’ve identified which amp suits you best. If not, I’d suggest you go out and give them a go, as hearing amps in person can be a great way to figure out whether you really like them or not.
An alternative is to check out YouTube videos of people reviewing these amps. You’ll be able to find all 15 of these amps reviewed and played on YouTube.
And if you’re in the market for a guitar as well, check out our guide on how to choose the best guitar.