At BeginnerGuitarHQ, we’re just as keen on helping you craft your tone as we are your playing style. Some guitarists want to learn how to shred through a speedy metal solo, while some want to strum some chords gently on an acoustic guitar, but there are some that want to fill their repertoire with extended chords and twangy improvisation. This article is for those people.
In this important guide, we’ll talk you through the ten best guitar amps that will help you forge an incredible jazz tone.
If you’re looking to get your hands on an amp specific to jazz, then look no further.
You’ll want to be able to edit the tone coming out of your jazz guitar amp
First Things First
One thing you might be wondering straight away, is what defines a ‘jazz’ amp. Well, nothing, really. You could buy the most monstrous Marshall stack in the world, but it isn’t going to self-destruct if you play a dominant 7th chord. You’ll be able to play whatever you want on it, but your tone just might not sound quite right.
There are certain amplifiers (and brands) who make sure the tone of their products suits those looking specifically for a tone associated with the jazz genre. And what is that?
- Clean. This is an important one, but not a definitive answer. Sure, most jazz guitarists wander around the fret board with a totally clean tone. George Benson, for example, had a great clean tone. However, this only really applies if you want to play classic jazz from the mid-1900s. You don’t see the likes of Billy Cobham and his experimental style of jazz fusion restricting his band to only clean tones. You want an amp that focuses itself on a great clean setting, but that doesn’t mean you want it to have removed the possibility of overdrive altogether.
- Crisp and Punchy. There are very few genres where you’d want your guitar tone to avoid sounding crisp and punchy, but in jazz, it’s a very key feature. You want brightness and warmth, but you also want a bit of a twang. You want your instrument to be able to make its way through the thickness of a piano or a drum kit, without being buried.
- Clarity. One of the main things a jazz guitar tone should do, is avoid muddiness. If you’ve boosted the low end of your EQ too much, your sound is going to be muddy and unclear, and won’t be heard properly through your band. Similarly, if you’ll be playing live, then a good jazz amp won’t crack up or become distorted when the clean setting is at a high volume.
- Effects. This is an interesting one, because you sort of want to avoid effects on your jazz tone. Obviously, in a more experimental setting, then layer up as much as you need to, but classic jazz would very rarely go beyond adding a touch of extra reverb. You’d never hear George Benson adding flanger.
If you’re getting a jazz guitar amp, then it’s also pretty likely that you’re in the market for a good jazz guitar. Avoid brands like Ibanez, who market towards metal player, and instead, play it safe. Either with all-rounders like Gibson and Fender, or more jazz-specific brands like Gretsch. One thing that would probably help if you’re going for a more classic jazz feel and sound, is to look for a hollow or semi-hollow body guitar. This gives them that punch and clarity, while allowing you to mimic the tone of all the greats. Beyond that, they have a lot more volume than a normal electric guitar (so playing without your amp is still rewarding).
The techniques you might want to familiarise yourself with (assuming you aren’t already a world-class jazz guitarist) include playing with a jazz pick. These are slightly smaller than a typical plectrum. You might also want to brush up on your fingerpicking technique, as many of the best jazz guitarists actually avoid a pick altogether. Finally, if you’ll be playing rhythm as well as lead (which you should be doing) then learning chromatic, dissonant, extended chords and learning how to read chord sheets quickly is certainly something you should have a good grasp of.
Hollow bodied electric guitars are great for jazz; combine one with a jazz amp.
Roland JC-22 Jazz Chorus
Compacting the classic Roland sound into a tiny size and an impressive affordability is the most impressive about this offering from Roland. The JC Clean tone is a famous sound used by various jazz guitarist around the world, thanks to both the reliability the brand is able to feed into each of their products, and the crisp, warmth of their amazing clean sound.
Beyond this, it has the atmospheric Dimensional Space Chorus effect, which comes built into the amp and is one of its finest features. The sound screams jazz, and with a bit of reverb added (which is also built in and performs to an impressively high standard) and a manipulation available for the chorus, there are certain situations in which this amp would allow you to craft an incredible tone without even having a pedal board.
It doesn’t have an overdrive setting, but this does sort of make sense, considering the amp exists primarily to give you that incredible clean jazz sound. Hearing the JC tone in such a small package should be a treat for any jazz players.
Fender George Benson Hot Rod Deluxe
George Benson is one of the names most synonymous with jazz guitar. The Fender Hot Rod is one of the most synonymous names in jazz amplification. Combine the two, and you’re on course to creating one of the most incredible jazz amps of all time, mixing the reliable sound of the Hot Rod with a tone that could satisfy one of the greatest jazz guitarists there has ever been.
The amp is, for the most part, the same as the Hot Rod Deluxe III, however, the changes made have made it both more in line with the Benson tone, and the jazz tone in general. The 12AT7 pre-amp tube makes sure that trademark jazz cleanness is even more clean and crisp. This use of a 100w Jensen C12K adds more headroom above your sound, meaning other instruments can weave in and out of the top of the texture.
The amp might be a little on the pricey end, but it’ll be a major step in being able to pull of the tone of one of the jazz greats. On top of that, it looks incredible, with guidance for the design coming from the man himself.
DV Mark Little Jazz
Don’t be put off by the miniscule size of the DV Mark Little Jazz. This tiny white amp might look like it could fit in your pocket, but it packs a real punch. Obviously, it looks incredible, but isn’t exactly suitable for the stage. You couldn’t take this on stage and expect to land a tone that can transmit around a room, or knock up one of the greatest tones of all time.
However, the price and its ability for use in practice settings make it one of our favourites. Despite its size, the amp remains incredibly warm, providing a dynamic response that is crucial for jazz playing. If you’re plugging into a portable amp, a lot of the time, tone and dynamic response are reduced to make room for…. less room. This amp doesn’t do that, and the sound of your guitar remains incredibly faithful, without ever wandering into the realms of tinny or cheap.
There isn’t an option for overdrive, but you really don’t need it. There are EQ and reverb controls, meaning there is still a level of control over your tone, but one of its most important features is the headphone/aux combo. You can plug headphones and give yourself a backing track via aux, making this amp invaluable for practice.
Fender Champion 100
With the name Fender attached, you can’t really expect anything less than the highest level of quality in this amp. Somehow, it manages to sit at a lower price than the tiny entry above, but that doesn’t mean it has any less quality. Of course, it is a lot bigger and a lot louder, making it more of an amp destined for live performance than the subtle nuances and low volume of practice, but different amps are always going to be aimed at different things.
The main thing that makes the Champion differ from other amps in our list is its versatility. It isn’t specifically an amp for jazz, it just also happens to do jazz very well. This solid state amp combines an impressive inner construction with the more modern ability to layer various effects over the top. This is useful in more modern styles of jazz (think Snarky Puppy and Vulfpeck), but don’t forget that if you’re going for a more classic style, then you simply don’t have to use them. That said, there are some really cool options here, such as a delay with a tappable tempo.
The main draw is its ability to draw from classic fender tones, many of which are perfect for jazz. If you’re looking for a jazz tone that doesn’t limit you to playing only in that way, then this is one of the most affordable options on the market.
Boss Katana 50 MKII Combo
Boss are much more well-known for their impressive range of effects pedals that cover just about every type of sound you’re ever going to need. However, they have a line of amps that shouldn’t go unmentioned either.
The Katana 50 is a small, 50 watt amp which, very interestingly, claims to be forged for a rock guitarist. The volume it is capable of and the addition of effects such as a heavy octave setting and some gain-heavy distortions certainly make it look like on paper. However, there is a crisp warmth running through the clean tone on this amp.
This is the first of the five tones on the amp, and manages to end up working perfectly for those looking to play fast, bouncy jazz solos that don’t avoid long help notes and passages of more delicacy that require an impressive dynamic response. Of course, what with so many settings and the ability to download new effects, this is very much an amp for the modern player, but if that modern player wants to revisit classic jazz by bypassing these features, then the Katana is surprisingly impressive.
Roland Cube Street
The Roland Cube is a huge name in the world of amplifiers at the moment. They produce a variety of amps (in cube shape, you’ll be shocked to hear), each with different specifics, but bonded by their incredible ability for the creation of unique sounds. You’ll be able to find an impressive jazz tone in pretty much any amp in their series, but we’re including the Street version in order to bring you the most variety possible.
If you need a street amp, then you pretty much don’t need to look any further than Roland’s entry. This amp, with its grill tilted upwards for maximum projections from the street floor, is designed with its purpose in mind. Being battery powered means you don’t need to worry about asking a café if you can plug your amp in, which is another positive.
In terms of tone, the amp is incredibly versatile. There are overdrive tones and effects galore, meaning you’ll be the guy on the street with the most impressive tonal changes out of everyone. However, for those looking to play jazz and jazz only, then look closely and you’ll find an impressive JC Clean emulation. It might not be the real thing, but you won’t be able to deny that the crisp warmth and jangly, trebly cleans aren’t present in spades, lending you to a great jazz tone that can be propelled even further through a touch more reverb and EQ.
Fender Hot Rod Blues Junior III
Obviously, as a ‘Junior’ amp, this one doesn’t have the same size, intensity, volume or tone of its bigger brothers. However, what it does have, is a lower price. The drop in price for this amp far outweighs the increase in price to get the ‘better’ version, so this remains our recommendation.
This is an amp priding itself on its blues sound, meaning there is a crunchy overdrive on there. We’ve been stating that a clean tone is the way to go to achieve the most classic jazz sound around, but it would be foolish to suggest that a nice bit of crunch couldn’t beef up an impressive jazz solo. The speaker, known as a ‘lightning bolt’ has a balanced frequency response, which also means you can home in on your own sound, without the manufacturers interference.
Combining the amp with Fender Spring Reverb, and you’ve got one of the finest tones available in the form of a compact, cheap and impressive amp perfect for jazz players.
Peavey Delta Blues 210
We’re rocketing our way back up the price range here, but this effort from Peavey is an impressive jazz amp. Just look at it. It has one of the most exciting, vintage looks of any jazz amp around. The speaker grille sits within an amazing cream surround and makes us want to get up on stage with a pianist and a drummer and play jazz licks for hours.
In terms of sound, it has it all as well. The sounds it can produce might be as classic as they come, but the actual versatility and customisation in tone gives the amp a modern feel. It might be destined for blues, but the amp does just as well in a jazz setting. It prides itself on being louder and warmer than its solid state competitors, and they’re not wrong. Obviously, moving towards the realm of a tube amp does whack up the price, force you to use up more energy and wait for the amp to turn on, but there is nothing that can quite compete with the natural warmth and beauty of that sound.
As classic as the amp is, it has built in tremolo effects, and gives you the ability to control your amount of gain (with the gain off, your jazz tone with sound completely classic) and EQ. This is the perfect jazz amp for someone not concerned with price.
DV Mark Head 50
Okay, so the DV Mark Head 50 is a bit of an anomaly on this list. The first thing you might notice is that this isn’t an amp in the traditional sense. There isn’t a speaker coming out of it, so the whole point is that you connect this amplification system to a set of speakers of your own choosing. This could go very wrong if you don’t pair it up with speakers deserving of its calibre, but if you make a good choice, this strange little instrument (weighing less than 3KG) could end up giving you a better sound than any ‘normal’ amp.
First thing to notice is that this does away with a gain setting. As such, it proves itself to be leaning in the direction of a jazz-specific tone. Obviously, there are EQ and reverb settings built in, but most of the tone on this amp comes from its natural sound. Luckily for us, it is one of warmth and clarity, with a punchy feel that takes your guitar straight to the front of a mix. There is basically no mud in the sound, even if you’ve hooked the amp to a huge pair of speakers.
Talking of speakers, there is nothing too big for the amp. You aren’t going to run into the age-old problem where a small amp sounds great at low volume and then turns into a festival of distortion as soon as the volume goes up; this amp never encounters this issue. Obviously, as a result, the price tag is a little high for such a tiny product, but it makes a lot of sense.
AER Compact 60
This amp from AER holds the title of most expensive product on our list. Typically, this amp is aimed at acoustic performance (hence the addition of a vocal input), but who said jazz can’t be acoustic? This amp is unquestionably the best amp a player of acoustic jazz can get their hands on, even if there is going to have to be a little financial stretch to get there…
The tone is focused on getting a sound that matches what an acoustic guitar needs more than a jazz performance, but when playing acoustic jazz, this is sort of what you want. It still has an incredible dynamic response and a punchy warmth that allows you to meander around the fretboard with delicacy just as easily as shred away with a pick over a double bass and fiddle accompaniment.
Keep in mind that this entry is very much specific to acoustic players (who happen to have a fairly sizeable budget), so if you’re looking for an amp that will do wonders to your electric guitar jazz tone, then simply take a look a little further up on the list.
A jazz amp will do wonders for your tone. But remember it’s not everything. If you hate jazz tone that these amps give off, then don’t worry about it- go down your own route. Maybe you’ll discover a tone that suits the style of jazz you want to play hiding within a huge amp designed for metal bands?
If you do like these tones, though, then remember what it is you should be looking for: Clarity, crispness and clean. If you can find an amp that balances all three of those, then you’re onto a winner.
Jazz guitarists will often have to get used to accompanying a powerful singer