Best Guitar Amplifiers On The Market – The Complete Buyer’s Guide To Great Guitar Tone

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Shopping for a guitar amplifier may appear as a straight forward thing, but it becomes incredibly complicated once you get into all of the details ans specs. In essence, if you’re going in blind, you will have a tough time finding something you’ll be satisfied with. Because of that, we have decided to do all the legwork for you and find the best guitar amplifiers across all price groups and categories. This guide should contain everything you need to know about guitar amps, while also giving you a number of awesome choices that should fit your specific needs. Let’s get right into it.

Top 10 Guitar Amplifiers

ImageGuitar Amplifier / RatingSummaryCheck Price
Peavey 6505 Peavey 6505

Total of 4.85/5   4.85 Stars

One of the most proven and most iconic guitar amps in existence.

Bugera Trirec Bugera Trirec

Total of 4.80/5   4.80 Stars

Awesome head that pumps the real triple recto tone on a budget.

Peavey 6505 MH Micro Peavey 6505 MH Micro

Total of 4.90/5   4.90 Stars

Scaled down version of the full-sized 6505 that brings the same tone.

Vox AV15 Vox AV15

Total of 4.83/5   4.83 Stars

An interesting hybrid that offers a lot of that classic Vox performance.

Blackstar HT-5R Blackstar HT-5R

Total of 4.88/5   4.88 Stars

One of the most potent tube practice amps you can currently find.

Marshall MG Series MG15CFX Marshall MG Series MG15CFX

Total of 4.78/5   4.78 Stars

Classic Marshall package that packs a good portion of their classic tone.

Blackstar ID: Core 10 V2 Blackstar ID: Core 10 V2

Total of 4.90/5   4.90 Stars

Blackstar's take on fully integrated modeling amps in the super compact segment.

Roland Micro Cube GX Roland Micro Cube GX

Total of 4.85/5   4.85 Stars

Smallest version of Roland's famous Cube series which still offers great versatility.

AER Compact 60 AER Compact 60

Total of 4.85/5   4.85 Stars

Ultimate transparency combined with loads of power for your acoustic guitar performance.

Ampeg SVT-7 Stack Ampeg SVT-7 Stack

Total of 4.83/5   4.83 Stars

A serious stage-ready bass stack made by the professionals for the professionals.

Few Things You Should Know Before Making Your Choice

If you are new to guitars and guitar amplifiers, there are some things you should definitely know before you make the plunge and get an amp. Most of these factors can make a real impact on your choice of an amp, so we urge you to read the next segment of our guide carefully.

Head vs. Combo

Reading different articles online and talking to people has probably exposed you to these two terms. Both describe a type of amplifier that is meant for a specific role. Knowing the difference between a head and a combo can help you narrow down your options quite considerably.

Combo
A combo amplifier is a unit that comes with everything integrated. That means the amp itself but also a set of speakers. The benefits of running a combo is that you have everything you need in one box. However, this unibody design can be just as bad as it is good. Combos are generally limited in power. After all, you can fit only so many speakers in a cabinet before it becomes to big. Some combos come with speaker line out ports, which allow you to expand the amp with additional speaker cabs. With that said, a combo is generally meant to be used as a standalone unit.

Head
An amp head is an amplifier without the speakers. This is the type of amp that you will most likely see being used on stage. The reason for this is that a head can be hooked up to a number of different speaker cabinets. Why would anyone want that? After a certain point, tone shaping expands way beyond what your guitar or amp can do. When you’re talking big stages or studios, the choice of a speaker cab can make all the difference in the type of tone you will get in the end. On top of that, exclusion of speakers means that all the focus and effort will be diverted into making a better amplifier.

Tube vs. Solid State vs. Modeling vs. Hybrid

As most things technology related, guitar amplifiers have seen a major evolution in the last 100 or so years. The first ones. Knowing the difference between various architectures matters. Each of these has its own benefits and drawbacks, which exactly what we are going to talk about next.

Tube Amps
Tube amps, or valve amps as they are also known, are the oldest type of guitar amp design. These use vacuum tubes to amplify the the signal of your guitar. Back in the day, a tube amp was your only option. If you think tube amps are expensive today, you should go back about 60 years and see just how much one of these would cost you. The thing with tube amps is that they offer what is often described as natural guitar tone.

Many guitar players love tubes because when you push them hard enough, they will get overloaded and produce natural overdrive. This is actually how overdrive came to existence in the first place. Tube amps are still expensive, and are a bit more fragile compared to other types of amplifiers. However, they offer a certain type of tone purity that is hard to recreate.

Solid State Amps
Believe it or not, solid state amplifiers were around since the beginning of 20th century. However, their true potential was revealed only when first transistors were invented. The technology that has made radios so abundant has found its way into guitar amplifiers. With transistors, you no longer had to use those expensive and fragile vacuum tubes. Instead, all you had to do is pop in this new transistor and you were set. It is a common misconception that solid state amps are the same as digital, modeling amps. In essence, the only difference between solid state amps and tube amps is the use of transistors instead of vacuum tubes.

This type of amp was considerably cheaper to make. However, when the technology was was just starting to set into the guitar amplifiers, the resulting tone was rubbish to say the least. Modern solid state amps are much, much better, but are still catching flak because of the poor tone of their predecessors.

Modeling Amps
The most recent type of guitar amplifier is the modeling kind. Modeling amplifier is based on digital sound processing. In other words, a processor inside the amp is tasked with recreating a guitar tone based on certain parameters. Even so, modeling amps still use solid state technology in the power stage. How good a modeling amp is going to be will depend on the quality of the processor and the software it uses.

Most guitar players consider modeling amps as something that is only good for practice and home use. This isn’t too far from the truth as modeling amps are cheapest to get and come packed with a whole variety of features. We are talking countless amp emulations, guitar effects and similar. The downside to modeling amps is their recognizable digital tone. An experienced guitar player will be able to spot a modeling amp, even if its one of the better models.

Most guitar players consider modeling amps as something that is only good for practice and home use. This isn’t too far from the truth as modeling amps are cheapest to get and come packed with a whole variety of features. We are talking countless amp emulations, guitar effects and similar. The downside to modeling amps is their recognizable digital tone. An experienced guitar player will be able to spot a modeling amp, even if its one of the better models.

Hybrid Amps
Hybrid amps are a strange beast. They combine the digital front end of the modeling variety with the power stage that is fully tube based. These amps are not necessarily better than the types we have previously talked about, but they definitely offer an interesting take on guitar tone.

Amplifier Build Quality And Design

When it comes to amp build quality and design, you are going to run into a whole range of variables. Every brand out there does things in their own way. Naturally, some of them are doing a much better job than others. The key to a well built amp is the use of good materials combined with a smart design. This is especially applicable to combo amps.

You will want to get something that can take the wear and tear that comes with frequent use. On top of that, your amp needs to be built in a way that allows the insides to function properly. This is a point that is mostly relevant to tube amps due to heat management and similar factors inherent to this design.

The deal here is that more expensive, professional amps won’t have problems with build quality. The cheaper, practice amps is where you need to keep your eyes wide open.

Power And Size of Speakers Used (Combo Amps Only)

With speakers, their size and power rating can give you a pretty good idea of what to expect in terms of performance. Every speaker is voiced to cover a certain frequency range. Smaller speakers deal better with higher frequencies because their smaller membranes have an easier time moving faster. On the other hand, larger speakers are better suited for digging into those lower ends of the range.

That is why a bass woofer is generally a large transducer. With guitar combos, you will mostly see 8″ to 12″ speakers being used. Sometimes they will be smaller, but unless you are looking at a bass guitar combo, you will rarely find one with speakers larger than 12″ in diameter. The aforementioned speaker size is generally considered to be the standard. A combo will either have one 12“ speaker, two of these, or several smaller units.

In terms of power, higher output means more volume. Combos can come with anywhere from 1 Watt to 200 Watts or more. If you are planing on using the amp at home as well as on stage, more power can’t hurt unless you own a tube amp. In that case, some kind of attenuation is necessary, especially if you want to push the tubes into overdrive. Without means of cutting that power down, you will lose your hearing long before those tubes start to work hard.

Amp Lingo That You’ll Come Across

During your search for a good guitar amp, you will run into some lingo that might seem strange. Like it is the case with many other technical fields, there is some terminology that is used to describe and define guitar amplifiers. Let’s go over some of the most common terms you might run into.

Stack
A stack is nothing more than an amp head plugged into a speaker cabinet. You have half stacks and full stacks. Former describe a head connected to a single speaker cab while the latter includes two speaker cabs.

Preamp Stage And Power Stage
Every amp will have a preamp and a power amp. These are often referred to as preamp stage and power stage. Preamp picks up the signal from the guitar and boosts enough so other parts of the preamp can manipulate it (this is where EQ, gain and other kick in). Next, the power amp takes that modified signal and boosts it to a level where the speakers can push it out. You will run into these terms most often with tube amps as different tubes are installed in each of these stages.

Three-Band EQ
An EQ, or equalizer, is a device that takes the tone of your guitar and allows you to adjust certain frequencies within that tone. A three-band EQ offers three points of control – bass, mids and trebles. EQs come in variety of forms. You have two-band EQs, four-band EQs and even seven or more bands in graphic EQs.

FX Loop
As you probably know by now, effects pedals are a major part of playing guitar these days. There are two ways to feed the effects to the amp. You can push them run them from the front, through the instrument input, or you can use an FX loop. The benefit of the latter is that it allows you to insert effects between the preamp and power stage. While this becomes increasingly useful as you start using more and more pedals, effects such as delay are best used in an FX loop.

Best Guitar Amplifiers Under $100 (click for full list)

under100

With amps in this price range, you are looking at practice units designed for home or studio use at best. These are going to be compact, with limited power. However, they are inexpensive which makes them perfect for beginners as well as those who want a portable practice setup. Blackstar ID:Core 10 V2 is a great example of what a $100 guitar amp should offer. You get a decent amount of tone, a full set of modeling features and so much more. Even though the technology has progressed significantly over the years, a $100 amp will still offer a limited quality of tone. If one of these is your only amp, chances are you will outgrow it pretty quickly.

Most Capable Amps Under $200 (click for full list)

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Amps found in the $200 segment will get you significant amount of additional power. You are looking at decent practice rigs that have a limited gigging capability. However, these are still considered as beginner units. One of the best amps you can grab under $200 is the Marshall MG Series MG15CFX. It offers a solid tone, decent projection and a fair bit of volume. It also perfectly encapsulates what this category of amplifiers is all about. Those who need a more serious setup will have to spend a bit more money to get something that fits their needs. With that said, there are some pretty awesome marvels of modeling tech in this category. You can find decent recording amps here.

Best Bang For The Buck Models Under $300 (click for full list)

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When you step into the $300 range, you will start to see some diversity. There powerful modeling amps available, such as the Fender Mustang V V.2 HD, which packs 150 Watts of juice. That type of output is enough for stage use when paired with a decent speaker cab. Aside from beastly modeling units, you will also run into your very first tube amps in this category. With that said, expect the tube amps to be the bare bones variety. Like we’ve said before, tubes are still very much expensive and $300 will only get your toes wet in this legendary class of amplifiers. Best thing to do here is to stick with good solid state and modeling amps.

Great Guitar Amps Under $500 (click for full list)

under500

Once you get to the $500 mark, things get a lot easier. For one, you’ll find mid range tube amps here. This includes both amp heads and combos. Not so long ago, $500 was still almost purely solid state territory. However, today you can score micro beast such as the Peavey 6505 MH Micro. Considering this amp brings you the same tone as its full sized twin, it is not hard to conclude that $500 is enough to get a good amp. This category of amplifiers is suitable for all applications. With a $500 amp, you have a whole lot of range to explore. There are even some professionals who run these amps, either on stage or in a studio.

Top Guitar Amplifiers Under $1000 (click for full list)

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The $1000 segment of the market is where brakes come of the train. This is the price range where you will find some of the most iconic guitar amps ever made. Case in point the legendary Peavey 6505 that has marked the sound of metal in the past few decades. Amps in this category come packed with all kinds of features. Those who are looking to spend this kind of money on a guitar amplifier most likely know exactly what they need. Needless to say, your selection of tube models is going to be very versatile. On a similar note, the power output from an average $1000 amp is going to be more than good enough for serious stage use.

Best Portable Guitar Amplifiers (click for full list)

Portable Amps

Portable amps are a very unique category. Size is the dominant factor with these models, meaning that you’ll find some pretty small units. Most of the portable amps are going to rely on headphone use while some will still have a reasonable speaker output available. People generally look for portable guitar amps when they need something for use on the road. That means battery power and mobility. Roland Micro Cube GX is a great example of an amp that meets all of these demands while still maintaining the semblance of a standard amp. It’s also one of the rare portable units that comes with built in effects and amp emulation. This type of versatility is an exception to the rule.

Best Bass Guitar Amplifiers (click for full list)

Bass Amps

Due to their inherent difference in design, bass guitars still require a dedicated amplifier. You just can’t use a standard electric guitar amp for bass for a number of very important reasons. We have covered the best bass guitar amplifiers in a dedicated section, but it’s worth mentioning that these amps also come in a whole variety shapes and forms. Power outputs are going to be a lot higher as well. It is not that uncommon to find bass guitar amps that are capable of delivering 1000 Watts or more. One good example of high output amps is the Ampeg SVT-7 Stack. Choosing the right bass amp requires more or less the same selection process as standard electric guitar amps.

Best Acoustic Guitar Amplifiers (click for full list)

Acoustic Guitar Amps

Acoustic guitar amps are similar to electric guitar ones, but they’re geared to offer transparency more than anything else. In other words, this type of amp is striving to reproduce the tone of your acoustic guitar as close as possible to its natural sound. One interesting thing about these amps is that they almost exclusively come in a combo format. Similarly, most of them will have two channels – one dedicated for instrument use and other geared towards microphone use. AER Compact 60 represents what a very decent acoustic guitar amp looks and sounds like. It packs more than enough heat for stage use as well as a transparent tone. Again, selection of acoustic guitar amps is a kind of process.

Wrapping Things Up

The key to finding a perfect amp is knowing what you want that amp to do. Unfortunately, a guitar amp that does it all also costs a lot of money. Determining the type of use you have in mind will help you eliminate amps which simply won’t work for you. Another unwritten rule of shopping for an amp is to get the absolute best you can. Amps are not something you buy every day, so getting the best one that you can afford has proven to be an efficient strategy. With that said, we hope this guide has helped you in your search.


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Comments

  1. I think you’re getting analog and digital mixed up here and there. I may be wrong, but I thought the solid-state stuff uses digital technology, and tubes are analog.

    • Hello Phil,

      You are right, we will have the whole guitar amplifiers section of out website completely revamped in the next few weeks! We made vast content improvements on all other sections of GuitarFella and now it is time to work on the amps. Thanks a lot for the remark and make sure you check us out in 2-3 weeks, I guarantee you that you will like the results!

  2. What happened to Peavey? I’ve always used their equipment and I think it’s the best sound for the money.

  3. I use various amps. I use a Hughes & Kettner Switchblade and a Matrix combo. Which are almost the same amp, but one is valve and the other SS. I used the Matrix at a gig through a 4×12 and it was fine. The only problem with ss ams is they don’t project the sound like a valve amp. Also, the valve purists often use a ss pedal to get their sound.

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