Based on our extensive research and analysis (after looking at dozens of amps), the Marshall Combo Amp (Amazon) and the Orange Crush 20RT (Amazon) come out on top as the best guitar amps (both performance-wise, and best value for the money).
They're both in a reasonable medium price-range, and can be used for both recording and jamming out / practice (due to their higher sound quality).
The Marshall Combo Amp comes in at 30 Watts with a 10-Inch Speaker.
The Orange Crush 20RT is a great sounding amp with some handy features, such as a built in chromatic tuner to save the day when you need it. It also features a headphone jack to keep you playing long into the night.
You’ve just got your fancy new guitar restrung, tuned, and ready to rock, but something is missing.
You pluck a few strings and strum a few chords, but you’re not quite hitting the sounds of your favorite songs. What’s missing?
A guitar amplifier of course! Amplifiers connect to your guitar via a 1/4 inch cable and give some serious “oomph” to your sound. They typically come with an assortment of knobs that let you balance your overall tone.
In this article, we’ll be arming you with the information you need to make a purchase that will serve you a lifetime, as well as giving you our personal recommendations across several different price categories.
What Should You Look for When Buying an Amplifier?
Like buying any other sort of electronics, the world of amplifiers is one that’s full of its own terminology, jargon, and underlying technology that dictates its performance.
If you’re a first-time buyer, the amount of information you’ll be required to process is overwhelming. That’s why in this section we’re going to give you the three essential factors you need to be looking for with each model.
Whether you’re merely scanning through the spec sheets or reading full, in-depth reviews, the power, circuitry, and quality of sound are what you need to be keeping an eye on, since they’re going to dictate what’s going to work best for you in any given situation.
Pay Attention to Amplifier Wattage (W)
The absolute first thing you’re going to want to pay careful attention to is the wattage of your speaker.
Thankfully, the power is always clearly labeled, with most budget or practice amps being in the 10-watt range.
These are ideal for solo players who like to rock out in their bedrooms since they’re strong enough to give some depth and definition to your playing without disrupting the entire household.
Unfortunately, even when cranked to 11 these amps aren’t quite powerful enough to make your playing audible over that of your band mates, and they certainly aren’t strong enough to project to a concert hall full of adoring listeners.
That’s where the more expensive speakers that can push over 100-watts of power come in. These more powerful amps tend to come with larger speakers that help add some richness to your playing at any volume.
The Circuitry of Your Amplifier & Tube Amps
The second key feature is the circuitry.
Amplifiers today are either made of solid state or tube technology. “Tube” here refers to the vacuum tubes inside the amp itself that boosts the signal power of your sound.
This is an older technology that is much scarcer and more expensive to find but is renowned by pros for producing a warmer tone that more accurately reflects their playing.
Solid State Amps
Solid state amplifiers, in contrast, are cheaper, more plentiful, and rely merely on transistors to alter the signal being output.
The very general rule is that when comparing two amps at the same price, the solid-state option should give you better performance since they’re cheaper to make, resulting in the bulk of the cost being spent on the higher-quality internals.
Do Your Due Diligence and Research
Finally, as in everything else, it’s crucial that you research, and preferably even field test the sound that comes out of each amplifier with your own equipment. Some guitars naturally produce more treble, and some really push out the bass.
These variations can significantly affect your personal enjoyment of an amplifier, especially on cheaper models with fewer knobs to dial to your preferences.
This is why the classic bit of advice is that you’ll get more mileage from your set-up if you opt for a cheaper guitar and a more expensive amplifier.
Your sound will be crisper and more accurate, and the versatility you’ll have with the added features makes it less likely that you’ll need or want to upgrade in the future.
What Are Combo Amplifiers?
One thing you’ll notice if you’ve already started shopping is that amplifiers are often listed as “combo” amps.
It’s a curious term that you’ll come by often, so we’re going to take this section to break down what exactly that means.
When movies and television shows depict amplifiers, you’re often greeted by the sight of a monolithic speaker powered by comparatively tiny knobs, all integrated into the same unit. However, the reality is slightly more complicated.
Definition of a "Combo Amp"
What we’ve just described are combo amps. Namely, the speaker (or cabinet) and the controls are one integral unit.
When you buy a combo amp, you have everything you need to start playing right away. Just plug her in and let her rip.
These amplifiers are typically the best blend of price and performance and are well-suited for the vast majority of the guitar-playing population.
What is an "Amplifier Head"?
On the flip side of things, some items labeled as “amplifiers” are actually amplifier heads.
These heads are, quite simply, the controls.
Instead of tethering players to one unit, companies that manufacture and sell amplifier heads instead prefer to give players the opportunity to use their own speaker systems.
These are fantastic for already excellent home audio setups and are a lifesaver for those who need multiple speakers to play on stage.
When one head is powering multiple cabs, that’s what’s referred to as a “stack,” a term that you’ll hear quite often if you stick with the guitar long enough.
To make things simple, almost the entirety of this list will be comprised of combo amplifiers except for our “Premium” price bracket, where players might be more likely to prefer their existing sound set-ups.
Best Premium Guitar Amps
Marshall JVM-410H Joe Satriani Signature Guitar Amplifier Head
Why not start with the most expensive option designed for one of the greatest guitarists to ever live?
The JVM-410H (Amazon) is the premier model for anyone serious about rocking out since it offers all the versatility one could want when trying to find that perfect tone.
With four channels designed to power two standard 4x12 cabinets, you’ll be strumming rich, warm overdriven notes thanks to the tube technology that’s so highly sought after.
The included six-way footswitch also lets you swap through personalized settings on the fly to ensure that you’re getting crunch or reverb when and where you want it.
Is it overkill for most players?
Absolutely, but when paired with high-end speakers it also produces by far the best sound that only gets better the louder you turn it up.
Vox AC15C1 Guitar Combo Amplifier
Cementing their name in music royalty with this top-of-the-line tube amp (Amazon), Vox demonstrates that the convenience of a combo amp doesn’t necessarily have to come at the cost of a worse sound.
The 12-inch speakers project rich tones that can comfortably fill a medium-sized room thanks to its 15-watts of power, with an awe-inspiring array of effects to boot.
Two channels can be set independently to suit your tonal preferences, and both can be enhanced through the use of the excellent included effects. In particular, the reverb is stellar.
It has a lot of depth without compromising on the naturalness sound, which can be hard to accomplish without a dedicated effects pedal.
Once you toss in an EQ pedal to help balance out those mids, you’ll have an amplifier built to serve you for years, or even decades, to come.
Best Guitar Amps Under $500
Vox AV30 Analog Valve Modeling Amplifier
The Vox AV30 (Amazon) is the first look we have at a “modeling” amplifier, which is an amplifier that attempts to recreate the sounds of technologies like vacuum tubes through computer emulation.
That means while those traditional Vox issues with subpar distortion are still present, players will still get tons of mileage from this little guy no matter what style of music they prefer.
Perhaps the best feature though is its lightweight at just 31 pounds (compared to over 50 with some models) and the ability to hook up another speaker.
This makes it great for traveling with your bandmates since you’ll have a lot of flexibility depending on the size of the venue.
Ibanez TSA15 Combo Guitar Amplifier
If you’re looking to get sounds like your favorite 70s and 80s rock bands, then look no further than the Ibanez TSA15 (Amazon) to satisfy those lofty expectations.
This 15-watt tube amp ranges from clean to bluesy depending on whether you prefer the clean channel or fat, overdriven sounds that are accentuated by the included tube screamer.
With the flick of the toggle switch, your lead playing will develop subtle hints of Stevie Ray Vaughan or Kirk Hammett to help you rise above the rest of the mix.
It may be slightly underpowered for live shows, but it still sounds excellent, so if you’re rocking a small venue you might want to bring it along just in case.
Best Guitar Amps Under $300
Marshall Combo Amplifier
At this price point, we start to delve into the territory where amplifiers can be used for recording but are more well-suited to jamming and practice.
Case in point, this Marshall (Amazon) still sounds quite nice for the price, but compromises somewhat on the clarity of your clean channel output thanks to its 30 watts of power funneling through a comparatively small 10-inch speaker.
However, what you’re getting for the money is a ton of included effects like reverb and delay, and a line-in input to play your music through the speaker and jam along to the tracks.
It won’t give you that soothing tone of a tube amp, but for bedroom playing and those initial steps into the recording world, you could do a lot worse.
Orange Crush 20RT Combo Amp
If you like your amps to be simple to operate and consistently sounding great, then this Orange Crush (Amazon) is an excellent option for delivering all the punch you could ask for.
It has limited versatility since it only offers clean and dirty channels, but if you’re happy with that classic Orange sound, then you know what you’re getting and won’t need much else.
While it doesn’t get incredibly loud and the speaker is somewhat disappointing when compared to more premium models, it does still have some handy features like a built-in chromatic tuner which is a life-saver when you quickly need to go from E to Drop D between songs.
Non-rockers might not appreciate the vintage qualities of the sound, but at least the headphone jack can help keep you playing long into the night worry-free.
Best Guitar Amps Under $100
Donner Electric Guitar Amplifier 10 Watt
If you’re an absolute beginner or are on an extremely tight budget, you’re going to want something that’ll last you a good long while.
While that can be tough to guarantee in budget models, Donner puts longevity worries at ease with this robust little amplifier. At just under 11 pounds this Donner Electric Amp (Amazon) is light and perfect for the bedroom nightstand but is sturdy enough with its hard casing to withstand the abuses of lengthy travel.
With just two channels and no effects aside from gain, it can be hard to recommend for people looking for the biggest bang for their buck, but it gets the job done admirably.
The tone is nice, if somewhat muddled at low volumes, but it absolutely sings when cranked up with the Boost turned on.
Fender Frontman 10G
The Fender Frontman (Amazon) might be one of the most popular budget amplifiers around and is aimed exclusively at practicing players.
This focus can be seen in the limited number of options and controls, the tiny speaker, and only one channel to tinker around with. Thankfully, the sound is quite lovely, with one major caveat.
Since the speaker is only 6” it really isn’t big enough to push a lot of deep, bass-heavy sounds. This results in your playing sounding rather flat and lacking depth when you crank it to high volumes.
Thankfully, it isn’t as noticeable at lower settings, so if you’re looking at an amplifier to be used in a small apartment, you shouldn’t find too much to complain about here.
Just don’t play it with other musicians, since you won’t be able to hear anything.
The Best Budget Guitar Amps Overall
Narrowing down these choices to one arbitrary metric like “best” is always tricky since the best model is one that’s going to fit your personal lifestyle and needs.
Both amplifiers are in that price sweet spot to deliver some impressive sounds, combined with a variety of features to suit players of various levels.
There are cheaper amp options out there, but as a player, you’ll quickly outgrow them and feel stifled due to their lack of customization and comparatively weak-sounding audio.
Either of our selected models will serve you well for many years even as you improve since they’re powerful enough to be played in a variety of settings and have just enough tools to let you experiment to find your perfect tone.
Best Guitar Amp Brands
Looking for some more details on some of the brands we’ve spotlighted?
Well, look no further, because in this section we’re going to give you a quick crash course of some of the top players in the amplifier world.
Getting their start in 1962 in the historic city of London under the leadership of Jim Marshall, a drummer, Marshall first entered the world of amplifiers the following year with the old JTM45.
This amplifier quickly gained notoriety for its excellent blues and rock tones which vaulted the company into popularity.
Since then, Marshall has been one of the most renowned companies when it comes to guitar amplifiers.
Their trademark “crunch” is one of the most iconic sounds even to non-musicians and are still prominently featured as a critical selling point. After growing competition from American companies in the 80s and 90s, Marshall continued to modernize by adding now standard features like channel-switching.
This kept their fans happy by continuing to add value to their products, and it’s this same constant push for improvement that keeps them relevant among musicians.
They have models to fit a variety of price ranges and offer everything from amplifier heads to combo solid state amps.
The British nemesis to Marshall founded a full 15 years earlier in Dartford, Vox launched their first amplifier in 1958.
However, it was their AC30 which was revealed a year later that continues to capture the hearts of rockers around the world. Following this initial surge, they gained widespread popularity by working with some of the greatest bands ever like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Queen over the ensuing decades.
Despite this overwhelming success though, Vox wouldn’t be able to sustain it and quickly went through long cycles of financial difficulty and new owners. This continued until the early 90s, where they were bought by Japanese company Korg.
Vox remains a venerable amp manufacturer to this day, and the brand still carries a hefty premium.
They’re known for well-made, reliable products and have branched out into everything from footswitches to their hybrid “Guitar Organs.”
Their most significant hit, however, remains the AC30, which continues to be sold and still garners high praise as one of the finest amplifiers ever made.
You can’t mention anything related to guitars and not say Fender as one of the most influential, successful brands.
Founded in 1946 by Leo Fender, the company quickly embodied American values such as reliability, quality, and affordability for the masses with their iconic Stratocaster guitars.
Their history with amplifiers dates back over 70 years, which means that they know how to make ‘em better than almost anybody.
While none of their products ever gained a level of fame comparable to the AC30 or JTM45, they delivered consistent quality in packages that were attractive and affordable, which led to a dedicated core following.
Their focus has always been on catering to as many people as possible, and this can be seen to this day with their popular Frontman series of amplifiers.
These flood the low-end market and are well-reviewed due to the unique tones they output. However, Fender amps struggle to remain viable in premium price brackets where companies like Marshall tend to dominate.
Founded 50 years ago by Clifford Cooper in the United Kingdom, Orange is the newest of the companies on this list but has built quite an impressive resume in that comparatively short time-frame.
While they were dealing initially with second-hand equipment, the company saw their start with amplifiers with their infamous “Pics Only” amps in 1972.
The traditional heavy sound that the company is known for today found its origins in these models which were unique enough to help them stand out from their competitors and find success in a growing market.
In 1992, the company was sold to Gibson who used the Orange name for their own line of products. This lasted for five years until the brand was independent once again, inspiring a refresh of the products that they were so well known for.
Today, the company is more popular than ever thanks to famous guitarists like Noel Gallagher and Brent Hinds exclusively using their amplifiers.
Their trademark sound and style can be found across a wide range of Orange Crush amplifiers that occupy all positions of the price spectrum. Most of them include handy features like built-in tuners, giving them great value and making them ideal for beginners.
That said, they all sound great, and there’s an Orange amp to suit the needs of almost every class of player, so give them a try!
Wrapping it Up
Amplifiers are perhaps the most important purchase you can make for your electric guitar set-up.
They provide the projection, power, and effects you need to deliver memorable experiences to anyone listening. That also means that it’s never an easy purchase to make.
Whether you’re looking for a 10-watt tube amp or a 50-watt solid-state, there’s something on our list to please even the most discerning listeners.
With our handy buying guide and brief overviews of some of the most iconic companies, you have an ultimate resource for selecting a tool that’s right for you.
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