The Top 10 Guitar Amps
Guitar amps deserve the same amount of dedication and investment as guitars.
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History itself tells the story of how the overdriven amplifier changed the musical landscape, paving the way for blues, rock, metal and other modern guitar styles.
So if you are looking for a guitar amplifier, don't take your search lightly. We have named the amps that currently dominate the scene so you can read about them and see them in action via the video demos.
Top 10 Amps Overview
This table shows you all of the guitar amps in our top 10 list - scroll down below to read our extended reviews for each of these amplifiers.
|Marshall is arguably the most iconic guitar amp brand in rock history. The JVM410H is their leading modern amp which captures the features and sounds of their famous "Plexi" heads. More Marshall Amps.||See our JVM410H review below|
|In 1965 Fender hit upon the idea of adding spring reverb to their leading tube amp and the result was so popular with famous guitarists that it has remained one of their leading amps to this day. More Fender Amps.||'65 Twin Reverb review below|
Two-Rock Classic Reverb 50W Head
|You may not have heard about Two-Rock Amplifiers before, but take it from us, they are one of the leading boutique tube amp producers wiring all of their amps by hand. This particular model is based on the Two-Rock John Mayer signature amp.||See our Two-Rock Classic Reverb review below|
|Although it's pretty much impossible to get an original AC30 today, the modern AC30VR is the next best thing - and certainly a lot more affordable than the original amp its based upon. More Vox Amps.||See our full AC30VR review below|
|Mark Knopfler, Lou Reed, and John Fogerty are just a few of the well known guitarists who have played through Soldano SLO amps. The 100 watt version is popular with hard rock and metal guitarists largely due to its famous overdrive channel and sustain.||Our SLO-100 review below|
|Peavey has a long track record of building guitar amps that compare favorably to their high-end counterparts while retaining a mid-range price. The 6505+, previously known as the 5150 when it was Eddie Van Halen's signature amp, is one of Peavey's leading amps in this regard and also owes its heritage to Soldano SLO amps. More Peavey Amps.||See our extended 6505+ review below|
|The Mark V is a special guitar amp because it uses patented technology to deliver 9 different tube-amp sounds without using digital modeling. It also has a built-in attenuator so you can get that cranked tube sound without having to be too loud. More Mesa Boogie Amps.||Extended Mark V review below|
|If you're looking for a sparkling clean solid-state sound then a Roland Jazz Chorus should be at the top of your list. It has built-in stereo chorus, vibrato and reverb as well as a stereo effects loop so you can also get great distortion and overdrive with your favorite effects units. More Roland Amps.||See our JC-120 review below|
|This is Jim Root's signature version of Orange's 15 watt Tiny Terror tube amp. We reckon this is Orange's best lunchbox amp and it cranks out great Slipknot style sounds while seamlessly switching between 7 and 15 watt output. More Orange Amps.||See our #4 Jim Root Terror review below|
|No list claiming to present the best guitar amps available today would be complete without a Line 6 digital modeling amp, and Line 6 have set the high water mark again with the AMPLIFi range. More Line 6 Amps.||See our AMPLIFi 150 review below|
Top 10 Amps - Extended Reviews
1. Marshall JVM410H
Marshall amps have come a long way, from modifying Fender amps to becoming THE amp synonymous with rock. Their logo continues to mark the back-line of today's guitar greats including Eric Johnson, Joe Satriani, Slash, Angus Young, Dave Mustaine, Joe Bonamassa and many more! I mean, let's face it, if you've been playing rock guitar for a while, you've probably dreamt of playing your magnificent riffs to a sold out arena, specifically with a wall of Marshall stacks at your back.
The JCM800 and 1959 Super Lead 100 a.k.a. "Plexi" are their most popular amp heads, both of which are still in production due to high demand. However this list deserves what the brand considers as their "flagship" amplifier, the JVM410H.
At first glance, the front panel of the JVM410H can be a bit intimidating with its 28 controls and 8 switches. But further inspection will show that the controls are intuitively laid out, and can easily be broken down to controlling the amp's four independent channels: clean, crunch, OD1 and OD2.
Note that the four channels come with three modes that give each channel three distinct voices, so you get a total of 12 distinct Marshall tones in one package! With the JVM410H, you get the popular Plexi and JCM800 tones, as well as great sounding clean tones and modern high-gain!
Other features include studio-quality digital reverbs and EQ for each channel, and two master volumes. This feature packed 100W amp is probably the last amp that you'll ever need, you can use a guitar amp attenuator if you want to drive the amp's ECC38 and EL34 tubes at lower volumes. Retail Price: $2,400 | Manufacturer: Marshall Amps | Get the latest price & reviews at Sweetwater.com
2. Fender '65 Twin Reverb
In 1952, before the first Stratocaster even hit the market, Fender released what has become the epitome of guitar amplifiers - the "Twin". This amp went on to be the amp of choice for the Beatles, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix from 1965 to 1966.
In 1963, Fender upgraded the Twin by adding a spring reverb. The Twin was then replaced by the Twin Reverb, which then became the go-to amplifier for guitarists who are looking for the best clean tone. Today, the '65 Twin Reverb re-issue continues this legacy of providing clean and unhindered tone.
I remember the first time I plugged into a Twin Reverb, it was like hearing my Strat for the first time - all the nuances of my playing came alive! After trying one, I found myself craving for clean and organic straight-to-amp sounds, that resulted in me simplifying my setup.
The current '65 Twin Reverb features four 6L6 Groove Tubes for the output section, four 12AX7 and 12AT7 preamp tubes. It drives two 12" 8-ohm Jensen C-12K speakers. No overdrive on this baby, but it works really well with dirt and fuzz boxes.
If you have a single-coil equipped guitar, then you should at least try the Twin Reverb before you decide on your next amp. Retail price: $1,450 | Manufacturer: Fender | Get the latest price & reviews at Sweetwater.com
3. Two-Rock Classic Reverb 50W Head
If Dumble Amplifiers were available to the general public, the controversial brand would take one of the spots in this list. Unfortunately, Alexander Dumble, the man behind the brand is not interested in the business of selling amplifiers and insisted in building exclusively for those that he had contact with, which incidentally includes the who's who of the guitar world. It is estimated that fewer than 300 Dumble amps were built, and each amp literally costs a fortune to own!
The public's curiosity for elusive Dumble amps inspired small scale builders to follow the same boutique path, and one leading this path is Two-Rock Amplifiers. If the name does not ring a bell, don't worry because it will sooner or later, thanks to modern day guitar players like John Mayer, Eric Gales and John Scofield among others. I for one have seen and heard Mayer's Two-Rock amps in action, and I was literally "blown away" by how big, raw and impressive his live tone was.
Speaking of Mayer, the Classic Reverb 50W Head is based on the Two-Rock John Mayer signature amp which had a limited release of 25. It features the same 6L6 tube circuit that helped Mayer dial in his SRV-ish tones. The amp reproduces your guitar tone as transparently as possible, covering ultra clean tones to mid-gain overdrive .
Another distinct feature of the amp is its FET preamp stage that can be tweaked to preference. Staying true to its boutique amplifier label, the amp is hand wired, with point to point wiring for increased reliability.
As expected this Dumble-style amp comes with a premium price tag, but not as ridiculously high as genuine Dumbles. Retail price: $4,995 | Manufacturer: Two-Rock
4. Vox AC30VR
Since it was first introduced in 1958, the Vox AC30 has captured the hearts of guitar players world over with its jangly tone and elegant looks. Discussions about the best guitar amps would not be complete without mentioning this iconic amp.
Unfortunately, vintage AC30 and high-end replicas come with price tags that may not be practical for many guitar players. Thankfully, Vox released the AC30VR, which provides the same classic look and sound at a budget friendly price and with some nifty modern additions to boot.
To reduce the price tag with minimal effect on tone, Vox utilized their Valve Reactor (VR) technology. This interesting circuit features a 12AX7 tube that runs as a small poweramp within the amp, and this is where the tone coloration happens. The output of the tube section is then fed to a transparent solid state poweramp, which adds the needed volume without tone coloration. The result is an affordable and lighter amp that sounds very much like a tube amp.
The AC30VR has a normal and overdrive channel, master reverb and volume controls, tone cut knob for dampening high frequencies, a separate gain knob for the overdrive, and a middle frequency knob for further tone shaping. Now you won't have to break the bank just to get your British tones flowing. Retail price: $550 | Manufacturer: Vox Amps | Get the latest price & reviews at Sweetwater.com
5. Soldano SLO-100
Boutique amp builder Soldano made it to our list with the SLO-100. Like other small scale amp builders, Michael Soldano started his amp building career by modifying existing amps and building clones. This continued until he began modifying a Mesa/Boogie Mark II amp, and successfully came up with the very first SLO prototype amps.
First released in 1987, the Soldano SLO-100 amp's high gain capabilities became an instant hit to many professional players. It is said that Michael Soldano coined the term "high gain" just to provide a good description of his new amp!
Soon noteworthy players started using the SLO for recording, including Mark Knopfler, who is known for having a sharp ear for great tones. Other professional guitarists were also known to use the amp, including Steve Lukather, Warren DeMartini, Lou Reed, Michael Landau, John Fogerty just to name a few.
After a quick visual inspection, you will find nothing particularly distinct about the SLO-100's controls and features. It has two preamp channels, clean and crunch, that utilize four 12AX7 tubes. There's a bright channel for adding high-end sparkle to your tone, and a 3-band EQ is also available for basic tone shaping. However, what separates the SLO-100 from the others is the Overdrive channel, which when tastefully set will drive the amp's four 5881 poweramp tubes to produce articulate high-gain tones and impressive sustain.
Many of today's variety of high gain amps are derived from the SLO's design. So it is quite impressive that the SLO-100 remains virtually unchanged in over twenty years, even with all the new comers competing at a lower price point. This is one amp that high-gain rock and metal players should check out at least once in their lifetime. Retail price: $4,149 | Manufacturer: Soldano
6. Peavey 6505 Plus
This amp was first released in 1992 as the 5150, Eddie Van Halen's signature tube amp. It is said to be derived from the Soldano SLO, but it has grown to be a different amp with its own unique tone. It soon became well known for its high-gain overdrive channel, which crossed over from rock to metal, inspiring the current down-tuned riff-driven guitar playing prevalent in this genre.
Unfortunately, Eddie parted ways with Peavey in 2004 and brought the 5150 name with him to his new EVH company. But because of the amp's popularity, the original 5150's story did not end there, Peavey decided to rebadge it as a non-signature model and continue production. The label 6505 came about in celebration of Peavey's 40th anniversary ('65-'05).
The 6505+ continues the legacy of the original 5150, providing more gain than you'll ever need at a reasonable price. It features six 12AX7 preamp and four 6L6GC power amp tubes that are capable of providing modern guitar players with the chunkiest riffs and mix cutting leads.
Its tone shaping features will let you replicate the tone of many modern metal players, with each channel featuring three-band EQ, Pre Gain and Post Gain controls. The Resonance and Presence controls for each channel helped the amp keep up with the ever lower down-tuned riffs of today's metal scene.
Touring guitarists like Robb Flynn, Ted Nugent and many more, vouch for the amp's reliability. If you are into metal and are looking for your first proper amp head, the 120 watt 6505+ is a no-brainer. Retail price: $1,300 | Manufacturer: Peavey | Get the latest price & reviews at Sweetwater.com
7. Mesa/Boogie Mark V
While other boutique amp builders go for accurate recreation of vintage sounds or articulate high-gain, Mesa/Boogie aims to tackle it all by pushing the boundaries of guitar amp technology.
Brand founder Randall Smith also started out as a technician that repairs and modifies existing amps in the '60s, in fact the first Boogie amp is a modified Fender Princeton. Prominent players of the era go to him when they want to make their amp louder and to add distortion, which was still considered unique at that time.
In 1972, Smith released Mark I, which added an extra tube gain stage to the preamp. It was the first of a series of amps that carried the Mesa/Boogie brand. Artists such as Carlos Santana, John Petrucci, Andy Timmons and many others are known supporters.
Mesa/Boogie Mark V is the latest iteration of the Mark I, featuring all the sounds of the previous versions and other additions. It is literally a collection of boutique quality amplifier circuits packed into a single amp.
It is said that this amp utilizes 9 patented technologies, including a built-in attenuator called Multi-Watt and the ability to switch amp class via the Simul-Class technology. The amp comes with three independent channels with three modes for each channel, giving you a total of 9 tube-amp sounds in one package. A wealth of tone shaping controls are also available, including Mesa/Boogie's popular 5-band slider EQ.
There's so much to be said about the amp's features but the bottom line is that it can give you more tones than you can actually hope to use. And purists can't complain because it doesn't use any digital modeling! This amp is well worth checking out, especially if you are tasked to play various musical styles in one sitting. Retail price: $2,399 | Manufacturer: Mesa/Boogie | Get the latest price & reviews at Sweetwater.com
8. Roland JC-120 Jazz Chorus
In a list dominated by tube driven amps, the "queen of clean" Roland Jazz Chorus easily stands out because it represents the solidstate side. First released by Roland in the mid '70s, the Jazz Chorus became the amp of choice for guitarists well into the '80s, providing an affordable and more reliable alternative to the tube amps available in the market at the time.
Behind this straightforward amp are big name guitarists that play a wide variety of styles, including Andy Summers, Pat Metheny, Robert Smith, James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett and Jeff Buckley to name just a few. And now, after more than 30 years, the amp design has remained virtually unchanged. It even influenced many of Roland's succeeding amp models, including the immensely popular practice amps from the Cube series.
The JC-120 is the loudest of the Jazz Chorus series that is currently available. It is known for producing amazingly clean and sparkling sounds that let your actual guitar tones push through even in big venues.
For some reason, Roland has not updated the built-in distortion found on the amp, the only aspect of the Jazz Chorus that fails to impress. Thankfully, the amp more than makes up for it by being pedal friendly, you can simply use your preferred overdrive or distortion pedal to get the dirt tones that you prefer. It also features a nifty stereo effects loop, so your stereo effects can make full use of the amp's stereo 12" speakers.
Complementing the amp's amazing clean tones, are reverb, vibrato and true stereo chorus effects. And all of its features are packed safely inside its tank tough cabinet. If you are looking for a powerful and reliable clean amp that works great with effects, then you should get the JC-120 Jaz Chorus. Retail price: $1,199 | Manufacturer: Roland | Get the latest price & reviews at Sweetwater.com
9. Orange Signature #4 Jim Root Terror Head
If style and personality is ranked high in your list of priorities, then you will find Orange amps appealing. Their amps come with stylish and eccentric looks that make them easily stand out, and this visual appeal is matched by the tones that their amps produce.
One of the biggest contributions of Orange Amps to modern guitar gear technology is the introduction of the Tiny Terror back in 2006. It was the first ever "lunchbox style" tube amp which quickly grew in popularity and has since become its own amp category. Fast forward to 2012, Orange teamed up with Jim Root to create an impressive signature version of the Tiny Terror, called the Jim Root #4 Terror Head.
This 15 Watt amp is essentially a compact and portable version of the Orange Rockerverb 100, Jim Root's amp of choice. It reproduces the sound and voicing of the bigger Rockerverb but at more practical volume levels. As expected, it carries over all the other convenient features of the terror series, including the lunchbox handle, compact size, and straightforward tone shaping controls.
The all-tube Jim Root Terror is a flexible amp that covers everything from classic rock to high-gain and metal which is Jim's preferred sonic playground. Aside from being flexible and compact, this amp is also reasonably priced, and is more than capable of handling small to mid-sized venues and studio recording. Retail price: $699 | Manufacturer: Orange Amps | Get the latest price & reviews at Sweetwater.com
10. Line 6 AMPLIFi 150
In 1996, Line 6 took the guitar world by storm when they introduced the first digital modeling amplifier, the AxSys 212. I remember how impressed I was after reading their ad on a guitar magazine that same year. They have since continued improving their amp modeling technology, with their affordable Spider amp series maintaining a spot among the best selling amps in the USA.
After focusing mostly on their floorboard and rack mounted guitar processors over the past few years, Line 6 is back in the amp building race with the release of an innovative multi-purpose amp called the AMPLIFi. By the looks of things, they are going to set the pace yet again, for other manufacturers to follow.
With AMPLIFi, Line 6 expands the functionality of the guitar amp by incorporating hi-fi audio speaker design and modern connectivity. The result is an amp that can double as a wireless multimedia speaker system, thanks to its full range 5-speaker stereo system and Bluetooth connectivity.
Like the top selling Spider amp range, AMPLIFi comes with a wide variety of modeled amps and effects. You can choose from over 200 pieces of virtual gear to build your rig, and you can do it all in the comfort of your iPhone or iPad. And like many of today's guitar processor equipped gear, you can share your settings online or use the virtual rigs of other players, including those of artists. As a plus, when listening to a music track, the accompanying app can recommend matching guitar tones that you can use to play along!
Finally, since AMPLIFi is made by Line 6, we can expect the price tag to be very reasonable. Even if you already own a great tube amp, the AMPLIFi would still be a very practical addition to your gear. Retail price: $499 | Manufacturer: Line 6 | Get the latest price & reviews at Sweetwater.com
So have your say in the comments below and let everyone know what you say should be in the Top 10.
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