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Best Guitar Amps

Updated December 2018
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

  • 48 Models Considered
  • 9 Hours Researched
  • 1 Experts Interviewed
  • 245 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Why trust BestReviews?
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.

    Shopping guide for best guitar amps

    Last Updated December 2018

    Whether you’re a new guitar player or an accomplished musician, playing music for an audience – or even just for yourself – is a thrilling experience. But if you want to hear your guitar as clearly as possible, having the right equipment is key. A quality guitar amp can help your music sounds as good as it possibly can.

    At BestReviews, we created this shopping guide to help you decide which guitar amp would be best for you.

    Below, you’ll find information about the different types of guitar amps available, features to look for, and various price ranges and their offerings. Read on to gain a baseline understanding of guitar amps before you shop.

    A guitar amp with a closed back produces a more focused sound and, as a result, usually provides a stronger bass.

    Types of guitar amps

    Tube amps

    The “classic” option, the tube amp, is known for its warm sound and ability to provide natural distortion. Tube amps have a great deal of power, too, which allows them to sound louder than other amps. On the downside, tube amps can be very heavy, and the interior tubes don’t last forever. You will probably have to replace them during the life of the amp.

    Solid-state amps

    A solid-state amps is typically more compact and lightweight than a tube amp, but you cannot get the same warm, classic sound from it. The sound from a solid-state amp is very clean, though you can buy models that offer more distortion. Instead of tubes, solid-state amps have transistors in their preamp and power sections. As such, they hold up well to regular use and require few repairs. Touring musicians often appreciate the reliability and durability of solid-state amps.

    Modeling amps

    Digital technology is used to recreate the classic sound of a tube amp in a modeling amp. This is achieved via programmable internal software that can produce a wide array of digital effects. Some modeling amps offer digital or analog outputs. This makes connecting to a recording device or sound system even easier.

    Hybrid amps

    A hybrid amp draws upon the best features of the other amp types. It uses tubes in the preamp section and solid-state transistors in the power section. As a result, with a hybrid amp, you can achieve the classic tube amp sound while enjoying the durability and reliability of a solid-state amp.

    Acoustic amps

    An acoustic guitar amp creates a clean, full-range sound for your guitar. It minimizes distortion and often has onboard input for a vocal microphone. For this reason, an acoustic amp is great for solo and small-group performances.

    EXPERT TIP

    If you need a guitar amp for recording, consider a less powerful one. Amps with mega power are often too loud for recording and can distort your sound.


    Staff  | BestReviews
    EXPERT TIP

    For the best sound quality, choose an amp with a wood cabinet that’s at least one-half inch thick. The thicker wood prevents the speaker from vibrating too much and moving around while you play.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    Combo amps and amp heads

    Guitar amps are available in two main configurations: the combo amp and the amp head.

    A combo amp has all amplifier components and a speaker (or speakers) in a single piece of equipment. Combo amps are very easy to use and travel with. To operate a combo amp, simply plug the amp into an outlet, connect your guitar, and play as you normally would.

    An amp head contains amplifier components but no speaker. To operate the amp, you must connect it to a speaker via cables. Some manufacturers sell amp heads and speaker cabinets as package deals. Such a configuration is known as an “amplifier stack.” An amplifier stack is more difficult to travel with because there are more pieces of equipment to carry.

    Combo amps vs. amp stacks

    You may be wondering which is better for your practice sessions and performances: a combo amp or an amp stack. In truth, you need to choose between three options: a combo amp, a half stack, and a full stack.

    • Combo amps, as mentioned above, are all-in-one packages. If you’re a gigging musician who travels frequently, you may appreciate the portability of a combo amp.

    • A half stack is a single amp head and one speaker cabinet. A full stack consists of the amp head and two speaker cabinets. Amp stacks produce powerful, resonant, thumping sound. A full stack produces even more of it than a half stack, although your particular needs depend on the type of music you play and where you play. If you’re a professional, you may want a half stack or even a full stack so you can put out the very best sound possible. However, it’s important in a live music situation to make sure you mic the amp so it does justice to your setup. It’s also important to remember that amp stacks are more cumbersome and difficult to set up and take down.

    Should you get an amp with a closed or open back? Closed-back amps offer better bass than open-back amps, but many people feel they can hear themselves better with an open-back amp.

    Power and speaker size

    A speaker’s power is measured in watts. The power and size of your amp affect your sound quality and volume. Here’s a look at possible setups for both practicing and performing.

    For practicing

    An amp/speaker combo of 10 to 30 watts is usually sufficient for practicing. The speaker itself should measure about eight to ten inches.

    For performing

    If you’re performing in a small venue or rehearsing with others, you’ll want a 12-inch speaker with approximately 50 watts of power. If you routinely play large venues, choose an amp with at least 100 watts and at least two speakers that each measure about 12 inches.

    Built-in effects

    Many amps have built-in effects that alter the way your guitar sounds. Some effects that you may want to look for include the following.

    Tremolo: This effect varies the volume of your guitar in a rhythmic pattern.

    Reverb: This effect creates an echo-like sound.

    Equalization: This effect helps boost or reduce certain frequency ranges when you’re playing.

    Modeling amps offer additional digital effects such as chorus, phase, distortion, and pitch shift, which you can easily control on the front of the amp. Because they’re digital, you can usually choose one or more effects and lump them into a preset. Most digital amps also include factory presets that you can choose from as well.

    DID YOU KNOW?

    Combo guitar amps contain both an amp and a speaker. This may sound like a convenient mix, but if you play metal or other extremely loud music, the use of an amp head may result in a louder sound.

    Guitar amp prices

    Guitar amp prices vary based on power, speaker size, and whether any onboard effects are included. You could spend anywhere from $25 to $500 for a new guitar amp. Here’s a generalized breakdown of what the market looks like.

    Low-cost guitar amps

    You can get a “budget” guitar amp for $25 to $100. Most of these provide 15 watts of power (or less) and have a speaker that’s approximately three inches in size. Few special effects, if any, are included in these entry-level guitar amps.

    Mid-range guitar amps

    If you’re willing to spend a bit more, you can get an amp with a much larger speaker (eight to 10 inches) and 15 to 30 watts of power. You’ll also likely get several onboard effects in a package that costs anywhere from $100 to $300.

    Expensive guitar amps

    Between $300 and $500, you’ll find guitar amps that provide 30 watts of power or more, feature at least two speakers that are approximately 12 inches apiece, and offer a wide array of onboard effects.

    Tips

    The placement of your guitar amp can affect its sound. Experiment with different placements – on the floor, on a table, facing the wall, facing away from the wall – to see which sound quality you like best.

    While there are a variety of online resources that suggest guitar amp settings, it’s a good idea to experiment and decide for yourself what sounds good. The best settings for your guitar on your amp may be different from the best settings for your friend’s guitar on his amp.

    You may have heard that the cables you use with your guitar amp can affect its sound quality. To an extent, this is true. Pricier cables often have better shielding and therefore do a better job of blocking unwanted interference. In the end, however, the sound quality you get with any cable is subjective.

    A guitar amp with an open-back cabinet allows you to hear yourself better. This type of amp can enhance your stage performance and help you feel more confident of your sound.

    FAQ

    Q. What’s the best type of guitar amp for beginners?

    A. If you’re a new guitar player, a modeling amp may be your best option. It provides excellent sound quality but requires less maintenance than a classic tube amp. Modeling amps also include a wide array of digital effects that allow you to experiment. You may also wish to consider a solid-state amp. These amps are lightweight, fairly low in cost, and easy to maintain.

    If you’ll be practicing at home and noise is a concern, you’ll probably want to opt for a smaller amp. One with fewer than 20 watts is less likely to disturb your neighbors.

    Q. What type of amp is best for live performances?

    A. If you’re going to be performing, a solid-state amp is a very good option. It provides higher sound quality than a modeling amp, but it’s much more reliable than a tube amp. That means you can count on your amp to work when you have a gig, and you won’t have as much maintenance to do in your downtime.

    Solid-state amps usually aren’t as expensive as tube amps, either, so they make an especially good option if you’re new to performing live. Their compact, lightweight design makes them easy to cart around to gigs, too.

    Q. What type of amp requires the most maintenance?

    A. Tube amps require more upkeep than solid-state, modeling, and hybrid amps. The tubes inside the amp can wear down over time, so you will likely need to replace them at some point. Many guitar enthusiasts are perfectly willing to put up with the maintenance requirements, however, because they love the classic sound of the tube amp.

    The team that worked on this review
    • Devangana
      Devangana
      Web Producer
    • Eliza
      Eliza
      Production Manager
    • Jacob
      Jacob
      Editorial Manager
    • Jennifer
      Jennifer
      Writer
    • Katie
      Katie
      Editorial Director
    • Linsay
      Linsay
      Editor
    • Melinda
      Melinda
      Web Producer
    • Melissa
      Melissa
      Senior Editor

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