ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Best Guitar Amps

Updated on November 29, 2020
Jon Green profile image

A lot of gigs don't pay very well, but it is a chance to road test guitar amps...

Overview of guitar amps

The development of guitar ampis traceable back to the 1950s, when many classic Fender designs came on to the market. In an odd reversal of the usual trend, this valve based technology is preferred by many players, and consequently many older amps are now very valuable.


  • Valve (AKA tube amp )
  • solid state electronic
  • digital modelling

Sometimes these types are combined to form a hybrid, where two different technologies are used together.

The speaker, usually 8", 10" 12", or multiple speakers is a vital component in the sound. Sometimes there is a separate speaker cabinet, sometimes amp and speaker are together in a combo amp. Speakers are often upgraded to improve the sound, and this is a relatively simple job in many cases.

Power ratings: common output in watts - 30w , 50w, 60w, 100w. A practice or recording amp for home or studio use could be 10w or 15w. I find most gigs only need about 30w amps, maybe 50w if there is a drummer. Interestingly, the world's best selling valve amp seems to be the Fender Blues Junior, which is only 15 watts. This is also very well priced, and I'm thinking of getting one myself.

If you use a combo amp and need more volume another option is to add an extra speaker cabinet, although you should check the impedance or ohm rating of both the amp and the new cabinet.

Amp manufacturers

The high end of amps in terms of sound quality and durability include:

Fender, Marshall, Vox, Matchless, Bad Cat, Cornford, Mesa Boogie.

Boutique amps are often hand-wired: Carr and Victoria are two of the most highly rated. This is one area of music where it definitely pays to buy the best. I'm currently using a Victoria 5112, which is kind of a Fender Champ style design. There is no extra circuitry, and just one control knob for the volume and this also turns the power on. It sounds great. More importantly, the little power on light is purple!

Fender amps from the 1960s or Blackface (from the control panel) are highly regarded, Silverface (1970s) less so, but they are still very well built.

The quality of valves used is very important, and these are now cyrogenically treated to improve the sound in some cases. Speakers are also upgraded from the original factory models in some cases. In the UK there are companies such as Watford Valves, who supply spares and upgrades.

There has always been a thriving industry in modifying and upgrading amps, which is how Mesa Boogie started in business. Some cheaper Chinese-made valve amps are improved by tweaking components in this way - although, a word of caution: Valve amps contain lethal voltages!!! - leave it to an expert.

Acoustic guitar amps

A separate category, typified by the AER combo amps. Acoustic guitars need a different approach in terms of sound, and using a normal valve amp won't work that well. The solid state nature of these amps means less maintenance is needed - and they can often be used with a microphone as well, making them ideal for small gigs in a cafe environment. The downside is a very clinical and unresponsive nature, with none of the warmth of valve amp tone.

For the acoustic / folk performer, this is the preferred option. The less sound coloration the better. Bose L1 line array systems are well regarded too.

Schertler make good acoustic amps - at the moment I'm using a Unico amp. It's good for vocal mics too.

Both AER and Schertler amps are very well engineered and designed, built in Germany and Switzerland respectively. Just as a Mercedes typifies German solid design, an AER is a very reliable amp, though expensive initially.

Interaction with guitar

The type of pickups on different electric guitars is also important, and getting the amp and guitar to complement each other is a really complex issue. For this reason, many famous guitarists use multi-amp rigs, using different tones from a number of amps.

To get a rock or blues tone some distortion is common, and this can be created with a gain control. Gain helps create a musical sustain and distortion. Many valve amps work best when the output valves are working hard, as well as the preamp valves. This means a low -powered amp is often preferable,as it can be driven hard in situations where a 100-watt amp would be too loud.

A classic combination would be the Hendrix sound - Marshall amp and Fender Stratocaster together, or the Eric Clapton Les Paul and Marshall combo sound. A Fender Telecaster works great with Fender Twin, Blues Deluxe, Deluxe Reverb amps, among others. Associated with many country players.

Carlos Santana uses a PRS guitar with Mesa Boogie amps to get great sustain.

Amp Reviews

Guitar Player magazine (USA) is very good for amp reviews.

In the UK Guitarist magazine also does very in-depth reviews.

Personally, I like Fender Blues Deluxe, Deluxe Reverb amps for affordable good tone and projection - partly because they suit blues and jazz styles well.

Youtube is also a great resource for amp info.

Upgrading amps

There are two main ways of improving valve amps, and they are both easy - part of the appeal of the whole design.

  • Change the valves - a matched set of new valves is sometimes very effective. Chinese-made valves are not highly regarded, in fact that is being polite! Replacing them with high quality valves by Groove Tubes etc. can work wonders.
  • Change the speaker - many cheaper amps use substandard speakers. Replace with Celestions or JBL etc and the sound can be dramatically improved.

Practical issues

One of the most important practical issues is weight. Many of the best amps are also ridiculously heavy, to the point that you may not feel like using them! The solid construction of a Mesa Boogie or Matchless amp is great, but not so great when you are lugging it up a flight of stairs to a gig, or even lifting it in and out of a car. In fact, I recently sold my Matchless amp because of this, though it did sound fantastic, it wasn't getting much use. If you are doing a lot of gigs, it may be a good idea to have a few amps of different sizes, and maybe a battery-powered amp, to cover all the situations.

Recent upgrades to the fender classic amps in the Tonemaster range seem to retain most of the tone while greatly reducing the weight, the Deluxe reverb has some great reviews.

Carr amplifiers

Carr Amplifiers are built in the USA, currently my favourite amps, and they are sturdy as well as great sounding! The Rambler is a really top amp, though I wouldn't fancy a ramble of more than a few yards!


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)