What's the Right Amp for You? A Guitar Amp Buying Guide

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Updated 2019-05-24

We've put together a Guitar Amp Buyer's guide covering the many amplifier options available, and try to help you answer the question "What Guitar Amp Should I get?".

guitar amp buying guide

Different Guitar Amps Explained

In real simple terms amplifiers come in several forms; valve amps, transistor amps otherwise known as solid state amps and finally, modeling amps. These in turn can be a head and separate cab or a combo amp, which is combination of head and cab. These amplifiers are made for electric guitars and bass guitars and come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

In addition, there are specially designed acoustic amps which are created specifically for acoustic instruments.

Which Amplifier Do I Need?

VOX AC30C2 Custom Combo Valve Amp The VOX AC30 is an industry standard amplifier

There's no "right" or "wrong" when it comes to choosing an amp, but there are certain environments where some amps are better suited to than others. Choosing an amplifier depends on your personal tastes, on your ear and on your needs. Here's a few pointers that will help you look in the right direction anyway!

Best Amp For Beginners / Just Playing At Home?

Laney Mini-ST-Lion Battery Powered Stereo Amplifier The Laney Mini-ST-Lion Battery Powered Stereo Amplifier is a great mini amp for around the home

If you're just a beginner, a mini amp might be enough for you. For playing at home, either beginners or even experienced players don't need anything bigger, better or more expensive than a sub-£100 guitar practice amp.

We've actually compiled a list of our best mini amps that don't suck here, as well as our best beginner amps that you won't have to upgrade.

Best Amps For Buskers?

If you're a busker, you're better off with an amp that does not require a power supply. The Roland Micro Cube is a great little amp, very popular with buskers who require amplification due to its portability, cheap price and the fact it can be powered by batteries! It's pretty loud, too! Here's a great blog on some of the best amps for busking.

Best Amps For Recording?

The best amps for recording WON'T be big, 100-watts Marshalls, for instance! On the contrary, smaller amps are the best choice. We're talking about small valve amps, here. That's because, unlike with bigger, louder amps, you can crank up small valve amps, pushing them to tone heaven. If you did the same with bigger amps, it wouldn't work - you'd sound so loud you wouldn't be able to make a good recording! This technique has been used by many, many top artists. Despite using big and loud Marshall amps onstage, Jimmy Page used a small Supro valve amp on the early Led Zeppelin albums. Likewise, the Arctic Monkeys used an old Fender Champion on most of their debut album.

Some of the best small valve amps for recording that we have are:

We actually covered some of our best tube amps for home use here. Or you can watch the video below.

Best Amps For Playing Small Gigs?

If you play small gigs, such as at pubs, clubs etc, small places with capacity of 200 persons or less, you won't need a massively loud amp. A 15-Watt Valve amp will be more than loud enough, such as the Fender Blues Junior or Vox AC-15. You can use louder valve amps, such as a Vox AC30 or Fender Hot Rod DeVille, but in most cases you won't need to set the volume more than halfway up (or less!)

Valve amps sound louder than solid state amps, so even though a 15-watt valve amp is loud enough for gigs, a 15-watt solid state amp will be only recommended for home practice. Good solid state amps include the Orange Crush 20 RT and Blackstar ID:30TVP 30W. Both are loud enough for mid-sized venues and sound superb.

Fender Hot Rod DeVille 212 III Valve Combo Amp The Fender Hot Rod DeVille 212 III Valve Combo Amp is an industry standard valve amp

If you're in a small, unsigned band, it's very important to choose an amp that's loud enough - as not every venue will mic your amp. Ironically, bigger artists don't need to worry about this, since they are safe in the knowledge they'll always have a good sound and their amps will always be mic'ed. That's why Seasick Steve plays a small Roland Cube amp, but it's not necessarily a great choice if you're in a band who plays live.

Valve Amp, Solid State Amp or Modelling Amp?

There's no right or wrong here, but, for tone and response, valve amps are often felt as the 'better' option. If you can afford a valve amp, just go ahead and buy one! They're the amps all the great bands ever used - from Beatles and Rolling Stones to Arctic Monkeys and Radiohead, 99% of all professional musicians simply prefer valve amps, like the Vox AC30 or Fender Hot Rod Deluxe III. But there's nothing wrong with solid state amps - the audience at a gig wouldn't be able to tell the difference.

Solid state amps have many advantages: they are cheaper, lighter, and require less care than a valve amps (which eventually will need new valves, for instance!). Vox, Line 6 and Boss make really good solid state amps that you can gig with and enjoy superb control, dynamics and sound quality. They are not necessarily "worse" amps by any means and they are extremely reliable. The Rolling Stones, Nirvana, Status Quo and many other big acts have used solid-state amps at some point. They're also quite popular with jazz guitarists too as the Roland JC40 Jazz Chorus Guitar Amplifier is an industry standard. The new Boss Katana range of amplifiers is by far the most popular option at the moment as it acts just like a valve amp, responding to the dynamics of your playing and offering an incredible amount of different amp sounds and effects.

Which brings us to my next point...

FX or no FX?

Again, it's almost a question of valve or solid state, here. Most valve amps don't come with any effects other than tremolo and reverb, at most. Solid State amps often come with a wide range of features such as digital FX and amp modelling. If you're an have lots of fx pedals, you don't really need a modelling unit, but if you're new to guitar playing, buying an amp with modeling FX might be a good way to get familiar with all those sounds.

Combo or Head + Cab?

Again, this is a personal choice. It's easier to have a combo, but a head + cab combination might be easier (& lighter) to carry, as you can carry both parts separately. Of course, if you're in a metal band, you simply MUST use a really loud head amp (no matter how small the venue is) and a 4x 12" speaker cabinet. That's just how it is...it's in the rock bible, somewhere!

We've put together a complete guitar amp buyer's guide video to help you figure out what you need

Here's our top picks...

Our Top 5 Guitar Amp Head Recommendations

Orange Rocker 15 Terror 15W Valve Amp Head

Orange Rocker 15 Terror 15W Valve Amp Head

 

The Orange Rocker 15 Terror 15W Valve Amp Head presents a world class option for those in need of great tone. You have 15 watts of pure valve power to channel here as well as a studio and home-friendly attenuation switch which halves the wattage. This makes it ideal for cranking the amp and getting that warm tube saturation at lower volumes. Simply flick the half switch and your output drops to 7 watts, yet you still have all the control over your tone. This is also a two channel head, which means you can use a footswitch or the built in toggle to change from a Natural tone to a more driven and distorted Dirty channel. A fantastic amplifier head that makes a great all-rounder for all genres.

Boss Katana KTN-HEAD Amp Head

Boss Katana KTN-HEAD Amp Head

The Boss Katana KTN-HEAD Amp Head has become one of the most talked about amplifiers as it features the coveted Waza technology found in the beautiful BOSS Waza Craft Pedals. The same care and attention that goes into these pedals has gone into the BOSS Katana head to produce a versatile and highly  aerticulate amplifier. Packed with Five unique amp characters: Clean, Crunch, Lead, Brown (derived from the Waza amp), and Acoustic (for acoustic-electric guitars), the Katana head ensures you have enough sonic diversity for all genres. You can choose from 55 BOSS effects and load 15 on to the amp via BOSS Tone Studio editor software and you can actually use it without a cab thanks to the monitor speaker - making it a great practice amp that you can use to get your sound and hook up to a cab later on at your gigs.

Marshall DSL20HR 20W Valve Head with Reverb

Marshall DSL20HR 20W Valve Head with Reverb

The Marshall DSL20HR 20W Valve Head, is from the awesome Marshall Dual Super Lead (DSL) amplifier range. This particular amplifier head features a 2 channel design which offers everything from the classic Marshall overdriven sound, to the super saturated distortion of your favourite heavy metal bands. You can also utilise the Low/Standby/High power switch to attenuate the amps power from 20 to 10 watts.

Vox AC30CH Guitar Amplifier

 

Vox AC30CH Guitar Amplifier

The Vox AC30CH Guitar Amplifier head contains all that gorgeous AC30 tone thanks to the classic 12AX7 tubes in the preamp and EL84 tubes in the power amp,. However, you have the option of hooking upo your own cabinet to mix and match the sound, or complete your set up with Vox V212C Speaker Cabinet.

Orange Micro Terror Guitar Amplifier Head

Orange Micro Terror Guitar Amplifier Head

They say good things come in small packages. Well, "they" weren't wrong! The Orange Micro Terror Guitar Amplifier Head is no bigger than a lunchbox, but packs enough power to stand up to some of the bigger amplifiers out there, especially when you connect it to a 2x12 or even a 4x12 cab. It features a combination of solid state and valve technology and throws out 20w of pure power thanks to the 1 x 12AX7/ECC83 pre amp valve. Easy to use, affordable and even easier to carry around, you can easily gig with this or use it as a practice amp at home when coupled with the custom built Orange PPC108 1x8 Closed Back Speaker Cabinet.

Want more? View Guitar Amp Heads at PMT Online

Our Top 5 Guitar Speaker Cab Recommendations

Fender Bassbreaker 212 Guitar Cab

Fender Bassbreaker 212 Guitar Cab

Vintage styling, high quality speakers and that classic Fender cabinet warmth - there's a lot to love about the Fender Bassbreaker 212 Guitar Cab

There's 2 x 12 inch, 8 Ohm Celestion V-Type speakers inside and the semi-closed back ensure those rich, low end frequencies are captured. A great addition that can act as an extension cabinet to the Fender Bassbreaker 45 combo/head and the Bassbreaker 18/30 combo. if you want to add that signature fender warmth to your sound, this head is a perfect match to your own amplifier head with a total impedance of 16 Ohms.

Orange PPC212 Guitar Speaker Cabinet - 2x12

Orange PPC212 Guitar Speaker Cabinet - 2x12, Orange

Orange make great amplifier cabinets that work with a wide variety of heads. In fact, there are many artists out there who like to mix and match their amp+head combinations to get the specific sound out of their head combined with the classic sound of an Orange speaker cab. The Orange PPC212 Guitar Speaker Cabinet - 2x12 has been designed to bring the best out in your Orange amp head by utilising 13 ply, high density 18mm Baltic Birch plywood in a closed back construction partnered with 2 x celestion vintage 30 speakers. This Power Projection Cabinet (PPC) has been designed to last the test of time thanks to the rugged construction.

Vox V212C Speaker Cabinet

Vox V212C Speaker Cabinet

 

The Vox V212C Speaker Cabinet is a perfect addition to any rig thanks to the use of 2 x 12-inch Celestion G12 Greenback speakers which will basically make any amp head sound amazing! This is perfectly paired with a Vox AC30 or AC15 of course, but it’ll definitely work beautifully with any set up thanks to the awesome sonic quality on offer.

Marshall CODE412 - 4x12 Speaker Cabinet

Marshall CODE412 - 4x12 Speaker Cabinet

The Marshall CODE412 - 4x12 Speaker Cabinet is a powerful monster designed as a companion to your CODE 100 head. A classic angled cabinet that is packed with four 12” speakers, each with a 30-watt output. This extremely affordable 4x12 amplifier cab is perfect for those in need of a high-quality option for their set up, whether you have a CODE or not. A single input makes it easy to plug and play and the 24kg weight ensures you won’t break your back carrying it to practice. It’s also Marshall’s most affordable friendly speaker cabinet, making it a great choice for those on a budget.

Albion GLS212 2x12" Guitar Speaker Cabinet

Albion GLS212 2x12" Guitar Speaker Cabinet

The Albion GLS212 2x12" Guitar Speaker Cabinet is a perfect budget friendly option packed with hand made speakers. These 12" speakers were actually designed by the the staff that formed Celestion, so you know you're in good hands!

Want more? View Guitar Cabs at PMT Online

Our Top 5 Valve Guitar Combo Recommendations

Fender Bassbreaker 15 Combo Guitar Amp

Fender Bassbreaker 15 Combo Guitar Amp

The Fender Bassbreaker 15 Combo Guitar Amp is a great amp for the stage as well as studio recording. You have a single 12” 8-ohm Celestion V-Type speaker pumping out all that glorious Fender tone. The Gain Structure can be adjusted so you have a choice of three different lush overdrive tones – perfect for players of all styles.

Vox AC30C2 Custom Series Guitar Valve Amp

Vox AC30C2 Custom Series Guitar Valve Amp
The Vox AC-30 is quite possibly the most legendary guitar amp ever made, used by everyone from The Beatles and Rolling Stones to U2 and The Libertines. The AC30C2 Custom Series updates the legendary amp with new and improved features - a guitarist's dream amp, no less! The new VOX AC30 Custom Classic…

Orange Rocker 32 2x10" Valve Combo Amp

Orange Rocker 32 2x10" Valve Combo Amp

The Orange Rocker 32 2x10" Valve Combo Amp is a great amp for those who want a serious amount of power on stage. This all valve stereo amplifier allows you to channel into that signature Orange crunch and utilise the stereo effects loop to really make use of any stereo pedals you may have (Strymon Timeline etc.)  Enjoy massive panning delays, previously only possible by using two amps at once and knock the power down using the "Half Power Mode” for home playing.

Marshall ORI20C Origin 20-Watt All-Valve Combo Amp

Marshall ORI20C Origin 20-Watt All-Valve Combo Amp

The Marshall ORI20C Origin 20-Watt All-Valve Combo Amp is ideal for home use and for smaller gigs/rehearsal sessions thanks to its powerful 20 watt output. You also have a 3-stage Power Staging switch which also allows you to drop from 20 watts to 10, to 5 – ideal for playing around the home.

We love it as it includes the Title Tone control which lets you select different voicings that range from British all-valve rock sound, to a more modern American hard-rock voice. Best of all, you can isolate the different sounds or blend them together.

Fender Blues Junior IV Combo Valve Amp

Fender Blues Junior IV Combo Valve Amp

The Fender Blues Junior IV Combo Valve Amp has quickly become an industry standard amplifier for those chasing that coveted creamy Fender Blues tone. You have 15 watts of pure tube warmth in an easily transportable package and gorgeous sounds emanating from the 3 x 12AX7 preamp tubes and 2 x EL84 Power tubes. A perfect amplifier for small gigs and practice rooms as well as those in need of a quality amp to record with.

Want more? View Guitar combo amps at PMT Online

Our Top 5 Modelling/Solid State Amp Recommendations

Line 6 Spider V 20 Modelling Guitar Amp

Line 6 Spider V 20 Modelling Guitar Amp

Packed with over 200 amps, cabs and effects, the Line 6 Spider V 20 Modelling Guitar Amp is a perfect amp for those who want a wide variety of sounds to choose from. Especially handy for those in cover bands as you can actually dial in famous amp and pedal combinations. It’s also wireless ready via the Line 6 Relay G10 wireless guitar system. No more guitar leads tripping you over while you're rocking out on (or off) stage!

Boss KTN-50 Katana 50w Combo Amplifier

Boss KTN-50 Katana 50w Combo Amplifier

The Boss KTN-50 Katana 50w Combo Amplifier is probably one of the best solid state/modeling amplifiers ever crafted and has quickly become the go-to amp for players of all levels. You have 5 different amplifier characters (sounds) built in; Clean, Crunch, Lead, Brown, and Acoustic. But you also have access to 55 BOSS effects, which are customizable using the free BOSS Tone Studio editor software. You can even load 15 different effects into the amp and use 3 at the same time – a great amp that’s full of sounds and perfect for beginners to pro-level players.

Fender Mustang LT25 Combo Guitar Amplifier

Fender Mustang LT25 Combo Guitar Amplifier

The Fender Mustang LT25 Combo Guitar Amplifier is an extremely versatile modelling amplifier that comes complete with 20 different amp models as well as 25 effects built in. So, you’ve got a huge amount of different sounds to play with! It’s like having 20 amplifiers in one easy to carry box all pumping out through a powerful Single 8” Fender Special Design Guitar Speaker – great for home and studio use! If you need to go bigger, you have a 40 watt version, a 100 watt version as well as a 200 watt version.

Marshall CODE50 Combo Amplifier

Marshall CODE50 Combo Amplifier

The people at Marshall know a thing or two about creating great sounding amps, after all the like sof teh Marshall JCM800 is probably one of the most famous amps of all time. The Marshall CODE50 Combo Amplifier is a modelling guitar amp that actually recreates the sound of these great amplifiers and so many more. In fact, you have 14 MST Preamps, four MST power amps and eight MST speaker models built in ranging from the likes of the Silver Jubilee to the Bluesbreaker and more. In addition you have 24 studio quality effects built in. Best of all you can make changes to your sound on the fly thanks to the Marshall Gateway App. This allows you to control all sorts of settings on your CODE amp right from your iOS or Android device via Bluetooth - awesome!

Blackstar ID:30TVP 30w Guitar Amplifier Combo

Blackstar ID:30TVP 30w Guitar Amplifier Combo

The new ID series from Blackstar is turning a few heads, using the valve power rating system so 30watts is plenty for gigging. With the Blackstar ID:30TVP 30w Guitar Amplifier Combo you can enjoy true valve power and tone but without the upkeep, hassle or bulk.

Here's how to use the different controls on your amplifier

Want more? View Guitar modelling amps & pedals at PMT Online.

Further Reading About Guitar Amps

best tube amps for home use

best mini amps

best beginner guitar amps

best cheap amps

best combo amps

best modeling amps

Shop a full range of guitar amps over at PMT Online today or call in to your local PMT store to try out a full range for yourself!

Guitar Amps

 

6 Comments on “What's the Right Amp for You? A Guitar Amp Buying Guide”

  • trevor smith
    22nd March 2018

    Hi, i am looking for a combo amp suitable for an electric guitar and microphone. similar to the marshall as50d . is there such a beast please.. Trevor

    • Lee Glynn
      27th March 2018

      Hi Trevor, we thoroughly recommend the Roland Cube-Street EX Battery-Powered Stereo Amplifier which you can find here: https://goo.gl/VqHEi4

  • Dave Chapman
    28th May 2018

    Hi - I am looking for a new amp for small to medium venues. I quite fancied the Marshall Mini Silver Jubilee combo, but then noticed several companies selling JVM 50 watt combos in the same price range. It seems that the JVM's are a Swiss Army knife whereas the MSJ seems to be capturing a small version of a classic amp and is more of a one trick pony . Any way you could help me make the right decision. On the other hand , how reliable are the JVM's considering their sophistication?

    • Lee Glynn
      1st June 2018

      Hi Dave, both those amps are amazing quality and very reliable. It all depends on what you want in terms of sound really. If you want lots of tone sculpting then the JVM is a great choice. Why not come in to a PMT and try them out. Marshalls sound best when cranked! -Lee

  • -
    18th February 2019

    I was looking at getting an amp around the £250 price with a reverb feature include. Based upon the bands i was covering i've been looking at the Vox AC15VR, AV15 and the Orange 35RT. Whats your opinion on the best option or if there is others that i have missed. Mainly for home use and occasional small venues. Thanks

    • Lee Glynn
      20th February 2019

      Hi Tom, all those amps are perfect options. It seems you want a smaller amp with reverb feature. I would also recommend the Albion GS15C Gulfstream 15W Handwired Valve Combo http://bit.ly/2IrtsOQ as it's not massive, so is easily added to a home set up but can be used at small venues, and the Boss KTN-50 Katana 50w Combo Amplifier http://bit.ly/2IlbzBg which includes a host of different effects and is quickly becoming an industry standard combo amp. I hope that helps. -Lee

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