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An amplifier is a vital companion for bringing out the full potential of your electric guitar. Whether you’re practicing alone at home, or gearing up for a tour, you’ll need one that’s reliable, durable and can sound exactly the way you want it to. It’s a major investment for any serious musician, and one that’ll most likely last years. For this roundup, we focused in on amps that can fit into dorms and small apartments, but are also powerful enough to play gigs at coffeeshops, bars and with bands at various venues.
Electric Guitar Amp Buying Guide
Types of Amps: A tube amp (also occasionally called a “valve amp”) was among the first models of amplifier ever made, and they still sound great. These are powered through preamp and power tubes — small glass bulbs in back that give it a strong, warm tone. And while the rock gods of the Sixties and Seventies primarily used these, they’re not the only kind available nowadays. The other common type you’ll find is a solid state amp. These run on transistor circuits, bypassing the bulbs completely. Technology has a come a long way with solid state amps, allowing them to mimic the effects of tubes, and still get louder than you’ll probably ever need, even when playing a show. But it’s overall a matter of preference, and worth taking a look at the stats and attributes of each to see what’ll fit you, your guitar and your playing style best.
Connectivity: Another big step forward in tech that may be new to anyone who hasn’t bought an amp in years is Bluetooth connectivity. Not just for listening to yourself through headphones while you play (without being bound by wires), but also linking up to your smartphone. Ports are still necessary though, and even if you aren’t planning on using them all now, you might somewhere down the road. A second input lets you share your speaker with another guitarist, while XLR and phantom power is made for mics, and a USB port means you can record directly from your amp into your favorite studio program.
Wattage: Just because an amp can get overwhelmingly loud doesn’t mean you’ll need it to. Think about what you’ll mainly be using this for, and consider the wattage from there. A 10- or 15-watt amp is great for practicing at home or taking to a friend’s, while a 100-watt amp is going to be plenty for a rehearsal space or local gig. Wattage goes a longer way with tube amps too, and a lower number can still get loud enough to shake the room.
Weight: Though they’re lighter than they were decades ago, tube amps can still get heavy. This may not be a big deal if it’ll be sitting in a corner of your room permanently, but carrying it to gig after gig can get exhausting if it’s tough for you to pick up. This goes for amps across the board though, so if you’ll be loading in and out constantly, be certain you can comfortably lift it.
Playing Live: If you’ll be playing venues with a main soundboard, solid state amps most often have an XLR output that can run straight to the sound tech’s desk. Not all tube amps have this, and if they don’t, you’ll need to physically mic it up and make sure the placement is right each time. Taking into consideration what type of music you play helps narrow down which amp is best for you too.
What Are the Best Electric Guitar Amps?
If you can’t get to a music store to try them out right now, we’ve picked these powerful amps to get you started on your search. They’re great for all levels of musicians, but especially excellent first amps to have, since the experimentation is endless, and that’s the best way to get acquainted with all the possibilities you and your guitar can create.
1. Fender ’68 Custom Pro Reverb 40W Combo Amp
This timeless 40-watt Fender blends the best tones, effects and aesthetics of the past with modern styles and flexibility to find your ideal sound.
Fender’s legendary tube-driven reverb and crystal-clarity shines through here, and gives that clean, classic and bluesy feel. It’s modified to a single-channel format, with two power tubes and three preamp tubes inside to help create a shimmering, dreamy tone, or get loud enough to play lead.
This is inspired by Fender’s original 1968 model, with helpful adjustments for portability and efficiency. The overall weight is reduced to under 35 pounds (the original was almost twice that), with one 12-inch Celestion NeoCreamback speaker inside to deliver that iconic Fender tone.
It works well for pretty much any style, and even for recording. Right up front there’s a bright switch and two inputs, along with a full treble/middle/bass EQ section, plus reverb, speed and intensity to control the pulsating tremolo and vibrato effects.
Feedback is greatly reduced, and this comes with a two-button, vintage-style foot switch for easy transitions. The amp also integrates effortlessly with pedals, giving you even more possibilities to mix and match, and ultimately evolve your playing.
2. Vox Custom AC30C2 30W 2×12 Tube Guitar Combo Amp
A mix of preamp tubes is what powers this 30-watt Vox, handling clean tones, high gain and everything in between.
There are four inputs here, for normal and top boost, each with their own volume knob (as well as bass and treble for the latter). Reverb has its own tone and level controls, giving you greater flexibility on how much shimmer effect you’re going for, with speed and depth for tremolo too. A tone cut control acts as a convenient filter, and behind the signature diamond grille are two 12-inch Celestion G12M Greenback speakers, with a switchable 8/16 Ohm output jack.
While it sounds gorgeous and gets loud, be aware of the weight, as this one’s an absolute beast at over 70 pounds (the three different handles are a huge help when it comes time to lift it).
3. Marshall Studio Vintage 20W 1×10 Tube Guitar Combo Amp
You won’t need a giant wall of Marshall amps behind you to get the brand’s powerfully vintage tone at home — one of these will do just fine.
This 20-watt tube amp is based on Marshall’s 1959SLP. In fact, the top panel is identical to the original, complete with a full EQ section and a volume control for each channel (high treble and normal). In back, this model offers five outputs for connecting it up to different cabinets, DI out for studio recording and an effects loop with its own on/off switch.
It can handle a nice thick tone for rhythm parts, and switch into a growling solo tone just as well.
4. Orange Amplifiers Crush Pro CR60C 60W Guitar Combo Amp
It’s hard not to love this eye-catching amp, but it delivers way more than just a cool aesthetic.
The CR60C is part of Orange’s Crush line — and is a reliable, two-channel, solid-state combo amp with a 12-inch Voice of the World speaker inside. This delivers a clean and snappy tone, with its own clearly labeled control panel for bass, treble and volume. Same goes for flipping the switch and getting dirty, with designated knobs for gain, volume and full EQ. On the back, there are two speaker outputs, effects loop jacks and even a spot for foot pedals.