Guitar Amplifier Reviews

Kevin Ott
Standing on an Amplifier

Ever since rock and roll and other genres roared to life in the '50s, the amp market has grown in variety and quality with each passing year. This can be a blessing and a curse. It's hard to know which amp to choose. The following breakdown of quality brands and products will help.

Mesa Boogie

The Mesa Boogie Triple Crown TC-50 is a monster amplifier and is marketed as Mesa's "King of Rock." Reviewers give this amp the highest ratings across the board with no negative reviews. Many of them proclaim the amp to be the best combo they've ever used, praising its channel versatility, floor-shaking tone depth, and adaptability to any genre of music.

This premium Mesa Boogie amp costs about $2,000, but if you believe the high praises of its reviews, the amp is worth every penny.

Fender

Fender launched rock and roll in the '50s with its Telecaster guitars and Precision basses. It also became known for its amplifiers, and one of its most beloved amps is the '65 Twin Reverb. Fender has released a reissue of this classic amp. It is top-rated, and the best-rated Fender amp on Musician's Friend:

  • The '65 Twin Reverb is highly rated among users. Out of 173 reviews on Musician's Friend, its average rating was five out of five stars.
  • Most players praised its excellent sound and warm tone quality.
  • Among the few reviews who gave it a negative rating, they complained about the durability. (The player's amp broke sooner than expected.)

This premier Fender amp, an all-tube re-issue of one of its all-time classics, costs about $1,500.

Marshall

As one review put it, Marshall has managed to trap the '70s and '80s classic rock sounds and place them in a box: the JVM 210H. This amp, when plugged into one of Marshall's powerful cabinets, is Marshall's highest rated electric guitar amps on Musician's Friend:

  • Its average rating is five out of five stars. Users praised its strong power output and superb sound.
  • It has 100W of all-tube power, two independent footswitchable channels, and within those channels three footswitchable modes within each.
  • The few players who gave it a negative rating felt it was not the home run alternative to Marshall's classic 1959SLP amp. They felt the gain on the JVM 210H was not as good as an SLP with a distortion pedal.

This Marshall amp costs about $1,800.

Engl

Engl's Powerball is known as a classic guitar amp. The Powerball II was released as an upgraded sequel. It is designed to have more tone options, control and versatility than the original Powerball. It has a five-star rating among reviewers on Guitar Center for the following reasons:

  • Reviewers rave about this amp's versatility of tone, and the amp does not have any negative reviews on popular outlets such as Musician's Friend or Amazon.
  • It can produce amazing clean, blues, and metal tones, and everything in between. It has clean crunch and two lead channels along with four preamp tubes and four power tubes.
  • The following video refers to it as a "monster of high gain," so it's not just an excellent amp for a clean sound.

The Engl Powerball II costs about $2,400.

Vox

The Vox AC15 is one of Vox's most popular amps, and it is more affordable than the Fender and Marshall amps featured above. It is a 15W 1x12 time combo amp with a vintage style and sound that Vox is famous for.

  • It features two channels, Normal and Top Boost, as well as other excellent features such as its Tone Cut knob that gives you precise control over tone as well as its gorgeous Vox Classic Tremolo and Spring Reverb effects.
  • Reviewers praise its Top Boost feature especially because of the features warm, rich, sparkling clarity and depth.
  • Detractors of the amp complained about extraneous frequency noises, such as an occasional chirping sound. The review liked the sound of the amp but couldn't resolve the noise issue. Though other reviewers didn't mention a noise issue so it might have been an isolated problem. Their complaint, however, is a good reminder to play an amp at a store before buying it and check a store's return policy in case you get an amp with a rare defect.

The Vox AC15 costs abut $650.

Peavey

If you'd prefer a cheap but good quality amp, the low-priced Peavey Rage 258 brings its powerful TransTube technology to the foreground. It gives you three voices to choose from-Stack, Modern, Vintage-and it is a very light amp, only weighing 18 lbs.

  • Reviewers noted it was the perfect amp for a guitar player just starting out or for smaller practice spaces. Its controls are clearly marked and intuitive and it is easy to use, even for a guitar novice. It has a high quality sound, however, that does not give the impression of a starter amp.
  • The amp has very few negative reviews online, but some users commented the distortion seemed a little bland. Reviewers recommended plugging a pedal into its clean sound, which the amp handles extremely well and produces a tube amp tone.

This good quality budget Peavey amp only costs about $130.

Friedman Runt-20

This Friedman amp is a lower wattage amp (20W) that shoots for the moon with its tone quality and presence despite the low wattage. It has a minimalistic, vintage design with just a few knobs in a very simple, intuitive layout. It has an inspiring vintage crunch distortion and a warm, jazzy clean.

  • Reviews give this amp five stars across the board. Reviewers described it as "tonal nirvana" and marveled at the amp's tone, headroom, and sparkling clarity in every situation.
  • Reviewers also mentioned that the company's customer service was superb. The founder of the company, Dave Friedman, answered customer inquiries himself.

The Friedman Runt-20 costs about $1,300.

Orange Crush CR120C

This Orange Crush solid state amp boasts a 120W 2x12 combo. The clean channel has two gain channels that cause the signal to "crack up" as its cranked to the highest volumes, which gives it a distinct tone character. Its overdrive has four gain stages that deliver the classic Orange fuzz.

  • Reviewers praised this amp for its warm tone and powerful presence across the board in all channels. Other reviews said it exceeded their expectations for what a solid state amp could do.
  • Some reviewers complained that the amp did not come with a footswitch. If that is an important feature for you, you may want to purchase a footswitch separately when ordering this amp.

This amp costs about $700.

Roland JC120 Jazz Chorus Combo

The Roland JC120 is a godsend for jazz guitarists, and it always has been. Its first Jazz Chorus amp debuted decades ago and has become an industry standard ever since. The JC120 has two separate 60W RMS power amps that allow a true chorus sound.

In the all-positive reviews, the amp is praised for its versatility, warm tone, and its multipurpose use in everything from home practice to performance venues.

This Roland amp costs about $1,000.

Blackstar HT Stage 60

The Blackstar HT Stage 60 is a versatile, quality amp with a unique clean setup that offers a "Boutique" and a "Modern" mode. It has two overdrive channels with voice switches for each channel. This allows you to shape each sound and hone in on what you want. Blackstar overdrive is known for avoiding unpleasant noise or sounds in its high frequencies when the gain is blasting. It's a very "clean" gain, in other words.

In its reviews the amp is praised for being able to deliver a wide range of tones from sparkling clean to aggressive metal overdrive. Users remark that it sounds as good as many high-end amps but costs hundreds of dollars less. This amp is an excellent deal, and it has no negative reviews online.

This Blackstar amp costs about $1,000.

EVH

The EVH 5150, designed by guitar legend Eddie Van Halen, is a combo tube amp with clean, distortion, and lead channels. It has seven preamp tubes and two power tubes. The amp captures the one-of-a-kind stage amp rock sound Eddie Van Halen is known for, though the amp's clean sound is not as highly praised as its phenomenal gain tone.

The EVH 5150 costs about $1,300.

Fishman Loudbox Mini Acoustic Guitar Amplifier

The Fishman LoudBox Mini for acoustic guitars has 60 watts of power, two channels, chorus and reverb effects, and other features such as an MP3 input and balanced XLR D.I. output that makes it easy to play along to backing tracks. It is rated five stars on average and is praised for its clarity and instrument versatility, sounding great with not just acoustic guitars but also banjos, mandolins, and other instruments.

This Fishman acoustic guitar amp costs about $330.

Laney Lionheart L5T112 Heritage Guitar Combo Amplifier

The Laney Lionheart L5T112 Heritage combo amp, besides having a really long name, is a small but well-designed 5 watt combo amp. Its makers designed it to sign like a tube amp that's being pushed to its limit-a warmth and expressiveness that is so unique with that tube amp sound.

  • Its reviews praise the amp's loudness especially, saying it is remarkably powerful for its small wattage. They praise its gorgeous, clean sound and powerful dirty gain, but they warn that it is not a metal amp.
  • The amp receives an average of five out of five stars in its reviews but in its negative reviews, players complained the amp is too expensive for such a small wattage and that it gets too loud too fast when you're trying to use it at lower volumes.

The Laney Lionheart costs about $850.

DV Mark Guitar Friend 12

The 50W DV Mark Guitar Friend 12 is a straightforward guitar amp that focuses on doing the basics well: very lightweight and portable, notably powerful volume, two channels with clean and lead and easy-to-use controls and an onboard reverb effect.

Reviewers rate this amp's clean sound very highly, though they are not quite as enthusiastic about its distortion and reverb. Pedals sounded excellent on the clean channel, so a distortion pedal easily makes up for any deficiency in the amp's overdrive. Players especially love the extremely lightweight of the amp.

The DV Mark Guitar Friend costs about $500.

Randall Thrasher 120W All-Tube Amp Head

Randall is especially known for its popularity in the metal genre. Some of the most famous metal bands use the powerhouse distortion of Randall. The Thrasher is no exception. It comes with some warnings, however:

  • Players who got to know the amp and dialed in their tone on it have become passionate advocates for this amp head.
  • That being said, it has a complex tone interface, and it takes some time and work to hone in on the best tone that works for you. It is not a playable-right-out-of-the-box piece of gear for beginners. It's more for advanced players who have experience fine-tuning their equipment to find the right sound.

The Randall Thrasher amp head costs about $1,250.

A Lifetime of Exploring New Sounds

While you might feel pressure to pick the absolute best amplifier, it's helpful to remember one thing: the life of a guitar player is a long-term process of exploring new sounds. This will likely not be the only amp you own. With so many great amp options, you can look forward to trying a variety of brands over your guitar career.

Guitar Amplifier Reviews