The 14 best amplifiers for all styles and budgets

From tube to digital, from affordable practice solutions to high-end boutique builds. Whatever you want out of an amplifier, we’ve got you covered.

Fender Tone Master Princeton Reverb control knobs by Adam Gasson

Fender Tone Master Princeton Reverb control knobs. Image: Adam Gasson

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The world of amplifiers in 2024 is a wonderfully wide-ranging one, with tube amps, digital amps, floor amps, portable amps, practice amps desktop amps and more all promising brilliant tones at varying levels of volume. A little intimidated by the choice? Not to worry – we’ve put together this guide to the best amps no matter what you need, whether that’s a small home amp or a gigging powerhouse.

Digital amps continue to make excellent use of ever more powerful processing – from high-quality modelling units with endless amp sims and ins and outs, to stripped-back combos leveraging digital power for efficiency and reliability, digital amps have come leaps and bounds since those early days of fizzy direct sounds and tinny practice amps. And, of course, tube amp makers continue to find ways to make those classic circuits even more appealing to the modern player. There are plenty of excellent options out there, no matter what you want out of an amplifier. Let’s dive in.

The 14 best amplifiers, at a glance:

Our pick: Fender Tone Master Princeton Reverb

Fender Tonemaster Princeton Reverb by Adam Gasson

Fender’s Tone Master amplifiers are pitched as modelling amps for those who hate modelling amps: no menus, no deep-editing, no complex multi-mode preamp selection. Instead, the modelling power is aimed squarely at a single amp – in this case, the Princeton Reverb. The result is a combo that sounds and looks basically indistinguishable from the real thing. Aside from that Tone Master badge, the best way to tell them apart is to pick them up, as this one’s literally half the weight of its bottle-fed counterpart.

The sounds are all there, and you can play it at home just as easily as you can on a stage. The power-reduction modes give you a consistent sound across all ends of the volume spectrum, and of course, acheive the awesome sound of a Fender combo breaking up without breaking any windows… or your relationship with your neighbours.

Need more? Read our Fender Tone Master Princeton Reverb review.

Best affordable amp: Boss Katana 50 MkII EX

Boss Katana 50 MkII EX

While the Tone Master Princeton Reverb is a very appealing prospect indeed, it’s still a relatively pricey amplifier. The Katana 50 MkII EX, however, is a good deal more affordable, and is just as happy on a stage as the Tone Master – but it can also provide excellent at-home practice sounds, through headphones, or its 12-inch speaker thanks to its power reduction switch. There’s a good range of sounds on tap here, with perfect cleans, chimey overdrive and full-bore metal all represented, plus a suite of effects thrown in, too. The EX version of the amp adds some extra footswitch control options, too – making going without a pedalboard a lot easier.

Need more? Read our Boss Katana 50 MkII EX review.

Best tube amp: Bad Cat Hot Cat 1×12

Bad Cat Hot Cat 1x12 Combo

Californian boutique brand Bad Cat has gone through, if not quite nine lives then several different iterations, but the current iteration was reborn in 2021 and overhauled the entire line of amps that had made the brand so sought-after in the first two decades of the 2000s. The Hot Cat is something of a statement of intent for the new Bad Cat – it might not be a hand-wired, super-high-end beast any more but it’s a classy combo for big cleans, edgy crunch and high-gain punishment, without you needing to remortgage your house. Arguably the most affordable way to get a slice of bona fide US-made boutique amp in 2023.

Need more? Read our Bad Cat Hot Cat 1×12 review.

Best modelling amp: Fender Mustang GTX100

Fender Mustang GTX100

Loaded with a hefty 100 watts and a new custom-designed 12-inch Celestion speaker, the Mustang GTX100 is a very serious entry from Fender into the world of digital modelling combos. Unlike the Tone Master amps’ laser-focus, the Mustang GTX100 comes loaded with 39 amp models and 73 effects, which might just be more than you’ll ever need. It’s especially appealing as the GTX-7 foot controller is included in the price – this versatile bit of kit comes with a good number of footswitches, and makes using the GTX100 live without a pedalboard a breeze.

Need more? Read our Fender Mustang GTX100 review.

Best desktop amp: Yamaha THR30II

Yamaha THRII30A Wireless
Image: Yamaha

Arguably, the THR is the line of amps that invented this whole product category in the first place. There’s a good range of sounds, with 15 preamp models in total and effects ranging from subtle chorus to big reverbs. But this is all somewhat par for the course in 2024 – what gives the THR30II its edge are these two things: first, it looks like a cool retro radio and therefore can absolutely live on your coffee table without you having to plonk a big piece of obvious guitar equipment in the middle of your living room. Secondly, there’s a great range of I/O on offer, including direct USB recording and two quarter-inch line-outs.

Combine these two things with the sheer quality of the sounds, the THR30II nails what Yamaha has set out to do with the “third amp” approach. All of the sound and versatility of a “real” amp, none of the sacrifices of a practice amplifier. There’s also an acoustic version of the THR-30II, the THR-30IIA, which offers the voices of various microphones in lieu of a range of electric preamp modes, but just as much appealing good looks and versatile recording options.

Need more? Read our Yamaha THR30II review.

Best high-end amp: Marshall ST20H JTM Studio

Marshall ST20H JTM Studio by Adam Gasson
Marshall ST20H JTM Studio. Image: Adam Gasson

It’s no exaggeration to say that the JTM is part of the very fabric of rock music – after its introduction in 1962, it would shape the landscape of rock and blues by offering massive sounds to an exploding UK rock scene. This UK-made revamp of the JTM harkens back to the very earliest Marshall amps with that fawn cloth and ‘coffin’ Marshall badge. Sonically, the ST20H JTM Studio recreates all of the nuance of the original’s punchy, snarling take on a modified Fender bassman circuit, but there are some concessions to modernity, too. An effects loop and a power-reduction mode make this a very appealing prospect for the modern player indeed.

Need more? Read our Marshall ST20H JTM Studio review.

Best home amp: Positive Grid Spark Mini

Positive Grid Spark Mini
Image: Adam Gasson

The Spark Mini, Positive Grid’s adorable cube-shaped cousin of the full-sized Spark, is a massive acheivement in compact amplifier design. Because it doesn’t just sound good for a small practice amp. Nor does it just sound good for a modelling amp – it’s just a great sounding amp. Full stop. No qualifications. The passive radiator on the bottom of the amp – a similar thing to what you’ll find on a good modern bluetooth speaker – helps the pair of two-inch speakers create a lot more bass than would normally be possible. Combine this with quality modelling and an actually useful and intuitive companion app (it’s possible!), and you’ve got basically the perfect small amp for learning and playing around on at home.

Need more? Read our Positive Grid Spark Mini review.

Best gigging amp: Fender Hot Rod Deluxe IV

Hot Rod Deluxe

If you know you’re going to be getting loud, then the Hot Rod Deluxe IV is an amazing option. It’s capable of moving more air than you could ever need, and its chewy tube overdrive sounds get even better if you bring some pedal friends along. If you need cleaner time-based effects, there’s an effects loop. Approachably priced, easily carriable from the boot of your car to the stage, reliable and versatile, there’s a reason the HRD is one of the most popular gigging workhorses around.

Need more? Read our Fender Hot Rod Deluxe IV review.

Best combo amp: Blackstar St. James 50 EL34

Blackstar St. James Combo

The pitch of the St. James series is this: a fully-fledged tube amp, but without the massive weight. A number of design changes to the regular tube amp format have been made, such as the use of a switching-mode power supply instead of a heavy transformer. The cabs and combos use a specially-made Celestion speaker with a lightweight frame and driver. The result is that the St James 50 EL34 is an easy one-hand lift – no mean feat for a fully-fledged 50-watt tube combo. That’d be all for naught if the sounds weren’t there, but luckily they are, with an excellent black-panel-style tonal palette that soaks up pedal tones amazingly. For an all-in-one combo package, it’s hard to argue with – and that’s not even mentioning the bevvy of smart features packed in, too!

Need more? Read our Blackstar St. James 50 EL34 review.

Best amp head: Orange OR30

Orange OR30
Orange OR30

From a lightweight tube combo with lots of smart features to a decidedly not lightweight tube head with zero smart features. Yes, the Orange OR30 is a made-in-the-UK tube head that promises old-school simplicity with just one channel. But that’s not to say it’s not versatile – the gain control has a frankly absurdly wide sweep, with everything from pristine cleans to the massive, roaring fuzziness Orange has become known for represented.

Combine that with built-like-a-tank construction, an effects loop and a low-power mode, it’s a great option for the modern player, despite its old-school approach. Notably, it’s also one of the loudest 30-watters out there – Orange claims it can kick out SPLs to rival 100-watt heads!

Need more? Read our Orange OR30 review.

Best amp pedal: Neural DSP Quad Cortex

Image: Neural DSP

The world of amp-sim pedals is a wide and varied one, but for our money the Quad Cortex remains top of the heap when it comes to sheer modelling power and I/O capability. It might be magic, it might just be complex neural-net modelling – either way, the quality of the amplifier captures on offer here are astounding.

It’s not just their sonic fidelity – the models here also manage to capture that ever-elusive feel of real amplifiers. The unit itself is relatively compact, which, combined with its extensive I/O offerings, makes it a great option for gigging. You can replacing a whole complex amp and pedalboard setup with something the length and breadth of a laptop. The future is pretty neat, eh?

Need more? Read our Neural DSP Quad Cortex review.

Best busking amp: Positive Grid Spark Live

Positive Grid Spark Live, photo by Adam Gasson
Positive Grid Spark Live. Image: Adam Gasson

Not content with making an excellent small, low-volume home amplifier in the form of the Spark Mini, Positive Grid also wanted to create an equally innovative live tool. The Spark Live, rather than just being a larger Spark, is for all intents and purposes an entire live backline crammed into one compact enclosure.

It leverages the same smart tech that makes the Spark so easy to use, plus a few new bells and whistles, to cram a guitar amp, a bass amp and vocal processor all into the same enclosure, effectively a superpowered FRFR speaker that can easily support a small band. All very cool – even cooler is the fact that the rechargeable battery (sold separately) promises eight hours of performance time: absolutely perfect for busking.

Need more? Read our Positive Grid Spark Live review.

Best beginner’s amp: Blackstar Debut 50R

Blackstar Debut 50R

What makes the Blackstar Debut 50R such an appealing prospect for absolute beginners is this: it’s simple. Not including a smorgasbord of digitally-modelled sounds on an amp aimed at absolute beginners is, for our money, a smart choice – as it’s all analogue, what you see is what you get.You’re already busy getting your head around an F barre chord – you don’t need the extra cognitive load of trying to remember how the preset recall button works. Instead, the Debut 50R does a great job of just letting you play the guitar.

That’s not to say it’s a totally stripped-back, old-school affair – there is a line-in for playing along to tracks, a fairly decent headphone out for direct recording and silent practice, a power-reduction mode for quietening things down. And when you’re ready to move from a bedroom to a stage, the Debut 50R can come with you. The 50-watt power section will be more than happy to keep up with a drummer. The rest is up to you!

Need more? Read our Blackstar Debut 50R review.

Best metal amp: Victory The Kraken MKII

Image: Victory Amplification

The latest update to the Kraken, Victory Amplification’s flagship metal monster, refines an already great amp into an absolutely fantastic one. As well as an overall refine of the sound, major circuit additions come in the form of a new presence control – good for adding some cutting bite to things – and to a brand-new clean channel, acheived by attenuating the lower-gain, JCM800-based Gain I channel for a spongey, responsive clean sound woth bags of character. But, of course, the main appeal is the Gain II channel – a fire-breathing take on a modded 5150-style circuit.

The result is a near-perfect metal sound: plenty of crunch, more than enough gain, and it can be as aggressive as you like or as compressed as you like. That pretty much covers the metal guitar tonal palette, and the excellent performance at the other end of the gain scale makes this a very versatile offering indeed. Or, you know, good for that 10-second clean intro before 50 minutes of riffs.

Need more? Read our Victory The Kraken MKII review.

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