Updated by Bobby
Updated on February 15th, 2023
Checked links to make sure amps are still available, also made minor changes to copy and article formatting. Added the Marshall JCM800 and the SC20C to the comparison table.
Best Marshall AMP (our top Pick)
The Marshall DSL20 (DSL series)
For years I've been recommending the DSL20 (and DSL series overall) as not just one of the best Marshall amps, but one of the best-value small-form amplifiers on the market. It's a great balance of bargain and quality if you don't want to spring for the JCM800.
Marshall amplifiers are almost universally loved and used by guitarists of all persuasions. The only problem with buying one is that a lot of them are really expensive. However, if you're into the heavy genres, you'll want a Marshall amp that can handle high gain, that will fit your playing style and sound like metal. In other words: A Marshall amp will help improve the music you already enjoy playing and ultimately make you sound better.
The good news is that some of the most popular Marshall amps also happen to function incredibly well in hard rock styles. Moreover, they're surprisingly affordable.
I'll focus on two amps that not only sound metal, but are also a lot cheaper than the JCM800s that the pros use. The JCM800s are amazing amplifiers, but I'm assuming you don't want to target the $2500 Marshall amps.
Let's try a couple in a lower tax bracket.
Read more: Best guitar amps overall
Best Marshall Amps (our top 4 picks)
Use this table to compare basic specs and pricing for the Marshall amps in this article. Note that we've done an in-depth profile of the first two (the two cheaper ones). You can also use the gear search box below to add more amps to the comparison bar.
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Compare More Amps
You can launch a search box with this blue button that allows you to find more amps to compare to the Marshalls already in this list. We have more amps from Marshall and other brands in our database.
1. Marshall DSL20
Regarding volume: While it might seem like 20 watts isn't much, it's still really loud. A 20-watt Marshall tube amp is still going to rumble in most environments, especially small to mid-sized venues and indoors. So, don't let the wattage number turn you off.
Note that an amp head requires a speaker cab and you should not run an amp head without it being connected to the proper speaker load. The DSL20H amp isn't much good without one. If you don't have and don't want to buy a speaker cab, skip down below and check out the Marshall DSL40C.
Also note that some amp heads actually come with built-in attenuators that do let you run them without a speaker connected. One of my favorites is the Mesa Badlander.
Read the full review: Mesa Boogie Badlander 25
Marshall DSL20 valves
The DSL20 is powered by an all-valve system that features the following tubes installed into the preamp and power amp sections:
- Preamp: 3 x ECC83 tubes
- Power amp: 2 x EL34
Since Marshall amps are made in the UK, ECC83 is a type of European product code for what is essentially a 12AX7 vacuum tube.
This is one of the most popular Marshall amp tubes and is used in a slew of other amplifier brands within this price range and higher. Having surfaced in the 1940s, it has been the tube of choice for almost all tube amp manufacturers, including Fender, VOX, and Marshall. That's well over 70 years at the top of the pile.
They sound great in the DSL20HR.
Read more: Best cheap tube amps
Listen to Ola Englund's DSL20 Demo
What do the two channels sound like on the Marshall DSL20?
Just to recap, here are the two channels you'll have listed on the front panel of the Marshall DSL20:
- Classic gain
- Ultra gain
First thing to note: These are not two distortion channels. The "Classic Gain" is your clean channel, while the "Ultra Gain" is your dirty, dedicated distorted channel.
The "Classic Gain" channel does have a GAIN knob, though turning it all the way up to 10 will still only give you a slight crunch, as opposed to a full-blown saturating distortion. The "Ultra Gain" channel is the spot you'll want to spend most of your time for hard rock and heavy metal.
Here are some settings to start with, pulled from Englund's demo video:
The channel selection button will light up with the red LED when the Ultra Gain channel is selected. In the above diagram, Ola Englund sets the gain level to about 60 percent while the volume is set to roughly 40 percent. This gives off a thick and saturating distortion, even without the tone shift button engaged.
- Tone shift: A mid scoop that gives you a more edgy distortion
- Resonance control: Lets you add a thicker low-end to your EQ
Note that Marshall removed the "Deep" button from the original version of the DSL20 in favor of adding the resonance knob.
With these two additional EQ mechanisms, you can get a really heavy distortion that's perfect for hard rock and metal, with plenty of low-end thud and modern-sounding saturation.
You won't need a distortion pedal.
What you end up getting is a really wide range of distorted tones that are good enough to surpass the quality you'll get from most distortion stompboxes. And since it's tube-driven, the tone will have a warmth and natural appeal that you can't get from a pedal.
Back panel features
The back panel of the DSL20 has three different speaker outs that allow you to go to extended speaker cabs, as well as a footswitch input, send/return, and an emulated output.
Three speaker outputs provide two 8 ohm jacks and one 16 ohm jack, which should be utilized depending on the impedance of your speaker cab. The footswitch is a channel switcher that is included with the purchase.
While it's tough to navigate the footswitch without an LED light, it's still nice to have included at no extra cost. You'll also note there's no way to control the tone shift button from this footswitch, which is a bit disappointing, though not a deal breaker.
Who is the DSL20 ideal for?
Anyone who wants the Marshall tone and a good clean/dirty amplifier will find that this two-channel option is going to be one of your best bets in the mid-tier price ranges.
It's small enough to work for bedroom jamming and garage bands, though also loud and intense enough to handle mid-sized gigging venues and even semi-professional live scenarios. It's truly a great balance between some of the cheaper amps and the more expensive JCM heads. Most skill levels can make it work, particularly early intermediate and up.
From a style perspective, it can handle blues and classic rock all the way to modern metal. It's one of the more stylistically broad amps I can recommend.
Price Comparison for DSL20 from multiple vendors
These tables focus on the DSL20HR.
Pricing updated Fri, September 29th, 2023.
Quick Review Card
IDEAL FOR: Hard rock, classic rock, metal, those who already own a speaker cab, portability, performing, and recording
- Tone doesn't sound like a "cheap Marshall"
- Two separate channels with different levels of gain (light and heavy)
- Resonance control and TONE SHIFT button add a lot of variance to your sound
- Footswitch is included
- Distortion has a wide range of intensity
- Vastly more affordable than most Marshall tube amps
- Footswitch has no LED and doesn't control TONE SHIFT button
2. Marshall DSL40C
For those of you who don't have (or don't want to buy) an external speaker cab, the 40C is one of the single most popular Marshall combo amps available, catering to beginners and intermediate players alike. In regards to guts and functionality, it's fairly similar to the DSL20H.
The main difference is that this version is 40 watts instead of 20 and, of course, has a built-in speaker cab. Note that the combo does come in a wide range of wattage variations.
- 1 watt
- 5 watts
- 20 watts
- 40 watts
Pricing varies for each one where, predictably, the lower wattage versions are cheaper.
The cab contains a single 12" Celestion V-type speaker, with 16 or 8 ohms of impedance. On its own, this speaker retails for about $120.
Read more: Celestion V-type
Another feature that might draw you to this particular amplifier is the inclusion of reverb with a separate control for each channel. Here's a closer look:
You'll also notice two additional controls in the EQ section of the panel:
- Resonance (mentioned earlier)
These knobs provide more tone flexibility, especially when combined with the reverb controls on each channel. While it's hard to notice the difference without those controls, tinkering with them will allow you to hear a lot more variety in your tone. Personally, I like presence to be a little higher.
The DSL40C gives you plenty of variance in your EQ to work, with slightly more room than the DSL20H.
Additional tone-shaping features
The 40C also includes a button for OD1 and OD2, which function on the dirty channel (Ultra Gain) basically giving you two different types of distortion. OD2 is a little heavier and thicker, while OD1 provides a brighter response. On the clean channel there's another button called "Clean Crunch" which gives you a lighter, more classic-sounding distortion, reminiscent of the classic British tube sound.
Marshall two-button footswitch included
The footswitch that you get with this amp controls both the reverb and channel selection via two buttons. There's still no LED, as the unit is a very basic setup. However, the footswitch itself is included at no charge and makes the amp a lot more convenient. Live performers will find this to be a fairly crucial add on.
Who is the Marshall DSL40C ideal for?
All genres and skill levels can make it work, though the extra tone customization options seem to lend themselves really well to high-distortion environments. You'll have no need for a distortion pedal and the amp itself is plenty loud, capable of handling small to mid-sized venues.
IDEAL FOR: Hard rock, metal, distortion enthusiasts, tone tweaking, most indoor venues, transportation, session guitarists, and live performances
- Reverb on both channels
- OD1 and OD2 button
- Clean crunch button sounds great
- Tone Shift button included
- All tube
- Celestion speaker
- Still supports an external speaker cab
- Great price point for a tube-powered Marshall
- No LED on the footswitch
- A bit pricey
Best Marshall Amp without Tubes
I want to highlight some solid-state alternatives that still have the Marshall name tag. Often times tube amps will have a more warm and classic tone than their solid state counterparts, though it doesn't mean the solid state options aren't worth a look if you're trying to get into the metal arena. In many cases, they're much cheaper.
Some other older models:
The CFX is a 30 watt combo while the HCFX is a 100 watt amp head. They're cheaper than the amps in the DSL series, but are entirely solid state.
With some built-in effects, they're designed more for beginners and those who don't want to invest as heavily in an amplifier. They're usually priced around the $200 - $300 neighborhood though this can vary depending on where and when you're looking.
For the CODE 50 you'll be a little higher.
Other Marshall amps and your thoughts
Have thoughts about the amps listed here? Perhaps you know of one that should have been included?
Let me know. I do my best to keep up with answering comments and making sure these resources are up to date.
Chime in and we'll talk.