Best Amp Head for Metal (our top pick)
Mesa Boogie Mark V:25
If you're after an amp head specifically, we love the Mesa Mark V:25 for its price tag, modern metal tone, and a built-in attenuator that lets you use it without a speaker cab, if need be. Nearly any amp from Mesa/Boogie is going to be a good fit for metal, but the Mark V is our top choice among them.
There are a ton of amp heads that fit the metal profile, at a fairly wide price range. So keep in mind, your budget will be a major factor here, which is why we've listed some honorable mentions in the comparison table below.
But we'd put forward the Mesa Boogie Mark V:25 as one of the best amp heads for metal given its price point.
It's worth noting that as amp wattage and size comes down, price tends to follow.
Since there are higher wattage versions of the Mark V, you can get the 25-watt version a lot cheaper.
We'll elaborate more on why we like it for metal styles in the paragraphs below.
Metal amp head comparison chart and honorable mentions
This section gives you a wider price range to work with. Though keep in mind that tube amps, which we'd recommend for metal styles, are generally more expensive. If we don't have anything listed in your budget, you can post your price range in the comments section below and we'll make some recommendations.
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Hughes & Kettner GrandMeister Deluxe 40
Mesa Badlander 25
Mesa Mark V:25
Compare More Amps
If you want to add more amps to the comparison bar (shows up at the bottom of the page), use this search box and browse our database. We don't have everything, but we have a lot and add to it regularly.
For most of our product reviews we take our own photos, in-house. Thank goodness for portrait mode. For those interested in using these photos, that is completely fine with us as long as you give us credit and don't claim the work as your own. Simply linking to guitarchalk.com near the photo is totally fine.
All of the guitar gear we recommend is based on personal experience and a thorough knowledge of the music gear market. As shown above, this is a picture we took of the Mesa Badlander 25:
This allows us to make recommendations based on gear that we've used with our own hands.
If we can't get our hands on a piece of gear (we usually can), we base our decisions on familiarity with reliable brands and information from researchers that help us out. We also connect with other musicians who have used the gear we're highlighting.
We have a very current and deep knowledge of this market, so we're able to make recommendations confidently that are not based on second-hand knowledge or speculation.
That said, everyone's situation is different.
What we recommend may or may not work for you. You need to consider the variables of your own situation that we can't foresee and adjust accordingly.
Price Guide for the Mark V:25
This section has some pricing for the Mark V:25 from multiple popular retailers. Note that it does not include used options, which we'd recommend searching out on Reverb or eBay.
Also keep in mind that even though this table updates live, pricing and availability cannot be guaranteed.
Prices updated Sun, December 03rd, 2023.
Features we like in the Mesa Mark V
With a graphic 5-band EQ, there are a ton of ways to adjust the tone of the Mark V. Since we're focusing on metal, the gain of this amp can run the table between extremely aggressive or just subtle enough for some messy breakup.
We'd classify it as a modern amp with a distinct metal edge. That's not to say that it can't handle blues or classic rock, but its wheelhouse is definitely high gain.
Lows are thick and percussive, especially with a guitar running dual humbuckers.
Active humbuckers are even better.
Here's a full list of the features we like:
Why it's good for metal
- Mesa gain/distortion is modern and heavy
- Tone control on the Mark V is fantastic (10 total ways to adjust tone)
- Onboard attenuator that lets you use a direct output (CabClone D.I.) or even headphones
- Low wattage option gives you lower price point
- Great fit for active humbuckers
Should I use a distortion pedal?
If you go with any of the amps on this list, you are not going to need a distortion pedal.
With high-quality amps like the ones we've listed here, amp-based distortion is going to be a better option than pedal distortion. This is what you'll notice most of the pros doing.
They often don't have dedicated distortion pedals.
So if you're going with a tube amp like the Mesa Mark V, use that amp's dirty channel for your distortion.
If you still want to explore distortion pedal options, our roundup has our top recommendations.
Read more: Best Distortion Pedals Overall
What if I have a guitar with single coil pickups?
We don't recommend single coil pickups for the metal style.
Guitars that use these pickups, like Fender Stratocasters, are just not heavy enough to compete with the boom and percussive response of humbuckers, let alone active humbuckers.
Before you switch out an amp, we'd recommend making sure you have a dual humbucker guitar as your source of metal tone.
Read more: Why Stratocasters aren't good for metal
Take your budget into account and then make the best choice for your situation. Focus on Mesa, Hughes & Kettner, and the DSL series from Marshall. Blackstar is a budget-friendly option worth considering as well.
Read more: Best Blackstar amps
If you don't mind going into higher price ranges, the Marshall JCM800 and any of the Diezel amp heads are worth considering.
They're expensive, but very metal.
For questions or thoughts, feel free to share in the comments section below. We'll jump in and chat.
See you there.