What's the best Modeling amp on the Market?
The Boss Katana series
While there are different definitions of what a modeling amp is, the Katana is our top pick if you're looking for something in the form of a combo amp. It covers Boss effects and amp models, along with software that lets you queue up a ton of additional sounds. For the price, it's a solid option. I've been a big fan of it for a long time.
A modeling amp can come in several different forms, primarily the following:
- A combo amp with a digital circuit
- A rack-mounted unit
- An effects processor in the form of a pedal
Any device that can digitally replicate different guitar amp sounds would be considered a modeling amp or amp modeler. For example, the Line 6 Helix is one of the most advanced amp modelers on the planet, but it's a pedal and doesn't take the form of an amp at all. Though note, there is a rack-mounted version.
But with a device like this, you don't need a physical amp. You can just go straight from the Helix itself into a PA system, recording interface, or headphones.
You can even run it into a regular amp, like you would any other guitar pedal.
So in this list we're looking at the best modeling amps, focusing on actual combo amps, and processors/modelers that come in multiple forms.
How are amp models created?
An amp model is created with a digital profile that mimics the sound of the amp in question. For example, you can digitally model the Marshall JCM800, and then just dial it in on a much simpler amp.
In other words, amp models and digital effects are coded. This is what it means when they call effects and amp models algorithms, which you may have heard in relation to this topic.
These digital imprints of amps are then coded into a processor, which is then installed into the pedal or amp.
Best Modeling Amps for June, 2023
Here are our top five modeling amp pickups. Use the compare buttons to see them side by side with live pricing.
Boss Katana Series
Line 6 Helix
Line 6 Spider Series
Fender Mustang LT
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1. Boss Katana series
The Katana is one of our favorite modeling amps, partly because it's a lot more focused with fewer amp models, but better sound quality. It's good with cleans and high gain tones, with a slew of Boss effects that give you plenty of flexibility while meeting a high-standard of tone quality. It's a good modeling amp for someone wanting a simpler interface to work with. Less is more with the Katana series.
Read the full review: Boss Katana 50 MK2
Review Card (summary)
IDEAL FOR: Indoor practice, recording, home offices, bedrooms, pedalboards.
- Interface is very easy to use
- Software compatible
- Effects modeled after Boss pedals
- Price point is incredible
- Amp sounds a lot better than the price tag would suggest
- Footswitch is not included
2. Line 6 Helix Processors
The Helix comes in multiple versions, including a rackmounted form. It's one of the most powerful and comprehensive effects and amp modeling units in existence, and certainly not taking the less-is-more approach we see with the Katana. The Helix is a little more focused on effects than amp models, but there's still plenty of both. If you want a lot of options and an expansive list of sounds, without needing physical pedals or amps anymore, the Helix is a standard bearer in the amp modeling category.
Review Card (summary)
IDEAL FOR: Recording, pedalboard consolidation, live performances, intermediate and pro rigs.
- One of the most powerful effects processors in the business
- A massive amount of customization
- More presets, effects, and amp models than you're likely to use
- Can replace an entire rig if necessary
- Can be overkill in a lot of situations
3. Kemper Profiler
Where the Helix focuses more on effects, the Kemper Profiler focuses more on amps. In fact, you can even capture amp sounds and create models of those amps to use. It's called "profiling" an amp, basically allowing you to capture an amp's sound and take it with you. It's definitely a unique and innovative take on the amp modeling concept.
Review Card (summary)
IDEAL FOR: Amp modeling enthusiasts, rig consolidation, recording, intermediate and pro-level rigs.
- Thousands of downloadable rigs available
- Dedicated pedal inputs and effects loops
- Hundred of popular bass and guitar rigs pre-loaded
- Allows you to capture tones of real amps
- A decent learning curve
4. Line 6 Spider Series
The Spider series by Line 6 is one of the pioneers of the modeling amp concept. New releases of this amp are similar, with a well-stocked roster of amp models and effects. It's a good option if you want to get back to the actual combo amp design, as opposed to the pedal and amp-head setup of our previous two recommendations.
Review Card (summary)
IDEAL FOR: Indoor practice/jamming, simple rigs, beginners, intermediates, and amateur recording projects.
- The amp that started it all
- Very easy to use
- Great price
- Includes amps, cabs, and mic models
- Over 100 effects included
- I don't love an 1/8" line out
- i/o is very limited
5. Fender Mustang LT
The Fender Mustang series is similar to the Line 6 Spiders, though Fender rolled these out more recently, which strikes me as an attempt to get in on this market, once they realized how popular it is, but there's still some value in the LT series, especially for beginners and lower budgets. Keep in mind, we don't like it as much as the Katana, and they're both in a similar price range.
Review Card (summary)
IDEAL FOR: Beginners, indoor practice, Fender brand loyalists
- Definitely affordable
- Does a good job modeling popular Fender tube amps
- Interface is well-designed and easy to use
- Not exactly an original idea, and firmly outside of Fender's wheelhouse.
We only recommend amps and other products from brands we're familiar with, and trust. Moreover, we focus on products that we've tested in-house, with our own gear and hands.
So this means our recommendations are based on first-hand experience, and are not simply a rehashing or repurposing of someone else's review.
This means we might leave out products, worthy of inclusion, that we are simply not that familiar with.
If you know of a product, a modeling amp in this case, that you have experience with, feel free to add it via the comments section below and we'll check it out. This helps us make sure that everything mentioned on this page comes from a real person, and a first-hand experience.
If you have questions about our methodology, please feel free to ask.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes. A pedal like the Line 6 Helix can function like a normal guitar pedal, and send a signal to a physical combo amp, or directly to a PA system.
Not necessarily, but it depends on the two amps you're comparing. Traditionally designed tube amps tend to be more expensive than solid state amps, but the Kemper and Helix are both in a very high pricing tier.
Modeling amps are particularly good options for recording because they let you dial in so many different tones and sounds. They are some of the most versatile amps on the planet, which makes them ideal for studio work.
Digital amp modeling has come a long way, and these days many of the amp models are very convincing versions of the real thing. So while you can never truly replace a physical tube amp, the digital models are getting closer.
Line 6 and Kemper are the two big names in the amp modeling space.
Modeling amps are a different kind of experience if you're used to a traditional tube or combo amp. It's a great fit for those wanting flexibility and variety in their rig. It's also a good fit for guitar players who are trying to replace their entire rig.
For example, if you have the Helix, you won't really need anything else.
If you have questions about the modeling amps we've recommended here, feel free to reach out via the comments section below.
We'll help out as much as possible.
See you there.
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