Yes, that's a Mesa Boogie combo amp in the banner photo, and those aren't cheap by any stretch of the imagination.
They are, however, excellent metal amps.
Mesa makes some of the best in the business.
Yet there are a handful of cheap metal amps that can do a great job with the metal tone and save you from the ungodly price tags of more expensive amplifiers like the Mesa Boogie Triple rectifier and Marshall JCM800.
If you can afford those amps, they're the top dogs.
For most of us, we're looking for more of a happy medium, somewhere between the absolute best quality and the lowest price tag.
What makes an amp metal?
While we're painting in broad strokes, it's fair to say getting cheap metal amps generally means you're looking for the following features:
- Solid state technology (more on this below)
- Low and heavy EQ profile
- Able to handle (or provide) heavy and saturating distortion
- Enough wattage to be modestly loud
We want to avoid the super cheap practice amps and models with a more vintage sound, since those amps are simply not equipped to handle the thickness and heavy tone of modern metal.
While most amps are versatile, and can handle a wide range of musical styles, we should target amps that are specifically built for metal.
Why are we avoiding tube amps?
When you're dealing with cheap tube amps, you're getting full and warm tones, but it's also a more vintage sound. For example, blues, jazz and light rock guitarists will lean towards smaller tube amps because they're great for those styles.
You've got to get into the higher price ranges before tube amps are good with metal.
Again these are broad strokes we're painting in, though generally true.
The Mesa Boogie Triple Rectifiers and Marshall JCM800s of the world are both fantastic metal amps and tube-powered, but they're also really expensive.
If you're going cheap, the solid state amplifiers of our day are generally better-voiced for modern tones and metal riffing.
How are we defining "cheap?"
We'd consider any amp under $300 to be cheap or on the "low end" of the pricing pool.
If you're looking for a $50 - $60 bargain, you're not going to find it here.
While it's not necessary to spend thousands of dollars to get a good metal amp, spending next to nothing isn't enough. Both of the amplifiers recommended in this list retail around $200, which is ballpark for cheap metal amps.
While pricing is a bit subjective, $180 - $300 is a good "rough estimate" of what you should expect to spend.
If you want something louder, a 50 watt version is also available.
The MG series is Marshall's economy amp line and uses solid state technology, unlike many of their more expensive models.
However, their tone profile is fantastic for metal and modern rock fans because it's distinctly low and bass-friendly, which gives you a lot of bottom in your EQ, even on clean settings.
Within the MG30CFX, you have three different channels or "modes" to choose from:
- Overdrive I
- Overdrive II
Overdrive II (OD-2) setting engaged on the Marshall MG30CFX.
Overdrive II is the heaviest of the three settings, though even the clean channel feels thick and heavy as well.
Whether you use the onboard distortion or pair the clean channel with a heavy distortion pedal, you won't have to dig much to get a distinct metal tone out of this amp.
At $199 it's one of our favorite cheap metal amps to recommend.
Other features of the Marshall MG30CFX
Onboard digital effects are also included, giving you basic modulation and delay.
Marshall throws in a tap tempo button (for effects timing) and an onboard tuner as well.
There are four different storable channels which can be controlled by a footswitch that is, unfortunately, sold separately.
The amp has decent volume at 30 watts which is enough for small gigs, bedroom jamming and even small studio recording sessions.
Four programmable channels
Onboard digital effects
Two overdrive channels
Blackstar puts a heavy emphasis on digital effects and versatility with this amplifier, giving you the following processor options:
- 4 x modulation
- 4 x delay
- 4 x reverb
Additionally, you have six different amp models to choose from, which can be dialed in by hand or via the Blackstar MIDI foot controller, which is (sadly) not included.
Here's a closer look at everything you can do from the front panel:
A closeup look at the front Panel of the Blackstar ID15 TVP. | View Larger Image
You'll notice four different banking channels, TYPE and LEVEL controls for each effect (as well as channel volume next to the GAIN knob) and a master volume control.
There's just a ton of features with this amplifier.
You'll also notice the TVP setting which is basically a digital emulation of different valve sounds.
Tone of the ID15
The main attraction for metal heads and modern rockers is the way this amp handles high gain levels and projects distortion.
Particularly with the TVP settings engaged, the amp sounds incredibly aggressive, giving you a wide range of distortions that can sound both vintage and modern.
The heavier saturation levels are its strongest points, giving you plenty of grit on the high end and a thick bass-leaning bottom on the low end, which resonates particularly well on deep power chords.
It truly does everything you could ask out of an amp in this price range.
At 15 watts it's loud enough, though not as loud as the Marshall and more ideal for practice situations or small home studios.
TVP option emulates valve technology
Four programmable channels
Onboard amp voicings (distortion levels)
There are other amps that fit the bill we've established and are worth consideration if the aforementioned options don't work for you.
These amps all fall under the $300 cap limit we set earlier.
The Bugera T50 is one of the few tube amps we like for metal in the sub-$300 price range.
The Bugera T50 is an amp head, which means you'll need to pair it with a speaker cab. It's also a tube amp, and one of the few cheap tube amps we like for metal tones.
You get four 12AX7s and two EL34s that can handle anything from the light vintage tones to heavy, modern distortion.
If you don't mind adding the cab, the T50 is a great metal amp
What about pairing a different amp with a distortion pedal?
Professional guitarists often rely on amp-based distortion and not a distortion pedal.
That's why fans of metal, which is a distortion-heavy style, should give careful consideration to an amp's onboard "dirty" channels before buying.
If you want to go with a cleaner and more vintage amp, you can always pair it with a heavier distortion pedal.
Here are a few metal-friendly boxes we'd recommend:
If you can get an amp that produces a somewhat thick or at least well-balanced clean tone, you can add a heavy distortion pedal and still get a great metal sound.
Our recommendation is to use the amp as your base, but it's not always necessary to do it that way.
That's also based on the somewhat unfair assumption that metal is contingent upon brand. To an extent, that's true, since brands like Line 6 and Blackstar are traditionally considered more "modern" and metal is a modernized style of guitar.
But, it's not to say that you can't piece a metal rig together using a Fender or Vox amp.
If you're creative enough, there are plenty of ways to make it work.
Your Thoughts and Feedback
Do you own or have you used either of these amps?
Maybe you have some insider info to share on it?
Let us know and if it's noteworthy, we'll add it to the piece and cite you as a source.
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