Updated by Sadie
Recently updated on August 11th, 2020
Changed article formatting and checked product links for availability and accuracy. No products have been recently added or removed and all links are up to date.
In this buying guide we're focusing entirely on guitar combo amps.
By combo amp (for those of you who aren't sure) I'm referring to a guitar amp that has all three components built into one unit. Those components include a preamp, power amp and speaker system. An amp head is just the power amp and preamp, which is why an external speaker is required.
Combo amps are the easiest and often the most affordable "arrangement" of those parts, simply because they're an all-in-one solution.
No need to buy an external speaker cab. Thus, we're highlighting some of the most popular and highest-value guitar amps available, aiming for a happy medium between the best quality and the lowest price tag.
In most situations, we get the most value somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.
We'll look at 10 total combo amps.
Guitar Combo Amp Top Picks
Fender '65 Deluxe Reverb
Fender Hot Rod Deville
Fender '68 Vibrolux
Fender Hot Rod Deluxe III
Fender '65 Super Reverb
Marshall DSL Series Combo
Bugera V22 Combo
1. Marshall MG30CFX MG Series 30-Watt
Getting your hands on the Marshall brand is usually expensive.
Not in this case.
This little 30 Watt from Marshall gets nearly unanimous positive feedback by Amazon reviewers while providing four channels, built-in effects and an MP3 input. This demo by Nevada Music is of an older model, but still gives you a solid picture of what you’d be investing in. One thing I will point out is that this amp is on the small side, with only one 10″ speaker.
That makes it more of a practice than a gigging amp.
Yet it does have great tone, especially for the $199 price tag.
If that’s your price range and you want to get your hands on a Marshall amp, this could easily be your best option, especially if you don't mind the smaller size.
2. Fender ’65 Deluxe Reverb 22 Watt
Sure, this one is big money: Four-figures unless you get really lucky on EBay or Craigslist.
However, in its price range it’s one of the most desirable amplifiers that Fender has ever made, mostly because of its rich reverb and vibrato effects that are built into the amp.
I will say that it seems a bit strange that there’s only one 12″ speaker for such a large amp.
But the 8-ohm Jensen C-12K speaker packs a lot of power and clarity when paired with the amp’s real-deal Groove Tubes.
At 42 pounds it’s not small, but also not one of the biggest amps you’ll find. Personally, I prefer a smaller amp, even for larger rooms and venues since it’ll always be mic’d anyway.
3. Vox AC15C1 Combo Amp
There isn’t much to dislike about the 15 Watt version of VOX’s AC series.
A 12″ Celestion speaker takes care of the noise housed in a classic Vox cabinet that has a stylistic, vintage appeal.
Two channels are included, normal and top-boost, each with their own volume control. Built-in tremolo is included with adjustable speed and depth, along with spring reverb. VOX sweetens the deal a bit more with a footswitch (which you would think every multi-channel amp should come with).
Also, it’s tube powered.
This model is going to be more appealing to the vintage and classic rock crowd, but is also a good all-around amp that will suit most, if not all, styles.
4. Fender Hot Rod Deville
One thing you’ll notice about this amp right away is that it’s really tall.
In fact, it looks like a straight speaker cabinet because the knobs and inputs are on the top and hidden from a front view.
A tube preamp, Fender-style reverb and four 10″ speakers (thus the stature) gives this amp all the appeal in the world, especially to the classic rock fan who wants a little extra power from their rig.
It’s also one of the more smooth and warm-sounding amps that you’re going to find. This is pretty typical of Fender amplifiers, where Marshall amps are known more for their higher frequencies.
If you’re wanting something with a lot of low-end power and classic tube feel, this is one of the better options that comes in south of four-figures.
Usually $950 is where you’ll get it.
5. Fender ’68 Custom Vibrolux Reverb
This amp just looks fantastic.
I think the blue jewel pilot light does it for me. Powered by Groove Tubes and two 10″ Celestion speakers, you get everything that you would expect out of a four-figure ($1200 retail) Fender amplifier.
Warm Fender tone with nice low ends, vibrato effects with controls and of course Fender's infamous built-in reverb.
Per Fender’s website, this amp features modified all-tube circuitry that has been wired by hand.
I suppose that accounts for some of the extra cost. Well worth it in my opinion.
6. Fender Hot Rod Deluxe III
When you’re talking guitar amps, it’s hard to get away from Fender for too long.
In fact, I’d be willing to say that their venture into amplifier construction has been every bit as successful as what they’ve done with the Stratocaster and Telecaster. The Hot Rod Deluxe is a step down from the Deville, and a good deal shorter.
However the sound is going to be similar with warm low-end and the familiar spring reverb that Fender is known for.
You also drop from four 10″ speakers to just one 12″, though it’s still an incredibly loud amplifier. That lower speaker number also means you’re getting a cheaper amplifier, usually retailing around $730.
The Amazon reviews for this one are pretty helpful and informative.
7. Fender ’65 Super Reverb
Once again we find ourselves in the Fender camp and with four 10″ speakers.
I dunno why, but there’s something about these amps that just makes you feel good. Maybe that's what happens when you get that many speakers involved. Would you be better off getting a half stack?
I’ll let you be the judge of that.
Personally, I'd prefer the Super Reverb. All-tube circuitry, reverb and vibrato, Groove Tubes, 45 Watts and 65 pounds to haul around, all for the fairly high price of $1550.
But, as is usually the case, you get what you pay for.
8. Marshall DSL Series DSL40C
If you want the Marshall tone and quality, and don’t want to take out a loan to get it, the DSL series is a great fallback.
One 12″ speaker, valve circuitry (four valves total), reverb (digital), an effects loop and a footswitch are all included.
So you get a lot of what you probably wanted from the JVM series, at a much more affordable price tag. How affordable? $700 retail is typical. It doesn’t quite make our “budget” tag, but it’s still not a bad price.
This single-speaker amp has a boutique feel with a vintage design and a simple two-channel configuration.
The 22 watt unit is powered by two valves, along with a two-channel preamp that’s driven by three valves.
A bright/normal switch can be found alongside the amp’s three-band EQ. Per customer reviews, a footswitch is included.
Comparable amps would include the Fender Blues Junior, which is nearly $200 more expensive at $530 retail. The price is definitely a big selling point for this amp, though you’ve got to trust a less reputable company that doesn’t get much press or love from the professionals.
A couple more notes:
There’s a tube life monitoring system (replace tubes when the lights are red) on the back of the amp, which is a nice touch. An effects loop and two speakers outs are included as well.
10. Fender Champion 20
You might not know from looking at it, but this little amp actually has a number of digital effects built in.
At only $100 you’ve got to consider it an “economy” amplifier, but the unit enjoys a glowing reputation and has a lot of features for such a small box.
It also includes four different amp voicings (Tweed, Blackface, British, Metal) and an auxiliary input for an MP3 player. If you want to spend small and go the economy route, the Fender Champion 20 is a good compromise.
Why combo amps?
As the title denotes, we’re focusing only on combo amps.
Not interested in a combo amp?
Perhaps you’re more interested in amp heads and speaker cabinets. Unfortunately we won’t be covering those here. We’re sticking to combo amps primarily because they’re the most popular method of amplification.
They’re simple, easy-to-use and often much lighter, thereby easier to carry.
If you are in the market for a combo amp, read on in confidence.
Marshall and Fender are pretty much my choices, right?
Well, they are certainly your primary choices.
I’m not going to try and say that Marshall and Fender amps aren’t the gold standard when it comes to guitar amplification.
They’re by far the best-selling and most popular companies among both the professional and amateur guitar-playing community. At the same time, there are a lot of other great companies and amp models worth looking at, so we’ll include those in our list as well.
It’s an all-of-the-above approach.
Chances are you’ll find something that fits your own goals that’s also practical for your situation.
There’s no need to limit yourself to (or exclude yourself from) Fender and Marshall products.
3 Things to Look for When Buying a Guitar Combo Amp
We’ll start with three bullet points to keep in mind when making your purchase.
These questions can narrow your search, thereby making your shopping experience a little simpler and more streamlined.
- Modeling or not? Modeling amps have built-in effects and amp models which factor into the cost of the combo. Decide ahead of time whether or not you want to pay for this feature. If not, avoid the amps with heavy modeling systems built in, like the Line 6 Spider series.
- Tube or solid state?
Tube guitar amps will have a more classic or “vintage” sound and are often coveted by guitar players as a genuine form of amplification. Keep in mind though that tubes can go bad and will need replaced every few years or so depending on how often the amp is used.
- How many channels? Most amps have at least two channels, which means you’ll have two different sounds you can configure and switch between. Consider your ideal channel number (usually one to four) before you buy.
While there are other factors to consider, these are the three primary issues to keep in mind before you go through the list.
Here’s a little sample of what you might want to jot down:
Additionally, consider price and the number of speakers you’d prefer in your amp. Anything from one to four is going to be pretty typical.
If you can filter your options with broad categories, there are a lot of amps you can write off and avoid researching.
What This List is For
This list is primarily for two things:
- To give you a direction as you’re looking to buy.
- To help you become familiar with good options.
I'm not saying this list is exclusive or that you can’t find great amps outside of it. But for combo guitar amps, these are some of your top options. Together, they provide a grid from which to make an informed decision.
Hopefully, it’ll save you some frustration, confusion and maybe even some money.
Something to Say?
Got questions about the list?
Maybe you just don’t like it. That’s fine. Perhaps you want to see a list of another category of gear that we haven’t covered?
If you want to hear it, we want to hear from you. Get in touch with us via the comments section below.