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 best and most popular guitar combo 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 29 total combo amps.
Guitar Combo Amps in this Post
Guitar Combo Amps Matter
A cheap guitar combo amp can ruin your playing experience.
Even if you have a great guitar, a cut-rate amp will still have the final say about your tone.
We can do better than this. | Flickr Commons Image Courtesy of Tasayu Tasnaphun
My advice for serious players is to spend a little extra on their amplifier, even in the earlier stages of learning the instrument.
Because a cheap amp makes you sound bad no matter what, and that can be especially frustrating for the beginner.
So, invest in a good amplifier.
You’ll be glad you did.
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:
Jot down the parameters of your ideal amp purchase.
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 best 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.
We’ll kick things off with some Hughes and Kettner.
According to the Hughes and Kettner website the combo version of the Tubemeister has all the benefits of the head, plus the built-in 12″ Celestion Vintage 30 speaker.
Here’s a list of the features, courtesy of the H&K Tubemeister 36 page:
Midi Controller - Effects Loop - Three Selectable Channels - Power Soak - Red Box - Foot Switch - Tube Safety Control
Additional features include a power selection option, where you can actually turn the speaker off, as well as access a silent recording capability.
The perks are pretty extensive.
Reviewers have essentially nothing negative to say about it.
As far as tube amps go, this unit is as comprehensive as you could ask for.
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.
For such a small box this modeling amp has a lot of power at 75 Watts. Mic’d up it provides respectable stage presence (at least for small to mid-sized venues) and comes housed with tons of digital effects to choose from and save as presets.
The amp comes with 300 presets that are already customized to sound like various popular artists and guitar players.
I could do without all that.
It’s just nice to have a built in chorus and flanger that sound good. Never mind the pandering presets meant to sound like Pete Anderson.
What’s great about this amp is that it allows you to save and switch between four presets (channels) at a time. That includes the EQ settings like bass, treble, mid and even volume.
So again, it’s not one of the big timers, but it does the job well enough.
Retail is about $300.
The Mustang series is Fender’s attempt to get in with the modeling amp crowd.
It adds the muscle and vintage appeal of Fender amplifiers with the modern flavor of digital effects. If you’re not a purist and you want a taste of both the vintage Fender and modeling amp worlds, this is a good choice for $500.
It’s also loud.
With two 75 Watt speakers, this amp is well-suited for mid-sized or even larger gigging venues.
Features include the following:
100 Presets - 17 Amp Models - 44 Built-In Effects - USB Computer Connection - 150-Watts
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.
If you’re interested, here’s a slew of demo clips and more info.
Two speakers and 100 Watts for your acoustic guitar get packed into this little box.
The feedback controls and included digital effects make this amp the total package for someone who regularly needs to play their acoustic guitar at higher volumes.
That said, it is a bit pricey.
To spend $700 on an acoustic amp, you almost need to be exclusively an acoustic guitar player.
If you are, this is one of the better models available and certainly worth consideration based on the brand name alone.
Maybe the kicker should be the digital effects.
They’re costing you more, so if you don’t want them, look for an acoustic amp that doesn’t bother to include them.
7. Vox AC15C1
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.
Yep, it’s the same thing as what you saw earlier.
Except it’s twice the wattage at 150W with two Celestion speakers. I will point out that I think it’s really sad this amp doesn’t come with a simple footswitch.
You can buy it separately, but that’s just nonsense in my opinion. Come on Line 6, give us the channel switcher.
There are more effects with this one and an easier method of saving them. So in my opinion, the 150W model is worth the extra coin, that is, if you want to go the modeling amp route.
I wouldn’t recommend going higher on a Line 6, because you’ll end up paying too much money for an amp that’s not really considered to be top-tier quality.
Don’t get me wrong, they’re good amplifiers (I own two of them), but they’re not Fender, Marshall or Mesa Boogie material.
Ok, so I’ll admit that Rocktron doesn’t get a lot of press, but who says we’ve always got to talk about the big players?
This amp comes with a built-in digital delay, stereo chorus, clean and dirty channels, noise reduction and two 8″ speakers. You get 25 Watts per speaker for a total of 50 and, to finish on a down note, the footswitch is sold separately.
Again, that’s one of those things in life that I just don’t want to accept.
I guess if I ever own my own amp company, I’ll find a way to include the footswitch, or at least work it into the cost of the amp itself.
With the clean and distorted channel, along with the two effects, there’s plenty to like about this amp.
The appeal of a Randall amplifier can be pretty clearly seen in the artists who use them.
Jim Root of Slipknot, Scott Ian of Anthrax, Dan Donegan of Disturbed and of course Dimebag Darrell, all use (past tense for Dime) Randall amplification in varying capacities.
The dude from Mudvayne uses them too.
The 1503 is one of Randall’s most popular combo boxes, and includes three channels, spring reverb and yes, a footswitch.
Good job Randall.
That said, Randall is definitely more on the metal side of the guitar amplification world. Those who are looking for a more subtle, perhaps blues or jazz-sounding rig might not be as happy with the Randall sound.
Although I suppose that an amp is what you make of it.
You might look a bit funny playing soft jazz through a Randall box, but it’ll sound fine.
One more positive note: You’ll notice from the picture that each channel has both a gain and volume knob dedicated to that channel. That makes for really easy adjustments, especially for those who want varying levels of distortion between channels.
Retail is under $500.
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.
This combo amp is outfitted with a total of five Groove Tubes, a 12″ Eminence special design speaker and an included footswitch.
It’s also tweed. I guess that means the color or pattern? Like a tweed jacket, right?
Remember what Michael Scott had to say about that?
“I feel the need…the need for tweed.”
Couldn’t help it.
Anyways, everything else you would expect from a Fender amp is included, like a bright button, a cover and built-in reverb. But there’s no question, you’ve got to come to terms with the dang tweed look, and personally, I’m not digging it.
But that’s a preference issue. If you disagree, this one can be yours for around $760.
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.
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.
The JVM series from Marshall is thought by many to be one of the primary standard bearers in the world of guitar amplification.
One of the only downsides here is that you’ll pay quite a bit to get one, as $2000 isn’t unusual.
Even used options tend to stay around $1900 or $1800, simply because of their consistent popularity and ability to hold value.
The JVM series amps are listed as “Valve” amplifiers, where valve is another term for a vacuum tube. So valve and tube amps are essentially the same thing, with a few minor technical differences.
If you want to geek out on it, Wikipedia has you covered.
Other features include reverb, two channels and a programmable footswitch. If you want to drop two grand on an amplifier, this is one of the best ways to do it.
Check the Marshall site for a demo of the JVM205 series.
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. If you need a little more convincing about this one, here are a few notable artists who use the ’65 Super Reverb:
- James Valentine of Maroon 5
- Guthrie Trapp
- Sonic Youth
- Deer Tick
Wait, you mean you don’t want to spend $2000 on a Marshall amplifier?
Neither do I.
First, I’m not really a “Marshall guy.” I understand and can appreciate their quality, value and appeal, but at the same time, I just like other amps better, and I’d rather not spend tons of money on a Marshall.
But 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.
18. Orange CR120C
With Orange amps, it seems like you’re either going to spend a ton of money (as in, more than if you buy a high end Marshall) or you’re going to spend a hundred bucks on something that feels like a headphone amp.
The CR120C is one of the happy mediums that avoids those two extremes.
Though for its size, it’s got a lot of power at 120 Watts, which is a bit unusual for a mid-sized amp. And hey, you’ve got to love the aesthetics, right? All that Orange? A lot of the pros certainly dig it.
Jim Root of Slipknot, Tom Linton of Jimmy Eat World and Lee Malia of Bring Me the Horizon are all on board.
Two channels (dirty and clean), reverb, two 12″ speakers (60 Watts each) and nearly 64 pounds of amp are all included.
This one has been around for over 30 years and has become a standard bearer in the guitar amp industry.
The amp actually includes two separate 60 Watt RMS power amps, which give you a true stereo chorus sound. Each channel has two inputs and its own three-band EQ.
Other features include a stereo effects loop, distortion and adjustable vibrato.
Notable artists include David Evans (The Edge) of U2, Michael Padget of Bullet for My Valentine and The Cult’s Billy Duffy.
To get one new you’ll usually pay $1200.
Pound for pound, Mesa Boogie makes some of the nicest amps in existence and are some of the most expensive.
They’re also considered boutique amps, having less mainline dealers and availability.
They’re just tougher to get your hands on.
Mesa’s take on a combo amp (more often you’ll find the pros using heads and cabinets from them), features two completely independent channels, an additional built-in five-band EQ, all-tube reverb, a three-button footswitch and 50 Watts of power.
The amp has an additional power tube that allows you to switch between 50 and five watts, ideal for moving between small and larger venues.
Retail is around $1400, and in some respects you’re paying for the name and the boutique appeal. But there’s no question that this is an excellent amplifier with great sound and plenty of features.
One of the best.
To list the number of pros who depend on Mesa Boogie would require a post of its own.
21. PRS Archon 50
Speaking of boutique guitar amps, Paul Reed Smith actually makes a really nice amplifier as well.
The Archon 50 (there’s also a 25 version available) is PRS’s primary take on the combo amplifier and actually comes in the head variation too.
It comes with a power switch that allows you to go from 50 to 25 Watts, in case you’ve got to settle volume down a bit, perhaps for a smaller room. The amp is powered by four total power tubes and six preamp tubes with a single Celestion speaker.
The amp comes with two completely separate channels and a two-button LED footswitch.
If you checkout the Archon 50 page on PRS’s website you’ll find a fairly detailed description of the amp’s electronics near the bottom of the page.
Mahalo’s combo version of the DR20 features one 12″ speaker, 20 Watts of power and a hefty price tag at $2400.
Again, it’s a boutique product and fairly rare, which accounts for some of the high price tag.
However, you’re also paying for superior construction, hand wiring, six tubes and the fact that these amps are built in the good ol’ USA, one at a time.
This one is described as a good option for pedal lovers, since you get a lot of clean headroom with the three preamp tubes.
A 40 watt variation is also available.
23. VOX VT40x Modeling Amp (new model)
For such a small amp it has a lot of guts with 60 watts and tube-driven reactors. It also comes with eight user programs for you to save your settings.
The following digital effects are also included:
So it’s essentially a tube and modeling amp mixed into one. That makes it a pretty popular choice amongst today’s guitar players.
The unit enjoys nearly unanimous approval on Amazon Reviews.
At only $250 the VT40 is one of the best bargain amplifiers on the market in that price range, if you’re looking for tube power and modeling diversity.
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.
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.
Fishman has some authority when it comes to acoustic guitar amplification, thus its Loudbox is easily one of the most popular and widely used acoustic amps on the market.
This model retails at about $550 which is a manageable price for an amplifier.
Features include two separate instrument channels, each with their own feedback control and three-band EQ. Eight different effects, as well as a dedicated effects loop are also included. D.I. outputs are included for each channel.
If customer reviews matter to you, this one is a big winner.
Broadly, this amp has everything you need to add some volume to your acoustic. The effects feel a bit unnecessary, but for some people they’re nice to have.
Look no further for a workable acoustic amp in this price range.
You get two channels and 60 Watts, where channel one is better for Fender-like clean tones and channel two is more suited to the raunchier, Marshall sounds.
This one is also 100% analog with reverb and basic EQ included. The two channels are switchable via an included footswitch.
The controls are worded a bit strangely, so I’d recommend reading through them first and possibly checking out the rest of the Trademark-60 information page. For $610 you’ll want to know what you’re getting and how to work it right out of the box.
And I wouldn’t necessarily call the strange wording a detraction, but it’s something the consumer should be aware of.
If you’re not wanting a dual-channel amplifier, I’d recommend looking elsewhere.
28. Blackstar HT-1R
It’s small, with just an 8″ speaker, but aren’t small amps the thing now?
It might be your thing with a $320 price tag and tube driven power. Two channels, an infinite shape feature and stereo reverb are all standard in the HT-1R series.
Blackstar isn’t a “household name” when it comes to guitar amplification, but this model in particular has enjoyed a surprising amount of positive feedback on Amazon.
At the time I’m writing this, zero negative reviews.
That’s pretty remarkable Blackstar. I didn’t think you had it in you.
This vintage valve combo amp is one of the grandaddy Marshall models that’s still available from most major retailers.
The price is pretty steep though.
At $2700 retail, the Bluesbreaker is a tough sell to the casual amp buyer. But for those who want something vintage and are willing to spend top-dollar, it could be a perfect fit.
Two Celestion speakers and 30 Watts of power go along with an included footswitch and built-in tremolo.
Unfortunately, no built-in reverb here.
However, buying a Marshall amp at this price guarantees you a wonderful vintage tone and the quality we’ve come to expect from the company over the years.
More Guitar Amp Buying Guides
To date, we've published four other guitar amp-related buying guides, focusing heavily on tube and practice amplifiers.
- Best Affordable Marshall Amps for Hard Rock
- Best Tube Amplifier under $500
- Cheap Metal Amps that Sound Fantastic
- Low-Cost All-Tube Practice Amps
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?
For example, I don’t think we have a list of the 50 best capos.
Could you use more gear help?
Producing “great tone” is a worthy pursuit, but not always an obvious one.
We all own a unique collection of gear that seems to sound different all the time. That’s normal, but still something we need to learn to deal with.
We need to learn our gear.
If you want to access some resources that will help dealing with a specific tonal pursuit, piece of gear or other questions related to your rig, I’d recommend giving Guitar Tricks 14-day free trial a test run - there’s no obligations and you’ve got nothing to lose - except two free weeks of one of the most comprehensive and thorough guitar education websites in existence.
You’ll learn a lot and get access to a number of other resources that all guitarists can benefit from.
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