UG Picks: Best Practice Amps for Under $150

Here's an article highlighting five awesome practice amps that you can pick up for under $150.

Ultimate Guitar

A couple of weeks ago, we gave you the list of best beginner guitars for under $200. Today's feature is a sort of partner to that article in which I'm highlighting five awesome practice amps that you can pick up for under $150 (thanks to josonmj for the tip).

After your first guitar, a first amp is the most important purchase that a newbie guitarist will make. Up until relatively recently, when it came to practice amps intended for bedroom use, the selection was fairly limited. While there were a few standout options, most of the choices on the market were horrible and tinny sounding. Indeed, if you wanted something tat didn't end up sounding like a wet fart, your options were go valve or go home. In the past ten years however, there has been a revolution in the practice amp world and there are now many great sounding amps out there that you can pick up without having to break the bank.

This revolution has in no small part been fueled by the development of modeling amplifiers in recent times. Using digital onboard effects to create numerous different tones within the same amplifier, modeling amps have given newbie players tonal opportunities that they never previously had. Even when you take modeling out of the equation, amp manufacturers seem to have been getting better and better at replicating classic amplifier sounds for newbie player on a budget.

So without further ado, here are my five practice amp picks for under $150. As always, I should state that this list isn't definitive, but gives you plenty of great options if you're stuck when it comes to amplifying your guitar.

Fender Mustang I

Arguably the best looking amp on my list, the Fender Mustang I is a thoroughly modern practice amp whose design manages to evoke classic vintage Fender amplifiers of years gone by. Aesthetics aren't the sole reason to pick this one up though. The Mustang I is a one-stop box that will pretty much cover all of your practice needs.

With 24 presets and 18 built in amp models, as well as USB connectivity for downloading additional amp tones, the Mustang delivers a huge range of sonic options to any aspiring guitarist. Admittedly, it takes a bit of getting used to, and you'll probably need to study the manual fairly extensively before you get to grips with all of the different features. But, once you've got the hang of it, you're all set when it comes trying out different styles of music or demoing riff ideas. The icing on the cake is the amp's built in chromatic tuner, something which I'd argue should be the standard on all practice amps (I've already ranted about the the importance of tuning in a previous article for this column, which you can check out here).

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Marshall MG15CFX

For many years now, Marshall has been making great amps for the beginner's market alongside their higher end tube amps. Case in point is the latest model in Marshall's MG ranger, the MG15CFX.

While the MG can't compete with the Fender Mustang for tonal versatility, the MG15CFX wins points for doing a commendable job of approximating classic Marshall tone for a budget price. Featuring clean, crunch, OD1 and OD2 channels as well as some built in digital effects, the amp still gives you plenty of sonic options, and the possibility for adding on a foot-switch makes cycling between them much easier than on other practice amps. If you're a beginner guitarist whose influences include classic rock greats such as Slash, Hendrix or Jimmy Page, you could do a lot worse than pick up one of these.

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Roland Cube 10GX

For a number of years now, Roland's Cube line of amplifiers has provided beginner guitarists with great sound for a reasonable price. The latest model in the series, the 10GX, is an awesome little compact amplifier that continues that tradition.

Like the Fender Mustang I, the Cube is rocking amp modeling technology, including three built in amplifier types that can be switched out using Roland's Cube Kit app. While it is lacking huge range of presets that are featured in the Mustang I, the Cube scores points over the Fender for its usability. Compact, and easy to use, with an intuitive and uncluttered control panel, the amp gives plenty of tonal options without being bewildering to newbie players.

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Blackstar ID:Core 20w 2x10

Blackstar might be relatively new to the practice amp game, but they're already making waves with their ID series of amplifiers.

Like a number of amplifiers on this list, the ID 20 offers users a number of tonal options. There are six voice settings - Clean Warm, Clean Bright, Crunch, Super Crunch, OD 1, OD 2 - as well as built in reverb and delay effects and Blackstar's patented ISF controls (which allow you to switch between American and British amp sounds). Users can edit and store patches using built in software, and there's also a USB connector for easy computer recording.

What makes the Blackstar really stand out from the competition though is that it is rocking two speaker cones, allowing for a super wide stereo sound that is far more immersive than a practice amp has any right to be.

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Peavey Vypyr VIP 1 20W 1x8

Coming in last but by no means least on this list is the Peavy Vypyr VIP 20w, which is one of the most versatile practice amps on the market at the moment.

Like the Mustang I, the Vypyr delivers the goods when it comes to modulation options. You've got 25 amp accessible effects as well as 36 onboard amp models. There are reverb and delay settings, as well as a chromatic tuner (which wins big points with me) and even an on-board looper.

What I really like about the Vypyr though is that it features Acoustic Guitar and Bass Guitar simulation options, which is awesome for space saving if you're a player of four string, as well as six string instruments.

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Those are my thoughts, but what do you think? Share your picks for great practice amps in the comments.

By Alec (C) 2014

28 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Effects are overrated. Delay, reverb, and modulation effects don't make or break your sound. Playing without them forces you to play more expressively with your hands. A chromatic tuner can be found around $15 new. A Boss DS-1 is less than $40 on ebay and was the only effect I had for 2 years. a small no-frills solid state shouldn't be more than $70 at most. My setup for 2 years was a $45 plain amp and a $35 DS-1. No reason for a beginner to spend money on gear that's beyond their capability.
    Point taken. But when I used to live in a condo, I couldn't use my fender twin, so I was limited to using my little orange amp. The effects aren't fantastic but it was nice to have an amp I could mess around on. I wasn't always using it for "practice"
    That said, sometimes an effect can also inspire songwriting, or at least it has in the past for me. I've wrote some awesome riffs whist messing around with the delay settings on my Cube
    Delay and reverb can change your sound massively and in more than slight amounts require a completely different playing style. Plus they instantly add diversity to music and are in no way overrated. I wish more bands used them.
    DS1 sounds pretty bad, especially through a cheap amp. These practice amps don't cost a lot more than your setup and they offer a lot more variety. And I would also guess a lot better tones. I have played through cheap solid state practice amps and they have always sounded pretty bad. Digital amps may sound a bit "digital" but technology gets better and better all the time. At least the sounds you get with a digital amp are more inspiring than a DS1 through a crappy clean channel. I think having a variety of effects built into your first amp is also great - that makes you familiar with the different sounds you can achieve and can help you in the future if you are building a pedalboard. It may also show you that you don't need any effects. A great variety of different amp tones is also good because while the amp models don't sound exactly like the real thing, they give you a good picture of what the real thing sounds like. That may help when you are buying a real amp. You already know what tones you are looking for.
    For practicing I think it's best to keep your sound as dry as possible, so you can spot all that's wrong and fix it more easily.
    I don't think that's entirely the case. The statement "if you can't play it clean, you can't play it" has some merit, but I think it's also important to know how to play with distortion. There's certain sounds (i.e. string noises) that you don't notice playing clean but that you must be able to minimise when playing with distortion, and likewise there're techniques (especially those involving harmonics) that simply don't work well clean.
    well those 3 you said dont make or break your sound unless your The Edge. nuf said
    Great list, thanks! I think I'll get the Marshall, the Fender Mustang I has a bit too many effects for my liking. The Marshall has plenty too, but I think it's better to just go for loud distortion and a good clean tone for now and get a decent pedal later.
    However good the ID: Core might be, the 'real' ID-series is probably the best practice amp ever. It's a bit more expensive (ID15 goes for 250€), but it's bloody amazing what sounds you get with the "True Valve Power" activated.
    Hi,Fellow musicians. I have the first Peavey Viper for 5 years now and would like to tell you if you can find one get it. The amp has this full "loud" sound at practice levels my apartment neighbors don't complain. They barely hear it. That was their selling point back then. The new one looks really cheap. I'am going to have to go in and try it. The pedals Sanpera are to expensive unless you find one on e-bay. Really though if you want a good amp get a used (barely) viper 1 someplace for 40-50 bucks. The clean sound is good and the effects as on any inexpensive amp are not going to be used that's what my pedals are for. Keep On Rocking!!
    I use an Orange Crush 35LDX as a practice amp and I love the little guy. Tuner built in, great choice of reverb settings. A little more pricey but it does the job and looks great.
    Well, karma just hit. The durability of this amp is definitely in question since it exploded in the back seat of my truck this past weekend after I hit the brakes and it shifted. Everything inside the amp, basically the entire board, went flying.
    Velcro Man
    I know people that have never played them like to turn their noses up at them, but the Line 6 Spider III amps are excellent.
    Have a Roland 15, as well as many expensive tube amps but I mostly use that one at home. Great Jazz sound, the 80 is very well one of standard Jazz amps. I get amazing tone with the 15.
    The Tempest
    I have a Roland Cube 20XL, got it reduced to about £100 second hand (previously played for about 1 hour so close to new quality). Top amp and would recommend anything in that line.
    I've got a line 6 Spider with all the effects and the tracks and it's great for beginners. I certainly don't like the sound as much as a good tube amp but for beginners practice,, it's hard to beat.