Essential Amplifiers: Metal/Hard Rock

Part one in 'Essential Amplifiers' series starts with one of my favorite genres of music: metal.

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Part one in my 'Essential Amplifiers' series starts with one of my favorite genres of music: metal. There about as many sub-genres of metal as there are other genres of music total, but the amps listed here will get you the metal tones you want regardless of what style you play. These amps are also excellent choices for hard rock styles as well, and any one of them is a great addition to your backline.

Peavey 5150/6505

A classic designed by the master, Eddie Van Halen, and Peavey electronics. Peavey is now at the forefront of metal amp design and this is the amp that paved the way. The original is the 5150, and when EVH and Peavey parted ways they christened it the 6505. The amp was redesigned with a different tube configuration but essentially remained unchanged. It has gone through many incarnations, and a newer version can even now be found under the EVH brand as the 5150 III. While not renowned for its clean capability, this amp is designed to be a distortion monster. You can dial the amp in a variety of ways for a great number of tonal choices, and this amp does the "Brown Sound" quite well.

Mesa Boogie Dual/Triple Rectifier

A tried-and-true classic that is quite at home in many styles of music (not necessarily just heavy styles), this model of amp can be seen everywhere in the metal and hard rock communities. Mesa is known for their incredible craftsmanship and their amplifiers are proven to be tough enough to take the abuse of touring. Another thing that Mesa Engineering is known for is packing their amps with features such as multiple channels, effects loops, and anything else the guitarist might need.

Marshall JCM800

The quintessential Marshall amp, this was probably the most popular amp of the metal movement of the 1980's. Used by such diverse bands and players as Slayer, Zakk Wylde, Rage Against The Machine, Judas Priest, Guns N' Roses, and pretty much any band that terrorized the Sunset Strip.

This Marshall can do rock, punk, metal, classic rock, or any hybrid of them. While many models offer only one channel, the warm, classic-Marshall tone is totally worth this restriction. While somewhat hard-to-find, it has recently been faithfully re-issued just like the original.

Soldano Super Lead 100

This is another amp that took the 80's by storm. Originally released in the late 1980s, this amp quickly shot to preference with some of the greatest guitar players ever: Eddie Van Halen, Eric Clapton, Mark Knopler, and more. It is a high-gain amp with great cleans that can also just destroy when cranked. Sounds great and is quite versatile.

Randall Warhead

The only solid-state amp on this list, the Warhead was popularized by Dimebag Darrell and his lendary thrash tones. Coming in at a staggering 300 watts it was just built to burn. Many guitarists prefer tube amps, and for good reason, but as far as solid-state metal amps go, this is top shelf for balls-to-the-wall metal. Solid-state technology is also generally more durable than valve technology, and can survive really well on the road.

Bogner Uberschall

Bogner is definitely one of the more high-end amp manufacturers, and all of their stuff is great. The Uberschall is a quintessential metal amp, capable of haunting cleans as well as the highest-gain riffing you can imagine. The Uberschall comes in 2 types, both certainly capable of scorching the stage! The clean channels features exceptionally high-headroom and the distortion channels remain very sonically-focused no matter how you have it dialed in.

Engl Powerball

Among the new class of amplifier manufacturers on the scene is Engl a company that lives and breathes metal amps. All of their models are great for the style, but the Powerball is the top of the heap. It features "Soft" and "High" gain features for an almost infinite tonal palette. Make no mistake, this thing can get brutal!

Diezel VH4

This is probably the most 'classic rock sounding' amp in this list, but it is great for creamy crunch and cranked up tones. Four completely independent channels don't hurt either, and you can have essentially every tone you'll need, footswitchable, right in front of you.

While there are many amps that are great for metal, these are the top of the heap, and for good reason. Keep in mind that there are many other factors in the tone equation, such as type of cabinet, speaker selection, etc. Tone is ultimately as individual as each player, but for great metal tones these amps are a great place to start.

About The Author: Brandon Stoner runs Audio Ecstasy Productions out of Los Angeles, CA specializing in guitar and backline tech for touring, custom stompbox and cable design for stage and studio, audio engineering, and many other audio and guitar-related services.

29 comments sorted by best / new / date

    suggy88
    Really enjoyed this article. My guitarists use a 5150 and an ENGL Fireball 100. I love the tones they pump out and blend together.
    KerNeL_KLuTcH
    i love my 6505, got it for Christmas, and the thing about the cleans is dead wrong I find it to have a very blank slate clean sound you have to be careful when adjusting the pre-amp on the clean channel if you want U2 post-punk shmmering leads put some reverb on it and turn the pre-amp to like 1 and the post to the volume you wan't, and the brown sound I can attest to one of the first things I jammed out on it was panama and the ending of euption, this amp plain on rocks classic rock, thrash , doom, alternative it does it all.
    fastlanestoner
    @Boston: I'm going to do a followup article on some of the more obscure amp manufacturers that suit the style. Feel free to PM me with any more suggestions on amps
    6-String_Madman
    I would like to suggest an article on getting certain popular tones with equipment that is less costly than the original.
    Bostonrocks
    I think this is a pretty mediocre article. First of all, how can you pigeonhole all those amps into metal? (I'm in 2 pop rock bands, and I run a Splawn and a FJA modded 5150) Second, there is no mention of some truly great metal amps, because they honestly couldn't cover the "best" even if they wanted it. Splawn (Killswitch Engage was their big thing for awhile, along with Disciple) Framus Cobra (Basically a cleaner 5150, and I much prefer it) VH140C (Honest, kicks the tail of the warhead, as far as SS metal amps go) VHT (Some of the tightest clearest amps I"ve ever owned) Krank (Something Dimebag also used.)
    theogonia777
    It's a very good list, though I prefer the Peavey XXX to the 5150/6505 (I am really not a fan of either). There really should be more solid state amps though. The Crate GX130C and Ampeg VH140C are two great solid state amps for early 90s death metal (think Suffocation or Cannibal Corpse). Actually, I think the guys in CC did use the GX130C in the old days, though I can't say on which albums specifically.
    HamKent
    fyi, opeths distortion used to come from the boss pedals when they used the laneys.they only used the clean channel on the laney, and that was only live. their recorded tone was any number of amps. and im pretty sure mike and frederik are both using marshalls now.
    guitarguy28469
    "Part one in my 'Essential Amplifiers' series starts with one of my favorite genres of music: METAL." Thank you good sir!
    LightxGrenade
    Ahhh the Engl Powerball; the way Apple fanatics feel about Mac products is the way I feel about this amplifier. I use a rackmount multi-fx processor because of it's price/convenience but if I had a choice of only being able to use one amp for the rest of my life it would be the Powerball.
    fastlanestoner
    The Diezel is a great amp, and although it's not a direct comparison I would relate it to an 'American' version of British crunchy amps like Marshall. It's quite versatile, hence what I stated, and very capable of any genre of music. They are somewhat expensive, but good stuff ain't cheap!
    Clarkinator
    I'm intrigued by the Diezel... haven't ever played on one (nor seen one anywhere near I live). I think Bellamy of Muse might have used one in the past (only popular guitarist I know of at least). Has anyone tried one?
    KerNeL_KLuTcH
    adam jones from tool also uses one, metallica on DM and smashing pumpkins so thing that wall of sound type distortion. but i've seen a few thrashers use it so it is incredibly tight.
    omidmash
    I think this is great for newbs to guitar. Especially the people with modelling stuff such as Pod etc, this'll help them to come up with an idea of what they need to use to get what they want. Rock on.
    fastlanestoner
    @Sethis I would love to do an article on that. If anyone has any suggestions of amps for me to check out PM me, I'll gladly look into them!
    Sethis
    I think we already know what the essential amps are, I think a better choice for an article would be about less known amplifiers that are good for Metal/Hard Rock.
    fastlanestoner
    Hey guys, thanks for the love on the article! I agree, Laneys are great amps. I didn't want to name drop players, but maybe I'll incorporate that idea into the next article @IWasMaiden93. It's always a pleasure to contribute to the great community here at UG. Keep rocking everyone!
    IWasMaiden93
    Might have wanted to mention that the JCM800s, especially the 80's users, took it Mr. Soldano to up the gain to make it less crunchy and more gainy... Good list to get a feel of things for people somewhat unaware of amplifiers, I like putting players of it but I would make it more expansive... Like the Mesa Boogie add something like "John Sykes of Whitesnake used it on their 1987 album" and "So and so heavier band also used it on this album" to kind of show how it has been implemented in different styles and bands... Just a little suggestion
    Jacques-Henri
    Laney should also be mentioned I think, both Paul Gilbert and Opeth use them. You gotta admit that Opeth's distortion is awesome.
    Sakke
    You forgot Tony Iommi. Also, I'd mention Savage from ENGL too. I think it's a different beast than a Powerball and I definitely like the sound more.
    Dimarzio45
    Good concept for an article series. Add some sound bytes? Huuuuh? That'd be pretty sweet...