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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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.