The Guide To Finding An Amp

This guide will help you narrow down your choices of guitar amplification processes.

Ultimate Guitar
Have you been looking for that perfect amp? You want it to be a tube amp, or a very nice Solid State, eh? Well I can help you find what you're looking for. First you need to decide what kind of music you are playing (genre). Is it a punk/indie alternative sound your looking for? A hardcore distorted belt? The power of a metal guitarist? Warm distortion for your harder rock? Or a classic crunch? Well, there are many manufactures making many different amps to suit your musical interest. Next you need to decide how loud/large your amp should be. With a band? Need to play small gigs? Take this in mind: A Tube (Valve) amp uses the same amount of wattage as a Solid State amp. Wattage is nothing more than the speed in which the amp turns electricity into heat and more usable energy. People often say a tube amp is louder than a solid state amp. They are infact wrong. Tube amps may seem louder than a solid state amp because the human ear precives it differently. So a 30 watt tube amp will sound louder than a 30 solid state amp. We use the 2.5x rule: this means that if you take the wattage of a solid state amp and increase it by 150% that would be the equivilant decible level to a tube amp of that wattage. ex- a 20 watt tube amp is as loud to the human ear as a 50 watt solid state amp (the solid state amp is 250% the wattage of the tube amp, but they are approximately the same number of decibles. Now if you are looking to run a medium small size gig, you may want atleast a 65 watt solid state amp. The suggested size is 65 - 120 watts solid state. If you want a tube amp, the suggested size is 30 - 50 watts. Tube vs. Solid State - now we've concluded that a tube amp is louder than a solid state amp. And I'm sure you have heard that a tube amp sounds better than a solid state amp. Well, by popular vote that is correct. In general, tube amps sound better than solid state amps. But they do cost more. The next thing you need to do is Decide A Price Range For a smaller price range ($200 - $499), you are basically limited to Solid State. Below are a list of popular solid state amps in this price range:
  • Roland Cube 60 (Solid State but loud enough to gig). The Roland Cube 60 is good for modern rock, metal/hardcore, and classic rock/metal. Why? Because it has numerous levels of amp models you can use to tweek your sound. This amp goes for around $350 and is highly recommended.
  • Vox ValveTronix Series. There are a number of amps in this series. These amps are what's called hybrid. Hybrid amps are a cross between solid state and tube. They usually just have 1 tube in the preamp. But in this case it's different (see for more info). These amps are also highly recommended and good for multiple genres much like the roland cube.
  • Crate GT, XT, GLX, GTX. These crates are very fairly priced and sound good in most oppinion. They are good for modern punk, indie, alternative, and hardcore/metal. These amps have pretty heavy distortions and praised cleans. But there are numbers of people who absolutely dread these amps and some who love them. Those were just a few amps in that price range. $500 - $700. Now at these prices you can start to afford tube amps!
  • The Peavey Classic 30 and 50. Two of the most beloved/affordable amps around. The 30 watt costs around $500 and the 50 watt costs around $700 I believe - I may be wrong. These amps have wonderful cleans and loved distortions. These amps are 2 of the most popular. These amps play great with classic rock/metal, modern alternative, punk, and indie.
  • The Crate 'V' series. These amps are much like the Peavey classic series in almost every way. The panel is a little different in how you tweak your sound. The difference is all in preference.
  • The Crate 'VC' series. These amps are very much like the V series. The VC stands for 'Vintage Club.' These amps are discontinued so you'll have to buy them used off eBay. Personally I love these amps. Crystal sound and beautiful glass tubes. These amps are just bliss. Higher price range $700-$1000. Now you can start moving into some more advanced tube amps.
  • Peavey XXX. This series of peavey designed for the modern guitarist who wants clean clear clean with warm distortion. Beautiful sounds make this one of the best amps ever! Good for all types of genres. *cough*warm distortion and beautiful cleans*cough*.
  • Peavey 5150. Ah, the 5150. Designed by Eddie Van Halen himself. The 2 beautiful distortion channels make for 2 warm but differently outputed sounds. Although this amp has no clean channel if turn the drive down on the rythm channel it makes the clean sound. This amp is good for the Van Halen sound and other warm distortions alike. Money! $1000+
  • Marshall JCM 800. One of the most saught after amps of all time. One of the classics that many guitarists of proffessional skill have played. The JCM 800 is beautiful in which she coughs out crystal cleans and crunchy overdrives. This is any classic rockers dream!
  • Crate Blue Voodoo. The Blue Voodoo is an amp made for a king. This amp is good for all types of hardcore, metal, and other forms of rock. It is every mans dream!
  • Marshall JCM 2000. The DSL and TSL amps by Marshall are just made to be everything. Warm distortion, crunchy overdrive, firey clean. They're very expensive though.
  • 69 comments sorted by best / new / date

      I have had the crate blue voodoo 150hb for about a year now, and i will admit that when i first tried it i was not to sure, but the guy i bought it from said that he also owned one and that he didn't like it at first, but then he changed the tubes, so i bought it, and changed the tubes to some new 12ax7s, and some el34 groove tubes, and wala it came alive, the crate blue voodoos come with the shittiest tubes i've ever seen, now that i've changed them, i'm never giving up this amp, its 150 watts and plenty of power, it's awsome. Crate actually does make a good amp, but definatly not a beginners amp.
      People often say a tube amp is louder than a solid state amp. They are infact wrong. now we've concluded that a tube amp is louder than a solid state amp. What is this...
      for a real good distortion you can just get a pedal or boards .....and not depend on the amps own chanels.....cause usually its not even or dependable
      I really missed the line6 Vetta... and the MesaBoogie rectifier and./././ and/// Well besides that, great article!
      I just bought a marshall valvestate halfstack for 450 bucks (used). It is so beautiful. I never thought that i would fall in love with a beice of gear, but in the 30 or so hours that i've had it, i love it as much as i love my girlfriend... and thats saying something.
      oh yeah, i thought that i was always going to have to rely on pedal boards for overdrive (my zoom 505 II was my best friend for like 2 years) the on-board distortions are so byootiful... I ran my zoom thru the effects loop and the distortion it provided was nothing compared to the marshall's distortion.
      IM SORRY THE ARTICAL WAS CUT SHORT I WAS PRESSURED FOR TIME AND I WAS TYPING AS FAST AS I COULD AND THOSE WERE THE EXAMPLES THAT CAME TO MIND fender makes some very nice affordable amps for a beginner - or some beautiful classy tube tone for the more advanced player the mesa rect. is also nice - but in my oppinion it runs nu-metal - i would get a 2203 (JCM800) and get some pedals over the rect - but they're great, dont handle me wrong i presonally think line6 amps are a little cut short - but the vetta is also great now marshall lover - beware - MG IS TERRIBLE! AVT IS TERRIBLE! and DSL and TSL aren't that amazing for the money you're coughing up - if you have a couple thousand dollars lying around and it's all 'what the hell' the JCM 2000 sounds nice, but marshalls are just like gibsons - you've got a classy name, so pay for it! "dewthedew2323" i think just like you - i'll get a peavey classic and run 2 dist. pedals through it and the fx and a noise gate - i look at the clean, volume, and versatility, durability, and hassleability of an amp - pedals are wonderful "jcrocker43" - i meant louder to the human ear "metalmaster2911" - i wouldn't suggest that amp at all - the three month MG law, in three months, your fan is dead - in 6 months, your amp will need to be sent back to marshall to be fixed due to crap outs - they'll send it back worse than ever I think carvins are decent amps - the master tube series is something to consider and that solid state series they have isn't half bad for the cash - legacies are obviously pretty wicked - but carvins have terrible resale - so if u buy one you better have done your homeworkd! for 100 USD you can get a nice practice amp (Roland Cube 15 - a great way to start) - those cheap ibanez amps, you can hear urself for 60 bucks and alsooo.. - I have the Dean Markley mini amp, it's so small and impressively good and loud - clip it onto my belt and im on the run!! and i understand this article was written a little off balence - but you get the idea Tech., a 30w tube is no louder than a 30w solid state - but the human ear precives a tube amp louder and i love using just a clean amp and having a good pedalboard w/ dist./ovdrv./fx./wah - i think it's just great
      PS - i dont even like crate that much Peavey and Fender>Crat and the only marshall i would buy is a JCM800 - and i think i would when i need something like a full stack
      Tom Martin
      I would really recommend the Roland Cube. I don't have one, but I've played them and fell in love with them straight away. Its a shame they only go up to 60W because otherwise I'd get one.
      I'm amazed that even after your follow-up that you still haven't mentioned the JC-120 or Twin Reverb specifically. Still, very good article.
      ^yea, it's tuff though cuz there is soo much ENGL is awesome Uberschall (sp?) is awesome (there's one on the top of my tongue....) oh well, there's a lot of companies and i only got to a couple
      and i think he meant that people are wrong - tube ISN'T louder than solid state, but to the human ear, they sound louder.
      so for all intents and purposes in the real world and not the science one, the tube is louder, because if people want a louder amp, they will get one which they can hear to be louder non?
      nice article... wish i had the money for a new amp. ive got 2 shistey little 15 watt amps. an indiana (yeah.. it was a gift) that is shorted and a borrowed (indefinately) yamaha. woe is me.
      My personal favorite solid-states are Fender and Vox. Vox amps are very reliable and have all those effects that people like. Any of these brands will make a great practice amp at an affordable price. Once again, I'm weary of Line 6, but I did like the Vetta. Some of the distortion tones on the amps with modulators/emulators can sound digital and tingy, just a warning. You may like that sound. Most pure solid states have a very good distortion and a brutally clean, clean channel. Kustom is also making a very good impression on me lately. I've played some of their new solid state heads, and was very impressed with the tone on all channels. Roland also makes a great practice amp called the Cube... is simply f***ing amazing. little thing packs a punch... I'm not going to get into any speaker, effects pedal, or connection details.... but I'll be more than willing to answer and question on an individual basis, and in a timely manner. Maybe later I'll post something. My best advice to anyone looking for a new head, to create the sound they want.... Go out to your local Guitar Center or music shop, pick up a guitar, plug in. Keep plugging away. Play all the amps you can. You'll hear the difference for yourself. Different guitars, pick-ups, and speakers also account for sustain and tone, so don't knock an amp right away. There is a one out there for everyone, you just have to find it. When you find the one you like... go home, play as much as you can, and eventually, over time, you will tweak that amp to what you want. If you decide that you didn't like what you bought.... well, that's why they make so many of the damn things. You can trade in, sell, and buy another one. Experience is the best way to find the amp you want. In my opinion, no one's tone is better than anyone else's (to an extent), its just different and a matter of personal preference. Just please, please keep away from that digital crunch... it makes me cringe haha. Take care, and keep rockin.
      Marshall.... I don't think I need to say much about these heads. There's a head and tone for just about any type of music. Some say Marshall is overrated, overpriced, overused... the list goes on. I say marshall has great versatility, but you will again, pay the price for it. Once again, there's a reason why so many artists use these amps. I know, I know... hypocrit. But, to be honest... I got my head for 400 dollars.. I'm not going to pass up a deal like that. And, I believe I've made it clear that the band/artist makes the tone... the head is only a guide. It can take you so far, but you have to make the tweaks to make it yours. Some prefer older Marshalls, some prefer newer ones. I like the option of a higher gain without having to hot-rod the amp, or add tons of pedals into the effects loop, sometimes leading to that "digital" tone. The overdrives (can range from crunchy to warm and soothing) on older Marshalls are amazing, and so are the cleans. Laney's are great amps, but don't have a plethora of gain. A EQ pedal can add to the balls of the amp, and a gain or overdrive pedal can boost leads and bring a heavy crunch to the tone. Awesome for 80's metal, blues, and rock leads. The clean is also just plain amazing. On to the solid states... I already touched on these a bit, and I've explained my reasons why I don't like them that much. Some newer and older solid states don't have as many effects, and are a bit more dependable. Some really enjoy the tone of a solid state head. Some great amps to note are Randall, Vox, Fender (I used to own an amazing Ultimate Chorus), Peavey (transtube), Marshall, and I'm sure there are more... someone will add.
      extra crunch channel. Oh, and don't think you can blow these heads! I blew up at DSL (luckily not mine) at a battle of the bands. Never thought it could happen, but it did. They did provide me with a backup though. Back to the amps... I have never played a good Crate amp, aside from the Blue Vodoo. No offense to the company, but at best, they can make a decent practice amp. The Blue Voodoo has always had an amazing clean channel. The Red Rocker Sammy Hagar has a signature Red Voodoo as well. Pretty much the same thing. The gain channel is great for blues and some rock, but hard to say it can extend much further. The new Blue Voodoo, which is BLACK now, not BLUE! (thank God), has a respectable gain channel, and keeps a great clean. Some decent mid-range tube amps to note, aside from what was already mentioned: any Fender tube amp has simply one of the best clean channels you can get, and a great lower-gain, rocking dirty channel. Twin-reverb is still held high as one of the greatest amps ever made. Any deville sounds amazing as well. Peavey discontinued the 5150 because EVH switched, but the 6505 is very comparable, AND has a few more options on it.... like individual EQ on each channel! The JSX is a great all-around amp as well. It features the Ultra channel from the XXX, and a built in noise-gate... and yep, it really works (I had to try it to believe it myself). The Valve-King is a decent amp head for the price as well. It features a decent tube tone for a really really good price. I'm talking like 600 USD! That's awesome for a tubed head. The Carvin Legacy sounds amazing... clean is great, and the gain channel is comparable to a recto tone. B-52 AT-100 is a great great sounding head if you want a cheaper, and some say even better sounding version of a Mesa Rectifier. I'll let you be the judge. This head was designed by a man who once worked for Mesa, so you can see why it is simliar. One warning.... I went through 3 of these (brand new) in a 3 month period. I will never go back because of this reason, although I absolutely loved the tones. Can't miss the Mesa range of tubed amps. For those of you who don't like them.... all I can say is this... don't buy them. There's a reason why so many artists out there use this line of amps. All of them sound great,but are a bit pricey for their worth. Also, again, I'll use this in a negative frame of mind now... think of how many artists use them! That's what keeps me away, but its your choice. The clean on the rectifier's is a bit tingy as well. Gain is obviously bad ass. My personal favorite mesa.... the Nomad. Its discontinued, but has, in my opinion, the best clean and gain channels of any Mesa. Also, I've broken 2 footswitch pedals on a Triple Rec(the only amp in which I have done so)... the switches break a little too easy when used regularly for gigging.... just be aware that they are not that cheap to replace.
      I think this is a pretty well written article for someone in their first few years of buying heads. Its very imformative and the added posts serve well for the imformation that was missing from the original. I think all the negative feedback is not necessary. I don't care about the fire I take for spotting names here, because it'll help anyone looking for what they want out there. It basically comes down to this when buying a head and/or combo: you pick/make your sound. Trying to steal someone else's tone just ends up in much frustration, and its just not your own. Their are many great heads out there in both categories. I've done recordings with quite a few bands, and found a wide range of different sound preferences. I've also had personal experience with a great list of amps. My personal preference is tubed. I love the warm and full tone. I haven't found many solid states that do a great job of emulating this. For those that are fans of Line 6.... I have owned a Spider 2 and a Vetta. The major problem with solid states with a lot of effects, is that if you damage a circuit, you are screwed cause it is expensive as hell to fix, so you better have a warranty. My spider started crackling after 2 months of ownership. My other guitar player's did the same. You are also going to get a dry tone from most solid states, especially on the Gain channels. Some genres make use of this tone, and it works for them.... its not to say its bad. The vetta I never had electrical problems with. Two things about it though 1. it is expensive 2. It's all digital. If you like all the effects, my suggestion is to get a head you like the tone from, and then get a pod, rocktron, boss, or any variety of rack mount and or foot pedals to get the effect you want. I personally use a pedalboard with tons of various footpedals. Yes, I play the dancing game on stage, but I like have the ability to control each pedal individually i.e. if one pedal breaks, I can just pull it from the chain. If a rack mount breaks... you have no effects at all (maybe reverb on the amp). Back to the heads/amps. Probably the best amps out there are botique. They are expensive for a reason, and you can hear the difference. These line of amps include Bogner, Diezel, Hughes and Kettner, Krank (at least was, not so much now after that bad ass Metal cartoon on Adult Swim), Soldano, Orange and amps of that nature... yes, there are more. If you have found any of these new for under 1700... go for it (obviously try it out first to see if its the sound you are looking for), but if anything, you'll be pretty much stealing it. Some artists that use these amps... only a glimpse. Diezel is now used by Metallica (yep, that rectofier tone), Hughes and Kettner used by Killswitch Engage (a step up for you 5150 fans, Adam Durkeiwitz loves 'em). Krank.. DIMEBAG Darrell Abbott designed one of these guys... nuff said. I believe Alice in Chains used/use Soldano, but don't hold me to that, Jerry may use Bogner now. Bogner has also held ground with the likes of Wes Borland, Dave Navarro, Kerry King, Mark Tremonti. (when I mention these names, I do not mean to disclude other artists, but for the most part, young guitar players looking for an amp, need something they can relate to. Seasoned vets usually know what they are looking for). Most significant detail about botique amps... they have a great ability to keep note variation in great detail, even at high gain. If you mess up, there isn't much forgiveness. All of these are great amps, I don't care what any one says. They are all made for different varieties of music, and you WILL be able to find one that fits yours. You will pay the price though. This post is getting a bit lengthy here... On to the mid-range. This is something I am very familiar with because I use these heads. It's not that I can't afford a botique... but lets face it... when you are gigging, the last thing you want to do is break a head that costs 3000 USD, when you can have 2 great sounding heads for the same price, and one can be used for backup. I have a Marshall DSL 100 and a Peavey XXX. To the post above about Peavey being garbage... you must have tried A. an older peavy head/amp or B. Found something that had a peavey label on it, that was probably a Leem amp or something haha. Having known many people who have had both XX heads and 5150 heads, I know of none of them that had to take it in for repairs aside from tube changes. They are extremely road-worthy, as well as Marshalls. That's why I don't mind paying over 1000 for the head. I play in three bands. One of which is thrash/core/metal, one is alternative-hard rock/metal/experimental, and one is hard rock/alternative. My heads can cover all the range. Although the Marshall has a better clean, I absolutely love the tone of my ultra channel on the XXX. So, I play give and take. The Marshall's gain is very adaptable. The one thing I don't like about it is that I have a DSL... 2 channels. A TSL is alittle more versatile because it has that ex
      Great article - the 2.5x rule is very helpful. You should have left out specific brand names to prevent a flame war (c'mon guys...). What I would have liked to have seen added into the article is matching amps with cabs. For example - what cabinet wattage would I want with a 50W tube? 100W tube?
      Old Marshalls and Fenders are the best if you can find one. Crate and Peavey have always made nothing but garbage. Bogner and Savage are the best if you can afford it.
      also heres my opinion, if your getting a small amp for quite a small volume, roland. if your getting a big amp for big venues and you got the cash, get marshall. all personal preference though, thoughs who play blues/funk/other stuff which involves little distortion often prefer fender
      Old Marshalls and Fenders are the best. The rest suck. Peavey, Mesa and especially Crate are absolute garbage. Try a Bogner or a Savage. They destroy everything above. If you can afford it.
      Sorry, but I wouldn't want to own ANY amp listed on this list.... You missed a WHOLE bunch of GREAT amps... Laney makes amps in the fender-peavey-crate cost range and blow them all away... then there are some real cool amps like Orange, VOX AC30, Hot Cat, Bad Cat, Matchless, Bogner, etc..... The Orange amps are the best sounding amps under $1500 IMHO....
      Sorry, but I wouldn't want to own ANY amp listed on this list.... You missed a WHOLE bunch of GREAT amps... Laney makes amps in the fender-peavey-crate cost range and blow them all away... then there are some real cool amps like Orange, VOX AC30, Hot Cat, Bad Cat, Matchless, Bogner, etc..... The Orange amps are the best sounding amps under $1500 IMHO....
      thanks but you didn't cover all of it because there its stuff like vintage fuzz that sounds like tubes and tube distorion so it lacked info, but it was easy to read.
      Chaos Maggot
      Oh, and I like bluesy stuff (Black Sabbath, Led Zep, etc...) and I like harcore/heavy metal and such....
      Chaos Maggot
      Which one of these is better? I'm getting them off of e-Bay, and I'm a beginner, so I'd love to know which one is more worth it. Pyramid Studio Pro 250W amp, for $26.95 ($28.95 S&H) or: Marshall G1000RCD 100W amp, for $100 ($55.65 S&H)
      Nice job, you didn't cover just Marshalls etc, nice covering of different kinds of amps. Great for people looking to branch out, varied enough to cover people's price ranges. Neat job! 4 stars!
      im looking for a new amp aswell, exactly the tips that i needed, im gonna have a look at the Peavy XXX cus of the warm distor an beautiful cleans thansk
      You were referred in mostly clean channel amps like crate and peavey.I believe that in the most expensive gategory you can find many better than these you mentioned.
      Well... whats about fender? what a bad review without any fender... what abour the twin reverb (the best cleansound ever!) or the hot rod? aren't they good amps??? Well and you are wrong with your tesis of the wattage! The wattage is taken at what postion an amp is clean... a non valve amp for exemple switched to 12 (or 10 well, maximum)has for example 50 watts. and it's still clean! it does not overdrive! Well a tube amp will overdrive if you break it off to loud! maybe at 4 the amp is clean, at, 5 maybe to... but at 6 the amp begin to overdrive... so the wattage of the amp at position 5 (still clean) is taken... but you can turn it up to 12 (or 10 well the maximum loudness of the amp) and it will still go louder, but no more clean! Well, but all in all you are right it sound louder and it is louder! Not bad that review... 4 points!
      I agree, where are the Fenders? And why are you overrating the Crate amps so much?
      People often say a tube amp is louder than a solid state amp.
      Tube vs. Solid State - now we've concluded that a tube amp is louder than a solid state amp.
      make up your mind man
      crap I mean
      People often say a tube amp is louder than a solid state amp. They are infact wrong.
      Emenius Sleepus
      ^a tube amp is in general louder, but a difference in tone especially with the new solid state technology is minimal, although purists will disagree. Basically just find an amp you like, and if you're playing live gigs then look for something around 50 watts at least (I do gigs with a 40 watt and it just lacks a little power for what I want it to do but I'm getting an extension cab for it)... Fender amps are probably good, but unless you have the money from whatever means they are usually out of reach hiding behind their name and reputation to produce an amp at an astronomical price and get away with it. Anything Fender and Gibson and Marshall, although classic brands, is overrated majorly - especially the new-issue models... Just find a sound you like and work with that
      Gr1m R34p3r
      Meh,decent article. I was hoping for something more, but you did good with what you had I suppose.