Last updated: August 8, 2021

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Welcome to our big guitar amp test 2021. Here we present all the guitar amps we have tested in detail. We have compiled detailed background information and added a summary of customer reviews on the web.

We want to make your purchase decision easier and help you find the best guitar amplifier for you. You will also find answers to frequently asked questions in our guide. If available, we also offer interesting test videos. Furthermore, you will also find some important information on this page that you should definitely pay attention to if you want to buy a guitar amplifier.




Summary

  • The range of guitar amplifiers is immense. There is hardly a product field in which it is so easy to lose one's bearings; that is why it is important to get to grips with the subject matter. This article answers the most important questions to consider when buying a guitar amplifier.
  • Guitar amplifiers come in three main forms: Tube amplifiers, transistor amplifiers and modelling amplifiers. In terms of sound, tube amps are still usually described as the best the market has to offer. Modeling amps shine through their versatility, while transistor amps have caught up strongly with tube amps and have great sound characteristics.
  • With guitar amps, there are either tops, which amplify the sound of the guitar, but do not reproduce it. Loudspeakers are still needed for reproduction. There are also combo systems that combine tops and speakers in one unit.

The Best Guitar Amplifier: Our Choices

Guide: Questions you should ask yourself before buying a guitar amp

How does a guitar amp work?

It is important to have a basic understanding of how a guitar amplifier works. Only then can you make an informed purchase decision. Guitar amplifiers were originally developed because the guitar simply couldn't hold its own in a big band alongside trumpets, trombones and drums. So what happens in an amplifier? The pick-ups of your electric guitar (the magnets that can be seen under the strings at the lower end of the body) generate a magnetic field. If a string vibrates in a certain tone, this magnetic field is interrupted and an electrical voltage is generated. This voltage is then fed via a cable into the amplifier; there it is amplified and output via speakers. What exactly happens here on a physical level is unfortunately not very easy to understand. It is only important to know that there are different amplifying designs that generate different results. These are explained further below.

If you want to play an electric guitar, you need an amplifier. (Picture source: pixabay.com / PascalBeckmann)

How can guitar amplifiers be classified?

Guitar amplifiers can be classified as follows:

  • According to the type of construction (combo or top)
  • According to the intended use (electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass guitar)
  • According to the amplifying components used (tube vs. semiconductor)
  • The predominant sound characteristic (clean, distorted, British, American)

The good news: the market offer is now so extensive that you can find amplifiers in every category. So you can easily find a combo amp for acoustic guitar in tube design with British sound characteristics. At the same time, a top for electric guitars with solid-state amplification and distorted sound is no problem. The disadvantage here is that the range of guitar amplifiers is becoming increasingly confusing.

The range and variety of guitar amplifiers is enormous. If you want to make the buying process easier, look up which amplifier your favourite guitarist uses and try to find something in that direction.

By type

There are two main types of guitar amplifiers.

  1. Combination units
  2. Top with cabinets

It is important to understand that an amplifier itself does not reproduce the sound; it merely amplifies the electrical signal. In order to make the whole thing audible, an amplifier always needs loudspeakers. In a combination device, the amplifier and speakers are combined in one element. On the one hand, this is practical because you only have to think about one device. On the other hand, of course, you also give up flexibility. You can connect a top unit to different speakers. So you can use it at home with small cabinets, but you can also take it to the next gig and connect it to much bigger, louder cabinets and still keep your characteristic, familiar sound.

A combo unit combines a top and speaker system in one unit. (Picture source: pixabay.com / Free-Photos)

According to intended use

Also important to know: an electric guitar amplifier does not work for bass guitars and vice versa. At the very least, the result is not optimal. So pay attention to the intended use of your guitar amplifier. Do you want to use it for your electric guitar or your acoustic guitar? Or are you a bass player? All this is important if you are looking for optimal sound. Because there are indeed guitar amplifiers specifically for acoustic guitars. If you are looking for an amplifier that is specially adapted to the tonal characteristics of an acoustic guitar, you will find it in many (online) specialist shops. By the way, there are special pedals that allow you to switch between different amplifiers. This gives you maximum flexibility on stage.

After using the amplifying components

After the electrical voltage has flowed through the guitar cable, it arrives at the amplifier. There are different amplification techniques for what happens to the signal:

  • Tube amplifier
  • Transistor amplifier
  • Modeling amplifier
  • Software amplifier

The first guitar amplifiers that came on the market were tube amplifiers. Their sound is often described as warm and full. High-end tube amps are still the best the market has to offer. Transistor amplifiers have often been accused of sounding scratchy and treble-heavy. However, this attitude does not do justice to high-quality solid-state amplifiers. Good models also offer the best (and most versatile) sound. Modeling amps are digital machines that can simulate the sound of tubes and transistor amps. So when you buy a modelling amp, you can choose between different sounds when you play. This makes them incredibly flexible and versatile. Software amps are loaded as a plug-in in your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation, e.g. Logic or Cubase). They are not really suitable for live use because of the high input delay. However, they are highly recommended for generating high-quality guitar recordings. To do this, simply plug the guitar into your audio interface and record. Advantage: It remains quiet and the signal is picked up cleanly. In addition, you retain a maximum of flexibility in post-processing.

According to the predominant sound characteristic

Many guitarists see their amplifier as part of the instrument - and not without good reason. Amps have different sound characteristics, and depending on what genre and style you prefer, there are different options open to you. The following table summarises the main different sound characteristics:

Sound characteristics Description
Clean Clear sound without any kind of distortion. Represented in every genre at the appropriate place
Distorted Classic rock sound in ACDC style
British "fizzy, roasty" - represented in punk genres
American rough and roaring: fuller and warmer than the British sound
Crunch Sounds with moderate distortion

According to performance

In addition to the above criteria, there is, of course, the amplifier power, which is a major factor in determining how loud the amplifier is. Here it is important to know: Double the wattage does not mean double the volume. Tube amplifiers are also considerably louder than solid-state amplifiers. In general, volume should not be considered too important, because on large stages (where high volume is necessary) the guitar amp is picked up with a microphone and amplified via the PA. As with everything, you have to ask yourself where you want to use the guitar amp. If you play small club gigs, a very loud amplifier can be very disadvantageous, because it is not possible to mix a good sound.

What do you need the guitar amp for?

A basic question you should ask yourself is what you need the guitar amp for. Do you need an amp for practising at home? Do you want to go on stage? Or do you basically just want to get your guitar sound into your PC? Because the following applies here: there is an optimal guitar amplifier for every application. For simple practice at home, inexpensive combo systems with headphone output are often recommended. If you want to go on stage, you should make sure that your amplifier has enough power. Attention: Tube amplifiers with 30W can be much louder than transistor amplifiers with 30W.

There are suitable amplifiers for every application. If you need an amplifier for your home, a small combo amplifier will do. If you want to go on stage, make sure you get the right power.

Which guitar amplifier is the best for home use?

Of course, this is also a matter of taste. However, you don't need a very high volume for practising at home. Since tube amps only achieve their best sound at higher volumes, a smaller loudspeaker is the best choice for practising at home. It's up to you whether you choose a combination system or buy a high-quality top unit that you can connect to small cabinets at home and to large cabinets live.

Tip: For uncomplicated practising at home, smaller all-round transistor amplifiers are often a good choice.

How many watts should my guitar amp have?

It is important to remember that the sound of an amplifier is the most important criterion. On large stages, the amplifier is amplified and mixed with the help of a microphone via a PA system. Then loud guitar amplifiers can even be disadvantageous, because they "pollute" the mix. But if you want to assert yourself against the drummer in the rehearsal room, it is of course important that the amp has the appropriate power. The following minimum values can be determined by rule of thumb: Practice room/at home: 1-20W tube/transistor of any kind Club gigs: 15-50W tube/ at least 50W transistor Big stages: 30-100W tube/50-100W transistor However, it is best not to orientate yourself on the wattage, but on the volume of the amplifier, which is usually given in decibels.

Marshall is one of the best-known amplifier manufacturers in the world. (Picture source: pixaby.com / alexkampmann)

Can I connect headphones to my guitar amplifier?

Playing through headphones is very convenient, especially at home. But this is not possible with every amp. If this is a criterion for you, make sure that your future amp supports this feature.

How much does a guitar amp cost?

There is hardly any other product with such a wide price range. However, you can differentiate a little: Cheap tube amp tops start at around 120€. The most expensive versions cost several thousand euros. In the case of transistor amplifiers, you can find very inexpensive variants starting at 80€; but even here there are variants that cost over two thousand euros. Nevertheless, tube amplifiers are on average more expensive than transistor amplifiers. Modeling amps are in a similar price range as solid state amps.

Can I connect my guitar amp to my audio interface?

Technically, this is possible without any problems. But you won't get the best results. If you want to record good guitar sounds, it's a good idea to plug your guitar directly into your audio interface using a jack cable.

An audio interface is a box that is responsible for digitising analogue sound material. It is indispensable if you want to record something with microphones, for example.

Then, with the help of software amps such as GuitarRig by NativeInstruments, you can shape your sound as you like. For this procedure, however, your audio interface should have a direct-monitoring function, so that the signal can be branched off again and played back practically latency-free before processing in the computer. Alternatively, you can get a microphone and mike the amp. Good options here are dynamic microphones like the Shure SM57. But you can also achieve very good or even better results with condenser microphones like a Rode NT1A.

How long do the tubes last in a tube amp?

Opinions differ as to when a tube starts to sound bad and worn out. On average, you will have to replace something every two years. Influencing factors here are also how you take care of your amplifier: For example, you should let it warm up for 30-60 seconds before playing for the first time, and after switching it off, you should not transport it immediately, but ideally wait for 10-15 minutes. Then, of course, it also depends on how many hours the amplifier is used.

Decision: What types of guitar amplifiers are there and which is the right one for me?

In the following, we will discuss the various advantages and disadvantages of amplifying construction. We distinguish between:

  1. Tube amplifier
  2. Transistor Amplifier
  3. Modeling Amplifier

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a tube amplifier?

If you love recordings from the 70s and 80s, such as Queen or The Who, you will inevitably end up with a tube amplifier. Not only do you have to pay more for the incomparable sound of several large tubes, but you also have to pay more for maintenance.

Advantages
  • Distinctive, timeless sound
  • Higher volume at the same wattage compared to transistor amplifiers
Disadvantages
  • Expensive
  • Replacing the tubes
  • More susceptible to interference

The amplifier always has to warm up for about a minute before it can be played, and cooling down the tubes is also important. Another disadvantage: the tubes will gradually wear out and need to be replaced (this must be done by a specialist dealer!). But if you don't want to compromise on sound, you will overlook these points and get what you want with a tube amp.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a transistor amplifier?

If you don't want to put up with the disadvantages of a tube amplifier, a transistor amplifier is probably a good choice for you. At this point, one must also clear up the prejudices against transistor amplifiers; because they have developed enormously in the last 30 years and do not have to hide behind tube amplifiers.

Advantages
  • Sound that doesn't have to hide
  • Robust
  • Comparatively inexpensive
Disadvantages
  • High-end tubes sound better than high-end transistors

In general, the differences are more likely to be noticed by professional musicians, the audience will normally not notice any difference. Ideally, you should try out the amplifiers and form your own opinion.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a modelling amplifier?

What does a modelling amplifier actually do? Modeling amplifiers came into being in the 90s. They are digital devices that imitate the sound of amplifiers. It's basically software that looks at the sound wave of an electric guitar and compares it to what comes out of a tube amp. So you can calculate what is being changed and apply it to the raw guitar sound in a digital way.

Advantages
  • Many amps in one unit
  • good sound quality
Disadvantages
  • Opinions on sound quality differ

The advantage is obvious: When you get a modelling amp, you don't buy a specific sound, but the world of amps is at your feet. Tip: Especially for the undecided and people who are still searching for their own sound, modelling amps are a good choice.

Combo or single unit?

When deciding whether to buy your amp in a combo unit, where amp and speakers are combined in one unit, or whether to get a top unit that you can easily connect to different speakers, there are several things to consider. With a top unit you are more flexible, but you also have to take care of at least two units. In addition, you often get a price reduction for single units. The more professional solution is certainly a top unit; in many situations, however, it can simply be very convenient to have to take care of only one unit.

Buying criteria: These are the factors you can use to compare and evaluate guitar amplifiers

In the following, we will show you which criteria you can use to compare and evaluate guitar amplifiers. This will make it easier for you to get an overview and decide on a suitable and effective device. In summary, these are the following criteria:

  • Sound
  • Power/Volume
  • Features and channels
  • Design

In the following, you can read about the respective criteria and find out why it makes sense for you to purchase a device based on the criteria or not.

Sound

The most important criterion when buying an amplifier is and should always be the sound. Important: Perceived sound is something highly subjective. Do some research on the "Laurel/Yanny" phenomenon and you will find that people perceive different frequency ranges differently. So what you perceive as brilliant and clear may still seem too dull for someone else. So the number one rule here is: try it out. After all, what good are high-quality tubes or a great cabinet if the sound isn't right? On the internet you can find a sufficient listening example for almost every amp, which can help you. What helps a lot is if you have a favourite band or a favourite guitarist. Then you can simply copy their sound and buy the amp that the guitarist uses. By using effect pedals etc. you can then adjust and change your sound.

Power/Loudness

Depending on where you want to perform with your amp, this can become an important purchase criterion. Important: The wattage is not really decisive, but the stated volume. A 50 watt tube amp sounds much louder than a 50 watt transistor amp. A transistor amp should already have around 50 watts, with tube amps this is much less important.

Features and channels

Most amplifiers have two channels: a clean channel and a drive or crunch channel. However, there are also amplifiers that have considerably more channels and thus offer a higher degree of versatility.

Design

Not insignificant for some: What does the whole thing look like? Popular designs include vintage designs of e.g. Vox amps with tweed covering or the Orange box as well as the classic Marshall design. This is probably the most subjective of all criteria and thus also a complete matter of taste.

Facts worth knowing about guitar amplifiers

Why does my guitar amplifier hum?

There can be many different reasons for this. First try a different cable and, in the best case, a different guitar. If it still hums, it could also be due to the socket, so try a different one here too. If it doesn't stop humming, it's often the power supply, but the only way to find out is to see a specialist.

Are there guitar amplifiers with a recording function?

There are some amplifiers that offer this feature. But the question is superfluous, because you will never achieve optimal sound quality this way. Microphoning the amplifier or recording with the help of an audio interface and a software amplifier, such as GuitarRig, are the better options here.

Can you build a guitar amp yourself?

Actually, you can build your own tube amp. Various manufacturers offer kits for amplifiers. But here's a warning: you should have some experience in soldering and reading circuits if you want to assemble your amp yourself.

Image source: pixabay.com / oas2107

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