If you're forking out between £500/$650 and £1,000/$1,300 on a guitar amp, you expect great tones and the reliability to keep them singing every night - and that's precisely the case with any of the heads and combos that lie ahead.
The majority of the best amps in this sector are still tube/valve-based but they span a huge range of formats
The majority of the best amps in this sector are still tube/valve-based, but they span a huge range of formats, from single-channel pedal platforms to all-encompassing MIDI-enabled multi-channel beasts.
Amps in this area of the market are becoming increasingly compact, too, with the lunchbox head phenomenon still very much in effect, although you'll still find a few high-powered 2x12 combos amongst the ranks.
Whatever style of music you play - whether you're seeking sweet country clean, blues-worthy overdrive or high-gain metal distortion - you can't go wrong with any of these choices, which include big names such as Fender, Marshall and Vox, as well as innovative offerings from Yamaha, BluGuitar and Hughes & Kettner.
A quick disclaimer before we start: the prices displayed were correct at the time of the product's original review; actual prices may be lower or, indeed, higher post-Brexit, so shop around, amp lovers.
Don't have quite enough cash for the options ahead? Take a look at the best budget guitar amps under £500/$800.
Feeling flush? The best high-end guitar amps over £1,000/$1,500 might be more your scene.
Cornell Vintage Brown 10 Combo
Despite its retro looks, the Vintage Brown is a medium- to high-gain monster that sounds great with single coils, but really comes alive when teamed with a beefy humbucker. Backed off and played nearly clean, there are hints of Dumble in the rich, detailed midrange and treble, accentuated by the valve-driven reverb circuit.
However, when wound up, it's somewhat more aggressive, with a toothy bite that needs a little taming on the tone controls. The EQ shift switch is handy for accentuating the midrange for a little more punch, or removing it as required.
"Considering the build quality, this amp is good value for money – it's built to last, with lots of old-school valve knowledge, from one of the world's top boutique names."
FULL REVIEW: Cornell Vintage Brown 10 Combo review
Victory VX The Kraken
A two-channel amp offering two different but classic gain strictures: Gain 1 (or channel 1) for classic British-style overdrive voicing; channel 2 for tightly focused American-style high-gain tones.
Authentic- sounding Zeppelin-style classic rock tones are immediately on tap, although slightly less 'raspy' than its reference model. Channel twounleashes an incredible amount of power and gain while retaining consummate focus and clarity.
"For the VX to pack such a powerful punch from such a small package makes it one of, if not the best metal amp we've ever played through."
FULL REVIEW: Victory VX The Kraken review
Blackstar Artist 15
Many players are returning to simple non-master-volume vintage amps and using pedals for their drive sounds. If that description fits you, then Blackstar's new Artist series could be a real revelation, combining a vintage-inspired tone experience with modern features like the superb digital reverb.
Channel 1 is a very clean, low-gain affair with clarity and transparency that brings out every nuance of the guitar you plug in. The single tone control works smoothly to add or remove just the right amount of high frequency, making this channel very easy to dial in for any guitar.
If Channel 1 is clean, then Channel 2 is the Artist's 'nearly clean' channel. Here, with a fully featured EQ network, there's a lot more flexibility and the ISF control makes dialling in any sound very easy.
"The Artist 15 looks set to be a new classic."
What makes the THR100HD special is its clever digital power amp, which faithfully mimics the operation of real valves. Then there's the fact that with the THR100HD, you get two of everything: two preamps, both with a built-in booster function that behaves as a stompbox; two effects loops; two power amps; two XLR line outs; and if you use it, Yamaha's specially designed dual mono speaker cabinet, which has two different-sounding loudspeakers.
Many pro players use separate amps for clean and lead sounds, and often combine them; that's how those elusive lead sounds that have distortion with no loss of clarity are made, and this is the THR100HD's party trick.
"All things considered, the THR100HD could be a game-changer."
FULL REVIEW: Yamaha THR100HD review
Laney L20T 212
For this particular amp, Laney has returned to the 2x12 combo format with a twist: there are two different loudspeakers. Celestion's Vintage 30 and G1230H are sonically very different, so having both in the same cabinet is a cool concept, giving players a choice of two distinct tones when mic'ing up.
The clean sounds have a bell-like clarity, with a seductive chime that turns into an edgy bite as the volume rises. Meanwhile, the drive channel's wide-ranging gain control caters for most tastes, from blues to classic rock and more.
"The colour scheme may be polarising but the sounds aren't: world-class tone at a very affordable price."
FULL REVIEW: Laney L20T 212 review
Victory V40 'The Duchess'
The V40 expands the elusive low-to-medium gain range, putting a wide spectrum of subtly shifting overdrive textures under your fingers. There are rotary controls for gain, EQ and master volume.
The real fun starts with a two-position voice switch, which subtly changes the V40's character. Voice 1 is centred more on the early 60s 'blackface' tone; Voice 2 is edgier and a touch more aggressive, evoking the tweed amps of the 1950s.
"A very portable head with stunning low-gain tone that's in a class of its own."
FULL REVIEW: Victory V40 'The Duchess' review
BUY: Victory V40 'The Duchess' currently available from:
UK: Andertons Music
What really sets the Amp1 apart is the powerful and very dynamic punch of its unique valve-driven 100-watt power stage. Plugged into a good 4x12, it can handle any gig with power to spare, while being just as useful at home or in the studio plugged into headphones or a mixing desk.
We've seen several floor-standing pedalboard-type amps in the last couple of years, but the Amp 1 is in a completely different league, combining great tone and useful features with the simplicity of a vintage head, while offering the option to add MIDI control and patch presets for players who want all of that.
"The next big thing? We reckon the Amp 1 will do for pedal amps what the iPad did for tablets - watch out!"
FULL REVIEW: BluGuitar Amp1 review
BUY: BluGuitar Amp1 currently available from:
Laney Ironheart IRT30-112
With two 6L6 power amp valves and three ECC83s in the preamp, the IRT30's tones sit on the American side of the fence, and its huge gain range offers plenty of sounds across the spectrum.
Channel-wise, there's the option of clean or rhythm, a gained-up lead channel, plus a switchable pre-boost. An included footswitch allows you to switch sounds, activate the boost, and turn the amp's digital reverb on or off - it's certainly a comprehensive feature set at this price.
"One of the most versatile valve combos we've heard in this price range: one seriously impressive amp.
FULL REVIEW: Laney Ironheart IRT30-112 review
Fender Blues Junior III
The Blues Junior's 'keep it simple' ethos means there's one channel, with a fat boost for rounder bottom-end and increased drive, volume and master volume controls, plus a three-band EQ and typically splashy Fender reverb. And that's about your lot: there's not even a standby switch!
However, when the clean channel's this good, who cares?
"An oldie but a goodie, this compact combo may be basic, but the tones it produces never fail to impress."
FULL REVIEW: Fender Blues Junior III review
Blackstar HT Metal 60
With two 12-inch Celestion speakers and three footswitchable channels, the Metal 60 is a beast of a closed-back combo. The control panel is considerably beefed up, too: you get a full EQ panel, bass and treble controls plus a voice button on the clean channel, as well as master presence and resonance knobs to give your sound the cut and rumble you need for playing live.
This brute is all-valve and boasts Blackstar's patented ISF (Infinite Shape Feature) control, which grants you access to the biggest metal tones from both sides of the Atlantic, while the larger amps also feature footswitchable overdrive channels, for multiple shades of filth.
"The authenticity and versatility of the tones never fails to satisfy - nobody's going to mess with your riffs with this behemoth behind you."
FULL REVIEW: Blackstar HT Metal 60 review
As ever, simplicity proves itself to be the backbone of great design, but that doesn't mean Marshall has skimped on features. Like the original DSL, you've got two channels, divided into Classic Gain and Ultra Gain. Each also has two separate modes, giving you four different voices to play with.
The Classic Gain channel is split into clean and crunch, but by using the gain control sparingly, there's still plenty of scope to keep the clean pristine or introduce a hit of 'Plexi'- style dirt. The crunch actually covers a surprisingly wide range; there's more than enough to nail the coveted Marshall saturated crunch that the likes of AC/DC have made so iconic.
The Ultra Gain channel, on the other hand, caters to the heavier side of life, and starts with the JCM800-influenced Lead 1, a searing lead tone that 80s metal fans in particular will lap up.
"Undoubtedly one of the most compelling sub-£700 combos around."
FULL REVIEW: Marshall DSL40C review
The AC4HW1 is based upon the EL84-driven Top Boost circuit beloved of those 60s Brit bands and of the world ever since. Built in Vietnam, it has has the simplest of control layouts and is designed to offer classic tones for home practice, rehearsal, recording and even small gigs.
Everything is available, from great pop tones into blues and classic rock territory. The sounds are so uncomplicated and instantly 'there' that you can augment it with your favourite stompboxes to create an amp that sounds like you.
"For recording, this could be all the amp you ever need."
FULL REVIEW: Vox AC4HW1 review
Egnater Tweaker 40 Combo
The Tweaker 40's two channels are identical, but with so much range, they can sound radically different.
Aimed primarily at weekend warriors and semi pros, the Tweaker 40 sits in a highly competitive sector where many brands compete for your hard-earned cash; however, few can boast the Egnater's pedigree or its very boutique features, let alone the living room-friendly styling and attention to detail.
"In a crowded market, the Tweaker 40 is one of the best mid-price amps out there. Don't pass up the chance to try one."
FULL REVIEW: Egnater Tweaker 40 Combo review
Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister 36
The TubeMeister 36 offers three channels for clean, crunch and lead, each with separate gain and master volume controls. There are two three-band EQs – one for the clean channel, the other shared by crunch and lead.
Around the back, you'll find a series of pushbutton switches for the TubeMeister's built-in attenuator that progressively reduce output power from 36 watts down to 18, five, or one watt, with a mute switch. This disconnects the speaker but leaves the head's built-in Red Box speaker emulator on for silent recording.
"Hughes & Kettner has produced a gem we reckon will sell and sell."
FULL REVIEW: Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister 36 review
Koch Jupiter 1x12
The Jupiter boasts two channels - Hot and Cool, with separate gain and volume controls - sharing a conventional passive bass, mid and treble EQ network. Extra flexibility comes from a gain boost switch on the Hot channel and a contour switch on the EQ that shifts the mid-range, bringing it forward and adding a little more aggression.
Towards the right-hand side of the control panel there's a level control for the Jupiter's digital reverb and a control called the Dimmer, which acts like an attenuator, adding some of the feel you would get from real output-valve saturation.
"A superb grab-and-go club amp, perfect for the working musician and tonally in a class of its own."
FULL REVIEW: Koch Jupiter 1x12 review
Vox AC15C2 'Twin'
The AC15 'Twin' retains the all-important dual-EL84, cathode-biased output section of its forebear, but otherwise it's very different.
With twin speakers for the extra spread and depth, this is one AC15 that's so much more than a half-measure. There's literally nothing else quite like it out there.
"Pretty much the only relatively affordable 2 x 12, EL84-driven, 15-watt valve combo available. Thank heavens it's good!"
FULL REVIEW: Vox AC15C2 'Twin' review
Egnater Tweaker 88
The Tweaker 88 brings together a wealth of easy-to-use, real-world features that make it a great choice for any guitarist, though it's particularly well-suited to old-school players who want a good basic core tone with extra flexibility that doesn't sacrifice the feel and fun of a simple vintage amp.
Of course, those who like to tweak their sound will be in heaven with all those mini switches. At this price, the quality of tone and response is fantastic, challenging some amps that cost two or even three times the money and making it difficult to find much in the way of direct competition.
"This is another great amp from Egnater that's destined for future classic status."
FULL REVIEW: Egnater Tweaker 88 review
Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister 18
The TM18 boasts two channels, plus a boosted third mode, that collectively handle anything from clean Fender- and Vox-derived tones, Marshall-influenced crunches, right through to scooped-mid metal tones that you'd associate with the likes of Mesa/Boogie. Both the channel selection and lead boost options are footswitchable, putting three sounds at your feet.
The bass, middle and treble controls are common to both channels, though compromises are minimised because the overall response of each pot shifts depending on which channel you're in; H&K has chosen frequency bands that are complementary to each channel independently. Indeed, turn the pots while playing and they feel responsive and intuitive in use, with a wide band of adjustment available.
"Versatile, portable, great sounding, good value - the new ruler in the compact-head kingdom"
Blackstar HT Soloist 60
The Soloist is a proper two-channel design, with volumeand tone controls for its clean channel and a voice switch, which accesses two different modes called modern and boutique.
In modern mode, the amp has more headroom and a tighter bass response, while the power stage runs in Class AB. Switch to boutique clean and the power amp is reconfigured to run in Class A with less headroom, while the emphasis is more on mids and highs.
"We think the HT Soloist 60 is the best amp in the HT Venue range - put it at the top of your 'must try' list."
FULL REVIEW: Blackstar HT Soloist 60 review
Orange TH30 Combo
Thunder by name, thunder by nature. Despite its compact size, the TH30 is capable of making one hell of a racket. With a Fender Strat plugged in, on full power the clean channel has a three-dimensional quality and bags of additional spank.
The dirty channel, meanwhile, is a beast. Don't be fooled by the spartan appearance of the control panel: the interaction of the volume, gain and that all-important shape control inherited from the Thunderverb series - essentially a mid-range EQ sweep - can take you from raunchy mid-rich blues-rock crunch through to AC/DC on steroids into full-bore scooped extreme metal territory.
"Simple, loud and versatile - this ticks a lot of pub and club gig boxes."
FULL REVIEW: Orange TH30 Combo review