Concerned about buying an amp online without playing it first? You needn’t be. Online music instrument retailers like Thomann, Sweetwater, Guitar Center and Musician’s Friend offer hassle-free returns as standard, so you can purchase an amp, play it in the comfort and privacy of your home and, if it’s not for you, send it back with ease. Check the specific returns policy for your chosen retailer before you purchase, but most offer between 30-45 days to return an item, as long as it’s in original condition.
The budget guitar amp market has never looked better. From versatile digital modellers, packing in hundreds of great sounds, through to specialist tube amps focusing on pure, unadulterated tone, there is something for every player who is looking for the best guitar amps under $/£500.
Of course, a low price point is nothing without a strong tonal performance, so in this buyer’s guide we've gathered the very best budget guitar amps available today, in terms of sound, features and overall functionality.
We believe these amps represent the best bang-for-your-buck value – they're ideal starting points for beginner guitarists, those players looking for small 'at home'/studio boxes and gigging guitarists alike.
Here we’ll show you our pick of the best guitar amps under $/£500 to get you started, including superb options from Orange, Boss and Fender!
With Black Friday on the horizon, it could be worth holding off on picking up a new sub-$/£500 guitar amp until the Black Friday guitar deals and Black Friday music deals start emerging. We'll be reporting on the best offers right through to Black Friday itself.
- Explore the best guitar amps for all budgets
- The best electric guitars for beginners: start playing today
Which are the best guitar amps under $/£500?
The $/£500 price point is where guitar amps start getting serious. At this point you can expect to find amps with genuine quality, which will sound amazing and last for years. We were particularly drawn to the Boss Katana-100, on account of its wide range of usable and creative tones. It has plenty in the way of additional tools and tricks, like the ability to load entire signal chains using an app, but judged purely on sound alone the Katana is one of the best around.
Special mention also to the Egnater Tweaker 15, which offers up exceptional versatility and some serious tube brilliance for not a lot of money. If tube is the way you want to go, but you need a wide range of tones, this little box of tricks is definitely worth seeking out.
Best guitar amps under $/£500: buying advice
As we always say, it’s worth having an idea what you need the amp to achieve before you make any buying decisions. Do you need a full gig-ready amp, with enough power to make yourself heard in a stage environment? Or do you need something you can plug in next to the TV for a spot of evening practice (for that you might want to check out our guide to the best practice amps)? Either way, there are plenty of amps which will fit the bill.
Perhaps the first consideration to make is what kind of sounds you need the amp to deliver. Digital modelling has made it possible for even budget or entry-level models to offer up approximations of virtually every amp or effect you can think of, which makes them ideal for learners. Being able to dial in a classic Fender clean sound, with a dash of reverb and modulation, and then switch to a raging Marshall-esque high-gain sound instantaneously means you’re not limited in terms of what you can practice. Where digital modellers sometimes fall down – particularly at the cheaper end – is when playing at higher volume, where distorted tones in particular can lose definition.
- 18 best electric guitars: our pick of the best electrics to suit all budgets
- Best guitar cables: top guitar leads and patch cables
- Best guitar amps under $/£1,000 2020: top heads and combos
Tube amps, on the other hand, excel at higher volumes, where the extra grunt causes those power tubes to sing. The payoff there is that tube amps are, on the whole, more expensive and can be delicate beasts. But, if you know the sound you want and don’t need all that extra stuff, a tube amp will provide that gold-standard tone you’re looking for.
We’ve included combo amps and amp heads in the list; with combo amps the speaker is included so you’re good to go immediately, whereas amp heads require connection to a separate speaker cabinet. This does open up the possibility of expanding your arsenal in the future, to build a collection of specialist heads you’d use for different situations. You might, for example, have a neutral sounding head you use with your pedalboard, and another you use for getting a certain unique overdriven tone.
As much as guitarists love their guitars, it is in the amplifier that your true sound comes to life so it is wise to give it proper consideration. Here’s a rundown of some of the best guitar amps under $/£500.
The best guitar amps under $/£500 right now
Boss is an effects legend, but thanks to the digital expertise of parent company Roland, the brand now also has an amp that promises organic, valve-like tones at an impressively low price. It does this by using the same Tube Logic technology employed in the 150-watt Waza Craft head, and other Roland amps. The K100 doesn’t invite direct comparison with specific amp brands and models. Instead, there are five generic voices: Acoustic, Clean, Crunch, Lead and Brown. You can pre-load 15 different effects types into the amp, with 55 to currently choose from when you link the Katana to the Boss Tone Studio application.
The Katana may look plain, but its tones are truly exceptional. The Crunch voice is responsive and dynamic, while the Brown solo sound is as good as many USA valve-powered competitors. Start using the Tone Studio editor and the Katana’s edge becomes sharper still, with different effects chain presets and assignable control parameters.
Read the full Boss Katana-100 review
It always baffled us that the Egnater Tweaker range wasn’t more widely celebrated. To us, this little basket-baffled marvel offers the perfect blend of wonderful tones, endless tweakability – the clue’s in the name – and accessible price, making it easy for us to recommend.
The 15W head version is powered by a pair of 6V6 power tubes, and offers individual controls over pretty much every element of the tone. You can choose between British, American or AC style EQ stacks, how bright you want the tone, whether you want it tight or deep, and whether you want a more modern or classic voicing. Put simply, if you can’t find a tone you like on the Tweaker, guitar amps probably aren’t for you.
It may look like a toy, but the Micro Dark is every inch a real amplifier, with a very usable 20-watt solid-state power stage coupled to a preamp that uses a single 12AX7 for authentic valve-overdrive timbres. One of the reasons the Micro Dark is so small is that it relies on an external power supply: a laptop-style brick providing 15 volts.
This aside, everything else is where you'd expect to find it. The Micro Dark is a straightforward single-channel design with controls for gain and volume, together with Orange's very versatile Shape tone control, which boosts mids in one direction and scoops them in the other. There's also a very usable headphone output that features Orange's authentic CabSim speaker emulation, in addition to a speaker output, and a fully buffered effects loop.
It's astonishing just how much great tone Orange has managed to squeeze into such a small box – with a 4x12 or 2x12, this amp is plenty loud enough for home practice, rehearsals or even small gigs. At less than the cost of many high-end overdrive pedals, here's a proper amp that's small enough to live in any gig bag, yet powerful enough to handle almost any situation.
Read the full Orange Micro Dark review
Building on the already compact ID:Core series, the Fly 3 takes the micro amp concept and runs with it, packing three watts, two channels, digital tape delay and Blackstar's Infinite Shape Feature for British and American sounds. What's more, you can even buy an extension cab to create a stereo rig, which works brilliantly for playing tunes via the 3.5mm audio-in jack.
It's the tone that makes the Fly 3 such a resounding success, though; it sounds as good as practice amps four times the size, with a meaty bass response, American-style cleans and hefty gain. Dialling in a touch of tape delay helps to enhance the size of the sound, too. Its small size and impressive sound makes the Fly 3 the best guitar amp for beginners, as well as anyone searching for an affordable desktop amp.
Read the full Blackstar Fly 3 review
Yamaha's THR10 is a desktop amp that's designed to look good, be used at low volumes, play your music via a 3.5mm input, and enable direct recording to your DAW via USB. It's an impressive feature set. Under the hood, the THR unit uses Yamaha's Virtual Circuit Modelling (VCM) technology for core sound generation, with the control response designed to mimic the 'real thing' – valve amps.
In this instance, the five amp models offer a range of Fender, Vox, Marshall and Boogie-style benchmark sounds, as well as bass and acoustic channels. These amps have been designed to sound good and retain dynamics without sounding overly processed, whatever the volume level, and Yamaha has certainly achieved that. It's refreshing to play through an amp that doesn't sound worse when you turn it down, and that's what makes this one of our favourite practice amps for use at home.
Read the full Yamaha THR10 review
Roland has duplicated not just the tone, but the organic response and dynamic envelope of a vintage tweed valve amp, using a clever mix of analogue and digital circuits. The Blues Cube Hot is a single-channel design with footswitchable boost and EQ, as well as four output levels, from 30 watts down to around 0.5 watts, to properly reproduce the sound of a valve power stage driven into cut-off at any volume level.
The Blues Cube Hot needs no tweaking to find a great tone; the sonic gratification is instant. It's not just the tone that impressed us, though; the Blues Cube Hot has that dynamic squashy response that you expect from valves, flattering single coils and humbuckers alike. At full power, it's loud enough for small gigs, while at the other extreme, the 0.5-watt setting is perfect for home practice and recording, with no loss of tone or feel.
Solid-state has come a long way in the last decade, and when amps as good as this one come along, it's hard to deny the benefits. Portability, reliability, consistency and affordability are a given, but great tone is what really counts. But this sounds and responds like a top boutique valve amp, with none of the valve drawbacks.
Read the full Roland Blues Cube Hot review
- The best guitars for beginners: entry-level acoustic and electric guitars
- The best acoustic guitars for beginners
The Fender Mustang GT40 promises new, more realistic amp and effects models and spillover when changing patches so reverb and delay tails aren’t abruptly cut. The core sounds are superb, with 20 amp models, mostly inspired by classic Fenders from the tweed and blackface eras, but a fair smattering of British sounds as well, together with dozens of delays, modulation, stompbox and reverb effects.
The amp’s small screen means that there’s quite a bit of page shifting, but it’s not too tedious as the interface is generally well organised – and, of course, you can always use the app. With 20 watts a side in stereo, through a pair of full range 6.5" speakers in a ported enclosure, the Mustang has impressive volume and clarity, not quite big enough for drum-powered gigs but more than enough for home practise, rehearsals and recording.
The design is well thought-out and perfectly executed; aside from some fizziness with some high-gain models, it’s hard to put a finger on anything that’s less than excellent.
Read the full Fender Mustang GT40 review
For the CODE, Marshall developed a range of modelled preamps, power amps and speaker cabinets in collaboration with software plugin supremo Softube, calling the result MST (Marshall-Softube). There's plenty of choice, too: the CODE50 comes loaded with 14 MST preamps, four MST power amps and eight MST speaker cabinets – these cover every classic Marshall tone from the past 50 years.
It all compares favourably with amp modelling combos from the likes of Line 6 and Blackstar. Coupled with this mouth-watering choice of tone, 24 effects cover practically all vintage and modern needs, together with studio-quality reverbs.
Editing is done either from the front panel or Bluetooth, using Marshall's Gateway interface app, which updates settings in real time. Other clever features include a USB interface, used for updating firmware and recording to your PC, and there's also a built-in guitar tuner, mp3 player input and headphones socket. The tones are at least as good as the competition, and although streaming music into the amp via Gateway or USB sounds okay, you face the limitation that the amp speakers are for guitar, not full-range hi-fi.
Read the full Marshall CODE50 review
Sometimes you want to experiment with a tonne of different tones. Other times, you just want one single, pure clean tone. With the Fender Super Champ X2 you get the best of both worlds. Channel one is a straight-up, heavenly Fender clean tone driven by a 12AX7 preamp and two 6V6s in the power amp. Channel two, on the other hand, offers up digital models of 16 different voicings, and also throws in a host of effects for good measure.
In keeping with modern digital amps, the Super Champ X2 has a neat USB output at the rear which enables you to record a speaker-emulated tone straight to your computer. All told, the Fender Super Champ X2 is a near-perfect studio amp, which offers a lot of functionality – and tone - for the money.
Read the full Fender Super Champ X2 review
- The 9 best metal amps: heavyweight heads and combos
- The best acoustic amps for buskers and gigging guitarists
If you’re looking for a sub-$/£500 amp that’s ideal for gigging, then you’ll likely find tube amps out of reach financially. Sure, you can mic up a smaller combo, but sometimes a wall of pure amp volume is what’s needed. Thankfully, Orange is here to help. Everyone knows about its range of high-power tube heads, from the high-gain Rockerverb series to the more vintage flavoured ORs, but with the solid-state Crush Pro line-up there is a serious contender in the best guitar amps under $/£500 bracket.
The Orange Crush Pro CR120 is a 120-watt, two channel monster of a head, packing in more gain and volume than you could ever need, yet retaining that famous Orange tone at every volume. For players of heavier styles, the Crush Pro range is well worth your attention.
Read the full Orange Crush Pro CR120H review
This latest update to Line 6's best-selling practice amp series features over 200 high-quality amp, effects and cab models, with over 100 presets, together with a built-in tuner, metronome and even 19 real drum loops to jam along to. As if that wasn't already enough, there are Android and iOS apps and a built-in receiver for Line 6's Relay guitar wireless systems, not to mention an aux in – and a USB out that will let you record to a PC using the bundled Cubase LE software, or to your iPad or mobile phone.
The Spider V's controls are intuitive, although the display is a little on the small side. The updated sounds are excellent; the new full-range speaker system means better quality at low volume and more balance at higher volume levels, and not just for electric guitars – your acoustic will sound just as good, too. The new Spider V range represents great fun for guitarists at all levels – the new and improved amp models are highly playable and represent a significant advance over the competition, while the built-in looper, metronome and drum loops make this a fantastic amp.
Read the full Line 6 Spider V 60 review
The giggable ID:Core 100 combo uses a pair of special design Blackstar 10-inch loudspeakers to deliver 50 watts of power per channel in Super Wide Stereo. It packs six amp voices, and a multitude of effects, including a polyphonic octaver and a looper. In use, the ID:Core 100 generates plenty of volume that can easily fill small pubs and clubs; the amp voices have been enhanced for live use and easily cut through the cacophony of a live band without sounding harsh and brittle.
The included USB recording interface means the ID:Core 100 is still just as handy for home and studio use – despite the higher power, it's still very portable, weighing in at just over 12kg. Blackstar's app builders have come as close as anyone to providing the perfect interface that's intuitive and, above all, fun. The best news of all is that this amp comes at a price that would have been unthinkable a few decades ago, and it includes a handy two-button footswitch that gets you straight into using the looper.
Read the full Blackstar ID:Core Stereo 100 review
The 40-watt 1x10 VT40X has a restyled sealed cabinet, with a clever bass reflex design to enhance the 10-inch driver's bass response. Vox has leveraged the considerable digital expertise of parent company Korg, using its VET (Virtual Element Technology) modelling system to simulate each amp down to the last component, changing gain structure, tone network, operating class and bias, all in real time.
Class and bias buttons allow selection of class A or class AB, as well as shifting the bias voltage from normal to either cold or hot modes. Both buttons change the VT40X's dynamic response, affecting the Valve Reactor circuit, which uses a real 12AX7 valve to provide more realistic valve-driven tone and response. While the preamp is digital, this digitally controlled analogue part of the amp adds significant warmth and dynamics, which is still difficult to capture in the digital domain.
Effects-wise, there's a choice of 12 onboard modulations, delays, reverbs, overdrives and distortions, as well as a handy noise reduction. Plus, Vox's Tone Room editor software allows in-depth editing of parameters, adds extra models and effects and lets you save personal favourites offline, in addition to eight patches you can store on the amp itself. You can also sample other user patches, which can be a great help for newbies.
Read the full Vox Valvetronix VT40X review