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The 10 best guitar amps under $/£1,000 2020: heads and combos for rock, metal, blues and beyond

The 10 best guitar amps under $/£1,000 2020: heads and combos for rock, metal, blues and beyond
(Image credit: Future)

If you’re shopping around for one of the best guitar amps under $/£1,000, you’re starting to enter Very Serious Amp territory. At this end of the spectrum, you can realistically expect a guitar amp to deliver the kind of sound that makes the hairs on your neck stand up. But, seeing as you’re not exactly short of options in this bracket, where do you start?

In this guide we’ll outline the features and functionalities you should be looking out for, as well as offering some recommendations of the best guitar amps under $/£1,000. We’ve got incredible options from Fender, Peavey and Orange, along with some more specialised amps covering specific genres or playing styles.

With Black Friday on the horizon, it could be worth holding off on picking up a new sub-$/£1,000 guitar amp until the Black Friday music deals start emerging. We'll be reporting on the best offers right through to Black Friday itself.

Which are the best guitar amps under $/£1,000?

The right amp for you is the one that gives you the tones you’re looking for, along with maybe some you didn’t even know you needed. For us, the sonic potential of the Orange Rocker 32 is hard to beat. As a neutral base for pedalboards, it’s near flawless, particularly when you make use of its stereo capability. Couple that with dollops of that classic Orange gain on tap whenever you need it and you have a pretty compelling proposition.

Elsewhere, we’ve been quite taken with the Fender ’68 Custom Princeton Reverb, on account of it having a clean sound you’d crawl over broken glass for. It would, however, maybe be too much of a specialist amp to recommend to everyone.

Best guitar amps under $/£1,000: buying advice

If you’re new to the sub-$/£1k amp club, you’re in for a treat. It’s in this region where you start to see real, quantifiable benefits in both the quality and sounds you can achieve. Typically, most amps at this point will be valve or tube-based, spanning a vast amount of tonal possibilities, although there are increasingly digital and modelling options which offer different benefits. As ever, it pays to have a clear idea of what you need from the amp before you open your wallet.

Build-wise, you’ll find manufacturers and brands start to use better components or construction methods which have a direct impact on tones and durability. You won’t find too many hand-wired options at this price range, but general levels of quality control will be better so you can be confident your new amp will last.

Amps in this area of the market are becoming increasingly compact too. So-called lunchbox amps are hugely popular, as they offer an alternative to those enormous 100W heads which, realistically, are vastly overpowered for most people. There is, however – and always will be – a place for high-powered amp heads, with users rightly believing the adage that it’s better to have the power and not need it, rather than needing it and coming up short.

Put simply, if you’re in the market for one of the best guitar amps under $/£1,000, then the chances are that you’ve developed a clear playing identity, and style, and need an amp to help you realise that vision. Whereas entry-level and practice amps benefit users by offering them a wide selection of tones, in this bracket you’ve likely chosen your route and are in for the long haul. Whatever that sounds like, we have some great recommendations for you. 

The best guitar amps under $/£1,000 right now

Best guitar amps under $/£1,000: Orange Rocker 32

(Image credit: Orange)

1. Orange Rocker 32

A killer combo for pedal users – especially stereo fans

Launch price: $1,099/£829/€1,045 | Type: Stereo tube combo | Output: 30W, switchable down to 15W | Number of channels: 2 | Tubes: 4x EL84, 4x ECC83, 2x ECC81 | Speaker: 2x Orange Voice Of The World Gold Label 10" | Weight: 23.3kg

True stereo capability
Great for pedal users
Deceptively versatile
Could do with side handles for portability

The Rocker 32’s secret weapon is its stereo capabilities courtesy of two output stages and a mono out/stereo in valve-buffered effects loop – and it’s this that opens the door to some tantalising effects possibilities. It also features a half-power option incorporated into the front panel standby switch. 

The enamel control panel follows Orange’s classic 1970s ‘graphics only’ format, using pictograms to describe the control functions. The Dirty channel includes gain, bass, mid, treble and master volume controls, while the clean Natural channel has a single volume control. The Natural channel may only have a single volume control, but it’s perfectly dialled in to flatter practically any guitar and it sounds wonderful, with a glassy treble giving way to an addictive chime at higher volume levels. The Dirty channel’s gain control has a very wide range, allowing fine control of moderately driven sounds, with plenty of Dark Terror-approved filth at the top of its travel, making it ideal for everything from classic Brit rock and blues to modern metal. 

The Rocker 32’s stereo capability will make it one of the best amps for pedals. Plugging in a decent stereo chorus and setting the outputs to dry/wet sends a clean uneffected sound through one side and a fully wet modulated sound to the other. This wet/dry combination generates the chorus effect in the air between the loudspeaker and the ears, creating a real three-dimensional soundscape that swirls and breathes like a classic Leslie rotary loudspeaker.

Read the full Orange Rocker 32 review

Best guitar amps under $/£1,000: Fender Blues Junior IV

(Image credit: Fender)

2. Fender Blues Junior IV

One of the most popular amps in the world gets an update

Launch price: $599/£609/€611 | Type: Tube combo | Output: 15W | Number of channels: 1, with fat boost | Tubes: 2x EL84, 3x 12AX7 | Speaker: Celestion A-Type 12" | Weight: 14.3kg

Stunning clean and drive sounds
Works well with pedals
Great built quality
Relatively lightweight
Not much high-gain potential without pedals
May not be enough clean headroom for bigger gigs

The Blues Junior's compact dimensions, light weight and pedal-friendly credentials have made it one of the most popular gigging combos in the world, but in 2018, Fender updated it to the new Mark IV specification, which features various tweaks, including Celestion’s excellent A-Type loudspeaker. Controls include gain, bass treble and middle, reverb level and master volume, with a small push-button ‘Fat’ switch. 

In use, the Junior unleashes a stunning range of Fender tones, from spanky, sparkling cleans, to fat and smooth midrange crunch that’s spot on for blues and classic rock. The Fat switch adds a generous midrange boost and can be remote-controlled from a footswitch for greater versatility, while the improved reverb circuit is very impressive, with no noise and a smooth, warm delay that feels more integral to the overall amp tone, harking back to the best blackface reverbs of the 1960s. 

No matter what guitar you use, the Blues Junior flatters single coils and humbuckers alike, not to mention overdrive pedals with plenty of volume. The sounds are top-drawer, comparing well against many so-called boutique amps costing four times the price. Factor in the compact dimensions and light weight, and it’s easy to see why the Blues Junior remains one of the best clean amps in the world.

Read the full Fender Blues Junior IV review

Best guitar amps under $/£1,000: Blackstar HT Club 40 MkII

(Image credit: Blackstar)

3. Blackstar HT Club 40 MkII

A feature-loaded, super-versatile channel-switching tube combo

Launch price: $879/£549/€699 | Type: Tube combo | Output: 40W, switchable down to 4W | Number of channels: 2, with 4 voices | Tubes: 2x EL34, 2x ECC83 | Speaker: Celestion 12" | Weight: 24kg

Superb build
Incredible tones for the money
Fully stocked feature set
Hugely versatile
Fairly heavy for a 1x12

The control panel of the HT Club 40 has separate channels for clean and overdrive, with two footswitchable voices on each channel. There’s also a new, low-power option, which reduces output from around 40 watts down to just four watts. Global controls include a master volume and level control for the Club’s built-in digital reverb. On the rear panel, you’ll find extension speaker outlets and an effects loop, with new features including a USB recording output together with speaker-emulated line outs on jack and XLR. 

The MkII’s clean channel has a completely reworked architecture with two tightly defined voices, best described as classic American and classic British, which can be pre-set on the control panel or footswitched. Although only one button is pressed, lots of changes happen inside, including preamp voicing, EQ and valve gain structure, as well as the power amplifier damping.  A similar thing happens on the overdrive channel, with a choice of two voices called ‘classic crunch’ and ‘super- saturated lead’, which can be infinitely tweaked between Brit and USA response using Blackstar’s patented ISF control. Like the clean channel, these voices have been reworked to be richer and more responsive. 

In use, the HT Club 40 MkII is jaw-droppingly good – while the MkI version was efficient if a little bland sometimes, the MkII is full of character and attitude, with astonishing tonal depth and response that will have many top-dollar boutique amps struggling to keep up.

Read the full Blackstar HT Club 40 MkII review

Best guitar amps under $/£1,000: Vox AC15C2

(Image credit: Vox)

4. Vox AC15C2

A classic British combo in 2x12 format

Launch price: $899/£759/€799 | Type: 2x12 tube combo | Output: 15W | Tubes: 2x EL84, 3x 12AX7 | Number of channels: 2 (not footswitchable) | Speaker: 2x Celestion G12M Greenback 12" | Weight: 30.2kg

Usable volume
Classic tones
Responds well to pedals
Channels not linkable
Heavy
Not suitable for higher-gain styles without pedals

The AC15 'Twin' retains the all-important dual-EL84, cathode-biased output section of its forebear, but otherwise it's very different. A quick scan across the top panel reveals two inputs for independent access to either normal or top boost channels. 

One benefit of the bigger, 2x12 enclosure is that it provides ample room for a full-length reverb tank, housed in the bottom. There's also an in-built tremolo effect, with controls for depth and speed. But the whole point of this amp is the pair of 25-watt Celestion G12M Greenback speakers. They are the speaker of rock in so many cases and while purists might hope for Celestion Blues, they would add a good £300 at least to the price; and the increased power handling of two Greenbacks on the end of just 15 watts is quite a tantalising prospect. 

It's fair to say that even with the master volume set-up, the magic doesn't really start happening until the amp's lungs are at least half way open, but happily, that's not far from perfect for many of today's pub and bar gigs – it may even be too much for some. The AC15 'Twin' does sound magnificent when clean, but listen carefully to those amps or this and it's rarely completely undistorted. That harmonically rich drive that was never supposed to be there is the key characteristic that latter day, non-master volume AC users find hardest to replicate.

Read the full Vox AC15C2 review

Best guitar amps under $/£1,000: PRS MT 15 Mark Tremonti

(Image credit: PRS / Paul Reed Smith)

5. PRS MT 15 Mark Tremonti

One of the best amps for metal and hard rock, especially at this price

Launch price: $729/£555/€589 | Type: Lunchbox tube head | Output: 15W, switchable down to 7W | Number of channels: 2, with clean pull-boost | Tubes: 2x 6L6, 6x EC83S | Weight: 8.1kg

Superb build
Astounding high-gain tones
Incredible value for money
Those lights!
No onboard reverb
Not the most characterful clean channel

Mark Tremonti is well-known as an avid gearhead and first impressions of the MT 15 are of a purposeful, working player’s tool with no unnecessary bells or whistles. The MT 15 has clean and lead footswitchable preamp channels, with gain and master volume on the lead channel, and volume on the clean channel. Both channels have their own bass, mid and treble controls with a master presence control and a pull boost on the clean channel to add a mild overdriven edge. 

Around the back things are kept simple with a series effects loop plus a half-power switch which drops the MT 15 from 15 watts down to around seven watts. At first glance there’s no channel indicator, however, when powered up all the MT 15’s valves are lit by LEDs which change colour: red for lead, blue for clean – very visible and very cool. The lead channel has no less than five gain stages and the amount of gain and distortion on tap is huge. However, it’s also been carefully sculpted into a stunning barrage of harmonic filth that flatters every note and power chord. Often, very high gain can easily descend into an unpleasant mush that’s perceived more as noise than music, yet the MT 15 manages to 
avoid this and retains exceptional clarity and articulation, making it one of the best high-gain amps for metal and beyond. 

The clean channel offers plenty of headroom to cater for any guitar, while pulling the channel mid-boost function adds a sweet vintage Fender overdrive with a medium-fast response that’s great for country picking or blues.

Read the full PRS MT 15 Mark Tremonti review

Best guitar amps under $/£1,000: Peavey Invective MH

(Image credit: Peavey)

6. Peavey Invective MH

The one everyone’s talking about, only smaller

Launch price: $699/£699/€699 | Type: Head | Output: 20W/5W/1W | Number of channels: Two channels | Weight: 7.5kg

Modern take on a classic
Compact
Built-in noise gate
Better suited to practice and small gigs

Every now and again, a new amp is released that seems to achieve near-universal approval. The Peavey Invective 120, signature of Misha Mansoor, is one such amp, taking the successful formula Peavey had with its 6505 series and bringing it crashing into the 21st century.

And now there’s a small one! Knowing that not everybody requires 120W of screaming high gain power, Peavey has launched a lunchbox variant packing the same feature set, including a much-needed noise gate, into a package that can switch down from 20W to 5W and 1W. As a result, the Peavey Invective MH is much more conducive to bedroom practice sessions and small gigs.

Best guitar amps under $/£1,000: Fender ’68 Custom Princeton Reverb

(Image credit: Fender)

7. Fender ’68 Custom Princeton Reverb

Achingly cool Silverface tribute with breathtaking tone

Launch price: $899/£859/€1,150 | Type: Combo | Output: 12W | Number of channels: One | Weight: 15.4kg

Pays homage to a classic
Tone machine
Lush clean sound
A little pricey

As far as tributes go, the Fender ’68 Custom Princeton Reverb takes some beating. As an homage to the classic 60’s-era Silverface amps, the Princeton is a single-channel, 6V6 equipped tone machine. You’d be hard pressed to find a sweeter clean sound at this price.

It’s more versatile than that though, thanks to the tube-driven reverb and vibrato circuits, while there’s even a decent amount of overdrive if you push it hard enough. All told, the ’68 Custom Princeton Reverb is a tremendous little amp with character, class and tone in spades. Highly recommended.

Read the Fender ’68 Custom Princeton Reverb review

Best guitar amps under $/£1,000: Supro Blues King 12

(Image credit: Supro)

8. Supro Blues King 12

One of the best guitar amps for blues

Launch price: $599/£599 | Type: 1x12 tube combo | Output: 15W | Tubes: 1x 12AX7, 1x 6L6 | Number of channels: 1, w/ 2-stage footswitchable boost | Speaker: 1x Supro BK12 12" | Weight: 13kg

Excellent clean and classic-rock overdrive tones
Usable for small gigs
One of Supro's most affordable amps yet
Higher headroom and higher gain available elsewhere

The Blues King 12 features a lightweight, highly-resonant poplar cabinet shape that’s based on the company's 1950s Comet combo. Behind the control panel there’s a simple valve preamp and a pure class A single-ended output stage; meanwhile grafted into this vintage circuit is a cascaded FET overdrive section that adds independently footswitchable boost and gain for a wide range of distortion effects. 

There’s also a traditional spring reverb and a simple series effects loop, adding extra sonic flexibility to this very vintage-looking combo. From biting Chicago blues to smooth jazz, or down-home country to searing modern rock leads, it’s perfect for smaller live gigs, backstage warm-up, home practice and recording studios too, thanks to impressively low noise levels. If you’re in the market for a small, portable and versatile valve 1x12, Supro’s Blues King should be top of your list.

Read the full Supro Blues King 12 review

Best guitar amps under $/£1,000: PRS Sonzera 20 Combo

(Image credit: PRS)

9. PRS Sonzera 20 Combo

A highly versatile, gig-ready tube combo

Launch price: $799/£749/€899 | Type: 1x12 tube combo | Output: 20W | Tubes: 2x 6L6, 1x ECC83S, 3x 12AX7 | Number of channels: 2 | Speaker: 1x Celestion V-Type 12" | Weight: 19kg

Great price
Impressive range of tones, including high-gain
Wonderful lower gain options
No footswitchable effects loop

Sonzera is Brazilian Portuguese for ‘cool/awesome/frightfully good tone’ and the range consists of a 50-watt head and combo, and this slightly more compact Sonzera 20 combo. This is a proper two-channel design with separate clean and gain channels. The gain channel has level and drive controls together with a bright switch and bass, mid and treble tone controls, while the clean channel offers volume, bass and treble controls. There are global controls for presence and the built-in spring reverb. 

The robust internals and unfussy appearance give the amp a purposeful stripped-down, ready-to-rock vibe: a player’s tool that’s meant to be taken out and gigged. The clean channel has an addictive ‘live’ quality that’s reminiscent of some of the best small amps from the mid-'60s, while the gain channel can sound vintage or bang up to date, depending on how much gain you dial in. We’re seriously impressed with this wonderful combo, packing plenty of serious guitar tone into a compact, portable package with more than enough volume to handle most small to medium gigs.

Read the full PRS Sonzera 20 Combo review

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