Best of 2019: The 10 best guitar amplifiers of 2019, as voted for by you, tells the story of amp design in the 21st century.
The story tells us that the guitar tones developed by 1950s and ‘60s technologies have not gone out of style and most likely never will, with some of the year’s finest designs from contemporary amp manufacturers putting their expertise to the wheel in reinventing old tone for today’s player. In 2019, Mesa/Boogie might just have outdone itself on that score, while Victory has similarly excelled with a head bringing back the bluesy chime of a British classic.
But what makes 2019 different is the abundance of technologically-augmented amplifiers that deploy modelling technology in pursuit of supreme functionality and, above all, tone. We have new amplifiers from Boss, Line 6 and Fender that are changing the game with amplifiers delivering a performance that are sure to persuade even the most technophobic player that these new-fangled things are serious tools, increasing players’ access to a wide variety of great tones. And what’s not to like about that?
1. Boss Katana MkII
With its black on black aesthetic and using only a subtle arrangements of LEDs lest your backline lights up like E.T.’s spaceship, Boss Katana series has a minimalist vibe that belies the mind-blowing functionality under the hood.
Revised for 2019, here we’ve got an expanded range of digitally modelled sounds and onboard effects, available in a variety of formats, that are ideal for gigging and recording, and, at this price, invaluable for guitarists still experimenting and finding what sort of player they are going to be.
2. Fender Tone Master
If jaws fell to the floor when players first heard Fender’s digitally modelled Tone Master series reinvent the Deluxe Reverb and Twin Reverb without a valve in sight, minds soon exploded in turn when players had the opportunity to lift these combos and find they were only half the weight.
As much as their all-valve counterparts are two of the best clean-sounding combos in history, their weight made them brutal to cart around. Not anymore, and the Tone Master Series has the same tone, same look, plus a heap of modern features. This is amp engineering as voodoo.
3. Mesa/Boogie California Tweed
This 50th anniversary combo might just be one of the best that the Californian doyens of boutique tone have ever made, with a truly authentic voice of 1950s “Tweed” tone, an unfussy panel, and beautifully finished in blonde vinyl and jute grille cloth. There’s an exceptional spring reverb, plenty of headroom, a five-way rotary 6V6 Multi-Watt output control that allows you to run it at 2 watts or 40, and a vintage-voiced Jensen Blackbird speaker.
Read our full Mesa/Boogie California Tweed review
4. Victory VC35 Copper
This compact all-valve amp head is loaded with EL84s and will deliver 35 watts of classic tone, voiced after the AC-style amps that powered the British Invasion in the early 1960s. The cleans are alive with chime and brightness, while the crunch is all warm honey. Versatile, functional, inspiring.
5. Supro Blues King 12
Handling spanky cleans and sweet crunch, the Blues King is amply named. Anyone who likes to spend their playing time in the pentatonics, judiciously adding the flattened fifth for extra drama, will love this. The footswitchable boost is great. Disengaged, the Blues King is sweet and creamy at low volumes, turning fat and punchy when turned up, then kick on the boost for extra hot sauce on your leads.
Read our full Supro Blues King 12 review
6. Blackstar HT-20R MkII
With two channels, each with two different voices that are footswitchable, a power reduction switch, USB connectivity and balanced XLR outputs, the HT-20R is one hugely versatile modern valve combo. It has two EL84s in the power stage, is capable of sweet cleans, crunch and high-gain tones, and it’s portable enough to take to the practice room or the stage. Oh, and the reverb has been improved too.
Read our full Blackstar HT-20R MkII review
7. Blackstar Silverline
Siri, name me an amplifier that looks boutique, sounds boutique, but without the price tag, preferably lightweight and portable, and with a whole heap of onboard effects and modelling capability. Ah, yes, it’s Blackstar’s entry to the boutique digital modelling amp market, and it’s quite stunning, with truly game-changing tones from its SHARC processor. What, just £699 street for the Stereo Deluxe 100-watt, 2x12 Combo? Crazy!
8. Orange TremLord 30
Orange sets its sights on those immaculate clean tones of the 1950s, with onboard two-speed valve tremolo and spring reverb for added depth. There is plenty of headroom. With a post-tremolo effects loop, the TremLord makes a very attractive option to guitarists who like their amp’s sweet and clean only to lay their effects on top. Switchable power output makes it ideal for home practice too.
9. Line 6 Spider V 120 MkII
Of course you’ve got all the usual tech-forward features that the practising musician needs in 2019. There’s a tuner, metronome, jam-along drum loops, tap tempo and a 60-second looper, and you can connect to a computer via USB. But the higher-powered models in Line 6’s Spider V MkII Series are ideal for gigging guitarists who need a whole suite of excellent modelling tones and 100 per cent consistency night after night. It comes with 128 presets and has so much range.
10. Blackstar Studio 10 EL34 Combo
Small and compact, with a stripped-down control panel featuring only the bare necessities of gain, tone, reverb, master volume and a boost button, the Studio 10 is fuss free, competitively priced, and will be mother’s milk to any player who craves classic British blues-rock tone. The boost is footswitchable, plus there’s an effects loop, too. The Celestion Seventy-80 12-inch speaker is much appreciated to.
Read our full Blackstar Studio 10 EL34 Combo review