Look, we’ll come clean: there is no one ‘best guitar amp’. But if people keep posing the question, we intend to answer it to the best of our ability with a guide to the greatest heads and combos available today.
Ahead, you’ll find widely available amps to suit every budget, all of which have received rave reviews from our team of trusted testers - you can be sure that each and every one of these beauties delivers the tonal goods.
There are traditional tube offerings from big names like Marshall, Vox and Orange, as well as solid-state and digital modelling options, with the Kemper Profiler dominating the high-end, while more affordable kit from Yamaha and Boss is winning players on a budget over, too.
Whatever genre you play, one of these high-scoring heads or combos is sure to hit the mark.
1. Mesa/Boogie Mark Five: 25
A feature-loaded low-wattage head with built-in speaker emulation
Launch price: $1,499 / £1,379 | Type: Tube head | Output: 25W, switchable down to 10W | Number of channels: 2 channels with 6 modes | Tubes: 2x EL84, 6x 12AX7 | Weight: 7.5kg
Based on Mesa's flagship Mark V, the Mark Five: 25 head is small, perfectly formed and typical of Mesa's superlative design and attention to detail. Two independent channels, each with three very different voice presets, combine with Mesa's iconic five-band graphic EQ for a choice of 12 sounds. You can footswitch between the channels, with the graphic on or off for quasi four-channel operation and preset 25 or 10 watts per channel. One of the best features lives on the back panel: a CabClone speaker-emulated direct output, with a speaker defeat for silent recording or practice, using the built-in headphone socket. Despite the Mark Five: 25's long feature list, it's very easy to use and its tones are sensational. The rhythm channel covers the shimmering clean tones of the modern Boogie and the fatter 'blackface'-inspired midrange of the fabled Mark I, while the Mark V crunch voice is so deep and three-dimensional you could record an entire album with it. The lead channel is equally inspiring, with a perfect rendition of the Mark IIC's overdrive tone (arguably the most coveted Boogie sound), along with more modern distortion effects that sound unbelievably good when tweaked with the graphic. The Mark Five: 25 is one of the best small Boogies we've ever heard, which means it's one of the best small amps there is.
Read the full review: Mesa/Boogie Mark Five: 25
2. Marshall JCM 25/50 2555X Silver Jubilee Reissue
One of the best Marshall amps ever makes a triumphant return
Launch price: $2,580 / £1,199 | Type: Tube head | Output: 100W, switchable down to 50W | Number of channels: 2 | Tubes: 4x EL34, 3x ECC83 | Weight: 22.1kg
The 2555X Silver Jubilee reissue has the same silver vinyl covering used on the originals, and looks just as handsome. The controls are pleasingly familiar, with a simple front panel layout featuring controls for bass, mid, treble, presence, together with a preamp gain and two master volume controls - one for lead and one for rhythm. A push/pull switch on the output master volume changes channels, while another on the gain knob flips the 2555X into rhythm clip mode, changing the clean channel into something a lot more aggressive. The third rocker switch changes the output stage mode from pentode to triode, dropping the power from 100 down to around 50 watts, and softening the attack a little. The sparse rear panel also features a series effects loop, a fixed-level frequency-compensated DI output, and a jack socket for a single-button footswitch, used to change channels. Overall, the 2555X is built to last and look good for a long time, with Marshall's typically high build quality and attention to detail. Apart from its association with Slash, Joe Bonamassa, and various other high-profile users, the main reason why 2555s are so sought after is their sound. We're pleased to report that the reissue amp is tonally as accurate as it possibly could be, with perhaps a touch more gain and low-end punch than the original. The 2555X accurately reproduces the original tone - and with a few minor exceptions, the look - of the original, at a price that's very reasonable compared with the competition, especially for a UK-made product.
Read the full review: Marshall JCM 25/50 2555X Silver Jubilee Reissue
3. Boss Katana-100
Versatility and affordability make this one of the best amps for beginners and pros alike
Launch price: $409 / £329 | Type: Digital modelling combo | Output: 100W, switchable down to 50W, 10W and 0.5W | Number of channels: 5, plus 58 effects | Speaker: Custom 12" speaker | Weight: 14.8kg
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 last year’s 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 review: Boss Katana-100
4. Fender Blues Junior IV
One of the most popular amps in the world gets an update
Launch price: $599 / £609 | 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
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 for 2018, Fender has 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 drive 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 a firm favourite.
Read the full review: Fender Blues Junior IV
5. Blackstar HT Club 40 MkII
A feature-loaded, super-versatile channel-switching tube combo
Launch price: $879 / £549 | 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
The new HT Club 40 looks familiar, but practically every detail has been worked on and sweated over. The control panel 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 review: Blackstar HT Club 40 MkII
6. Orange Rocker 32
A killer combo for pedal users – especially stereo fans
Launch price: $1,099 / £829 | 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
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 almost irresistible to effects users. 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 review: Orange Rocker 32
7. Vox AC15C2
A classic British combo in 2x12 format
Launch price: $1,120 / £759 | 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
The new 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 he 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 review: Vox AC15C2
8. Victory V40 'The Duchess'
Less gain, more tone with this excellent lunchbox head
Launch price: $1,229 / £829 | Type: Lunchbox tube head | Output: 42W, switchable down to 7W, 1.5W and 0.5W | Number of channels: 1, with voice and mid-kick switches | Tubes: 2x EL34, 3x 12AX7 | Weight: 8.2kg
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 small toggle switch called 'mid kick' adds a touch of extra gain in the midrange, not least to give weedy single coils a lift for solos. There's also a digital reverb with a front-panel level control and on/off switch. Then there's the standby switch, which has two 'on' positions for high power (approximately 40 watts) and low power (seven watts). This switch also works in the V40's single-ended mode, offering a choice of around 1.5 watts in the high-power position and 0.5 watts in the low-power setting. The V40's sonic palette made us sit up and take notice. By reducing the gain, all the mildly overdriven and chime effects normally squeezed into a fraction of the gain knob's travel now occupy the whole range. The V40 Duchess is a unique design - many of its competitors feature high-gain lead channels, teamed with high headroom and often uninspiring clean channels. By focusing on those often-overlooked but highly effective low-to-medium overdrive sounds, the V40 has effectively carved out its own niche, and looks set to become popular for blues, roots, jazz and country players.
Read the full review: Victory V40 'The Duchess'
9. PRS MT 15 Mark Tremonti
One of the best amps for metal and hard rock, especially at this price
Launch price: $649 / £555 | 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
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 RMS 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. 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 review: PRS MT 15 Mark Tremonti
10. Yamaha THR100HD
A digital amp that captures tube tone and delivers a multi-amp sound
Launch price: $1,310 / £755 | Type: Digital modelling head | Output: 100W, switchable down to 50W and 25W | Number of channels: 5 (2 at once), with boosts | Weight: 5kg
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 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. What you see is very much what you get, with a five-position amp voice selector, which packs three overdrives - crunch, lead and modern - and two cleans: solid, and er, clean. There's also a channel volume control, because the master volume control works inside Yamaha's Virtual Circuit Modelling environment, adding more drive to the THR's digital power amp simulation, which in turn has five different valve choices, as well as Class A or Class A/B operation. Lurking on the rear panel are two speaker-simulated balanced XLR line-outs, with a ground lift switch that uses the latest Impulse Response cabinet simulation. There are superb Fender-influenced cleans, bluesy touch-sensitive crunches and a choice of classic or modern lead tones, all footswitchable for your convenience. The tones are so convincing it's really hard to believe there are no valves. The interaction of the clever digital power stage with the loudspeaker is just like that of a good valve amp, and the virtual valve choices are uncannily authentic.
Read the full review: Yamaha THR100HD
11. Kemper Profiler Head
The modeller that can capture the sound of any amp ever made
Launch price: $1,799 / £1,488 | Type: Digital modelling head with profiling and digital effects | Number of channels: Up to 1,000! Plus built-in effects | Weight: 5.3kg
The exciting thing about the Kemper is that you can use it to capture the sound of your JTM45, right where it hits that sweet spot, with the microphone you prefer and that mic preamp that just adds a certain something. Then you can refine the 'profile' you've made while A/B-ing the digital signal with the original using the Kemper's onboard EQ, and save the sound alongside the library of 200 or so profiles that comes pre-loaded, with access to hundreds more via the Rig Exchange section of the Kemper website. If you fancy a little more spice you can clean up or crank the KPA's onboard gain control to go way beyond the level of drive available on your original amp, adjust sag, tweak the audible effects of pick attack and even, thanks to what Kemper claims is "digital alchemy", alter the size of your virtual cabinet from a huge stack right down to a cigarette packet, while there's also a fully loaded set of effects. We've heard various approaches to digital modelling sound good in the studio before but this is as close to a 'real' mic'd valve amp sound as to be indistinguishable. If you're the type of guitarist who records regularly, or a producer who wants 24/7 access to a personal library of refined and tested guitar sounds wherever you happen to be on the planet at any given time, the Kemper Profiling Amp is the product of the decade so far.
Read the full review: Kemper Profiler Head
12. Fender '68 Custom Deluxe Reverb
One of the best Fender amps ever, now more practical than ever
Launch price: $1,349 / £1,198 | Type: Tube combo | Output: 22W | Tubes: 2x 12AT7, 4x 12AX7 | Number of channels: 2 | Speaker: Celestion G12V-70 12" | Weight: 19kg
One of the all-time classic gigging and recording amps, in this new incarnation the Deluxe Reverb is arguably more practical than ever, thanks to the extra versatility offered by being able to utilise the tremolo and reverb on both channels. Where original Deluxe Reverbs of the period would have had a Normal channel, sans tremolo or reverb, the new '68s have a Custom channel with access to those global effects and a new voicing, courtesy of a "modified Bassman tone stack" that's billed as being more pedal-friendly. Where you would have found a Vibrato channel, there's now a 'Vintage' channel with a more traditional voicing. There's a magic sweet spot between 4.5 and 6 on the volume control (depending on your choice of guitar), where the amp delivers a wonderful, dynamic dirty-clean rhythm sound at stage level that works as a brilliant core guitar sound for all manner of rock 'n' roll, Americana, blues and classic pop applications. Just add picking-hand dynamics and your guitar's volume control; there's so much range here. The onboard reverb and tremolo are wonderful, classic-sounding musical tools that push and inspire you to play in a certain way. Far more than a means of merely amplifying your guitar sound, this is a musical instrument in itself.
Read the full review: Fender '68 Custom Deluxe Reverb
13. EVH 5150III 50W EL34
Pro-quality high-gain amp heads don't get much better than this
Launch price: $1,517 / £1,149 | Type: Tube head | Output: 50W | Tubes: 2x EL34, 7x ECC83S | Number of channels: 3 | Weight: 15.8kg
The 5150 III EL34 50-watt head downsizes EVH's high-gain format, and boasts three channels: channel 1 (clean) and channel 2 (crunch) share the same EQ but feature separate gain and volume controls on clever, dual concentric pots; channel 3 (lead) gets its own dedicated EQ. A global presence control on the front panel and a global resonance control on the rear panel tune the power amplifier’s high and low frequency response to taste. The 5150 EL34 also takes MIDI program change commands, so you can sync it to MIDI-compatible effects units and floor controllers. The EL34 version of the 5150 is important because Van Halen’s groundbreaking early work relied exclusively on heavily-modified Marshall Super Lead heads, which used EL34s. Sat firmly in hot-rodded Plexi territory, the 5150’s channel 1 is capable of sparkling cleans, with enough gain for mildly driven blues sounds. Channel 2’s higher gain is perfect for crunch and classic rock leads, while Channel 3 launches into the stratosphere with gain levels that are cheerfully insane, yet works a clever magic trick by retaining most of the dynamics that are often lost at such extremes. This means the 5150 sounds properly cranked up, even at quite low practice levels. EVH’s 5150 III 50W EL34 is a highly-effective weapon for the modern rock and metal player that puts tone before unnecessary complexity.
Read the full review: EVH 5150 III 50W EL34
14. Hughes & Kettner GrandMeister Deluxe 40
An astonishing array of features make this one of the most versatile guitar amp heads around
Launch price: $1,499 / £1,119 | Type: Tube head with digital control and digital effects | Output: 40W, switchable down to 20W, 5W, 1W and 0W | Number of channels: 4, with built-in effects | Tubes: 4x EL84, 3x 12AX7 | Weight: 7.7kg
The GrandMeister Deluxe refines the German firm's best-selling compact head, with four flexible channels and a host of built-in effects. Just about everything is MIDI-powered, so you can edit and store presets to your heart's content. The rear panel includes the latest Red Box recording output, and there's also a new improved iPad app that you can use to edit and store presets, either at the end of a lead or using a wireless MIDI adaptor. The GrandMeister Deluxe 40's four channels sound quite different from those of its predecessor: they're more balanced, with slightly less treble emphasis and a smoother but no less powerful bass response. There's plenty of headroom on the clean channel, which dovetails seamlessly with the higher-gain crunch channel. Both clean and crunch are very tweed-influenced, dominated by a warm midrange that's equally flattering to humbuckers and single coils, especially when boosted and laced with a little of the GrandMeister's digital reverb, which can be combined to taste with delay, chorus, flanger, phaser or tremolo. The two American-voiced lead channels have all the gain you could possibly need for almost any musical genre, from classic rock to modern drop-tuned metal, with a nicely sculpted top-end that squeals and snarls on demand. As a do-it-all tool the GrandMeister 40 takes some beating. All of its many features work efficiently and it's hard to point the finger at shortcomings, because there really aren't any.
Read the full review: Hughes & Kettner GrandMeister Deluxe 40
15. Mesa/Boogie Triple Crown TC-50
Some of the greatest tones you'll ever hear from a pro-quality, three-channel head
Launch price: $1,899 / £2,450 | Type: Tube head | Output: 50W | Number of channels: 3, with 6 modes | Tubes: 2x EL34, 6x 12AX7, 1x 12AT7 (can be used with EL34, 6V6 or 6L6 power tubes) | Weight: 15.9kg
The Triple Crown TC-50 is a three-channel amp, with independent preamps covering clean, low-gain and high-gain ranges. The front panel packs three identical sets of controls including gain, master volume, bass, mid, treble and presence, together with a two-way toggle switch that changes the channel gain and voice. There’s a small toggle switch for manual channel changing, and a pair of master output level controls, one of which is footswitchable. The feature-rich rear panel includes Mesa’s exceptional CabClone speaker-emulated output, with a balanced XLR, headphones socket and line out. The TC-50 also benefits from a footswitchable effects loop, separate reverb level controls for each channel, and MIDI switching for all the major functions. The Triple Crown’s clean channel is highly versatile, going from butter-sweet clarity through to edgy blues soloing, with a lot of control over that ‘just on the edge’ sweet spot. The Lo Gain channel is where the TC-50’s crunch and classic rock tones live, with a multi-layered overdrive and harmonic overtones that shift with varying degrees of pick attack. Flipping the toggle switch into Drive mode adds a subtle midrange bump, invoking JCM800-approved snarl and a dose of extra gain. The Hi Gain channel adds more of the same - lots more, so much so that in the upper reaches we think this is probably the most gain ever from a Mesa amp. No doubt about it, the Triple Crown has three channels packed full of world-class tone that only a handful of amps can compete with.
Read the full review: Mesa/Boogie Triple Crown TC-50