The best new guitar amplifiers for 2021
Technology has changed every aspect of our lives and the guitar amplifier is not different. The emergence of powerful modelling technologies has for many players changed what they expect from their amplifier.
But it's not just technology that drives amp design. As with anything guitar, it is what the guitarist wants and needs in terms of tone, volume and ancillary features such as onboard cab sims and recording outputs.
If the first launches of 2021 are anything to go buy, we are going to see certain trends continue in the same direction.
Valve amplifiers, despite their inefficiency, indeed, because of their inefficiency, will never fall out of favour. For many, valve tone is the acme, the ideal to which all solid-state and modelling amplifiers strive for. But given the need for those valves to be worked hard for the amp to sound at its best, we'll see more and more compact low-wattage tube combo options, amps such as Supro's new Delta King series.
The practice amp is changing, too. No longer just a simple transistorised setup with a 3-band EQ and digital reverb if you're lucky – now some kind of modelling tech is de rigueur. And it is getting smaller and more portable, with the headphone amplifier a natural format for cutting-edge practice solutions.
Here we'll take a look at some of the best new amplifiers on the market today...
Blackstar Limited Edition Carmen Vandenberg CV30
Built for riff-heavy rock 'n' roll and “industrial blues tones,“ it features a pair of 6L6s in the power stage, and two ECC83s driving the preamp. The two-channel combo features four voices; American Clean, British Clean, Classic Overdrive, Modern Overdrive.
For a simple design, the CV30 covers a lot of ground. It as a series effects loop, light and dark reverb, and is designed to work well with pedals. Channel One offers some glassy cleans and clarity, with Channel Two incorporating more drive, plus Blackstar's patented ISF control that allows you to choose between a US and British voicings, and of course, stop of at all points in between.
The CV30's speaker is a 1 x 12" Celestion Seventy-80 and a two-way footswitch is included. The CV30 is priced £899 and is limited to 130 units worldwide.
We ask Carmen all about the CV30 in the video below.
Blackstar ID:Core V3
Next up from Blackstar we've got the new and improved ID:Core series, which should be shortlisted by any player who is looking for an affordable practice amp in 2021.
There is so much to get into the with the ID:Core V3 series, and crucially a lot of tones, making it ideal for those just starting out on electric guitar and haven't yet found their sound. Playing around with the different amp voices and revoiced effects (four reverb and delay types, phaser, chorus, flanger, envelope filter, tremolo) is a learning experience in itself.
Bundled with the amps is the Architect software suite, which makes deep editing a cinch, plus Cab Rig Lite for when you want to send your signal direct, using the amp as a USB audio interface to record your playing. The Super Wide Stereo feature helps these compact modelling combos punch about their weight, and you can choose from three amps in the series.
Three models are available: the ID: Core V3 Stereo 10 (£119 / $129), Stereo 20 £155 / $179) and Stereo 40 (£185 / $199) featuring 2 x 3", 5" and 6.5" Blackstar speakers respectively.
Blackstar Surf Green Studio 10 6L6
Just as we are asking ourselves if we had seen a better looking combo than Carmen Vandenberg's CV30, along comes a special edition Studio 10 6L6 combo decked out in Surf Green tolex.
Not only that, but it has a basketweave grille cloth, tan handle, cream chicken-head knobs and white piping completing the look.
We are big fans of the Studio 10 6L6 combo, so it is reassuring to know that underneath it this Surf Green special edition still the same amp – a fancy pants tone machine at a more than reasonable price.
A Class A tube combo with 10-watts of power, the Studio 10 6L6 is ostensibly a single-channel affair, with a simple control panel that features controls for Gain, Tone, Reverb and a Master Volume, with a button for activating a drive function that's based on Blackstar's HT-Overdrive.
Priced £599 / $599 and is available now. See Blackstar for more details.
Supro Delta King
The big news from Supro is the vintage-inspired and affordable Delta King series, which looks to offer Supro's very own Blues King series some stiff competition as the best compact guitar amplifier for old-school rock 'n' roll and blues tones.
There are 1x8, 1x10 and 1x12 options in the Delta King series, each available in a choice of two custom tweed with black stripes, and black with cream stripes. The Delta King combos have single-ended Class A tube power sections and are voiced to recreate the rock 'n' roll tone of the 50s and 60s British Invasion.
The 15-watt Delta King 12 (RRP $649) is the flagship model in the series, and packs a number of cool features into its compact control panel, with its FET-driven boost, a Pigtronix FAT high-gain mode for adding extra heat, three-band EQ, a master volume and analogue spring reverb.
Under the hood you will find a 12AX7-driven preamp and a 12AU7 triode in the power amp, and it houses a single 12-inch DK12 speaker in a poplar cabinet.
Keeley Custom 12
The Keeley Custom 12 was designed in collaboration with pedal guru Robert Keeley of Keeley Electronics, and expands upon its the Keeley Custom 10's 1x10 format by way of a single 12-inch Celestion G12M-65 Creamback speaker and 25-watt of power.
As you would expect from an amp with Keeley's name on it, the Keeley Custom 12 is configured to play nicely with your pedalboard. Its ECC83S-based tube preamp preamp and 2-band EQ are voiced for taking gain pedals in front of them, while a wholly transparent effects loop is on-hand for modulation.
The Class A power section features a pair of Tung-Sol 6V6GT tubes. The cabinet is clothed in Supro's distinctive Blue Rhino Hide tolex with white piping and a silver/blue grille clothe on the front. It is priced $1199.
See Supro for more details
Fender Vibro Champ Reverb and Custom Pro Reverb
Fender's 2021 amp lineup has been unveiled and it sees two new combos join the ranks of its Silverface '68 Custom series.
The '68 Custom series is borne of older technology, with the ‘68 Custom Pro Reverb being the larger of the two models. It is a single-channel 40-watter with a 12" Celestion Neo Creamback speaker. Its silver control panel has two instrument inputs, dials for Volume, Bass, Middle, Treble and Reverb – plus Speed and Intensity for the amp's grid-bias tremolo and a Bright switch.
Meanwhile the Vibro Champ Reverb revises the 60s model with a larger 10" Celestion Ten 30 speaker with improved bass response. Its circuit has been revised also but it remains a compact format, ideal for home and studio use with a manageable 5-watt power output.
All three amps are available from April. Though preorders are up online at most vendors.
The '68 Custom Pro Reverb costs £1349 / $1299 / €1499 while the Champ retails for £799 / $749 / €899.
Fender Mustang Micro
At first blush, it is not immediately apparent what the Fender Mustang Micro is. Can you imagine dropping one of these down on Leo Fender's workbench in 1955?
This, however, is a guitar amplifier, totally wireless, by its very nature portable, and one of the most intriguing practice options we have seen in recent years. It looks like a wireless system for guitar; just plug it into your guitar and you can access a dozen amp models from the Mustang GTX. There are a further 13 onboard effect models to play with too.
Altogether you get four hours of continuous play time. Simply charge the unit via USB. You can also stream audio via Bluetooth so you can play along to songs, lessons, the shipping forecast, whatever audio you can stream.
The Mustang Micro is out in April, priced £89 / $99.
See Fender for more details.
Behringer HA Series
We don't yet know how much Behringer's HA series of practice amplifiers will cost you but you can be guaranteed that they will be super-affordable. The question is: what makes them stand out amidst all the bells-and-whistles practice options out there?
That would be were the Virtual Tube Circuit technology comes in, which Behringer says will endow these with a similarly warm and dynamic response, and add a bit of musicality and life to your tone. Which all sounds promising.
There are three amps in the series – the HA-10G, HA-20R and HA-40R. All offer two independent channels and a 3-band EQ. The 10-, 20- and 40-watt models feature a 6″, 8″ or 10″ Bugera speaker respectively, and you'll find reverb on the larger two models.
For updates head to Behringer.
Vox Mini-Go Series
Vox's Mini-Go series arrives in three versions: the Mini Go 50, Mini Go 10 and Mini Go 3. The latter is the smallest of the three. Featuring a 5-inch speaker, it really is a take-it-anywhere amp that can be powered by rechargeable battery pack.
It has a built-in rhythm machine for jamming along to, and features a mic input, AUX input and the all important headphone jack for silent practice.
Its larger two siblings have all that and a bit more. Both have an onboard looper. The Mini Go 10 has a 6.5-inch 10-watt speaker with adjustable output while the Mini Go 50 has an 8-inch 50-watt speaker with adjustable output.
There are onboard effects, amp models, plus a vocoder for "talking modulation effects." The Mini Go 50 is fully programmable, so you can save the sounds you need for easy access.
VGH Headphones Amplifier
Looking for the smallest, neatest, most discreet amping solution around? Why not try Vox's new VGH Headphone amplifier, which comes in three flavours, AC30, Rock and Bass.
You'll find reverb, chorus and delay on the AC30 and Rock models, while the Bass set has onboard compression. Vox says the amp circuits are designed around Valve Reactor technology that ensures the dynamics are realistic, organic and ultimately amp-like.
There are controls for Gain, Tone, Volume and Effect and a Switch to place the amp circuit on standby
The headphones themselves are closed-air dynamic designs made by Audio-Technica, with rotating ear pads so you can stow them away neatly. They include an aux in for playing along to audio and are powered by a pair of AAA batteries.
Price TBC. See Vox Amplification for more details.
Mesa/Boogie's Badlander stole a march on the rest on this list, with Mesa releasing it in November, but no list of 2021 amps could be complete without it. This is quite possibly going to be the high-gain boutique option of the year.
It will be interesting to see how dyed-in-the-wool Recto fans take to it. Available in as a 50- or 100-watt head, or as a 1x12" 50-watt combo with a Celestion Creamback 65 speaker, the Badlander includes adds all kinds of contemporary features to the Rectifier menu.
Where do you start? Well, the CabClone IR feature allows you to record direct, or play straight to headphones, and it comes preloaded with eight Mesa cab sims with the ability to add third-party and user-generated IRs via USB. These IRs are channel-assignable.
Other features include Channel Cloning. With three new modes per channel – Clean, Crunch and Crush – you can take it from glassy cleans through classic rock and then, ultimately, to a tone that would take the paint off the wall. Under the hood there is an EL34-driven power section, but there is a convenient bias switch for swapping over to 6L6s.
You can scale the power down to 20-watts (though we would predict that this, too, would shake the windows when cranked).
The Mesa/Boogie Badlander series is available now. The 100-watt head is priced £2,359 / $2,299, the 50-watt head is £2,049 / $1,999, while the combo comes in at £2,259 / $2,199.
See Mesa/Boogie for more details.