The 8 Best Guitar Amps to Buy in 2018

Before you head to your next jam session, pick up one of these bad boys

Guitar amp
Gabriel Bucataru/Stocksy United

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Guitar amps are basically the yang to the Guitar’s yin – admittedly, most players start by choosing a cool-looking axe and consider pulling money back when investing in an amp. But once you’ve graduated from beginner to expert, you’re constantly on the ever-elusive search for tone, and in that search, you’ll have to find the right amp that works for you. And whether you’re looking for vintage-style Fender tube warmth, old-school, hand-wired Vox sizzle, or the convenience and versatility of a modeling amp, there is a pro-level option for you. Need a little advice before picking one out? Below you’ll find our picks for the best amps to buy right now.

 

Best Overall: Fender Twin ‘65 Reissue

When people talk about the vintage Fender tube sound, the ‘65 Twin amp is almost certainly what they’re talking about. A lot of amp manufacturers have attempted to release vintage-emulating options, and many of them are gimmicky, but Fender isn’t one of these. From the Princetons to the Bassman amps, almost all of Fender’s reissues are not only painstaking attempts at recreating the circuitry and tube sound of the originals, they’re just plain cool. The Fender Twin ‘65 Reissue gives you two Jensen 12-inch speakers (hence the “Twin” name) and 85 watts of pure tube warmth all alongside that beautiful sizzle you only get by pushing a fender just past halfway. There are two channels onboard, tube-based vibrato, excellently implemented spring reverb​ and the classic blackface cosmetics of the ‘60s vintages. It’s an excellent amp if you’re looking to gig on that classic Fender sound.

Best Budget: Blackstar HT-1R Mini Stack

Believe it or not, you can get actually decent tube sound on a budget. How? One easy way is to turn to Blackstar, a company that aims at the bedroom rocker set but also wants to offer innovative, tube-based technology for accessible pricing. The HT-1R also doubles as an impeccably tote-able amp due to its compact size. The head itself offers 1W of tube power, so this isn’t going to blow anyone’s mind in terms of volume. There’s one 12AX7 preamp tube and one 12AU7 in the power amp slot. Where Blackstar really shines here, though, is its Infinite Shaping Feature, an option that toggles you between different wiring and circuitry schemes within the amp to give you everything from that hand-wired American sound to that sharp-edged British tube sound. The cab that comes with this little rig includes a 1x12 Blackbird 50 speaker that handles up to 50 watts of continuous power. What’s interesting with that combo is you’ll get plenty of body and low-end from the size and handling of the cab, but the 1W amp isn’t super heavy (or super expensive)  – it’s the best of both worlds in sound and affordability.

Best Tube: Vox Hand-Wired AC30HW2

Next to Fender and maybe Marshall, there’s really no brand that commands as much respect for tube amp technology as Vox, and the AC30 is the one you want, both for history and for sound. Fun fact: The AC30 is the amp that the Beatles were using when they first embarked on their arena touring years and realized that the amp technology of the day was just not loud enough to catch up with the need for their music. But when they tried, it was the AC30 they put their trust in, and that makes sense because this thing absolutely crushes in a rock club setting.

There are three ECC83 tubes in the preamp and four EL84 in the power amp section, giving you an insanely punchy amount of headroom as far as wattage is concerned. And those 30 watts will go a long way because it pumps it through two 12-inch Celestion G12M speakers. Vox has even fitted matching Ruby Tubes to make sure you take full advantage of the entire dynamic range. It also has the standard two-channel Top Boost and Normal Vox setup, so you can pump truly cutting trebles through the mix. And it all comes in a birch-ply cabinet in a retro cream covering for natural high-frequency attenuation and a pretty sweet look.

Best for Jazz: Fender Vintage Bassman ‘59 Reissue

When you’re looking for an amp fitting enough for a pristine, substantial jazz tone, you’ll need one with plenty of volume and headroom so you don’t push too far into distorted territory when you get to the higher volumes. The Fender Bassman series has been offering guitarists plenty of clean, warm sound for more than half a century. The ‘59 reissue from Fender, just like the rest of their reissues, offers pro-level quality that’s virtually unrivaled by any modern amp maker. It offers 50 watts of pure tube power pumped through four 10-inch speakers. There are US-made GT-6L6 tubes, stepped-up 12AX7 tubes and original spec 5AR4 tubes to make this thing sound as close to the original as humanly possible without having you buy an actual vintage unit. It comes in a finger-jointed pine cabinet with a lacquered tweed covering that looks the part, too. The controls don’t add a ton of bells and whistles (with just volume, gain, presence and EQ), but since the goal is to emulate the original, it’s important to keep things focused.

Best Acoustic: Fishman Mahogany Loudbox 120

Fishman has a lock on the acoustic amplification industry, both with the acoustic amps and the acoustic guitar pickups themselves. The company is constantly coming out with great new iterations on their Loudbox series (see: the 2018 Loudbox battery-powered option), but if you’re looking for top-of-the-line premium acoustic amplification, the Loudbox 120-watt Mahogany Limited Edition amp is about as pro as you can get. The 120 doesn’t expand on the smaller amps on inputs (there are still only two), but it does expand on wattage and power handling, as well as versatility.

The two channels each allow you to plug in a guitar/keyboard or a vocal mic, meaning this is a great rig for a singer/songwriter. It offers 120W pushed through an eight-inch speaker and a surprising single soft-dome tweeter, giving you plenty of sparkle and letting the full spectrum shine. Each channel offers separate dedicated EQ and feedback controls, while there’s a separate effects engine to add a little color to your sound with reverb, chorus, flanger and delay. It’s all combined into a balanced output to send it to a larger stage setup (which makes this great a little-dedicated monitor, too). All in all, it’s about as full-featured as you can expect from an acoustic-only amp.

Best Compact: Orange Tiny Terror

If you’re talking compact amps, you’re most likely talking about a head, and considering that most players are going to pump their sound through the club system at a gig anyway, why waste your energy lugging a super-heavy vintage guitar amp? Orange’s Tiny Terror line is a great option for those looking for something a little transportable but still all tube. The tube setup offers two EL84s, three 12AX7s and one 12AT7, which gives you a unique concoction of tube sound.

There’s a four-channel preamp that offers you nice, unique control over your high gain sounds, and with 15W of output power, you’ll hit that high output pretty easily. There’s also an attenuation switch that lets you knock this puppy back down to 7W if you’re doing some bedroom jamming. Overall, it’s a simple little amp without a ton of bells and whistles, but that’s totally fine for an amp you’re probably looking to cart around a bit. And because of that carting, Orange will even throw in a gig bag for this.

Best Solid State/Modeling: Boss Katana Artist

Boss’s Katana line is a beautiful example of just what solid state amplifiers can do when you pair them with quality digital signal processing. A lot of solid state amps suffer from dry, sterile sound that doesn't respond well to playing. The Katana addresses that with their Tube Logic design that attempts to recreate the feel of tube amps – arguably the most important intangible quality when shopping for one. But the sound quality here is really interesting, too, because they offer 58 customizable Boss effects and an included Boss Tone Studio editor to dial in hyper-specific tone specifications, no matter what your settings.

It pumps it all out at 100 watts into a custom Waza 12-inch speaker for a totally giggable combo amp with arguably no need for external guitar pedals. What’s cool here is you can also dial in amp and cab emulators to make those effect-altered sounds come across in any amp you want. And you can patch and save it all together so when you’re on-stage you can trigger the patch with one foot stomp and be completely dialed in. It’s a great amp if you’re looking for a one-stop-shop for effects.

Best All-In-One: Line 6 AMPLIFi 150

Just last year, Line 6 dropped an interesting amp into the market – one aimed at people who want a Bluetooth speaker look and a guitar amp feature set. On some level, this wasn’t a huge surprise because a ton of speaker makers from Vox to Marshall all started offering some sort of Bluetooth speaker option, recognizing that the consumer audio market was possibly more lucrative than guitar-only audiences. This 150W guitar amp offers a five-way stereo speaker setup that’ll fill the room with sound and give you some great body for listening to full mixes. There are some digital modeling options with 200 amps and effects to choose from, meaning that if you’re looking to plug in your guitar, this amp is obviously no slouch.

There are four onboard preset options that let you call back your setups at a moment’s notice, but there’s also Bluetooth and USB connectivity, which is great for listening to music for pleasure and cueing up a mix to play along with on your guitar. But most importantly, Line 6 put a ton of research and development into how this thing looks because they meant for this product to be a real-deal guitar amp and a cool-looking living room Bluetooth speaker. It is a true all-in-one option for the guitarist and music lover alike.