11 Must-Have Amps for Musicians, According to Professional Guitarists

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Owning a guitar is the first step toward making music, but you’ll also want to invest in quality accessories to help fine-tune your sound, including a guitar amp. The music accessory is not only handy if you’re taking online music courses, but is a travel necessity to help ensure audiences at local gigs can hear you playing.

No matter how advanced of a guitar player you are, owning an amp can allow you to discover your own personal sound, whether you lean toward rock ‘n’ roll or heavy metal sounds. There are even models out there made specifically for bass and acoustic guitars to assist in enhancing your sound while ensuring the drums don’t drown out your notes.

ShopBillboard spoke with five professional guitarists including Michael Britt of Lonestar, Mark Dannells from Yacht Rock Revue, Derek Drye of The Dryes, Gin BlossomsJesse Valenzuela, and Michael Kamerman, a producer and guitarist in Smallpools, to get their tips and recommendations on the best guitar amps for musicians of all levels.

The Best Amps for Beginners

Purchasing an amp is an investment, but Britt wants aspiring musicians to know that “with so many options available to players these days, there is no ‘right way’ to do anything.”

Both Britt and Dannells tend to lean toward using a Kemper Profiler these days as it can utilize the tones achieved from a mix of vintage and modern amps.

green kemper profiler amp head

Kemper Profiler PowerHead 600W

The Kemper Profiler is an investment piece that will have you customizing your sound. Its technology has the ability to analyze sonic characteristics of basically any tube amplifier and re-create them right before you. You’ll also have the ability to save up to 1,000 profiles, so you can switch from one sound to another.

If you want a classic amp, then check below for more expert-approved picks.

black and gold fender deville amp

Fender Hot Rod DeVille

Kamerman thinks “the DeVille amp is really nice” for those starting out, as it comes with a user-friendly feel that you can have fun with. It’s built with a spring reverb that’s been modified for improved smoothness as well as Dual Celestion 12-inch A-Type speakers.

“If you’re starting out, it’s nice to have something that you’re going to enjoy playing because if you get something that doesn’t sound great, then you might be like, ‘Why don’t I sound good?’” he says. “I think it’s nice to sometimes invest in something that you think, ‘OK, I can get this thing and then I can play a show with this amp.’”

silver and black amp

Fender Tone Master Deluxe

Dannells prefers the Fender Tone Master Delux Reverb, which is built with a digital processor that aims to mimic the sound quality of a tube amp. Some of the included settings you can play around with include an output power selector, five attenuated settings, balanced XLR line output with impulse response (IR) cabinet simulations, mute switch for silent stage or recording use and a USB port. Plus, it “weighs a spine-saving 23 pounds,” he says.

Best Guitar Amps for Home Use

Kamerman advises that you shouldn’t choose your amp solely based on its volume capabilities. “You never need to turn an amp up too loud,” he says. “If you’re playing the biggest venue, the sound guy is still going to be like can you keep that at two [amps max]?”

Your focus should remain on what you think sounds the best when you play your guitar.

silver and black amp with wheels

Roland JC-120 Jazz Chorus 120-Watt Guitar Amplifier

One of Kamerman’s favorites is the Roland JC-120 guitar amp, which comes with built-in wheels to move it smoothly from one spot to another. With each use you can enjoy the built-in vibrato, distortion and spring reverb while the two 12-inch “silver cone” speakers help ensure your tunes are emitted as clear and crisp as possible.

black and gold positivegrid amp

Positive Grid Spark 40-Watt Combo Practice Guitar Amplifier

$269 $299 10% off

Buy Now On Amazon

When you want to jam at home, Dannells prefers this Positive Grid amp, claiming “it has tons of tones and effects, weighs 11 pounds and has cool features like backing track creation and USB/Bluetooth connectivity for additional features.”

Plus, when you download the Spark app, you can download music from your library and it’ll provide you with the notes, so you can learn how to play your favorite songs. And did we mention it’s under $300?

Best Amps Under $500

You don’t have to drain your savings to play music with a quality amp — there are a variety of designs out there that will give you crisp sounds for under $500 — including this VOX model recommended by Drye.

black and brown vox amp

VOX AC4C1-12 Classic 4W 1×12 Tube Guitar Combo Amp

If you’re on a budget, there are options for less than $500 that can give you professional-grade sounds without risking your daily coffee budget. Drye likes the VOX AC4C1-12, which is currently only $480 and has some “super quiet tones,” according to the artist.

If it’s your first amp, he adds that “something with power scaling where you can dial down the wattage is always great if you want the tubes to sound cranked at low volumes.”

Best Lightweight Amps for Gigs

Weight is a serious factor when it comes to travel-friendly music gear — and the last thing you want is to have to lug around a heavy amp from place to place. Make sure you pick up a design that has a carry-friendly handle for easy portability and is lightweight enough for you to move from one spot to another.

black and silver fender princeton guitar amp

Fender Princeton

Musicians planning on traveling with an amp should consider the Fender Princeton, suggests the Gin Blossoms artist. It weighs 34 pounds and comes with a convenient carrying handle attached. In terms of sound quality, it’s made with tube circuitry and Jenson circuts for a more vintage and raw sound.

Best Acoustic Guitar Amps

You won’t always need to use an amp when you’re playing your acoustic guitar, but the gigs that require an extra boost in sound, make sure you find a design made for acoustic guitars for the best results.

brown and black fender acoustic amp

Fender Acoustasonic Guitar Amp

Acoustic guitars require a special amp designed for the instrument and if you’re looking for one that’ll provide professional-grade tones, then Valenzuela recommends the Fender Acoustasonic amp. It’s built with a “whizzer” cone that’s a small supplementary speaker for added volume as well as a built-in reverb for extra ambiance.

It’s priced at a wallet-friendly $199 online right now too — a great deal for a genuine Fender amp.

Best Bass Amps

Don’t plug your bass guitar into just any amp, warns Kamerman, as you risk blowing it out. Your safest bet is to invest in an amp specifically made for bass guitars.

black and silver bass amp

Ampeg Rocket Bass Amp

In terms of a professional-approved model, the Smallpools producer and guitarist likes the Ampeg Rocket Bass Amp.

“I feel like the standard bass amp that you see a lot is this Ampeg SVT,” he says.

The amp features a ’60s-style design with a switchable Super Grit Technology overdrive circuit to help add “warm and gutsy growl,” according to the official description. The auxiliary input also lets you play along with the external audio of your choice.

Best Guitar Amps for Metal

The sound you emit will change depending on the type of guitar amp you’re playing with, according to Valenzuela.

“The classic American sound is the Fender amplifiers, which is a West Coast sound, a little surfy,” he explains. “And the classic British amps, they sound a little more rock and roll. So the great combo is to match up a really American-looking Stratocaster with an English amp and you get something special.”

When it comes to metal and rock ‘n roll almost all of the guitarists agreed that Marshall amps are the way to go for the best sounds.

black and gold marshall amp

Marshall JCM900 4100 100W 2-Channel Tube Head

$1,999 $2,999.99 33% off

Buy Now on musician’s friend

Marshall’s JCM900 brings a slim design you can take with you on the go, but Drye also loves how it “can be used with a boost pedal in front of it.” If you’re curious about pedals, the accessory further allows you to customize your sound just through plugging it into the amp.

Other features included in the Marshall amp include high and low power options that can switch between 50 watts and 100 watts. It also comes with two foot switchable channels: one clean and another with grit and distortion.

black and gold amp with handle

Marshall DSL40CR 40W 1×12 Tube Guitar Combo Amp

$729 $949.99 23% off

Buy Now on guitar center

Another bestselling option from Marshall is the DSL40CR model that was created to be a combo amp, which means it’s an amp and speaker. The design will condense the amount of equipment you need to carry. Plus, it’s 23% off right now, dropping it to less than $1,000.

What Is a Tube Amp vs. Regular Amp?

Like the name suggests, a tube amp is built with actual tubes within the device that the guitarists find provides a more “raw” sound. While modern models take a more digital approach that’ll still provide quality sound. It’s similar to if you were to listen to your music on a vintage turntable vs. streaming your playlists from your smartphone through your Bluetooth speakers.

Tube amps also require more maintenance than digital amps, which is something to take into account when choosing the type of guitar amp you want, advises Britt.

“Maintaining a tube amp is a full time job,” he says. “I always have eight to 10 amps around my house and I have to keep a good supply of tubes because those are always the first things that go. The biggest thing is just to take care of your gear. Make sure it travels in a good road case, keep it clean whenever possible and perform regular maintenance when you can.”

For more product recommendations, check out our roundups of the best music books, vinyl record player accessories and gifts for musicians.

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