Want a guitar amp that’s great for playing rock?
If so, you’re in the right place.
In this post, I’m going to share quick reviews of 8 guitar amps that could just be your ideal first (or next) amp.
For the most part, this is a list of tube amps (or valve amps as we say in the UK), but you’ll also find a bit of a curve ball.
And to be clear, this isn’t a “best of” style list – these are simply 8 amps that I’ve owned and/or tested over the years.
Ready? Let’s get started:
- Should you choose a head and a cab, or combo amp?
- What about speaker type?
- What about power tubes?
- Is there one genre you’ll play more than anything else?
- What do you like the sound of?
- Pedal platform, versatile amp or both?
- How much wattage do you need?
- How many channels do you need?
- What extra features do you need in your tube amp?
- How easy is the amp to maintain?
- Wrapping it up
1. Orange Brent Hinds Terror Head
Orange helped kick-start the trend of the portable “lunchbox” style head amplifier. The signature amp of Mastodon’s Brent Hines is one of the more recent additions to the family.
My review of the “Orange Brent Hinds Terror Head” (pictured above):
The Brent Hinds Terror is essentially a modded version of the Rocker 15 Terror. While I don’t have a Rocker 15 Terror to compare it to, I hear they’re fairly close in tone.
As you may imagine, this amp kicks out 15 watts. But, what you might not expect is the power soaking functionality. There’s a half power switch on the front – that’ll knock the amp down to 7 watts.
But, on the back, there’s a very appropriately named “bedroom to headroom” switch. Once in “bedroom” mode, full power is 1 watt and half power is 0.5 watts.
On the front, we’ve got the channel switching that’ll take you from clean (or natural as Orange call it) to dirty. The dirty channel has gain, bass, middle, treble, and volume controls.
While, the clean channel just has a volume control. It’s true, this may offer less functionality but it’s a more “natural” sounding clean channel – which makes for a nice pedal platform.
On the back, we’ve got speaker outputs, send/return jacks for a valve buffered FX loop, and a footswitch jack.
The footswitch is sold separately but the amp does come with a carry case. You can use any basic footswitch but the Orange branded pedal is built like a tank.
Speaking of the build, this amp is seriously robust. Ok, sure, I haven’t thrown it off a roof or kicked it down the stairs, but it feels exceptionally well built.
What about tones? I was expecting to not like the cleans too much, but they’re better than I expected. The “natural” approach means it’s up to you to shape your clean tone using your guitar & pedals – that’s probably something we should all try doing more often.
The gain is still classic Orange, but with a bit more fizz than you might expect. Regardless, it’s a great sounding overdrive. Although, it’s worth noting that there’s not super heavy amounts of gain on tap here.
But, if you want more gain, there are other amps in the Orange line up that would be a great fit.
Wattage: 15 watts (scales down to 7, 1 and 0.5 watts)
This amp is part of the Orange Terror series, so, there are a bunch of other amps with slightly different configurations. There’s the unmodded Rocker 15 Terror which is fairly close to this.
If you want more gain, you may want to check out the Jim Root signature. While it has the “Rockerverb” tone stack, you won’t have a clean channel to play with.
There’s also the Dual Terror – it’s similar to a Tiny Terror (now discontinued), but with the addition of an extra channel. You’ll also find a few smaller amps like the Micro Terror.
2. Kemper Profiler PowerRack
If you’re looking for a tube amp, this won’t be for you. Want the option to play a close representation of any amp, without worrying about tubes blowing? The Kemper Profiler is well worth checking out.
My review of the “Kemper Profiler PowerRack” (pictured above):
Ok, so, what is the Kemper Profiler PowerRack? Well, it’s digital amp modelling taken to the next level. You can create a “tone profile” of amps you own, or download the Rig Manager software to download profile made by other users – and wow, there are a lot of them!
You can then tweak, add FX, and more.
The Kemper Profiler ships with plenty of profiles so it’s ready to go, out of the box.
I went with the PowerRack version so I can connect this directly to any speaker cab. I can also run it directly into my audio interface – there are plenty of routing options. There is a “head” or “toaster” version, as some call it, but the rack mounting is convenient.
There are four modes on the front – tuner, browser, perform, and profiler. Each do exactly what they say.
You can store a limited number of profiles on the Profiler, but there’s a USB port on the front so you can use a memory stick. The headphone connection on the front makes it a nice tool for a quick plug in and practice session.
You’ll find plenty of controls on the front, and various FX can be used. You can tweak the EQ, gain, add noise gates, delay’s, reverbs, and more.
On the back, we’ve got a huge array of connections. Here are a few:
- Return input
- Alternate input
- Direct output/send
- Monitor output
- Main output (Jacks + XLRs)
- Midi (thru/out/in)
- Switch/Pedal (1+2)
- Network (Ethernet)
And if you find yourself getting any hum – several of the connections have ground lifts. Nice touch!
But, what can you connect to the Kemper Profiler?
There are a range of accessories you can get for this amp. One of which is the “Profiler Remote” – this is huge pedalboard type arrangement that comes with tap tempo, looper, tuner, patch changing, and all manor of other switches & controls. I don’t have the remote since I bought the PowerRack on it’s own, but they are usually available as a bundle, or separately from Kemper.
You can also buy dedicated expression pedals, 2 way footswitches, replacement cables for the remote, gig bag, and a DI box for use with creating your own profiles.
What about the tone? Every digital modeller I’ve tried in the past has been a disappointment. But, the technology behind the Kemper Profiler is leaps and bounds ahead. It’s true, it’s not a 100% replica of tube tone but it’s the closest I’ve ever heard.
More to the point, it’s at a level where on a recording, most probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
This isn’t the most straightforward amp to play through but you can get some solid tones by simply plugging in your guitar and selecting any rig. However, you’ll get the most mileage if you go through the manual or watch some tutorial videos. Kemper have plenty of good stuff in that area.
I’ve had this unit for close to 2 years now and I’m still finding new ways to use it. And the software behind it keeps getting better.
The Kemper Profiler is a great option for the gigging musician. It’s far easier to carry around, can be plugged straight into the live sound desk (there are multiple routing options), and it’s naturally more reliable than a tube amp.
It can be a useful studio tool to quickly switch up your tone, or to profile your amp collection and in a way, you can then take them anywhere in a single box. It’s a great way to take your studio sound to the stage because it’s consistent.
Sure, you can’t reproduce other amps exactly, this is as close as it gets. I’m amazed at how far the technology has come. This isn’t one for the purists, but it puts a lot of power, tone, and convenience at your fingertips.
Just remember that digital modellers and profilers likely won’t hold their value as much as tube amps.
Wattage: 600 watts (it’s solid-state so it’s not as loud as you may think.)
You can get the Profiler without the power amp, but I’d guess it makes sense for most to get the powered version – it’s just easier. You can get the powered/unpowered versions as “heads” which have a few more controls, or the rack mounted version.
I prefer the convenience of the rack mounted version but that’s just me.
3. Egnater Tweaker 88 Tube Head
I’d heard the name Bruce Egnater mentioned on forums for years. I knew he made some amps but I had no idea if they were any good. Then I picked up a very fairly priced 15 watt Egnater Tweaker and I just had to get the full 88 watt version.
Note: The 88 watt version seems to have been discontinued. Click here to check out the 40 watt version.
My review of the “Egnater Tweaker 88 Tube Head” (pictured above):
Here, we have an 88 watt tube amplifier loaded with KT88 power tubes. It’s got two channels but with two channel boosts, it’s more like four.
So, each channel has its own boost. You can choose whether each boost is set to clean or gain, and you can set the boost level. The included footswitch allows you to switch either of the channel boosts on/off. You can also switch channels and turn the FX loop on/off.
There’s a master volume for each channel, each with a toggle switch to go between vintage or modern tones (this switches the response of the output stage of the circuit).
The EQ section is shared between channels. You’ve got a bass, middle, and treble control as you might expect. But what you may not expect is that you can shape that EQ further by using a toggle switch to go between British and American tones. The middle setting is labelled “AC,” which appears to be going for a Vox style tone.
The gain stage of each channel has the usual gain control, a long with 4 switches.
- Mid Cut/Normal
The tonal possibilities with this amp are mind blowing but the controls have been mapped out in a sensible fashion so it’s not overwhelming.
On the back, we’ve got an FX level that can be switched between line and instrument level. And 2 speaker outputs. There’s an impedance switch to go between 4/8/16 ohms, and 2 jack sockets to connect the included footswitch.
The Tweaker 88 also includes a fan but it can’t be switched off.
What about tones? This amp is a tonal chameleon. It definitely doesn’t have it’s own thing going on, but you can easily go from glassy Fender tones to cranked Marshall tones. And it’s got a lot of gain on tap, once you hit that toggle switch to “Hot.”
Thanks to the flexibility of this amp, it’s one of the most-used tube amps in my collection. The feature set is incredible and the price is far better than I imagined.
Wattage: 88 watts
Unfortunately it looks like the 88 watt version of the Tweaker has been discontinued. You can sometimes pick these up below $400 used. And some retailers may still have new stock.
Alternatively, there’s a 40 watt version and a 15 watt version. Both have less power and features, but damn they still sound good.
In fact, I first picked up the 15 watt version and that’s what sold me on the Tweaker range of amps.
For such a small amp, this is insanely good and has more tonal flexibility than I’ve found in a head of this size.
Is a combo amp more your speed? The 15-watt and 40-watt versions are available as combos too.
4. Victory RK50C Richie Kotzen Signature Combo
I discovered Richie Kotzen rather late in life. I was amazed by not only his guitar chops, but also his singing. This amp was designed specifically to his specifications – simplicity and great tone.
My review of the “Victory RK50C Richie Kotzen Signature Combo” (pictured above):
Let’s start with the looks. This has to be one of the most beautiful amps I’ve ever seen. And sure, this is subjective, but I’m guessing most will agree.
This amp is simple but not so simple that it’s been stripped of features – there are plenty of features here. For example, while the RK50C comes loaded with EL34 tubes, there is a bias switch if you want to switch them out for 6L6 tubes (you’d still need to rebias the amp when switching to play it safe – or do what I do and just take the amp to a tech).
So, we’ve got a single channel 50 watt amp here with a tone, gain, and master control. There’s also reverb and tremolo for ambience. Admittedly, tremolo isn’t my thing but it’s one of the better tremolo’s I’ve heard. And the reverb? Beautiful spring reverb.
One of the nice features about this amp is the power soak. You can run it at the full 50 watts, or scale it down to 9 watts.
The reverb and tremolo can be controlled by a footswitch, and there’s also a footswitchable boost. Footswitches are included, along with a slip on cover (a nice touch!)
On the back, we’ve got the footswitch jacks, a series FX loop, bias switch, external bias test points (well the newer ones do), and a speaker damping button that changes the bass response.
Now, what about the tones? There’s plenty of gain on tap, so while you can get really nice cleans, there is a bit of break up there. On the subject of gain, I wasn’t expecting to be able to dial in so much on this amp.
While I play a lot of rock and blues on this amp, I’ve also got some decent metal tones too – it’s more versatile than I expected, especially considering that single tone control. And that footswitchable boost gives you even more gain to play with if you need it.
This is a dynamic amp that excels with expressive playing. Since I first picked up this amp, I’ve tried quite a few guitars through it and it’s challenging to find a tone I don’t like.
It’s a pricey amp due to being built in the UK, but the tone makes it all worthwhile. This is one of my all-time favourite tube amps.
Wattage: 50 watts (power soak takes power down to 9 watts).
The RK50C is also available as a lunchbox style head. Matching extension cabs are also available. If this amp isn’t your speed in terms of tone, Victory offer plenty of other “flavours” which may be just what you’re looking for.
5. Supro S6420+ Thunderbolt Plus
Supro are a legendary brand that have been rebooted in recent years by Absara Audio, the company behind Pigtronix pedals. And here, we have the Thunderbolt+, a superb tube amp with plenty of vintage vibe.
My review of the “Supro S6420+ Thunderbolt Plus” (pictured above):
Here we have a USA-built 60 watt tube amplifier with a 15” speaker.
We’ve got 2x 12AX7’s in the pre-amp section, and 2x 6L6’s in the power section. There are two inputs – normal and hot.
I like the two input design – it adds an extra layer of tone shaping ability.
The Thunderbolt Plus has a rotary control allowing you to switch between different wattages. When switching, the amp class and rectifier also change.
You can switch between:
- 60 watts – Class A/B with silicon rectifier
- 45 watts – Class A/B with tube rectifier
- 35 watts – Class A with tube rectifier
In terms of actual controls on this amp, we just have a volume and tone control. Limiting? Maybe but you’ll never waste too much time setting this amp up.
Personally, I dig the simplicity. Sometimes having an amp that does everything can just get in the way of creating music – that’s not going to happen here.
In terms of tone, the Thunderbolt Plus, like other Supro amps, definitely has its own thing going on. It’s clear they’ve put a lot of effort into making their amps as close to vintage spec as possible – custom designed speakers, the lot!
While there’s no FX loop, the single channel design makes it a solid pedal platform. And, yes, it does take pedals well. Very well. And in the 60 watt mode, you’ll have plenty of head room to play with.
In fact, you will need to crank this pretty loud to get it to break up. So I usually use this exclusively as a pedal platform.
And while this amp has been discontinued, you’ll find similar tonal offerings in their current Legend Series range. If you have the opportunity to try one – have a go and see what you think. While tone is definitely subjective, I fell in love with the Supro tone immediately.
Wattage: 60 watts (scales to 45 watts, and 35 watts).
Supro has scaled down their range, so the Thunderbolt+ may be difficult to get hold off. If you can’t find any using the button above, I’d recommend looking at their Legend Series. These come in a variety of configurations – heads, combo’s, speaker sizes, etc.
Want reverb? There are a few other models available like the “Black Magic Reverb,” but I’d also recommend that you check out Supro’s 1605RH Reverb Special tube head (not end of line as well). It can be used in place of a reverb pedal or outboard gear. A very useful tool for the studio.
Want more bells and whistles? Reverb? FX loop? Boost? Etc. Then, check out the Supro Blues King – it’s a 15 watt combo that retails at around $900.
6. Marshall AST2C Astoria Custom Combo
Marshall are a long-standing British amp brand. The sort of brand that most folks who know nothing about guitar, at least, have heard of Marshall. The Astoria, was their first foray into the boutique amp world.
Now, just to be clear, there are 3 different models – Classic, Dual, and Custom. Each with different flavours, and this is the Custom.
My review of the “Marshall AST2C Astoria Custom Combo” (pictured above):
Here we have a 30 watt Marshall combo, handmade in England. The Custom is the “gainier” of the Astoria line.
Onboard, we’ve got a KT66 power section with a GZ34 rectifier. And a great sounding Celestion Creamback speaker (one of my favourite speakers).
We’ve got two inputs. Low and high sensitivity. The gain pot has a push/pull that adds more body. There’s a boost switch that can also be controlled by the included footswitch.
There’s a 3 band EQ (Treble has a push/pull for brightness) and there’s an “Edge” control. This seems quite similar to a presence control and does a nice job at adding clarity. The master volume has a push/pull which reduces the power. There’s a light for the FX loop on the top panel, but the switch is actually on the back.
On the back of the unit, along with the FX loop switch, you’ll find return/send jacks for your FX loop, footswitch jack, and speaker outputs, like you’d expect.
Unlike some versions of the Astoria, the custom has a fourth pre-amp tube. While I don’t have one for a comparison, some users have likened this to a modern-day JMP style tone. How accurate that is, I’m not sure.
Regardless, the Astoria Custom delivers plenty of great sounding Marshall breakup & gain. In many ways, this was the Marshall tone I had in my head for years which modern-day amps like the DSL couldn’t deliver.
This is one of the heaviest combo amps I’ve come across. Sure, that may be an issue for some, but it sounds great and the build quality is exceptional.
Ok, so, the price tag was expensive, and they weren’t well received, which resulted in the Astoria having an extremely short production run. Considering this amp was hand built in England to a very high spec, the price tag isn’t that out of the ordinary.
They’re difficult to find now since going end of line, but I can well see these becoming very sought after in the years to come.
Wattage: 30 watts (with a low power mode).
The entire Astoria range has gone end of line, but you can usually find them on Reverb.com.
7. Marshall JCM2000 TSL60
Where the Astoria catered specifically to the boutique market, the TSL60 is a more affordable and feature centric amplifier.
My review of the “Marshall JCM2000 TSL60” (pictured above):
I picked up this limited edition Marshall TSL60 partly because my girlfriend is obsessed with the colour blue – the only blue one I’ve seen on the used market. Since I’ve got it here, let’s go for a quick review.
Let’s start with the front panel and there’s a lot going on.
On the left, we’ve got a master section which includes: OD reverb, clean reverb, FX mix, volume, presence, and a deep switch.
The lead and crunch channels share a 3 band EQ and a shift button. They have independent volume & gain controls.
The clean has it’s own 3 band EQ section, and gain control. Channels can be switched via a button on the front of the amp, or via the included footswitch which connects via MIDI to the back of the amp.
On the back, we’ve got that MIDI connection, speaker outputs, FX loop jacks, and an emulated line out.
Now, the TSL60 is one of those amps that gets ripped a new one in guitar forums. But, I guess, so does everything.
The TSL60 has a nice sounding clean channel and while there’s a bit much hiss on the gainy channels, I was pleasantly surprised by the amp’s tonal flexibility. You can get rid of that hiss by swapping out the tubes for a lower rated set of tubes.
Warning: If you’re not comfortable changing tubes, take the amp to an experienced tech to avoid accidentally electrocuting yourself.
Sure, this isn’t a classic Marshall and it was never meant to be.
Tone purists may want to look elsewhere. But the reality is that this is a solid amp with decent tones, and it’s well built. Now that it’s discontinued, you’ll pick these up at a very affordable price on the used market.
Wattage: 60 watts
The TSL range is no longer available, but if this is the sort of amp you’re looking for, you may find either the DSL or JVM lines worth exploring. The JVM especially, is extremely functional.
8. Peavey ValveKing II 100W
Peavey are a well renowned amp manufacturer and while they’re not best known for the ValveKing mode, it’s definitely not one to ignore.
My review of the “Peavey ValveKing II 100W” (pictured above):
So, we’ve got a 2 channel 100 watt head here that comes loaded with a hell of a lot of features.
For starters, we’ve got two inputs. Input 1 has 10dB more than the second channel, so this would be ideal for your single coils. Humbuckers being most appropriate for channel 2.
For the clean channel, we’ve got a volume, bright switch, and 3 brand EQ. On the lead channel we’ve got gain, gain boost switch (footswitchable), and a regular boost switch (also footswitchable). Both can be layered for even more brutality.
Then there’s also a 3 band EQ for the lead channel.
On the master section, we’ve got reverb, resonance, presence, and a unique feature called “Vari-Class” – this takes some of the tubes out of the circuit, while increasing the gain of the driver tube, allowing you to get right down to a single ended circuit design. In the process, changing how the amp breaks up and responds to your playing.
This does result in a significant drop in volume which probably won’t be an issue if you’re running it in the full 100 watt mode. I have to confess, this is one feature I need to spend some more time with.
There’s also a tube status indication LED – oh, how I wish more amps had this feature!
Ok, so what’s on the back of this amp? First, we’ve got a wattage switch allowing you to get the mammoth 100 watts down to 25 or even 5 watts. Making it very useable at home. We’ve got speaker outputs with an impedance switch.
One especially nice feature is the XLR output with a ground lift to reduce hum. Not only that, but you can also disable the speaker using the “defeat switch.” We’ve also got FX loop jacks and several footswitch jacks which allow for various switching options.
Finally, we’ve got a “microphone simulated USB audio record output” – wow, that was a mouth full!
What this means in reality is that you can connect this amp to your computer and it will be recognised as an audio interface – no need to mess around installing any drivers. It’s a feature I’ve never needed, but if you don’t have an interface, it’s a pretty neat feature to have.
This amp doesn’t come with a foot switch, but it’s worth checking out the Peavey Manual for more details on footswitching capabilities. And while I do prefer it when amps come with footswitches included, I can’t blame Peavey for not including one at this price point.
When I first tried this amp, I wasn’t expecting great things in terms of tone. After all, it’s not really a boutique amp, despite Peavey dropping the word “boutique” in it’s marketing.
The clean sounds great – it’s well rounded with plenty of warmth to it. And there’s plenty of gain on tap on that lead channel.
Ultimately, I was impressed by how many features Peavey have crammed into this amp, and how good the build quality was for the money.
This amp has been discontinued, but you can usually find the 100 watt version for around $500 on eBay.
Wattage: 100 watts (switchable to 25 watts or 5 watts)
The 20 watt version in both the head and combo formats can also be found at pretty good prices on eBay.
Wrapping it up (and a few frequently asked questions)
There are a crazy amount of guitar amps on the market. And most of them will be a good fit for rock music.
There’s a guitar amp for almost any budget, and various models that will fit the needs of most guitarists. Especially with digital modelling amps like the Kemper Profiler.
This is not an exhaustive list by any means. The above are simply a collection of reviews of some of the amps I’ve owned and tested over the years. This is not a “best of” type list.
Now, what exactly should you consider before buying your next guitar amp? Especially if you want to rock out?
- Do you really want a tube amp? Digital modelling can’t completely replace tube amps in my opinion, but they’re pretty damn close. They are super convenient.
- How loud do you need the amp to be? While wattage doesn’t tell us exactly how loud an amp will be, it’s worth considering what sort of level we might be playing at and how much head room we’ll need. What’s great about a lot of amps on this list is they can be switched down to a lower wattage.
- Do you need an FX loop? Most of the time I’ll run pedals into the front of my amps for the sake of convenience, but it’s definitely true that your reverbs & delays will probably sound better through an FX loop. Either way, it’s nice to have the option.
- Do you need multiple channels? If you’re relying more on pedals, you may not. The flexibility can be useful though.
Thanks for stopping by and good luck on your musical journey.
Hey, I’m Adam, a guitarist and writer from the UK. Some say I have way too many guitars. But, the truth is I need just one more. And maybe another after that…