The 10 Best Amp Heads
This wiki has been updated 12 times since it was first published in December of 2017. If you're serious about the tone of your instrument, and you intend to play in large venues that require you to look as well as sound impressive, you would do well to invest in one of these guitar amp heads. Used in combination with a speaker cabinet, they provide clean and driven tones with warmth and clarity, and we've ranked them here according to their volume, expressiveness, and flexibility. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
March 12, 2021:
While it's true that the guitar world has favored combos (at least as far as sales are concerned) for many decades, thanks to their affordability, versatility, and portability, there is still a lot of love reserved for the "stack", or an amp head atop a speaker cabinet. Not only are these usually more powerful than their all-in-one counterparts, but they also look far more impressive, in an industry where image really counts, plus you get to mix and match different speaker configurations to tailor your own sound.
Notable additions in our latest update include the Marshall JVM-205, which replaces the Marshall JVM-410H as a far more affordable option, which still provides a multitude of great tones that are typical of this classic brand. Another British inclusion is the Laney L50H. This beautifully-crafted, classic design is an all-valve model, and while its tonal palette is fairly limited, the sound it produces is sure to impress.
We also liked the EVH 5150 III, which is modeled on the dearly departed Eddie Van Halen's signature "brown sound", and does a good job of replicating some other wailing leads and smooth cleans. Similarly, the Hughes & Kettner GM40DH is a good choice for those that lean towards the heavier end of the spectrum. This also has the benefit of being programmable, so you can dial in your favorite parameters and store them to memory, with a capacity for a maximum of 128 custom sounds.
We also felt the Blackstar Series One deserved a mention, as these handmade amplifiers are starting to make waves as a serious industry contender, by delivering amazing tone and tried-and-tested durability at affordable prices. Finally, we added the Randall Thrasher 50, which would make a small-but-deadly addition to any serious rocker's arsenal, with its 50-watt, all-tube circuitry delivering a surprising amount of volume, especially considering its size.
October 02, 2019:
Availability issues with the Joe Satriani signature version of Marshall's JVM-410H caused us to replace it with the standard version of that model, ultimately only sacrificing a mid-shift function in the overdrive channels and going back to reverb pots in place of Satriani's preferred noise gates. While that mid-shift and the overall smoothing of the ODs will be missed, many players will likely be relieved to get their hands on Marshall's excellent reverb capabilities by contrast.
Elsewhere, we removed the Quieter Labs Mach 2 for problems it suffered in durability, and replaced it with Randall's 667, which skyrocketed to number three on our list due to its tremendous flexibility. It's a little overwhelming at first, but it offers six total channels, each with seven midi-controllable settings for use in a wide variety of genres.
In our special honors section, we've included a few models that are particularly hard to find online outside their manufacturer's direct sites, including the Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier, which holds a particularly special place in my heart. This was my grail amp from the time I was 12, and I worked my tail off (and, as a teen, had no real bills to pay), saving up till I was 17 and I finally got one. I can't say enough about its flexibility, and the clarity that manages to shine through even when overdriven to oblivion.
Ashen Amps Custom Amps and Cabinets Combining stunning aesthetics with excellent acoustic properties, the USA-based Ashen company uses exotic woods and other materials to create truly stunning products that will complement your six-stringed pride and joy. Choose from a number of specifications, including size and covering, grille cloth, finish, hardware, and speaker configuration. ashenamps.com
Victory Amps Dutchess V40 As long as you aren't trying to emulate arena rock or thrash metal, this little amplifier will serve just about every other sound. It excels at recreating rock and blues tones from the 1950s and 60s, however, and a useful mid-kick function can add a boost to the middle frequencies, thickening up the tone of stock strat pickups. victoryamps.com
Devilcat Jimmy One of the most interesting features of this model is its dirt channel, which makes it sound almost like someone took a razor blade to the speakers in your cabinet, giving you a sense of overdrive while preserving a tremendous amount of warmth. It comes in a variety of fun finishes, including a creamcicle orange. devilcatamps.com
Mesa Engineering Dual Rectifier If you're looking for an amplifier that might not require a single pedal to take you to your preferred sound, this might be it. Its flexibility and clarity are top notch, and its tube-driven distortion is about as articulate as you could imagine, making it ideal for stage and studio alike. A Mesa cabinet with Celestion speakers is recommended to fully appreciate it, however. mesaboogie.com