If you are looking for a good amp that is also inexpensive, you couldn’t have picked a better time. Amp technology has developed immensely, particularly in solid-state and hybrid amps that now come loaded with tons of great features.
This is particularly true if you are looking for a quality practice amp at this price range. Beginners will certainly appreciate the fact that with many modern budget amps you don’t necessarily need to buy several pedals in order to have a decent sound palette.
Many modern amps come with effects, cabinet and speaker simulation, and the option to connect to software editors to further tweak your tone. Or perhaps you want a simple amp for doing smaller gigs but without spending much, and that is certainly a possibility thanks to today’s technology.
There are plenty of options for amps under $ 500, with more models hitting the market almost on a weekly basis. With so many choices out there, how do you make sense of it all? We’re here to help. Keep reading.
Features: 10 Amp voicings, 5 Similtaneous effects, USB in/out
Benefits: Can be used as a USB interface, Vast aftermarket support, Supports stereo out
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Features: 8" Speaker, Digital reverb, 2 Channels
Benefits: Tube tone at bedroom levels, Supports British and American tones, Allows direct recording over USB
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Features: Ruggedized construction, COSM modeling technology, 3-band Equalizer
Benefits: Vast array of tones, Easy sound shaping, Highly portable
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Our Top 3
The Blackstar HT1R MKII 1×8″ is our Top Choice for this list. It comes in a one-watt design, and a 2-channel all-tube combo construction as well as a USB output for convenience and versatility.
The Roland CUBE-10GX is our Best Budget choice and offers an ideal combination of convenience, quality, and price. This combo guitar amp offers an ecosystem of effects and amp models thanks to Roland’s COSM technology, giving you plenty of options to dial in your tone.
Finally, the Boss Katana Artist MkII is our Editor’s Choice. This is a fantastic amp with five distinct amp voicings, for a total of 10 core tones that you can use as a starting point to dial your tone, for dedicated players.
A small amp that gives you gigantic detail and tone.
This diminutive Blackstar amp gives you clean and distorted sound with the quality of a much bigger model. Well-designed and built, you can now practice without sacrificing tone, and with superb versatility.
The Blackstar HT1R MKII is a 1×8″ amp featuring one watt, and 2-channel all-tube combo construction. It comes with Blackstar’s Infinite Shape Feature that allows you to dial any imaginable tone you’re after, as well as a USB output for convenience.
Blackstar went through their own amps’ preferred tones as a starting point for the HT1R MKII’s design. However, they also wanted to rival the sound of amplifiers that are far more expensive. The result is a fantastic small amp that lets you practice without sacrificing tone or feel.
We ran our tests with our trusty Fender Stratocaster and started with the HT1R MKII’s clean channel. Here we got a level of clarity and note definition that is uncommon at this price range. This amp projected that unmistakable twangy and bitey Strat tone quite well for a 1-watt amp.
One of the best features of this amp is the aforementioned Infinite Shape Feature (ISF), which makes this amp versatile. This feature is activated via the EQ knob. We turned it all the way counterclockwise to get a Fender type of tone with a tight bottom end as well as a bold middle, perfect for blues and rock, on both channels.
We then turned the ISF to the right where we got a Marshall-type tone, great for more aggressive contexts and uses, especially on the overdrive channel. Besides the ISF tone-shaping feature, this amp also features four different operating modes activated via two Voice switches so you get a vintage and a modern voice on each channel.
Verdict: The Blackstar HT1R MKII is a 1×8″ amp that gives you one single watt of power on a 2-channel all-tube design. You get fantastic tone in a small amp, with the ability to dial in American and British tones, with realistic clean, and overdriven channels.
An ideal blend of convenience, quality and price.
Roland is a legendary company that has been providing musicians with convenient products for decades. This amp combines flexibility, quality, and low price into an ideal option for beginners looking for a good first amp.
The Roland CUBE-10GX is a combo guitar amp that comes with a vast and evergrowing amp models and effects ecosystem via Roland’s COSM technology. Besides the ability to download COSM amp models directly from your smartphone, this amp also gives you onboard effects and EQ so you can immediately dial in your desired tone.
This 10-watt comes with an aux input that allows you to connect your smart device via cable so you can play along to tracks and more, as well as a headphone jack for silent practice.
Regarding versatility, this amp features clean, crunch, and lead amp types that you can swap out via your smartphone with the use of the CUBE KIT app. Here you get plenty of choices of amp models. You can further sculpt your tone via a 3-band EQ and chorus, delay, and reverb effects
Although this amp has only 10 watts on an 8″ speaker, we got plenty of volume for a small amp. We played through some funk tunes on the clean channel, blues on the crunch channel, and rock on the lead channel. We got an authentic and inspiring tone that allowed us to practice without sacrificing sound for convenience.
This amp features a one-knob design for effects, which may be known to folks that have ever used one of the many Roland amps that have populated the market for years. We were able to pick and switch back and forth between chorus, delay, or reverb easily and conveniently. These effects made a big difference in our tone and inspiration as they added realism to our playing experience.
In short, a great amp with the Roland quality and ethos, and with a small price tag.
Verdict: The Roland CUBE-10GX is a compact combo amp that gives you plenty of choices when it comes to tone and amp models. You also get three channels, onboard effects, and 3 band EQ so you can immediately dial in your desired tone.
A superb amp with ultimate BOSS versatility.
This BOSS amp is the perfect choice for those looking to maximize their dollars. You get unparalleled flexibility with the quality and reputation of the Katana line of amps.
The BOSS Katana Artist MkII features five distinct amp voicings, labeled Acoustic Clean, Crunch, Lead, and Brown. Each of these can be altered further via a Variation switch. As a result, you get a total of 10 core tones that you can use as a starting point to dial your tone.
This amp also features a 3-band EQ and a 3-knob effects section. Add to that a Presence, Master, and Solo controls to alter each amp voicing individually and a 3-way Contour switch to tame or enhance your midrange, and you get an extremely versatile amp.
The Katana Artist MkII allows you to connect the amp’s line output to a line input on your interface or a PA. This way you can bypass the speaker and get cab emulation on the USB and headphone outputs. This is done via a small switch right above the switch. Here you can select between Vintage, Modern, and Deep cab emulation.
One of our favorite features on this amp is the included effects. These are powered by the BOSS Tone Studio editor software for more than 60 effects. You can load an entire series for instant access, while the three knobs on the FX section allow you to dial in up to five simultaneous effects.
We tried this amp with our Gibson Les Paul and found it to be quite good at the 500 Dollar mark. We were able to spend quite a bit of time going through the various amp voicings, effects, cam sims, and tonal options.
Although we did find the Brown and Lead settings to be our faves, we truly appreciated how all five voicings make this amp so versatile. Not only did we love the assortment of options provided on all of these amp voicings and their variation, but also the vast effects and tone sculpting possibilities.
As if that wasn’t enough, this amp also comes with a Stereo Expand switch for stereo operation across 2 Katanas and full GA-FC foot controller support. In short, a fantastic choice for folks that want the very best deal they can get on a 500-dollar amp.
Verdict: The BOSS Katana Artist MkII comes with five distinct amp voicings and plenty of power and flexibility to dial just about any sound you can imagine. Well-built and cleverly designed, this is one of the very best options in this price range.
Revered British sound with added convenience and versatility.
Vox is one of the most respected names in amplification, and the AC4 is further proof of that. This company was able to offer their legendary overdriven and distorted tone on a small amp that costs a fraction of models with the same tonal qualities.
The Vox AC4 is a 4-watt mini combo amp with a tube design. It features 12AX7 preamp tubes in combination with an EL84 power tube for unique
really powerful sound at a small size.
With a 1 x 12″ Celestion speaker, this amp gives you a classic Vox vibe and chime and top boost tones at an affordable price and super convenient form factor.
We were excited to try out this amp and plugged in our Strat to start our tests. We got a decent clean sound here, that can work in a number of situations, particularly for practice. However, the AC4 sounded really good when we started playing with the gain knob.
We started to get a nice breakup tone while using the preamp gain, particularly past 11 o’clock. We found that the AC4 distorted our tone nicely, and we got a fantastic crunch for authentic rock n’ roll contexts.
We also really like the warm overdrive that this amp provides. Our overdriven tone had a certain quality that was reminiscent of Brian May’s. We got aggressive overdrive that was quite responsive and warm and sounded particularly good with our bridge single coil pickup.
Vox also dig a good job providing their traditional look and design for such a small amp, with a fantastic build quality. In short, a good amp that excels when overdriven or distorted. Folks that need an amp that sounds particularly good when clean may want to consider other options.
Verdict: The Vox AC4 is a small 4-watt combo amp that features the powerful combination of 12AX7 preamp tubes with an EL84 power tube for fantastic distorted tones. This combo amp comes with a 1 x 12″ configuration and a Celestion speaker, so you can practice, attend jam sessions, and very small coffee-house-type gigs.
Authentic rock tone in a small and straightforward amp.
For many, Marshall is the ultimate amplifier company, and for good reason. The tone they produce is responsible for much of the history of rock, and this amp brings that same attitude and vibe in a 1-watt model that delivers the goods.
The Marshall DSL1CR is a 1-watt tube amp with two Channels and High/Low modes for flexibility. This amp also features a line output with speaker emulation, reverb, and an effects loop. In other words, everything you need to work on any style of music at any given time.
In order to ensure tonal quality even in this smaller-sized amp, Marshall designed the with an 8″ Celestion Eight 15 speaker for punch and clarity.
We tried the DSL1C with our Gibson Les Paul and got everything that we love about Marshall amps, minus the eviction note. This small amp gave us great tone at just 1 Watt. We also loved the flexibility provided via the two channels, so we were able to get quality clean, and distorted tones.
Another thing that this Marshall amp has going is its simplicity. We loved how intuitive the control panel was, allowing us to tweak or tone exactly the way we wanted, with a straightforward and logical design.
A neat feature on this amp is the line output that comes with Softube’s emulation of a Marshall 1960 cab. This added further detail to our tone and gave it that vintage yet still current tone that is the cornerstone of rock n roll.
Well-built and nice sounding, this Marshall amp is a simple yet effective solution. Folks that need effects and further options on their amp may want to consider another option.
Verdict: The Marshall DSL1CR features a 1-watt design on a tube amp that will rock your practice sessions. You get two channels with High and Low modes for versatility, as well as a line output with speaker emulation, for authentic tone and feel in a small amp.
Big sound and legendary tone.
This solid-state amp is capable of giving you that nice Fender clean tone but at a fraction of the price. Well-built and powerful, you also get modern features like effects and different amp voicings that make this amp a versatile and flexible option.
The Fender Champion 100 is a two-channel solid-state amp that comes with selectable voicing, onboard effects, and a classic Fender Blackface design. It is also remarkably powerful for this price range, at 100 watts and two Fender 12″ Special Design speakers.
This amp comes with a nice array of built-in effects to dial in your tone just the way you like it. These include chorus, reverb, delay/echo, tremolo, Vibratone, and more. In case you need more effects, there is also an FX loop so you can bring in your own pedals.
We tried this amp with our Strat to get a pure Fender tone. We started with the second channel which features the Voicing knob that allowed us to switch between five different voices.
We played through Jazz, Tweed, Blackface, British, and Metal. Our faves were Tweed and Blackface which gave us the most authentic Fender tone and were more responsive than the other three.
Although we also enjoyed playing through the first channel, we found it to be a bit more limiting. It features a 2-band EQ, whereas the second channel has a 3-band EQ, which is preferable.
This amp also features a 1 x 1/8″ stereo aux input for use with a media player, and a 1 x 1/8″ stereo headphone jack for silent practice.
Overall, a good amp that can be used in a variety of situations. Although it is capable of overdrive and distortion, we’d rather use external pedals for saturation, as its solid-state design limits how good it sounds when distorted.
Verdict: The Fender Champion 100 is a two-channel amp with a solid-state design. With 100 wants and two Fender 12″ speakers, this amp can get loud whenever you need it to, and also provides five voicings, onboard effects, and classic Fender looks.
Quality and flexibility in a convenient amp.
If you are looking for a practice amp that is convenient but does not compromise on tone and sound, the THR5 is a great option. It comes loaded with features and the ability to dial just about any imaginable tone thanks to its editing capabilities.
The different amp models are clean, crunch, lead, Brit high, and modern, which are all self-explanatory and make this amp very versatile and capable of delivering quality practice tone for any genre of music.
Yamaha employs its Virtual Circuitry Modeling to emulate the components in each amp model and effect, so you get a realistic sound and feel at all times.
You can also go far deeper into your preset editing with the THR5’s USB jack and Yamaha’s THR Editor software. With the THR Editor, you can use your computer to tweak the amp models and effects and come up with your own presets.
You can also record directly into your DAW and use the complimentary copy of Cubase AI that comes with the amp. As far as the onboard effects, you get one knob for chorus, flanger, phaser and tremolo, and another knob for delay and reverb.
We tried this amp with our Strat and were surprised by how good the dual 3.15″ speakers sound, providing stereo audio. We liked all five amp modes, but our favorites were Crunch and Brit Hi, as the first gave us a warm overdrive and the second was great for heavily distorted riffs.
The addition of the onboard effects was also a clever choice by Yamaha’s design team, as they are a nice complement to the five amp voices. We also like the inclusion of the aux 1/8″ input for running playback audio via cable from a phone or tablet, in order to practice with tracks.
In short, a well-built and nice-sounding amp with fantastic features. Naturally, if you use it by itself the THR5 is limited to be a good practice amp due to its small speakers, and not a good choice for playing live.
Verdict: The Yamaha THR5 is an ultra-convenient portable combo guitar amp with five amp models, modulation and time effects, and USB connectivity. This battery-powered amp is one of the best practice amps in the market today and offers you remarkable editing capabilities for your tone.
How To Choose The Right Amp For You
Amp technology has come a long way, especially in hybrid, digital and solid-state models. Obviously, an all-tube double stack quality amp like Marshall or Fender will deliver a glorious tone (often beating out even the best combo amps), but that comes with a cost. Beyond the financial cost, you also sacrifice convenience in a drastic way, as carrying and storing these monster setups is no easy task.
Interestingly, the tube vs. solid state debate is still a hot topic among guitarists, so it is important to clear that up here as well.
Tube or Solid State?
Good tube amps provide beautiful sound that is also very organic and responsive. Cleans sound fantastic and overdrives and distortions on a great tube amp are often unsurpassed in terms of tonal quality.
However, tube amps are expensive, heavy, inconvenient, and hard to maintain. Even if you get a good combo tube amp, the previous disadvantages can still be significant.
On the other hand, solid-state amps are good for clean sounds, but not so good for overdrive and distortion. They also tend to be less expensive, more convenient, and more durable than tube amps, so you’ve got to pick your poison.
Many newer solid-state amps employ modeling technology, which makes them far more flexible and versatile, but sometimes get the disapproval of tune and tube purists.
Digital modeling amps
The best digital modeling amps rival tube amps in quality, but completely smoke them when it comes to convenience. Unfortunately, their prices rival those of quality tube amps.
Brands like Kemper and Fractal have become quite popular among professional touring musicians, as they offer models with fantastic quality that resemble a digital pedalboard more than an amp. In other words, they are quite convenient to take on the road, often fitting in a backpack.
However, if you are looking for anything under 500 dollars, digital modeling amps are not a fit, yet it is important to know about them.
Another important consideration for amps under $ 500 is size. Here, you need to ask yourself what you need the amp for. Is it for playing some gigs? Then you almost assuredly will be getting a solid-state amp with little to no effects.
On the other hand, if you need ultimate convenience and great tone, and just enough power to practice, a tube amp or solid state with modeling technology will provide just that.
Practicing with a mediocre tone is among some of the most uninspiring choices you can make as a guitar player. Luckily, you don’t need to spend a fortune to get great sound out of a practice amp that is also inexpensive.
Today, many smaller amps come with good tones that make you want to practice and develop your chops, a wide variety of effects, amp models, and sounds that you can tweak in many ways. These are convenient, and reliable and will set you on the right path from the get-go.
To recap our choices, the Blackstar HT1R MKII 1×8″ is our Top Choice as it is a great 2-channel all-tube combo construction with good tone at just one watt, as well as a USB output for convenience and versatility.
The Roland CUBE-10GX is our Best Budget choice offering a solution for practicing with quality sounds, and an ecosystem of effects and amp models.
Finally, the Boss Katana Artist MkII is our Editor’s Choice offering five different amp types and a total of 10 core tones that you can use as a starting point to dial your tone.