If you’re a new guitar player and looking for a beginner amp, know there are plenty of good options out there. The market is flooded with choices that run the gamut in price, size, and features. However, knowing what’s right for you may be a bit overwhelming.
Truth be told, technology has evolved by leaps and bounds, and beginner amps have improved dramatically in the last few decades. Before, your choices were mostly limited to amps with uninspiring sound and almost no features. These models seldom included options that will let you practice silently or at very low volumes, a must for some beginners.
Today, you can get anything from an all-tube beginner amp to nice-sounding solid-state models that come with a plethora of features. From useful effects to practical I/O options and even modeling technology, today’s beginner amps are a far cry from years ago.
With some many options out there, how do you know what to get? Even if you are a total beginner, this article will help you to make a wise choice for your first amp. Keed reading.
Features: 12" Speaker, 4 Reverb settings, Volume/tone/bite controls
Benefits: Excellent build quality, Ideal pedal platform, Organic overdrive
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Features: 60 Built in Boss effects, Power attenuator, 3 Band EQ
Benefits: Easy sound shaping, Thousands of downloadable models, User friendly operation
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Features: Line in input, Speaker emulated outputs, Clean/Overdrive channels
Benefits: Lightweight and portable, Easy to play with backing tracks, Sounds great at low and full volumes
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Our Top 3
The Boss Katana-50 MkII is our Top Pick. This practical combo amp comes with five amp voicings and offers a variety of customizable effects, and editor software for greater tonal control. The MKII belongs to the Katana amp series, which are the most popular amps from Boss.
The Marshall MG15G is our Budget Option. This amp features 15 Watts of power and comes with a custom 8″ speaker to deliver legendary Marshall tone and attitude. For versatility, it gives you a Clean and Overdrive channel, and a line input for connecting an external player.
Finally, the Electro-Harmonix Dirt Road Special is our Editor’s Choice. This amp is a reboot of the famous model designed by the company’s owner in the 70s. It comes with a 1×12 combo configuration, 40 watts of power and four built-in reverbs that come from this company’s Holy Grail Max pedal, ideal for beginners that want quality from the start.
Versatility and vast options with proven quality.
The Boss Katana amps are the most popular amplifiers in the storied history of this legendary company. With great functionality, fantastic tone, vast features, and ease of use, the Katana-50 has everything a beginner needs and then some.
The Boss Katana-50 MkII is a combo amp that comes with five amp voicings, a variety of customizable effects, and editor software for greater tonal control. With Clean, Crunch, Lead, Brown, and Acoustic amp voicings, you get fantastic flexibility with proven Boss quality.
If this is your first amp, you can even hold off on buying many effect pedals, as the Katana-50 comes with 60 Boss effects, which are accessible from the company’s Tone Studio editor software.
This amp also features a clever design and offers straightforward and intuitive operation. The controls are divided into four logical sections. The first is where you select the amp type, and comes with knobs for gain and volume.
Right next you have the EQ section, with three separate knobs for Bass, Middle, and Treble. Next up is the effects section, also with three knobs. The first is labeled Booster/Mod, the second is FX/Delay and the third is reserved for reverb.
Finally, in the last section, you’re able to choose between channels 1 and 2, change the master volume via a dedicated knob and select the power control from Standby, 0.5 W 25 W, and 50 W. In other words, you get tons of flexibility to use this amp in basically any way you want, from loud to quiet, with tons of effects and useful amp voicings.
We tried this amp with our Fender Strat and loved how easy to use and good sounding it was. We particularly liked the Brown amp voicing for distorted tones and Clean for everything from big open chords to jazz playing.
This amp responded well to our playing, regardless of the setting in which we used it. Lead tone was snappy and penetrating and for comping, this amp gave us a nice response on the entire frequency spectrum. In short, a fantastic amp with great versatility and good tone.
Verdict: The Boss Katana-50 MkII offers you great flexibility and ease of use in a combo amp. With five amp voicings, a vast variety of effects, and different wattage options, this amp is a great choice for any beginner looking to start out the right way.
Legendary amp know-how on a compact model.
Arguably the most famous amp in the history of rock n roll, the Marshall sound has been in countless historic recordings. The MG15G brings part of that magic to the beginner at an affordable price, but with this company's renowned quality, in a compact and well built unit.
The Marshall MG15G features 15 Watts of power and a custom 8″ speaker. With Clean and Overdrive channels, a 3-band EQ, and a line input for connecting an external player, this amp offers nice features and an affordable price tag.
Although inexpensive, this amp is well-built and can last you for a long time. It has Marshall’s iconic look, from the enclosure to the control knobs, but in a reduced size for beginners.
We tried this Marshall with our Fender Strat, going into our pedalboard. It does a great job for such a small amp, with a clear focus on convenience. That said, we did get a good clean tone, as well as punchy distortion on the Overdrive channel.
We particularly liked the tone we got on the Overdrive Channel with the gain knob at 1 o’clock and the contour knob also at 1 o’clock. Here, we got a nice bite that works great for rock and heavier blues solos, especially when using our bridge pickup on the Les Paul.
With our Strat, this amp also delivered and gave us that snappy single coil tone that we love. Here, we also liked the overdrive channel a bit more, as it was great for blues soloing and power chords at higher gain settings.
At the end of the day, the MG15G is a good practice amp that is built with Marshall quality. Simple and easy to use, this is a good choice for players of all styles who need a practice amplifier (or for something smaller, check out the MG10G, one of our favorite small amps.
Verdict: The Marshall MG15G gives you 10 watts of British tone in a nice combo amp for practicing. It features a custom 6.5″ speaker and a Clean and Overdrive channel and a contour knob for further versatility.
This EHX amp is based on the Mike Matthews Dirt Road Special amplifier from the late '70s. With a solid-state design, this model offers more power and gives you four types of reverb taken from the EHX Holy Grail Max pedal.
The Electro-Harmonix Dirt Road Special is an enhanced version of the popular Dirt Road amp which became popular in the 70s. With a compact yet effective 1×12 combo configuration, you get 40 watts of power and four built-in reverbs that come from this company’s Holy Grail Max pedal.
The Dirt Road Special also features updated circuitry to give you a more responsive playing experience to more closely resemble a tube amp. This amp also features a simple design with top-panel controls that include Volume, Tone, Bite, and Reverb, as well as a rotary selector for choosing the reverb type.
To test this amp out we used our Gibson Les Paul going straight into the Dirt Road Special. For a pristine clean sound, we found that the volume knob has to be at four or below, with the Tone knob at the halfway point and the Bite control at around 11 o’clock. We then started to gradually increase the Bite control with some more Volume and got a high-end attack with bite and tons of attitude with grit.
Naturally, this amp excels in its reverb offerings thanks to the built-in selection based on the EHX Holy Grail Max pedal. In our tests, the Time knob was great for dialing anything from lush to more conservative decay times for each of the available reverb types. We especially liked the Spring and Hall reverb as they are the most common and natural to our ears.
On the other hand, Reverse gave us a more unique type of sound, with its delayed backward response that can get you into experimental contexts. In short, this is a fantastic amp for beginners that want to get a quality model from the very start.
Verdict: The Electro-Harmonix Dirt Road Special is a solid state amp with a 1×12 combo configuration, with 40 watts of power and great build quality. Designed by the company’s founder, this amp also features four built-in reverbs that Holy Grail Max pedal.
Portability, and versatile options on a good-sounding amp.
Beginners looking for a convenient amp that delivers good practice tone should consider the THR5. With Yamaha quality and durability, this amp comes with plenty of features so you can dial any tone for a variety of styles and techniques.
The Yamaha THR5 comes in a 2×3 configuration and gives you 10 Watts of battery operation. This portable guitar amp features five amp models, as well as good-sounding modulation and time effects (full review here).
The THR5 allows you to practice a variety of techniques and styles. The amp voices are Clean, Crunch, Lead, Brit high, and Modern, offering the user great flexibility and good tone. These give you everything from cleans to saturation at increasing degrees.
Yamaha’s THR Editor software allows you to employ your computer edit and come up with your very own presets, thanks to the THR5’s USB jack.
Additionally, you can go directly into your DAW to record, and even use the copy of Cubase that ships with this unit.
Yamaha included quality onboard effects, including chorus, flanger, phaser, and tremolo, as well as delay and reverb. These are a fantastic set of effects for any beginner, and help make the THR5 a very versatile amp.
For our tests, we plugged in our Gibson Les Paul. We enjoyed all five amp modes, as each does its own thing, with varying degrees of saturation. We particularly liked Crunch and Brit Hi, for a warm overdrive and heavily distorted riffs, respectively.
Clean also gave us nice sound that worked well with our pedals, including distortion and fuzz stompboxes. This amp also comes with an aux 1/8″ input for plugging in a phone or tablet, in order to get audio for jamming, transcribing, etc.
In short, a great amp for beginners with a nice sound and superb features. That said, this amp is mainly for practice as it is too small for playing live.
Verdict: The Yamaha THR5 is a well built and convenient portable combo guitar amp that comes with five amp models, USB connectivity, and onboard effects. With battery-powered operation, it is a great choice for beginners looking for convenience and good tone.
The ID:Core 20 belongs to the third generation of Blackstar's popular practice amps. With plenty of features and ease of use, it is a good choice for beginners looking for a modern amp that delivers.
The Blackstar ID:Core 20 V3 is a 20-watt combo amp with modeling technology and a 2 x 5 configuration. It offers a variety of tones via its six amp voices that can give you anything from clean to different levels of saturation.
All of the controls in this map are located on the top panel which comes with an intuitive and easy-to-use design. The first knob to the left selects which amp voicing is in use. These are labeled Clean Warm, Clean Bright, Crunch, Super Crunch, OD 1, and OD 2. These names give you an appropriate glimpse of what these amp voices sound like.
We then have knobs for Gain and Volume. Right after that, we find the EQ knob, which is equipped with Blackstar’s Infinite Shape Feature (ISF). Here you can select between an American or British tonal character, and blend them to your liking.
Finally, there’s an Effects knob and a level knob. Right next to the effects knob you get three buttons to select between Reverb, Delay or Modulation effects. If you push the Reverb button a bit longer, you can access the built-in tuner.
Other features in this Blackstar amp include a USB Output, TRRS Aux Input to plug in your mobile device via a 1/8″ cable, and 1/8″ Cab-emulated Line/Headphone Output for silent practice or connecting directly to a console or your DAW for recording.
In short, a good choice for practicing, with nice tone and great features. Because of its small size, it may be a bit limiting for those looking to play in public or jam with a full band.
Verdict: The Blackstar ID: Core 20 V3 is a convenient and good-sounding 20-watt combo amp that comes in a 2 x 5 configuration. With six amp voices that go from clean to distorted, this amp is an excellent choice for any beginner.
A compact package that delivers in tone and features.
This is a mini amp that gives you a nice tone, versatility, and features at a reduced size. It also comes with Bluetooth connectivity to make it truly convenient for folks that play along with tracks or other audio uses from their mobile devices.
The Positive Grid Spark Mini features 10 Watts of power on a dual-speaker design. With omnidirectional sound and four expandable onboard presets, this amp is a good choice for those that need to practice in tight spaces or at low volumes.
The Spark Mini uses a USB-rechargeable battery for up to eight hours of continuous use and also features a built-in tuner on a seamless design.
With a small size and just three knobs, this amp can deliver good tones and the ability to control them. The first knob is Preset, which selects between Rhythm, Lead, Solo, and Custom amp voices. Next up is Guitar which controls the volume of your instrument. The last knob is Music to control the level of playback from your mobile device connected via Bluetooth.
Positive Grid designed this amp to work with the Spark App for deeper control of your tone and a variety of presets to choose from. With the app over 10,000 presets of amp emulation, effects, etc.
We tried this amp with our Fender Strat and it gave us a great practice tone, and the often-overlooked option to connect a mobile device via Bluetooth. We jammed with some tracks and really liked the fact that both the blend of our guitar and phone was controlled from the amp itself.
In short, a very convenient and good-sounding amp to practice with great ease. Naturally, it is quite small, so if you intend to play live, you may want to consider other options.
Verdict: The Positive Grid Spark Mini is a great portable amp that was made for practicing with good tone and useful features. With Bluetooth audio streaming to connect a mobile device, a built-in tuner, and a fantastic design, this is a good option for beginners.
An all-tube amp for great tone and response.
This amp gives you the best of both worlds by offering a tube design on a relatively small enclosure. With three levels of attenuation, you can choose just how loud or quiet your playing is, making it a convenient and great-sounding amp.
The Bugera V5 Infinium is a 5-watt guitar combo amplifier that comes with a 12AX7 preamp tube and an EL84 power tube (full review here). With a 1×8″ configuration and features like Reverb, Tone Knob, and a Power Attenuator, this amp delivers fantastic tone and response.
Despite the fact that this is a small amp, Bugera managed to make it all tubes, for a better playing experience. First, we got the 12AX7 tube, which is known for providing balanced harmonics and straightforward tube warmth. Secondly, there’s the EL84 which can drive the amp to add nice grit when pushed.
The downside with tubes is that they are more fragile and harder to maintain. Bugera relies on its Tube Life Multiplier Technology in order to keep the hassle of dealing with tube amps at a minimum.
This technology monitors the performance of the amplifier’s output tubes so they can have an evenly distributed load for ideal operation. The design on the V5 comes includes a LED indicator next to each tube so you can monitor their lifespan and avoid potential problems.
We tried this amp with our Stratocaster and loved it from the very beginning. It was responsive to our dynamics and gave us warm and balanced cleans. We then turned the gain up and got a nice overdrive, and when pushed further, beautiful saturation for a variety of styles.
In short, a convenient and great-sounding amp. Naturally, at this price point, many beginners may be turned off and opt for something a bit more affordable.
Verdict: The Bugera V5 Infinium features a 12AX7 preamp tube and an EL84 power tube for five Watts of power. With a 1×8″ configuration and a Power Attenuator, this amp offers an ideal balance between convenience and tone.
How To Choose The Right Amp For You
Deciding on the right beginner amp for you may be especially challenging. This is because beginners don’t have the experience that other players may have, so making a choice about anything relating to guitar can be intimidating.
In this buyer’s guide, we’ll give you the basics on what to look for when deciding on a beginner’s amp. And we’ll start by addressing the never-ending debate of solid-state amps vs tube amps.
Solid state vs tube amps
There are two main types of amplifiers, tube amps and solid-state amps. A tube amplifier relies on vacuum tubes or valves to amplify the electric signals that come from a musical instrument. Solid-state amps, on the other hand, use transistors to convert and amplify an electric signal into an audio wave.
In practical terms, tube amps give you a warmer tone and a more organic response to your playing. Most guitar legends relied on tube amps to create their iconic tones. However, there is also a downside.
Tube amps tend to be more fragile and more expensive than solid-state amps. They are also harder to maintain, and you need greater care when transporting them.
On the other hand, a solid-state amp can take far more abuse. Another important consideration is that solid-state amps have gotten better over time, and in some cases can offer fantastic tone and great response.
For beginners, the most common advice is to go with solid-state amps, as they are typically more affordable and can include a variety of different features like effects, modeling, etc.
Price and size
For many, price and size will be the most important aspects when considering a beginner’s amp. Your particular needs also play a big part in this. For instance, if you have roommates or live in an apartment complex, you may need a quiet amp or at least one that gives you attenuation options or a headphone out for silent practice.
On the other hand, if you also want to be able to play some gigs, considering a bigger amp with enough power is a must. In general terms, bigger amps will provide a bigger sound. They will also be heavier and more challenging to transport, so it’s important to consider all these factors.
Effects and amp modeling
Amps that come with effects and modeling are usually a good choice for beginners. This is particularly true for folks that don’t want to spend on pedals right after buying a guitar and amp.
At the very least, a beginner amp should give you clean and distorted sound. Other very common effects that are often sometimes found on the best beginner amps include reverb, chorus, flanger, and delay. Besides having other textures to play with, amps that come with effects give the beginner a chance to start getting acquainted with different sounds, without having to spend on pedals, just yet.
In some cases, beginner amps even come with amp modeling, usually via an app that allows you to edit several parameters. This may be a good choice for some beginners. However, for others, so many features and control options may be a bit overwhelming.
There are plenty of good choices for beginner amps on the market today. It will come down to your needs and preferences, as well as how much money you want to spend. Asking yourself what you want the amp for (practicing, jamming, potential gigs) is also crucial to know what to get.
To recap our choices, the Boss Katana-50 MkII is our Top Pick. With five amp voicings, a variety of customizable effects, good tone and great build quality, this amp offers versatility and convenience to beginners interested in just about any style of music.
The Marshall MG15G is our Budget Option. It comes with 15 Watts of power and a custom 8″ speaker as well as two channels, Clean and Overdrive channel.
Finally, the Electro-Harmonix Dirt Road Special is our Editor’s Choice. Originally designed by the company’s founder, Mike Matthews, this reimagined version comes with a 1×12 combo configuration, 40 watts of power, and the reverbs featured on the EHX Holy Grail Max pedal, for beginners that want to pay for superior quality.