Tones of the Beast: 10 Essential Heavy Metal Amps
Let's face it: There are a lot of distortion pedals out there aimed at metal players, But if you don't pick the right amp, you'll probably always be chasing that holy grail of perfect tone.
That's why we're providing you with a shortcut!
A group of Guitar World staffers, including Technical Editor Paul Riario, sat down to come up with the cream of the crop when it comes to some seriously sinister guitar amps. We looked at power, versatility and stage-worthiness, narrowing down our picks to 10 amps that will have you ready to seek and destroy straight out of the box, no pedals required!
Bogner Uberschall Series 120W
A lot of metal tones are all about mid-range attack, but if you need some serious low-end for that menacing Drop-B riff you've been working on, you can't do much better than the Bogner Uberschall.
German for "super sonic," the Uberschall features a two-channel, all-tube design that's stylishly backlit by fiber optics. Powered by an EL34 output section, the Ubserschall also features a tube-buffered effects loop with a mute feature that makes for an ultra-quiet rig.
Utilized by everyone from Avenged Sevenfold's Zacky Vengeance to Six Feet Under's Rob Arnold, the Uberschall is sure to deliver for any brand of metal guitarist. And if you're having trouble deciding what to pair the head with, look no further than the Uberschall 4x12 straight speaker cabinet to round out your setup.
MSRP: $3,049 | MORE INFO
Engl Powerball II
For maximum versatility in a metal amp, it's hard to beat the four-channel Engl Powerball II. Featuring clean, crunch and two lead channels, the Powerball II is the favorite amp of players like Jeff Loomis and Glenn Tipton.
What makes the Powerball II so appealing to gigging musicians is its range of features that make it perfect for the stage, from an improved noise gate to power tube protection. The Powerball II also lacks an impedance switch, cutting out a trouble spot familiar to most amp techs.
While most metal guitarists will be able to wring all the gain they need out of the "Soft Gain" channel, switch over to "High Gain" to over-the-top solo sounds and some of the most perfect black metal distortion sounds you'll find in a head.
MSRP: $2,687.49 | MORE INFO
Mesa Boogie Triple Rectifier
No list of metal amps would be complete without the Mesa Boogie Triple Rectifier, perhaps the most-cited amp by metal guitarists as the muscle behind their signature tones.
The Triple Rectifier features three fully independent channels with eight modes, allowing for a myriad of clean and distorted tones. Better than nearly any other amp, the Triple Rectifier pays special attention to rhythm sounds. Its powerful third channel allows for maximum chunk, making it a favorite of guitarists who are all about pick-hand precision.
Hand-built in Petaluma, California, you'll find the Triple Rectifier on the backlines of bands as diverse as Cannibal Corpse and Pelican, proof that it may very well be the ultimate all-in-one metal amp.
MSRP: $2,099 | MORE INFO
Blackstar Series One 100
They may have just set up shop in 2004, but the folks at Blackstar boast of "50 years combined experience in guitar amplification design and production." And it shows.
Blackstar have quickly become the go-to amp makers for all stripes of metal players, including artists as diverse as Gus G, Richie Sambora, Ihsahn and James Williamson. If you want to know why, you only need to look as far as the craftsmanship behind the Blackstar Series One 100-watt head.
The amp's two channels are each divided into two modes, with the clean channel featuring "warm" and "bright" modes, the latter being perfect for clean intros and bridges, a la the middle section of "Master of Puppets."
For distortion, the overdrive channel gives you the options of a "crunch" or "super crunch" mode, which pretty much tells you all you need to know about the crushing tones you can expect. Guitarists falling far on the "extreme" side of the spectrum may need to throw an extra pedal in their chain for those absolutely distortion-drenched tones they so crave, but few metal amps come as solidly built or highly recommended by metal's elite.
MSRP: $2,129.99 | MORE INFO
Since 1994, the German-made Diezel VH4 has been the go-to amp for purveyors of many styles of hard rock and metal.
Perfect for that late-era Angus Young sound right through the grittiest of metal tones, the VH4 features four completely independent channels — clean, crunch, mega, lead — along with four individual preamps with gain and volume settings. While the clean and crunch modes are plenty pleasing to the ear, the "Mega" channel is where the trademark Diezel sound kicks in, providing all the wallop you'll need for Maiden-style gallops or slithering Drop-D riffs.
For a little added sustain and compression, just click over to the "Lead" channel for cutting, creamy lead sounds that should please shredders as well as the more melodically inclined metal player.
MSRP: $4,299 | MORE INFO
Most high-gain fiends know that Peavey’s 6505 Series amps are evolutionary creations that began with the Peavey/Van Halen–designed 5150 heads. When Peavey’s association with Van Halen ended in 2004, the company continued to build the same insanely high-gain amp under the new 6505 name and went about updating some of the amp’s ancillary features.
However, they didn’t change the amps’ extreme-gain circuits, die-hard construction and affordability.
The amp (which comes in a ton of variations) is primed by up to six 12AX7 preamp tubes and driven by four 6L6GC power tubes, delivering brutal high-gain power.
Try plugging into the high-gain input to double the input gain for crushing overdriven tones. You also can create a second "lead" tone by engaging the Crunch option on the rhythm channel. In the master section, you'll find the Resonance and Presence controls. Resonance acts as a low-frequency boost, while Presence acts as a high-frequency boost, both allowing you to sculpt your tone. All of this tonal power is housed in an exterior that is built for the rigors of the road.
MSRP: $1,349.99 |
If you're into built-in gain, you'll dig Marshall's all-tube, four-channel JVM410H 100-watt head. It actually sports more gain than any other Marshall model ever made, which is kinda saying something.
One thing's for sure: This is a feature-packed machine. There are four channels, each with an independent EQ. Volume and Gain controls run through separate, footswitchable master volumes driven by four ECC83 tubes (or "valves" in the UK, where this amp is made) in the preamp, one ECC83 and four EL34 power amp tubes. Each channel comes with three separate gain modes — green, orange and red. Each one reconfigures the gain structure of the channel to offer gradually increasing levels of gain. You could say (as Marshall does) that this amp is 12 Marshalls in one.
The JVM410H also offers digital reverb with a level control for each channel. This also is footswitchable, as are the amp's two Master Volume controls and the Series/Parallel effects loop. Resonance and Presence are equipped with master controls.
If you're shooting for a classic name with an updated, brutal sound, this is the Marshall for you. (But remember, this thing will provide some super-clean tones as well.)
MSRP: $2,999.99 to $3,400 | MORE INFO
Orange Amps Dark Terror
Based on the size of this amp, it could've been called the Tiny Terror, but that name is already taken, of course.
Simply put, the Dark Terror is a lot like Napoleon Bonaparte — small but very aggressive. This distinctive-looking head produces a mind-blowing sound that combines the Shape control of Orange's Thunder series with the weight and size of its Terror family. The result is plenty of lovely gain and responsiveness.
And speaking of gain, due to its high-gain preamp, the Dark Terror is the highest-gain amp in the history of Orange's Terror series. It also comes with a handy, tube-driven FX loop. So we agree with Orange when they say, "It is uncompromisingly brutal, doubtless unhinged, even ferocious. The Dark Terror rises from the ethereal depths to fulfill the every desire of the heavy metal and rock guitar players. With its characteristic fearless Orange Amp looks, heavy duty construction and portability, guitar players everywhere will quickly become attuned to this scary dark force of nature."
For more about this amp, check out Paul Riario's video review.
MSRP: $829 | MORE INFO
Hughes & Kettner Coreblade
Germany's Hughes & Kettner offers a huge range of gear for players in search of an assortment of tones. It dabbles in "the vintage thing" with its Puretone amps and produces several cost-effective solid-states, including the Attax. The Coreblade, however, is a bit different.
For starters, compared to some others, this is a very big head — but the sound it produces is also big, if not huge. The amp, the flagship head in the brand's Pro Class, delivers seriously tough tone, dynamic response and an explosive punch. Two of the four channels are voiced to offer completely different high-gain alternatives. The amp's Drive channel supplies the classic sounds of the early metal era. The Clean channel offers tons of headroom, rendering even the most aggressive attack with sparkle and chime.
Boost is separately switchable and three effect modules may be used simultaneously for each per channel. The ultra-precise, remarkably musical IDB noise gate is available for all channels. Programmable potentiometers enable settings to be stored in 128 memory slots, and the included MIDI board affords easy access to these presets.
The Coreblade is the first tube amp that downloads presets directly to USB sticks and uploads new presets at the touch of a button. Best of all, every sound is all tube with no modeling.
For more about this amp, check out these two review videos featuring GW's Paul Riario. The top video checks out the amp's sounds; the bottom video focuses on its features.
MSRP: $2,649 |
EVH 5150 III
The EVH 5150 III all-tube amp head was developed to meet the specs of one Edward Van Halen. The cool thing, however, is that, while you certainly get his patented "brown sound" out of this attractive amp, you also can dial in a much more metal-friendly, high-gain, saturated tone with tons of harmonics and sustain.
The 5150 III is a three-channel amp that sets players off in three different directions — high-def cleans, the brownest of brown sounds with punch and definition, and maniacal high gains. We're talking an attractive range of crunch to all-out mayhem. To be honest, the 5150 III sounds like no other amp and should be applauded for its versatility alone.
And let's not forget the EVH 5150 III 50-watt head, which is a smaller-sized version of the 5150 III. Its size and portability make it perfect amp for players who want arena volume, tone and performance from something that will fit in your bedroom.
MSRP: $2,399.99 | MORE INFO