In recent years, modeling amps have become more and more popular. No longer are they solely the choice of beginner guitarists – nowadays, they offer a range of incredible tones for all kinds of players. But, with so many choices on offer, what are the best modeling amps, and how do they differ from other solid-state and tube amps?
As the name implies, modeling amps model the sounds of other amplifiers – usually ones that are expensive, rare, unreliable, impractical or all of the above! Not everyone can get their hands on an original, early-’60s Fender black panel combo, but you’ll find some kind of digital replication of one in most modeling amps.
Also, to play the music that you want to, you might need a range of different sounds – this is where modeling amps can really come into their own. Many of the best modeling amps give players a ton of options when it comes to amp styles. You can go from super-clean sounds to mega-distorted ones, via everything in between. A lot of them also have effects built in, meaning you don’t have to buy separate pedals.
Here, we’ve put together our pick of the best modeling amps. All of our choices have either a built-in speaker, or can drive a regular, passive guitar cab.
Best modeling amps: Guitar World recommends
As with most things, there are some great options out there and some, well, let’s just say less great options. All things considered, the Boss Katana-100 MkII (opens in new tab) is hard to beat – it sounds fantastic, with some authentic amp models and studio-grade effects, it’s easy to dial in, and it won’t break the bank. If you need fewer sounds but want all the character and warmth associated with tube amps, then the Fender Tone Master Deluxe Reverb (opens in new tab) is the way to go.
Whatever your preference when it comes to style of music, and whatever you need from an amp, you’re sure to find something that’ll work for you in our list of the best modeling amps.
Best modeling amps: Product guide
In recent years, the Boss Katana has proven itself to be one of the most popular non-tube amps on the market. The MkI Katana wasn’t broken but they fixed it anyway, resulting in what might be the best modeling amp available to players right now.
The Boss Katana MkII offers guitarists four different flavors of amp style alongside an acoustic channel, with two variations on each – so, 10 in total. These cover everything from mellow and sparkly cleans, through classic rock crunch, all the way up to metal-style saturation. The Katana also provides a range of high-quality effects.
What many players love about this guitar amp is how easy it is to use – all the controls are right there in front of you and, to be honest, it’s hard to dial in a bad sound! We’ve chosen the 100W model as you’ll be able to keep up with a drummer in terms of volume, but if you want the same great sound in a smaller package, then look at the Katana-50 MkII.
Read the full Boss Katana-100 MkII review
Building on the success of Blackstar’s TVP range, the Silverline series of amps allow you to model different power tubes so that you can get a range of tones as well as changing how the amp responds to your playing. Combine this with the six different amp models that you can choose from, and you’ve got a mighty versatile amp that delivers some serious character, inspired by some of the most sought-after boutique amps in the world.
As with most other modeling amps, you’ll have a range of amps to use as your base tone: two cleans, two crunch and two overdrives (with the latter, you can really crank the gain to get some great metal sounds). There’s also a high-quality effects section, as well as Blackstar’s patented ISF control – this essentially lets you dial and blend in a British, or American, sort of sound.
The Blackstar Silverline amps might also be the best-looking modeling amps out there, sporting a sleek aesthetic that draws from the boutique inspiration.
Whilst the Fender Tone Master Deluxe Reverb doesn’t have the same kind of versatility as others on this list, what it does do, it does incredibly well. So much so that it’s hard not to view it as one of the best modeling amps out there.
Instead of modeling a bunch of amps, as the name suggests, this models the sound and feel of a Fender Deluxe Reverb combo and, unless you’re comparing them side by side, it’s not easy to tell the difference. It delivers the same chime and sparkle as the original, with a lush, full-bodied tone and incredible dynamics. Even the control panel is identical, so you’ll have the incredible-sounding tremolo and reverb as well.
The Fender Tone Master Deluxe Reverb is the most expensive amp on this list, but it’s still cheaper than the all-tube version. It’s also nearly half the weight. In addition, there are modern-day benefits such as a line output with level control, a three-option cab-sim and a six-way power attenuation switch for playing at a variety of volumes.
Read the full Fender Tone Master Deluxe Reverb review
In any conversation about modeling amps, it’s hard to ignore the Line 6 Spider. Earlier versions of this amp do get some stick online, but the Spider was a fairly trailblazing design. Plus, its most recent incarnation – the Spider V MkII – is definitely one of the best modeling amps out there.
With over 200 amps, cabs and effects to play around with, you’ll never be stuck for choice. It also comes loaded with lots of great-sounding presets that can lead your playing in directions that you might not have gone to otherwise. You can really dive deep into shaping your tone exactly how you want it. You’ve also got the option to use the built-in tweeter for a full-range miked-up amp sound, or switch it off for a more ‘in the room’ sound.
Even though the Spider V MkII has an LCD menu on the panel, you’ve also got traditional knobs – a simple switch allows you to change whether you’re controlling the amp or effects section. The 120W version will give you enough volume for jamming with a full band, though smaller versions are also available if you don’t need all that power.
The Positive Grid Spark 40 is probably the smartest amp on this list. With the help of your tablet or smartphone’s microphone, it can listen to what you’re playing and generate a backing track. It’s also a great learning tool, as it can provide you with the chords to pretty much any song.
Aside from these features, there are some great amp models built into this cool-looking 40W desktop amp. You’ve got all the usual cleans, as well as crunch and high-gain amp models, plus options for acoustic guitar and bass.
While you’ll get more from this amp using it alongside the app, you can use it on its own if you can’t be bothered with technology and just want to play guitar.
Read the full Positive Grid Spark review
Throughout its decades of building amps, Fender has learnt a few things – and the Mustang LT50 puts a lot of that expertise into one relatively compact yet punchy amp. You’ve got some of the lovely clean sounds that Fender is so well known for, some great crunch and distorted sounds, plus some superb effects.
Straight out of the box, you can scroll through some really well-designed presets that cover all styles of music. A quick adjustment with the control knobs will enable you to customize the preset you’re on. Like many modern modeling amps, you can also hook the amp up to your Mac or PC to delve even deeper into your tone settings.
The Fender Mustang LT50 is a great modeling amp, particularly for beginners – though everyone would likely have fun with it. If you want a range of cool amp styles and effects, all being pushed through a good-quality 12” speaker, then this is one to check out!
The Yamaha THR10II Wireless might be the ultimate solution for players who want a neat and tidy desktop amp. Unlike most other guitar amps, it doesn’t look out of place on a work desk or in a living room, meaning you could feasibly plug it in and play while having a five-minute break from work.
Not only is the THR10II Wireless compact, it’s also got a wireless receiver built in, so you could use a Line 6 Relay transmitter alongside it for cable-free operation. With Bluetooth and a rechargeable battery also on board, you could even take it on the go.
On top of great functionality, you’ve got some really cool amp sounds – five guitar amp styles covering a wide range of tones, along with a bass amp and a microphone model for electro-acoustics. You’ve also got eight effects – and since these are split into two different groups, you could use some simultaneously.
Like many others on this list, the Vox Cambridge 50 delivers the whole spectrum of amp styles – from cleans, through crunches, to high-gain tones. This amp has many strong points, but it does a particularly great job of nailing that classic Vox AC chime. You can also get some incredible ‘on the edge of breakup’ tones, which you can push even further by digging in with your picking hand, or with an external pedal.
While the Vox Cambridge 50 is one of the best modeling amps available, there’s some pretty cool stuff going on on the inside that helps it stand out. It’s got a Nutube preamp circuit that works in a similar way to a vacuum tube, helping it deliver the same sort of sound and response that you’d normally get when playing through a tube amp.
All of these great sounds are pushed out through a high-quality 12” Celestion speaker, plus there are some really useful modern features, such as a line output with cab-sim, and a USB output for linking up to a computer.
Read the full Vox Cambridge 50 review
Best modeling amps: Buying advice
How to find the best modeling amp for you
So, we’ve given our take on what the best modeling amps are, but why would you choose one of these over a traditional solid-state amp or a tube amp? Well, many modeling amps feature sounds based on a whole array of tube amps. Why have one tube amp when you could have the sound of many in a modeling amp? They give you more versatility, and more tonal options.
Now, most modeling amps on this list don’t quite sound the same – or, indeed, react in the same way – as tube amps, but they’re very close. Technology has improved so much over the last decade that modeling amps now sound closer than ever to the real thing.
Such is the way that tube and solid-state amps create sound, they tend to be more limited in the types of tones they can create. Modeling amps, on the other hand, can create a vast array of sounds – some even have hundreds of options.
Modeling amp vs amp modeler: What's the difference?
Although modeling amps and amp modelers technically do the same things - and make your guitar tone sound epic in the process - we feel like there's one main difference you should take into consideration when looking to buy a new amp.
A modeling amp is an amp which has a variety of different tones within it. Amps such as the Boss Katana and Yamaha THR series come under this category, and while they can recreate a load of different sounds, they don't necessarily recreate the tones of loads of different amps.
Units such as the Line 6 Helix or Neural DSP Quad Cortex come under the 'amp modeler' category, as they're designed to recreate and replicate the sound of any amp under the sun. They don't really have a core tone, and usually contain more digital architecture than the Katana or THR amps - which are designed around a more 'traditional' amp chassis.
What style do you play?
When shopping for the best modeling amp, there are some things you should think about before handing over your cash. Firstly, think about what sort of music you play. If it’s a really eclectic mix, then you’ll want something that can cover a lot of ground. The more options, the better, so keep an eye on the number of amps/cabs, as well as what your options are with EQ.
How many effects do you need?
A number of modeling amps also have effects built in, including phasers, flangers, delays, reverbs, octaves, overdrives and boosts. If this is something you’d be interested in exploring, then look for an amp with a decent effects section. However, if you’re more of a bread-and-butter kind of player, you might not need such malarkey.
Some of the best modeling amps have presets built in, too, and others are more traditional in their layout. Preset sounds can be really fun to play with, and really inspiring. They can present you with combinations of amp styles and effects that you might never have put together.
What is the right size and power for you?
Size and power are worth considering, too. Your desktop amp with 3.5” speakers might work great for your workspace at home, but it’s not going to cut it on stage. If you’re buying an amp with the aim of playing alongside a band, then ideally you’ll want something with a 10” speaker or bigger, and you’ll want to be looking at a minimum of around 50W. If your budget allows for a higher wattage, then you’ll have more volume on tap should you need it at a rehearsal or gig.
What other features should you consider?
Many of the best modeling amps come fitted with an array of features to help make life as a guitarist that bit easier. Line outputs with cabinet simulation allow you to plug directly into a PA system or recording setup with the addition of what an actual speaker would bring to the sound. Most will have a headphone output for silent practice, and some might also have a USB output that can be used to update the amp’s firmware or record directly onto your computer. Think about what features you’d like, and look for an amp that has them all.