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Best amps for metal 2022: our top picks for high-gain heroes

Hughes & Kettner GrandMeister Deluxe 40
(Image credit: Future)

When it comes to the best amps for metal, finding the best one for you can be a real tough decision. Sure, you could turn any great amp into a metal amp with a great distortion pedal, but for those who take their tones super seriously, it's all about your amp sounding as good as possible. A more direct signal path is a metal players dream - and amps designed with both lower tunings and extreme gain settings in mind will naturally require fewer pedals to enable players to add drive or shape EQ.

A more direct signal path is a metal players dream - and amps designed with both lower tunings and extreme gain settings in mind will naturally require fewer pedals to enable players to add drive or shape EQ.

Whether you're looking for a dependable, affordable workhorse from the likes of PRS, Orange and Marshall; or are tempted by uncompromising, higher-end standouts from EVH, Peavey and Mesa/Boogie, there’s plenty of metal amp options out there.

If you’re looking for more guidance hit the ‘buying advice’ button above, but if you’re ready to shred you can check out our top picks below.

Best amps for metal: Our top picks

Overall, right now the best of the best has to be the PRS MT15 Mark Tremonti (opens in new tab). Not only does it look cool, switching from the crystal blue lights of its clean channel to the fiery reds of its lead mode, but the overdriven sounds are good enough to rival what you’d expect from boutique amps retailing for up to four times as much. Tremonti [of Alter Bridge, Creed and Tremonti fame] likes his 15-Watt PRS signature lunchbox so much that he used it for the bulk of his heavier tones on Alter Bridge’s ace 2019 album, Walk The Sky.

If you're looking for something more versatile, the Hughes & Kettner GrandMeister Deluxe 40 (opens in new tab) will deliver all your tonal needs. It’s an amp-tweakers dream, with ridiculous levels of extra control over the in-built digital effects and virtually infinite MIDI switching. Even just on face value, it’s an amp that will stand its ground against any other, with shimmering cleans and thunderous high gain.

Best amps for metal: Product guide

Best amps for metal: PRS MT 15 Mark Tremonti

(Image credit: PRS)

1. PRS MT 15 Mark Tremonti

Simply one of the best hard rock and metal amps out there at this price point

Specifications

Type: Lunchbox tube head
Output: 15W, switchable down to 7W
Number of channels: 2, with clean pull-boost
Tubes: 2x 6L6, 6x EC83S
Weight: 17.9 pounds

Reasons to buy

+
Great bang for your buck
+
Incredible high-gain tones
+
Fantastic build
+
Gorgeous lights are the perfect touch

Reasons to avoid

-
Clean channel doesn't really stand out 
-
No reverb onboard

The MT 15 Mark Tremonti is a two-channel “lunchbox” amp powered by a pair of 6L6 output tubes and six 12AX7 preamp tubes. 

Similar to the PRS Archon, the MT 15 features five gain stages before the Master for full, lush distortion. And while the MT 15 was designed with heavier players - such as Tremonti himself - in mind, the amp offers a range of tones for guitarists working in any number of styles. 

We found that the lead channel offers thick, chunky tones and features controls for Gain, Master, Treble, Middle and Bass, while the Clean Channel is bright and chimey and boasts Volume, Treble, Middle and Bass knobs, as well as a push/pull boost on the Treble knob for a bit of old-school crunch. 

Additional features include an effects loop and bias adjusters that are accessible from the back panel for ease of servicing, as well as a half-power switch that takes the amp from 15 to 7 watts. 

The compact MT 15 comes in an all-steel chassis with a perforated lid and black-matte finish. Additionally, when powered up, the MT 15’s valves are lit by LEDs which glow red for the Lead channel and blue for the Clean. A striking and very cool aesthetic touch.

Read the full PRS MT 15 Mark Tremonti head review

Best amps for metal: Hughes & Kettner GrandMeister Deluxe 40

(Image credit: Future)

2. Hughes & Kettner GrandMeister Deluxe 40

A serious tool with the capability to withstand just about anything a guitarist can throw at it.

Specifications

Type: Tube head with digital control and digital effects
Output: 40W, switchable down to 20W, 5W, 1W and 0W
Number of channels: 4, with built-in effects
Tubes: 4x EL84, 3x 12AX7
Weight: 17 pounds

Reasons to buy

+
Dizzying array of features
+
Compact, portable and incredibly durable

Reasons to avoid

-
Internal Wi-Fi would be nice for editing purposes

An updated version of the most successful model in Hughes & Kettner's TubeMeister range, the GrandMeister 40 Deluxe is a serious tool with the capability to withstand just about anything a guitarist can throw at it. The GrandMeister has a smart steel case and Perspex control panel featuring nine knobs and a big four-way rotary voice switch. 

Aside from the amp's master volume, everything is MIDI-powered. MIDI controls the built-in five-step attenuator, series effects loop, boost voicing and phenomenal built-in digital effects. Of course, you can also edit and store presets to your heart's content. 

The amp's two American-voiced lead channels have massive amounts of gain - which we found were perfect for modern drop-tuned metal - with a wonderfully sculpted top-end that squeals and snarls on demand. The built-in noise gate does a nice job of eliminating the hiss on higher gain settings and the new, thicker voicings sound equally fantastic with regular single coils and PAF-style humbuckers. 

The Ultra channel's attack also gets you just about where you need to go for extreme metal. Overall, the Hughes & Kettner GrandMeister 40 Deluxe is a durable, formidable and practically perfect amp.  

Best amps for metal: Peavey Invective 120

(Image credit: Future)

3. Peavey Invective .120 Amp Head

Versatile and powerful, this amp's sounds range from the cleanest cleans to densely layered high-gain harmonic overtones.

Specifications

Type: Tube head
Output: 120W into 4, 8 or 16 Ohms
Tubes: 4x JJ6L6GC
Number of channels: 3
Weight: 57.5 pounds

Reasons to buy

+
Tones are refined in incredible detail
+
Included MIDI controller provides access to a wealth of features
+
Notes always retain clarity, even with the aggressive Crunch and Lead channels

Reasons to avoid

-
It's quite heavy!

Developed in collaboration with Misha Mansoor of Periphery, the Peavy Invective .120 amp head is built to fit every need of today's modern progressive metal guitarist. 

Four JJ 6L6 tubes provide 120 watts of output, while the 6L6s can be swapped for EL34, 6CA7, 6550, KT66 or KT88 tubes for different tonal personalities and performance. 

Six 12AX7A tubes provide gain for the clean channel and crunch/lead channels (with six gain stages for crunch/lead) and phase inverter and loop driver functions. The included footswitch can control individual channels and functions and provides instant access to nine user-programmable presets or control of an external MIDI device.

To our ears, the Invective .120’s tones are familiar but refined in exquisite detail, and range from the cleanest cleans to densely layered high-gain harmonic overtones with percussive attack and tight decay. 

The amp can push high-gain distortion to extreme levels, yet the sound never gets compressed into mush. With its versatile functions and performance features, the Invective .120 is truly one of the best metal amps out there. 

Read our full Peavey Invective .120 Amp Head review

Best amps for metal: Diezel VH Micro

(Image credit: Diezel)

4. Diezel VH Micro

A small but mighty option for those crushing tones

Specifications

Type: Solid-state lunchbox head
Output: 30W
Number of channels: 1
Tubes: N/A
Weight: 4lbs (1.8kg)

Reasons to buy

+
Iconic VH4 tone for a 15th of the price
+
Your ears won’t bleed
+
Compact and convenient 

Reasons to avoid

-
Not a tube in sight 

Yes, you read that price correctly. With the full-fat VH4 coming in at a tear-jerking $4.5k, we’ve been crying out for an affordable version for what seems like forever. Enter the VH Micro - a 30W solid state alternative, and get the Diezel tone without remortgaging your house or getting a hernia.

The VH Micro, whilst being a featherweight, creates some ridiculous tones for us gain-obsessives. It’s based on the 3rd channel of the VH4 - the most celebrated - and although there are no tubes in sight, you’d be surprised at the noise this amp can create.

The control layout of the VH Micro will be recognisable to those who know the VH4, with a three-band EQ, Gain and Master volume controls adorning its front panel. Diezel’s famed Deep and Presence controls also offer some more in-depth tonal sculpting, making this VH Micro an impressive, and surprisingly capable studio tool.

Best amps for metal: Orange Micro Dark

(Image credit: Orange)

5. Orange Micro Dark

A pint-sized hybrid amp with an atomic gain section

Specifications

Type: Mini-lunchbox hybrid head
Output: 20W
Number of channels: 1
Tubes: 1x 12AX7 preamp
Weight: 1.72 lbs

Reasons to buy

+
Great value for money
+
Amp heads don’t get any more portable
+
Durable build with simple control panel
+
Heaps of gain
+
Buffered effects loop

Reasons to avoid

-
It’s fierce, but not quite enough volume suitable for larger gigs

The Orange Micro Dark sure is tiny but it's more than capable of tones that will scorch the earth around you, and perfectly voiced for any kind of high-gain, heavy metal hi-jinks.

The set up is simple. It’s a single-channel hybrid amp with a solid-state power section being fed by a preamp that’s got a single 12AX7 tube to give its crunch a nice and juicy dynamic response. The control panel has knobs for volume, shape and gain, with the shape control running from a predominantly mids-scooped tone at one extreme to a more mids-heavy, punchy tone at the other.

At 20-watts, we found that the Micro Dark is more than powerful enough for band practice or small gigs – cab permitting – and with an emulated headphones output it's ideal for late-night silent practice. Run it clean, run it fierce, there’s plenty of range on that gain control, and a buffered effects loop on the back for hooking up your pedalboard

Read the full Orange Micro Dark review

Best amps for metal: EVH 5150III LBX

(Image credit: EVH)

6. EVH 5150III LBX

Channel your inner EVH for less

Specifications

Type: Lunchbox tube head
Output: 15W, switchable down to 4W
Number of channels: 2
Tubes: 2x EL84, 5x ECC83S
Weight: 16lbs (7.2kg)

Reasons to buy

+
Power switching is super helpful
+
Stealth version looks great
+
That tone! 

Reasons to avoid

-
Clean tone is non-existent 

The EVH 5150III LBX is the shrunken-down, lunchbox version of the beautifully excessive 50 watt 5150 - and with everyone looking to shrink their rigs for the sake of convenience, this small amp head could be just what the modern metal guitarist needs. 

We’ve all heard the tones of the original 5150, and the LBX does a great job of replicating them. With two channels - Crunch and Full Burn - delivering gain en masse, and a three-band EQ offering simple yet effective tonal shaping, our focus wasn't dedicated to endless tweaking to find that perfect tone, and we were able to play to our hearts content. As long as you like gain, this lunchbox head has you covered. 

Like most modern tube amps these days, a power switching function is included. Taking this all-tube head down to four watts from a not-so-heady 15, obtaining that fat, saturated, tubes-about-to-explode tone got even easier. You’re less likely to disrupt your neighborly relations too - so that’s a win in our book. 

Read the full EVH 5150 III 15-Watt LBX head review

Best amps for metal: Mesa/Boogie Mark Five: 35

(Image credit: Mesa/Boogie)

7. Mesa/Boogie Mark Five: 35

The Mark Five: 35 is perfect for whatever breed of dirt your heart desires.

Specifications

Type: Tube head
Output: 35W, switchable down to 25W, 10W
Number of channels: 2
Tubes: 4x EL84, 6x 12AX7
Weight: 27 pounds

Reasons to buy

+
Terrific high-gain settings
+
Malleable sustain and controlled feedback
+
Great tones overall

Reasons to avoid

-
Cabinet comes separately
-
A loud pop when switching between channels

The Mark Five: 35 amp head has two independent channels, each with three modes: Clean, Fat and Crunch on Ch1; MkIIC+, MkIV and Xtreme on Ch2. A 5-band EQ can be selectable per-channel to be on, off or footswitch-enabled. In addition, there are independent, footswitchable Solo level controls for each channel, as well as Reverb and a 35/25/10-watt power option. 

Sonically, the Mark Five: 35 offers aggressive metal tones in its creamy yet sizzling high-gain settings - all with lots of beating overtones amid string bends - and delightfully malleable sustain and controlled feedback. 

Vintage, Eighties-style metal comes from Ch2’s absolutely blistering MkIIC+ setting, while a more modern tightness and thump sprouts from the amp when set to Xtreme. But the Mark Series amps have always been more than just shred machines, and judicious gain settings easily straddle classic rock, punk, garage, grunge, or whatever breed of more restrained dirt your heart desires. 

Best amps for metal: Friedman BE-100 Deluxe

(Image credit: Friedman)

8. Friedman BE-100 Deluxe

Who could ask for more?

Specifications

Type: All-tube head
Output: 100W
Number of channels: 3
Tubes: 5x 12AX7, 4x EL34
Weight: 43lbs (19.5kg)

Reasons to buy

+
So much gain
+
Built like a bomb shelter
+
Exclusivity 

Reasons to avoid

-
The price is kind of mental 

The BE-100 Deluxe takes the well-known build quality, durability and tonal bliss of the existing Friedman amp range to the next level. As Friedman’s flagship offering, the BE-100 Deluxe delivers 100 sweet-sounding watts of handwired all-tube power.

It’s not unusual for the best metal amps to have loads of channels, so the three available on the BE-100 Deluxe are fully justified. They sound great, too - with two overdrive channels catered towards us high-gain merchants. 

Channels one and two are beautifully named the 'Brown Eye' and 'Hairy Brown Eye', and offer increasingly joyful and impressive levels of filth which we rolled in like pigs. The third channel - borrowed from their Smallbox amp - offers Plexi-esque tones for the more discerning player. 

Whilst being a thoroughly versatile and capable amp, we have to say that it's the gain tones that make this amp shine.

Best amps for metal: Boss Katana-100 Mk2

(Image credit: Boss)

9. Boss Katana 100 MKII

Amp modeling, onboard effects, and serious tone

Specifications

Type: Modeling combo
Output: 100W
Number of channels: 5 (amp types)
Tubes: N/A
Weight: 32.6 lbs

Reasons to buy

+
A feature-stacked combo
+
The 12” speaker pushes a lot of air
+
Amazing level of control
+
Five amp types, 60 Boss effects via Tone Studio software
+
Exceptional value

Reasons to avoid

-
It doesn’t necessarily look mind-blowing

The Katana can pretty much do anything. Jazz-funk? Sure. Spanky clean country? Yippee. There are five amp types onboard, which effectively means the Katana is a five-channel amp, with Clean, Crunch, Lead, Acoustic and Brown amp models. Factor in all the Boss effects and you see what we mean about it being a Swiss Army Knife for tone.

But this is the best metal amp buyer’s guide so let’s just get down to it. The spandex-legged of you might then want to park yourself in the Brown channel, which is lifted directly from the Boss Waza amplifier and will put the E into the VH of your rock tones. The Lead amp, meanwhile, has all the gain you need to turn your signal into something that could slice through steel.

We found dialing in tones a cinch. There is a variable power control so you can switch it down to half-power or a measly 0.5-watts to get super-cranked tones at bedroom level. The amp also features stereo expansion possibilities and an effects loop – but then with 60 effects available via Boss’s Tone Studio software you might not need them.

Read our full Boss Katana 100 MKII review

Best amps for metal: Buying advice

Mark Tremonti performs live with Alter Bridge

(Image credit: Joby Sessions/Future)

What to know when buying the best amps for metal

With any amp - metal or otherwise - it’s worth bearing in mind whereabouts you’ll be using it most. If you’re going to be shredding a festival main stage, then a Friedman 100-Watt stack might be the best metal amp for you - but if you’ll only be shredding the bedroom stage at practice-land, you’ll never get the chance to hear what it can do best. Well, not without damaging neighborly-relations.

Grabbing yourself an attenuator is always an option, but rather than spending more money you could save a fair bit if you treated yourself to something at a lower wattage. Not only would it be more cost-effective, but you’d also be able to drive the valves more and hear them truly at work.

Read more about our rating system, how we choose the gear we feature, and exactly how we test each product.  

How to find your perfect metal tone

Also, take a minute to think about the kind of gain tone you’ll be going for with your metal amp, and more specifically the pre-amp valves. EL34s or EL84s will generally offer more of a creamier, British-voiced sound, while 6L6s have generally been associated with Fender’s world-famous compressed cleans and the full-throttle high gain offered by Mesa/Boogie amps.

Other amps - the EVH 5150III for instance - are much better suited to the sharp precision of higher gain metallic thunder, from the EVH-like tones its name would suggest though to Gojira levels of brain-melting. Its clean and crunch sounds are commonly disregarded as being a little bit underwhelming, but if you’re a guitarist who doesn't really plan on spending much time using this amp in its un-driven mode you’ll be just fine here.

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to publications including Guitar World, MusicRadar and Total Guitar. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.

With contributions from