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The 8 best amps for metal 2021: play loud and proud with the best metal amps on the market

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The 8 best amps for metal 2021: play loud and proud with the best metal amps on the market
(Image credit: EVH/Orange/PRS/Peavey)

In the eyes of the metal guitar gods, not all amps are made the same. There’s myriad distortion pedals out there that would easily turn even the cleanest of cleans into a gut-wrenching box of filth, many of metal’s biggest brains will admit that it’s nearly all about getting as good an amp sound as possible. It’s for that reason that we've put together this guide to the best amps for metal.

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.

Are you looking for a great deal on a metal amp this Black Friday? Check out our Black Friday guitar deals page for the latest news, and the best offers around.

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. 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 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.

At the cheaper end of the metal amp spectrum, we can also happily recommend the Orange Micro Dark mini hybrid lunchbox head and the excellent Boss Katana-100 Mk2 combo.

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

Price: $749/£529 | 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

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

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: Hughes & Kettner)

2. Hughes & Kettner GrandMeister Deluxe 40

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

Price: $1,499/£949 | 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

Dizzying array of features
Compact, portable and incredibly durable
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 - 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 Guitar Amp Head

(Image credit: Peavey)

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.

Price: $1,799/£1,799 | Type: Tube head | Output: 120W into 4, 8 or 16 Ohms | Tubes: 4x JJ6L6GC | Number of channels: 3 | Weight: 57.5 pounds

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
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.

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: Orange Micro Dark

(Image credit: Orange)

4. Orange Micro Dark

A pint-sized hybrid amp with an atomic gain section

Price: $189/£149 | Type: Mini-lunchbox hybrid head | Output: 20W | Number of channels: 1 | Tubes: 1x 12AX7 preamp | Weight: 1.72 lbs

Great value for money
Amp heads don’t get any more portable
Durable build with simple control panel
Heaps of gain
Buffered effects loop
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, 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: Boss Katana-100 Mk2

(Image credit: Boss)

5. EVH 5150 III 50-Watt EL34 Head

Amazingly versatile and incredibly aggressive, this is one of the most impressive amps to come along in recent times.

Price: $1,299/£1,099 | Type: Tube head | Output: 50W | Tubes: 2x EL34, 7x ECC83S | Number of channels: 3 | Weight: 34.8 pounds

Incredible, flexible gain tones
Delivers classic Eddie Van Halen tones with aplomb
Massive and tightly focused bass on Channel 3
Not a great choice for cleaner players
A little pricey

The little brother of sorts to the absolutely monstrous EVH 5150III EL34 100-watt head, the EVH 5150III EL34 50-watt head packs the same amazing tones of its 100-watt counterpart into a slightly more manageable package. 

A pair of JJ EL34 power amp tubes and seven JJ ECC83/12AX7 preamp/effects loop tubes provide 50 watts of output and amazing gain, while the four-switch foot controller allows users to select individual channels and the effects loop with clickless, pop-free performance.

Channel 1 provides British-flavored clean tones with ample headroom, Channel 2 delivers the ballsy, classic crunch of Eddie Van Halen’s legendary Marshall Super Lead (heard on the first six Van Halen albums) while Channel 3 - with its massive but tightly focused bass - is simply perfect for the modern metal guitarist.

The EVH 5150III EL34 100-watt head may be louder, but the 50-watt head hits the power tube distortion sweet spot at lower volume levels. Most guitarists will find the lower levels more appealing for studio applications and gigs in venues where “total annihilation” volume levels aren’t necessary.

Amazingly versatile and incredibly aggressive, the EVH 5150III EL34 50-watt head is one of the most impressive amps to come along in recent times. 

Read our full EVH 5150 III 50-Watt EL34 Head review

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

(Image credit: Mesa/Boogie)

6. Mesa/Boogie Mark Five: 35

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

Price: $1,749/£1,899 | Type: Tube head | Output: 35W, switchable down to 25W, 10W | Number of channels: 2 | Tubes: 4x EL84, 6x 12AX7 | Weight: 27 pounds

Terrific high-gain settings
Malleable sustain and controlled feedback
Great tones overall
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: Boss Katana-100 Mk2

(Image credit: Boss)

7. Boss Katana 100 MKII

Amp modeling, onboard effects, and serious tone

Price: $359/£309 | Type: Modeling combo | Output: 100W | Number of channels: 5 (amp types) | Tubes: N/A | Weight: 32.6 lbs

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
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.

Dialing in tones is 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: Marshall DSL20C

(Image credit: Marshall Amplification)

8. Marshall DSL20C

Marshall magic, without the 401-k-robbing prices

Price: $649/£415 | Type: Tube combo | Output: 20W, switchable to 10W | Number of channels: 2 | Tubes: 2x EL34, 3x ECC83 | Speaker: Celestion Seventy (80W) | Weight: 36 pounds

Classic channel which delivers, well, classic Marshall tone
Aforementioned classic Marshall tone comes at an affordable price
Standby switch allows for use onstage and in the practice room
Clean tone connoisseurs pretty much requires single-coil pickups

The 20-watt, two-channel DSL20C comes loaded with a pair of EL34 power tubes and three ECC83 preamp tubes, with a single Celestion Seventy 80 12-inch speaker housed in the semi-open-back cabinet. 

There are two individually voiced channels - Classic, which delivers a variety of seminal Marshall tones, and Ultra, which straddles a fine line between the beloved Marshall tones of the late Seventies and Eighties and modern high-gain textures. 

Each boasts its own Gain and Volume knobs, a shared set of EQ controls (treble, middle, bass, presence and resonance) and a reverb level control. Full-(20-watt) and half-power (10-watt) settings are selected via the standby rocker switch, and a Channel Select switch lets users manually change channels when the footswitch controller (which is included with the amp) isn’t connected.

A highly versatile amp, the DSL20C delivers various flavors of classic, coveted Marshall tones, but priced low enough for beginners to consider as their first amp. At the same time, it doesn’t skimp on features, making it ideal for more experienced players who crave some Marshall magic in their studio arsenal without robbing funds from their 401Ks. 

Read the full Marshall DSL20C review

Best amps for metal: Buying advice

Mark Tremonti performs live with Alter Bridge

(Image credit: Joby Sessions/Future)

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.

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.