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The 10 best budget guitar amps under $500 for 2021: affordable amps for new players and home practice

The 10 best budget guitar amps under $500 for 2021: affordable amps for new players and home practice
(Image credit: Press Material)

It’s a well-worn cliché, but there genuinely has never been a better time to buy one of the best budget guitar amps, especially if you’re a beginner looking for a practice amp that won’t break the bank.

Whether you’re looking for a recording head, giggable combo or desktop practice amp, today’s budget amps not only offer better tones than ever before, but many deliver them in lighter, smaller formats, too. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up today’s best budget guitar amps under $500.

The combos gathered here run the gamut from tiny tube terrors to solid-state digital modeling wonders, and range in output from 120 watts all the way down to 0.5. But they all pack tons of power and punch, with top-notch tones, features and functionality – and all for under $500 to boot. Now that's value for money. 

If you'd like to read more in-depth buying advice, please click the 'buying advice' button above. Keep scrolling if you'd rather get straight to the products.

Best budget guitar amps: Guitar World's choice

Highly praised among guitarists of all abilities, the Boss Katana-100 MKII series offers the best tone-for-buck ratio of any guitar amp on the market right now. The Katana’s five amp characters (Clean, Crunch, Lead, Brown and Acoustic) span just about any genre, while Boss’s industry-standard effects are also included, with 15 varieties covering your boost, mod, FX, delay and reverb needs.

All the amp’s parameters can be adjusted via Boss’s Tone Studio software, and line-outs and USB recording mean it’s as home studio friendly as they come - but packing 100W of power, it’ll hold its own on any stage too. All things considered, it’s the best budget guitar amp under $500 right now.

Best budget guitar amps under $500: Product guide

Best budget guitar amps under $500: Boss Katana-100 MkII

(Image credit: Press Material)

1. Boss Katana-100 MkII

The best budget guitar amp under $500 you can buy right now

Price: $479/£419 | Type: Solid-state combo | Output: 100W | Number of channels: 5 | Effects: 15 | Weight: 14.8kg

Hugely versatile feature set
Killer-sounding effects
Convincing tube-like tones
Could be too complicated for purists

Even ignoring their affordable price tags, Boss’s Katana amps have earned a reputation as some of the best guitar amps you can buy today, and the MkII line-up only bolsters that reputation.

This solid-state 100W model is gig-ready, and like the rest of the range, boasts five amp characters (Clean, Crunch, Lead, Brown and Acoustic), plus variations for each. This being a Boss amp, you also get five independent digital effects sections thrown in (Booster, Mod, FX, Delay and Reverb), all of which are savable across eight tone setting memories.

It’s the tonal control that really makes the Katana a top buy, however, with adjustable cab resonance options, Power Control and easily recordable mic’d cab-emulated outputs.

It's worth noting the prices we've listed are for the 2x12" combo, but a 1x12" is also available for a little less. 

Best budget guitar amps under $500 - Yamaha THR30II

(Image credit: Press Material)

2. Yamaha THR30II

A great desktop amp offering authentic sounds

Price: $499/£449 | Type: Modeling desktop amp | Output: 30W | Number of channels: 15 | Effects: 4 | Weight: 4.3kg

Outstanding amp models
Impressive Extended Stereo Technology
Onboard wireless and Bluetooth connectivity
More effects are available elsewhere

Yamaha’s stylish THR combos pioneered the desktop amp format, and now its second iteration may have perfected it, with the THR30II standing proud as the cream of the crop.

15 new amp tones are onboard, with Yamaha’s Virtual Circuitry Modeling promising utterly authentic sounds, while acoustic and bass players are catered for, too, with three voices each.

There are also built-in modulation and delay/reverb effects, as well as Bluetooth and built-in wireless compatibility with Line 6’s Relay G10T transmitter, plus an onboard rechargeable battery for fully wireless playability.

These amps sound killer when recorded, too, with this 30W version packing a pair of 1/4" line outputs for mix-ready tones.

Best budget guitar amps under $500: Orange Micro Dark

(Image credit: Orange)

3. Orange Micro Dark

This tiny unit has a big, rich voice

Price: $249/£149 | Type: Tube micro head | Output: 20W | Number of channels: 1 | Tubes: 1x 12AX7 tube | Weight: 1.72 lbs

Massive amounts of gain
Effect loop for patching outboard gear
Incredibly lightweight
Better suited for practice than gigging

Possibly the world’s only bona fide metal amp that can fit inside a guitar case, the Micro Dark is nevertheless packed with features that include volume, gain and shape controls, a 1/4-inch headphone output, speaker output (minimum 8-ohm load) and an effect loop.

The tiny unit boasts a preamp driven by a single 12AX7 tube and a 20-watt solid-state power amplifier that pumps out impressively loud volume levels, with mammoth bass thump and harmonically rich grind. 

The shape control produces a variety of tones by sweeping across a wide midrange sweet spot that can also enhance treble and bass as desired. 

The effect loop, meanwhile, enables guitarists to patch a studio multi-effects unit, reverb, delay or modulation pedal in between the preamp and power amp sections to produce truly professional-quality tones with low noise and impressive definition and articulation that sound particularly huge when recorded. 

A surprisingly versatile and powerful “secret” weapon for metal guitarists who love highly saturated grind but are tired of grinding their spinal discs lifting heavy equipment.

Watch the Orange Micro Dark review video

Best budget guitar amps under $500: Positive Grid Spark

(Image credit: Positive Grid)

4. Positive Grid Spark Guitar Amp

A brilliant practice amp for home use

Price: $269/£190 | Type: 2x4” modeling combo | Output: 40W | Presets: 10,000+ with Spark app | Weight: 5.2kg

Looks like a ‘proper’ amp
Seemingly endless tonal options
Big sound for a small amp

Positive Grid is a relatively new kid on the block, but don’t let that put you off. They’ve taken the guitar amp world by storm of late with their incredible BIAS tone engine, and the Spark is a neighbor-friendly, wallet-friendly vehicle for that fantastic software to shine. 

With access to over 10,000 tones with the companion app, as well as 30 amp models and 40 effects already onboard, the Spark is more than capable of covering any genre you can think of. USB inputs and outputs are standard, allowing you to turn your Spark into a guitar audio interface for easy recording, and Bluetooth is included to make streaming music easy as pie.

The Spark’s ace-up-the-sleeve is definitely the learning tools it offers. ‘Auto Chords’ will find chord charts for any song you choose and send them straight to the app for you, and ‘Smart Jam’ will learn your style of playing, and generate an accompanying backing track that will play along to you.

Read the full Positive Grid Spark review 

Best budget guitar amps under $500: Fender Mustang LT25

(Image credit: Fender)

5. Fender Mustang LT25

A great option for amp modeling on a budget

Price: $149/£155 | Type: Digital modeling combo | Output: 25W | Number of channels: 20 amp models | Effects: 25 | Weight: 6.7kg

Super easy to operate
Range of tones
Easily portable
More features available on other similarly-priced amps

Fender is no noob when it comes to amp modeling and its Mustang series has always been impressive in terms of features, sound quality and ease of use. The LT25 is a portable modeling combo featuring an eight-inch speaker, 20 amp models, 25 effects, USB connectivity and an auxiliary input.

You’ll find 30 presets on-board presets, easily selectable using the large encoder to the right of the amp’s screen. These presets can be tweaked and your custom profile saved with ease.

There are plenty of Fender’s typically smooth, bright and clean sounds on offer here, but there are some chunkier high gain emulations in the box too. 

In terms of effects, you get everything from compression and gates, through to octave, auto-wah, delays and reverbs. If you’re a beginner or a student, for this price, you can’t go wrong.

Read the full Fender Mustang LT25 review

Best budget guitar amps under $500: Marshall CODE50

(Image credit: Marshall)

6. Marshall CODE50

The company's first foray into digital modeling is a big hit

Price: $299/£249 | Type: Digital modeling combo | Number of channels: 14 amp models with 24 effects | Speaker: 1x custom 12" | Weight: 28.66 lbs

14 preamp models
Powerful enough for gigging
Bluetooth connectivity via Marshall Gateway app
Relatively narrow-focused amp and cab models

Part of Marshall’s CODE Series, the company’s first foray into the world of digital modeling amps, the CODE50 is a 50-watt combo with a single custom 12-inch speaker that provides four power amp models, 14 preamp models, eight speaker models and 24 effects (up to five effects can be used simultaneously), and can store 100 presets. Standard front panel controls include Volume, Gain, Master and Bass, Middle and Treble EQ.

Whereas most digital modeling amps try to be everything to everybody, the CODE50 mainly focuses on the company’s greatest strength - genuine Marshall tones. 

The preamp and power amp models are comprised mostly of Marshall’s most popular designs, including JTM45, Bluesbreaker, Plexi, JCM800, Silver Jubilee, DSL and JVM models. American clean and overdrive models and an acoustic simulator provide just the right amount of tonal contrast and variety.

Effects consist of all the essentials like compression, overdrive, modulation, reverb and delay, and up to five effects can be used at once. The free Marshall Gateway app allows users to control all functions with an iOS or Android device via Bluetooth. 

A great choice if you love Marshall tones but also desire the convenience, versatility and power of a modern digital modeling amp.

Read the Marshall CODE50 review

Best budget guitar amps under $500: Line 6 Spider V 120 MkI

(Image credit: Press Material)

7. Line 6 Spider V 120 MkII

Beginner? This is one of the best budget guitar amps under $500 for you right now

Price: $429/£339 | Type: 1x12 modeling combo | Output: 120W | Presets: 200+ | Weight: 14kg

Tones for days
Powerful enough for any gig
Lots of integrated learning tools
Some tones are a little 'abstract'

The Spider has become something of a beginner guitar amp staple owing to its exhaustive array of amp and effects models, and with the Spider V MkII series, it’s never sounded better.

This 120W version is perhaps the standout of the series, with over 200, amps, cabs and effects, spread across 128 presets, and newly revoiced for this range. These are ideal for beginners as a way of getting quick and easy access to a host of classic guitar tones.

You also get a ton of practice aids thrown in, including a tuner, metronome, drum loops and a 60-second looper, plus direct recording via XLR and USB, and even built-in wireless capability. It’s all controlled via an easy-to-use interface and Line 6’s free Spider V Remote app, which all combines to make this the best budget guitar amp for beginners.

Best budget guitar amps under $500: Roland Blues Cube Hot

8. Roland Blues Cube Hot

Excellent quality, value and reliability in a compact package

Price: $499/£499 | Type: Solid-state combo | Output: 30W, switchable down to 15W, 5W and 0.5W | Number of channels: 1, with boost | Speaker: 1x Custom 12" | Weight: 27.78 lbs

Versatile features
Vintage valve tones in solid-state design
Adjustable from 30 watts down to 0.5 watts
Not much

The heart of this solid-state amp lies in Roland’s Tube Logic technology, which utilizes a mix of digital and analog circuits to duplicate the sounds of famous fine-tuned vintage tube amps, including preamp and output tube saturation characteristics, power supply compression and much more. The result is great tone and dynamic, “squashy” valve-like response.

The 30-watt Blues Cube Hot boasts a 12-inch custom speaker and footswitchable boost and EQ, as well as four output levels, from 30 watts down to around 0.5 watts, to properly reproduce the sound of a valve power stage driven into cut-off at any volume level. 

There’s also a single input jack, with knobs for volume, bass, mid and treble, reverb and master output level. Two small illuminated buttons control the Cube's boost and tone features. 

At full power, the Blues Cube Hot is loud enough for small gigs, while the 0.5-watt setting is ideal for recording and practice. Excellent quality, value and reliability wrapped in a compact, portable and great-sounding package.

Best budget guitar amps under $500: Blackstar Fly 3

9. Blackstar Fly 3

Three-watt wonder sounds as good as amps four times its size

Price: $79/£65 | Type: Digital modelling micro amp | Output: 3W | Speaker: 1x 3" | Weight: 0.9kg

Two channels
Digital “tape” delay effect
MP3/Line In for jamming along or listening to music
3-watt design has inherent limitations

The Fly 3 takes the micro amp concept to the extreme, with three watts, two channels, digital “tape” delay and Blackstar's Infinite Shape Feature for British and American sounds. Furthermore, an MP3/Line In socket allows the FLY 3 to be connected to an MP3 player, mobile phone, laptop or tablet. 

When connected to a FLY 103 extension cabinet (sold separately or as part of the Fly Stereo Pack), it becomes a 6-watt stereo amp for guitar or music playback.

For all its features, it’s the tone that really makes the Fly 3 soar. The unit sounds as good as practice amps four times the size, with thick bass, ringing cleans and substantial gain. Overall, a huge success in a tiny box.

Best budget guitar amps under $500: Vox Mini Superbeetle

10. Vox Mini Superbeetle

The iconic Super Beatle returns in shrunken form

Price: $329/£325 | Type: Digital modeling mini-stack | Output: 50W | Number of channels: 1 | Speakers: 1x Celestion 10" Speaker

50 watts of output
Classy looks and tone
Powered by analog Nutube circuitry
High-gain folks will need to look elsewhere

This miniature amp stack, a recreation of the iconic Super Beatle, stands nearly two feet tall. But don’t be fooled by its diminutive stature - the amp is more than loud enough. 

The Superbeetle can pump out 50 watts of output at four ohms, 25 watts at eight ohms and 12.5 watts at 16 ohms. The head is powered by analog Nutube circuitry, which employs a VFD (vacuum fluorescent display) tube that captures the same sound and response of vacuum tubes without any of the inconsistent elements. 

Controls include volume, bass, treble and gain and a mini-toggle standby switch. The digital spring reverb and tremolo each have their own singular control, with the tremolo being driven by Nutube technology. 

On the rear panel, there’s a flat/deep EQ switch, impedance switch, ECO switch, dual speaker output jacks and a headphones/line out jack. The Mini Superbeetle’s vertical open-backed cabinet with chrome stand (and no, it doesn’t tilt) houses a single custom Celestion 10-inch speaker. 

The result is classic looks combined with sweet jangly tone in a miniature amp stack that will sit well onstage - or anywhere.

Read the Vox Mini Superbeetle review

Best guitar amps under $500: Buying advice

Best budget guitar amps under $500: Yamaha THR30II

(Image credit: Future)

The first question to ask before you buy any guitar amp is ‘where am I going to be playing this?’ Beginner guitarists will want to look to cheap practice amps, designed for great tone at low volumes at home.

The Blackstar Fly 3  is the most portable offering around right now, but combos such as the Line 6 Spider V 120 MKII deliver a wealth of classic sounds from an easy-to-use interface, with a ton of practice aids onboard. Many of these amps also make great recording options, too, with Yamaha’s THR30II our favorite for getting outstanding mix-ready tones straight from the box.

If you’re looking to play live, you’ll need to invest in a higher-output offering, but you’d be surprised by how much volume, say, the Orange Micro Dark can put out, especially if you’re taking your first steps in the live arena.

Of course, if you opt for a head, you’ll want to invest in a matching cabinet, too, so weigh that up when comparing prices with the 1x12” combos in our list, which are already kitted out with a speaker and are primed and ready to rock.

Michael Astley-Brown

Mike is Digital Editor-in-Chief of Guitar World, having spent nine storied years contributing to guitar journalism and a decade-and-a-half performing in bands of variable genre (and quality). He has written and edited for MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitarist, and makes prog-ish instrumental rock under the nom de plume Maebe.