It’s a well-worn cliché, but there genuinely has never been a better time to buy a cheap guitar amp, especially if you’re after a beginner or practice amp. Today’s budget combos and heads not only offer better tones than ever before, but many deliver them in lighter, smaller formats, too, whether you’re looking for a recording head, giggable combo or desktop practice amp. With that in mind, we’ve rounded today’s best guitar amps under $500.
- These are the 10 best amps for metal
- Looking for a budget guitar? Try the 10 best electric guitars under $500
The 10 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.
What is the best guitar amp under $500?
Highly praised among guitarists of all abilities, the Boss Katana MkII series offers the best tone-for-buck ratio of any guitar amp on the market right now, with this 100W model suitable for home and gig use alike.
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 booster, 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 suited to the home studio as it is the stage. All things considered, it’s the best guitar amp under $500 right now.
The best guitar amps under $500: buying advice
The first question to ask before you buy any guitar amp is ‘where am I going to play this?’ Beginner guitarists will want to look to cheap practice amps, designed for great tone at low volumes at home. Blackstar’s Fly 3 is the most portable offering, but combos such as Line 6’s Spider V 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.
- Check out the best acoustic guitars under $500
- Or splash out on the best acoustic guitars under $1,000
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, Orange’s 20W Micro Dark or the 15W EVH 5150III LBXII 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 below, which are already kitted out with a speaker and ready to rock.
The best guitar amplifiers under $500 right now
1. Boss Katana-100 MkII
The best guitar amp under $500 you can buy right now
Price: $359 | Type: Solid-state combo | Output: 100W | Number of channels: 5 | Effects: 15 | Weight: 14.8kg
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 is 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.
2. Yamaha THR30II
A great desktop amp offering authentic sounds
Price: $499 | Type: Modeling desktop amp | Output: 30W | Number of channels: 15 | Effects: 4 | Weight: 4.3kg
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.
3. Orange Micro Dark
Tiny unit has a big, rich voice
Launch price: $249 / £129 | Type: Tube micro head | Output: 20W | Number of channels: 1 | Tubes: 1x 12AX7 tube | Weight: 1.72 lbs
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.
4. Marshall CODE50
Company's first foray into digital modeling is a big hit
Launch price: $299 / £229 | Type: Digital modeling combo | Number of channels: 14 amp models with 24 effects | Speaker: 1x custom 12" | Weight: 28.66 lbs
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.
5. Line 6 Spider V 120 MkII
A great beginner amp at a great price
Launch price: $429 | Type: 1x12 modeling combo | Output: 120W | Presets: 200+ | Weight: 14kg
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 guitar amp for beginners.
6. Roland Blues Cube Hot
Excellent quality, value and reliability in a compact package
Launch price: $499 / £409 | 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
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.
7. Blackstar Fly 3
Three-watt wonder sounds as good as amps four times its size
Launch price: $69 / £49 | Type: Digital modelling micro amp | Output: 3W | Speaker: 1x 3" | Weight: 0.9kg
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.
8. Vox Mini Superbeetle
The iconic Super Beatle returns in shrunken form
Launch Price: $329 / £339 | Type: Digital modeling mini-stack | Output: 25W | Number of channels: 1 | Speakers: 1x Celestion 10" Speaker
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.