2022 is officially drawing to a close, meaning it’s currently the perfect opportunity to look back over the past 12 months to revisit some of the best guitar gear we’ve had the pleasure of coming across.
It’s certainly been a year to remember, with a number of knock-out new releases making their way onto the market, from long-awaited electric guitars and boutique acoustic guitars all the way to surprise pedal drops and modern-minded guitar amps.
Not only that, 2022 has also helped cement the status of numerous pre-existing products as serious fan favorites, with many guitars, basses, pedals, amps and more from previous years earning their way onto our end-of-year round-up.
With that said, here is our 2022 holiday ultimate gear guide for the best guitars amps of 2022.
Blackstar St. James 50 EL34 Head
With more guitarists eschewing back-breaking amplifiers for plug-and-play floorboard modelers, Blackstar has doubled down on tube amps by addressing weight issues, notching up powerful tone and adding advanced functionality with the release of their St. James series of amplifiers.
The series is available as a 1x12 combo or amplifier head with a matching vertical 2x12 cabinet. They are pleasingly lightweight: The combo clocks in at 28 lbs., and the head and cabinet read 14 and 30 lbs. respectively. The EL34 design uses a British “Class A” tube preamp for more low-to medium “classic” output gain on Channel II, making this version ideal as a pedal platform for either channel.
But if “modern” preamp gain is your preference, then the 6L6 model’s Channel II circuit deals a robust combination of cascaded hi-gain tube overdrive with a “British” style passive tone stack EQ. Finally, an integrated series effects loop, studio-quality reverb and footswitch provide even more versatility.
Blackstar St. James 6L6 Combo
What if someone came up with an all-tube amp that weighed about as much as a typical solid-state rig? Well, Blackstar has done just that with this St. James series 1x12 combo, which tips the scales at 28 pounds respectively. This amp uses 6L6 tubes and has a lead channel that Blackstar says is their highest-gain channel ever, plus a clean channel that offers crisp highs and tight low end.
To test the 6L6 combo, I initially used it on a gig that involved a hike to reach the stage. This is where the St. James’ weight was most appreciated, especially compared to my 39-pound Deluxe Reverb. Well-equipped for just about any situation, and remarkably easy to carry considering the wallop it packs, the St. James is a shoe-in for an Editors’ Pick Award.
Kudos to Blackstar for cracking the code on making a tube amp that won’t break your back or your wallet.
Boss Katana KTN-110 Combo
As a 1x10-equipped combo, this unit is aimed at home, studio and rehearsal use, although it will be usable on small gigs if it isn’t battling a wall of sound. There’s a Bluetooth connection for device playback through an adaptor, and a USB connection for tailoring of effects and tones, as well as downloading new patches and effects as they’re developed.
The FX list includes several types of compression, distortion and overdrive – accessible via the Input EFX controls on the control panel — followed by delay, reverb and echo, T-wah, octaver, chorus, phaser and synth. The EQ is extensive, with low and high-mid frequency selections available, while bringing the tweeter into play also extends the available array of tones.
Setting up a basic sound and tone is easy, so if you choose to audition the KTN-110 as a working amp and use the effects sparingly, you’ll be impressed with its basic operation – even as a regular combo.
Electro-Harmonix Dirt Road Special
Electro-Harmonix’s Dirt Road Special is a capable 1x12 combo with updated circuitry that provides an authentic tubelike response and feel that may almost make you forget it’s a solid state amp. I really thought the Dirt Road Special would mostly be a “clean machine” – and it certainly does that: It’s great for hearing the sparkle of your single-coil pickups and the roundness of humbucker-equipped guitars.
If you love ’verb, you’ll appreciate the built-in selection of onboard reverbs in the DRS. Many players will find the Spring and Hall reverbs to be handy in most live situations for their organic shimmer. What’s really useful is having the Time knob for setting generous or narrower decay times for each of its voluminous reverb types.
This combo gets plenty loud, thanks to its open-back design and custom-voiced EHX 12-inch speaker that’s rated at 75 watts. It’s also pleasantly portable and feels much lighter than its 30 lbs readout.
$406.90 street, ehx.com
Fender Acoustic Junior Go
Don’t count acoustic amps out: Fender’s Acoustic Junior Go will make you rethink the idea that you don’t need one. It’s compact and powerful at 100 watts of output power with a rechargeable battery that hangs in there for more than five hours of playing time at full volume.
It also works splendidly as a portable two-channel PA, which is essential for buskers and gigs in smaller venues. At 17 lbs., the AJG is ridiculously lightweight, truly making it an “on the go” amplifier, but even more impressive is the combined 8-inch low-frequency driver and hi-fi tweeter to deftly capture the sound of your acoustic and vocals in detailed “surround-sound” quality.
The onboard effects sound exceptional and come in handy for turning dry performances into ambient ones. The built-in looper is indispensable once you make it part of your repertoire: You’ll need to spring for an optional four-button footswitch to maximize that looping potential.
$499.99 street, fender.com
Fender Mustang Micro
The Mustang Micro is a very, very small guitar amplifier and effect modeling system that features a selection of tones from Fender’s Mustang series modeling amps. You can plug it directly into your guitar’s input jack, connect stereo headphones to its 1/8-inch jack, choose various amp and effect settings, and play for hours.
This tiny device offers 12 amp models with a range of clean and dirty tones, 12 effect combinations with some parameter control, adjustable EQ, and a relatively large master volume wheel that adjusts instrument and overall output level to headphones or earbuds.
Whether you use the Mustang Micro as a practice tool, for playing along with tunes streaming via Bluetooth, or as a quick and easy audio interface for recording, prepare to be amazed at the level of feel and tone Fender has crammed into this tiny package. It is a miracle of modern engineering and deserves its Editors’ Pick Award.
Fender Rumble Stage 800
Although the Fender Rumble Stage 800 has been available for a few years now, it’s still right at the forefront of bass amp technology. The amp has an 800-watt (into 4 ohms) digital power module, 10” baffle-mounted pressed-steel speakers made by Eminence, and a sturdy cabinet made from dense birch ply.
The twin ports and huge ceramic magnets on the drivers mean that the amp will easily handle powerful low frequencies from the power amp. The top control panel is deceptively simple, with just five control knobs — Gain, a three-band EQ and Master, all of which are programmable.
In addition there are three ‘layer’ buttons, four ‘utility’ buttons, and an encoder wheel. Download the Fender Tone App to your phone and all of the great Fender bass amplifiers are available, and effects wise, there’s everything you could possibly want. It’s no wonder that this amp has become so popular with bass players of all levels.
Gamma G25 Guitar Combo
Over the last 25 to 30 years, it has been nearly impossible to buy a decent brand-new guitar amplifier for less than $200. The cost of an amplifier in this price range wasn’t the only thing that was low – so were the volume output and sound quality. The Gamma G25 guitar combo amplifier, with a single 10-inch speaker, offers a surprising exception. It’s a genuine guitar amp in the truest sense, meaning it is loud enough to gig with and sounds good enough to record.
The tone controls are versatile and provide attractive tones across their entire range. When it comes to sound quality, it punches well above other contenders in a similar price range. While the combo may lack the built-in digital effects or dozens of amp models of its more expensive competition, the emphasis on good, solid guitar tones is refreshing for a combo that only costs about as much as an average stomp box.
$139.99 street, acousticamplification.com
Gamma G50 Guitar Combo
The G50 guitar combo from Acoustic Control (Guitar Center’s amp-manufacturing division) is impressively loud enough to gig with in a full-band situation, with its two-channel design providing a straightforward Blue channel with only a volume control and a versatile Red channel with Drive and Volume controls, plus a voicing switch (Clean, Blues, Rock, Metal).
The Bass, Mid and Treble controls are shared for both channels. Emphasis is clearly placed on the essentials, such as the True Blue speakers, which deliver outstanding headroom and are tuned to accentuate desirable tones across an optimal frequency range.
The mids may not sound quite as refined as those of a $2,000 boutique amp, but hey, you get what you pay for (and, in the case of the Gamma combo, surprisingly much more). The G50 pairs well with a wide variety of guitars, and can even handle smaller club gigs — as long as the drummer doesn’t think he’s Alex Van Halen.
$199.99 street, acousticamplification.com
Hughes & Kettner AmpMan Classic Amplifier Pedal
Hughes & Kettner’s Spirit Tone Generator solid-state technology is a fully analog amplification system engineered to accurately mirror a tube’s response to the incoming guitar signal and deliver a similar tone and playing feel.
Now H&K has placed the Spirit Tone Generator in its new AmpMan Classic pedal, a two-channel amp with impressive functionality. It delivers two foot-switchable channels, each with controls for gain, tone, resonance, presence, sagging and volume, with shared master and solo.
The AmpMan Classic has a lot to offer for its price, with the clean tones on channel A seguing into tasty, dynamic edge-of-breakup textures with the gain control advanced. Channel B provides very playable crunch and lead tones and can achieve some really likeable renditions of both American and British pushed-amp overdrive. Add it all up and it’s a ton of power, versatility and usability for the money, and it deserves an Editors’ Pick Award.
$399 street, hughes-and-kettner.com
Line 6 Catalyst 100
Since the mid Nineties, Line 6 has been a leading force in digital modeling technology. Their new Catalyst series offers six original amp designs, created using Line 6’s HX sound design technology, that look and function like a traditional guitar amp.
The Catalyst 100 is a 100-watt combo with a single 12-inch custom-designed Catalyst speaker. With 11 knobs and seven push-buttons on its top-mounted control panel (and no alphanumeric LCD display), the Catalyst appeals to technophobes and players who prefer quick and easy access to crucial controls alike. Users can access six banks for a total of 12 presets: The six amps are ID’d as Clean, Boutique, Chime, Crunch, Dynamic and Hi Gain, which encourages guitarists to accept each for their own merits rather than critically compare them to more specific names like “tweed” or “plexi.”
Each amp is refined and dialed in, with enough familiar personality and dynamic responsiveness to make tube purists comfortable.
$599.99 street, line6.com
Peavey Vypyr X2
Peavey’s Vypyr Series amplifiers offer three different combo formats, including this X2 60-watt 1x12. All of them utilize analog TransTube circuitry for the amplifier distortion sounds in order to impart realistic feel to the tones, and they also offer the user 10 instrument models, 36 amp models, 24 digital effects, and 12 stompbox models.
All have a built-in 30-second looper and wah, accessible when you add the optional Sanpera I or II foot controller. All other functions are available from the top of the amp, and you can also control the X2 via Bluetooth on your iOS device via the free Vypyr app.
There are four buttons located next to the input jack that toggle between Guitar 1, Guitar 2, Acoustic and Bass, and each has four presets that will get you up and running. All in all, the Vypyr X2 is a good-sounding stage amp with the warmth, punch and presence often missing in digital modelers.
$299 street, peavey.com
Phil Jones Bass X4 NanoBass Combo
Amp designer Phil Jones’s latest creation is the X4 Nanobass, which his company calls the most compact and portable combo he’s ever designed. The unit features a single four-inch driver and weighs just 5.3 pounds. It has a headphone jack for silent practice and two options for playback from external sources.
You can plug in manually, while Bluetooth capabilities let you stream from a mobile device. An independent level knob allows for setting the output, and there’s a three-band EQ. Even at its diminutive size, the X4 feels very sturdy.
The sound is clean and clear, even articulating a low B-string very nicely: goosing the bass knob adds a surprising amount of heft and warmth. Ultimately, the X4 is a convenient practice tool that sounds great, and having a great sound is a key to inspiration in your practice sessions. Consider it an investment to have your tone in a combo you can bring anywhere.
Positive Grid Spark MINI smart guitar amp and Bluetooth speaker
The new Spark MINI practice combo is a more compact version of Positive Grid’s desktop Spark smart guitar amp, but don’t be fooled by its size – it packs all the same features into a cube weighing just over three pounds. It’s a 10-watt stereo combo with 33 amp models and 43 useful guitar effects, powered by Positive Grid’s BIAS tone engine.
No doubt you did a double-take at the term “stereo combo.” Remarkably, Spark MINI delivers nearfield stereo sound from a pair of two-inch speakers angled eight degrees from one other. So how does it do so much with just a handful of controls?
The answer is the free Spark app, which gives you a full set of virtual controls to fine-tune your tone, dial in presets and effects, and gain access to new presets from the online ToneCloud community. For being small, versatile and delivering loads of great tones, it gets our Editors’ Pick award.
Positive Grid Experience Jimi Hendrix for Spark
To celebrate its 10th anniversary, Positive Grid partnered with Authentic Hendrix LLC to release the Experience Jimi Hendrix Official Gear Collection for Spark – one of the best Hendrix tone emulators currently on the market. Bought as an in-app extra for Positive Grid Spark owners, the suite of spectacular sounds offers emulations of six amps and six effects, all of which were owned and played by Hendrix himself.
Not only that, the Experience Hendrix extra features an Auto Tone function, which lets you jam along to Hendrix’s career-defining songs, from the simple-but-tricky Hey Joe to the more challenging Voodoo Child (Slight Return). Better still, each song calls up Jimi’s specific rig for that track and automatically switches preset sounds as you follow the displayed chord changes measure by measure.
A must-have for Positive Grid Spark owners, and an essential piece of kit for any Hendrix fan.
$20 (Spark in-app purchase), $260 (Hendrix & Spark amp bundle), positivegrid.com
PRS HDRX 50 Amp Head and HDRX 212 Cabinet
For many electric guitarists, one of their top three bucket list amps is a Marshall JMP 100- or 50-watt plexi head from the late Sixties. Some of the most beloved performances of all time by players were recorded using Super Lead amps from this era.
Fortunately, PRS recently introduced its new HDRX series amps and cabinets, based upon one of Jimi Hendrix’s personal amps that he allegedly played at Woodstock. Hendrix’s amp features a special “touring circuit” modification that is replicated here, and new features like a high-mid gain boost make the HDRX amps much more than a replica.
The HDRX 50 is outrageously loud and, like any good non-master volume amp, needs to be cranked up to sound its best. While the PRS HDRX amps deliver the beloved classic tones that guitarists know very well, it is more versatile and high-performance than its original inspiration, which should make them bucket list amps in their own right.
$2,900 (HDRX 50 head); $899 (HDRX 2x12 cabinet),
PRS HDRX 100
Paul Reed Smith has focused his attention on an amplifier that was a mainstay for Jimi Hendrix, the circa-1967/68 Marshall Super Lead, recreating an amp that Jimi purportedly played at Woodstock and is now housed at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, Washington.
The HDRX 100 uses four Electro-Harmonix EL34s power tubes and has three JJ ECC 803S (12AX7) tubes in the preamp. Sharp-eyed readers will notice the absence of a standby switch, which PRS says is unnecessary due to the “historically correct high-power value filter caps.”
The HDRX sounds killer: With the volume controls set around noon or higher, there’s a lot of grind on tap, and it’s imbued with awesome dynamic feel and an in-your-face presence. If you want an amplifier that replicates what Hendrix plugged into at Woodstock, it delivers. It’s a beast unto itself and a thrilling ride to an era of guitar amplification when it was all about going big.
Trace Elliot ELF C110 Combo
Trace Elliot’s ELF range offers lightweight solutions to bassists of all levels, with amp heads, lightweight cabinets and two combos. The 1x10 ELF combo is well-dimensioned, with the amp housed towards the rear so that the controls are out of the way, creating a tidy package.
It comes with a durable dust cover, is ruggedly constructed and sports a heavy-duty leather handle on the top and a metal grille on the front of the unit. The amp section is simple to operate and clearly laid out, with controls for Gain, a three-band EQ and volume: Simplicity is truly the name of the game here. It packs a solid punch, and is capable of projecting solid bottom end, midrange character and biting clarity in the upper frequencies.
The EQ frequencies have been sensibly selected and will address the needs of bassists who need a strong, robust tone in a wide variety of performance settings.
Trace Elliot TE-1200
With the TE-1200, Trace Elliot has made a return to concert-level power while staying focused on portability. The new amp is impressive straight out of the box. The backlit knobs are evenly spaced and turn smoothly with center detents on the EQ controls, clearly designed to make hassle-free changes mid-gig, and the rear panel boasts all the output options you could ask for.
It is rated at 1200 watts continuous RMS, meaning you’ll get consistent, high power output: an included footswitch lets you toggle several of the amp’s features (pre-shape, compressor, mute, effects loop). The amp is dead silent, and even at high volume there’s no hiss.
This also means you can play or practice at low volume with no issues. Small enough to easily fit on top of a 1x12, the TE-1200 is equally at home at a coffee-shop gig as it is on a large stage: just be careful not to overpower your lower-wattage cabs.