Best Guitar Amps Under $500 - Solid-State Combo
Roland JC-22 Jazz Chorus 30 Watt Stereo Combo Guitar Amp
At publication time this was the Equal Highest Rated Solid State Combo Guitar Amp between $300 and $500 along with the Roland Blues Cube Hot.
The Roland Jazz Chorus line of amplifiers continue to be the go-to solid-state amplifiers for many professionals, thanks to its long list of big-name users which include Andy Summers, Robert Smith, Larry Coryell, Albert King, Kirk Hammet, Jeff Buckley and many more.
The JC-22 is the smallest in this line, rated at 30W and equipped with two 6.5" speakers, designed for use in smaller venues and for recording.
Its main selling point is its clean tone with stereo chorus effect, which was and still is being used in many popular songs that cover various musical genres. Roland's "Dimensional Space Chorus" effect works with the amp's stereo speaker configuration to provide 3-D like sound, while the built-in reverb adds sonic ambience.
- Power: 30W
- Speaker: 2 x 6.5"
- Amp Modeling: None
- Effects: Reverb, Chorus
- Input:2 x 1/4" (Stereo - Left Mono/Right)
- Outputs: 2 x 1/4" (Line)
- Weight: 26.5 lbs.
Jazz Chorus amps rose in popularity in the mid '70s because they provided a great sounding and reliable alternative to tube amps. These days, they are still just as appreciated for reliability, the JC-22 in particular is widely commended for being road worthy and portable. Owners have good things to say when it comes to its sound, with some emphasis on its clean tone and chorus effect.
While there aren't any noteworthy complaints - the amp's limited functionality may be a turn-off for those who want more sounds options coming from their amplifier.
Whether you are a fan of Roland JC tones or not, you'll appreciate the simplicity, reliability and great clean tone of the Roland JC-22.
Boss Katana-100/212 MkII 2x12" 100-watt Combo Guitar Amp
The Boss Katana-100/212 is a power house amp packed with tons of features, including five amp voicings and 60 digital effects that are directly derived from Boss' line of guitar processors. And all these features are highly tweakable via EQ, gain and effects controls, with further tweaking available via a software editor.
At 100 Watts with two 12" speakers, this is an amp that's meant to go really loud, but thanks to its built-in power attenuator, you can lower the output volume down to half a Watt while still achieving cranked amp tones.
Another feature that makes this amp stage ready is the addition of effects loop, making it easier to integrate into complex guitar rigs.
- Power: 100W / 50W / 0.5W
- Speaker: 2 x 12"
- Amp Modeling: 5 x Amp Models
- Effects: 60 Effects
- Input: 1 x 1/4" (Instrument), 1 x 1/4" (Power Amp), 1 x 1/8" (Aux)
- Outputs: 1 x 1/4" (Line), 1 x 1/4" (Rec/Headphones)
- Weight: 43.6 lbs.
Fantastic, powerhouse and awesome are three words that nicely summarize market sentiment toward this amp. Users commend its overall tone, from its amp flavors, to the many effects, and they appreciate the control that the software editors provides. The flexibility of turning down the power of the amplifier down to 0.5W makes this a good practice amp as well, which simplifies gear selection and setup. The amp's brown overdrive tone gets a lot of kudos, along with its clean tone.
As expected from a 100W amp with two speakers, this maybe too bulky an amp for some.
Given its sonic versatility and power attenuation, along with Boss' reputation for quality, this market favorite 100W guitar amp is well worth considering.
Fender Mustang GTX 100 1x12" 100W Guitar Combo Amp
It's hard to talk about amps without Fender in the picture, and their Mustang series of amps continues to be popular in the entry level market.
The Mustang GTX 100 is currently Fender's best rated amp in the sub $500 price range, an upgrade compared to the previous Mustang 100 iteration, this one packed with modern features and guitar processing.
With 40 amp models, 200 presets, and multiple built-in effects, this amp offers a lot of tone flexibility. But what really sets it apart is its built-in wi-fi connectivity, which allows for convenient wireless control via software editor.
Other features include a built-in looper function, USB connectivity and Bluetooth compatibility.
This 100W solid state amp drives a 12" Celestion speaker and it comes bundled with a multi-switch foot controller.
- Power: 100W
- Speaker: 1 x 12" Celestion G12P-80
- Amp Modeling:
- Effects: Variations of Overdrive, Fuzz, Delay, Modulation, Pitch Shift
- Input: 1 x 1/4" (Instrument), 1 x 1/8" (Aux in)
- Outputs: 2 x XLR (Line Out)
- Weight: 22 lbs.
As expected, versatility is the GTX 100's strong suit. But it's not just about having plenty of options because the sound quality of many of the amp models get commended often, especially the ones that are based on classic Fender clean tones. Tone options translate to value for money, and this is much appreciated in reviews, many are especially happy with the inclusion of a multi-switch pedal controller, that turns the Mustang GTX 100 into a true all-in-one rig. For a 100-Watt amp, many are surprised by how light it is relative to other similarly rated amps.
There are a few who are having issues with the editing app, while there are some who wish for extra features like power attenuation.
You don't have to be a Fender fan to appreciate the tones and value you can get from the Mustang GTX 100.
Roland Blues Cube Hot 30W Solid State Amplifier
At publication time this was the Equal Highest Rated Solid State Combo Guitar Amp between $300 and $500 along with the Roland JC-22.
The Roland Blues Cube Hot is an interesting solid state amp that strays from the usual digital amp with multiple amp models built-in, rather it focuses all its DSP (digital sound processing) on tube-like vintage-tweed era tones. The result is a reliable solid state amp with tube-like tones and nuances that impresses experienced players.
This design lets you enjoy classic tones without the fragility and maintenance requirements of real tube amps. You also get the benefit of other modern features included USB output for direct recording, and built-in digital reverb.
In addition, Roland equipped this amp with power attenuation, allowing you to lower the output rating from the default 30 Watts down to 15 Watts, 5 Watts and it can go as low as 0.5 Watts for quiet practice.
- Power: 30W / 15W / 5W / 0.5W
- Speaker: 1x12"
- Amp Modeling: Vintage Tweed-Era
- Effects: Reverb
- Input: 1/4"
- Outputs: 1/4" (Line Out)
- Weight: 27.8 lbs.
The Roland Blues Cube Hot is the digital amp alternative for those who prefer the plug and play sensibilities and sonic simplicity of old-school tube amps. And this is reflected in reviews, with many users complimenting how easy it is to get great tone out of this amp. Nick Guppy of Total Guitar was just as impressed, giving it a perfect score and concurring with market sentiment, concluding his review by stating, "Solid-state has come a long way in the last decade, and when amps as good as this one come along, it's hard to deny the benefits. Portability, reliability, consistency and affordability are a given, but great tone is what really counts. But this sounds and responds like a top boutique valve amp, with none of the valve drawbacks."
There are a few who wish for a bit more grit when driving the amp hard. There are also some who feel that the amp is too pricey for its output rating, being a digital amp.
Enjoy the benefits of vintage and modern guitar amp technology with the Roland Blues Cube Hot.
Yamaha THR30II 2x3.5" 30-Watt Guitar Combo Amp
Yamaha continues to successfully challenge conventional amp design with the success of their THR desktop amps. The THR30II in particular is a 30-Watt solid state amp with two 3.5" speakers designed for use in desktop setups, which is extremely popular especially among musicians who do home recording.
Instead of having to reach down to tweak a conventional amp while working on a computer, this simple change in profile allows the THR30II to sit on a desk where it can be easily reached, and more importantly better heard.
This amp is also meant to be a sort of all-in-one convenient rig, so it comes packed with 15 guitar amp models, 3 bass amp models, 3 amp models, and there's even a flat mode.
It also comes with built-in reverb and delay effects.
Other features that make it suitable for modern day desktop recording setups include built-in Bluetooth support and USB connectivity.
Finally, it also runs on rechargeable battery for convenient portable use.
- Power: 30W
- Speaker: 2x3.5"
- Amp Modeling: 15 x Amp Models
- Effects: Chorus, Flanger, Phaser, Tremolo, Echo, Compressor, Noise Gate, Reverb
- Input: 1 x 1/4", 1 x 1/8" (Aux in)
- Outputs: 2 x 1/4" (Line out)
- Weight: 9.48 lbs.
Users love this amp for a lot of reasons, but all of these reasons can be summed up to this: it provides a solution for the needs of modern guitarists who sit in front of their computers. Many are impressed with the tones they get, while others are happy with the sonic options it provides. Coming from Yamaha, build quality is also consistently praised, even from those who have put the amp's portability to the test.
There are a few who aren't as impressed with some of the models, while others find the volume lacking, but this is mostly due to the smaller speakers being used.
If you're looking for a guitar amp that'll compliment your desktop workspace, then this is for you.
Best Guitar Amps under $500 - Tube Combo
Marshall DSL1CR 1-watt 1x8" Tube Combo Guitar Amp
At publication time this was the Highest Rated Tube Combo Guitar Amp between $300 and $500.
The DSL1CR is a compact combo amp meant for low volume use, allowing you to get Marshall Crunch tones at super low volume levels. The default wattage is 1W, but it can go as low as a tenth of a Watt (0.1W) so you can crank the amp further without disturbing your neighbors.
At its core are two ECC83 preamp tubes and a single ECC82 poweramp tube, which are incorporated in a Marshall designed circuit for getting genuine "crunch" tones. The amp section is divided into two channels, Classic Gain and Ultra Gain, which allows for sonic versatility from classic crunch to modern saturated overdrive.
Aside from the addition of the power attenuator, this amp comes with a set of straightforward controls.
- Power Rating: 1W / 0.1W (Via Low Power Button)
- Speaker: 1 x 8" Celestion Eight 15
- Preamp Tube: 2 x ECC83
- Poweramp Tube: 1 x ECC82
- Input: 1/4" Instrument, 1/8" Aux
- Output: 1 x 1/8" (Softube Emulated out), 1 x 1/4" (Internal Speaker)
- Effects: Reverb
- Weight: 17 lbs
Overdrive is where its at with this amp, pleasing plenty of reviewers who use this amp in low volume settings. And speaking of low volume, the ability to lower the output power rating to 0.1W is well received, along with the simplicity of its 2-channel control setup. High gain tones get a lot of thumbs, with some describing it as sounding very similar to a large Marshall amplifier.
Speaking of gain, there are a few who aren't as impressed with its low gain and clean tones.
If you want nothing less than genuine Marshall tube crunch tone for your practice, then this is for you.
VHT Special 6 Tube Combo Guitar Amp 6W 1x10
Boutique quality tube amplifiers are usually beyond the reach of this guide's price range, but thanks to companies like VHT, you can get your hands on a hand-wired amp like the Special 6 at a very accessible price.
This compact all-tube combo amp is meant for intimate venues and recording, with a 6W amplifier section that drives a 10" speaker.
At the core of this amp is a single 12AX7 preamp tube and one 6V6 output tube, and it comes with only 2-knobs: one for tone and the other for volume.
In addition, VHT added a boost channel which can be accessed by pulling the volume knob.
Interestingly, the amp is being marketed as a good base for customizing your own amp, thanks to its streamlined and hand-wired configuration.
- Power: 6W
- Speaker: 10"
- Amp Modeling: None
- Effects: None
- Input:2 x 1/4" (Lo/Hi)
- Outputs: 3 x 1/4" (Speaker Out)
- Weight: 25 lbs.
Overall sentiment towards the VHT Special 6 is very positive, with most users praising it for churning out good tones with minimal tweaking. It also gets a lot of thumbs up for its build quality. While there's not much to tweak, some users are surprised that its single tone knob configuration offers good enough flexibility.
The most common concern with this amp is the quality of the tubes that it comes with. Some users report improved overall tone and response after they swapped out the tubes.
If you're looking for a budget friendly hand-wired tube amp that you can tinker with, then this is for you.
Marshall DSL5CR Tube Guitar Amp Combo - 5W
The Marshall DSL5CR is a step up in terms of power rating compared to the DSL1CR, with 5W of power that go down to 1W through its built-in power attenuation. Providing a bit more volume and pumping out a bit more low-end with its slightly bigger 10" Celestion 10-30 speakers.
It sports two ECC83 preamp tubes and a single ECC99/12BH7 poweramp tube that gives it the familiar Marshall crunch tone at lower volume levels, only this one can get a bit louder for small venue jamming and for miked recording.
It lets you switch between Classic Gain and Ultra Gain channel, and has rear-panel effects loop so you can practice with your stage guitar rig.
- Power Rating: 5W / 1W (Via Low Power Button)
- Speaker: 1 x 10" Celestion Ten-30
- Preamp Tube: 2 x ECC83
- Poweramp Tube: 1 x ECC99/12BH7
- Input: 1 x 1/4" (Instrument), 1 x 1/8" (Aux in)
- Output: 1 x 1/8" (Softube emulated out), 1 x 1/4" (Internal speaker),
- Effects: Reverb
- Weight: 27.9 lbs
Fans of Marshall's crunch tone are pleased with how close this amp can get them to their stage tone at neighbor friendly levels. There are also plenty of comments describing it as a very responsive amp, even when set to higher gain settings. Speaking of gain, there are some who are quite pleased with the low gain tone that this amp provides. Many also compare it favorably over other 5-Watt tube amps in terms of volume and fullness of sound.
Lack of bottom end comes up a few times, but this is more of a physical limitation with small speakers and cabinets than an actual design flaw.
If you're looking for a tube amp that will can go from bedroom level to filling small rooms with classic rock tones, then this should be at the top of your list.
Fender Pro Junior IV 1x10" 15-watt Guitar Combo Amp
The Fender Pro Junior IV is a compact tube amp inspired by classic Tweed tones, and it stands out with its simplicity, having only two chicken knobs for adjusting volume and tone.
This two knob format flies in the face of what most modern amps offer, while still providing reasonable tone variety expected from tweed style amps.
Fender sticks to the classic tube amp configuration, equipping this combo amp with two 12AX7 preamp tubes, two EL84 tubes in the power amp section, and one solid-state rectifier.
This single channel amp drives a 10" Jensen P10R, and all these components are housed inside a nice looking cabinet, with '50s-era grille cloth, and stitched leather handle.
- Power Rating: 15W
- Speaker: 1 x 10" Jensen P10R
- Preamp Tube: 2 x 12AX7
- Poweramp Tube: 2 x EL84
- Input: 1 x 1/4" (Instrument)
- Effects: None
- Weight: 22.85 lbs
This amp is well loved for its tone, which users describe as warm, detailed and gritty, ideal for blues style playing. Reviewers report that it works especially well when paired with single coil guitars, but there are also some who say that it sounds just as great with humbuckers. Many also appreciate the simplicity of the amp, while others are surprised at how much sonic flexibility they can get out of the two knobs. Being pedal friendly is also a big plus for many users, along with its premium aesthetic appeal.
With its limited controls, this amp is not for those who want total control over their tone.
While many try to mimic Fender's iconic tweed tone, might as well get this classic tone from Fender themselves.
Vox AC10C1 Tube Guitar Combo Amp 10W 1x10
The Vox AC10C1 is as straightforward as it gets, a true vintage style tube amp with none of the complications of modern amp modeling.
At the core of this small combo is a 10 Watt amplifier with two 12AX7 preamp tubes and two EL84 tubes, designed to reproduce genuine Vox AC15 and AC30 tones, albeit at more manageable volume levels.
This includes Vox' "Top Boost" circuit which helped mold the "jangly" sound of many iconic British artists.
Giving this amplifier its sound is a single 10" Celestion VX10 speaker, which complements the amps familiar voicing and closed back cabinet.
Thankfully, Vox added a built-in reverb into the amp, along with a 2-band EQ for a bit of tweaking.
- Power: 10W
- Speaker: 1 x 10" Celestion VX10
- Preamp Tube: 2 × 12AX7
- Power Tube: 2 × EL84
- Effects: Reverb
- Outputs: 1/4" (External Speaker)
- Weight: 27.12 lbs.
Beautiful, wonderful, great and many other positive adjectives are used to describe the Vox AC10C1's tone. Users are impressed with its sound quality, and even experts like Charles Saufley from Premiere Guitar found it hard to find fault with its sound. In his review, Sauffley says that "the AC10 could be the ultimate amplifier for laying down power pop rhythm tracks. And it’s devastating as a lead machine with volume and gain controls up high." Many are also pleased with its build quality, stating that AC10C1 feels solid and is road worthy.
There are a few users who feel that the amp is overpriced, while others wish for some extra features to justify its price tag. Note that this amp can sound very bright, especially when paired with single-coil equipped guitars, so if shimmer, chime and jangle are not your cup of tea, then the Vox AC10C1 is not for you.
Those who are looking for classic Vox tones will definitely love the AC10C1.
Things to Consider When Buying a Combo Guitar Amp Under $500
What is a Combo Amp?
A combo amp is simply one where the amplifier section and the speaker cabinet are combined into a single unit instead of having separate amp heads and speaker cabinets.
Tube vs Solid-State
It's interesting how tube technology, which is now many decades old, still persists in this modern era - many thanks to guitarists who love the sound of tube amps. The sound, feel and response of tube amps are generally regarded to be better than solid-state, but since they utilize fragile tubes, they are typically more expensive and require more handling care and maintenance. On the other hand, solid-state amps are generally regarded as more reliable, and since they use readily available components - they are often more affordable. Thanks to improvements in digital sound processing, these amps are also getting ever closer to nailing the feel and sound of their tube counterparts. Those who are looking for something practical that can get the job done will appreciate solid-state amps, while those with picky ears will want no less than a genuine tube amp.
Power rating describes the loudness of an amplifier, so generally speaking, the higher the power rating, the louder amp. Those who are looking for a stage amp will want something loud. But it's not always about being loud, because most situations call for lower volumes, especially when practicing at home, hence the availability of low wattage tube amps. This is also the reason why some amps come with built-in attenuators, which allow users to drive the amp hard at lower volumes. Note that tube amps tend to be louder than similarly rated solid-state amps.
Speaker size also affects overall loudness, but even more so, it affects the sound clarity. Smaller speakers tend to emphasize the mids, which complements most guitar styles. On the flip side, there are guitarists who prefer the added bass emphasis of wider speakers for a fuller sound.
Made possible by improvements in Digital Sound Processing (DSP), more and more manufacturers and guitarists are embracing the convenience and versatility of amp modeling. Some even go so far as to allow complex customization of virtual amp components. While having more tone palettes is good, having too much of a good thing can be bad for some. If you're into sonic versatility and personalization then you'll want one with more features. Those who prefer plug-and-play convenience will appreciate amps with fewer options and controls.
Reverb is the most common effect added to amplifiers, because of how it adds space and texture to the sound. Some amps come with other effects, but they are usually limited in terms of function and controls. Some frown on the quality of these extra effects, but others appreciate the practicality and convenience that they offer.
If you are planning to use your amp on stage or for recording, extra connectivity features will help greatly. Those with speaker emulated outputs allow for direct connection to PA systems and recording consoles. The ability to play quietly via headphones is also a nice plus, especially if you're looking for a good practice amp. Some of the recently released amps feature USB connectivity for direct recording and software control, while others even come with Bluetooth technology, which allows for convenient wireless audio streaming straight to the amp.
This combined configuration is popular because it makes amplifiers easier to carry around, and reduces the number of equipment that you have to manage. This simplified configuration also makes combo amps ideal for students and beginners.
Best Guitar Amp Under $500 Selection Methodology
The first edition was published March 2018 written by Alexander Briones who also wrote the latest edition published on July 31, 2020.
The aim of this guide is to provide a comprehensive list that features the best guitar combo amps in the sub $500 market. And like the previous editions, this one is divided into two sections that feature the best solid state amps and best tube amps in this price range. For this 2020 update, we stayed our course to only feature the highest rated ones that can be readily bought from major US retailers.
This time around, we ended up with a short list of 39 top rated amps. We then gathered and analyzed relevant reviews, ratings, recommendations and forum discussions, including the most recent ones up to late July of 2020. This tallied to over 7800 rating sources, all of which were then processed via the Gearank algorithm which gave us the scores put of 100 that we used to determine the final recommended list. As mentioned above, we divided the list into two categories (Solid-State and Tube), we also provided important specifications along with noteworthy market feedback - to help you pick the amp that fits your needs. For more information about our methods see How Gearank Works.