Best Guitar Amps Under $500 - Solid-State Combo
Boss Katana-100 Combo Guitar Amp (KTN-100)
Boss secures a spot in this list with the Katana 100, a 100 Watt combo amplifier with built-in DSP (digital sound processing) and power attenuation. Its coolest feature is its power attenuator, which lets you lower the power rating to half (50W) and can even go as low as 0.5W. This feature allows you to drive the amp harder at lower volumes, making it ideal for practice and recording. This feature works in conjunction the amp's multiple voicings, which includes standard Clean tone and various shades of overdrive - Crunch, Lead and Brown (high-gain). There's also a nifty acoustic amp mode that is meant to complement acoustic-electric guitars. As expected, this amp comes with digital recreations of Boss' popular pedals, with a total of 55 currently available. Note that you can only load up to 15 effects on to the amp and you can only use up to 3 of them simultaneously.
- Power: 100W (With Built-in Power Attenuation)
- Speaker: 1 x 12"
- Amp Modeling: 5 Amp "Characters"
- Effects: 55 (Up to 3 Simultaneously)
- Input: 1 x 1/4", 1 x 1/8" (Aux in)
- Outputs: 1 x 1/4" (Line Out), 1 x 1/4" (Headphones/Rec out)
- Weight: 32.69 lbs.
With its sharp looks and killer tones, this amp stays true to its katana name, as reflected by its continued high ratings. It gets the most commendations for its tone - to be more specific, its clean and slightly overdriven voicings. And with some tweaking, there are many who have gotten reasonably good sounding high gain tones. Even experts like Art Thompson of Guitar Player Magazine shared their satisfaction with the amp's sound, saying: "There’s good touch responsiveness on the higher gain tones, and these 100-watters are definitely capable of holding their own in a band." Coming from Boss, many are also happy with the amps built-in effects, while those who already own pedals report that it works well with stompboxes and guitar processors. The amp's built-in attenuation also adds to the overall value of the amp, making it viable for use in smaller venues and even for low volume practice.
There are some who find the amp a bit lacking in terms of amp models. The limit of up to 3 effects simultaneously also got a few users scratching their heads, especially when considering that Boss can easily pack this amp with more. But this maybe a design decision, a nod to the simple yet effective design of the Japanese katana blade.
If you're looking for a loud solid-state amplifier with Boss' brand of quality and reliability then the Katana 100 is perfect for you.
Fender Champion 100 Guitar Combo Amplifier 100W
Behind its old school silver grille cloth front fascia, the Fender Champion 100 is a value packed amplifier that combines power with nifty features. To start off, it has a 100 Watt amplifier section that drives 2 x 12" speakers, more than enough for most venues, while keeping the price tag reasonable. The amp's first channel is based on old Fender Blackface clean, while the second channel lets you choose from 16 different amp voices, from overdrive to high octane distortion. It also comes with 16 effects that expand your tone options even further. To better accommodate existing guitar rigs, Fender equipped the Champion 100 with effects loop connection.
- Power: 100W
- Speaker: 2 x 12"
- Amp Modeling: 16 Amp Models + Blackface Clean
- Effects: 16 Effects
- Input:1 x 1/4", 1 x 1/4" (FX Loop In), 1 x 1/8" (Aux), 1 x 1/4" (Footswitch)
- Outputs: 1 x 1/4" (FX Loop Out), 1 x 1/8" (Headphones)
- Weight: 40 lbs.
The Fender Champion 100 is a true champion in the market, and from the data we've analyzed, it's not going to let up anytime soon. Sound quality and value for money are its best traits, and it also stands out for its intuitive old-school style control. Many are pleased with its authentic sounding Blackface clean tone, while others are especially fond of its overdriven tone. The amp's solid build and vintage style aesthetics also adds to its premium appeal, ideal for experienced guitarists who prefer classic looks.
While there aren't any complaints about its tone, there are some who wish for extra features like an extension speaker output and a dedicated reverb knob to complete its old school controls.
The Fender Champion 100 is an old school looking amp that can go toe to toe with any amplifier in this price range, be it in terms of features or sound quality.
Vox VT100X Modeling Combo Guitar Amplifier 100W
The VT100X is part of Vox' line of hybrid amps that combine a solid-state poweramp section with a multi-stage tube driven preamp section. To be more precise, it sports a 12AX7 preamp tube that adds realism to its built-in amp modeling capabilities. This means that you get the warmth of tube, and the versatility of solid-state digital amp modeling, which lets you choose from 20 amp models and 13 effects, with up to 60 preset slots to work with. Finally, at 100W and equipped with a 12" speaker, this combo amplifier is loud enough for most applications, including big venues. Interestingly, the 12AX7 preamp lasts longer than the average tube amp because it is not driven hard.
- Power: 100W
- Speaker: 1 x 12"
- Amp Modeling: 20 (via Software Editor)
- Effects: 13
- Input:1 x 1/4", 1 x 1/8" (Aux)
- Outputs: 1 x 1/8"
- Weight: 41.67 lbs.
Most reviewers are impressed with the amp's tone, some more than others. As expected, the VT100X gets a lot of kudos for its authentic sounding renditions of classic Vox tones. But there are also plenty of commendations for its other amp models, including its mid to high-gain tones. There's also much appreciation for its versatility, which together with its loud projection makes the amp a good all-in-one rig that'll work for most venues.
There are a few who have minor qualms about the amp's control and software. The amp is also a bit on the heavy side, but this is to be expected given that it is rated at 100W.
With its 100W power, real tube preamp, and amp modeling versatility, the Vox VT100X is quite a catch in this price range.
Roland JC-22 Jazz Chorus 30 Watt Stereo Combo Guitar Amp
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. There are also mostly good talk when it comes to its sound, with some emphasis on its clean tone and chorus effect.
While there aren't any noteworthy complaint - 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.
Best Guitar Amps under $500 - Tube Combo
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 company's like VHT, you can now 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.
Fender Super Champ X2 Tube Guitar Combo Amp 15W 1x10
Traditional tube clean tone meets modern amp modeling and digital effects inside the compact Fender Super Champ X2. This 15 Watt amplifier starts off with the familiar Fender clean tone in its first channel, courtesy of its 12AX7 preamp tube and dual 6V6 output tubes. Switching to the second channel gives you more tone options, from subtle grit to high gain overdrive, via the amp's voice knob which gives you a total of 16 different amp voicings. In addition, this tube amp comes with 15 essential effects built-in, which you can configure quickly via a single knob. While the amp's hardware interface is limited, you can expand your tone palette by connecting the amp via USB to a computer and editing the voicings and effects through the amp's software editor.
- Power: 15W
- Speaker: 1 x 10" Fender Special Design
- Preamp Tube: 1 x 12AX7
- Power Tube: 2 x 6V6
- Amp Modeling: 16 Voicings on Channel 2
- Effects: 15
- Input: 1 x 1/4"
- Outputs: 1 x 1/4" Line Out, Footswitch, USB
- Weight: 24 lbs.
Market sentiment remains strongly positive for this amp, and it is mostly loved for its classic clean tone. So much so that for some, the ability to switch voices is just a nice plus to the already good base tone that the first channel provides. The amp's portability are also lauded by many, with reports of it working well as a carry-on amp for small gigs and recordings.
Some users are not impressed with the stock 10" speaker, they recommend swapping it out with something from Celestion or Eminence, for a fuller and warmer tube sound.
The Super Champ X2 gives you classic Fender tube tone with a bit more flexibility and functionality.
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 are finding 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.
Ibanez TSA15 Tube Combo Guitar Amp 15W 1x12
Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Johnson, Steve Vai, John Petrucci, Carlos Santana and John Mayer are just a few of the many major league guitarists who utilize the Tube Screamer pedal to drive their tube amps. With the pedal's popularity, Ibanez decided to combine the circuit of the famous "green" pedal into a tube amp, resulting in the TSA15. This means that you can readily drive the preamp section (which features a pair of 12AX7 tubes) right on the amp itself. The amp also features a pair of 6V6 power tubes for a true all-tube tone. For the speaker, Ibanez opted for a branded 12" Celestion Seventy 80, which is described as having punchy and aggressive upper midrange response. Other features include a 6 dB boost switch, and a built-in 5W power attenuator that lets you run the amp at quieter levels.
- Power: 15W (Built-in Power Attenuator - 5W)
- Speaker: 1 x 12" Celestion Seventy80
- Preamp Tube: 2 x 12AX7
- Power Tube: 2 x 6V6GT
- Effects: Built-in Tube Screamer
- Input: 1 x 1/4", 1 x 1/4" (Footswitch), 1 x 1/4" (FX Loop)
- Outputs: 5 x 1/4", 1 x 1/4" (FX Loop)
- Weight: 33.07 lbs.
There's a reason why many guitarists love the Tube Screamer pedal, and that same reason is found in the TSA15 - with the subtle grit of its clean tone, and its cutting bite when driven hard. The obvious use for this amp is to play blues and rock style songs, but there are some who love it for clean jazz styles. The amp is also reported to be pedal friendly, be it through the front input, or via the effects loop at the back. The ability to turn down the power to 5W also got a lot of commendations from users who want inspiring tones at lower volumes.
Being a compact 15W amp, there are some users who find that the amp does not have enough volume for band use, especially when playing with a loud drummer. The lack of reverb is also a let down for some reviewers.
If you're into the SRV Tube Screamer style tube tone, and you're looking for a compact amp that can do just that, then get the Ibanez TSA15.
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 more reliable and 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 prefer those 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.
Best Guitar Amp Under $500 Selection Methodology
First published on Mar. 19, 2018 and last updated on Jul 16, 2019.
For this 2019 update, we remained true to our aim of providing a comprehensive list that features the best guitar combo amps in the sub $500 market. Again, we made sure that you can actually buy the amps we recommend, so availability from major retailers in the US is a big criterion - along with popularity and high ratings. This time around, we ended up with a short list of 33 top rated amps. We then gathered and analyzed relevant reviews, ratings, recommendations and forum discussions, including the most recent ones up to July of 2019. The analyzed data tallied to over 6200, 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. Finally, we divided the list into two categories (Solid-State and Tube), and provided important specifications along with noteworthy market feedback - to help you pick the amp that fits your needs. For more information about this process see How Gearank Works.