The Best Practice Amps / Small Guitar Amps

The Best Practice Amps / Small Guitar Amps on Gearank.com

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No matter how much you like the sound of your main stage amp, you'll have to be mindful of amplifier volume to keep the peace. This is why you ought to pick your practice amp carefully, since you'll most likely spend more time with it than your favorite stage amp.

Here we look at market favorite guitar combo amplifiers that are ideal for honing your chops while keeping your good standing with your family and neighbors, updated to reflect reviews and ratings up to October of 2019.

Note that for this update, we decided to filter out battery powered amps, since they are already featured in this dedicated guide.

The Best Practice Amps

Practice Amps Under $200

Fender Champion 20

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 1050+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$130
Fender Champion 20

The Fender Champion 20 is essentially a modeling amp for musicians who want a more intuitive physical control system compared to the button layout of the Mustang line. The amp comes packed with modulation effects and different amp models. The standout models included with the amp are the vintage blackface Fenders, which have a great clean tone considering the price of the amp.

The effects on the amp are as follows: distortion, reverb (hall, modulated, spring), chorus, flange, delay, touch wah, vibrato, and tremolo. This covers the majority of what you’re going to need, but more models of distortion would have been a nice inclusion. For quiet practice the Champion 20 also features a headphone-out, and an aux input for jamming with your favorite tracks.

Specifications:

  • Power Rating: 20-Watts
  • Speaker Size: 8”
  • Amp Models: 12 (Vintage Fenders, Vox, Marshall, Mesa Boogie, Super-Sonic)
  • Effects: Overdrive, Reverb, Chorus, Vibratone, Delay, Chorus, Tremolo
  • Controls: Gain, Volume, Voice, Treble, Bass, FX Level, FX Select
  • Input/Output: AUX-In and Headphone-Out
  • Extras: N/A
  • Weight: 12lbs

Pros
As expected from a Fender branded amp, many are impressed with its clean tones, which are described as being impressively close to classic Fender amps. Versatility and convenience also gets a lot of commendation, which in turn makes more users feel that the Fender Champion 20 is a great buy.

Cons
There are some who feel that the Champion 20 isn’t a great choice for music styles that rely on high gain distortion, stating that there are better options available for a similar price if that’s what you’re looking for. Another concern is the lack of a line-out port, which can be used for plugging to a PA system or for recording.

Overall
A practice amp with Fender Tweed style clean tone is already good enough, add in amp modeling flexibility and you end up with the Fender Champion 20 - a value packed and fun practice amp.

Fender Mustang I v2

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 1500+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$140
Fender Mustang I v2

The Fender Mustang I v2 joins this list with its balance of price, features and quality - something that Fender continues to do well in the entry level market. At its core is the iconic Fender clean tone, which helped shape the tone of big name guitarists that include Jeff Beck, Eric Johnson, SRV, John Mayer and many more.

To make practice more interesting, Fender equipped the Mustang I V.2 with modern DSP (Digital Sound Processor) elements that let you select from its 18 Amp Models and 37 Effects, along with the many parameters that you can personalize. It also comes with essential practice friendly features that include an onboard chromatic tuner, headphones out and an aux input.

Specifications:

  • Power Rating: 20-Watts
  • Speaker Size: 8”
  • Amp Models: 18 Amp Models
  • Effects: 37 Effects
  • Controls: Gain, Volume, Treble, Bass, Master, Preset, Mod, Dly/Rev, Save, Exit, Tap, Power
  • Input/Output: 1 x 1/4", 1 x 1/4" (Footswitch), 1 x 1/8" (Aux), 1 x 1/8" (Headphones)
  • Extras: Compatible with Fender Fuse control software via USB
  • Weight: 17 lbs.

Pros
Digital amp modeling has certainly gone a long way, to the point that even an entry level amp like the Mustang I v2 continues to get high ratings. Like the Champion 20, many are impressed with the Mustang I v2's clean tone. But it also gets a lot of thumbs up for many of its amp modeling and effects sound, to be more specific, American crunch style tones are popular in reviews. It's unreasonable to expect boutique quality tones in an amp that's this affordable, but users report that it can get close to the sound that they are looking for, making it a good all-in-one practice rig.

Cons
As expected, not everyone is impressed with its amp modeling, especially its high-gain tones which get some complaints. There are also some complaints about the need for the Fender Fuse software to access certain parameters, but this is a physical limitation, Fender can only put so many knobs and buttons on this small amp. There are some who wish for extra features like a DI output, for using the amp as a preamp/DI-box.

Overall
If you're looking for a versatile practice amp with modern amp modeling and effects versatility, we highly recommend the Fender Mustang I v2.

Roland Micro Cube GX

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 500+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$160
Roland Micro Cube GX 3 Portable Guitar Modeling Amplifier

If you’re looking for a compact practice amp, it really is hard to beat the Roland Micro Cube GX. This amp comes loaded with a model for every situation, and weighs in at just six pounds. It also comes with modulation effects (though to get different distortion profiles you will have to switch between amp voicings).

The controls on the amp are as follows: amp type, effect, delay/reverb, tuner, gain, volume, tone, and master volume. The modulation effects on the amp and its clean channels are surprisingly good for its price. The Roland Micro Cube GX comes with an AUX-In, headphone line-out, and an emulated line-out for recording.

Specifications:

  • Power Rating: 3-Watts
  • Speaker Size: 5”
  • Models: Acoustic, Jazz Chorus, Black Face Fender, Vox AC, Marshall, Mesa Boogie, Mic, Extreme
  • Effects: Distortion, Chorus, Flanger, Phaser, Tremolo, Octave, Delay, Reverb
  • Controls: Gain, Volume, Tone, EFX, Delay/Reverb, Master Volume
  • Input/Output: AUX-In, Headphone/Line-Out
  • Extras: N/A
  • Weight: 6lbs

Pros
The most common positive comment are from users are who are surprised at how loud this amp can be, given its size. Coming in close second are good remarks about the quality of its built in effects, especially its modulation effects. There are also plenty of kudos that point to the Roland Micro Cube GX' reliability and longevity.

Cons
Unfortunately, the tone of the Micro Cube GX does suffer from the amp’s size. At just 5” the speaker is a bit too small to produce a tone with much depth. This may or may not be a deal breaker, depending on whether tone or portability is more important to you.

Overall
If you're looking for a long term practice amplifier with good enough flexibility in the sub $200 price range, then this is highly recommended.

Orange Crush 20RT

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 150+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$189
Orange Crush 20RT

With so many feature packed amps available in this price range, it's impressive how something as simplistic as the Orange Crush 20RT retains the top spot in this list. This amp is as old school as it gets, with a straightforward 2-channel clean/overdrive configuration, with basic controls that include gain, 3-band EQ and reverb. Nothing about it will confuse any guitar player, regardless of skill level.

The Crush 20RT's 20W solidstate amp section drives a single 8" speaker, but it also comes with a headphones out with speaker emulation in case you want to practice quietly. Other features include a traditional Aux input port and it has a built in tuner.

Specifications:

  • Power Rating: 20-Watts
  • Speaker Size: 8”
  • Models: N/A
  • Effects: Distortion, Reverb
  • Controls: Dirty, Treble, Middle, Bass, Gain, Clean, Reverb
  • Input/Output: AUX-In, Headphone/ Line-Out
  • Extras: Tuner, Voice of the World Speaker
  • Weight: 15.9lbs

Pros
Solid build quality and consistent tone are two of the main characteristics that makes this the favorite practice amp of many players - so much so, that based on our analysis, it continues to be the top rated practice amp in this price bracket. For what would be considered as limited in terms of features, many are impressed at how responsive the amp's voicing is to its basic controls. This in turn gives it enough sonic flexibility to please many players. Its crunch overdriven tone is the most praised, but there are also plenty of positive comments pertaining to its clean to low gain tone. Many also report that it receives pedals well in terms of tone, much like an old school amp.

Cons
Ironically, its main strength is also its weakness, If you want more effects and voicings, then this is not for you.

Overall
If you’re looking for an easy to use practice amp with great distortion tone, the Orange Crush 20RT may be your best bet.

Practice Amps Under $500

Vox AV15 Analog Guitar Modeling Amplifier 15W

90
GEARANK

90 out of 100. Incorporating 50+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$250
Vox AV15 Analog Guitar Modeling Amplifier 15W

The Vox AV15 is a hybrid tube/analog modeling amp with a 12AX7 tube in the preamp stage. Vox describes the "models" as analog preamp circuits that are based on classic amps like their very own iconic AC15 and AC30, but it also features other popular American and British amps to expand its drive selection to cover high-gain tones.

Basic tone shaping controls include gain and 3-band EQ, while advanced tone control is provided by the Bright and Fat switches, a Bias switch (for toggling tube response) and a Reactor switch for toggling amp damping. Also noteworthy is its power level control, which can be used to achieve cranked tones at lower volumes - making this versatile amp truly practice friendly. Finally, it also comes with essential reverb, chorus and delay effects.

Specifications:

  • Power Rating: 15-Watts (with 12AX7 Tube Preamp)
  • Speaker Size: 8”
  • Models: 8 (Analog) Preamp Models
  • Effects: Reverb, Delay, Modulation
  • Controls: Preamp Circuit Selector, Gain, Treble, Middle, Bass, Volume, Power Level, Effects, Bright, Fat, Bias and Reactor
  • Input/Output: 1/4" and 1/8" (Aux) Input / 1.8" (Headphones) Output
  • Extras: Analog Preamp Circuits with 12AX7 tube
  • Weight: 16.9 lbs

Pros
Many are impressed with the amp's sound quality, some even praise its default out-of-the-box tones. And this applies to most of its voicings, from its chimey Vox clean tones, to its high gain model. Some even appreciate its crunch tone, which is described as organic. Speaking of multiple tones, the Vox AV15 is often commended for its versatility, which in turn makes users appreciate its value for money.

Cons
Not much complaint in the sound or build department, but there are some who are not happy with the included power cable. And note that this amp will require some maintenance compared to regular solid state amps - because it uses an actual 12AX7 tube.

Overall
If you're looking for a versatile practice amp with tube quality, then this should be high on your list.

Line 6 AMPLIFi 30 Guitar Modeling Amplifier 30W

91
GEARANK

91 out of 100. Incorporating 50+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$300
Line 6 AMPLIFi 30

Thanks to companies like Line 6, guitar amps are no longer just guitar amps. Many of today's amps have expanded into providing built-in effects, audio interfacing, modeling, recording, training and more. The Line AMPLIFi takes this a step further by providing bluetooth streaming and wireless control over the parameters via a Remote control app that you install on your smart phone or tablet.

You can get a wide variety of tones with this amp, thanks to its loaded amp modeling and effects section. And all these parameters are available via the AMPLIFi Remote app, which allows versatility, while having a modest interface. You do most of the tweaking conveniently on the app, so if you are not into smart phones, then you'll probably be happier with a different amp. But those who are familiar with modern technology know the convenience of wirelessly streaming your favorite tracks and tweaking on the fly, making this amp a fun tool to have for practice.

Specifications:

  • Power Rating: 30-Watts
  • Speaker Size: 4 x 2.5" Stereo Speakers
  • Amp Models: 70+ (variations of Fender, Vox, Marshall, etc.)
  • Effects: 97 (essentially a version of everything)
  • Controls: Drive, Bass, Mid, Treble, Reverb, Master, Tap Tempo
  • Input/Output: AUX-In, Headphone-Out, USB
  • Extras: Tuner, Stereo Speakers, Bluetooth Connectivity
  • Weight: 5.4lbs

Pros
It's hard not to like this amp, with all the features that you get for its modest price. Even pros from Music Radar gave this amp a perfect 5 star rating, concluding that "Line 6 has done a superb job with the AMPLIFi - a fantastic amp." Convenience is king in reviews, with its wireless features being its most commended trait. There is also plenty of positive feedback pointing to its sound quality, which surpassed the expectations of many given this amp's price. As expected with its myriad of features, many owners recommend this amp for being a good investment, stating that they got more than what they paid for.

Cons
Because there are so many different tones available, setting up the amp's virtual signal chain can be a bit complex for those who are new to amp modeling.

Overall
With its convenient wireless streaming and control features, the Line 6 AMPLIFi gets an easy thumbs up from us here in Gearank.

DV Mark Little Jazz Combo

90
GEARANK

90 out of 100. Incorporating 125+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$400
DV Mark Little Jazz

The DV Mark Little Jazz Combo is an interesting entry in this list because unlike the other amps, this one is especially designed to handle the intricacies of Jazz guitar and relevant playing styles. This combo combines a 45W amplifier and an 8" speaker in a compact combo amp that's meant to be as straightforward as possible, so you can focus on embellishing your music via your playing technique, rather than through effects.

It does come with a 3-band EQ for personalizing the sound a bit, and it also has built-in reverb so your guitar doesn't sound dry. Practice friendly features like Aux input and headphones out are present, and it also comes with nifty stage/recording ready features that include an XLR line out, and a speaker out.

Specifications:

  • Power Rating: 45-Watts
  • Speaker Size: 8” Speaker
  • Models: N/A
  • Effects: Reverb
  • Controls: Master, High, Mid, Bass, Reverb
  • Input/Output: 1 x 1/8" (Aux), 1 x 1/8" (Headphones), 1 x XLR (Line Out), 1 x 1/4" (Speaker Out)
  • Extras: Valve Amplifier, ISF Control
  • Weight: 15.21 lbs

Pros
The DV Mark Little Jazz Combo continues to fascinate jazz guitarists with its attention to sonic detail, a feature that you normally don't expect from a small practice amp. Reviews are overwhelmingly positive, with most of the commendation pointing to its authentic big jazz amp style tones. Many also appreciate its clean aesthetics, portability, and extra connectivity options. In addition to working great with hollow/semi-hollow guitars, there are also reports of it working well with solidbody guitars, while others find that it also works nicely with pedals for use in other music styles like rock and funk.

Cons
Simplicity is a double edged sword, some will like it, and some won't - including a few users who wish that the amp had an extra channel and better gain control. Others wish that the amp had a bit more projection.

Overall
If you're looking for a premium sounding practice amp for jazz, then check out the DV Mark Little Jazz Combo.

Practice Amps Under $1000

Fender ’57 Custom Champ

95
GEARANK

95 out of 100. Incorporating 100+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$1000
Fender '57 Custom Champ Tube Combo Amplifier

When it comes to guitar amps, louder isn’t necessarily better. You’d be surprised how many famous recordings were made on sub-10-watt amplifiers; chief among them being Eric Clapton's Layla which was recorded on a tweed Fender Champ from the ‘50s. The focused tone and manageable volume of a small tube amp can actually result in a huge tone when used in the studio.

The cool thing about this amp is, rather than just being a small tube amp, is a faithful reproduction of the Champ’s used on famous albums (Joe Walsh and Eric Clapton both used them extensively). This amp is all hand-wired, uses the original 5F1 circuit, and even uses vintage yellow capacitors. The speaker is different, though it was designed to come as close to the tone of original Champ amplifiers as possible. Fender even used the same font that was used on their 50s amps. They even went so far as to include a genuine leather handle.

Specifications:

  • Power Rating: 5-Watts
  • Speaker Size: 8”
  • Models: N/A
  • Effects: N/A
  • Controls: Volume
  • Input/Output: N/A
  • Extras: Protective Cover
  • Weight: 16lbs

Pros
While digital modeling is getting close, there is still room for straightfoward tube amps, and this is reflected in reviews of the Fender '57 Custom Champ. Users are simply blown away by its clear and transparent tube tone. It is also described as pedal friendly, and its low wattage makes it easier to crank even at lower volumes which makes practice more inspiring - and not to mention making the amp viable for home recording. Build quality of the amp also gets a lot of thumbs up.

Cons
The only thing that’s not to like about this amp is that it only has a volume control, so all adjustments besides that will have to come from either your pedals or your guitar.

Overall
This Fender '57 Custom Champ is a no-brainer for fans of the classic Fender tone, be it for practice or for recording. It's quite the investment but if you go by what the market actually says - this amp is definitely worth it.

Things to Consider When Buying a Small Amp or Practice Amp

If you’re still not sure which practice/small guitar amp is going to be the best fit for your needs, check out the sections below. We’ve collected all of the information you’ll need to make an informed purchase and end up with an amp you’ll love!

  • Practice Friendly Features

    Musicians used to have to use external pieces of equipment to help them practice, whether that was jamming along to their favorite CDs or practicing scales to a metronome. However, as guitar amps have become more complex so to have our practicing tools.

    Most practice amps come with, at the very least, in AUX-in and a headphone-out. The AUX-in allows you to plug in a different device and have its audio come through the speakers (some amps even come with backing tracks, though they are more limited than what you can find online). This is a huge help if you’re running through backing tracks. A headphone-out lets you play through headphones, which is a must-have feature if you’re looking to practice silently.

    There are also two features which are becoming more popular on practice amps: a metronome and a looper. A metronome plays notes at a consistent speed which, when you play along with it, can help you develop your sense of time. A looper records a small section of audio and plays it back, allowing you to essentially be your own rhythm guitarist (which is great for practicing improv.).

  • Portability

    There are two main reasons two have a small amp: quiet home practice and warming up before a gig. If you’re in the latter category, you’re going to want to look for a relatively light amplifier. As long as your amplifier has an 8” or less speaker it should remain pretty portable, though if tone isn’t a prime concern it you could hunt down a micro amp (an amp which is roughly the size of a coffee mug).

  • Power Rating and Speaker Size

    When you see an amp advertised as “number”-watts, that’s referring to its power rating. As a general rule, the higher and amp’s power rating the louder it is going to be. For gigging, a 100-watt solid-state amp will usually suffice. But for practicing, as long as it’s audible to you there’s not really a set amount of wattage you need.

    Speaker size is significantly more important than wattage in this scenario. Smaller speakers have a hard time producing low-end frequencies, making the sound they produce perceived as being “thinner” than the sound you’d get from a larger speaker. However, as speaker size gets bigger amps get heavier.

    8” to 10” speakers will perform adequately for practice, though they aren’t going to have the depth of tone of a larger speaker. In some cases, the focused tone of a smaller speaker can actually work to the amp’s benefit. A perfect example of this is the Fender ’57 Custom Champ, which is featured above.

  • Performance (Tone/Channels/Amp Models etc.)

    Good and bad tone is extremely relative. It’s impossible to objectively say that one piece of equipment sounds bad and another sounds good, or even that one piece of equipment is better than another. However, when looking at groups of practice amps there are a few qualities that are desirable.

    The main thing that you want to look for if you’re going to use an amp as a dedicated practice tool is a tone that facilitates whatever genre of music you want to play. If you want to play country, an amp that has decent cleans is right up your alley. Similarly, if you want a metal amp you’re going to want an amp that’s focused on that.

    A cool component of modern amps is that many have the capability to model different amp cabinets, which changes the shape of your sound. You can set your amp to model the response of a 4x12 stack, giving it way more depth and presence. Similarly, you can set it to have a response more similar to a small combo, focusing its tone and punch. You can also set it somewhere in the middle.

    Many amps also come with different channels, generally in the form of either a clean or distorted setting. These two settings allow you to easily flip from very clean to distorted which gives you a wider array of tones you can produce.

  • Built-in Effects

    Many practice amps double as modeling amps, featuring presets of famous effects. Amps that do this generally include an example of everything, so you have basic settings for: distortion, overdrive, fuzz, delay, and modulation (chorus, flange, phase, tremolo, and vibrato).

    The benefit you’re going to get from built-in effects depends on what you’re going to want to do. If you want to play a bunch of different genres, odds are that an amp with a bunch of built-in effects is going to be an asset. However, if you don’t plan on using effects you can get a better amp for your money if you don’t buy one with built-in effects (though this does depend on your budget).

Best Practice Amp Selection Methodology

Original photograph at the top of the page by Daniel Davis, modified by Gearank.com and available under Creative Commons license.

This guide was first published on September 15, 2017 written by Mason Hoberg and the latest major update was published on October 23, 2019 written by Alexander Briones with contributions from Mason.

The goal is to find market favorite amplifiers that are lightweight (not more than 20 lbs) and conducive to practice. For this update, we decided to filter out battery powered amps since since we already have a guide for them. With the new criteria we set, we still ended up with 43 amps on our short-list, which entailed analysis of over 13,100 review and sources. We looked at and analyzed relevant reviews, ratings, forum discussions and expert recommendations, including the most recent ones up to October 2019. These were then processed via the Gearank Algorithm, which gave us the scores out of 100 that we used to feature only the best of the best. Finally we divided the list into different price categories to make it easier for you to see which ones fit your budget. For more information about this process see How Gearank Works.

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