Softube Marshall Legends Bundle

The Best Practice Amps / Small Guitar Amps

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

Original photograph above by Daniel Davis, modified by Jason Horton and available under Creative Commons license.

This guide was first published on Sep. 15, 2017 written by Mason Hoberg and last updated on Oct. 11, 2018 by Alexander Briones.

Unless you live in an island all by yourself, you will always have to be mindful of your amplifier volume. This is especially true if you want to live peacefully with your loved ones and neighbors. And this is the reason why practice amps get more play time than actual stage amps. Here we look at market favorite guitar combo amplifiers that are ideal for honing your chops, updated to reflect reviews and ratings data up to October of 2018.

Contents

The Best Practice Amps

Under $100

Donner DEA-1

90
GEARANK

90 out of 100. Incorporating 40+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$55

The Donner DEA-1 is a compact 10-Watt combo amplifier with 6.5" speaker designed with the beginner guitarist in mind. It comes with a straightforward set of controls, which include basic 3-band EQ (treble/middle/bass), volume and gain knobs.

It also comes with a boost switch that activates its built-in overdrive, giving you two basic tones. Finally, it comes with two 1/8" ports, one of which serves as an auxiliary input for plugging in your media player, while the other is a headphone output that allows for quiet practice.

Specifications:

  • Power Rating: 10-Watts
  • Speaker Size: 6.5”
  • Channels: Clean, Boost
  • Effects: None
  • Controls: Gain, Volume, Treble, Middle, Bass, Boost Switch,
  • Input/Output: 1 x 1/4", 1 x 1/8" Aux-In, 1 x 1/8" Headphone-Out
  • Extras: N/A
  • Weight: 10.9lbs

Value for money is what keeps the Donner DEA-1 afloat in a market that's flooded with so many practice amps. Most of its satisfied clients are beginners who are satisfied with its features and sound quality, given the price tag. Ease of use also comes up quite often in reviews. While the amp is primarily designed for electric guitar, there are a number of users who are happy with how it works with acoustic-electric guitars.

There are some who rate the amp slightly lower because they feel that it is not loud or versatile enough, but this is a reasonable drawback given its affordable price and compact size.

If you are looking for a budget friendly amplifier with student friendly features, then this is the amp for you.

Fender Champion 20

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 800+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$100
Fender Champion 20

The Fender Champion 20 is essentially a modeling amp for musicians who want a physical control system (as opposed to the digital 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.

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

Like any other Fender amp, the Champion 20 isn’t a great choice if you want to play genres of music that rely on high levels of distortion. There are better options available for a similar price if that’s what you’re looking for. However, the clean tones (especially with light levels of modulation) are impressive approximations of the amps that inspired them for a practice 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. The only way to change between different gain profiles is to switch voicings.

The Champion 20 features a AUX-In and headphone-out. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a line-out for recording.

Under $200

Fender Mustang I v2

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 1200+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$120
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.

Digital amp modeling has certainly gone a long way, to the point that even entry level amps like the Mustang I v2 continues to get high ratings. As expected, many are impressed with its 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.

As expected, not everyone is impressed with its amp modeling, especially its high-gain tones which gets 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 also some who wish for extra features like a DI output, for using the amp as a preamp/DI-box.

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

95
GEARANK

95 out of 100. Incorporating 425+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$160
Roland Micro Cube GX 3 Portable Guitar Modeling Amplifier

If you’re looking for a portable practice amp, it really is hard to beat the Roland Micro Cube GX. The 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 point.

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

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. It also isn’t very loud, though this isn’t really a big deal for a practice amp.

The Roland Micro Cube GX comes with an AUX-In, headphone line-out, and an emulated line-out for recording.

Orange Crush 20RT

94
GEARANK

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

Street Price: 

$189
Orange Crush 20RT

If you’re looking for a portable practice amp with a full tone, the Orange Crush 20RT may be your best bet. The amp uses Orange’s “Voice of the World” speaker which, aside from being an awesome name, manages to provide an almost unparalleled level of depth for an 8” speaker.

It still doesn’t compare to a good tube amp, but as far as solid-state amps are concerned you could do a lot worse. While the tone of the amp is impressive for its size, it features are pretty minimalistic.

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

The amp features two channels (overdriven and clean), a gain control, treble, middle, bass, and reverb. The Crush 20RT also comes with a AUX-in and headphone/ line-out (the headphone/line-out emulates the response of the Voice of the World speakers, so the tone doesn’t suffer when using either). The base tone of the amp is respectable, but if you’re looking for a more flexible amp you’re going to be happier with something else.

Lastly, you can purchase a footswitch to switch between the clean and overdriven channels on the fly. Unfortunately, you do have to purchase it separately.

Under $300

Blackstar HT-1

91
GEARANK

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

Street Price: 

$260
Blackstar HT-1 1W 1x8" Guitar Combo Amplifier

The Blackstar HT-1 is a 1-watt tube amp, making it one of the few tube amps capable of providing organic tube distortion at reasonable volumes without having to buy an expensive guitar amp attenuator. This makes the amp a great option if you’re looking to set up an at-home hobbyist recording studio, but as a practice amp it’s a bit limited.

The amp features a gain control, an overdrive selection switch, and the ISF EQ discussed above. It also comes with a headphone/emulated line-out and an AUX-input. It will have a better tone than a solid-state practice amp in this price range, but since it doesn’t have effects you’re either going to have to play sans-pedals or drop more money on effects. Though to be fair, if you don’t use much in the way of effects this isn’t going to be an issue.

Specifications:

  • Power Rating: 1-Watt
  • Speaker Size: 8” Speaker
  • Models: N/A
  • Effects: Distortion
  • Controls: Gain, Volume, EQ
  • Input/Output: AUX-In, Headphone/Emulated Line-Out
  • Extras: Valve Amplifier, ISF Control
  • Weight: 13lbs

The Blackstar HT-1 is a good option if you’re looking for a small amp that doesn’t compromise on tone. Note that even 1-watt (which considering this is a tube amp is more similar to a 10-watt solid-state) may be too loud to play without headphones in an apartment, but it will be more manageable than a louder amp if you’re playing in a house.

Yamaha THR10X

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 325+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$300
Yamaha THR10X

The Yamaha THR10 series are regarded to be among the best sounding lunchbox amps available, which is surprising given the specifications.

The amp features two 3” speakers (this is according to Yamaha’s specifications for the amp), which somehow manage to avoid the thin tone normally associated with sub-8” speakers. With just 10-watts of power, this compact and relatively quiet amp is meant for hi-gain distortion (which on low to moderate setting isn’t buzzy).

Specifications:

  • Power Rating: 10-Watts
  • Speaker Size: 2x3”
  • Models: Power I, Power II, Brown I, Brown II, Southern Hi, Clean, Bass, Flat
  • Effects: Chorus, Flanger, Phaser, Tremolo, Delay, Reverb, Compressor, Noise Gate
  • Controls: Amp, Gain, Master, Bass, Middle, Treble, Effect, Delay/Reverb, Guitar (Output), USB/AUX (Output)
  • Input/Output: AUX-In, Headphone-Out
  • Extras: Tuner
  • Weight: 6lbs

The THR10X also comes with a healthy selection of modulation effects, including: chorus, flanger, phaser, tremolo, delay, reverb (spring and hall), compression, and a noise gate. The controls on the amp are pretty standard, and are as follows: amp, gain, master, bass, middle, treble, effect, delay/reverb.

The only thing to keep in mind with this amp is that it’s not a tube amp. The THR series uses emulated tube lights to give the amp the appearance of being a tube amp, but it definitely is not. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just something to be aware of.

Under $500

Blackstar HT-1R

90
GEARANK

90 out of 100. Incorporating 350+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$350
Blackstar HT-1R

The Blackstar HT-1R is the same as the HT-1, with the only difference being that the HT-1R includes reverb while the HT-1 does not. As of writing, there’s a $100 difference between the two amplifiers. If you can spare the extra cash, go for the model with reverb. If not, the HT-1 will achieve similar results.

To reiterate the features, the Blackstar HT-1R is an all-tube 1-watt amplifier. The power rating allows you to get genuine tube distortion at a noise level that won’t disrupt the entire neighborhood (though it will be too loud for most apartments).

Specifications:

  • Power Rating: 1-Watt
  • Speaker Size: 8” Speaker
  • Models: N/A
  • Effects: Distortion, Reverb
  • Controls: Gain, Volume, ISF, Reverb
  • Input/Output: AUX-In, Headphone/Emulated Line-Out
  • Extras: Valve Amplifier, ISF Control
  • Weight: 13lbs

In place of an EQ control, the Blackstar HT-1R uses Blackstar’s ISF control. The ISF control adjusts the tone of the amp from an American voicing to a British one, both of which are relatively high-gain.

Like the HT-1, the HT-1R comes with an AUX-in, a headphone-out, and a line-out (for recording).

DV Mark Little Jazz Combo

89
GEARANK

89 out of 100. Incorporating 100+ 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

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.

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

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

Roland Cube Street EX

89
GEARANK

89 out of 100. Incorporating 250+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$500
Roland Cube Street EX Battery-Powered Stereo Amplifier

As implied by the name, the Roland Cube Street EX Battery Powered Stereo Amplifier isn’t a practice amp. Rather, it’s a performance amp for musicians on the go.

The amp actually has 4 independent inputs, allowing for different musicians to play simultaneously. If you ever gig outdoors, the Cube Street is likely to be one of your best options. At 50-watts, it’s more than loud enough for most street corner performances.

Specifications:

  • Power Rating: 50-Watts
  • Speaker Size: 2x8”
  • Models: Electric Guitar (Lead, Crunch, Clean), Acoustic
  • Effects: Distortion, Chorus, Delay, Reverb
  • Controls: Volume, Bass, Middle, Treble, Chorus/Delay, Reverb, E-Guitar (Voice Selection)
  • Input/Output: AUX-In, Headphone-Out, R/L output
  • Extras: 4 Independent Channels, Tuner, Stereo Link
  • Weight: 16 lbs. 6 oz.

With that out of the way, when looking at the amp’s tone and features it compares pretty favorably with others in its price range. The amp has 4 base gain settings, lead, crunch, clean, and acoustic sim. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have an independent gain control. The amp also comes with chorus, delay, and reverb.

The Cube Street comes with AUX-in, headphone-out, and footswitch compatibility. An interesting feature of the amp is that you can actually link two Cube Streets together with the R/L outputs and the stereo link control. And as you probably guessed from the name, it can be powered by batteries.

Under $1000

Fender ’57 Custom Champ

95
GEARANK

95 out of 100. Incorporating 80+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$1000
Fender '57 Custom Champ Tube Combo Amplifier

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.

When it comes to guitar amps, louder isn’t necessarily better. 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).

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

The 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.

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.

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

The goal is to find market favorite small amplifiers that are conducive to practice. And with so many small practice amplifiers in the market, we ended up with 46 of them in our database - even though we limited them to ones weighing a maximum of 20 lbs. We then gathered relevant reviews, ratings, expert recommendations and forum discussions, including the latest ones up to October of 2018, resulting in the collection of over 13,500 sources. These were 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.

Comments

Looking for practice amp with

Looking for practice amp with built in looper. The article mentions that such practice amps are gaining in popularity, but doesn’t mention any amps that have them.

Post a Comment or Question

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Comments

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <b> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.