Home RMW Articles RMW Features What’s the Best Guitar Amp for Rock?

What’s the Best Guitar Amp for Rock?


So, you wanna be to be a rock god, and you want to play guitar. For that, you going to need the tone. The question that always comes to mind is “what sounds good?” Of course the answer is purely subjective, and in the end, it’s down to the ears of the buyer, but we’ve got our list of classic guitar amps that were made for rock n roll. Check out our top 10 list of guitar amps, some of the players that use them, and why they’ve earned a place as serious game changers.


Marshall 1959 Super Lead 100 Watt Plexi
This classic has been played by the likes of Pete Townshend, Jimi Hendrix, and old “slowhand” himself, Eric Clapton. The list of players that had used Marshall amps to fry your face off is never-ending, and here are some of the reasons why. The 1959 Super Lead gave the tone to rock and roll as we know it. Originally introduced in 1965 (the 1959 title is obviously not the year of the amp’s release). It comes loaded with four inputs, two channels, 100 watts of searing power and a ‘Plexiglas faceplate.’ Stacked on top of 4×12 cabinets, Marshall’s 1959 Super Lead became known as the “Marshall stack.” The very same that was played by Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock. Still a favorite for guitar purists throughout the world, you can go wrong with this timeless classic.

Marshall JCM800
Here’s some trivia for you. Did you know that this classic amp was named after Jim Marshall’s initials and the numbers from his car’s license plate back in the day? The hard-rocking Marshall JCM800 debuted in 1981, and with it came the newly introduced ‘Master Volume’feature. The JCM800 gave guitar players the option of creating crunchy, sizzling distortion at much lower output levels than its big brother, the ‘1959 Super Lead.’ The amp has become a rock and metal standard and is loved by some of the biggest bands and guitarists in rock including Slash of Guns N’ Roses, Zakk Wylde, Judas Priest, Motley Crue, Rage Against the Machine and the Scorpions.


Vox AC 30 Top Boost
The very first Vox AC30’s were created by engineer Dick Denney when British guitar player Hank Marvin, (the Shadows), complained that his 15-watt Vox AC15 couldn’t be heard above the screaming fans when he was part of the band that backed up UK pop sensation Cliff Richard. Problem solved, Vox introduced their classic 30-watt AC30 in 1958 and even offered it two configurations, 1×12 and 2×12. Originally designed with single tone control, in late 1960, the amp was updated with three, rather than two, channels, each with two inputs, and offered with an optional Top Boost, or Brilliance, circuit, which introduced an extra gain stage and separate bass and treble controls. The amps’ Top Boost feature was so popular with guitarists that it became a standard feature and was added to the newer AC30/6 (six inputs) version of the amp. The Vox tone featured heavily on a recording by the Beatles in their early days and was later adopted by guitarists like Tom Petty, Brian May, and The Edge, whose has used his 1964 AC30/6 on every U2 album to date.


Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier
Only around since 1970, the ultra-powerful Mesa/Boogie has been loved since day one for its compact and punchy Mark series amps. Then in 1989, the company decided it was time to take on the big boys and try and capture a brand new audience. The result was the beast they called the Rectifier. This new range of bigger and beefier Dual and Triple Rectifier amps came out the box swinging. Right from the get-go, the Dual Rectifier became one of the most used and popular amps on planet rock. Mesa founder Randall Smith designed the amp with silicone diodes that give it a gain level and feeling that would take your face off. Proving to be especially popular with metal groups, The amp became a firm favorite with bands like Metallica, Korn, Soundgarden and Foo Fighters. Not about to sit on their laurels, in 2009, Mesa reissued the Dual Rectifier with a third, dedicated clean channel, making the already loved amp even more versatile than ever.


Friedman Amplification BE-100 head
This has kick-ass written all over it. The Friedman Amplification BE-100 head is easily one of the best classic British metal tone amps out there. Fat sounding EL34 power tubes and 12AX7 preamp tubes, this amp isn’t messing about, and if you’re looking for searing solo tones, you’re totally sorted. Two separate channels and a switchable boost function lets guitarists find the sound they want, while a global presence control, 3-position bright switch, saturation switch, C45 switch and a FAT switch gives guitarist’s plenty of variation. The 3-position switch on the BE-100’s dirty channel lowers a user’s gain structure—the highest setting features the amp’s original sound, and if you’re using the lower settings you’ll get incredible vintage tones. The Friedman Amplification BE-100 delivers all you need for the ultimate modded-Plexi sound.


Peavey 5150
Peavey has been around for a while now, but without doubt, their most popular amp for rock has to be the monster sounding, 5150. This bad boy is the collaboration of Peavey and guitar legend Eddie Van Halen. Hitting stores in 1992, the amp is a 120-watt, all-tube, two-channel head with a lead channel that that is nothing short of killer. The amp is for sure behind the new wave of high-gain guitar sounds that appeared in the early Nineties. Van Halen and Peavey parted company in 2004, so Peavey changed to the Peavey 6505. The amp has become a must-have for modern metal bands such as Trivium, All That Remains, Arch Enemy, Chimaira and August Burns Red.


Hiwatt DR103
Often associated with the Who’s Pete Townshend, the Hiwatt DR103 is notably louder and can also be run much cleaner than 100-watt Marshalls when needed. We all know that amps like Marshall and Vox contributed to the sound of British rock in the Sixties and Seventies but the Hiwatt DR103 was also a favorite of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, Moody Blues, the Stones and many more. Sure the DR103 has similar looks to a Marshall, but believe us when we say: “it absolutely doesn’t sound like one.”  The Hiwatt DR103 is essentially based on the use of four burly EL-34 power tubes and four 12AX7 preamp tubes. The transformers are wired so that the amp can be used with various line voltages around the world and the speaker impedance can also be set to 4, 8, or 16 ohms with two speaker outputs wired in parallel. In short, this means it will, if needs be, kick your ass.


Engl(Marty Friedman Inferno Signature)
Not vintage by any means, but this amp kicks booty. True to its name, the 100-watt Inferno comes loaded with four 12AX7 preamp tubes and four EL34s in the power amp section and is made to suit the needs of one of metal’s greatest shredders or guitarists at any level, Marty Friedman. The two-channel, Master Volume amp consists of Lead and Clean circuits, each with their own Bass, Middle, Treble and Volume knobs,  and for you shredders out there, the channels have individual Gain boost switches. Additionally, the Clean channel features a Bright switch, and the Lead channel a Tone switch and a Noise Gate with threshold adjust when the gain boost is on. The effects loop can be used in serial or parallel modes and is switchable via a foot switch. Speaker outputs may be used at 4, 8 or 16 ohms. He Engl team are known for killer tone, and with the introduction of this amp, the design team delivered a wide-ranging and incredibly powerful beast.

Hughes & Kettner:

Hughes & KettnerGrandMeister Deluxe 40
What we have here is an updated version of Hughes & Kettner’s most successful model the TubeMeister. This latest edition is called the GrandMeister 40 Deluxe, and take it from us, this is a real piece of kit. The amp has a road-worthy steel case and Perspex control panel featuring nine (yeah, you read it correctly) knobs and a big four-way rotary voice switch. It comes with the standard master volume, but everything is MIDI-powered. With the use of MIDI, you can control the built-in five-step attenuator, series effects loop, boost voicing and phenomenal built-in digital effects. Not to mention that you can also edit and store presets to your metal-heart’s content. The amp’s two lead channels have huge amounts of gain, plus the built-in noise gate does a nice job of eliminating the hiss on higher gain settings. At the end of the day, the Hughes & Kettner GrandMeister 40 Deluxe is pretty much the perfect amp for serious gain heads.


Orange Rockerverb 50 MKII
Founded in the 1960s, Orange helped to shape the British amp sound that became the industry stand when it comes to rock. Known for being warm but crunchy; guitarists all over the globe consider Orange amps to have the perfect balance of tone and rocking distortion. The Rockerverb 50 has rapidly turned into one of the most popular two-channel 50W amps on the market. Upgrades to the MKII version included a Mid EQ control on the clean channel, an upgraded effects loop, a larger reverb with additional ECC83 preamp tube, and the inclusion of stock EL34 power tubes. With the choice of having a head or combo, this amp is the real deal and you’ll have more than enough crunch, volume, and control for any size venue.


Fender 5E3 Deluxe
Maybe not the amp of choice for Metal-Head’s but nonetheless, when it was introduced in 1948, the Fender Deluxe was praised for its dynamic, harmonically rich overdrive and compression. You could buy the amp in numerous configurations and different models over the years, but the most desirable is the 5E3 narrow-panel Deluxe, built from 1955 to 1960 and offered in a tweed-covered cabinet. The circuit runs at higher voltages than other models and features a split-phase inverter and driver that add a little gritty breakup at the start of the output stage. The guts of the amp are two easily overdriven cathode-bias 6V6 output tubes that deliver a sweet, harmonically rich tone, and the 5Y3 tube rectifier has the sag required for dynamics and touch sensitivity. One of the most sought after vintage combos there is, this very same amp has been used by the likes of Billy Gibbons, (ZZ Top), Neil Young, and Dire Straits guitarist, Mark Knopfler.



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