Best Combo Guitar Amps for Metal
Combo Amps for Metal
The best guitar amp for metal is one that has the high-gain tone and raw power you need for gigs, rehearsals and recording situations. Of course this means something different for each player, and the amp you choose may depend on whether you play modern extreme music, classic metal or hard rock. But, no matter where your tastes fall on the heavy rock spectrum, it is certainly true that some amps are more likely to get the job done for you when it comes to bone-crushing, high-gain sound.
Many guitarists turn to a half stack for their main rig. There are a lot of advantages to this way of thinking, and it is hard to beat the projection and thump of a 4x12 cabinet. This is especially true when low-end resonance is a key part of your tone.
However, there are also some great combo amps out there that are perfect for the metal guitarist in a band. They are powerful, they sound amazing, and they are built for metal and heavy rock. This article will point you toward some of the better choices on the market today, and give you a head start on finding the right metal combo amp for you.
When it comes to the amps I’ve chosen, you’ll find a few common themes running throughout this article:
- These amps are reasonably affordable. Cost is one of the reasons you might choose a combo amp over a half stack. Still, you can spend a lot of cash on a gig-worthy combo amp. Here I tried to keep my recommendations under $1000.
- They have enough on-board gain to do the job. Sure, you can drop a killer distortion pedal in front of almost any amp and turn it into a metal powerhouse. But here I’m going to suggest amps that have what it takes straight out of the box.
- These guitar amps are powerful enough for gigs. Most guitar players don’t need a 100-watt tube-powered monster, but a 30-watt solid-state amp isn’t going to get the job done either. Here I’m recommending tube amps in the 40-60 watt range. I think that’s the sweet spot where you can crank it up and really get those tubes cooking.
- They are easy to transport. While I didn’t intend it at the outset, I ended up with mostly 1x12 combo amps here. Some of them are a bit hefty, but nowhere near the hassle and weight of a head plus a 4x12 cab. That’s one more benefit of going with a combo.
- They all sound amazing. This should go without saying. I’d never recommend an amp that didn’t sound awesome.This is quality gear, from some of the top guitar amp builders out there. I’ve also broken them down by what type of music I think they’d work best in.
- These are versatile amps, capable of an array of sounds. They aren’t one-trick ponies made for a single playing style. These are real, quality guitar amps that will give you a rich and colorful palette of tones with the turn of a few knobs.
So, let’s check out some gear! Here are my tops picks when it comes to the best combo amps for metal.
Peavey 6505+ 112
The Peavey 6505 gets my top spot when it comes to the best tube amp for metal, and has been my favorite for extreme music for a long time. This series once went by the name 5150, and was originally billed as a top rock amp developed in conjunction with the great Eddie Van Halen. But it didn’t take long for guitar players to realize that the rich, harmonic, high-gain sounds Eddie made famous were also perfect for extreme metal.
So, back in the 1990s many metal players began to trade in their Marshalls for Peavey 5150s. I was one of them! The legend of the 5150 continues today in the form of the Peavey 6505, and the 6505+ 112 combo brings all of that extreme Peavey tone down to an affordable, portable package.
The 6505+ 112 shoves 60 watts of Peavey power through a single 12” Sheffield speaker. Sheffields are a little darker sounding than Celestians, and in the closed-back design they sound fantastic. In my opinion, this is one of the things that sets the 6505 apart.
Of course the other thing is that American high-gain tone, brought to you via five 12AX7 preamp tubes and a pair of 6L6GC power-amp tubes . Keeping with the “Plus” format, the 6505 combo gives you two channels, each with separate EQ settings. There is even a universal spring reverb control.
With the pre-gain cranked the 6505+ 112 is as subtle as a punch in the face. However, if you dial back the pre-gain on the rhythm channel the amp is capable of some sweet, bluesy sounds. Despite its ferocious reputation, it’s actually a fairly flexible and versatile little tone machine.
If you play extreme metal the 6505+ 112 is your best bet, but even hard rock players will be impressed. Let’s not forget where this amp gets its pedigree.
Check out the Peavey 6505+ 112 Combo
It wasn’t long ago that metal players basically had one serious choice when it came to an amp: Marshall. There is good reason for that too. That Marshall roar almost single-handedly shaped the sound of hard rock and metal throughout the 70s and 80s, and even today there are many guitarists who will play nothing else.
But there was also a time when you had to put a distortion pedal in front of your Marshall in order to get the high-gain sounds you needed for heavy music. Those days are long gone, and today and Marshall DSL series has the sound you need straight out of the box. Of course the DSL40C combo is one way to easily tote that tone with you wherever you go.
While they are of similar size and power, don’t think the DSL40C is analogous to the 6505+ 112. You get plenty of distortion from the Marshall, but it isn’t the same type of high-gain extreme beast. In my opinion this amp is better suited for classic metal and hard rock players, though with a little tweaking modern extreme metal guitarists may be just fine with it.
Forty watts of power comes at you via one ECC83 and a pair of EL34 power amp tubes and three ECC83 preamp tubes. There are two channels: Classic gain and Ultra Gain. As a metal player, you can guess which channel you are going to want to use most often!
Both channels are controlled by a three-band EQ, and there are a few tone-shaping switches such as Clean/Crunch of the Classic Channel, Lead1/Lead2 on the Ultra Channel and a Tone Shift switch for a modified EQ scoop.
If you are into anything from old-school ‘Priest to old-school Metallica the Marshall DSL40C is a great choice. Modern players may dig it too, but really this amp gets my top recommendation for those looking for more of a classic, British metal sound.
The Marshall DSL40C Demo
Blackstar HT Club 40
Blackstar is another British company, and a relative newcomer to the guitar amp world. I consider the HT Club 40 somewhat of a dark horse when it comes to metal amps, but I do think it is worth checking out. This is a very versatile amp with some fantastic overdrive sounds. With the gain cranked, it has more than enough guts to get the job done for just about any subgenre of heavy metal.
The HT Club 40 boasts EL34 power tubes and a distinctly British vibe, but thanks to the ISF control you can also dial in some of those hot midrange harmonics and thick crunch that are more indicative of an American high-gain amp. In some ways it’s the best of both worlds, and it is probably the most flexible amp in this review. If you also play a little rock and blues you may appreciate the ability to switch between genres with a couple of turns of a knob.
With forty watts of power it has more than enough oomph for most band situations. This is the sweet spot, where we can crank an amp up to rehearsal volume and really get those tubes cooking. More powerful amps often need to be turned up to insane volume levels to get the same effect, which is why some guitarists use power attenuators. In my opinion, tube amps in the 40-60 watt range are just about perfect.
There is a three-band EQ, along with the aforementioned ISF control. The intent of the ISF knob is to further shape your overall tonal signature, and it gives you a range from a more British sound to a more American sound. If you are having trouble deciding between the nasty growl of a Marshall and the barely controllable harmonics of the Peavey this knob may be your decision maker.
Hear the Blackstar HT Club 40
There are a few more amps that could have made my top three, but missed the mark for one reason or another. Remember, I was considering price and size, so some amps that were very large or somewhat expensive are relegated to this honorable mention list. But don’t let that stop you from checking them out! One might be the perfect choice for you.
- EVH 5150 III 212: The EVH 5150 lineup of guitar amps shares many of the same attributes as his old Peavey 5150 lineup, which is now the Peavey 6505. In fact, Peavey once had a bone-crushing amp called the 5150 212 which is now out of production. If you’re looking for something similar today, consider the EVH 5150 III 212.
- Blackstar HT Metal 60: Here is another great choice from Blackstar, geared specifically for metalheads. It didn’t make my main list because of size and price. I also think it is not as versatile as the Club 40. Still, if you have the cash and you are looking to melt a few faces this combo amp will do the job for you.
- Peavey Bandit 112: Really? You betcha! If you are looking for a super-affordable, high-gain, solid-state amp check out the Peavey Bandit. At 80 watts (100 with an extension cab) it is even powerful enough for a band situation. The Bandit may be a better choice for intermediate-level players, but it is capable of some great high-gain sounds.
- Randall RG1503 212: Here is another solid-state marvel. Randall makes some great tube amps for heavy metal such as the Daivlo Series. But some still prefer that solid-state fizzle made famous by a certain Texas shredder by the name of Darrell Abbot. Dime brought the Randall solid-state sound to the attention of guitar players around the world, and if that is what you are after consider the RG1503.
- Mesa/Boogie Dual Rec Roadster: This one is a little pricey but I couldn’t do a post on metal amps without at least mentioning Mesa. Mesa/Boogie Dual and Triple Rectifier amps have become a staple in the heavy rock world. If you have the cash, go for it!
Choose Your Weapon
Almost without except exception, if someone were to ask my opinion on the best amp for metal I would say the Peavey 6505. This is based not only on personal experience, but on some of the sounds other guitar players have created with these amps over the years.
So, what are those rare exceptions? The 6505 has a very distinct sound. It’s a bit midrangy, somewhat nasal, and the overdrive is extremely hot. I like it, but some players prefer a more British sound. By comparison, the Marshall sound is a little more even and open, and perhaps a bit more articulate. If that’s your bag, by all means go for the Marshall.
If you are on the fence, check out the Blackstar. I am really impressed with this amp, and for players looking for the most flexible choice it may be the best option.
Good luck whatever you decide. I hope this article helped to point you in the right direction.