Best Guitar Amp Under $500
The Best Amplifier on a Budget
If you have only $500 to spend you want to find the best guitar amp for the money. Fortunately there are plenty of choices when it comes to amplifiers costing five-hundred bucks and less. But if we’re going to whittle them down to the very best we need to lay out a few ground rules.
For the purpose of this article we’ll be looking at five great guitar rigs that are affordable for the average musician. They are portable, and they all put out enough power to be used for gigging or rehearsal. Of course, they all sound really good too!
But if you’re on a budget you also want to get the most bang for your buck, so the final piece of criteria is that we’re going look for options with an array of usable on-board effects. Some of them utilize digital modeling technology, which means you get many sounds in one unit. Some are just great sounding solid-state rigs, with awesome analog distortion and a versatile package of digital effects.
They're also made by some of the best amp builders in the world. If you have $500 to spend on a new guitar rig you have a lot of choices. Here are five great ones to start you off.
Marshall is one of the biggest names in the guitar guitar world. They’re known for monster tube amps, but the Marshall MG Series does a pretty good job of bringing the legendary Marshall sound to guitar players on a budget.
The MG100 is the big-boy of the lineup, at 100-watts of solid-state power. You can go with a few different models in the series: The MG101CFX is a 100-watt, 1x12 combo with on-board effects; the MG102CFX is a 2x12 version; and the MG100HFX is a head version. Both the 101 and 100H will land you under $500, but of course with the MG100HFX you need to buy a speaker cabinet.
The MG101CFX has excellent overdrive, in a Marshall kind of way, and some very pretty clean tones as well. You'll find four channels, with programmable settings controllable by footswitch. Compared to other amps in this review you'll find limited effects options, though what’s there is very good.
If you love the Marshall sound, go for it, but don’t be swayed just by the name. This is a very good choice for any style of music, but keep your mind open to others in this review that may better meet your needs.
There are smaller, less expensive MGs in the Marshall lineup too. If you don’t expect to play in a band, the MG50 may be plenty of power for your needs.
Learn More About the Marshall MG50 and MG101 (CFX)
Fender Mustang IV
Fender is another big name in the guitar world. Many people associate Fender with smooth overdrive and crystal-clear clean sounds. Their amps are known for blues, jazz and milder forms of rock.
However, Fender has really stepped it up in recent years, and come out with some great options that run the gambit across every style of music. The amazing Mustang Series is such an amp, and incorporates classic Fender looks and design along with a powerful modern digital effects processor and modeler.
The Mustang IV is a 150 watt, 2x12 combo with more than enough power for a band or gigging situation, and plenty of flexibility.
You'll find amazing emulation of classic Fenders, excellent effects options and, with a power rating of 150 watts, plenty of headroom. There is a USB port for hooking up with Fender software on your computer. And, to top it all off, I really dig the classic look.
I admit I'm not in love with the high-gain sounds, but they are passable. If you like the classic Fender sound, or if you are looking for a powerful and versatile choice for blues, country, jazz, lighter rock or just about anything that doesn’t require high-gain, this is a great choice. Metal and hard rock players may want to look elsewhere.
The Mustang III is a 100-watt, 1x12 version with most of the same great features. If you don’t feel like lugging a 2x12 around, this might be a better option.
Hear the Fender Mustang
Line 6 Spider V 240
Line 6 is a company that has really taken the digital modeling thing and run with it over the past decade or so. One thing they had going for them from the start was that, unlike Fender and Marshall, they didn’t have a long history of classic amps to live up to.
This freed them up to carve their own niche in the music world. But the ground-breaking Spider Series models have becomes classics in their own right, and in many ways the standard against which all other modeling amps are measured. The Spider V 240 gives you 240 watts of stereo power through two speakers, and tons of different models based around the tones of famous guitarists.
The Spider has great distortion and tone across the board. Powerful and very flexible, it also has a wide array of effects. Features include the Iconic Rigs presets which are based on the studio setups of legendary sounds and albums. Less computer savvy guitarists may be turned off due to the online resources and updates.
I have loved the Line 6 sound for a few years now. They've really been a company on the forefront of the modeling amp movement, and their tone has improved to the point where it's hard to tell Line 6 models from the real deal. If you are looking for a very powerful amp for gigging I'd seriously consider the Spider V 240.
The Spider V comes in a few different flavors, including a very stage-worthy 120-watt 1x12 combo, and a 60-watt 1x10 combo.
The Line 6 Spider V Series
Peavey Vypyr VIP 3
Peavey is the company responsible for some of the best tones in modern metal. They also have some awesome options for blues and rock. Their patented TransTube technology is high up on the list of best tube-emulating solid-state circuitry. Their original Vypyr lineup of modeling amps made use of the TransTube circuitry along with an array of very useful bells and whistles.
The Vypyr VIP series features the same incredible tone-shaping options as the original Vypyrs, with an interesting twist: This is an electric guitar, acoustic guitar and bass amp in one! The Vypyr VIP 3 has 100 watts of Peavey power pushed through a 12-inch speaker.
In my opinion the strong points of the Vypyr VIP are the true analog distortion (long been a fan of the TransTube sound!), effective emulation of classic Peavey models, super-easy to understand display. Interesting instrument emulations. But, the multi-instrument design may be overkill for some players who are just looking for a great guitar amp.
The Vypyr is a good choice for players who are into rock, hard rock and all forms of metal. The analog distortion is excellent, and the flexibility is unparalleled. The trademarked WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) interface is so easy to use and understand. If you play bass as well as guitar this is a great all-purpose amp for jamming or recording.
The original Vypyr 100 is still out there, though you may have to hunt one down. It may be more suited to players who don't play bass or care to make their guitar sound like a violin.
Check Out the Peavey Vypyr VIP Series
While even the average Joe on the street knows names like Marshall and Fender, few would know the name Vox. But to guitar players Vox is one of the more revered amp makers in the music world, and their classics are responsible for some of the most amazing tones in the history of rock.
The innovative Valvetronix VTX Series is the Vox take on a multi-effects modeling amp , but with a bit of a twist compared to the rest of the choices in this article. The Vox Valvetronix VT100X features hybrid technology, meaning it’s a solid-state amp that uses a real tube in the preamp section.
The VT100X pushes 100 watts though a 12-inch speaker. There are 11 models, 13 on-board effects and 33 preset programs, There are some excellent sounds for clean and crunch. Loud and powerful, with typical classic Vox tone. My only small complaints are the effects are a little confusing, and there are relatively few presets.
If you like that warm, crunchy, British overdrive sound this is the one for you. Be prepared to spend some time figuring it out though! Overall an awesome choice for blues and softer styles. Metal players may not be satisfied with higher-gain sounds.
There are smaller units in the series, including a 40 and 20-watt model. They won't make the cut for gigging, but they can make awesome practice amps.
The New Vox VTX Series
The Final Verdict!
So which gets the award for Best Guitar Amp Under $500?
Man, I really loved the old Peavey VYPR 100. The combination of amazing, analog tube-like gain and the super-easy WYSIWYG layout put this one over the top. Add in the fact that Peavey power, even at only 100 watts, is legendary, and the floor pedals are very cool and easy to operate, and it was an easy choice for my favorite amp under $500.
However, I'm not quite as enthusiastic about the VIP Series. They sound incredible, but if you are guitar player you may or may not care about being able to plug a bass into the thing. For that reason I'm going to give the VIP second place here, and call the Fender Mustang IV the best guitar amp for under $500.
Third place goes to the Line 6 Spider IV. Even after all these years it’s hard to beat Line 6 when it comes to versatility, and their tone has gotten better and better. The Spider IV is a great amp, especially for modern players interested in a wide array of different tones and sounds.
Honorable mention goes to the Marshall MG101CFX. Why? Because Marshall tone is still the driving force behind rock music, and this MG offers that sound in a very basic package, along with a few useful digital effects. If you want a rig that sounds great, and you don’t feel like punching a lot of buttons, the MG101 is an excellent choice.
You really can’t wrong with any of the options in this article. As you can see, some are better suited for certain musical styles than others, so you may make your choice based on the type of music you play. Do your research, check out different ones, and most of all have fun. You’re buying a new guitar amp!