The author is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
Choosing a first guitar amp can be confusing for a beginner, and making a bad decision here is one of the easiest ways a newbie can sabotage their efforts to learn guitar. First-time guitar players often pick out the least expensive amps they can find, and unfortunately, they soon find out that those cheap amps sound pretty terrible.
Inspiration is one of the most powerful driving forces when it comes to learning guitar, and an awful guitar amp isn’t very inspiring. Guitar amps for newbies aren’t going to sound as good as the professional rigs used by advanced guitarists, but for $100 you can get more than you'd expect if you choose wisely.
You don't have to settle for a second-rate setup. You can get a great starter amp from one of the top amp builders in the world if you put your mind to it. This article can help.
Here are my top choices:
1. Marshall MG10G
The MG10 is the smallest amp in the Marshall MG Series. It is a straight-up amp with no onboard effects. That’s okay because it has a powerful sound for such a small amp.
The MG10G is a little amp with that powerful Marshall vibe and an excellent sound. It is a great first amp for beginners just starting out, but also makes a solid practice amp for veteran players.
Even if you are new to the guitar you may be familiar with Marshall amps. Big Marshall stacks have been a familiar backdrop at rock concerts since the 1960s.
Powerful Marshall guitar amps have a distinctive roar that many guitar players have come to love, and Marshall does a great job of capturing that sound in such a small package with the MG10G.
I’ve owned small MG amps as a veteran guitar player. I used them as practice amps, and I loved them. For a newbie, an amp like the Marshall MG10G will start you off right with awesome Marshall tone and then stick with you as a practice amp once you move up to a much larger main amp.
There is also a version called the MG15 which has some excellent onboard effects. However, at a price bump of around 50 bucks, I think serious beginners will find it worth the extra cash.
2. Fender Frontman 10G
The next amp I suggest checking out is the Fender Frontman 10. This is a very popular amp with a lot to offer for beginners. The EQ section is a 2-band Treble and Bass setup, which offers a little more flexibility than other amps on this list.
When it comes to guitar amps, Fender is known for amazing clean sounds and smooth, bluesy overdrive. If that’s the kind of thing you are looking for as a newbie guitarist, this is that amp for you.
In my opinion, even though there are some more aggressive sounds available from the Frontman 10, I think it is more suited to lighter styles of music. If you are into metal or hard rock you will probably be happier with the Marshall.
On the other hand, if you are into country, blues, jazz or classic rock, the Frontman 10 might be the perfect beginner amp for you. Fender makes good guitar amps, and that extends all the way down to the littlest amps in their lineup.
If you have a few extra bucks in your pocket you may want to consider the Champion 20, a slightly more expensive amp with more advanced features.
3. Peavey Backstage 10
The Backstage 10 features a 2-band EQ plus volume and overdrive controls and a switchable lead channel.
The Peavey Backstage 10 is a no-nonsense little box capable of big sounds. Peavey does an excellent job of recreating tube tone with their patented TransTube circuitry.
I’ve long been a fan of Peavey, and I really like their TransTube amps such as the Backstage 10. In fact, one of my favorite amps in my collection is my Peavey TransTube Bandit 112, a larger more powerful amp in the TransTube family.
The Peavey also has a slightly more powerful version in the Rage 258. Neither is loud enough to jam with a live drummer, but they are certainly good enough for performing alongside acoustic guitars or jamming with other guitar players with small amps.
Depending on where you buy, the Rage 258 might put you a little over your $100 budget, but I still think it is a solid choice for a beginner.
4. Orange Crush 12
The Orange Crush 12 sounds amazing and has some great features for an amp in its price range. Orange is a legendary amp brand, right up there with Marshall and Fender.
The Orange Crush 12 may be the best value in this review. It’s rated at 12-watts and features a three-band EQ along with volume and overdrive controls and a six-inch speaker. It is also the most expensive amp in this article, coming right around the $100 mark.
I rank it a little lower here only because I feel it is more comparable to bigger amps like the Fender Champion 10 or Marshall MG. Still, if you are willing to spend a couple of extra bucks this amp is a great choice.
5. Blackstar LT-ECHO 10
The LT-ECHO 10 is a simple amp with a great sound. Blackstar proves you don't have to over-complicate things to make a powerful guitar amp.
When I got my Blackstar Fly mini amp a little while back, I thought it would great if Blackstar made a more powerful, plug-in version of beginners. Well, this is it. The LT-ECHO 10 is a 10-watt amp with a pair of 3-inch speakers and super-simple controls. You have a volume knob, an ISF EQ control, and a delay effect along with a switch to kick in the overdrive channel, a line-out jack, and a headphone jack. As a beginner, you really don’t need anything more complicated than this.
Your First Guitar Amp
As cool as these little amps are, they only have a fraction of the features you’ll find in their larger, more powerful big brothers. But, they are more than enough for a newbie to get started on, and they meet and exceed the criteria I outlined in the beginning as what to look for in a good starter amp: They sound good, they are flexible with good overdrive, multiple channels, solid EQ sections and some even have built-in effects.
They each also satisfy the last point in my criteria for a good starter amp, that they should serve well as a practice amp long after you have moved on to a much larger and more powerful main guitar amp. Choosing an amp that will stick with you for a long while makes sense financially.
What to Look for in a Beginner Amp
- Good clean and distortion sounds
- A smart EQ layout to shape your tone.
- Enough power. At least 10 watts is a good ballpark.
- Quality. Once you’ve moved to a better main amplifier, you can still use your first amp for practice.
Part of your journey as a newbie guitarist will include discovering what tones you like and don’t like, and that’s hard to do with a cheap amp that only produces one generic sound.
How Much Should You Spend on a Beginner Amp?
I always recommend a budget of around $300 for a starter guitar and amp setup, and one-third of that should go toward the amp. That means around $200 for a quality beginner electric guitar, and a budget of $100 to spend on your first guitar amp.
You can't go wrong with any of the amps listed in this review. However, depending on what kind of music you expect you want to play, you may gravitate more to one than the other.
- Blues, country, jazz, and classic rock enthusiasts may prefer the Fender.
- Classic hard rock fans will love the Marshall.
- Metal and hard rock wannabes might do best with the Peavey.
Good luck choosing the best beginner guitar amp for your $100 budget.
Vote for the Best Guitar Amp for Beginners!
Guitar Amps for Serious Beginners
Most newbie guitarists want a small amp that sounds good but doesn’t cost too much. The amps listed above are that and more. However, there are some guitar players who mean business from the beginning and won’t want to waste time on small beginner amps when they have the resources and ambition to grab an intermediate or pro-level amp. If you know you are going to stick with playing guitar, and if you can justify it in your budget, that’s not a bad idea.
If you want to skip the starter gear and jump right to a larger, more powerful amp here are a few articles that will point you in the right direction:
- These are larger, louder guitar amps for serious beginners who want something a step above the typical starter amp. They aren’t big enough for use in a rock band, but if you want a lightweight amp for jamming with friends they are solid choices.
- Here are some powerful amps that have what it takes for jamming with a band or performing onstage. They are not the typical beginner amps, but if you are serious about learning guitar you may wish to skip right to the good stuff.
- Thinking of starting out with a half stack? Don’t let anyone call you crazy. Adult beginners, in particular, may wish to live their dream of rock stardom with a huge amp. The coolest part is, they are all very affordable for serious beginners.
JA on July 08, 2020:
Best thing about this little amp is not its' 6.5 inch speaker or massive sounding 10 watts, or even its' transtube technology emulating 12ax7 tubes.
Best thing for me, is that it has a tape/cd input that is PERFECT for plugging in my favorite multifx pedals (zoom g1 four at the moment) without coloring the tone. Using normal effects in the input jack is fine, but for amp modeling or amp sims, it sounds best though the tape/cd input jack which just happens to be 1/4 connection as oppposed to the 1/8 found in many other amps at this price range.
Hands down, the best mini amp out there. It works great with my portable power bank and I couldn't be happier.