Best Guitar Amps for Blues and Rock
Top Blues Amps
If you are trying to find the perfect guitar amp for blues you have a lot of information to sort through. Guitar players are cryptic enough about giving advice on amps and tone, but when it comes to the blues things reach an almost mythical status.
You'll get a lot of recommendations based on the rigs of famous guitarists who seemed to conjure up tones nobody has heard before or since. You'll hear other players recommending boutique gear that will cost more than your car.
Neither of those answers are wrong, but this isn’t going to be yet another blues amp article recommending a Fender Twin or expensive hand-wired amplifiers. Here we’re going to look at blues amps for working guitarists.
I’ve set a few criteria. First, since most us are on a budget, these amps are affordable. I’ve defined this to mean if you walk into a guitar shop with $1000 you should be able to walk out with one of these amps plus a lot of change.
Second, I’m looking for moderately powered tube amps. Amps in the 30-60 watt range hit that sweet spot when cranked up a bit, and manage that smooth bluesy overdrive at more sensible volume ranges than 100-watt tube amps.
Finally, I’ve chosen amps that are portable. You can throw one of these guys in the back of your car along with your Strat and have everything you need to head off to a gig.
Musicians on a budget who need to cop a wide array of sounds from blues to rock to metal to country may prefer a high-quality digital modeling amp for gigs. But, if blues is your thing, I think you’ll like the amps in this review.
Fender Hot Rod Deluxe
The Fender Hot Rod Series gets my top spot when it comes to affordable blues amps that also get the job done in rock music. There are a few difference sizes and power ratings available. The littlest of the group, the Blues Junior, is an inexpensive combo amp with awesome tone, but at only 15 watts I don't quite feel like it has the power for most band situations.
The Hot Rod DeVille is a powerful 60-watt combo, and a great choice if you play in very loud bands. It’s available in either a 4x10 or 2x12 setup.
Somewhere between the two you find the Hot Rod Deluxe, a 40-watt 1x12 combo perfect for blues. It’s powerful enough for band rehearsal, but you’ll need to crank it up to be heard, and that gets those tubes cooking.
In addition to the crystal-clear sounds you expect from a Fender amp, and the bluesy crunch, the Hot Rod is also capable of some hard rock sounds via the “More Drive” function. It’s also has on-board spring reverb, which is nice.
A few years back I was using the 2x12 version of the Hot Rod Deville as my main blues amp. I eventually traded it in and switched to the Deluxe. My reasoning mostly concerned being able to crank my amp harder for better tube saturation. Plus, I knew the Deluxe was still plenty loud enough, and I could stack it onto an extension cab if need be.
That was my decision. If you think you'll have the opportunity to crank up the 60-watt DeVille it may be the better choice for you.
Hear the Hot Rod Deluxe
Peavey Classic 30
I love Peavey gear, and I make no secret of this in my posts. While I’ve mostly played high-gain Peavey amps in my career as a guitarist, I’ve always really liked the sound of the Classic 30. Like the Fender Hot Rod Series, this is an amp with some killer blues tone, but also a little rock edginess. Some guitarists will swear it beats the Fender Hot Rods when it comes to tone, and I can't argue with that.
It always surprised me that it didn’t have more of a following compared to similar amps from other brands.Maybe it’s one of the best kept secrets in the guitar world!
The Classic 30 is a 1x12, 30-watt tube combo. It’s made in the USA, which is nothing to take for granted, because many amps in this price range are not. Peavey gear is always high quality, powerful and durable, and the Classic 30 is no different. I also like the tweed covering, which makes it look pretty classy.
The Classic 30 features dual channels with boost, three-band EQ and reverb. The jacks for the effects loop are located on the top panel for easy access, which is a nice feature.
Thirty watts ought to be plenty for most band situations, but if you feel like you need more power there’s the Peavey Classic 50, the 30’s big brother.
Learn More About the Peavey Classic 30
Marshall amps are among the best in the world, and of course they are going to be in the conversation whenever you talk about the top guitar amps for blues, rock or anything else. Hendrix played through a Marshall, so did Clapton and SRV.
If we’re going to stick to the criteria listed above there is no sense trying to recommend anything close to what those guys used. But Marshall does offer the DSL40C, a great straight-up rock amp capable of some tasty Marshall-esque blues sounds. At 40 watts you’ll get the buttery tube saturation we’re looking for at rehearsal and stage volumes, and since it is a 1x12 combo it is plenty portable.
The DSL comes with a little bonus, and that is the rock part of equation. You can dial the overdrive back for classic blues tones, and the DSL40C will sound great. But if you want some extra bite and grit, if classic rock is your thing, or if you’re just plain feeling mean you have some hard-rock overdrive at your fingertips when you want it.
If you are a home hobby player you may also want to check out some of the other amps in the Marshall DSL Series. The DSL15 is a lower-wattage version of the DSL40 that captures that sweet Marshall overdrive without cracking the foundation of your house or bringing the cops around.
Check out the DSL40C
Blackstar HT Club 40
The Blackstar HT40 is an amp with a lot of gain in the tank. At 40 watts this 1x12 combo has the guts for rock music or blues, and the high gain needed for metal.
Now is probably the time to get into one of my pet theories on great overdrive tone. See, I think there is something you might call overdrive headroom, and the more of you have the better. I first noticed this with my Peavey 5150 amps (now the 6505 series) years ago.
The basic idea is that the more available distortion you have the richer your amp will sound, even if you don’t plan to use it. I noticed that amps where you have to dime the overdrive knob tend to sound more brittle than those where you only needed to turn the overdrive to about half or so.
You also know you won’t have to invest in a distortion pedal to push this amp into the thick overdrive you want for blues.
The HT Club 40 features two channels and four modes, along with their patented ISF control that provides, according to Blackstar, infinite sound possibilities. That’s pretty good, I think. The take home message is that you can mold this amp and the 3-band EQ to get exactly the sounds you want. It’s a very innovative design.
Blackstar amps are becoming known for their great heavier rock tones, but in this case we have a portable, flexible amp that offers outstanding sounds for blues and rock.
The Blackstar HT Club 40 has the sounds needed for blues, along with some high-gain capabilities for metal and hard rock.
Hear the Blackstar HT Club 40
Which Amp for Rock and Blues?
So how do you decide which if these amps are right for you? Well, that’s up to you to figure out, but I can tell you what I think.
From a pure blues perspective, I’d seriously consider the Peavey Classic 30. It’s made in America, and sounds fantastic. Plus it’s a Peavey, so you know it can take the abuse of the road it will keep on working night after night.
If I want an amp capable of nailing some classic rock tones, and maybe a little AC/DC-ish crunch, I’ll choose between the Hot Rod and the Marshall. They both have that sweet bluesy overdrive tone with some extra oomph. They also have very different voicings, so it’s up to you whether you prefer the glassy Fender thing or the growly Marshall thing.
If I really want some high-gain headroom, I’m choosing the Blackstar. If you play blues you may never need the full gain capabilities of this amp, but, as I said above, I like knowing it’s there.
So, that's what I'd do. The question is: What will you do? Good lucking choosing the best guitar amp for blues, rock, metal and whatever else you plan to do with it!