The greatest guitarists of all time made their marks not only because of their incredible skill on the instrument but also for their epic tones. When it comes to tone, the most important variable is the guitarists themselves.
Hendrix sounded so good, not because of some magical combination of gear, but because he was Jimi Hendrix. Still, gear plays a part, and no piece of equipment influences a guitarist’s sound more than the amplifier.
Every guitar amp has its own character. Unlike guitars, which hold an almost spiritual significance for musicians and fans, amplifiers are more like tools. They do a certain job in a certain way, and the challenge for a guitar player is to find the right tool for the job.
What makes an amp one of the best of all time?
I tried to steer away from boutique amps and niche gear and focus on amps most guitarists are familiar with. The amps on this list have set themselves apart based on a few different factors.
- Usage by famous guitarists on significant recordings
- Popularity among amateur and hobby musicians
- Dominance in their specific genre
- Historic importance during and after their production run
- These are regarded as some of the all-time best guitar amps for tone and sound, but that should go without saying.
Consider this article a general listing of the greatest guitar amps of all time, in no particular order. Later on, you will have a chance to vote for your favorite.
1. Marshall 1959 Super Lead
Today, 100-watt tube heads sitting atop 4x12 speaker cabinets are standard in the guitar world. This is where it all started. The Marshall 1959 Super Lead first appeared in 1965, famously created at the behest of Pete Townshend of the Who.
Over the next decade and a half the amp, which gained the nickname “Plexi” because of panels that appeared to be made of Plexiglas, found its way to the end of the signal chain for countless rock guitarists. Today, it is widely regarded as the greatest rock amp of all time, but of course, that is a matter of opinion.
The JCM 800 replaced the Super Lead in 1981, which then carved its own spot into music history during the metal heyday of the 1980s. But the legendary Marshall stack that endures to this day owes its legacy to the classic Plexi.
Famous Marshall Plexi Players
- Eddie Van Halen
- Jimi Hendrix
- Pete Townshend
- Angus Young
- Yngwie Malmsteen
2. Fender Twin
If Marshall is the King of the Stack, I think it is fair to call Fender King of the Combo Amp. The Twin debuted in 1952, a 2x12 combo to go with Fender’s newly released solid-body electric guitar, the Telecaster. Over the decades, it has been tweaked, improved, altered, and updated. Today, the Fender Twin remains among the most iconic guitar amps in history.
Guitarists flock to the Twin for its loud, clean tones. There have been many variations over the years, but the Twin is an all-time classic.
You’ll find the Fender Twin in its many iterations in Fender’s lineup to this day. While there are many Fender combos worth noting, to me the Twin stands above them all.
Famous Fender Twin Players
- Eric Clapton
- Keith Richards
- Jerry Garcia
- Joe Bonamassa
- Eric Johnson
3. Vox AC30
The guitar world celebrates the British overdrive made famous by Marshall, but just as significant is the Vox tone. Starting in the 1960s and continuing to this day, Vox guitar amps have played an important role in sculpting the sound of rock.
The AC30 hit the scene in the late ‘50s and soon found its way into the setups of some of the most influential rock guitarists of the time. Early versions featured a single twelve-inch speaker, but it eventually morphed into the 2x12 version we know today.
It’s not a stack, and it is not a 100-watt tube monster, but the warm, buttery overdrive, and deep character of the AC30 has cemented its place as one of the greatest guitar amps of all time.
Notable Vox AC30 Players
- Brian May
- The Edge
- John Lennon
- George Harrison
- Joe Walsh
4. Fender Bassman
Fender developed the Bassman as a bass amp, as you may have guessed. The bass guitar was a new thing in the early 1950s, and Fender needed to come up with an amp to go with their invention.
Adding the first dedicated bass amp to the lineup helped musicians understand the point of the electric bass guitar a little better. Remember, a bassist, at this point, was someone who played upright bass.
It didn’t take long for guitar players to figure out that the Bassman worked as an awesome guitar amp as well, due to its deep, loud sound. Fender began to market to guitarists and bassists alike, and the rest is history.
As usual, Fender proved itself a leader in the industry with the Bassman. Just as the Fender Stratocaster led to the creation of the Gibson SG, the Bassman inspired the first Marshall guitar amp. Without the Bassman, we could speculate that rock may be very different today.
Famous Fender Bassman Players
- Eric Clapton
- Stevie Ray Vaughan
- John Fogerty
- Mike McReady
- Brian Setzer
5. Peavey 5150
When it comes to gear, few guitar players have been under the microscope as much as Eddie Van Halen. Because of his otherworldly tone, and his reputation as a tinkerer, guitarists have long suspected something was up with the Marshall amp he used on early recordings.
Maybe or maybe not, but he set the guitar world on its ear in 1992 when he put aside his Marshall and collaborated with Peavey to build his own signature amplifier. (In reality, he did not completely neglect the Marshall sound, but that is another story.)
The result was the Peavey 5150, a 120-watt monster, and one of the greatest rock guitar amps of all time, but also something more. While the 5150 served Eddie and other rock guitarists well, it became a weapon of choice for the metal community. The American high-gain sound it brought to the table changed metal forever.
Famous Peavey 5150 Users
- Eddie Van Halen
- Michael Amott
- Bill Steer
- Dino Cazares
- Jerry Cantrell
6. Roland JC-120 Jazz Chorus
Despite its name, this amp’s not specific to jazz. In fact, if you’ve heard pristine clean guitar tones in a song, there is a good chance it was recorded with a Roland JC-120. Rock, metal, country, blues, punk—the JC-120 has found its way into just about every genre you can name.
The clean tones are where it is at with this amp, and that is what makes it a staple in the recording studio. With a solid-state 120 watts, two channels, and onboard effects, it is a versatile amplifier for the stage as well.
But more than that, the JC-120 is the perfect unadulterated blank slate on which to pile overdrive, distortion pedals, or more effects. This amp may not be the first many guitarists think of when naming classic amps, but its history and track record make it one of the best guitar amps of all time.
Roland JC-120 Players
- Andy Summers
- Robert Smith
- Billy Duffy
- Joe Perry
- Matt Bellamy
7. Mesa/Boogie Duel Rectifier
The Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier played a big role in shaping the sound of metal starting in the 1990s. It is a high-gain beast with a thick, tight tone, and it shifted the balance of power in the guitar world. Suddenly, territory previously claimed by Marshall had a new challenger, and modern metal players flocked to the Mesa sound.
Years later, it remains a classic in the metal community. The Duel Rectifier and Triple Rectifier have found their way into the hands of classic metal bands as well. Most significantly, Metallica incorporated the high-gain Duel Rec sound alongside their Marshalls.
Mesa/Boogie makes a lot of great amps, but no amp since the Marshall Plexi changed rock as much as the Duel Rec.
Guitarists Who Have Used the Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier
- James Hetfield
- Kirk Hammett
- Mark Tremonti
- John Petrucci
- Dan Donegan
8. Marshall JCM 800
The successor of the 1959 Super Lead, the JCM 800, ruled the ‘80s rock and metal world. More gain, more channels, and the addition of a master volume gave guitarists better control of their sound. The JCM 800 played a major role in the golden age of metal. In fact, the list of hard rock and metal guitarists who didn’t use the JCM 800 back then is likely much shorter than those who did.
Marshall replaced the JCM 800 with the JCM 900 in the 1990s, but many guitarists took issue with the solid-state components of the new version, which only made the 800 that much more desirable.
As of this writing, the JCM 800 2203 is available as part of Marshall’s Vintage Reissue series. Guitar amplification has come a long way since the ‘80s, and modern Marshalls come with many bells and whistles, but it is hard to beat a classic.
Famous Marshall JCM 800 Players
- Zakk Wylde
- Kerry King
- Tom Morello
- Dave Mustaine
9. Soldano SLO-100
First appearing in 1987, the Soldano SLO-100 is an American-made high-gain amp that played a major role in the evolution of rock guitar. It is one of the most revered amps of all time, and it changed what musicians should expect from a high-gain amp. In fact, Eddie Van Halen switched to a Soldano briefly before collaborating with Peavey, which led to the creation of the 5150.
Along with the Peavey 5150, the SLO-100 inspired the Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier, and these three American amps gave Marshall a run for its money. The Peavey 5150 became the 6505 when Van Halen parted ways with Peavey. He formed his own company, taking the 5150 name with him, which is today one of the best rock amp brands out there. The Duel Rectifier lineup expanded to the Triple Rectifier and beyond.
Would any of these amps have existed with the SLO-100? Maybe or maybe not, but it is easy to see the impact this great amplifier had on rock music.
Soldano SLO-100 Players
- Eddie Van Halen
- Gary Moore
- Mick Mars
- George Lynch
- Nuno Bettencourt
10. Marshall JTM45
Finally, we get to the Marshall that started it all. This list admittedly features a lot of Marshall and Fender, but I think that is warranted. The JTM45 was Marshall’s first amp, and it is impossible to understate its role in music history. Some may argue it deserves the first spot on any list of the greatest guitar amps of all time. The JTM45 and its successors launched the amp brand that became synonymous with rock guitar.
The JTM45 first appeared in 1963, inspired by the success of the Fender Bassman. First as a combo and later in head format, it quickly became a favorite of British guitarists looking for an alternative to American Fenders.
While eventually overshadowed by the 100-watt 1959 Super Lead, the JTM45 occupies a beloved place in guitar lore. Indeed, even today it is a favorite for many guitar players and is available as of this writing in reissue form.
Historic Marshall JTM45 Players
- Eric Clapton
- Jimi Hendrix
- Pete Townshend
- Peter Green
- John Entwistle (bass)
More of the Greatest Guitar Amps of All Time
Here are 10 more amps to round out our list:
11. Hiwatt DR103
Hiwatt, along with Marshall and Vox, was a key player in establishing the British rock sound. Their flagship at the time was the DR103, which challenged the Marshall Plexi for dominance as a 100-watt head. Hiwatt is still around today, as is the legendary DR103 Custom.
12. The Pignose
The legendary Pignose battery-powered amp is one of the classic oddities of the guitar world. First introduced in the late ‘60s, it has persevered because of its portability, versatility, and surprising sound. It is without a doubt one of the coolest little guitar amps ever made. For that reason, it belongs on this list.
13. Randall RG100ES
This is the amp that Dimebag Darrell of Pantera brought to battle. He’d later switch to other Randalls, and then to Krank amplifiers, but the solid-state, high-gain sound of the RG100 served as the benchmark for one of the most recognizable tones in metal.
14. Peavey 6505
The Peavey 6505 is the continuation of the Peavey 5150 series. When Van Halen and Peavey parted ways, he took the 5150 moniker with him, leading to the rebranding of the amp. In the nearly 20 years since the 6505 has made an indelible mark in the metal world
15. Mesa/Boogie Mark Five
The Mark Five is the latest version of classic Mesa/Boogie Mark series amplifiers. Like the Duel Rec, it is capable of high-gain madness, but it is a more versatile beast with multiple voicings and an onboard graphic EQ. For over a decade, it has been a favorite of rock and metal guitarists.
16. Orange Rockerverb
Orange is a guitar amp brand with a storied history, and it has been through a lot since its formation back in the late 1960s. Today, the Rockerverb is the tube flagship of their lineup, harkening back to early classics like the OR120.
17. Line 6 Spider
Line 6 is a brand synonymous with modeling technology, and it is hard to imagine a better representative of the modeling amp that the Line 6 Spider. These days, most major amp brands have some sort of modeling amp in their lineup, but Line 6 was the forerunner of it all.
18. Fender Blues Junior
While technically part of the Fender Hot Rod Series, the little Blues Junior has earned a spot in guitar lore all its own. This little combo earned its place because of its amazing tone and sweet overdrive and proves that bigger isn’t always better
19. Peavey Bandit
That’s right. The Peavey Bandit has been around forever. It is a solid-state workhorse, a rite of passage, and more than good enough for gigging. A million years from today, when we humans are long gone from this planet, the Peavey Bandit will still be here.
20. Orange Tiny Terror
Today, every amps brand seems to shrink down their amps to mini size, but the Tiny Terror was one that was also one of the first “lunchbox” amps. It first appeared in 2006, but unfortunately, this little classic is no longer in production. However, it gave rise to a bunch of Terror-themed amps in the current Orange lineup.
Top 20 Guitar Amps of All Time – Ranked
I'll probably change my mind every time I look at this list, but consider this my best attempt at ranking of best guitar amps of all time.
- Marshall 1959 Super Lead
- Marshall JTM45
- Fender Bassman
- Vox AC30
- Marshall JCM 800
- Fender Twin
- Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier
- Roland JC-120 Jazz Chorus
- Soldano SLO 100
- Peavey 5150
- Hiwatt DR103
- Mesa/Boogie Mark Five
- Peavey 6505
- Orange Rockerverb
- Fender Blues Junior
- Line 6 Spider
- Peavey Bandit
- The Pignose
- Randall RG100ES
- Orange Tiny Terror
What Is the Best Guitar Amp of All Time?
My vote goes to the Marshall 1959 Super Lead as the top guitar amp of all time, with the JTM 45 a close second. For decades, countless guitarists of every genre and ability have looked to Marshall amps for their signature British roar, and these amps started it all.
But I can’t end this article without also emphasizing the important role Fender played in shaping rock music. The Bassman was the inspiration for the first Marshall, and Fender has created some of the most iconic guitar amps of all time.
Neither of those may be your favorite guitar amps, and that’s fine. They aren’t necessarily mine either. But without them, the rock world might be a very different place.
So, what is your favorite guitar amp? Vote in the poll below and make yourself heard!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.