I'm a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
If you are a guitar player looking at amps around the $300 mark you are probably expecting something a little better than the typical practice amp. Sure, it has to sound good at bedroom levels, but it would be nice if it had some of the features you see on larger, higher-end amplifiers.
It might sound like a tall order, but there are a few amps out there that make the cut. In this article, you’ll read about your top choices and get advice on which amp is the best option for you.
The problem with sticking to a $300 budget is that you’ll see a wide range of amps intended for different uses. There are small, low-wattage solid-state amps that are mostly just good for practice. Then there are micro-wattage tube amps that sound awesome but aren’t going to get you enough volume to let you jam with a drummer.
How to Choose a Guitar Amp Under $300
For the purposes of this review I’m looking at options that meet three specific criteria:
- It must have enough power. Your little practice amp was fine when you were just starting out, but moving up to a better amp should mean you can take it out of the house and jam with friends if you feel like it.
- It must be a combo. If you spend your whole budget on an amp head you will still need a speaker cabinet. That’s not the point here. You should be able to get everything you need and stay under budget, and that means you’re looking at combo amps.
- It must not be a tube amp. There are a few micro-wattage tube amps on the market in this price range. While they sound good, some really good, they are not going to cut it with a band. If you want a gig-worthy tube combo they are out there, but you’re going to spend more than $300.
So, let’s look at some gear!
1. BOSS Katana-50 Mk II
The BOSS Katana series has exploded in popularity since it first arrived a few years ago, and for good reason. These amps sound amazing and they are packed with the amazing effects that made BOSS a big name in the guitar world.
The Katana-50 is affordable enough to fit into your $300 budget, but it also packs 50 watts of power, making it a step above the typical bedroom amp. You can drag it out for practice with friends and even use it for small gigs. You won’t need to bring any pedals. The Katana has everything you.
This amp made the top of my list for a few reasons. The most obvious is the sound. I am very impressed, and a little surprised, not only by the tube-like distortion but also by the quality of the effects.
Another reason is the simplicity of use. The controls are all right in front of you. There are no crazy wheels to manipulate or tiny screens to squint at.
The third reason is the BOSS tone studio, which can be used to manage and update your sounds.
For bedroom guitarists or players looking for an amp for small gigs, the Katana-50 is tough to beat.
BOSS Katana-50 mk II Features
- 50 Watts
- 12” Speaker
- 5 Amp Types
- 60 BOSS effects (via Tone Studio)
- 3-band EQ
- Headphone jack
I’m not sure modeling amps like the BOSS Katana are for everyone, but I am more convinced of their merits with each passing year. It is tough to unseat Line 6 as kings of the modeling amp world, but BOSS has certainly proven itself a contender.
BOSS Katana Mk II Series
2. Orange Crush 35RT
I will be honest: There is one main reason the Orange Crush 35RT made the second spot on my list, and that is the overdrive. These amps just sound so darned good. No, it doesn’t have the bells and whistles of the Katana above or even the power. But it makes up for with guts and sweet tube-like distortion.
Orange has a legacy that dates back to the early days on rock, and in the 1960s you were almost as likely to see an Orange amp onstage as you were a Marshall. So, don’t count this little amp out. Orange is a legend in the guitar world.
The controls on the 35RT are plain and simple. It’s a straight-up rock amp made to peel the paint off the wall. The level of gain here is very impressive, and I can’t imagine a metal guitarist who would find the overdrive lacking.
Don’t get me wrong, the cleans are very good too, and the amp has a warm character that I think would take pedals well. But, for me, the distortion is what it is all about with the Crush 35RT.
If you play metal and rock you are definitely going to want to give this amp a hard look.
Orange Crush 35RT Features
- 35 Watts
- 10” Speaker
- 3-Band EQ
- Effects Loop
- Headphone jack
The one downside to this little beast is that it is slightly underpowered. You won’t care if you are only playing in your bedroom or basement, but if you are expecting to jam with a drummer you may want to look at one of the bigger amps in the Crush lineup.
3. Line 6 Spider V 30 Mk II
When it comes to modeling amps, the Line 6 Spider series is at the top of my list. At 30 watts and with an 8-inch speaker plus a tweeter the V 30 MkII should serve you well in many situations. This power rating is right around what I consider the lower limit for solid-state amps when it comes to jamming with other musicians, but it really depends on what kind of music you are playing. If you are competing with a heavy-handed drummer or another loud guitar amp you will want to consider one of the bigger Spider models.
The Spider V 30 Mk II is a digital modeling amp, meaning it is capable of a huge array of tones reflecting different types of amplifiers and speakers. If you are the kind of guitar player who needs to be able to recreate a whole bunch of different sounds this amp is a great choice. For example, guitarists in cover bands would benefit from the flexibility of the Spider amps
Line 6 Spider V 30 Features
- 30 Watts
- 8" Speaker plus tweeter
- Over 100 effects models
- 78 Amps
- 24 Cabs
- 4 Mics
- Drum Loop
- USB Interface
In my opinion, Line 6 is not only one of the top amp builders when it comes to modeling technology; they also have some of the best distortion in the business, at least when it comes to non-tube amps.
The downside is they are possibly a little complex for some guitar players. If you like tech, gadgets and computer stuff this is the perfect amp for you. But if you prefer to just plug in, twist some knobs and play you may find the Line 6 modeling amps a bit overwhelming.
4. Peavey Vypyr VIP 2
I’m a big fan of Peavey amps. I own three of them, including an older model Vypyr which I use as a practice amp. So, including the Vypyr VIP 2 on my list was pretty much a no-brainer.
The VIP 2 has 40 watts of power and a single 12-inch speaker. Like the Line 6 and Boss above, it is a modeling amp, allowing the user to recreate many different guitar tones based on well-known amplifiers. It also includes Peavey’s TransTube distortion technology rather than digital distortion, which is a huge plus in my book.
This makes it something like the best of both worlds. If you like all the bells and whistles of a modeling amp, but you get frustrated with complicated menus and interfaces, you might want to consider the Vypyr VIP 2.
The controls incorporate Peavey’s WYSIWYG interface, meaning easy changes can be made to tones and effects with the turn of a knob.
Peavey Vypyr VIP 2 Features
- 40 Watts
- 12" speaker
- 36 Amp models
- Instrument models
- 25 Onboard effects
- USB Interface
- Headphone out
And one more thing: The VIP 2, along with the other VIP models in Peavey’s Vypyr lineup, isn’t just a guitar amp. It’s also a bass amp and an acoustic guitar amp, and as you can see from the features listed above there are different models for each instrument. VIP stands for Variable Instrument Performance.
Is that a good thing? It’s up to you to decide. Personally, with a few bass guitars and acoustic-electric guitars in my collection, I think it is something I’d get a lot of use out of.
5. Randall RG80
If the modeling amps above make you a little nervous with all of that new-fangled technology and whatnot, you’ll probably like the Randall RG80. This is a no-nonsense, straight-up rock guitar amp with plenty of power for gigs and rehearsals. Randall is known for their outstanding solid-state tone, especially among metal players.
The RG80 is an 80-watt, solid-state powerhouse packed in with a single 12-inch speaker. The setup is basic but effective: Two channels, each with their own gain and volume controls. There is a shared three-band EQ with the addition of a presence control to shape your sound, and onboard spring reverb as well.
I think this is the ideal amp for the intermediate guitarist who is looking for their first real amp. It actually makes me think of the Peavey Bandit a bit, which is one of my favorite intermediate-level solid-state amps out there. Of course, the Bandit is quite a bit more expensive than the RG80, but they share many of the same attributes: Simplicity, very good distortion, and plenty of power.
The RG80 gives you the same kind of bang for your buck, with much better sound than the typical starter amp and enough power to lug off to rehearsal with your first band.
If you are looking for a straight-up plug-and-play amp for under $300, look hard at the Randall RG80. Especially if you are a rock or metal player, this amp is a good choice.
Randall RG80 Features
- 80 watts
- 12" speaker
- FX Loop
- Headphone out
- Speaker-emulated XLR out
- Spring reverb
The clean sound here isn’t bad, but I do wish the clean channel had its own EQ section. Not a huge deal, and for the level of player this amp is intended it probably doesn’t matter. The cabinet also seems a little slight for a 1x12, but both of those things would certainly increase the price of the amp.
Here are a couple more amps to consider. They didn’t make my top five, but you certainly check them out.
Marshall Code 50
The Code 50 is a modeling amp. This is a somewhat new idea for Marshall. Previously, the only real foray Marshall had made into the modeling amp world had been the limited effects sections on some of their MG models. Everything I’ve seen and heard so far on the Code serious is pretty impressive, so my best suggestion is to go check one out and decide for yourself.
I really like the Vox Valvetronix series. I have an older model and it sounds very good, so I can recommend checking them out. These are hybrid amps, meaning the incorporate tube as well as solid-state technology. This used to be a hot idea a couple of decades ago, but it seems only Vox has been able to pull off great-sounding amps using a hybrid design.
Fender Mustang GT 40
The Mustang GT 40 is another new one, but Fender Mustang guitar amps are already well-known as quality, affordable modeling amps. I really liked the V.2 series, and I was sorry to see them go. But, this is an upgrade, and these amps are even more amazing. Like I said with the Marshall, go play one and find out what you think.
What Are the Best Guitar Amps Under $300?
So, which amp should you get? I can only give my opinion and point you in the right direction. You have to make the final decision for yourself.
Here is how I would break it down:
- BOSS Katana-50 mk II: This is the best overall guitar amp under $300 in my opinion. It sounds fantastic and has a wide range of useful effects and features.
- Orange Crush 35RT: This amp is best for players looking for a no-nonsense, straight-up rock amp. It doesn't have a lot of features, but it doesn't need them. It sounds fantastic.
- Line 6 Spider 30 mkII: If you are going to record with your computer and you generally like the tech side of modeling amps, I think Line 6 has the edge here. They continue to lead the pack when it comes to modeling technology, and especially interfacing with computers.
- Peavey Vypyr VIP 2: Best amp for multi-instrumentalists. It’s also pretty easy to use for a modeling amp, even though there is a massive array of sounds at your fingertips.
- Randall RG80: It's the most powerful amp in this review. If you play metal and want to play in a band, this amp deserves serious consideration.
But that’s me. Remember, this is all based on my opinions and experiences. It's up to you to do the research and discover what is right for you. As always, be sure to check with the amp companies' websites for the latest information on their gear.
Good luck finding the best guitar amp under $300, and I hope this article gave you some food for thought.