5 Best Guitar Amps Under $300
Amps Under 300 Dollars
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 you could use it to jam with your buddies as well. And, it would be a bonus 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 some of your top choices and get some advice on which amp might be 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.
Honestly, if all I wanted was a practice amp I’d probably be looking at something small and inexpensive, and there are some great amps under the $100 mark. These are solid choices, but you can do better at this price range. And you should expect an amp with more power, and more features.
For the purposes of this review I’m looking at options that meet three specific criteria:
- It must have enough power for a band situation. Your little practice amp was fine for your bedroom, but moving up to a better amp should mean you can take it out of the house and jam with a drummer 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!
Line 6 Spider V 60
When it comes to modeling amps, the Line 6 Spider V 60 is at the top of my list. At 60 watts and with a 10-inch speaker plus a tweeter it should serve you well in many band situations. This power rating is right around what I consider the lower limit for solid-state amps when it comes to playing in a band, 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 might consider one of the bigger Spider models.
The Spider V 60 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 V 60.
There is a lot of stuff here. The V 60 features more than 200 effects, amps and cabs for a massive range of sounds. There is also a USB interface with free recording software included.
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.
The Line 6 Spider V Series Features
If the Line 6 above makes 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 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 shared three-band EQ with the addition of a presence control to shape your sound, and on-board spring reverb as well.
If you find you need more power in a live situation, the RG80 includes a speaker-emulated XLR direct out. Run it to the house PA or mixing board and you don’t have to worry about mic’ing your amp.
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.
And, 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. It also doesn’t hurt that it comes in around $50 short of your $300 budget, making it one of the most affordable amps in this review.
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.
Altogether, 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.
Peavey Vypyr VIP 3
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 3 in my list was pretty much a no-brainer.
The VIP 3 has 100 watts of power, making it the most powerful in this review. It has a single 12-inch speaker. Like the Spider 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.
All of this this lands the VIP 3 somewhere between the two amps listed above: It has more basic controls than the Line 6, but it is still a modeling amp. And it has solid-state distortion like the RG80. 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 3.
The controls incorporate Peavey’s WYSIWYG interface, meaning easy changes can be made to tones and effects with the turn of a knob. Other features include 10 instrument models, 12 stompbox models, 36 on-board amp models, 6 bass amp models, 6 acoustic amp models and 26 total on-board accessible effects.
And one more thing: The VIP 3, 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.
Guitar World Looks at the Peavey Vypyr VIP 3
Two New Amps
Here are a couple more amps to consider. They didn’t make my top three for a couple of reasons. Firstly, they don’t really have the power to be functional in a band situation. But, if you play at home or in a not-so-loud band they might be perfect of you.
Secondly, they are somewhat new. On one hand, I’m pretty excited about them. Because they are made by some brands I know and trust, I’m pretty confident they are going to go on to become well-appreciated amps in the intermediate category. But, since they are still new, and feature a few innovative ideas I’m not sure I’m crazy about yet, I just can’t recommend them as strongly as those amps listed above.
Marshall Code 50
The Code 50 is a modeling amp. It’s not just new on the scene, but a new idea for Marshall altogether. 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.
The Marshall Code Series
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’m kind of sorry to see them go. But, according to Fender, this is an upgrade, and if that’s true these amps are going to be something amazing. Like I said with the Marshall, go play one and find out what you think.
The Fender Mustang GT Series
Choose Your Amp
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.
Which amp would I get? I’d go with the Peavey Vypyr VIP 3. It has the most power of any amp in this article, and it has Peavey solid-state distortion which I really like. It’s also pretty easy to use, even though there is a massive array of sounds at your fingertips. It’s useful in a home practice situation, and it is useful in a band situation.
But that’s me. If you want something simpler, go with the Randall. Plug in your guitar, turn some knobs and off you go. It has enough power for a band, and metalheads in particular will appreciate the distortion sounds.
If you are going to record with your computer and you generally like the tech side of modeling amps, the Line 6 has the edge here. They continue to lead the pack when it comes to modeling technology, and especially interfacing with computers. And, as I said before, I really like Line 6 distortion compared to other digital distortions out there.
All that said, I’m keeping a close eye on the Marshall Code series and the new Fender Mustangs. I expect the new Mustangs to be fantastic, just like the old ones. The Marshall Codes are a dark horse of sorts. They may end up being legendary, or Marshall might decide their other amps are so darned good they won’t bother kicking around the modeling amp world anymore. We’ll see.
Good luck finding the best guitar amp under $300, and I hope this article gave you some food for thought.