I'm a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
Budget Half Stacks
For many guitar players the stack is the ultimate guitar amp. These are the heads and 4x12 cabinets we see in the backlines for our favorite bands, and walls of speakers stacked on either side of the drummer have become the iconic rock-concert backdrop. It may seem like you can never call yourself a real guitarist until you plug into a powerful stack.
Monster full-stack guitar amps evolved at a time when rock guitar was in its infancy. Where a guitar amp had once only needed the power to be heard alongside big-band instruments, with the evolution of rock into a more aggressive style of music guitar players needed big, powerful amps to be heard.
These days, things have come full circle in many ways. You really don’t need a stack to play in a band. At most places where you’ll perform your guitar amp will be mic’d and run through the mixing board and the main PA system. You can use a good combo amp as well as any stack, and it will be a lot easier to carry around.
However, there are reasons you may prefer a 4x12 half stack, not the least of which is that they are just so darn cool. They also move more air than a 1x12 or 2x12 combo, and can therefore seem louder. Many players even feel, due to the different dynamics of a 4x12 cabinet, they typically have better tone.
So, if you feel like a half stack is your best bet for a band situation but you don't have the cash to plunk down on one of the legendary amps out there, what can you do?
Read this article, for starters. Here you'll learn about some of the best budget half-stack guitar amps and 4x12 cabinets available today.
I've chosen three different amps for different types of player, but they all have a few things in common:
- They are affordable, coming in around the $300-$500 range.
- They have the firepower for band and rehearsal situations.
- They are solid-state amps, which means they are typically reliable and can take a little abuse.
Some of them also include on-board effects, making them the total package and everything you’d need for a gig. But I also included a section on the best modeling amp heads.
Paired with the right 4x12 cab you can put together an affordable half stack for under $1000, and in some cases much less. So, let’s check out some amps!
My top pick is the Marshall MG100HGFX. Marshall is among the most respected guitar amp builders in the world, and for good reasons.
- Highlights at a Glance:
- 100 watts
- 4 channels (clean, crunch, OD1, OD2)
- Digital reverb
- Onboard effects including chorus, flanger, vibe and octave
Marshall tube amps and 4x12 speaker cabinets have helped to sculpt the rock landscape for decades, and the Marshall logo over the black background has become a legendary symbol of greatness.
As awesome as Marshall tube stacks are, they are not so wallet-friendly, especially for newbie and intermediate guitarists. Marshall fills the void with the MG Series, a lineup of solid-state guitar amps that capture that Marshall tone while remaining affordable.
The half stack version is the MG100HGFX with a matching Marshall MG412 cabinet. It’s an affordable, powerful 100-watt guitar amp, and it has a stable of onboard effects so you can leave your pedals at home. For guitar players on a budget it is a great way to land a half stack guitar amp for gigs and band practice.
I am a big fan of the Marshall MG Series, but I also recognize their limitations. For many guitar players, one of the main complaints is that the MG100HGFX doesn’t sound enough like a Marshall tube amp. Honestly, if that’s what you are looking for you need to save your pennies and go with the Marshall tube amp.
On the other hand, if you want a loud, reliable amp with good tone and some cool effects, this may be the one for you.
The Marshall MG Gold Series
Orange Crush CR120H
Next on my list is the Orange Crush CR120H. This a powerful amp with some outstanding solid-state distortion. Orange is a big name in rock guitar amps, and the Crush Series is affordable for any level of guitar player.
Highlights at a Glance:
- 120 Watts
- 3-band EQ
- 2 channels
- Onboard reverb
- Effects loop
The Orange Crush CR120H is a based on the popular Orange Rockerverb amp. It has all the power you need to be heard in a band, and with solid-state circuitry you can count on it when it is needed. Reverb can switch between Spring, Hall and Plate settings.
I really like the overdrive you get with Orange solid-state amps. It’s thicker and juicier than the crunch of the Marshall above, but not so over-the-top as the Randall you’ll read about below. The CR120H is a solid choice for metal and hard rock, but also dials back nicely for blues.
I gave the Marshall above the edge because of the onboard effects, but it was close. For many players the Orange is a better choice, particularly if you need more power and some heavier distortion.
The Orange Crush CR120H matches up with the Orange Crush Pro 412 cabinet to make a powerful half stack.
The Orange Crush Pro Series
The Randall RG1003 is a no-nonsense amp with 100 watts of pure Randall attitude and a pair of channels with separate EQs. Throw in some spring reverb and it is all some guitar players will ever want.
This is probably the direction I would go if I were looking for an affordable budget half stack with solid-state technology. Of course whether or not it is the right amp for you depends on if you like the tone or not you, and whether you need more effects and amp models to get the job done in your band. I can’t help you there. All of that is up to you!
The RG1003 can be matched with 4x12 Randall RG cabinet, creating an impressive half stack with amazing power. This is a great way to get a big amp without spending a lot of pennies.
In the minds of many guitar players Randall is the king of the solid-state guitar amps for metal.
Modeling Amp Half Stacks
With a massive array of amp models and available effects, modeling amps give you everything you need in half stack for gigs and rehearsal. Recent years have seen a surge in modeling amps from some of the best amp brands in the world. Here are a few rigs at the top of the heap:
- Line 6 Spider V 240HC: The Line 6 Spider Series are some of the best modeling amps in the business. This is a 240-watt modeling amp with built-in speakers, but you can stack it on top of the Line 6 Spider V 412 to make a killer half stack.
- Marshall Code 100: The Marshall Code Series goes far beyond the MG Series when it comes to effects. You can stack the Code 100 atop the Code 412 cab.
- Blackstar ID150H: I love Blackstar tube amps, as well as my little Fly 3 mini combo. The ID Series is their entry into the modeling amp world, and matches up with the ID Series 4x12 cab.
Which Half Stack is Right for You?
Now that you’ve looked at the amps, a few things are probably clear. In this price range you aren’t going to find amps to rival a Marshall DSL100 or Peavey 6505. In fact, even a good 50-watt tube amp will eat these amps for lunch. But the amps in this article are plenty loud enough for a band situation, and if you are just getting started and don’t have ton of cash to spend they make solid options.
So how do you choose between these affordable half-stacks? Ultimately you'll have to take a hard look at exactly what you think you need in a guitar amp and go from there. All I can do is tell you is what I would do. The rest is up to you!
- If I were looking for an amp for extreme rock and metal I’d be thinking about the Randall. It’s a straight-up tone machine with no bells and whistles to get in your way.
- For an uncomplicated rock or blues amp I’d choose the Marshall. It has some useful effects, but more than anything this amp is about Marshall tone.
- The Orange sits somewhere in the middle. It has thick high gain that's not as extreme as the Randall, but in my opinion quite a bit more musical. It’s versatile and powerful enough for a gig.
If you play in a cover band, or just don't feel like dealing with effects pedals, you might want to consider one of the modeling amp half stacks.
Be sure to check out the manufacturer websites for the latest info on their gear, and remember the advice in this article is all based on my personal opinions and experiences.
Good luck choosing the perfect budget half stack guitar amp!
The Budget Half Stack Poll
Michael James (author) on February 04, 2015:
Thanks Dressage Husband!
Stephen J Parkin from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada on February 03, 2015:
Nice review I had an early Line6 still have it actually but I have blown it as despite being 120/240 Volt it did not like the UK Hertz which are higher than US.
Interesting and useful too.