The author is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
Portable Guitar Amps
If you love to play the guitar, but can’t stand being tethered to an electrical outlet, a portable, battery-powered guitar amp might be just the thing to satisfy your wanderlust.
While there are a lot of great-sounding, featured-packed small amps out there, most of them require access to an external power source. They can’t help you much if you want to play somewhere there is no power outlet.
In the past guitar players had to make do with an acoustic, but times are changing, and some of the incredible features you've seen in big amps are now finding their way into battery-powered mini amps. And, many of these amps sound just as good as their plugged-in brothers.
If you’re searching for the best portable guitar amp this review should be able to help you out. These amplifiers are perfect for camping, playing around town or just practicing in a secluded place where nobody will bug you. And, they’re made by some of the best names in the guitar amp industry. They might be small, but they pack great value when it comes to tone, usefulness and just plain fun.
Here’s a look a some of the top portable guitar amps out there. They each run on batteries but can make use of an AC adapter as well. Most have onboard effects, and all are lightweight and easy to tote around town. With many, you can even run a line out to a PA system or recording device if you are so inclined.
On to the gear!
Blackstar Fly 3
My top recommendation is the Blackstar Fly. This mini monster has been my go-to portable guitar amp for over a year. It sounds fantastic, and while at only three watts it is less powerful than other amps in this article is sounds just as big.
There are controls for Gain, Volume, EQ, Delay and Delay Level. There is also an OD switch, which makes the Fly operate almost like a 2-channel amp. The design is simple, but the sound is really impressive.
The choice of including a delay effect is a little strange for an amp this size, but realize that there is an optional extension speaker available for the Fly.
The Fly is the amp I grab when I feel like plugging an electric guitar, but would rather play on the back deck or somewhere there is no power outlet. I included this amp in my list of top mini guitar amps, and wrote a full review of the Blackstar Fly as well.
More on the Blackstar Fly
Peavey Nano Vypyr
The Peavey Nano Vyper gets second place on my list of portable guitar maps. Peavey’s Vypyr amps have achieved tremendous success in the past few years since they arrived on the scene. The Nano Vypyr is the littlest Vypyr, but doesn’t fall short on any of the award-winning attributes that make the bigger Vypyrs so impressive.
I really like Peavey amps, and I really like this little Vypyer. In fact, I like it so much I went out and bought one.This little beast is quite a bit more complex than my Blackstar Fly. It features eleven analog amp models, a global 3-band EQ, 10 different effects for a total of 35 different effects combinations, a chromatic tuner, mic input with dedicated volume control, Aux in, headphone/line out jack, expression pedal input, and a cool kickback design. It also has an eight-inch speaker, which is impressive in such a small amp.
The Nano Vypyr has perhaps the most intuitive and easiest to use top panel of any of the larger amps in this review, and the three band EQ is a nice option for dialing in precise tones. It’s also worth noting that Peavey prefers analog distortion using their patented TransTube technology instead of digital. To my ear, this just sounds better.
Roland Micro Cube GX
The Roland Micro Cube has been around for a long time and gets some serious kudos from the tone obsessed out there. This little dynamo has a five-inch speaker in a rugged casing, complete with a handle on top so you can grab it and run.
It features eight amp models and an array of digital effects, as well as a chromatic tuner. It might sound complex, but it’s all controlled via six simple knobs and a couple of switches mounted atop the amp.
On the rear panel you’ve got an auxiliary input and a headphones jack/line out, as well as an AC power supply jack. Though you may never need the power supply: Roland boasts an impressive 25 hours of battery life for the Micro Cube GX. There's also the i-Cube Link, which lets you connect the GX to your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch.
It’s tough to go wrong with the classic Roland Micro Cube GX if you’re looking for the best mini guitar amp.
Guitar World Checks Reviews the Micro Cube GX
Line 6 Micro Spider
Line 6 has long been the kings of digital modeling amps, and almost had the throne to themselves before brands like Peavey and Fender started elbowing their way in. But the Line 6 Spider series is still a very viable option for players looking for modeling amp flexibility and awesome digital effects.
The Micro Spider is one of my favorite portable amps, and may be a breath of fresh air for anyone thinking the larger Spider amps are just too confusing. With a total of five amp models, a three-band EQ and six effects laid out in a very intuitive way even the post technophobic can find their way around the Micro Spider with ease. But don’t worry: Spider online is still available to Micro users.
Other features include a 6.5 inch speaker, six watts of power, mic input with dedicated trim, POD-style direct out, aux in, headphone jack and five user-programmable channels.
Line 6 still get it done when it comes to modeling technology, even on a micro scale.
There is no way to do a review of battery-powered guitar amps and not mention the classic that started it all. It doesn’t have digital effects or hook up to your computer. In fact, it only has one knob. It’s got 5 watts of power coming through a 5-inch speaker and runs on AA batteries or an optional AC adapter.
There isn’t much else to say about the Pignose, except that an amp that has stood the test time through all the technology that has come and gone must be doing something right. Maybe it’s the cool look, or the simplicity, or the unique tone (which can be altered by opening the case to different degrees). Who knows?
It’s a classic little amp, and if everything else above seems a little too advanced, a little too gimmicky, or just plain complicated the Pignose might be your ticket.
Fender Mustang Mini
The Fender Mustang modeling amps have exploded in popularity since their release a few years back. From the little 20-watt Mustang I all the way up to the Mustang V head, guitarists love the sound and versatility of the Fender Mustang series. Fender even gave us a mini, battery-powered version of these great amps, though it is no longer on the market. Still, if you look around a little, you may be able to find a great deal on a gently used Mustang Mini.
With seven watts of power coming through a 6.5-inch speaker the Mustang Mini gives you that epic Fender sound in a bite-sized, portable chunk. Features include eight amp models, a chromatic tuner, 24 presets, headphones jack, Aux in, and a USB port for accessing Fender’s FUSE system. This little amp even has a jack for an optional one-button footswitch!
Admittedly, the Mustang Mini is a bit more complicated than what many players might want in a portable amp, but if you’re already a fan of the Mustang series, or modeling amps in general, this little amp might be right up your alley.
Hear the Mustang Mini
Which Portable Guitar Amp is Best for You?
So which of these amps is the best choice? Obviously that’s something you’ll have to determine on your own! If you want a bigger amp, my choice of the lot is the Peavey for three reasons:
- It’s super-easy to use
- I prefer analog distortion over digital
- It has the biggest speaker
But you might have other criteria that are more important to you.
The simplest choice is the Blackstar Fly. It sounds fantastic, with minimal knob twisting, and it doesn't take up much space.
The Fender and Line 6 both have really impressive options available if you’re interested in patching into the PC. That’s really cool, and opens up a lot of possibilities for new sounds.
The Pignose, of course, is the essence of simplicity. It’s been a favorite for decades, and certainly isn’t going to fail now.
The Roland Micro Cube has pretty much become a classic itself. It’s been around long enough to have weathered the test of time, and many players absolutely love it.
But check them all out and decide for yourself. You can’t go wrong with any of the amps listed here. Good luck in your search for the best portable mini guitar amp!
Which Portable Amp?
Guitar Gopher (author) on August 14, 2015:
Hi Martin: From what I can gather you are not alone in this issue. I have never had this problem with a Marshall amp (that I can remember) but I have had similar issues with other high-gain amps. In my case it did not seem to pose a threat to the speaker but you might want to visit a local Marshall dealer and show them what is happening. I'm sure they know a little about it. Good luck. That amp sounds awesome. Sorry you're having trouble.
Martin on August 14, 2015:
So I have just bought brand new DSL5C. I like its tone quite much, even at bedroom levels, it responses nicely to my playing, so I think that I made good decision :)
The only issue I have is really singnificant popping sound when switching from Ultra Gain channel (overdrive) to Classic Gain channel (clean), not the opposite way. Popping is only smallish, if the guitar strings are not ringing (you stop playing and mute strings before switching the channel). But once you want to switch channel seamlessly without stopping to play, quick "pop" is there and quite loud, making me feel like the speaker could not stand it, if happened too often :(
This behaviour is the same, whether you switch by footswitch or "manually" on the front panel.
Have you encountered any similar problem with any of amps, please? Any advise here would be helpful.
Thank you again
Guitar Gopher (author) on July 29, 2015:
Your welcome Martin, and once again best of luck with your new (or current) amp!
Martin on July 29, 2015:
Thank you for your quick reply. Even though the final decision will still remain up to myself, your opinion is really valuable for me.
And yes - I intend just to "expand" with this little tube Marshall, not to get rid of my MG30FX at all, as I love it. I like also its built-in effects, but use them quite seldom (good example of use is intro to "Ain´t talkin´´bout love", etc. :) ) , mostly I enjoy just pure overdriven sounds (but definitely not those "ultra" hi-gain compressed sounds with scooped mids :) )
Thanks for your opinion once again and sorry for posting right here, where it is actually somehow a bit "out of topic" :)
Guitar Gopher (author) on July 28, 2015:
Hi Martin. If you are looking for someone to talk you out of buying a new tube amp I'm sure not the guy! :-) Seriously, I think it comes down to what you want out of your amp. In my mind, there is certainly nothing wrong with having a tube amp just for jamming in your flat. Heck, there is nothing wrong with having a Marshall stack for jamming in you flat, as long as the neighbors don't have you tossed out.
I think the DSL5C is a smart choice. You'll get that sweet Marshally tube tone at some reasonable volume levels. Will it be an improvement sound-wise over your MG30? Yes. Yes it will. However, you have to factor in the whole picture. Do you want to deal with tube maintenance and potential repairs, or do you want an amp with minimal hassle? Do you like the on-board effects that come on the MG30?
Like you said, it's an individual decision. Of course if you hang on to the MG30 too you can have the best of both worlds. Good luck!
Martin on July 28, 2015:
I want to ask you for your advise. Do you think that just for home use (I mean flat) it is worth to upgrade from solid state into tube? Of course, I am speaking about not more than 10 inch speakers, even this sounds quite huge and loud for such small space.
I have got Marshall MG30FX, am really satisfied with its sound (clean as well as overdriven sounds), but I am considering buying Marshall DSL5C. Do you think that this could be improvement for my "bedroom" use or would this be just a waste of money for such use?
I know that this might be quite individual, so what I am interested in, is your own opinion.
Thanks a lot
Guitar Gopher (author) on September 22, 2014:
Hi Martin. Definitely nothing wrong with that little Marshall. I agree about the analog distortion and I like the MG series in general. They're easy to use and sound great.
Martin on September 22, 2014:
I would include small Marshall MG2FX (or its newer brother MG2CFX) into your comparison. Or do you think that it is not worth mentioning? Also VOX mini3 (or its newer variations) produce nice warm sounds in my opinion.
BTW - I agree with you about Peavey Nano Vypyr - it is great portable battery amp, probably the best of these. It is probably also the most expensive one.
On the other hand - Fender Mustang mini rocks in the possibility of using of footswitch - this is pure advantage over the others.
What I love about Line 6 Micro Spider is ability to store the presets, which is where it beats some of the others. Someone might like its tone, someone not - it depends.
Still I would definitely include little Marshall for its lovely clean channel as well as dirty overdriven analogue rock and metal sounds and pretty digital effects.