Choosing between a tube and solid-state amp is something that many new and seasoned guitar players face every day. The interesting thing is that after all is said and done, each has its own merit under certain conditions, and that’s why my list of the best clean guitar amps on the market feature models of both types.
8 Best Clean Guitar Amps for Your Money
Table of Contents
- 8 Best Clean Guitar Amps for Your Money
- Tube vs. Solid State
- Do You Need a Lot of Tone Shaping?
- Realistic Expectations
- Nice to Have Features
Known primarily for its clean channel sound, the JC-120 is an excellent solid-state model. The amp features reverb and chorus, as well as a vibrato effect. It’s also sporting a classic 80’s look, which goes hand-in-hand with the tone.
With this amp, you get two channels with separate three-band EQs, as well as controls for depth, speed, and mode selection. It’s worth pointing out that reverb is only available on the distortion channel.
The main highlight of the amp is the stereo output. Seeing as how it has two 12” speakers, the overall output, note definition, and even depth of any effects you might use with it will be more than convincing.
I recommend this for rehearsal studios and even live playing, given that it has more than sufficient wattage.
If you’re looking for something smaller but with a high-quality clean sound, then the Bugera V5 Infinium might be worth your attention. It’s a 5W amp that won’t raise the roof. It’s ideal for practicing and also features a vintage preamp for some extra crunch.
The control panel is as simple as it gets. It comes with volume, gain, tone, and reverb controls. That’s more than enough for playing clean as well as getting a bit of an extra edge. That said, don’t expect anything beyond the classic 80's crunch.
One of the best things about this amp is the fact that it’s an affordable tube model. Of course, it doesn’t pack a lot of power, but practicing on a tube amp at home is rare these days.
This one’s a solid practice amp with plenty of on-stage and recording potential. The Fender Blues Junior IV features a single speaker and only 15wattsof output. That means that it’s not only easy to put a mic in front of it but that it’s also easy to control the volume and maintain tonal clarity.
The clean channel, and only channel, performs well. The amp itself is rather simplistic and all about the tone. You’ll find a standard three-band EQ, a master volume and reverb knobs to add some nuance to your playing.
I like that the Junior IV also features a preamp gain boost. You can activate it from the footswitch and add quite a bit of a kick to your sound. In terms of style, the amp has a retro vibe thanks to its aged grille cloth.
It’s also worth noting that the new Celestion speaker does a great job of eliminating muddy sounds. It has a rich yet balanced tonal profile with a bit of an emphasis on the midrange presence.
This reissue is a convincing reproduction of the classic Fender Twin Reverb amp. The tone is vintage and truly clean. It also packs plenty of power with 85 watts and two C-12K speakers.
One of the most significant advantages of the two speaker configuration is getting additional note separation. At the same time, this will help maintain clarity at higher volume levels and when using effect pedals.
The reverb effect is what one expects of a quality Fender amp. It’s also nice that you can customize it to your liking. The amp also has speed and intensity controls for additional tone shaping and personalization.
You also get a bright switch and two vibrato channels. Whether you want to go old school or put a retro spin on modern styles, this might be the right amp for the job.
The Peavey Classic 30 is a combo amp that hits the sweet-spot for jazz, blues, and rock. It’s one of the few Peaveys that doesn’t cater to hard rock enthusiasts and metalheads. It’s also very well built and can last a very long time, despite being a mid-range model.
The control panel features a reverb knob, volume, bass, treble, and middle controls, as well as pre and post-gain controls. You will also find a boost switch and the I/O switch for your effects loop. In a way, it’s much more versatile than many other clean amps.
But tone-shaping aside, does it stand out? Given that it features four EL84 tubes and three 12AX7 preamp tubes, the Classic 30 puts out an impressively clean sound and plenty of power at just 30 watts. The sound clarity is there, and the single Celestion Midnight 60 speaker does some interesting work in note separation.
I like how the clean channels can cut through the mix with little help. And, the fact that the overdrive channel is convincing is another plus in my book.
Equipped with simple controls but a vintage 70’s tone, the Vox Pathfinder, is a beauty. The beginner-friendly configuration features treble and bass controls, as well as volume and gain.
You can easily switch between the clean and overdrive channels, which is great for soloing on its own. I like the headphone out as it makes the amp convenient for practice duties. Due to the lack of tone shaping and modding options, there’s no need to worry about the amp altering your guitar tone in any way.
The 10W output does an excellent job in some rehearsal and jam sessions too. That’s especially true since the crisp, clean tone can cut through the mix with ease.
What makes the amp even more attractive is the combo line socket. It can act as a headphone out, and it can put out a filtered signal, which means that you can record directly through the amp. Of course, you’ll need an audio interface for that.
7. VHT AV-SP1-6
Here’s one of the most straightforward tube amps you’ll ever run across. With that in mind, don’t underestimate its clarity and output. The amp has one preamp tube and one output tube.
It only features volume and tone controls and a boost switch. So far, so good and very beginner-friendly. But oddly enough, this amp is best suited for seasoned guitar players. That’s because tVHT offers the amp’s schematics online.
That means that the VHT Special 6 is essentially a blank canvas for amp modders. You can customize it to your liking and make it a blues amp, a rock amp, even a small heavy metal amp for that matter.
Its actual tone is very reminiscent of the50’s Fender sound, which is an excellent starting point. And, the fact that you can choose between scooping the mids and boosting the highs makes it even better, in my opinion.
For a small-to-medium amplifier, the Monoprice 611815 packs quite a punch. It features three preamp tubes as well as two EL84 power tubes. It also boasts a Celestion 1215 speaker, which is quite impressive for a 15w amp.
Though the overall output is not window-shattering, the amount of clarity when you crank up the volume makes this a value purchase. The rear-ported design allows for some additional bass definition too and helps eliminate the mud that many similar clean combo amps seem to have in their sound.
This amp also has a low .5% total harmonic distortion. In terms of tone shaping, the amp is simplistic. It has a three-band EQ and controls for tone and reverb. Note that this is a single-channel model, so you’ll only have one gain and one master volume control.
The addition of a line input makes it an excellent choice for practicing and studying. That said, it does lack a headphone out, which means you won’t be able to play in silence or during the night.
Tube vs. Solid State
Let’s get one thing straight. Innovations in solid-state amp technology have allowed them to reproduce impressive clean guitar sounds. More and more manufacturers can replicate tube circuit processes better and better, and give their solid-state amps much more reliable, clean channels.
That said, tube amps are still more responsive. They’re smoother and tend to produce better clean tones.
They also allow more control over the sound when you add pedals and tend to maintain the overall clarity and note separation better. Solid-state amps have their advantages too.
First of all, solid-state amps tend to be cheaper. And, even though this design may not be as loud watt per watt compared to tube amps, they are easier to repair and maintain. Other essential aspects include having access to more amp types, selectable power outputs, tone shaping, and so on.
It’s also worth pointing out that not everyone can tell the difference between tube and solid-state tones. You need a good ear for this, especially if you have high-end amplifiers on both sides.
Do You Need a Lot of Tone Shaping?
In my opinion, no. If you’re looking for clean amplifiers, a simple EQ will do, and you might not even need reverb, chorus, and other built-in effects.
Most guitarists simply add those via effect pedals anyway. But that doesn’t mean that having some extra tone-shaping options on the amp itself doesn’t add more value. Whether for practice purposes or just for jamming, it never hurts to have a more versatile amp that can convincingly represent more than one genre.
And, in the beginning, an amplifier with some tone shaping and modding features might be even better. That’s because choosing between effects pedals can be even more time consuming and costly in the long-run.
If you’re going to play live or record, then a tube amp pretty much becomes a must-have if your shooting for maximum quality. But, if you want something to practice on at home or the studio, then a solid-state amp will do the trick and cost you less.
That said, as you’ve seen in this article, there are some smaller tube amps on the market. Even under the 10-watt output mark, which means you can easily practice and get a high-quality tube sound on a reasonable budget.
But, those amps will be limited in what they can do for the price range. Especially when compared to solid-state models. Furthermore, you should consider the fact that at low volume levels, the differences in sound quality will be less noticeable.
Nice to Have Features
A headphone output will always be a great feature in a practice amp; some might argue mandatory even. Another feature to look for is the presence of the second speaker if you want to play and record in stereo on a single amp.
You could also look into amps with multiple channels and even preset channels if you’re a beginner and don’t know how to configure your tone. Of course, a boost switch or overdrive channel can also come in handy, especially when you lack effects to boost your sound for soloing.
Start Clean and Add Effects Later
It’s always best to start playing guitar as cleanly as possible and introduce effects and tone-shaping later. And, at the same time, if you do plan on using a large pedalboard, go with an amp that can reproduce the cleanest rendition of your guitar tone, first and foremost.
Tube amps, now and in the foreseeable future, will remain the standard when it comes to tonal clarity. But this doesn’t mean that a good solid-state won’t do a good job too, while also saving you a few bucks for new effects and accessories.