Best Guitar Combo Amps under $400
By: The Gear Dude | Date: 26th June 2020
Boss Katana MK2 5050 Watt 1 x 12" Guitar Combo Amp
The Boss Katana 50 MKII is a current iteration to the highly popular line of modeling amps. Looking at the amps right away you will notice that there is not a digital menu, only a stripped-down single set of knobs. Boss has done this in order to make it simpler to edit and shape your sound. To explain further, you can preset two sounds into the amp using the tone setting buttons on the right of the panel. Once you pick a sound that you like press the button down and it will save into the desired slot which you can recall by pressing the button. If you want to work on a new sound press down the black button which says panel and then you have full control of the amplifier from the knobs on the panel. Looking further into the dials on the right you will notice that the Boss Katana 50 MKII has a dial labeled power control. The Idea of this is that you can turn the internal power amp down from 50 watts to 25 watts to 0.5 watts. Where this becomes useful is when you want to play at a lower volume level but still have the tone of a cranked-up amp even at whisper quiet volumes.
The Boss Katana 50 MKII has five instantly recognizable voices to build your sound upon. Clean Crunch and lead will cover most of the sonic spectrum you may want to achieve. The two other sounds, Brown and Acoustic are welcome additions. Brown is a sound taken from the BOSS Waza amplifier which emulates the high gain full shred tones of ‘80s electric guitar. The Acoustic is a clean unaltered signal path which allows you to plug in an acoustic electric guitar and amplify it with the pure clean tones of an acoustic amp. The control panel gives you access to five different types of effects to use which are each adjustable with a control dial. If you want to get the absolute most you can from this amp however simply plug the USB out into your computer and a whole new world will present itself. The Boss Tone Studio software that is included with the amp immediately gives you access to 60 of the most timeless BOSS effect pedals which you can load into the amplifier for instant access. In addition to this you can save your created tones to your computer for safe keeping as well as download tones created by your favorite artists.
In addition to all the mentioned features the Boss Katana 50 MKII also has an auxiliary input as well as a headphone jack which doubles as a cabinet simulated headphone output. It’s hard pressed to find a guitar amplifier that offers more great tones and simple controls than the Katana 50 MKII, I recommend this amp to any player from the very basic beginner to the seasoned professional.
Fender Mustang LT2525 Watt 1 x 8" Guitar Combo Amp
When you hear the name Fender Mustang you don’t typically think of a guitar amp, usually what comes to mind is a short scale electric guitar, the Fender Mustang LT25 stands to change that. Calling this amp feature packed would be an understatement and it’s hard to find something the LT25 won’t do. The nuts and bolts of this amp is that is a 25-watt combo amp with a Fender special designed 8-inch speaker housed in a wooden cabinet which helps warm up the tone. You will also find that it has an auxiliary input, and a built-in chromatic tuner as well as a headphone output for playing silently.
The Fender Mustang LT25 is from the Mustang family of amplifiers and as such it also features 20-amp types and 25 effects which you can use to create your own sound. Chosen amp models include excellent simulations of Fender Twin Reverb and Princeton amps all the way to selections such as a Marshall JCM800, Orange OR120, Vox AC30 and beyond. The amp in addition to 30 preset tones loaded into the amp offers you the ability to save multiple tones that you create as well. All of the data can be easily accessed through the menus on the amps 1.8” color display which is very well thought out and easy to understand. The display is a welcome addition on this amp. It’s clear that the color choices of the display and the user interface were very well thought out. In this price range which can largely be marketed towards beginner players we found this display to be very intuitive. The only drawback is that all of the controls are done with a single knob (push to edit) located to the right of the screen. The amp also has a USB input on it as well for updating the firmware. You can also use this to plug into your computer and record the amp as a hardware audio interface with your favorite DAW.
In short Fender hit it out of the park with the Mustang LT25. It fills a gap in their product line of a simple modeling amp without an overwhelming number of bells and whistles. We find its tones to be quite inspiring and should make any player looking for a small guitar amp quite pleased with their choice.
Orange Crush 35RT35 Watt 1 x 10" Guitar Combo Amp
Many of the guitar amplifiers on the market today are feature packed digital devices capable of modeling everything under the sun and that’s not always what every player wants. The English designed Orange Crush 35RT aims to fill that void. Right out the gate orange shows their attention to detail in the construction of the cabinet. The Orange Crush 35RT is made from the same birch plywood as they use in all of their high-end amplifiers. The Orange uses their 4-stage solid state preamp to give you a very highly responsive overdrive and saturation which is not commonly found in many solid-state amps. Also, the clean channel is quite rich and full sounding. The amp does have an optional reverb you can dial in as well to add a dimension to your sound.
The headphone output is enhanced and features the Orange CabSim technology. This is designed to emulate the sound of a 4x12 cabinet so when you need to practice quietly the amp still can give you a huge tone. Orange also thought ahead, while not adding in lots of effects they did put in a fully buffered effects loop should you want to use any time based, modulation or boost effects with your amp. Below the controls you will find a chromatic tuner.
Players that are looking for an authentic British tone in an affordable and lightweight package should definitely consider the Orange Crush 35RT. This amp really stands out from the pack as its limited feature set all functions really well. Plus, the Iconic Orange Tolex makes it a visual statement, you can also order it in black if you’d rather.
Fender Champion 2020 Watt 1 x 8" Guitar Combo Amp
Fender guitar amplifiers have been relied upon by musicians as long as electric guitars have existed. Afterall, Leo Fender did create the first production electric guitar. Historically speaking back in the day when you bought a guitar it came in a set with a case, cable, and a small amplifier called a champion. Fender has always kept this model alive as an entry level amplifier series and now the current edition is called the Fender Champion 20. At first glance it has a very tradition look and style with a gray and silver grill cloth and classic back Tolex design. It has a 20-watt power section making it great for a small practice amp or songwriting session.
The Fender Champion 20 control layout is very simple, the amp has one channel with four selectable voices. These voices in the Champion 20 range from vintage fender clean tones all the way to vintage crunch and high gain heavy metal and back again. You will also find that it has an effects section as well which includes reverb, delay, echo, chorus, tremolo and vibrato. These all can be controlled with the tap tempo button right next to the dial. The Champion 20 also features an auxiliary input and a headphone jack as well.
Players looking for an easy amp with lots of models should definitely consider the Fender Champion 20. We feel that a huge amount of technology within this amp has been incorporated in such a way that even the most beginner of player can find an inspiring electric guitar tone.
Marshall Code 5050 Watt 1 x 12" Guitar Combo Amp
Every guitar player if they could would play through a wall of Marshall amplifiers, and if they haven’t, they should! We all know that there are few things as recognizable as a Marshall amplifier in the music world but how do they perform as a smaller combo amp? Marshall has hit the nail right on the head with their new combo amp line, enter the Marshall Code 50. With a 50-watt power section and a 12-inch speaker the Marshall Code 50 is a solid entry in the world of modeling amps. This amp features 12 preamp models, 4 power amp models and 8 different speaker emulations all from classic Marshall amplifiers in addition to 24 digital effects. Some of the amp models Marshall has included come from their highly popular JTM45, Bluesbreaker, Plexi, JCM800, JVM, and our personal favorite Silver Jubilee. There are also an American Clean and overdrive option as well as an Acoustic simulator. The Marshall models are where this amp really shines. It’s interesting to see how Marshall focused primarily on what they do best rather than trying to create a blanket of other manufacturers tones.
The Marshall Code 50 has one very unique feature, it has an app which you can use to shape your tones, edit presets, and stream music through the amp to jam along with. This app, called Gateway, also gives you access to a massive library of globally sourced user presets which you can download as well as upload to your own personal amp. As well as the mentioned features the Gateway app gives you a very deep and simple to operate method to control the amps settings. For example, we really enjoyed being able to quickly change between the presence and resonance control of the power amp rather than have to dig through a menu on the amps screen. It’s clear that the full sonic potential of this amp can be accessed through the Gateway app. You will also find a headphone jack as well as an auxiliary input to connect a media player too the amp as well.
Line 6 Spider V 20 MKII20 Watt 1 x 8" Guitar Combo Amp
The Spider series which now in its fifth generation is widely recognized as the most popular and longest running series of modeling amps. For decades the Spider has been seen in beginner guitar kits and stacked up in mountains at big box music retailers. Generations of guitar players have begun their musical odyssey with different iterations of this amp which is now entering its current incarnation. Enter the Line 6 Spider V 20 MKII.
Right out the gate looking at this amp Line 6 has made some welcome changes. In addition to being 20 watts compared to the previous 15 of its predecessors they’ve changed the speaker and also added a high frequency driver. How does this benefit you as a player? Well the Spider V 20 MKII will also function as an acoustic guitar amp as well as a bass amp. Also having a full range speaker system within a guitar amp means that if you want to play audio, either through the auxiliary input or by connecting to the amp via its USB connection the music you play through the amp will sound rich and full. You also have the ability to disable the full range speakers and run just a guitar speaker in the new Classic Speaker Mode. You will also find that the amp includes an onboard tuner for added convenience.
Let’s talk about amp models. Line 6 has tailored the models within the Line 6 Spider V 20 MKII has once again refined the onboard 200+ models with new compression qualities and EQ curves to ensure the amp is as dialed in as it possibly can be right out of the box. They have also revised the effects section of the amp. Abandoning the traditional dial and blinking light we have become accustomed to seeing, Line 6 has opted for three buttons on the face of the amp which look like small stomp boxes. Simply click the one you want to add or edit, and its corresponding color determines the type of effect you are adding and then adjust its parameters with the knob below on the face of the amp.
While the Spider V 20 MKII may look simple at first glance the true power of this multipurpose amplifier can be unlocked by using the Spider V remote app. The only bummer is that you have to be plugged into the amp via the USB connection to use it. However once connected you’re able to add new presets and dial in your sound with ease. We found it extremely easy to get into the smallest inner workings of the tones and make the exact sounds we wanted. The USB connection also doubled as an audio interface so you can record directly from the amp without additional hardware.
The Line 6 Spider V 20 MKII is a welcome addition to the spider family of amps. We believe that if you are a beginning guitar player you will find it as an inspirational and easy to operate tool that will be with you as you develop for years to come. As a professional it’s a very powerful multifunction tool which suits just about any need you could want from an amplifier.
Vox VT20X20 Watt 1 x 8" Guitar Combo Amp
Modeling amps get a bad rep for being cold and sterile sounding, solid state amps as well. Therefore, the best way to get past that is to do what Vox has done, add a tube to it! Their Valvetronix line of modeling amps has been a staple for years and years as being the first modeling amp to feature an actual tube in the preamp section of the amp in what they call their True Tube Circuitry. When you sit down to play this amp you feel the nuances and dynamics that you would expect from a tube amp. In addition to this the Vox VT20X features 11-amp models and 13 classic stomp box effects.
When the VT20X was introduced Vox designed and employed VET (Virtual Elements Technology) which they used in the process of creating these models to analyze every amplifier down to the component level. This benefits you because you get an incredibly true to life reproduction of each model’s dynamic qualities and tonal characteristics. Also, to go one step further the amp has the ability to dial between a Class A and Class AB power section with the turn of a dial. This allows you to wildly change the dynamic response of the tube and will reflect sonically in the way the amp reacts to your playing. For example, on a Class A amp if you play harder the amp breaks up, where as an AB amp will not. The Vox VT20X also has a powerful DSP effects section. Boasting 13 onboard effects there should be no sound you are unable to achieve.
Since at Gear Dude we are a big fan of in-depth control in our equipment it’s to no surprise that we really enjoy the Vox Tone Room software. This software when you pair it with the Vox VT20X gives you access to 20 incredibly realistic models of some of the most realistic amplifiers around. In fact, you gain such enormous editing power through using the Tone Room software that people have compared it to building an instrument.
Were big fans of the Vox VT20x. Its control panel is simple and easy to navigate offering you easy access to two presets and a simple way to take immediate control of all of the knobs on the amp should inspiration strike. Beginner players will find this amp to be a great sounding amp to start with and pros will love its rich tube tone.
Bugera V5 Infinium5 Watt 1 x 8" Guitar Tube Combo Amp
Not everyone is going to want to have an amp with countless digital effects and presets built into it. Many want simplicity, a few knobs to dial in your tone, maybe a little reverb to? If this sounds like you, we strongly encourage you to look at the Bugera V5 Infinium. To say this amp is simple it really an understatement, the amp has four controls on it. There is a gain knob which you use to determine how much you want the amp to break up. This goes from glassy smooth cleans all the way to big thick crunch. Next to that is a tone control, this replaces the traditional 3 band equalizer seen on most amps. Then you have a volume control, used to crank the amp up loud as well as push the tube power section. Lastly you find a reverb control. The Bugera V5 Infinium is truly simple but it packs vintage tone for days in a pint size portable package.
Now most tube amps as you may or not be familiar with sound better at higher volumes, which normally would make it difficult to use for a quiet practice amp. However, the Bugera V5 Infinium has an extremely handy power amp control on the rear panel. You can flip this amp down from 5 watts, to 1 watt, and all the way down to 0.1 watt. Should you need to practice in silence there is also a headphone jack. On the rear panel next to the headphone jack is the Infinium tube monitoring system. This is used to not only extend the life of the tubes but also to let you know if there should be a fault ant you need to replace one. Should this happen an assigned LED will illuminate letting you know where the issue is. Typically, when this happens the amp will likely also make bad noises or stop working. Since EL84 amps do not require a bias job to be done upon replacing the tubes user maintenance is quite simple.
The Bugera V5 Infinium is an excellent addition to the world of small practice amps. We like the fact that it is a small tube combo amp with a headphone jack but the wattage selector really knocks this one out of the park. Any beginner should look to this amp as an undaunting amp that’s easy to get a good tone out of. Professional players will also enjoy this because you can get tube tone at home w/minimal to no volume.
Fender Super Champ X215 Watt 1 x 10" Guitar Combo Amp
Hybrid amps are becoming more and more popular as the technology improves and becomes more affordable. Fender has put the pedal to the metal with the Super Champ X2 and we couldn’t be more thrilled to review it. The Fender Super Champ X2 is a low wattage tube combo amp that has 16 selectable digital voicings built in as well as 15 digital effects. Being an all tube amp, it lacks some of the memory capabilities of most of the amps we have mentioned in the earlier bits of this article but makes up for that with its killer tone. The amp flat out sounds great, it has two channels, one clean and the second has the voicing switch. The effects work on both.
To go deeper into the amps onboard 16 voices, they have taken tones from a generous spread of different amps. You will find Fender tweed tones as well as the iconic Blackface amp all the way to high gain modern tones. While you can’t save the sounds into the amp it’s very easy to recall tones as you simply just turn the dial to the intended voice. The effects section is very lush and quite versatile, you will find that a simple twist of the effect dial changes the type of effect while you can control the blend through a dedicated adjust knob. There is also a tap tempo for time-based effects. The Fender Super Champ X2 also features a very low latency USB output which can be used to record in your favorite DAW. The USB outputs speaker emulation is very realistic and makes tracking guitar a breeze.
The real beauty of the Fender Super Champ X2 is that at its core the Amplifier is an all tube analog tone machine and the voicings and effects feed into it. We believe that in the realm of small practice amps this is one of the best choices you can make. Many beginners like this amp for its ease of use and great tone. Intermediate players and professionals will love this amp for its fat tube tone and voicing versatility.