Spending $500 on anything can be a big decision, especially when that money is going towards a new amplifier.
Though it is far from the top price point one could invest in an amplifier, this price range has a lot to offer. There are also a lot of choices to consider.
Nearly every major amp maker out there has an amplifier in this price range.
So, which do you go with?
Maybe you’re looking for a small tube amp to take gigging.
Maybe you are looking for a solid-state amp with modeling to figure out your sound.
Maybe you need a powerful amplifier, but you’re on a limited budget.
Whatever your reason is, I’ve got you covered.
Here are my top 5 choices for a guitar amp under $500.
Snapshot: Best Guitar Amplifiers Under $500
Tubes or Solid State Amps
The subject of tube amps vs solid state amps is worthy of an article itself. For those who don’t know, amplifiers fall into one of two categories regarding how they are powered: tube powered (aka valve amps) or solid state (aka transistor amps). How an amp is powered has an effect on your sound and will affect the way you play.
This distinction becomes especially important between $200 amps, $300 guitar amps and $500 guitar amps, because tube amps are typically more expensive to make. Therefore, the options for quality tube amps start to become limited in this price range. There are still fantastic tube amps available, but they are mostly combo amps with smaller speakers, lower wattage, and fewer features than if you were to jump into the $1,000 guitar amp price range.
Transistor amps, on the other hand, are usually cheaper to make and have come a long way since their inception in the late 1970’s. There are some really great sounding solid state amplifiers out there. The technology has further evolved into what is called “amp modeling”, wherein single units can have “models” or “presets” of dozens, even hundreds of amplifiers digitally recreated within them. Around the $500 range is where these amplifiers start to become real options worth considering.
Whether tube amps or solid-state amps sound better is a subjective debate that we can save for another date. I have used and enjoyed both for different situations. What matters isn’t what you use, but how you’re using it. That is why I have included options for both camps and it is going to be up to you to decide what kind of amp will work best for your playing experience.
I was open to combo amps, as well as head units when compiling this list. For the head unit, just remember that the cost of a cabinet is not included. Without further ado, let’s jump in!
1. Boss Nextone Stage Review
- Professional performance amplifier with authentic Tube Logic tone
- Four analog Class AB power amp circuits, selectable from the panel: 6V6, 6L6, EL84, and EL34
- Streamlined combo design with 40 watts of power and custom 12-inch speaker
The Boss Nextone series is a great place to start, as it creates classic tube sounds using Boss’ (or should I say Roland’s) Tube Logic technology. As a result: a solid-state amplifier that sounds like a tube amp. The Nextone Stage offers four power stages and a voice all of its own for the player that wants to have tonal diversity but prefers the feel and sound of tube amps.
The Nextone Stage is a 40W solid state amplifier housed in a 1×12 combo. What makes this amp so special is that it features four power amp selections across two channels. You have your choice of the four most commonly used power tubes: 6V6, 6L6, EL84, or EL34. These are analog recreations, but don’t let that stop you if you are a tube amp purist. This amp sounds and feels like a real tube amp.
The amp has two channels (clean and lead) with standard and custom mode options. It also has built in delay and reverb effects built in for all of you atmospheric shaping needs. For the technologically inclined folks out there, the Nextone series also has Nextone Editor software for customizing just about every aspect of your amp’s sound you can imagine. This also allows for you to record DI in conjunction with the software. For more features, update to the new Nextone Version 2.
Starting from the left, the “CH Select” button allows you to switch been either the clean or lead channels. There are universal tone and boost buttons as well. The clean channel has an independent volume control, while the lead channel has volume and gain. The 3 band EQ allows for you to shape the tone to your liking, making this compatible with just about any guitar pickup.
The onboard effects are the best that Boss has to offer, including delay and reverb, with tap tempo to match your effects to whatever song you’re playing to. After this is the presence and master volume controls that affect both channels.
The power amp selection is on the far right and allows you to choose which tube type you want to go into the power amp section of the amplifier. This gives you to DNA for every style of amp from small tweeds to large Marshall’s, without directly mimicking them. Then you can choose the final power control to get the exact tone you want at any volume.
The coolest thing to me about this amp is that it isn’t trying to sound like another amplifier. While most amps that have multiple tone shaping options or tube selectors are trying to emulate a specific amp, the Boss Nextone has its own thing going for it. The 4-way power amp selection just gives you ample flexibility in modifying that town to your liking. All the tubes are convincing and sound like the real thing. The built-in effects are of Boss’ high standard. This is an awesome sounding amplifier.
- Type: Combo Solid-state w/ 4 switchable analog power amps
- Power: .5w, 20W, or 40W
- Channels: Clean and Dirty
- Speakers: 1 x12” Custom Nextone G12-100
- Features: DI, Delay/Reverb, Nextone Editor Software
Final Thoughts on the Boss Nextone Stage
My brother owns the Boss Nextone Artist, which is the 80W big brother to this amp. I love how that amp sounds and all of my research on the Nextone Stage shows that it sounds just as good, but at a lower wattage. This is a great middle ground for those who love tube amps but want some individuality and additional tonal flexibility. It’s easy to use and just sounds fantastic. You can’t go wrong with this one.
2. Vox AC10C1 Review
- 10 Watt tube combo offering the classic VOX Top Boost tone
- EL84 power tubes; 12AX7 preamp tubes
- Custom 10" VX10 speaker made by Celestion
If you’re certain that you want the raw growl of a British tube amp, but want it in a compact design, look no further than the Vox AC10C1. As part of their Custom Series, this Vox amp bridges the gap between their 4W and 15W amps, giving an option that is both appropriate for in the studio and on small stages.
The AC10C1 is a 10-watt, 1 x 10” combo amplifier. Its powered by two 12ax7’s going into two EL84’s that are then driven into a 10-inch custom Celestion VX10 speaker. The amp has a single channel that is voiced to sound like the “Top Boost” section of an AC30. In addition to Bass and Treble controls, the amp also has a studio quality reverb built in. This is a simple amp, but what it has to offer is pretty spectacular if you’re looking for vintage tone.
The controls on this amp are straight forward. You have your gain to adjust how much saturation and distortion you want. Followed by a 2 Band EQ to shape your tone. The Reverb knob controls the “versatile depth” and can take you from a subtle echo to far out space tones. Then the volume acts as a master volume control. The right blend of Gain and Volume can allow you to have high gain tones at bedroom levels, or clean tones at loud volumes. Whatever you need, this amp can do it.
Vox amps are known for the chiming high ends and touch sensitivity. This amp delivers that in spades. This is an amp where the most tonal variety can come from your playing and what pickups you select. Cranked up, this amp can sound like a mean machine, with growling low end and sparkling high end to compliment it. This embodies the classic “British” guitar tones of Queen, the Beatles, and Tom Petty super well.
- Type: Combo Tube (2 x EL84)
- Power: 10W
- Channels: Top Boost Voicing
- Speakers: 1 x Celestion VX10
- Features: Reverb
Final Thoughts on the Vox AC10C1
I included this amp on the list because it offers a classic tone that is similar to amps way beyond its price range. You’ve heard this style of amp on countless classic rock records and it can be yours for well under $500. It’s a simple amp but has enough control to it that it’s a great option for someone that wants an interactive tube amp experience.
3. Fender Pro Junior IV Review
- 15 Watts
- Jensen 10" P10R speaker
- Volume circuit modified for more gradual Breakup
I would argue that no other style of amp has more romanticism built around it than the small tweed combo amps from Fender. They are magical little boxes with classic tones and the Fender Pro Junior IV is a fantastic example of this. While it isn’t a classic “Tweed circuit” so to speak (my first amp was an older design Fender Pro Junior with silverface aesthetics), it is still classic Fender.
The newest version of the Fender Pro is a 1×10 combo amp surrounded in lacquered tweed covering with a vintage 50’s style grille cloth and leather handle. It pumps up 15W of sound through a single 10” Jensen P10R speaker and weighs about 20lbs. The chrome control panel has just two controls: Volume and Tone. This is about as simple of an amp build as you can get.
The beauty of this amp lies in its simplicity. “Choice paralysis” is something I’m more than familiar with because I simply have too much gear. Terrible problem to have, right? It’s important to remember that the most important thing is to just play your instrument, and one of the best ways to avoid choice paralysis is with an amp like the Fender Pro Junior IV.
It only has two controls: Volume and Tone. Easy enough, but the satisfaction you get from sweeping these two knobs to the perfect sound is immense.
For being such a simple amp, the tones it is capable of producing can work in a number of applications. Blues, country, jazz, you name it. This amp can fit into countless genres. Like many combo amps this thing needs to breathe a bit, so I suggest turning the volume up around 4 at a minimum, then using your guitar’s volume control to determine how much gain you want. Believe me, this amp can get LOUD. The speaker is small but beautiful. Like I said, there’s something really satisfying about small combo amps. They are tight sounding, sweet, and versatile. Pair this amp with a guitar loaded with humbuckers and you can get what session guitarist Tom Bukova describes as “The Smear”.
- Type: Combo Tube (2 x EL84)
- Power: 15W
- Channels: 1
- Speakers: 1 x 10” Jensen P10R
- Features: Not much. It speaks for itself.
Final Thoughts on the Fender Pro IV
While having a limited, small, simple amp may not work in every application, I still relate to players that crave a simple amplifier. A small, well built, straight forward Fender amp like the Pro Junior IV is the secret weapon in just about every professional guitarist’s arsenal. They just work. I love mine, and I think you will too.
4. Fender Mustang GT100 Review
- New and improved amp Modeling Technology
- WIFI equipped for easy updates, preset exchanges, and connectivity to the Fender TONE app
- Bluetooth streaming and control available from your mobile device
If the Fender Pro IV is just not enough amp for you, but you still love Fender’s lineup of original amp circuits, then the Fender Mustang GT100 is the amp for you. The new line of Mustang amp has gotten “Amazon’s Choice” and garnered plenty of positive reviews from its great sounds and easy to use amp modeling interface.
Even though it looks and sounds like a Fender, this is not your traditional Fender amplifier. This solid-state amp has new and improved amp modeling tech (as a result of Fender’s newest firmware, Mustang 2.0) to give you 17-amp models in one housing. 100 watts makes it plenty loud enough to take on stage, or plenty of studio options for listening on monitors or headphones.
The Mustang GT100 also features a tap tempo delay, reverb, built in overdrives, modulation, and signal flow controllability. This amp practically gives you an entire rig in one combo amp. The amps inside are not just Fender ones as I initially figured would be the case. There are Vox, Marshall, and other amps too. You can check out the full list here.
The Mustang has too much built into it to describe all its parameters here, but there are a few good YouTube demos out there that will show you the ropes.
The amp has the typical controls seen on most traditional amps in the form of knobs. These include Gain, Volume, Treble, Middle, Bass, Reverb, and Master controls. These apply to all amp models inside the Mustang. All other controls, such as presets, signal flow, delays, modulations, etc, are on the righthand side. They are accessible by a set of buttons and a dial that let you navigate the built-in interface. These can also be controlled via Bluetooth using the Tone app.
Having nearly 20 amps all rolled up into one isn’t going to be very useful if they don’t sound good. While version 1.0 of the Mustang firmware had its fair share of complaints from customers, Fender obviously listened up for version 2.0. All of the amp models in this have believable touch sensitivity and pay appropriate tribute to their real-life counterparts. I think some of the models still sound a bit “hi-fi” and digital, so I wouldn’t personally lay this down in the studio, but with some tweaking this would make a great gigging amp.
- Type: Combo Solid State Amp Modeler
- Power: 100W
- Presets: 109
- Speakers: Celestion Special Design G12-FSD
- Features: Bluetooth, 17-amp models, tap tempo delay, tuner, built in effects
Final Thoughts on the Fender Mustang GT100
While I am convinced that there will always be a time/place for tube amps, amp modeling is looking to be the way of the future and Fender just put in a real competitor. While not as expansive as the Helix or Kemper, this is a good entry level amp modeler at a good price. It features everything a gigging musician would need to cover any genre.
5. Line 6 Spider V 240HC
- Now available as the spider V MKII
- Combines with matching spider 412 speaker cabinet to form a bi-amped full-range guitar system, perfect for acoustic and Electric guitars
- Three times as many amp, cab, and effect models as other amps in its class
All of the amps on this list are fantastic and have their ideal uses, but they have their limitations too. What if you aren’t a minimalist, or a tube fanatic, and you want AS MANY tones as digitally possible? The Line 6 Spider V 240HC is the amp for you.
At first glance, the Line 6 Spider V 240HC looks to just be a head unit, but it is a combo as well! Housed inside this head unit is a bi-amped full-range speaker for you to use in conjunction with either your electrics or acoustics. If that isn’t loud enough for you, the head can be paired with Line 6’s 4×12 cabinet (additional cost) or your own cabinet. It also has a built-in wireless system for tangle free use on stage.
Of all the amp modelers out there, the Line 6 Spider V 240HC reigns supreme with over 78 amps and 100 effects to choose from. The updated firmware 2.0 has updated all amps to sound more lifelike. It’s also a fantastic practice tool with built in headphone jack, metronome, and real drummer loops.
Each of the tone knobs are dual function as follows: Drive/Comp, Bass/FX1, Mid/FX2, Treble/FX3, and Volume/Reverb. Choosing an amp or effect is easy with the built-in interface or the spider remote editor app. If messing with controls and dialing in effects isn’t what you’re into, the amp comes with 128 crafted presets based on iconic rigs and classic artist tones. For most, tone tweaking is half the fun and there isn’t an aspect of your tone that can’t be tweaked here. This amp makes it possible to create your own dream rig without spending thousands upon thousands of dollars.
While the Spider amps of old were borderline unplayable, I have to commend Line 6 for listening to their fans and updating the firmware. It doesn’t pack all the features of their top of the line product Helix products, I’m really impressed by the sound quality that comes from this amp. It would be impossible to write about all of the tones in here (lets be real, there’s more than anyone needs) but there is bound to be something in here that fits your niche. The amp models are the most realistic in this price point, making it appropriate for stage or studio use.
Even the full range settings are great for acoustic tones used live.
- Type: Head (w/ built in speakers) solid state amp modeler
- Power: 240W
- Presets: 128 pre-made
- Speakers: built in full range. Connectable to cabinets of any kind.
- Features: Wireless Ready, drummer loops, tuner, over 100 built in effects
Final Thoughts on the Spider V 240HC
If you have watched any of my video demos, I am playing through a Line 6 Helix and I am a huge fan of it. I was extremely pleased to find that Line 6’s Spider family of products features many of the same high-quality amp models and features. When paired with a good cabinet, this is easily the BIGGEST and most versatile sounding amp that you can get for under $500. Even if you can’t afford an extension cab just yet, the fact that the head comes with built in speakers is a really thoughtful added feature. It sounds great, is fun to play through, and works in the studio or on the road. If the head unit isn’t your style, the Spider V 120 combo is also available under $500!
Traditional or Modern Guitar Amplifiers
Whether you are wanting the amp designs of old, or the modern-day marvels of amp modeling, I stand by what I said earlier: it isn’t what you’re using that matters, but how you use it. Every guitar amp under $500 on this list, whether it be tube or transistor powered, is capable of delivering a satisfying and inspiring playing experience. It doesn’t matter how its powered. What matters is how much the amp inspires you to keep playing and how it serves your playing.
Maybe a small 1×12 tube amp gives you the exact tone you want, or it gives you a “set and forget” mentality so you just get straight to playing. Maybe an amp modeler with dozens of amps in it will help you find your sound. They are all options worth exploring.
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Last update on 2020-05-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API