Being a guitar player poses its challenges. One of the most nutritious ones being that we like noise! We like to play loud. We like to feel the walls shake and the floor vibrate as we crank up the volume to 11. Why is it so satisfying to play loudly though? It’s because you just feel the power and tone that much more, to the point you feel like you’re playing on a stage in front of thousands of people. And it’s not just some kind of illusion or placebo, humans’ perception of frequencies actually changes as sound pressure levels increase. As they do increase, our perception becomes flatter and more balanced.
There you have it, now you have an actual legitimate excuse to argue your case for playing loudly. Sadly though, it’s not always possible to play as loud as you want to. You may disturb your parents, partner, or neighbours. Let’s face it, not everyone appreciates a distorted guitar being blasted at 2am in the morning. So, what’s the solution? Practice amps of course. Practice amps are perfect because they’re designed to be small, compact, yet still pack a punch at lower volumes. But what are the best practice amps for guitar? In this article I’ll cover some of the best options in 2021, priced from low to high. Regardless of your budget, I’m sure you’ll find what you’re looking for in this list.
Blackstar ID Core 10 V3
Blackstar are a British company created by a bunch of guys who used to work for Marshall. Ever since the start of their company they have gained a substantial following because they simply make superb amplifiers. I own one of their large valve amps and I love it. My Blackstar Artisan delivers exceptionally tone and volume.
The Blackstar ID Core 10 V3 isn’t a valve amp, but don’t let that put you off. This is the cheapest practice amp on the list yet brilliant value for money. It features plenty of tonal possibilities with the option of switching between six channels, ranging from clean, crunchy, and overdriven, plus a selection of twelve different effects. These include modulation effects, reverbs, and delays.
On top of the standard tonal options, you get access to Blackstar’s Architect software which allows you to explore a library of amps, cabinets, and effects. There’s even a ‘randomise’ button for when you’re feeling bored or uninspired. You can also turn the ID Core 10 V3 into an audio interface via the USB port, giving you a convenient recording setup at your fingertips. Not sure what an audio interface ease, check out my full guide.
Overall, this is a well-rounded practice amp for an excellent price. No matter if you’re a beginner or professional, this amp will be a helpful ally that should serve you well.
Line 6 Spider V 60 MKII
When Line 6 first came on to the scene, they were well ahead of the game in terms of modelling. Over the years they’ve released electric guitars, amplifiers, and pedals all focussed on modelling superior products, all within perfectly affordable prices. They were innovators back then and still are today. The Spider series has been long running and we now have model number 5, mark II, available in different sizes and powers.
So, what’s new? With the 60-watt version you get a 10-inch speaker and tweeter, over 200 amps, amps, and effects to choose from, plus 128 presets varying from modern to classic sounds. You also get an inbuilt metronome, loop pedal, and am/drum tracks to improvise over. It’s packed with a tonne of tonal options for its price point and they sound superb. It’s also robustly built; the overall feel is sturdy and well-made and it has a sleek and modern look about it.
I would say that it lacks modelling software compared to others on this list, so this could be seen as a disadvantage. It’s a personal thing though. Some people don’t like fidgeting around with software and an amp to get a decent sound. Many, like myself, prefer the physical touch of interacting with buttons, knobs, and dials. However, it is hard to deny the immense amount if options you get with modelling software. This brings us nicely to the next practice amp.
Positive Grid Spark
This practice amplifier really blew up last year. So much so, that the demand exceeded the supply. Thousands of customers were left waiting for weeks/months, as Positive Grid kept running out of stock with over 25,000 perorder sales! What’s all the hype about then? The Positive Grid Spark is truly the current king of software modelling. With Positive Grid’s software which you can use on your phone, iPad, or tablet, you have access to a whopping 10,000 tones.
The options are endless. Think of a tone, amp, cabinet, or effect, and this little amp has it. The sounds are extremely realistic and accurate. There are a huge range of presets modelling certain bands or guitar players, which will keep you entertained for hours. It also models acoustic guitar and bass tones; it really is versatile. The app is very intuitive and easy to use, it’s as simple as selecting from the presets, or building your own via drag and drop.
It looks good too, with its classy leather carrying strap, black/gold knob, casing, and grill combo. Giving it a sense of elegance. The amp can also be used as an audio interface and you get extra features such as smart jam, auto chords. It can even be voice activated. Does it live up to the hype then? Absolutely. It’s hard to find fault with this amp. If you don’t mind mostly using an app via your phone, iPad, or tablet, then it’s really a no brainer in terms of tonal diversity.
Boss Katana Air
What’s unique about the Boss Katana Air is that it was the first wireless amplifier. It may seem like a novelty, but not having to worry about a cable really gives you a sense of freedom. Plus, the amp can be battery powered, so you also don’t need a power adapter. Your whole set up can be free from cables. They have gone one step further to make it even more effortless to use, because the amp even detects (via the plugin wireless receiver) when you pick up your guitar switches itself on. How cool is that?
Ok, so far, maybe these just sound like gimmicks, but how about the sound quality? It’s no secret that Boss have been one of the most pioneering guitar companies for decades in terms of tone. Their pedals are sturdy as bricks and deliver a staggering range of tones and effects. The Boss Katana Air certainly lives up to the company’s expectation. It features access to over 50 classic Boss pedals, five unique amp characters, and six onboard memory slots, so you can save and load custom presets.
On top of all that, like others in the list, this amp comes with extra software. Boss’s Tone Studio Air gives you access to more effects and amps from a huge library at your fingertips. You won’t be short of tonal options with this amp. The amp is well built, very compact, and it’s Bluetooth ready. This is great if you want to connect your phone to the speaker to play music to jam along to. It is a little pricier than others on the list, but it’s certainly worth the investment if convenience and practically it a priority for you.
It’s true the Boss Katana Air was the first wireless amplifier on the market, but it’s no longer the only one. Yamaha decided to create the THR30II. It’s marketed as a desktop amp, due to its shape and compact size. Similar to the Boss Katana, it features Bluetooth, it can be battery powered via an inbuilt battery, and it operates with a wireless receiver that plugs into your guitar. So, you get that ultimate hassle free, convenient user experience.
It features 15 guitar amplifiers and 8 effects, ranging from shimmering clean tones, to bluesy and rocky overdriven tones. It can also work as audio interface, features line outputs, and comes with the Cubase AI and LE DAW. What also stands out about this practice amp is the design. It’s built in a yellow metal casing on the top and front, giving it a superior and high-end look and feel. It’s really solidly constructed, yet it ‘small size makes it easy to transport. Plus, it has LED inbuilt behind the grill to light it up at night.
Yamaha do also have their own app for the THR30II, but it does not have as many options as either the Boss Katana or Spark Positive Grid. The tones do sound superb though, so if you’re more of a minimalist player then this won’t really bother you. It’s also a very easy to navigate amp that’s been well thought out and the voicing of the amp sounds much more natural, like a real amp. It comes in different sizes, so if you have a smaller budget go for the smallest, if you can splash out more, get the THR10II.
Now You Can Play with Tonal Confidence
Now that you have a comprehensive list of the best practice amps for guitar, you know that you can play quiet, whilst sill having superior tone. The biggest thing to consider is if you want to use an app with modelling software. If you want an endless selection of tones, then I’d certainly recommend it. However, if you just want to keep things simple, more like a real amp, then there is no need. If you do want to dabble with modelling software, then some of the options above have both. So, any of them could be a great compromise. Regardless of which you choose, I’m sure any of the options of above won’t let you down. We’re lucky that modelling has come such a long way over the past couple of decades. Never before have guitarists had it so good in terms of gear and value for money.
Which amp from the list picks your fancy? Let me know in the comments.