A great guitar amp for classic rock can be hard to find. There are just too many choices, varying specs and price points available today. With that in mind, I'd like to share five of my own personal picks of amps that I have personally tried out and found that work amazingly well with classic rock tones. I also made sure to pick five amps that should appeal to a wide spectrum of classic rock players, with different tastes and budgets in mind.
The natural evolution to the legendary “Plexi” design, the original JCM800 was one of the first Marshall amps to come with a Master Volume. Before the addition of the Master Volume, players had to crank their amps at extremely loud volume levels to get the sought after distorted tones Marshall amps are known for. This meant that the JCM800 was able to deliver that signature grit at much more reasonable levels (although it still had the ability to get plenty loud). As far as features go, it was pretty bare bones: no reverb, no effects loop, and just a single channel. What it lacked in extras, it more than made up in legendary tone. In fact, it was the go-to amp head during the ‘80s and ‘90s, while remaining in prominent use to this day. While the Vintage Series reissue of the JCM800 keeps the design as minimal as the original, it does add a Series FX Loop (although this can be completely bypassed).
Fender Reverb amps are as synonymous with classic clean tones as Marshalls are with distortion. Used by countless artists in multiple genres including classic rock, blues, jazz and more, the Deluxe Reverb is a true benchmark in guitar tone. Compared to Marshall or other classic British amp designs, the Deluxe Reverb features a warmer, rounder sound, thanks in part by Fender's use of 6V6 power tubes. While it can do distortion with the help of a dirt pedal or booster, the Deluxe Reverb naturally excels at clean to mildly overdriven tones. It also featured Fender’s classic tube-driven reverb and tremolo, giving this amp added versatility. A true workhorse amp and timeless classic, you can’t go wrong with a Fender 65 Deluxe Reverb.
Not only does this amp have the tone for classic rock, it has the looks to go along with it! While it might not have as many features and settings as some pricier setups, the Blues JR LTD excels at delivering true vintage tone in an affordable package. The EL84 tubes bring the fat mid tones the while the 12AX7 tube offers lush, warm overdrive. This gives the Blues Junior LTD more of a "British" voicing, as opposed to the 65 Deluxe Reverb and it's prototypical classic Fender "American" sound. And with the Blues Junior LTD's 15-watt power section and a 12" vintage-voiced Jensen C-12-N speaker, there’s enough power for both stage and studio use (although you can always make use of cabs with the external speaker feature). Combining a vintage look and a vintage sound, the Fender Blues Junior LTD combo amplifier was built for classic rock guitarists fully in mind.
While sticking with time-tested old school amp is a reasonable choice when it comes to playing classic rock, there’s nothing wrong with embracing an amplifier that takes full advantage of the advancements in modern amp designs. With that in mind, let me introduce you to the Quilter Labs Mach 2 – a true masterclass of modern amp design that can stand “tone to tone” with legends that classic rock was built on. Combining incredible analog tone with today’s best amp tech, the MicroPro Mach 2 delivers a rich, powerful tone full of gorgeous harmonics and stunning dynamics, perfect for classic rock or blues. And at only 27 lbs., this little combo is very portable friendly. Just don’t let it’s small stature fool you – this amp comes packing plenty of sonic power and can easily cut through other instruments or handle outdoor gigs without the need of extra amplification. I really can’t say enough about how impressive the Quilter Labs MicroPro Mach 2 really is.
It's no secret that the legendary amps of classic rock tend to be tube-driven. It's also no secret that tube amps tend to be expensive. While that might have been the case a few years ago, that's not the case anymore. Coming in at below $400, the Super Champ X2 is a prime example that you don't have to break the bank to get a quality tube guitar. Featuring 15 watts of rich, dual-channel tube amp tone with plenty of modern extras (including digital effects and versatile amp voicings), the Super Champ X2 is more than just an entry-level amplifier. It also comes packing 16 speaker voicings (including several tailor-made for classic rock such as Blackface, British, Tweed, Hot Rod, and more), making the Super Champ X2 a highly flexible combo. And with the Fender FUSE software, you can connect the Super Champ X2 to your computer to custom tailor any amp voice or effect to your taste. With great tone, plenty of versatility and a budget friendly price of $379.99, the Super Champ X2 is a great choice for classic rock players on a tight budget!
There you have it, five of my personal favorite classic rock guitar amps. While there is much more to classic rock than just the amp, any of the five above should give you a solid foundation. If you have any questions regarding the purchase of an amp or any other piece of gear we carry, don't hesitate to chat with one of our friendly PAL pros by using the live chat feature below or by calling us toll-free at 1 877-671-2200!
What are some other great classic rock guitar amps?