Bow to the metal messiah!
We get that there are go-to amps that are quintessentially metal such as the JCM800s, Mesa Dual Recs, 5150s, etc. However, though they are great for melting faces on the stage, you’re unlikely to reach the heady heights of overdriven tonal glory with a 100-Watter in the comfort of your bedroom. You may do but it begs the question, “why?”
The list below is not exhaustive by any stretch, but it will guide you through models that we consider ticking the boxes when it comes to shredding at home, with your mates, on the go, in the studio, and on the stage. For the unfamiliar you’re about to find out that just as with wattage, size isn’t everything. You can achieve blistering sonic assaults with an amp that’ll fit in your backpack and weighs less than a bag of sugar. It’s not what you’ve got, it’s how you use it.
So, without further ado.
1. Marshall MS-4 Micro Stack
Kicking off a list about the best metal amps wouldn’t be quite right if we didn’t start with a Marshall, right? However, we bet that you didn’t expect it to be the Marshall MS-4 Micro Stack. Though it may be small enough to stick in your jacket pocket, it kicks out an impressive amount of gain. A built-in stand allows you to tilt-back the stack for improved projection. Play along to your favourite tracks at home or on the go. There’s even a headphone output so you can practise in silence into the wee hours without disturbing anyone. From crisp cleans to saturated gain driven riffage, the MS-4 is a surprising little beast.
2. Orange Crush Mini
Keeping thing on the smaller end of the scale size-wise is an amp from another British behemoth in the rock and metal world. The Orange Crush Mini can go from country cleans to hard rock heaven and through to in-four-face metal at the turn of a dial. Simply roll back the Gain (or crank it up) and you’ve got a massive tonal arsenal to play with. At 3-Watts you’ve easily got enough to play with in terms of practising, but that isn’t all. The Orange Crush Mini actually has an 8Ohm speaker output that allows you to open up the sound, a headphone output for silent practise, and an Aux In for connecting external sound sources. Add to all that a built-in tuner and you’re onto a winner!
3. Laney Mini STB Iron
Compared to the MS-4 and the Crush Mini, the Laney MINI STB Iron is the new kid on the block and part of Laney’s Bluetooth-enabled portable amp series (which also includes the SUPERG and the Lion). As we’d expect from an amp that shares its DNA with the epic Laney Ironheart series, this thing rips when you let loose. Not only does it produce sweet cleans and ferocious gain for such a little amp, it features built-in tape style digital delay with level control, Aux in for playing external sound sources, a headphone socket for silent practise and Laney’s unique LSI – Laney Smartphone Insert.
What this means is that you can easily connect your amp to your smartphone or tablet for infusing your sound with an app-based tone generator. To get you started Laney include a 3-month subscription to Ultimate Guitar’s Tonebridge app for good measure. Whether you’re at home, on the road, warming up before a gig, or simply kicking back and listening to some tunes, the Laney MINI STB Iron is an excellent proposition.
4. BOSS Katana Mini
If you read our recent article covering the BOSS Katana Amp series then you’ll already be familiar with just how awesome the Katana Mini is. Lightweight and loaded with switchable amp types, built-in tape-style delay, and metal to the core, this is a force to be reckoned with. You can power it via 6 AA batteries or an optional AC adapter, and as well as an Aux input the headphones output doubles-up as a recording output with cabinet voicing. So, it’s not only great for practising with but also capturing fuss-free recordings.
Home to a multi-stage analogue gain circuit with three-band analogue stack, the Katana Mini produces an onslaught that is the stuff of legend. Plus, its release video featured none other than metal merchant Andreas Kisser (Sepultura), and if it keeps him happy than you know that you’re sorted.
5. Marshall DSL1CR 1-Watt Combo
Yeah, it’s not a JCM800 100-Watt monster but hear us out. Admittedly, there are naysayers who think that the DSL1CR 1-Watt Combo doesn’t cut it when it comes to metal, and there are those who fight its corner. Based on personal experience, the DSL is great for hard rock, thrash and hardcore when you absolutely crank it – hence opting for the 1-Watter for recording purposes. The key here is don’t be shy, if you’re going to lay out some dough for the DSL1CR then do it justice and play it how it’s meant to be played. Throw your favourite overdrive pedal in front of it too and you might lose some eyebrows.
6. Blackstar HT-1R/RH and HT-5R/RH Mark II amps
When they were announced earlier this year there were a few yelps of glee in the office, not least because the original HT-1 and HT-5 were already awesome. The Blackstar HT-1 R/RH and HT-5R/RH series of amp combos and heads deliver the same awesome tonal prowess that we’ve come to expect. Thanks to Blackstar’s push-pull valve power amp design, they are endowed with the kind of dynamics and response you’d expect from a 100-Watt stack. Boasting independent Gain, Volume, EQ (Blackstar’s patented ISF), and Reverb pots, these little dynamos kick out impressive power. Add to the mix MP3/Line In and emulated speaker/headphone output and you’ve got a wide range of options at your disposal: HT-1R or RH for practise/recording, HT-5R or RH for practise, recording, jamming, and gigging. You decide!
- HT-1RH MKII Guitar Amp Head
- HT-1R MKII Guitar Amp Combo
- HT-5RH MKII Guitar Amp Head
- HT-5R MKII Guitar Amp Combo
- HT-112 MKII Guitar Speaker Cabinet
7. BOSS Katana 100 Combo 1 x 12
The second from the Katana series to feature on the list, the BOSS Katana 100 Combo is a dream machine: lightweight and portable, yet tonally heavy and brutally powerful. This is the kind of amp I wish had been around when I was a kid, would’ve made loading in and out of venues infinitely easier.
Upping the ante significantly compared to the Katana Mini (no disrespect), the Katana 100 offers five unique selectable amp characters that includes a rather handy Acoustic option for those with electro-acoustic tendencies too (“Nothing Else Matters” anyone?). By accessing the BOSS Tone Studio Editor software, you can tinker with the onboard effects to your heart’s content, with the ability to store 15 customisable effects for later recall during performances. Not only that but they’re BOSS tones, so you know they’re gonna be good.
As well as being a mighty amp for gigging with, there is a record out/phones jack with cabinet simulation along with USB connectivity. Not only that, but it has a switchable power setting that allows you to temper the power staging from 100-Watt, 50-Watt, 25-Watt or 0.5-Watt. Why does that matter you say? Well, it means that you can tear through licks at bedroom-friendly levels without having to adjust any of your settings. Not only is this great for testing things out before a gig, but it also means that you can get a cranked-up sound without bothering your housemates. Nice.
But above all else, have you seen the price?! Kids today don’t know how good they’ve got it, I tell thee.
Also, this could have gone in the “Jack of all trades” section below, just saying.
8. Orange Micro Terror Amp Head
Two in a row here from Orange and with good reason – they are both awesome!
First of all, there’s the Orange Micro Terror, a 20-Watt Amp Head that weighs less than a kilogram but produces more clout than Anthony Joshua (that claim may or may not be scientifically accurate but trust us, this think bellows). Combining a valve driven preamp with solid state power amp you get the best of both worlds, deadly firepower in compact form. Pair it with any 8- or 16-Ohm guitar cabinet (might we suggest the Orange PPC108 Micro Terror Cabinet) and you’re good to go. For small to medium-sized gigs it punches well above its weight, holding its own easily against an enthusiastic drummer, and as long as the in-house PA is up to snuff then you’ve got everything you could possibly need.
9. Orange Micro Dark Amplifier Head
Secondly, the Orange Micro Dark produces a mighty output but with greater focus on modern high-gain styles. So, if you prefer going after tighter low-end response with searing heat across the highs then the Micro Dark might be more you flavour. However, if a more vintage inspired tone is your bag, then it’s the Micro Terror for you my friend. Again, you can pair up the Micro Dark with the Orange PPC108 Micro Terror Cabinet (or any 8- or 16-Ohm cab of your choosing) and you’re ready to hit the stage in style.
10. Orange Crush Pro CR60C or CR120C
Okay, so it might seem like Orange overload but once again, give us a chance. We’ve gone for the Crush Pro CR60C and the Crush Pro CR120C as like they offer something magical, tube like response in solid state form. Therefore, you get the dynamic response of a tube amp in a lightweight and portable design – raw Orange tones without having to see a chiropractor once a year!
Affordable, infinitely giggable and heavy-sounding enough to tempt Kirk Windstein (Crowbar, Down, Kingdom of Sorrow) away from a company he’d used for many years (no names getting dropped here I’m afraid). If after that endorsement, it’s not heavy-sounding enough for you then send us a demo as we wanna hear it!
Jack of all trades
11. Laney Lionheart IRT-SLS 300-Watt Amp Head
Though it may be frowned upon to slip personal opinion into an article, how can you not love the Laney Lionheart IRT-SLS? Born in the Black Country (the home of heavy metal) and built by the company responsible for producing Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler’s rigs, this boasts metal pedigree of the highest order.
Why is it a jack of all trades?
Thanks to its compact dimensions and lightweight design, you can slip it into your gig bag with ease. Not only that but it’s built like a tank, so you can trust that it’ll be fine no matter what, even if your luggage falls into the hands of overzealous baggage handlers (we’ve all been there). Delivering up to 300-Watts of power like it’s nothing at all, there’s headroom and then there’s IRT-SLS headroom! With a trio of channels to choose from that include Clean, Rhythm and Lead, as well as a vast array and knobs and switches with EQ shaping aplenty, everything you need is within easy reach. There is even a footswitch supplied for switching channel, clean, reverb & pre-boost. Laney designed digital reverb allows you to tailor your sound to suit any performance environment.
At home, on the road with your laptop, or in a professional recording studio the recording capabilities of the Ironheart are something else, as we covered at length in our article on Reamping with Laney. The unique T-USB interface provides a dry and a processed signal split left and right respectively when passed to your DAW, allowing the original recording to be manipulated easily. Built-in cabinet emulation allows you to record sans external cab without loss of power or raw tonal energy.
Switchable output power allows you play at home-friendly levels, tone things down when playing with a smaller ensemble or band, and really crank things up when you’re competing on a larger stage. But if you fancy just kicking back and playing to yourself the headphone output has you covered too.
12. Marshall Studio Classic Amp or Head
Last but by no means least, is the awesome, awesome, AWESOME Marshall Studio Classic 20-Watt Amp or Head.
Another question we hear you ask – why so awesome?
Chances are that if you like a bit of metal, you’ll have noticed a Marshall JCM800 at a gig or two. Used by the great and good of hard rock, metal and punk for several decades, it’s one of those amps regularly associated with producing a “metal” tone. Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Zakk Wylde, guys who know a thing or two about heavy, heavy tones. And they all use(d) the JCM800. Only thing is, unless you’re taking to the stage every night there’s not much call for a 100-Watt amp and that’s where Marshall answered many a prayer with the Marshall Studio Classic
. It’s like a JCM800 in stage and studio-friendly form. Not only that but at the flick of a switch you can attenuate the power to 5-Watts, so you don’t have to go out to the shed to play it, you can finally bring it inside the house. I know, it’s enough to make a grown man weep with joy.
Now you’ve got the right amp, what about the right axe?
Get the lowdown on the Best Guitars for Metal and rule supreme!
Hopefully, we’ve given you an insight into what’s available to kick start your guitar playing journey. However, if you want any pointers then get in touch with our Customer Service Team who are more than happy to help over the phone on 01925 582420. Our in-store specialists will guide you through the wonderful world of Guitars, just pop into your nearest Dawsons store.
Jon is a multi-instrumentalist with a passion for inspiring others to get involved in making music. After spending many years playing venues here, there and – pretty much – everywhere, he joined the Dawsons’ Music Web Team before progressing into his current role managing the Dawsons Blog.