Can a guitar amp be cheap and good at the same time?
Here at The Sound Junky we define cheap only in terms of price, not quality.
Looking into cheap guitar amps can be a fun, low risk purchase and there are all kinds of guitarists that can benefit from them.
Are you a guitar player that’s looking for the cheapest amp possible?
Maybe you’re looking for a little novelty amp for the guitarist in your life.
Or maybe you’re looking at some cheap practice amps to throw in your suitcase when you go on your next vacation.
Whatever your reason for looking into cheap amplifiers is, I’ve done the research for you and come up with my list of the five best amplifiers $100 (or less) can buy.
Snapshot: Top 5 Cheap Guitar Amplifiers
- NUX Mighty Lite BT
- BOSS Katana Mini 7
- Orange Crush 12
- Danelectro Honeytone – Cheapest
- Vox Pathfinder 10 Combo
Researching Guitar Amps Under $100
Let’s start with what you won’t find in a cheap amp.
First and foremost: tubes. Tubes themselves can sometimes cost $100, and the ones that would be used on this price of amp aren’t going to sound very good. If you want to buy a tube amplifier, you’re going to have to check out one of our other top amp lists.
This is an all solid-state list.
You’re also not going to find any big amps here. More materials mean more production costs, so all of the amps on this list are pretty tiny. In fact, the most common amps to pop up in my search had terms like “practice amplifiers” or “mini amplifiers” attached to them. Since I plan on making a list of the best small combo and best practice amplifiers, I tried not to just compile a list of these kinds of amps. As usual I tried to present a variety of amp types whenever I could.
The most important aspect to me is the sound quality. I think you will be surprised at the tonal quality of these amps (I was anyway). I only included amps on this list that I thought had usable tones to them. That even made me dismiss amps created by famous builders we are probably all familiar with.
With all that being said, let’s see what “no money” can buy!
The 5 Best Cheap Guitar Amps in 2020
1. NUX Mighty Lite BT Review
- Portable, Bluetooth Desktop Guitar Amplifier
- Built-in Digital Reverb & Delay, 3 channels: Clean, Overdrive and Distortion
- Runs with 9V power adapter, USB connection via power bank or 6 AA size batteries
The name makes it sound like a new session beer doesn’t it? While the NUX Mighty Lite is in fact a lightweight, portable practice amplifier, it’s also a serious heavy hitter with more features than any other amp on this list.
Similar to the Blackstar FLY 3 mini amplifier, the NUX Mighty Lite BT is a 3 Watt, solid state, portable desktop guitar amplifier. Where this amp takes things to the next level is with all of its built-in features. These include 3 channels (Clean, Overdrive, and Distortion), 9 built in drum patterns, Tap Tempo Control, and on board delay, reverb, and modulation effects.
All of this and more can be controlled via the NUX app and firmware, giving you additional control from your phone that is east to use and aesthetically pleasing. It can also be powered via 6 AA batteries, USB, or 9V power adapter.
If you prefer to keep things analog, tactile, or simple, the onboard controls of the NUX are easy to digest and will get you pretty far. There is a knob for the Gain, Volume, Tone, and a dual-purpose knob for Delay and Reverb effects. The OD/DIST button lets you choose between the three channels and can also be held down to pair Bluetooth devices.
Above the guitar amp controls are the drum loop controls, including a volume, play/pause, and tap tempo. I think the “hold” functions on the amp are a creative solution for cramming as much usability into a mini amp without overwhelming the control board. For further control, download the firmware/app from the NUX website and take things to a whole other level.
Where to begin with this amp. There are so many sounds and effects it’s hard to keep up. All three of the channels sound great and you’ll surely be able to find a sound that works with your guitar/genre of choice. The modulation effects are surprisingly realistic for something this small.
The delays (of which there are multiple) emulate tape, digital, etc impressively well and the fact that they work with tap tempo makes them super usable. The drum loops come in a number of different styles to keep you sharp or entertained. As usually, I find these amps with small speakers sound better through headphones, but that is a hyper critique.
- Type: Solid State/Modeling Mini Combo Amp
- Power: 3W
- Channels: 3 (Clean, Overdrive, Distortion)
- Speakers: 1 x 3”
- Features: Nux App, Tap Tempo, Built in FX, drum loops, metronome, Bluetooth, batter power option
Final Thoughts on the NUX Mighty Lite BT
There is no doubt in my mind that this is the most versatile and usable cheap amp on the market. It doesn’t have the power to be taken on a stage, but it could easily find its way into just about every other guitar player application one could think of. Its packed with features that make it an extremely fun purchase.
2. Boss Katana Mini 7 Review
- Great Katana tone in a highly portable amp
- Rich, full sound that far exceeds other amps in its class
- Authentic multi-stage analog gain circuit and three-band analog tone stack
If you read my “Best Amps Under $300” article, you know that I am a big fan of the Katana series of amplifiers. While this amp looks small, it’s no toy. It’s a real amplifier that could deliver studio ready tones if needed.
The Katana Mini 7 is the smallest of the Katana line of amplifiers. It has 7 watts of analog power pumping through a 4” speaker. It weighs in at just under 3 lbs., making it an easy grab and go style amplifier. It can be powered by 6 x AA batteries for playing out, or it can be powered with an AC adaptor for extended home practice sessions.
With three different amp voices, a 3 band EQ, and a built-in tape style delay, the Katana mini has just enough versatility to balance out its realistic and satisfying tones. You can also jam along with a friend using the Aux In on the back, meaning two players can go through this amp.
Much like the larger Katana amps, the controls on the Mini 7 are easy to understand and user friendly. The multi-stage analog gain circuit is controlled using the Gain knob. Dial this in with the Type switch, which allows you to choose between one of three amp voices (Brown, Crunch, and Clean), in conjunction with the Volume knob for a wide array of base tones. It has a 3 Band EQ and a built in Delay with Time/Level controls.
Pro Tip: With the Time at 0 and Level at 10, you can get a somewhat passable reverb tone.
This is a really versatile little amp. The Clean voice gives you traditional Roland clean tones that would work well for Jazz. The Crunch tone has rich overtones and would work well for edge of breakup and rhythm rock tones. The Brown voice gives you Eddie Van Halen style lead tones that would work great for Metal guitar playing. I liked the amp with Bass dimed, and the Middle/Treble controls rolled off.
Like many small amps pumping through a smaller speaker, it’s easy for the high end to get out of control. That being said, I find the 4” speaker gives just enough bass response that this amp could be used in studio recordings. It also has a cabinet simulated output for better recording quality.
- Type: Solid State
- Power: 7W
- Channels: 1 channel with 3 voices
- Speakers: 1 x 4”
- Features: Delay, Aux In, Cabinet Simulator out
Final Thoughts on the Boss Katana Mini 7
The Katana series is an impressive line of amplifiers. Often these lines of amps are fantastic with the large amps but fade out on the smaller end. Not so with the Katana. This little amp has big sounds, making it a really satisfying cheap amplifier.
3. Orange Crush 12 Review
- 12 watt
- 6 inches speaker
- Dual gain controls
Orange has created an amplifier with 12 Watts of power housed in a 1 x 6 combo for under $100, making this about your best option for a cheap, gig worthy amplifier. Not to mention, it has the classic Orange sound to it.
As I mentioned before, the Orange Crush 12 is a 12 Watt, 1×6 solid state combo amplifier that is built to be as classic “Orange” as it gets. This is the case even down to the aesthetics, which include the Orange cabinet and basket woven speaker mesh. It is a single channel amplifier with a dual gain control, giving you lots of control over how much gain you want in your signal.
Otherwise, it’s a really simple amp. Its power and size make it just big enough for small clubs, though it may need the assistance of a microphone, and it also has a headphone out jack. So, if you’re looking for an amp to practice on at home and then take to the gig with you later, this could be your amp of choice.
The Crush 12 gives you the essentials in controls, including Volume, a 3 band EQ, Overdrive, and Gain. That’s it! If you want to get cleaner tones, keep the Overdrive down and find the right combination of Volume/Gain. The 3 Band EQ is nice for balancing out the sound depending on which guitar you are using. If you’re looking for an amp with built in Reverb or Delay, you may be disappointed, but a simple pedal will fix that.
Somehow you always know an Orange Amp when you hear it, and the Orange Crush 12 keeps that character alive. The clean tones are a little woofy in the low end with chiming high ends that would work for James Brown style funky stuff. 12 Watts gives just enough headroom for clean tones at gigging level.
Dial the Gain and Overdrive up for some serious Zakk Wylde/Ozzy Osbourne heavy tones. The amp is versatile and loud enough to work in most small club situations, as well as in the studio or home practice session.
- Type: Solid State
- Power: 12W
- Channels: Single
- Speakers:1 x 6”
- Features: Headphone Jack, Dual Gain Stage
Final Thoughts on the Orange Crush 12
I was really impressed to find an amp under $100 that could give enough power to take on stage that actually sounds good. I’m not surprised that it came from the folks at Orange. This is a great amp for those who can’t afford large amps but that want to play live.
4. Danelectro Honeytone Review
- Great clean and overdrive tones (Best with Polaroid 9V Batteries)
- Leather handle
- Belt clip
Your phone is probably bigger than this little amplifier and I’ll admit it’s not the best sounding amp by traditional standards, but it has a ton of character. I don’t know what it is, but there is something about this amp that I just like. The fact that it can clip to your belt doesn’t hurt. Or the roughly $20 price tag.
The Danelectro Honeytone is by far the smallest amp on this list as well as the cheapest. This is not an amp to take gigging or to use in any kind of modern guitar setting. It’s very much a niche little practice amp. It’s a battery powered (9V), 1 x 2.5” amplifier with a belt clip. This means you could have the amp on your hip and play. It also has a headphone jack for quiet practicing. It comes in multiple colors (including black, burgundy, and aqua) and has a retro 50’s design to it that reminds me of an AM radio in an old car.
The Controls are about as easy as can be on this mini amplifier. Volume, Tone, and O. Drive. It has a ¼ inch input that works with any traditional guitar cable, as well as an 1/8” headphone input on the side. The controls are so simple that it is a great amplifier for kids just starting out.
For being such a small amp, the Honeytone can get pretty loud. Loud enough to be heard over a small dinner party anyway. It is definitely a brittle sounding little amp that I compare to listening to your favorite AM radio station. So, while it isn’t going to be anyone’s favorite sound, I can’t deny that it has character. If I owned a studio, I would consider having one laying around just to give that “old timey” sound to a guitar part.
The overdrive sounds are more like rockabilly or 50’s/60’s rock than heavily saturated tones that other small amps try to give you. However, it can get to borderline fuzz tones if you crank it. This is a very unique and vintage sounding mini amplifier.
- Type: Solid State
- Power: 1.5W
- Channels: Single
- Speakers: 1 x 2.5”
- Features: Headphone Jack
Final Thoughts on the Danelectro Honeytone
So many cheap amplifiers are getting more and more powerful, with more and more versatility and tone. It’s an awesome phenomenon. However, the Honeytone makes this list because it is so simple and so much fun. I could see this being on the hip of a guitar teacher in front of a small class of students or hanging on the edge of a guitarist’s Christmas stocking. Its super cheap and super fun, so I am ranking it among the best in its class.
5. Vox Pathfinder 10 Review
- Distinctive VOX looks and great VOX tone
- 10 watts; 6.5" speaker
- Clean/Overdrive switch
This solid-state Vox combo amplifier has enough touch sensitivity to make you think you’re playing through a tube amplifier. Its classic Vox in looks and sound at a price point that simply can’t be beat.
As the name suggests, the Vox Pathfinder is a 10-Watt, 1 x 6.5” solid state combo amplifier. It has the diamond grill and chicken head knobs that give Vox amps their distinct look. It also has two channels (clean and dirty), a 2 band EQ, and a Headphone jack for silent practicing. Unlike most amps of this size, the Pathfinder is open back, giving it a wider and bigger tone to it. It also has the largest speaker on this list, giving it a better low-end response.
The Pathfinder 10 is a great amp for beginners with its simple control layout. With just four chicken head knobs (classic Vox) including Gain, Treble, Bass, and Volume, there’s nothing here to confuse you. If you want to switch between the clean and dirty channels, simply push the channel switching button. The amplifier also has a Headphone/Line Out jack for DI recording or quiet practice time.
This amp is capable of classic, sparkling Vox clean tones and so much more. The 6.5” Vox Bulldog speaker that moves an impressive amount of air. The back of the amp is open, making the sound fill whatever room you are in. Though solid state, it is also analog, therefore the amp has a surprising amount of touch response to it. Simply roll off the volume on your guitar and you can quickly go from dirty to clean tones.
Crank the Gain up on the Overdrive channel for borderline metal worthy tones.
- Type: Analog Solid State
- Power: 10W
- Channels: 2 (Clean/Overdrive)
- Speakers: 1 x 6.5” Vox Bulldog
- Features: Headphone Jack
Final Thoughts on the Vox Pathfinder 10
The Pathfinder 10 is a great starters’ amplifier with enough versatility to work in a number of genres. It will deliver both classic Vox tones and some surprising new sounds as well. It has a super easy and effective control layout that won’t confuse new players. At 10 watts, you may be pushing your luck in some small clubs, but with the help of a microphone I think this would work in a pinch.
Cheap Amps Have Their Time and Place
Sure, there are people out there who can only afford cheap amplifiers like the ones on this list. If you are one of those people then I hope you were able to find something that surprised you, and that you feel is worth every penny.
There are also people who push their nose up into the air at amps this cheap. I really wanted to aim this article at those folks.
I think that once upon a time, those biases could be justified. Cheap amps sounded cheap.
That isn’t the case anymore.
Cheap amps are versatile and are created with a target audience in mind. They make fantastic practice amplifiers. They are also great combined with your favorite travel electric guitar.
Seeing some of my favorite guitarists like Pete Thorn embrace cheap practice amps has helped me discover the potential these amplifiers have. Sure, they may not be the best for playing live or being put on records. However, I am sure we all have had a time when we wanted a cheap amp that we didn’t have to feel overly protective of on road trips or that we would fear of getting stolen in hotel rooms. Or maybe having a cheap amp is perfect for your kids that are trying to get started.
If I had a cheap amp like these when I started out, I would have never gone outside.
Happy Guitar Playing!