If you’re in the market for a portable guitar amplifier that you can take anywhere with you, then you’re in luck.
Guitar amplifiers have been following a trend of getting smaller and smaller, while also getting more and more powerful.
Whatever your reason for researching portable guitar amps, be it that you need a backup amplifier, you have fly dates on your calendar, or even taking playing guitar on vacation, one of the options on this list is bound to fit your needs.
Snapshot: Top 5 Portable Guitar Amps
- Line 6 HX Stomp Amp
- Boss Katana Air Amplifier
- Orange Terror Stamp Portable Guitar Amplifier
- JOYO Bantamp BlueJay Amplifier
- NuX Solid Studio
Small, Portable Heavy Hitting Guitar Amplifiers
I recently wrote an article about my favorite small combo amplifiers. While traditional combo amps certainly are small and are easy to travel with, I wouldn’t exactly call them “portable”. For this list I wanted to look into amplifiers that can truly be taken anywhere with ease.
In order for an amp to make it onto this list, the amp had to be small enough to fit in a carry-on back or backpack. They have to be small and light weight.
This doesn’t exactly make the list exclusive though. There are dozens of practice/desktop amps out there that are small enough to fit into a bookbag. There are so many of these amps that I think they are deserving of an article on their own.
Instead, I’ve decided to focus on portable guitar amps that could be used on a gig or as a backup rig for professional musicians. In the professional environment, the stakes are higher. These amps have to have enough power, versatility, and sound quality to get you through a full night of music.
I wanted to compile a list of amps that could be taken on fly dates, or on tour as a backup (or even primary) guitar amplifier.
Not a professional or gigging musician?
This list is still for you. Though price was not taken into consideration in compiling this list, these amps are all of a high quality but often come at a lower cost. Win, Win!
I took amps of all types into consideration: tube, solid state, hybrids, amp modelers, foot pedal amplifiers, combos, and head units. The amp itself just had to be small. Even if it didn’t have its own speakers, if it could be hooked up to a PA or a house Cabinet, I considered it gig worthy.
These are some of the most exciting, convenient, and fun amps on the market.
Let’s check them out!
The 5 Best Portable Guitar Amps In 2021
1. Line 6 HX Stomp Amp Review
- Utilizes the same HX Modeling as Helix
- More than 300 effects and models from Helix, M-Series, and legacy Line 6 products
- Up to 6 simultaneous amp, cab, and effect blocks (including a looper and IR loading)
The HX Stomp from Line 6 is by far and away the most powerful, portable guitar rig available on the market today. Sure, there are other pedal guitar rigs out there, but none of them offer all flexibility and practicality of this unit. If you’re a professional touring musician, this is all the backup you need.
The HX Stomp is a full-blown Helix in a small, pedal format. It has all of the amp models, cabinet IR’s, microphones, effects, and signal routing capability as its big brother. The only thing that makes it less powerful is what it physical can hold. This means it has only three footswitches and 6 slots for equipment. This is still enough capacity to get you through most live situations, especially if you utilize the snapshot and preset functions available.
It features a screen/interface similar to that of the Helix and can be edited using HX Edit software. The box has inputs for Stereo Send/Return FX Loop, MIDI In/Thru, Headphone Jack, Balanced In/Out, and an Expression Pedal. This gives you an incredible amount of versatility in terms of paring the unit up with your pedal board as an effects processor, or as a full-blown rig. All this fits in the palm of your hand or can sit comfortably on any pedal board.
Keep in mind, this can be used in conjunction with a powered speaker or PA but doesn’t have its own power amp. Therefore, it cannot power a traditional speaker.
The HX Stomp has so much controllability that covering it all here would take up too much space. For a full rundown of the unit’s parameters, visit here.
In short, the unit is navigated via the onboard user interface screen. I personally own this unit and I find the UI to be really intuitive and user friendly. The six tone blocks go in order from left to right, so you position your amp, cabinet, and effects in whatever order you want there. If you’ve done your math, you’ll notice that there are only 3 foot switches for up to 6 blocks. This means that each effect can’t have its own switch, but the Helix has many built in solutions to this including snapshots, presets, and the ability to assign multiple pedals to one switch.
Because the HX Stomp is just a smaller Helix, it sounds every bit as good as the larger units. The Helix LT even made it into my list of Best Solid State Amplifiers. I’m happy to report that the amp models are nearly indistinguishable compared to the real amps this pedal emulates. It has a satisfying amount of tube-amp like responsiveness that makes it a pleasure to play through.
The only critique I have is that Line 6’s built in cabinets, while satisfactory for live use, are not the best on the market. The HX Stomp has made it so that if you want, you can add third party impulse responses. Beyond that, the effects are killer too. I’ve seen guitarists keep this on their pedal board and use it for the effects in conjunction with their main amp. Then, if their amp goes down, they have a backup amp ready at their feet.
- Type: Foot Pedal Amp Modeler
- Amps: 62
- Cabinets: 37
- Microphones: 16
- Features: FX Loop, Over 100 effects, MIDI, USB (Interface), HX Edit
Final Thoughts on the HX Stomp
I typically use my Line 6 Helix whenever I play out at gigs, but I always have my HX Stomp packed away in my gig bag in case my rig were to go down. It sounds amazing and is mind blowing powerful. Every guitarist could benefit from having an HX Stomp on hand.
2. Boss Katana Air Amplifier Review
- Totally wireless guitar amplifier with newly developed BOSS technology delivers rock-solid sound with ultra-low latency
- Compact wireless transmitter plugs into various kinds of electric guitars and charges while docked in the amp
- Transmitter provides 12 hours of playing time on a single charge, and automatically enters standby mode to conserve the charge when no activity is detected
The Katana Air takes Boss’ Katana line to new heights as it features the same high quality sound, but with wireless functionality. All of this comes in a solid state combo that is lightweight and portable.
While it is definitely the largest amp on this list, I argue that it is still portable enough that it could fit into a carry-on bag. At only four pounds, nearly every aspect of its design is aimed at making it easy to grab and go.
The Boss Katana Air is a fully wireless, solid state combo amp, which is the main reason it makes it onto our list of best portable amps. It even has a built in transmitter for a wireless cable. No more tangled wires to deal with! The built in speakers and USB connection make it a great interface for recording on the road if you have your laptop or tablet with you, and it can even run on AA batteries.
The Katana Air features almost the exact same control layout as the rest of the Katana Family. It has a knob to If you are familiar with any of the other Katana amps then you will be pleased to see that the Air works primarily the same, with some added features that make this amp worth having alongside its siblings. The Amp Type switch lets you choose between one of 5 different amp voicings, which are then further controlled by the Universal Gain, Volume, Bass, Middle, and Treble Controls.
The built in effects include Boost, Modulation, Delay, FX, (all split controls) and Reverb. These can be changed using the green buttons below and there is also a TAP tempo button so you can line up the timing of your effects with whatever song you’re playing. Tone settings can be saved in banks A and B, and there are respective buttons for your Bluetooth and Wireless controls.
Not only is the Katana-Air easy to carry, but you are also carrying an immense amount of tonal capability along with you. The Amp simulations are truly convincing to play through and will work in just about any genre you might find yourself in, whether it be an acoustic gig or a metal gig. The effects are what you can expect from Boss: the best. This optional battery powered guitar amp gives you classic sounding effects pedals that you’ve heard on countless records.
It saves you money by not having to go out and buy more pedals. The EQ controls allow you to further shape the sound to your liking, so this amp works well with any guitar you might put in front of it. The speakers may be a bit small for larger gigs on its own, but if you throw a microphone in front of it you’ll be plenty loud and full sounding.
- Type: Solid State Combo
- Power: 30W
- Channels: 2
- Speakers: 2 x 3” stereo
- Features: Amp modeling, 50 effects, Bluetooth, wireless connectivity, battery powered optional
Final Thoughts on the Boss Katana Air
While it may not be as compact as the Boss Katana Mini 7, it has way more features and sounds packed into it. Boss has done a good job of innovating their already innovative Katana line. Whether you’re looking for a good practice amp, or even a last ditch live amp, the Katana Air is a portable beast with loads of features.
3. Orange Terror Stamp Portable Guitar Amp Review
- 20W Hybrid Guitar Amplifier Head with Shape Control
- Cab Sim Headphone Output
- Speaker Output
While pedal amplifiers are becoming more popular, many of them simulate power amps, rather than having a proper power amp built in. This means they can’t power a traditional speaker on their own. Not so with the Orange Terror Stamp. This pedal acts and plays like a traditional amplifier.
Orange builds upon their portable Micro Terror with the now even more portable Terror Stamp, pedal hybrid amplifier. Its pretty hard to make a true hybrid amp any smaller than this bad boy. The Terror Stamp has a 12AX7 preamp combined with a solid state preamp, giving you the organic saturation and feel of a tube amp that can be small enough to fit on your pedal board.
If you have long cable runs, the Stamp has you covered against high end signal loss via its buffered effects loop. What makes this amp stand apart from other foot pedal style amps is the fact that it can power a proper cabinet just like a normal amp head would. This makes it a great backup rig even if a PA is unavailable. It also has a 4×12 IR built in for use in conjunction with a PA or through practicing with headphones.
Making an amp this small doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for controls, but Orange has managed to give you the essentials in a way that keeps the amp versatile and flexible. Volume 1 controls the first gain stage and you can further alter your sound when you turn on the second gain stage as a Boost.
Your overall Gain works in a linear fashion and is located on the far right end of the pedal. The most powerful control on the pedal is the Shape knob, which doesn’t work like a traditional tone knob. Turing the knob all the way to the left gives you a more midrange heavy voicing, while the right gives you a scooped sound.
Don’t judge the sound of this amp by its small stature. This thing sounds beefy. I think the dirty tones make most appropriately used in classic rock and metal scenarios. That being said, the clean tones are spanky and lively enough to be used in country or funk as well. I think that with the right guitar the Orange Terror Stamp could make its way into just about any application.
I attribute the Shape knob to the amps versatility, as this gives you a wide array of EQ settings with one knob. The hybrid design is surely going to please those that prefer the feel and sound of a tube amp in a housing that can fit in the palm of your hand.
- Type: Pedal Hybrid (12AX7 preamp, solid stage class AB power)
- Power: 20W
- Channels: Single
- Speaker: 4 x 12 cabinet simulation
- Features: Buffered Effects Loop
Final Thoughts on the Orange Terror Stamp
One of the biggest trends I’ve noticed in 2021 is the introduction of pedal form amps that have every sound under the sun crammed into them. These are incredible products that I use regularly, but I understand that they can be overwhelming for some.
The Terror Stamp is a nice counteroffer in that it marries the best of tube and solid state designs, as well as offering a unique amp voice that keeps things simple and unique. Well done, Orange. Well done..
4. JOYO Bantamp BlueJay Amplifier Review
- BLUEJAY from JOYO's BantamP series is a very compact and portable 20 Watt head. is an amp that got its name not from its feathered friend by the same name but rather from the fact that it can be a...
- Its warm clean tones are reminiscent of the classic amps that came out of California all those years ago. It can do more than clean though, it can also deliver rich overdrive tones that make you want...
- The BLUEJAY also has a CLEAN channel that can take pedals really well, which makes it flexible and a great little companion for many situations where your "big" head is just not sensible.
If you’re more of a fan of traditional amplifiers, and you just want one that is smaller than most, then look no further than the Bantamp series of amplifiers by JOYO. These amplifiers are cost-effective and sound great. In fact, the JOYO Bantamp Zombie made it onto our list of Best Amplifiers under $200. For this list, I chose the BlueJay for its clean tones and great pedal platform capability, making it an awesome amp for just about any application.
The BlueJay is a tube/solid-state hybrid head unit modeled after a Fender Blues Junior. The amp is housed in a metal, lunchbox style enclosure that includes a 12AX7 preamp tube. Weighing in at only 4 pounds and packing a 20W punch, the amp is small but big in sound. It comes with a bright switch, Bluetooth capability, an FX Loop, and a headphone out jack for quiet home practice. It is capable of powering any speaker set for 8 ohms minimum. Of all the amps on this list this is by far the closest to a traditional head unit, because it basically is one!
The BlueJay keeps the controls nice and simple. You have a single input, followed by flip switches for Normal/Bright and Bluetooth. Beyond that, you have a single Gain, Tone, and Volume control and that’s it. Much like a classic Fender the controls are easy, but effective. This means that you have an easy to use amplifier on its own, or you can change up the sound drastically from pedals.
Like the Fender Blues Junior it is modeled after, the BlueJay is a clean, American voiced amplifier. Even with the Gain cranked the overall sound is just on the verge of breakup. This makes the amp great for use with pedals. The Bright switch is really effective and adds ample top end to your sound. The use of a tube powered preamp section gives the amp an organic, squishy response to it that tube amp lovers will be excited to have. At 20W it is plenty loud enough for gigging with.
- Type: Hybrid Head Unit (12AX7 preamp)
- Power: 20W
- Channels: 2 (Normal/Bright)
- Speakers: 8 ohm compatible
- Features: FX Loop, Bluetooth, Headphone Jack
Final Thoughts on the JOYO Bantamp BlueJay
The BlueJay is a great alternative to Fender style amps that comes in a portable, lunchbox style enclosure. With simple controls and tube powered response and touch sensitivity, it’s hard to find a better portable, traditional amp out there. The entire JOYO Bantamp is great, so if a clean amp isn’t what you’re after, there are other options available here.
5. NuX Solid Studio IR and Power Amp Simulator Review
- Solid Studio comes with 8 speaker cabinet simulations. All the cabinet models inside the Solid Studio are sounds great as original as the way it feels.
- 8 microphone models you can combine with any cabinets. You can adjust microphone position for fine tuning.
- Power Amp Simulation produces a warm tube-like sound and you can choose one of three power tubes for your essential sound needs.
If the HX Stomp is too complicated, or the Orange Terror Stamp is too limited, then the NuX Solid Studio is just right. Rounding out my list is another pedal amp/IR simulator. This compact unit offers the best of traditional amp specs and sounds, without getting cluttered by effects or too many features.
The NuX Solid Studio is a pedal IR and power amp simulator, meaning that it emulates an amplifier and cabinets. That’s not all though. In addition to the single power amp simulator, this thing has 8 cabinets to choose from and 8 microphones. These microphones can be placed in one of 3 positions and the amp can be powered by one of three different power amp tube selections. It has jacks for Input, Thru, Output, and XLR DI Out, so whatever your setup is the NuX Solid Studio can fit in to your rig.
The controls may look confusing at first if you don’t know what you are looking at, but it’s actually quite simple. The CAB knob lets you choose from one of 8 built in cabinet IR’s ranging from 1×12 to 4×12. The MIC knob lets you choose from one of 8 different microphones to be paired with your cabinet selection. This “microphone” can then be placed in the Center, Middle, or Edge of the speaker cone.
The single power amp simulation has controls for Master Volume, Drive and Presence, as well as can be voiced by EL34, 6V6, or EL84 power tubes. The pedal has footswitches for the Cab/Mic and Amp, so you can choose which parts of the pedal you want to incorporate into your chain. For example, if you have an amp head, you could use the speaker simulation/microphones, then send it out to the front of house PA for low stage volume.
I haven’t been able to figure out what kind of power amp the pedal is modeled after, but it sounds like a solid Fender if I had to pick one. It’s really just a clean slate that gets shaped by your power tube selection. I’m totally floored by the tube-like feel of this pedal. No matter what cabinet, tube, or mic you choose, it’s going to sound organic and real. It is really versatile and could fit into just about any rig imaginable. 6L6 tubes are missing from the lineup, but the pedal has plenty of glassy, low end heavy clean tones available, so I don’t think anyone will be missing it.
- Type: Pedal Power Amp/IR Simulator
- Amps: 1 power amp, with 3 tube selections
- Cabinets: 8
- Microphones: 8
- Features: Microphone placement, DI Out
Final Thoughts on the NuX Solid Studio IR and Power Amp Simulator
The NuX Solid Studio does fantastic work of balancing versatility and simplicity. If you have at least a basic understanding of how micing up an amp works, then you will be able to benefit from the layout of this amplifier. My only point of improvement would be if it could power a traditional speaker on its own, but the fact that it can work with power speakers/PA’s in live settings is still practical in most scenarios.
Portable Is Now Powerful
Ever since I started working as a gigging musician, I’ve been excited about portable guitar amplifiers. Not just because I want to carry as little weight as possible, but also because they are the perfect backup amps. Believe me, there is no worse feeling than playing on stage and blowing a tube with no back up amplifier in sight.
Not only are these amps getting smaller and cheaper, but they are also sounding better and better. Considering that most stages these days want as little stage volume as possible and are powered by PA’s, there isn’t as much need to use big amps and big speakers. IR’s for speaker simulation are sound as good, if not better than some guy you don’t know micing up your cabinet.
These are versatile little amp revelations. Whether you need them to take on vacation, for practice, or on a world tour, portable guitar amps are now powerful enough to handle all your guitar playing needs.
Happy Guitar Playing!
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Davis Wilton Bader is a professional guitarist/writer based out of St. Louis, MO. He plays in the bands Lumet and The Outskirts.