Ever since Spinal Tap turned their Marshall stacks up to eleven, the sound of heavy metal has captivated guitarists. From the iconic British style overdrive of the ‘70s and ‘80s to the over-the-top high gain American monsters that defined metal in the ‘90s and ‘00s to today’s technologically advanced digital modeling amps, the guitar amp has defined the sound of heavy metal every step of the way.

In decades past, you had maybe five or six choices if you were looking for an amp that excelled in the metal world. Today, there are ten times as many choices. As you’d imagine, finding the perfect metal amp is no longer as easy as heading to the store, plugging in, and taking your pick from the handful of amps they have available.

Today, we’re going to help you demystify everything there is to know about the best amps for heavy metal, and we’ll also take a look at some of the top options that are on the market right now.

What is the Best Amp for Heavy Metal?

What exactly is a heavy metal amp, and what does it do?

A heavy metal amp is just like any other guitar amp. You’ll find the same familiar adjustments on a metal amp that you’d find on an amp designed for classic rock, blues, or any other style for that matter.

The key characteristic that designates a heavy metal amp from other amps is its gain stage. An average heavy metal amp will often have three or even four gain stages to produce the most saturated and over-the-top distortion possible.

Most heavy metal amps also feature a third channel, so players can designate a dirty channel for rhythm playing and a dirty channel for leads without compromising the clean channel of the amp. Amps without a third channel will regularly have a footswitchable boost function which adds even more gain to your signal for when you need an extra push.

The final characteristic that defines amps designed for heavy metal is their EQ. While it’s common for a metal amp to feature the same bass, middle, and treble controls as other amps, the frequency response is usually tuned differently, and the EQ controls feature an even greater sweep than usual to provide the most tonal control possible.

What makes a great heavy metal amp?

In just a moment, we’re going to cover some of the best heavy metal amps on the market today. Whether you opt for one of those great amps, or you head out on your own to check out some of your other options, you’ll want to evaluate each amp you play based on the criteria below.

  1. Plenty of gain
  2. Multiple channels
  3. Responsive EQ with a broad frequency range
  4. Power to spare

Plenty of gain

The most important thing you’ll need in a metal amp is plenty of gain. Without a mean, snarling gain stage, it isn’t a true heavy metal amp.

The best heavy metal amps will deliver a wide range of tones, ranging from the classic metal sound of bands like Iron Maiden or Judas Priest to the more modern and digital sounds of today’s modern metal bands like Killswitch Engage or Lamb of God.

While some players rely on additional overdrive or distortion pedals for their dirty tone, true heavy metal amps don’t need such accessories, and they provide all the drive and distortion you could ever need right on the amp.

Before you evaluate everything else, make sure that the amp delivers the type of high gain tones, you need to play your favorite style of metal.

Multiple channels

While most people tend to think of metal as a singular style that’s as loud and angry as possible at all times, real metal guitarists know that isn’t the case.

Metal bands regularly fuse other styles like blues or jazz into their playing. It’s also not uncommon for a metal band to launch into beautiful and lush passages that require a pristine and glassy clean tone.

Considering that, metal guitarists demand a level of versatility from their amps that few other styles require. A great metal amp is going to provide multiple channels so that guitarists can easily access all the different tones they need on the fly.

It’s common for a metal amp to include a clean channel as well as two additional drive channels, or a single drive channel with a footswitchable boost function. This ensures that regardless of what the song calls for, you’ll have the right tone at the ready.

Just as it’s important that the amp delivers the high gain ceiling you need to play your favorite style of metal, it’s equally important that the amp delivers other tones as well, ranging from light, bluesy overdrive, to glass-like clean tones.

Responsive EQ with a broad frequency range

Once you’ve established that an amp delivers the high gain tones you need along with the versatility to tackle other, decidedly less metal styles in your playing, you can move on to evaluating the onboard EQ.

A well EQ’ed guitar is critical for every style of music, but it’s perhaps most important when it comes to metal. In metal, the frequencies of the guitar, bass, drums, and vocals tend to bleed into each other more than they do in other styles of music. If you’re not careful, it’s easy for your band to end up sounding like a muddy mess.

A good metal amp will feature EQ controls that provide a broad frequency sweep as you adjust the controls. This makes it much easier for guitarists to dial in a sound that sits perfectly in the mix without interfering with the other instruments.

The best amps will provide independent EQ controls for each channel, so you’re able to boost and cut certain frequencies depending on whether you’re playing rhythm or lead.

The best way to determine if an amp provides the broad EQ range you need is to play a drone note on your low E string and adjust each EQ knob from zero to ten, paying attention to how broad of a sweep each control allows.

Power to spare

Another critical and often overlooked consideration is how much power the amp has. This is less of a concern for solo guitarists who are looking for a great metal amp to jam out to their favorite records with. But, if you play in a band, or plan on starting a band, you’re going to need an amp with tons of power to spare. After all, you’re playing metal, not folk music.

It’s also important to keep in mind that the amount of power an amp possesses is relative because tube watts are much louder than solid state watts. So, if you’re evaluating a tube amp that’s 100 watts, it will be significantly louder than a similar solid-state amp that’s also 100 watts.

For guitarists playing in a band, a 50 or 100-watt tube amp will provide the power and headroom you need to play in any scenario. But, if you’re looking at a solid-state amp, 100 watts probably won’t cut it. Instead, look for an amp that provides 200 watts or more if you’re looking for a solid-state option.

If you don’t play in a band, a 50 or 100-watt solid-state amp will be more than enough power to get you by. If you’d prefer a tube amp, a lower wattage option will allow you to drive the amp harder to achieve more saturation and better tone without blowing your neighbors out of their house. If that sounds like you, you should be considering 10-15 watt tube amps.

Amps for Heavy Metal Reviews – Our Top 5 Recommendations

Peavey Invective 120w Head

Best Overall

What Makes It Special?

Designed especially for Misha Mansoor of Periphery, the Invective is based loosely off the legendary Peavey 6505+, with a bevy of new features designed for modern metal guitarists including a highly responsive noise gate, three switchable channels, and selectable power modes make the Invective the amp to beat in the metal category.

  • Three channels
  • Built-in noise gate
  • Switchable rack loop and effects loop
  • Switchable boost on crunch and lead channels

Metal guitarists have relied on Peavey’s 5150 amp, and later, their 6505+ amp for decades. While these amps delivered the punishing high gain tones necessary for modern metal, they weren’t without their shortcomings — namely, a mediocre clean channel, and a lack of modern features like built-in gating.

The Invective adds even more power than Peavey’s other metal amps and includes intuitive features like a switchable boost, switchable rack loop and effects loop, and a boost function on both dirty channels.

For the metal guitarist looking for the loudest, most responsive and versatile amp on the market, look no further than the Peavey Invective.

What Customers Like

  • Incredible clean channel
  • Tons of power
  • Built-in noise gate

What Customers Dislike

  • Expensive
  • Both dirty channels share an EQ

Hughes & Kettner Black Spirit 200w Head

Best For the Price

What Makes It Special?

A monster of a metal amp with 200 watts of power, the Black Spirit 200 seamlessly blends classic tube tone with the tonal editing capability of a modeling amp. The Spirit 200 boasts four channels, a built-in noise gate, and the high ceiling that modern metal guitarists demand.

  • Four channels with switchable boost on each
  • Built-in noise gate
  • Incredibly lightweight (only eight pounds)
  • Storage for up to 128 user patches

Hughes & Kettner have quietly made some of the most iconic and best-looking metal amps for decades, and while they’re best known for their all-tube monsters, the new Black Spirit amp represents a full departure from tubes, relying instead on H&K’s new Spirit Tone Generator to deliver all of the impressive tones this amp is capable of.

Their revolutionary sag control accurately simulates the sound of a tube amp being pushed to the verge of destruction at any volume. A built-in noise gate ensures that your amp is whisper quiet during rhythmic or palm muted sections. The Black Spirit 200 also boasts a serial effects loop, MIDI compatibility, and a direct out with cab simulation, making this powerhouse ideal for the studio as well as the stage.

What Customers Like

  • Four incredible sounding channels, each with boost
  • Bluetooth compatible
  • Built-in noise gate

What Customers Dislike

  • Ultra channel sounds overly digital
  • Fairly steep learning curve to master the features of the amp

Peavey 6505+ 120w Head

What Makes It Special?

The 6505+ features two channels, footswitchable boost, and independent EQ, pre and post gain, resonance, and presence controls for each channel. This amp delivers an incredible 120 watts of all tube metal muscle.

  • Footswitchable boost on lead channel
  • Fully independent controls for each channel
  • Effects loop and preamp out
  • Includes footswitch

The worthy successor to Peavey’s iconic 5150 line, the 6505+ has been the choice of many of metal’s top guitar players for over a decade. Delivering massive amounts of gain and a footswitchable boost function, this two-channel amp delivers all of the tones modern metal players demand, with plenty of power to spare.

Each channel features an independent 3-band EQ, controls for pre and post gain, and controls for resonance and presence as well. The footswitchable boost is specially tuned to provide an incredibly useful “third channel” for players, making this amp ideal for both rhythm and lead guitarists. Best of all, it’s one of the most affordable all-tube metal amps around.

What Customers Like

  • Incredible metal tone on lead channel
  • Completely independent controls on each channel
  • Tons of power

What Customers Dislike

  • Clean channel leaves a lot to be desired
  • Doesn’t have a dedicated third channel

Line 6 Spider V 240w Head

Best for Beginners & Students

What Makes It Special?

The latest from the biggest innovators in modeling technology, the Spider V seamlessly goes from the stage to the practice studio thanks to onboard 4” speakers. Over 200+ amp, cab and effects models, and a built-in wireless receiver and a built-in tuner and metronome make the Spider V the perfect tool for practice as well as the stage.

  • Only amp head with a built-in speaker system for practice
  • Built-in practice tools
  • Over 200+ amp, cab, and effects models
  • Built-in wireless receiver

The Spider V comes on the heels of the Spider IV, one of the most iconic metal amps of all time for players on a budget. The Spider V boasts exciting new features like built-in stereo speakers, a tuner and metronome, and built-in wireless receiver.

As for the tones themselves, players are treated to a seemingly endless selection of tones thanks to the impressive library of onboard amp models and effects. Everything is fully editable through the amp or the Line 6 app. The Spider V also features tons of inspiring presets crafted by some of the best guitarists in the world.

What Customers Like

  • Tons of available tones
  • Built-in speakers and metronome for practice purposes
  • Easy to use despite all its features

What Customers Dislike

  • No longer includes Line 6’s famous INSANE amp model (a metal favorite)
  • Includes a wireless receiver, but not a wireless transmitter

Marshall Code 100H 100w Head

Best on a Budget

What Makes It Special?

Classic Marshall looks and a myriad of different tonal options at an unbeatable price. The Code 100 features 14 different preamp models, four power amp models, and loads of onboard effects. USB and Bluetooth connectivity help usher this metal beast into the 21st century.

  • A total of 56 different amp models
  • Plenty of onboard effects

Marshall is best known for their all tube powerhouses, but their Code series of modeling amps have shown that this iconic brand is ready to deliver the tones that modern guitar players demand. With 14 different preamp models and four power amp models, the Code 100H provides 56 total amp model combinations and 24 quality digital effects.

An auxiliary input allows you to jam along to your favorite records, and a headphone output allows you to jam out without bothering the neighbors. The Code 100H also features eight different cabinet simulations, which are especially handy for when you’re practicing through the headphone jack.

What Customers Like

  • Classic Marshall looks with modern features
  • USB and Bluetooth compatible

What Customers Dislike

  • Only 100 solid-state watts – may not be loud enough for big venues
  • Lacks the responsiveness of a tube amp

6 More Really Good Amps for Heavy Metal

EVH 5150III 50w Head

While the original 5150 amp was developed for Eddie Van Halen by Peavey, the end to their licensing agreement meant that Eddie took his iconic amp with him, which is now produced by his namesake company, EVH.

The 5150III provides all the classic 5150 tones you love, with some notable additions that were missing from the 5150, 5150II and Peavey’s 6505+.

This 50-watt monster is unbelievably loud considering its diminutive size, and it’s got more gain than any sensible metalhead needs, thanks to its impressive array of seven 12ax7 preamp tubes.

The 5150III provides three channels, with the first two channels sharing their EQ, gain, and volume controls, and the third channel offering a fully independent array of controls.

This compact amp is ideal for players who are tired of lugging around a 60-pound amp head with them, and it even features a headphone out for practicing at home. The 50-watt size is ideal as it allows you to unlock the full saturation of a cranked tube amp in any scenario.

Bogner Uberschall Twin Jet 150w Head

Bogner has developed a reputation for producing some of the most powerful metal monsters on the market, and their flagship Uberschall model is the amp that started it all. Players looking for tons of snarl and saturation are sure to appreciate the intense metal tones that this amp dishes out.

The latest incarnation of the Uberschall features a fully redesigned clean channel that produces tones ranging from sparkling cleans to classic metal overdrive. The dirty channel remains the same as the original Uberschall, but adds a presence control, allowing you to take even more precise control over your tones.

With a soul melting 150 watts of pure tube power, the Uberschall Twin Jet is ideal for players looking to punish their eardrums.

Marshall JCM800 Studio Classic 20w Head

When it comes to classic metal, the JCM800 is the undisputed icon. Players looking to capture the iconic tones of classic metal players like Zakk Wylde, Kirk Hammett, or Kerry King haven’t had too many options, as the industry moves away from classic tones and towards the more digital sounds of modern metal.

Thankfully, Marshall has reissued their iconic 2203 series JCM800 head in a new, pint-sized package. This head delivers only 20 watts, but it’s still plenty loud enough for most bands. Plus, since it’s on the smaller side, players can really dial the amp up to eleven and enjoy the rich, saturated tones that the JCM800 has been so prized for.

Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier 100w Head

An American classic, the Mesa/Boogie rectifier line has been the preferred amp of some of metal’s premier guitarists.

The latest Dual Rectifier is a multi-watt head and allows players to toggle between 50 or 100 watts independently on each channel. This feature is ideal for players who want to push their amp to its saturation point without blowing out their eardrums.

Each channel features fully independent controls and multiple voicings, so you’re able to get maximum versatility from this amp. The Dual Rectifier makes quick work of tones ranging from pristine clean to classic metal punch, all the way to the all-out distortion required by modern metal players.

Boss KTN-HEAD 100w

Best known for their iconic stompboxes, Boss has dipped their toes in the amp world with impressive results thanks to their new Katana line of amplifiers.

A modeling amp that’s capable of delivering tones for every style of music, the Katana line really excels when it comes to delivering sought after modern metal tones.

With 100 watts of power, this affordable amp is ideal for practice and most gigs, and it’s selection of Boss stompbox-quality effects provide players with an incredibly broad selection of different tones.

Best of all, Boss regularly updates their firmware to include new effects and presets, so your amp will continue to sprout useful new features long after you’ve purchased yours.

Engl Metal Master 40w Head

A boutique-quality tube amp brand that’s produced some of the most iconic amps for hard rock and metal, Engl has broken the mold yet again with their diminutive yet powerful Metal Master head.

The Metal Master boasts two channels, with switchable boost on the lead channel. This amp has global controls for EQ, reverb, and master volume, and independent gain controls for each channel.

Thanks to the clean gain control, the Metal Master is capable of delivering tones ranging from pristine clean to classic metal bite. Meanwhile, the lead channel provides the all-out distortion that modern metal guitarists demand.

The Metal Master also includes an effects loop, balanced line out, a power amp out and two speaker jacks to provide players with the versatility they need. At 40 watts, this amp is begging to be pushed to its saturation point, making it an instant favorite among metal guitarists.

5 FAQ’s About Amps for Heavy Metal

What are the different types of amps?

When it comes to amps, there are four main types to concern yourself with:

  • Tube
  • Solid-state
  • Hybrid
  • Modeling

Tube amps are the original guitar amps. The power and tone of these amps are derived by vacuum tubes. These amps are prized for their warm, musical, and reactive tone. Players find that they’re able to inject more life and feeling into their music with a tube amp compared to the other three styles of amp, which have a decidedly more digital tone.

Solid-state amps were developed as an answer to some of the problems that are inherent with tube amps. Tube amps are usually quite heavy, they’re somewhat delicate, and they require regular maintenance, including tube replacement, which can get pricey.

In turn, manufacturers developed amps that derived their power and tone from diodes and transistors, instead of from vacuum tubes. The result was an amp that was lighter, more reliable, and required less maintenance than a tube amp. Unfortunately, the trade-off was tone. Solid-state amps lack the warmth and responsiveness of their tube powered cousins.

As an answer to this issue, manufacturers began developing hybrid amps. These amps employ a tube preamp section for tone, but the power of the amp is still derived from diodes and transistors. These amps are equally reliable and maintenance-free, and while they tend to get you closer to that authentic tube tone, they still aren’t quite the real thing.

The latest type of amp is the modeling amp. These amps are typically solid-state, but there are some hybrid and tube versions available too. These amps employ a powerful digital signal processor which allows guitarists to unlock a myriad of different tones and effects from a single amp.

When it comes to heavy metal, guitarists tend to prefer tube amps or modeling amps. While players on a budget regularly opt for a solid-state or hybrid option, these amps are usually unable to deliver the tone and responsiveness that modern metal demands.

Does the size of the speaker matter?

When it comes to metal, speaker size is an important consideration to make.

While guitarists who play other styles may be able to get away with smaller 8” or 10” speakers, the industry standard speaker is 12”, and it’s a practical requirement when you play metal.

With metal, the guitar tends to cover a wider frequency range that features heavier bass frequencies than other styles. These are frequencies that smaller speakers have difficulty covering, and the result is an unpleasant “woof” sound when the speaker is unable to accurately reproduce those frequencies.

With metal, not only is the size of the speaker important but so is the number of speakers. If you play in a metal band or plan to start one in the future, a single speaker just isn’t going to cut it. In fact, most players find that even dual 12” speakers don’t deliver the power handling that metal calls for.

As a result, the average metal guitarist opts for a stack, which features an amplifier head hooked up to a speaker cabinet loaded with four 12” speakers.

What are the top brands for amps for heavy metal?

While virtually every amp manufacturer makes bold claims about their amps and their ability to tackle a broad range of styles, including metal, there are a few brands that rise to the top of the field.

Peavey is one of the most popular options. Since they arrived on the scene in the ‘80s, they’ve been a dominant force in the metal world. Take one look at their logo, and it’s clear that these guys know metal. Over the years, they’ve produced some of the most iconic metal amps of all time, including the 5150, 5150II, XXX, 6505+, and their latest metal monster, the Invective.

Line 6 is another dominant force in metal. They arrived onto the scene in the late ‘90s with their incredibly popular POD line of amp and effects modelers. While their amps always have something for everyone, they excel in one area, and that’s metal. Their Spider line has been a favorite of metal guitarists on a budget, and their latest, the Spider V, delivers even more metal than ever before.

Marshall is perhaps the most well-known brand in amplifiers, and their amps defined the sound of classic metal from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Many of the top guitarists in metal still rely on the Marshall JCM line to deliver their signature sound. If you’re after classic metal tone, Marshall is one brand you’ll need to take a close look at.

How many watts do I need on an amp for heavy metal?

When it comes to metal, wattage is a critically important factor that can mean the difference between you sounding your best, or sounding like a pile of mud.

The first thing to consider is whether or not you’re considering a tube or solid-state amp because the wattage will vary greatly depending on which style of amp you’re in the market for.

Tube watts are much louder than solid-state watts. As a rule of thumb, every tube watt is going to be as loud as two solid state-watts.

The other thing to consider is how you play. Do you play by yourself, or in a band? If you’re playing in a band, a high wattage amp is a necessity. Meanwhile, if you just play by yourself, it’s hardly a concern.

For metal guitarists in bands, look for an amp that provides 50 tube watts or 100 solid-state watts at a bare minimum. Players in especially loud bands may find that a 100 tube watts or 200+ solid state watts are necessary.

Meanwhile, if you don’t play with a band, any amp that delivers the tones you’re after should be a good choice for you, regardless of wattage.

If you’re looking for a tube amp, an amp with less wattage will sound better for your purposes than a larger amp, because you’ll be able to drive the amp harder to achieve the volume you need, resulting in a more saturated tone. A 5-10 watt tube amp should be perfect for you. Or, if you’re looking for a solid-state option, anything in the 25-50 watt range should fit the bill.

Where can I learn more about amps for heavy metal?

Guitar World has been a staple on the coffee tables of guitar players for years. Both their print magazine and their website provides tons of useful tips and tricks, gear reviews, and interviews with top players. Their metal amp roundup is a great resource for any guitarist looking for a new metal amp.

Guitar.com is another trusted resource for all things guitar. Like Guitar World, their site is chock full of gear reviews, interviews, and tips from the top guitarists in the world. Their recent interview with metal legend Kerry King is a great resource for metal guitarists looking to improve their sound and playing.

Metalguitarist.org is another resource that every metal player should dig into. Sometimes, the best advice and info you’ll ever get is from other metal guitarists, and their forums are a great place to discuss gear, get advice, and see what other players are using in their rigs. Their site also provides a collection of amazing sounding patches for the best modeling amps.

Conclusion

At this point, you’re armed with all the info you need to select your next heavy metal amp. The amps we’ve covered above represent the best metal monsters on the market, and each one should be a great addition to your rig.

Do you play metal? What kind of amp do you use? Sound off in the comments and tell our readers what your favorites are!

When shopping for a metal amp, guitarists will often check out:

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