Usually amps you can gig with are big and expensive. But there are a few cheap amps you can gig with, without compromising your tone. Today we take a look at what makes these amps perfect for beginner players ready to take the stage.
Cheap Amps You Can Gig With: Guitar Playing Is Expensive!
It’s no secret that guitar is an expensive hobby. But if you are wanting to take guitar to the next level and actually start playing shows, it can get even more expensive. If you have the money to buy a super nice rig, then by all means…do it! But this is not the reality for most people, and even if you do have the money for an expensive live rig-there is probably a more economical way to go about it!
We have taken a look at the best “bang for your buck” practice amps before, and those are great when you are learning how to play at home. Most of the practice amps, including amps like the Spark, are great for learning at home at low volumes/with headphones. There are also useful tools like the Mustang Micro by Fender that is amazing for jamming at home, while you are learning. These are all great for practicing, but taking them to a gig? These aforementioned products are not going to work.
The good news is there are plenty of cheap amps you can gig with these days!
It took me quite a while to come up with the parameters for this amp list. So what are we looking for in cheap amps you can gig with? What kind of features and specs do we need to look at? Which amps are worth it?
It can all be really confusing, starting with something simple like the wattage of the amp. But many other factors matter as well, such as speaker size. Sound quality definitely matters, just as much as effects. There is a lot to factor in when it comes to most guitar gear. All of the cheap amps you can gig with that we are featuring today will have to meet these parameters:
- Under $600 USD
- Replaces Your Current Practice Amp
- Medium To High Wattage (Tube Or Solid State)
- Combo Amp design
- Loud Enough To Play With A Drummer
- Takes Pedals Well (FX Loop)
- Built In Effects With Footswitch Option (If No FX Loop)
- High Quality Sound
- Can Play Any Genre
As I said, It took me a good bit of time to come up with these cheap amps you can gig with, and I had to test all of them to be sure. The list above may seem pretty specific, but all of these things are necessary when you are looking for a gigging amp. Just briefly, let me explain some of my choices so if none of these amps appeal to you, at least you know what you need to be looking for on your own.
Wattage is a big factor with cheap amps you can gig with, and is often misunderstood by most guitarists. The wattage is important no matter what the power source may be (tube/solid state). There are two types of power sources, and there are advantages to both. Tube amps are loud and have plenty of headroom once you get to the 30 watt mark. A 30 watt tube amp will easily keep up in a band situation, where as with solid state you would need much more wattage. The idea, is to be louder than the drummer, and be able to “Sit” in the mix.
Next, for cheap amps you can gig with, I chose combo amp deigns, because running around with a head and cabinet is not ideal when you’re first starting out. You want to be loud enough to keep up with a drummer, but unless you are playing arenas a stack amplifier is overkill. I made this mistake years ago, while playing smaller gigs. I had a Mesa Boogie stack, that I never got to turn up loud on stage. Most of the time, the soundman will be controlling your on-stage volume.
Then, I added “Built in FX/Or FX Loop” because these are things you will want in any rig, but especially with cheap amps you can gig with. If you have effects you’ll need a way to control them on stage, so this is an important feature as well. You might already have some great pedals that you plan to use with your amp, so an FX loop is going to come in handy. Amps that I have chosen without an FX loop, have great built-in effects with a footswitch option.
Finally, I know that we focus on Metal and Rock music here, but I wanted to pick cheap amps you can gig with that could play any type of music. Many cheap amps you can gig with only do one genre of music really well. I think it’s good practice to be able to play multiple styles as a guitarist in general, making you a “musician” and not just a “guitarist”. With that in mind, I definitely want this amp to be able to be used at home as your practice amp as well, so the amps needed a headphone jack on the list.
This is another reason I wanted these amps to be combo amps. I wanted them to be portable and easy to move back and forth from gigs to your home. This is ideal, since you can dial your tones in at home, and then put them to use at your next gig. That way, you are never fiddling with your amp at a show, or at band practice. With all of that said…
Let’s take a look at the best cheap amps you can gig with!
#5 Fender Mustang GTX 100
I had a blast reviewing the Fender Mustang GTX amp, and I knew this was going to be a cheap amp you can gig with from my original review. When it comes to features, this has just about everything you need for home practice as well as playing shows. We went over all of the details in depth with the review, so I will just list them here. If there is something specific you wanted to know about the Fender Mustang GTX, please refer to our review. I tried out every feature, and this amp has a bunch of them!
- Power: 100W
- Speaker: 1×12″ Celestion
- 200 tonal presets
- Stereo XLR balanced line outputs
- Stereo FX loop
- Bluetooth audio streaming
- Editing via Fender TONE app for iOS and Android
- Built-in Wi-Fi for firmware updates
- Built-in 60-second looper
- Stereo Aux In
- Weight: 22 lbs.
- Comes with footswitch
What Makes This A Great Amp For Gigging: We can start with having 100 watts of power, and the 12 inch Celestion speaker. This amp is super loud, and it would have no problem in a band situation. On the other hand, it is small and compact enough for home use. So this can take the place of your practice amp at home, and it even has an input to jam along with music. It also has a headphone jack so even if you live in an apartment, you can crank the amp and be silent!
When it comes to cheap amps you can gig with, this Fender Mustang GTX 100 was almost designed with this idea in mind! It has built in effects that you can not only program yourself, but you can control them with the included footswitch. Having a footswitch included really makes this a great choice for a live rig since you won’t have to take a pedalboard with you. This was designed specifically to one of the best cheap amps you can gig with.
That being said, you will have to tweak the amp a little bit when you get it. The out of the box presets are hit or miss in my opinion. But this is an easy fix since you have Bluetooth built into the amp, and you can dial in your sound with the Fender Tone App. This app is really easy to use and you can load it on your tablet, computer, or phone.
You can design a different patch for every song before the gig and easily use the footswitch to control everything while you are playing the show. If you are in a cover band that changes songs often then having presets for tons of songs is a huge advantage. Really, the only downside to this amp is the programming. It might take a while to dial in the sounds that you need for your band. But the Fender GTX 100 can store 200 sounds, which is more than enough.
When it comes to cheap amps you can gig with the Fender Mustang GTX 100 is a perfect “all around” amp. It does everything you need it to do, and it comes well within our $600 budget!
The updated Mustang GTX is a better, bolder guitar amp with an impressive feature set and great performance. A wide selection of accurate and versatile amp models, dozens of effects and 200 onboard presets give you the guitar tones you need for almost any type of music. Modular signal path flexibility lets you move effects anywhere in the chain, while the crisp full-color display lets you know what’s going on under the hood. Footswitch Included!
#4 Line 6 Spyder MKV 120
Ok, I know what you’re thinking. When it comes to cheap amps you can gig with the Line 6 Spyder is almost a meme. But don’t let the reputation throw you off course. We took our time and did a full test review of the newer Spyder series, and they are not as bad as the older models. If you check out my full review, you’ll see why I have changed my mind about these amps, and you should too! It has plenty of features:
- Artist, Iconic Song, and Classic amp presets
- 200+ amps, cabs, and effects
- Tuner, metronome, and jam-along drum loops
- Compatible with Line 6 FBV 3 Foot Controller
- USB interface and free Spider V Remote app (Mac, PC, iOS, Android)
- Classic Speaker mode for organic sound and feel
When Line 6 designed the Spyder MKV, you can tell that negative feedback on previous versions was taken to heart. The entire amp modeling and speaker technology saw a complete overhaul. From the ground up, everything about the Spyder amp was re-tooled to be more user friendly. Line 6 designed this to be the ultimate cheap amp you can gig with.
What Makes This A Great Amp For Gigging: The original Spyder amps were such a joke because they sounded fine when you played them alone in a practice setting. However, once you tried to record with one or play a show, it just sounded weak and sad. So Line 6 applied most of the Helix technology to these new amps, changing the way the amp reacted in a band setting. The Spyder amps now have better speaker modeling, better amp models, and better effects.
Like the Fender Amp, this is another one that you will have to program for live use. In fact, most of the cheap amps you can gig with are going to take a little bit of work on your part. But the Line 6 Edit app is easy to set up, and once you have your amp connected, you can tweak every patch to perfection. This is important, because you will probably need to make your own patches since the stock sounds are…not great.
I know the Line 6 Spyder gets a lot of hate, and when it comes to the older models…I totally agree with you. Once you have a reputation, it’s difficult to change people’s minds. This has more than enough power, built in effects, and I think it’s one of the best cheap amps you can gig with. Just keep in mind that you will need to build your own patches, probably from the ground up because most of the presets are pretty bad.
All of the patches and effects can be controlled via Line 6 FBV Footswitch sold separately. If you want to get really advanced, you can get the Line 6 Expanded Controller that acts as a midi-based footswitch platform. Either way, if you’re willing to put in a little bit of work, this is one of the best cheap amps you can gig with.
Step onstage or in the studio with an amp that can deliver almost any tone your music demands. Whether you like to plug in and rock a traditional amp tone, or enjoy tweaking parameters until you’ve devised an absolutely unique and awe-inspiring sound! Classic Speaker mode provides an organic sound and feel, while all-new presets—including vintage amp presets voiced by a renowned tube-amp maker—provide you with authentic building blocks from which to craft your sound into raging metal, ambient landscapes, chiming pop, or virtually anything!
#3 Peavey Bandit 112
This would not be a list of cheap amps you can gig with if we didn’t mention Peavey at least once! Peavey makes some really amazing amplifiers that span all kinds of price points. The most famous amp that Peavey makes is definitely the iconic 5150 and 6505. These high gain monsters have dominated the metal guitar industry for decades now. But what about Peavey’s other products?
The Bandit 112 is paramount when it comes to cheap amps you can gig with, and it will work great for playing shows. The Bandit 112 is missing a lot of digital effects that you find with the rest of the amps on this list, but that’s because the Bandit 112 is made for a specific type of guitarist. If you need a pristine clean channel with loads of headroom and a fantastic distortion channel, then this is the amp for you!
- 80 Watts Of Power
- 12″ Blue Marvel Speaker
- 2 Channels (Footswitch Controlled)
- Simulated Speaker Direct Out
- 25%, 50%, 100% Power Level Switch
- Loose, tight, and medium Damping Switch
- Effects Loop (Dedicated)
- 3-band EQ Per Channel
- Vintage/classic/warm switch on clean channel
- Classic/modern/high gain switch on lead channel
- Pre and post gain on lead channel
- High gain and low gain inputs
- Master reverb and boost
- Footswitch jack
If you are the type of person that likes to have their own pedalboard, and you already have pedals that you love, this is your amp. The Bandit 112 has a dedicated FX loop for all of your modulation pedals like chorus, flange, and delay. You could also use a distortion pedal with the clean sound, but I would say you should try the distortion channel first.
What Makes This A Great Amp For Gigging: Peavey really nailed the clean channel on this amp, and it sounds amazing with the built in reverb. You have a few options on what type of clean sound you want. The “vintage” sounds like a VOX amplifier to me. The “classic” mode sounds more like a Fender, and the “warm” seems to boost the bass and depth of the “classic” mode. So you have a lot of options when dialing in a sound.
When it comes to the second channel, you have the same type of options. “Classic” and “modern” both give you a fantastic crunch tone that mimics a cranked tube amp really well. The “high gain” mode is very close to the sound of a Peavey 5150 Amp. You would never think that this little amp would put out such a brutal sound! Distortion sounds are one of the most important aspects of cheap amps you can gig with.
The downside, is the lack of built in effects. But maybe you are like Slash and you don’t really use any effects when you play live. I have done this before when I played a Blackstar HT40. To be honest, it was very satisfying to just plug up my guitar, and play. I didn’t use any pedals, minus the one to change between clean/distorted… and it was so damn liberating!
However, if you need effects then you can always buy some awesome pedals with the money you’ll save from buying this affordable amp. Peavey designed it’s amps to work with just about any 2 button footswitch on the market, so you can solve the channel switching on stage for a low cost. If this sounds like the type of player you are, then this amp is perfection!
Picture the Peavy Bandit 112 as a blank canvas that you can color however you want…making it one of the best cheap amps you can gig with!
The 5 star reviews don't lie! Considered by many to be the hottest little amp in its price range, the Peavey Bandit 112 features a vintage/classic/warm switch on the clean channel and a classic/modern high gain switch on the lead channel that totally change its tonal character. It's like having 6 amps in one! Trans-Tube technology gives you a killer distortion tone. The Bandit is a loud little beast!
#2 Fender Champion 100XL
When it comes to cheap amps you can gig with, this is by far the biggest on the list. The Fender Champion series has been around for a long time, and most of them are small practice amps. But this is the big boy version, and it can actually do a lot of different classic tones. The 2X12 design works really well with some of the features and effects, and it puts out a metric ton of sound with 100 watts.
Like the Peavey Bandit 112, you can’t really program the Fender Champion with a computer or an app. But this amp does have built in effects, albeit not as versatile as some of our other choices. The Fender Champion 100XL is “murdered out” in all black, and has a lot to offer:
- Power: 100W
- Two channels: Blackface clean, selectable amp voice
- Single input
- Speakers: 2×12” Celestion Midnight 60
- Tap Tempo For Effects
- Aux In
- FX Loop for pedals
- Cabinet Material: 7-Ply 3/4” medium-density fiberboard
- Black textured vinyl covering
- Blacked-out grill cloth
- Molded plastic strap with black powder coated caps
- 2-button footswitch included
This is a super-powerful dual channel amp that let’s you dial in a sound and then “set it and forget it”. This style of amp is going to appeal to the same people that might like the Peavey Bandit 112, but it does offer some onboard effects. When I said the effects felt like an afterthought, I meant that you can only have one on at a time, and they are pretty simple.
What Makes This A Great Amp For Gigging: You have two channels to toggle with the footswitch, and the footswitch also turn the effects on and off. When it comes to cheap amps you can gig with, this is simplicity at it’s finest. The first channel is modeled after a Fender Twin amplifier, and to my ears, it sounds nearly identical to it’s expensive cousin. With the reverb settings, you can have a beautiful clean tone, with or without reverb. This is an amazing sounding clean channel that will work great with pedals if that’s what you want.
The second channel has all types of options for you to choose from. There’s a great crunch option for the second channel that definitely sounds like an overdriven, cranked up Fender. But then the next two option are much higher gain, and to everyone’s surprise…this thing chugs. The last “Metal” channel even has an octave fuzz sound built in, and the two 12” speakers push some serious air!
It really pushes some bass response with the 12” speakers on the high gain channel. Even with the gain turned up pretty high, it never really gets “fizzy” or off-putting. You can do everything from Metallica to Meshuggah with this amp. The best part is even if you have the bass bottomed out, the two Celestion speakers can handle it. Switching between the two channels once you have them set is easy with the included footswitch.
The effects are all really good, but you can only have one turned on at a time. For a lot of people, this will be more than enough options. There is power in simplicity sometimes, and that is exactly why I chose this amp over the myriad of other designs and brands. Fender really knocked it out of the park with cheap amps you can gig with.
We are going to get to #1…but first, we have one of the best cheap amps you can gig with that almost made the list, and I think some people may really love this amp…
Runner Up/Honorable Mention: Peavey VYPYR X3
When it comes to cheap amps you can gig with, I feel like the Peavey often gets overlooked. Which is a shame, because the VYPYR series is one of the better modeling amps for Metal. It has versions of the 5150/6505 programmed and ready to go for high gain madness. It is made well, and has an easy to understand interface. You can program everything from the amp itself, no software involved, unlike the other cheap amps you can gig with that feature programmable patches.
I got to try out the new Peavey VYPYR X3 last week, and I didn’t have a whole lot of time to demo it. peavey just released this new version of the VYPYR, so I had limited access to this amp. The distortion tones that I dialed in from the presets were absolutely amazing. The VYPYR X3 did a little bit of everything when it came to searing high gain lead sounds and absolutely filthy chugging.
There was one problem when it came to this amp, and it was one of my parameters for choosing any cheap amps you can gig with. It doesn’t really do everything well. Unfortunately, that was one of my rules from the get go because you never know what kind of gig you might land. But it does do some great high gain tones, and it has killer effects! What could be wrong?
The clean channel might be where Peavey cut some corners. But again, I didn’t have a lot of time with this amp. It hasn’t been released yet and I wish I had more time with our affiliate’s demo model. But alas, I did not. But I really wanted to sneak it into this list of cheap amps you can gig with because it has some serious potential.
I just wish that the clean sound was less sterile, and the more “Bluesy” sounds were better. Again, this is only based on some of the preset tones I got to play with. The clean tones on these cheap amps you can gig with are often digital, and the clean tones sometimes suffer from sounding “too clean”. I might be totally wrong on this one, but I will need a few days to play with one once it’s released.
Maybe you can get a great clean tone out of the VYPYR X3, and I just couldn’t get it dialed in correctly? This is possible, and maybe I missed something important when I was testing it out. But until I have more time to do a proper review, I will leave it here as an honorable mention. This is a great amp, and it just barely missed the mark. Maybe my full review will change my mind completely!
Preorder The Peavy VYPYR X3 TODAY! Ships In February!
#1 BOSS Katana MKII 100 Watt
Well, I suppose this is not a big surprise to anyone if you read our articles often or you happen to know me, personally. The BOSS Katana is the penultimate digital amp, and it reigns at the top of cheap amps you can gig with. This is my current amp for gigging, and it will be my rig when I support my album that will be coming out later this year. You heard that correctly, I have ditched my big tube amps and now I use just the Katana.
In case you missed the last time we spoke about this amazing amp, let me refresh your memory. The BOSS Katana has every feature you could possibly want in an amplifier. Period. It is the king of cheap amps you can gig with, and it has sold more units than any other modern amplifier. Let’s take a look at the specs:
- Tube Logic design approach produces class-defying power, authoritative punch and cutting presence
- Five unique amp characters (Clean, Crunch, Lead, Brown and Acoustic)
- Five independent effects sections (Booster, Mod, FX, Delay and Reverb)
- Dedicated Pedal FX for foot-controller
- Power Amp In for preamps, modelers and multi-effects
- Stereo Expand out to link with a second Katana MkII
- Three Cab Resonance options (Vintage, Modern and Deep)
- Connections for up to two footswitches or an expression pedal
So what is so special about the Katana, that it sells so many units? Why are so many professional musicians using the Katana? Why is this one of the best cheap amps you can gig with? To get these answers we are going to do a deep dive into amp design.
What Makes This A Great Amp For Gigging: We can start with the power section. Most solid state amplifiers (anything not tube/valve) use a “Class D” power section. This will be the case for most cheap amps you can gig with, regardless of wattage. The Katana uses a “Class A/B” power section. Now what does this mean in layman’s terms? These “Class” terms refer to power efficiency and heat gain/loss when the amp is operating. To break it down to even more basic terms, we can just compare the two types we have been talking about.
Class D is the most efficient when it comes to heat and power, up to 90% actually. The “D” does not stand for digital, since this is still an analog power source. But the components that make the tones can definitely be digital, making Class D a great source for modeling amps and high wattage cheap amps you can gig with. But you lose fidelity, and sound quality.
The Katana is “Class A/B”, which has really great power efficiency, while also retaining great sound quality/fidelity. It takes the high fidelity sound of a class A amplifier, and uses the power efficiency of a Class B amplifier. This means you get full range tone, and Class A/B amps are used a lot in home stereo equipment. Many audiophiles prefer this when it comes to their home stereo receivers.
So that means the Katana just sounds better, even though it is digital processing. It sounds and acts more like a real tube amp when it comes to dynamic response. The BOSS Katana is so popular with gigging guitarists because it sounds great in a band mix, and it has the power to play with a loud drummer all day.
The Katana should be treated like a “real” amp with digital effects, not as a modeler. The other amps on this list, like the Fender GTX 100, have a multitude of amp models built in. The Katana does not, since it really only has the 5 amp models to choose from. Of course, you can edit all of these models with the Tone Studio App.
I chose the 100 watt version of the Katana,, since this is the amp I use myself. The 100 watt version has a lot of features that the lower wattage versions does not have. The biggest difference is the FX Loop on the back of the amp. This allows you to use your pedals with the amp if you want. Although, the Katana has a whole collection of BOSS pedals built into the amp that you can program!
The Katana 100 can also use the BOSS GA-FC Footswitch to control everything. You can switch between channels, presets, effects, and amp models with this footswitch. You can add expression pedals to the GA-FC, to control volume effects and wah-wah. If you combine this footswitch with the FX loop/Pedals, you have endless possibilities for tone.
The Katana 100 can also be connected with another Katana 100, for stereo expand mode. One Katana will control both amps via the GA-FC footswitch. Even with two BOSS Katana amps running stereo, you will still be in budget territory and priced less than a single tube amp. If you split them to be on both sides of a stage, reverbs and delays will “ping pong” between the two amps. So you get two cheap amps you can gig with… for the price of one tube amp!
But if I am being honest, you can use the Katana with the presets that it comes with out of the box. I found all of the preset sounds on the panel dial to be more than usable. In fact, I haven’t even touched the clean amp tone presets for my live performances. I only tweaked the high gain channels to be compatible with all of my guitars with active pickups.
I know it’s almost a cliché now to recommend a Katana to beginner guitarists. But let’s be fair, this is an amazing amp for guitar players of any playing level. I have used it to record direct, and the tone is amazing for recording that way. You can also mic it up like a regular guitar amp for the studio, and it sounds great that way as well.
If for some reason you decide that you no longer like the BOSS Katana’s sounds, you can also use the 100 watt version as a FRFR Speaker. I was a little weary of this feature, since the speaker and power section seemed to be tailored to being an actual guitar amp. But I plugged up my Helix to the “Power In” jack, and it works great! All of my Helix patches came through the Katana with robust clarity. It’s positively ridiculous how much you can do with the Katana.
Amp purists will call me crazy for using the Katana as my main source of tone. But the reality is; it can do everything my tube amps can do. It is lightweight, easy to transport, and it took minimal tweaking to get a great sound. If for some reason I need more tonal options, I can use my Helix in conjunction with the Katana. If you were blindfolded, and you heard my rig, you would never know that it was an affordable Katana behind all of that sound.
For cheap amps you can gig with, there is not a better option for guitarists beyond the Katana. This is the absolute best in my opinion, and it can be easy to use if you want it to be. On the other hand, you can also do a serious deep dive into the features with the free app, and make this as complex as you want it. The Katana is a very unique amp, and deserves all of the praise it receives.
Winner of several awards, and 5 star rated everywhere! The BOSS katana has everything you need to practice, record, and play live shows! The Katana 100 is easy to program, and has an intuitive interface. This is an amp that beginners and seasoned pros alike can enjoy! Pro tones on a budget!
The Best Cheap Amps You Can Gig With: Pro Advice…
Look, I have been doing this at a professional level for over 20 years now, and while some of these amps may seem too cheap to gig with, I assure you they are not. I could use any one of these amps to play a gig with! In fact, the BOSS Katana is my main amp these days. But I could make any of these amps work for a show, with a day’s notice. To the naysayers out there, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
I don’t want to sound like one of those “tone is in your fingers” type of guys, but there is definitely some truth to that. You also have to take into account that the audience doesn’t care if you’re playing a $300 amp, or a $3000 one. The audience only cares about what sounds you are making, and if you are hitting the right notes! Your playing style is what the audience really notices, and no expensive gear is going to replace talent and practice.
Now, if you prefer tube amps for the stage and studio, more power to you. Tube amps definitely give you a different sound that these cheap amps you can gig with… just can’t do. But there is no excuse anymore for not taking your music to the stage. It was once a serious struggle to buy equipment for gigs when you were first starting out, and it was expensive as hell.
Years ago, if you told me that budget solid state amps would be a viable option for gigging… I would have laughed at you. Back in the day, solid state amps were looked down on for playing live. They just couldn’t compete when it came to distorted tones and sheer volume of a tube amp. Solid state amps in the past were known for being good at one thing: Clean tones.
But times have really changed, and technology has caught up. I say all the time that we live in the best time ever for guitar players. I truly believe this, because affordable gear is more than usable these days. In fact, you could pair any of these amps with a guitar from our budget section, and have a GREAT live rig! Just because it’s affordable, doesn’t mean its bad! So pick up one of these cheap amps you can gig with, and get on stage!
Do I Need A Tube Amp For Playing Live?
Not these days! There are plenty of solid state amps, and digital modelers that will work great for playing shows. Cheap amps you can gig with are everywhere now, like the BOSS Katana! Lots of pros have gone digital these days, and it’s easy to see why.
Are Cheap Amps Worth It?
It depends on your budget of course, but if you are looking for cheap amps you can gig with, there are tons of options out there these days. Just because an amplifier is affordable, doesn’t mean that it can’t be used for gigs/the studio.
What Companies Make Cheap Amps You Can Gig With?