Top 8 Modeling Amps to Add Versatility to Your Playing
Last updated: Apr 10, 2020
54Hours of Research
Buying a modeling amplifier is a great move if you want something that adds a certain amount of versatility and creative freedom at the point of amplification in your set-up. The best modeling amp for one person won’t be the best sounding modeling amp for another. If you’re looking for the best modeling amp for gigs, for example, you won’t be looking for the same model as if you need the best modeling practice amp. Likewise, the best modeling amp for gigs might not be the best practice modeling amp. Confused? Well, don’t worry, because we’re here to help you out.
Modeling amps are a modern-day chameleon when it comes to tone and sound. Almost everyone’s range and game will be upped when they include a good modeling amp in their kit. If you are looking for the best modeling amp for blues, these things can replicate hundreds of valve amplifiers and sounds, with richness it would take a whole truckload of units to replicate any other way. They are versatile, lightweight, and they can reproduce an entire range of pedal effects too, so they’re a great box of tricks when it comes to taking to the road and not carrying too much weight or bulk. Now, that’ll be music to the ears of a lot of weary musicians out there!
Top 8 Modeling Amps Review 2020
Everyone needs something slightly different from an amplifier, as we all know. In this article, we’re featuring and examining some of the very best modeling amps on the market. We’ve got a convenient and informative buying guide, and before that, we are going to look closely at eight of the best models available today. If you are on a search for the best modeling amp for your own needs, look no further, because we have them all in one place!
This list was a very difficult one to rise to the top of, and the Fender Mustang GT 40 builds on decades of classic amp making to get there. In terms of coming up with a digital amplifier worthy of the name, Fender had an extremely tough task on their hands because let’s face it, in terms of bluesy tones and technical excellence, it was always hard to beat a Fender.
The first thing you will notice as a lucky buyer of the Fender Mustang GT 40 is that the included 21 amp voices hark right back to the classic days of the old Fender amplifiers – the tone and quality are rich, bright, and beautiful to behold. This amp will please both the purists and newcomers to music in the digital age, and there is really not too much here to upset the tube amplifier stalwarts – everything just sounds so true and loyal to the old Fender feel.
Add to that the USB connectivity, the dedicated app, an absolutely massive range of 45 different effects, and you’ll be emulating your own guitar hero with this amp in no time, or producing and honing your own unique sound.
All in all, this is an excellent practice app, the clarity, quality, and tone are almost faultless, and this is a creative musician’s dream.
The Marshall Code 50 is like taking a trip back in time, and it’s really easy to forget that you are dealing with a modern amplifier. The looks, the sound, and the quality of the tones this thing can produce are all very reminiscent of Marshall stacks back in the day. However, this excellent little modeling combo has some modern era wizardry going on inside, and there is so much to do here, and so much scope to get creative.
The Marshall Code 50 is, as the name suggests, a 50-watt amplifier, and that is enough power to get you heard over everything that is going on in most practice rooms, and even though this is a mid-range amp, it’s a Marshall, so gigging in larger venues will be no problem. Marshall puts that mid-range power through a twelve-inch speaker, and it sounds great.
The Code 50 features four digital power amp models, and you get a very handy fourteen digital preamp models to play with. That’s topped off with a vast range of effects built into the cabinet: Compressor, Distortion, Auto Wah, Pitch Shifter, Chorus, Phaser, Flanger, and Tremolo. You also get digital delays and reverbs in the package.
The Yamaha THR100H is an amplifier head that takes inspiration from the pot controls of older amplifiers to present a very attractive package and offer a truly retro feel.
Don’t think for one moment that all you are getting is a nod to the past, though. The Yamaha amp offers all of the versatility of a modern modeling amplifier, and the pot controls are by no means just a gimmick. Many, many musicians will appreciate the controllability this style of the interface gives to them. There are no menus, and there’s zero scrolling with the Yamaha THR100H, even though you still get a complete range of creative possibilities and handy features.
The Yamaha THR100H also gives you the ability to get all of those beautiful modeling amp options, while still using your own cabs, so it’s an excellent option for a gigging musician with a big set-up who wants to explore what modeling amps offer, without getting rid of any equipment or completely redesigning their gigging regime.
You get five amp types, and five tube types and this amp features Yamaha’s impulse response speaker simulation, so you won’t be limited for cabinets. You also get a footswitch included, for better control on stage.
Next up on our list of the eight best modeling amplifiers is the brilliant VOX VT100X. This is an amp that will be capable of performing very well in almost any practice or performance situation, for a whole bunch of musicians and singers. Vox is one of the old guard of amplifier manufacturers so you can rest assured that when you buy the VOX VT100X, you’ll be purchasing in to some fine history and pedigree.
What you get with this amp is 100 watts of power, via a tight 12-inch speaker and a very lovely multi-stage pre-amp that delivers enough grunt to have you heard in any venue as part of any combo or band set-up.
The VOX VT100X utilizes Valvetronix preamp technology featuring a vacuum tube multi-stage amplification circuit to give realistic old-school tone and clear, rich sound.
That all amounts to an impressive eleven realistic amp models, which is enough to get creative with, and when you do, you can also employ more than a dozen good quality built-in effects. Got the sound you want, and want to keep using it? Well, don’t fear, because you get a generous 33 preset programs to store setting groups on the VOX VT100X.
The Vox also features USB connectivity; it’s just a shame that the footswitches for this amplifier are optional extras.
The world of modeling amps is a diverse and exciting place, and many of us want to enter it to find something that is going to be fun to practice on – anywhere. In the realm of ultimate portability, Roland seems to have nailed the race to the top of the tree with the excellent and very tiny M-CUBE-GX. If being mobile but being loud and proud constitute your musical philosophy, read on, because the Roland M-CUBE-GX might just be the small modeling amplifier for your needs.
The Roland M-CUBE-GX is going to appeal to a lot of musicians because it’s a handy and cheap option to use backstage, in the van, and just about anywhere else except a library. The truly compact nature, lightweight and battery-ready capability of the Roland M-CUBE-GX make it ideally suited to the buskers of this world and so long as they recognize the weaknesses of this amplifier, that should work out just fine. This thing cannot be expected to blow audiences away – it’s a small amp. It does have a disappointing plastic 1/4-inch lead jack too, but this is a budget-level amp, and if a musician is careful, they’ll benefit from the fact it’s Roland-quality, and extremely easy to move about with.
You get eight amp tones on the Roland M-CUBE-GX, and eight effects which include delay and reverb. Overall, this is a tremendous little practice-anywhere or busking amp.
The Line 6 Spider Jam makes it onto our list of the eight best modeling amplifiers we could find because it’s going to be a great all-around option for a large selection of people. There are no-frills with this amplifier, and it’s got to be the best of the amps here without the weight of a massive amp manufacturer name behind it – making it an economical choice if it is going to meet your needs.
The fact that this amp comes loaded with many artist-created tones and jams is going to position it as a great student amplifier, and it really will make that endless practice more fun. The included looping recorder is also an excellent addition for the student musician, and there is a lot here to attract anyone looking to get started in music.
For the fun part, there is a decent 12 amp and cabinet models on this unit – more than enough to experiment with tone and sound. There are also some nice effects to play with. You get a Flanger/Chorus, Phaser, Tremolo and Reverb built into the unit.
Thirty-six programmable presets make it easy to get back to that sweet spot you found. 75 watts of power is more than enough to annoy the neighbors, and that flows through a 12-inch speaker. This might not be a gigging amp, but it definitely will get you through your scales, drills, and practice until you hit the big time.
The BOSS Katana Artist is a professional musician’s amp – think of it as the thinking person’s combo amplifier. This unit is very well engineered, and in terms of clarity and tone, this model will be hard to beat. It’s not short on volume either – you get 100 watts of power through an excellent 12-inch speaker. Newly designed cabinet features ultra-solid construction and semi-closed back for tight, focused tone with rich low end.
There are only five amp models here, which isn’t exactly industry-leading and could be classed as disappointing if it were not for the fact that what the BOSS Katana Artist does really well is stick to what it’s great at.
Eight memory settings make playing around with your sound easy. The effects here are remotely accessed via the USB port, but you do get a good range which includes distortion, delay, and reverb.
Overall, this amp is a quality combo which many people will buy for its superior tone and clarity.
Last but definitely not least on our list is the very excellent Fender CHAMPION 50XL and while this is well and truly an entry-level amplifier, it keeps things simple in a good way and puts out some great tones. This modeling amplifier is exactly what you are going to need if you are new to your instrument and looking to learn the basics – while also having some fun and keeping the whole thing interesting and having some fun.
Fender doesn’t do too much to distract from the business of playing with the Fender CHAMPION 50XL, but there is enough here to start experimenting, so the balance they’ve found seems to be useful in that respect. There are four simple effects built into this unit, and you get a respectable twelve amplifier tones to play around with too.
The level of power on this particular model is 50 watts, and that’s more than enough to get you going or to practice with. That gets funneled through a 12-inch speaker to give a pleasant tone, and the clarity is excellent, even at higher volumes.
Good practice amp at 50 watts
Simple and effective student amp
Basic effects built-in
12 amp tones
Will only take a student so far
The quality of sound and versatility of a modelling amp are, of course, the primary features you should pay attention to while deciding on which amplifier to buy, but are there any other features to consider? Check out our buying guide to find out more.
What are the benefits of modeling amps?
Modeling amps offer much to the modern musician, and that goes whether you’re having number one hits or you just play to yourself in the bedroom. Modeling amps have really taken the amplifier into the digital age, and they really do utilize the power of technology to give you more creative freedom, but also to provide you with more freedom to move around and gig, without having to carry too much gear. You can reproduce the sound of many different set-ups and amps with one of these amplifiers, and you’ll find a great range of pedal effects built into many of the examples on the market, too.
An often overlooked attribute of modern-day modeling amps is their superior reliability when compared to the old valve amplifiers of yesteryear.
While it’s true that the tube amp will never go away – and that they are still manufactured today, they’re fragile when compared to digital amps. Many old-school musicians flatly refuse to abandon their tube amplifier, and they’ll argue with you endlessly about what’s best. However, where there just isn’t room to argue is over the fact that modeling amps are more robust on the road than fragile tube amps.
Where modeling amps also win out is in the weight stakes. All those valves and tubes tend to mount up when it comes to tipping the scales, and the best digital modeling amp just won’t have the weight of an analog amp.
Features to consider while choosing a modeling amp
Buying your own amplifier is much like buying many other different types of musical equipment. On the musical side of things, everyone has their own style and feel. One piece of equipment might not suit that as much as another, and the same goes for amps. However, sometimes a slightly out of comfort zone item can add an extra dimension to your sound, so it’s essential to have a list of priorities and then be a bit more flexible with everything else. There is a huge range of modeling amplifier on today’s market, and there’s certainly something to suit all styles, tastes, and expertise. Generally, with musical equipment, the more options it gives you to be creative and have some fun, the happier you will be with it. Today’s amplifiers offer many built-in extras, such as effects, Wi-Fi connectivity, as well as coming in a range of sizes and weights. We’re going to examine some of those differences in this section.
Type and configuration
Some modeling amplifiers out there are the full package, and you can literally just plug in and play once you get the amplifier home. Other amplifiers might only provide the amplification – as in a head – and you will need to pair them with a suitable cabinet to get to making sound. It’s also important to consider how many channels an amplifier has available – if you want it to perform more than one function simultaneously.
If you’re looking for the convenience and portability of a complete practice package, you may want to look for the best modeling combo amp you can find, like the Fender Mustang GT 40. If you have an excellent cabinet already, then the best modeling amp head, such as the Yamaha THR100H, will add versatility.
Power and speakers
Power is important to musicians – because all musicians want to be heard. Depending on what you intend to use your own modeling amplifier for, you will likely have different priorities to other musicians and hobbyists. For instance, if you want to use your modeling amplifier to practice or gig with a full band, be aware that you will need a minimum of 50 watts of power to be heard over that drummer.
A good rule of thumb for gigging musicians when it comes to power is that the more you have, the better off you will be. You can always turn an amplifier down, but you can’t turn it up past eleven.
If you intend to use your amplifier at home, and never plan on playing to a rowdy room, you will get away with less power, but you’ll still need a certain amount to achieve a rich tone and vibe. Many modeling amps offer the ability to interconnect and upgrade power and speaker options, so prioritize for power as you would with anything else – and know what you need before you buy.
Be it the best combo amp or the best tube modeling amp, which instrument you choose will also affect your choice. If you need the best bass modeling amp, then maybe stay clear of the small modeling amp examples.
Included amps, effects and presets
Many of the new breed of amplifiers known as modeling amps are almost infinitely versatile. Because modeling amps don’t rely on valves and tubes to create a sound and a tone, and because what the audience hears is digitally reproduced, the possibilities just never run out, and the only real limit with these amps is your imagination.
Many modeling amps feature a range of stompbox effects, such as distortion, overdrive, and even compressors. This saves on lugging a lot of equipment if you’re going to gigs regularly.
Modeling amps are designed to mimic a wide range of classic amplifiers too, and that offers a musician a scale that would have been nearly impossible to achieve back in the day. No longer do you need to lug a whole pile of amplifiers around to get different tones and depth in your playing. No matter if you want the best modeling amp for metal, or just the best cheap modeling amp you can find – there will be an option out there for you. Modeling amps make everything possible, without the need for a huge truck and an army of roadies.
Presets are as handy an addition to an amplifier as they are on any piece of musical equipment. They save on setting up time and mean you can easily access a range of settings over and over again. Some amp manufacturers even offer an option to back up your presets online, which means less need for increased memory and more peace of mind.
Dimensions and weight
When it comes to buying anything that falls within the sphere of musical instruments and equipment, there are two main groups of people. If you are looking to buy a modeling amplifier for a home studio – or even just to use at home – you are only going to give dimensions and weight a certain amount of consideration and priority. The main thing to consider if you’re sitting firmly within the home-user bracket is that you have the room to store and use the equipment. Don’t buy anything too big if the place you make your music is on the cramped side. Remember to always make sure to follow manufacturer recommendations with regard to clearances around the equipment, and you won’t go too far wrong.
Modeling amps are far lighter than old-fashioned amplifiers which relied on physical components to produce sound. Electronics are lighter than valves and tubes. However, there are certain times when you still need to give weight and size some thought.
If you don’t sit in the home-user bracket, the chances are that you’re a gigging musician, or that you’re an amateur who likes to take your amplifier to practice or rehearsals. If this is the case, you will need to consider a couple more aspects than a home amplifier user will. You may want to pay close attention to the dimensions of your amp and the size of the vehicle you use to transport your equipment. Gigging musicians often look at whether or not the amplifier cabinet is set on wheels or castors – because that can make a massive difference when you’re transporting equipment, as well as when you are setting up. Weight is nearly always a big factor for musicians who travel with equipment much of the time. Dimensions, portability, and weight can all differ dramatically from product to product. If any of the above affects you, remember to make size and weight two of the attributes high up on your list of priorities.
In the modern-day, amplifiers are not as basic as they used to be. As new technologies develop, they get included as extras on many of the products we buy – and sometimes, having little extras can make a big difference to the user experience. Many modeling amplifiers come complete with Wi-Fi connectivity built into them, and this can be a really great asset if you want to record your music, or use computer-based learning aids or software in the process of making music. Wi-Fi connectivity means fewer leads required, but it also means versatility and ease-of-use. You can use Wi-Fi to connect amps, up the power and volume, and even to receive software updates from your amplifier manufacturer.
A popular alternative to Wi-Fi connectivity is, of course, Bluetooth connectivity. Perhaps not as versatile as Wi-Fi, but certainly offering many of its own advantages, Bluetooth means you can connect to many devices, such as laptops, smartphones, and even other amps, monitors, and electronic musical instruments without the need for more leads lying around your home or, if you’re fortunate, your own specialized music or recording studio. When you’re not the one playing the music, Bluetooth means you can quickly and easily stream tunes from your phone or tablet – meaning you’re never short on inspiration. The Fender Mustang GT 40, our top pick, is both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth compatible.
Generally, as far as musical equipment goes, the more connectable an item of equipment is, the easier it is going to be to do more things with it. More connection options enable you to set your imagination free when the time comes to be creative.
When you are looking to buy any product, be it electronic or not, the warranty is a great place to start looking. Although the terms and conditions of a warranty might not be most people’s priority when it comes to purchasing goods, it can be a great decider when you’re finding it hard to choose between two or more products. Warranties also offer some indication of the confidence a manufacturer has in the quality of build of an item.
A longer and more comprehensive guarantee suggests that the maker doesn’t experience too many costly returns and that they’re more likely to have used higher quality materials to make the item. Amplifiers are not cheap, and having a good warranty offers you some peace of mind if something does go wrong with your purchased product. Remember to check out the terms and duration of the warranty which covers the different modeling amps you are considering. Always check out the small print. Make sure that sending the product back for any needed repairs isn’t going to cost you an arm and a leg, double-check that materials and labor are covered if it is a thing your amplifier develops a fault, and of course – make sure to assess what the length of the warranty period is too.
The answer to this question is going to depend on how many channels your amplifier features, and on the number of outputs and inputs available. You will also find that, depending on what you want to achieve, some amplifiers will have channels that share specific components, so it’s essential that you do your research if you’re going to use your amp to play and sing at the same time.
A modeling amplifier is a great option for practice because it allows you to experiment with depth and tone easily. Modeling amps are digital, and therefore tend to be more likely to feature Wi-Fi connectivity than many other amps. That’s great for using all sorts of software and computer-based teaching aids. You’ll also find that some amps include a looping feature, which is an invaluable aid when you want to play along with a rhythm or a riff and practice a passage of music repeatedly.
Again, channels are going to be the key when you want to use two independent instruments via a single amplifier. Consult the specifications of the specific amplifier you are considering before you buy.
Modeling amps offer the ability to mimic a whole range of different effects and physical amplifier set-ups – all in one lightweight and handy package. They are a veritable box of tricks, and there is every chance you will be able to find the sound and tone you are looking to create with one of these digital amplifiers.
So, we’ve looked at some of the best modeling amps out there and examined many of the most important features and attributes you will need to be aware of when you are looking for your own modeling amplifier. The pick of the bunch was the excellent Fender Mustang GT 40. This was an amp that had everything, and a heck of a lot of musicians are going to be quick to buy it.
Next up on our list of the best eight modeling amplifiers was the handy Marshall Code 50. This list contains a lot of very nice amps, and the Marshall effort fully deserves to sit high up on it – this feature-packed amplifier will catch the eyes – and ears – of many amateur and professional musicians.
In third place came the very versatile Yamaha THR100H, and the top three positions on our list of modeling amps were tight. The Yamaha THR100H is another brilliant example of a modeling amplifier, and all three of our top amps are well worthy of consideration when you conduct your own search.