Throughout the history of heavy music, certain amps have emerged as icons, setting the standard for generations of guitarists and becoming synonymous with the metal sound. But the question of which amps are the "best" is a subjective one. What works for one player may not suit another, and there are countless factors to consider when selecting an amp.
In this article, we'll explore a diverse range of metal amps, both classic and modern, to give you an overview of what's available. Our goal is not to proclaim any one amp as the "best", but rather to offer insight into each amp's history, significance, and unique tone.
Though our list is extensive, it's important to note that this list is by no means exhaustive. We understand that there are countless other remarkable amps that could have made the cut, but to keep this article manageable in length, we had to make some tough decisions regarding which ones to feature.
Our aim is to provide a starting point for your own exploration of the vast world of metal amps. Ultimately, the journey to find your perfect metal amp is a personal one, and we have created this article to help you navigate the vast landscape of options available to you.
Mesa Boogie Mark IIC+
The Mesa Boogie Mark IIC+ is a true icon in the world of metal guitar tone. Despite its relatively short production run between 1984 and 1985, the Mark IIC+ made a lasting impact on the metal music genre and continues to be highly sought-after by players to this day.
This legendary amp has been used by some of the most influential guitarists in metal music history, including John Petrucci (Dream Theater), James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett (Metallica), and Vivian Campbell (Dio), just to name a few.
The Mark IIC+ is known for its distinctive sound, which is characterized by its clarity, definition, and versatility. It's an amp that can produce a wide range of tones, from shimmering cleans to crushing high-gain distortion.
The clean channel is warm and clear, with a sparkling top end and a tight low-end response. The lead channel offers a high-gain distortion that is tight, focused, and aggressive, with plenty of sustain and harmonic complexity.
The Mesa Boogie Mark IIC+ holds a special place in the history of metal music and is among the most sought-after and respected amps in the world of metal. To bring back the unique sound of this remarkable amp, we've created the Mesa Boogie Mark IIC+ Suite, which includes the ultra-rare Mark IIC++ variant of the amp. We have meticulously replicated every nuance of both amplifiers with unprecedented accuracy, leading to the sound being practically indistinguishable from the real thing.
Try it out for yourself with a free 14-day trial and experience the iconic sound that has defined metal guitar tone for decades.
Mesa Boogie JP-2C
The Mesa Boogie JP-2C is a next-generation reissue of the Mark IIC+ amp. It was designed in collaboration with guitarist John Petrucci of Dream Theater, who has been a Mesa Boogie user for over 30 years. It retains the iconic Mark IIC+ tone but includes a rather comprehensive set of modern features.
The JP-2C includes two 5-band graphic equalizers, one for each high-gain channel as opposed to a single equalizer in the Mark IIC+. Additionally, the JP-2C features a “SHRED” voicing mode which enhances the harmonic layering of the high-end for a deeper, more complex sound. The amp also features MIDI connectivity for more flexibility and control and a D.I. cabinet simulator and recording interface which enables direct live or recording applications without needing to mic a cabinet. The versatility and modern features have made this amp a top choice among modern metal guitarists.
The Soldano Super Lead Overdrive 100 (SLO-100) has been a staple in heavy rock and metal since its release in 1987. Designed by Seattle-based amp builder Mike Soldano, the SLO-100 has earned a reputation for its incredible tone that set the standard for modern day high-gain amps.
The amp has been used by guitar virtuosos such as Joe Satriani and George Lynch (Dokken, Lynch Mob), as well as iconic rockers like Mick Mars (Mötley Crue) and Warren de Martini (Ratt). The SLO-100's versatility extends beyond the metal genre, with artists like Mark Knopfler, Eric Clapton, Warren Haynes, Gary Moore, and Lou Reed also using the amp.
The SLO-100's tone is often described as three-dimensional because of its depth and richness. Its high-gain distortion is thick and creamy, with a tight low-end, clear midrange, and soaring high-end that sings. The balance between warmth and clarity allows for each note to be well-defined and distinct.
We recreated every nuance of this legendary amp in the Soldano SLO-100 Suite. The suite includes both the lead and clean channels as well as a wide range of cabinet simulations. Try it out with a 14-day free trial.
The Peavey 5150 is one of the most iconic metal amps ever made and has defined the sound of heavy music for decades. Designed in collaboration with guitar legend Eddie Van Halen and released in 1992, the 5150 was created to meet his needs for a high-gain amplifier that could deliver a raw, aggressive sound.
Since its release, the 5150 has become the go-to amp for countless metal and hard rock guitarists. You can hear a 5150 on albums by bands such as Machine Head, Architects, In Flames, Trivium, Bullet For My Valentine, Kreator, along with many others.
The 5150 is renowned for its tightness, clarity, and aggressive bite. Its tight low-end response delivers a solid and powerful bass foundation, while the cutting and pronounced mid-range contribute to its distinctive snarling in-your-face character. Its high-end is articulate and harmonically rich adding to the overall clarity and definition of the amp's tone.
In 2004, Peavey redesigned and rebranded the 5150 as the 6505. The 6505 maintained the same circuitry and overall sound of the 5150, but with some cosmetic changes and minor tweaks to the preamp section. Since then, Peavey has continued to refine and improve the 6505 with various updates and revisions, including the 6505+.
You can experience the classic Peavey 5150 sound with a Quad Cortex using the “PV 505Sig” device, or the “PV-505 Lead and Rhythm” devices which resemble the sound of a Peavey 6505.
Additionally, Archetype: Nolly, Archetype: Abasi, Archetype: Plini, and Archetype: Gojira also feature amps that closely resemble the classic Peavey 5150 / 6505 sound. All of our guitar plugins have a 14-day free trial so you can try them all out and decide which one you like most.
Fortin Amplification is a leading name in the world of high-gain guitar amplifiers. Founded by Mike Fortin in 2008, Fortin amps have gained a reputation for delivering some of the most aggressive sounding amplifiers ever.
Because of the profound influence Fortin has had on the world of high-gain amplification, we have added three of their amps to our list. Each amp boasts a unique character and tonal palette that has helped define the sound of modern metal.
The Fortin NATAS is a roaring beast of an amp, capable of delivering some of the most brutal and aggressive tones known to the world of high-gain amps. Often considered as one of the most sought-after metal amplifiers, a standout feature of the NATAS is its versatility. It is capable of producing a wide range of different tones from smooth clean crunches to crushing, high-gain distortion.
Our Fortin NTS Suite accurately replicates the tonal characteristics of this high-gain monster.
The Fortin CALI is another remarkably versatile amplifier that offers a blend of classic British-style voicing and modern high-gain tones. The CALI features two gain channels, both with an assignable "VIOLENCE" switch that adds a 4th gain stage to the channel for even more searing gain. The CALI has a warm and full-bodied sound that is aggressive and tight.
Try our Fortin Cali Suite to try out how it sounds for yourself.
Fortin Meshuggah Signature Amp
The Fortin Meshuggah Signature Amp is the result of a collaboration between Fortin Amplification and the legendary Swedish metal band Meshuggah. It is designed to deliver the extreme and precise sound that Meshuggah is known for, and has become a highly sought-after amp among metal guitarists. The signature tone of this amp is characterized by its aggressive mid-range punch and razor-sharp clarity that cuts through any mix.
For a tone that resembles this masterpiece of a metal amp, try our Fortin Nameless Suite.
Omega Ampworks Granophyre
The Omega Ampworks Granophyre is an exceptional high-gain amp that has quickly gained a reputation as a modern classic. Designed with a focus on simplicity and purity, this single-channel amp is incredibly versatile, capable of producing a wide range of tones from dirty blues to crushing metal.
It has quickly become a favorite among guitarists in the modern metal scene and has been used by notable players such as Misha Mansoor and Mark Holcomb (Periphery) and Mick Thomson (Slipknot).
The Granophyre produces a tight and controlled low-end that is not overpowering. Its focused midrange cuts through the mix without being honky and provides depth to the overall tone. The highs are crystal-clear and pristine, without being overly bright or harsh. It features ultra-fast tracking and exceptional clarity and note separation.
Additionally, the Granophyre is equipped with a unique low and high gain switch. The low gain setting provides a softer response, thicker tone, and gentler highs, while the lows are rounder and more pronounced. The high gain setting delivers a tighter low end, increased saturation, and boosted upper-mids for a more aggressive and cutting tone.
Experience the exceptional tone of the Omega Ampworks Granophyre with a 14-day free trial of our Granophyre plugin. Our meticulous modeling of every aspect of this amp delivers a sound that is virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. In addition, the plugin includes three different selectable power tubes (EL34, 6L6, and KT66).
Victory Amps VX100 The Super Kraken
The VX100 “The Super Kraken” by boutique amp and pedal company Victory Amps is an incredibly versatile and powerful guitar amplifier. Developed in collaboration with guitarist Rabea Massaad, the VX100 delivers a wide range of tones suitable for anything from classic rock to the most aggressive forms of metal.
The VX100 has quickly become a favorite among metal guitarists, and has been used by notable players such as Mark Hosking (Karnivool), Jørn Kaarstad (Bokassa), and Dante Frisiello (Steve Vai).
This amp has a balanced and versatile tonal character that can be dialed in for a wide range of playing styles and genres. The Gain I channel delivers clean tones at low gain and classic British rock crunch at higher gain settings. The Gain II channel delivers a tight and aggressive high-gain sound that is perfect for metal and hard rock.
The “Victor Mega Squid” device on the Quad Cortex and the third amp in Archetype: Rabea resemble the tones of a VX100. Archetype: Rabea, as well as all of our guitar plugins, have a 14-day free trial, so be sure to try them out.
Marshall JCM800 2203
The Marshall JCM800 is an iconic amplifier that has been a staple in the rock and metal music scenes since its introduction in the 80s. Its signature sound is defined by its high-gain distortion and bright, roaring tone, which can be heard on countless records from the 80s and beyond.
Many iconic bands and players have used the JCM800 over the years, including Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osbourne, Black Label Society), Slash (Guns N’ Roses), Kerry King (Slayer), and the Scorpions along with a long list of others.
The JCM800's midrange is perhaps its most defining feature. It has a warm, rich, and expressive character that gives the amp its distinctive growl. The low end is tight and punchy while the high-end is bright and articulate and gets more aggressive with higher gain settings.
Play virtually any amp with a Quad Cortex
The Quad Cortex features an impressive array of amps, cabs, and effects, all meticulously modeled to provide an incredibly realistic tone. Head over to the device list to see what amps are featured on the Quad Cortex.
Additionally, by using Neural Capture, the Quad Cortex can create highly accurate models of physical amps and integrate them into the ever growing library of Neural Captures in the Cortex Cloud. Neural Captures accurately reproduce the nuances of an amplifier down to the smallest detail making them sound virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. Sign up to the Cortex Cloud to browse through the vast list of Neural Captures.
Try our guitar plugins
Neural DSP guitar plugins let you experience the sounds of some of the most iconic and sought-after metal amps ever made. With our diverse range of plugins, you can accurately replicate the tones of legendary high-gain amps such as the Mesa Boogie Mark IIC+, Soldano SLO-100, Omega Ampworks Granophyre, and Fortin NATAS just to mention a few.
Getting started with guitar plugins is simple and easy, only requiring a computer, an audio interface, and a pair of headphones or studio monitors. Check out our quickstart guide for more information.
All of our plugins have a 14-day free trial giving you the chance to try them all out and find the perfect fit for your music.