There's nothing I hate more than the decision of what amp to buy, especially when the choice is a large amp taking up room or a mini amp in your backpack.
In this post I will explain the differences between various amps and what I think are the top 5 guitar amps that are small but pack an almighty punch at the same time.
At a Glance: Our Choice Of The 5 Best Small Guitar Amps On The Market
Fender Mustang TM I (Budget Choice)
Roland Cube 20GX (Editor's Choice)
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Why choose a small amp?
You're becoming a rocker on the guitar and need an amp to hear that roar? A large amp is pretty awesome and can produce some excellent quality sounds. They can get expensive and take up extra room whereas the mini amps are small enough to fit anywhere but the sound can be 'tinny' and disappointing. Therefore a small amp is perfect for those who fit in the middle of these two choices.
Buyer's Tips: What to look for in a small guitar amp?
Advantages of a small amp
Eric Clapton certainly found use for a small amp to create his dreamy songs, the sound a small amp gave to his music was ideal. Creating powerful music doesn't necessarily mean a mighty power ranger of an amp. When I began using amps, I would foolishly think cranking up the volume to ear splitting level would make my playing sound like Nirvana. Havana it was not. Small amps negate the need to pump up the volume, meaning an ear pleasing sound can be given at a lesser power. Smaller amps can also be a lot less expensive, meaning anyone who wishes not to spend too much, can still enjoy heightened power.
What should I look for?
- The power output you need when buying a small amp depends completely on what type of playing you will be doing. Messing around in your room? Under 10 Watts will be easy and loud enough for general listening. If you're a professional gigger, 100 Watts is enough the blow the roof off a lot of venues. Most small amps will come in the range of 10-30 Watts.
- Size can be an issue as some smaller amps can still cause a nuisance in a room. Yet, you can also get some amps tiny in size yet a master in raw power.
- One of my first amps was relatively expensive as, like an idiot, I thought paying loads would automatically equal great sound. I was met with a rubbish amp that sounded terrible. Trust me when I say, do the research to find the best small guitar amp for you.
- Completing research or reading blogs (like this awesome one) can be your saviour to finding an amp that is durable and dependable. Finding an amp made from quality materials is important as you don't want to be faced with a broken machine after only a few uses.
Aren't they all the same?
This was the question asked by my partner when I was searching for an amp, my bemused face probably answered the question. No, all small amps are not the same. Different makes will vary widely in their pros and cons, power output and general sound. Do not think that a small Marshall amp will sound just like a Fender of the same size or even a mini Marshall will be just as good as a large.
This is a great little video highlighting how to select and choose the right amp for you:
5 Best Small Guitar Amps
So, you're ready to choose your small amp? Here are what we think are the five best small guitar amps on the market right now.
1. Fender Mustang TM I (Budget Choice)
One of the world's bestselling brands produces a small amp with a big sound. A relatively powerful amp at 20 Watts, it utilises over ten controls including; gain, volume, bass, delay and a save button. Having the classic look of a Fender, it features a 1-8" speaker and an overall height and width of just about 40cm.
- With a price tag of £95, the Fender is a well priced amp.
- A rich sound with good quality, I found the Fender to be useful when playing in a larger room.
- Has a great variety of sounds and controls to play with.
- The sheer amount of controls and effects can become distracting to a beginner player. This amp would suit a player who is used to amps.
- When the volume is increased, the sound can buzz a lot which is distracting.
- USB connection did not work and was not compatible with any device I tried to use.
2. Roland Cube 20GX (Editor's Choice)
Another familiar brand, the Cube series of amps have produced another quality machine in the Roland 20GX. One of the defining features of this 20 Watt amp is its connectivity to Apple products. If you're an Apple fan, the option to connect your iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch seamlessly is a huge positive. The Cube has a custom designed, smart looking 8 inch speaker with 3 separate channels.
- Great sound quality, its acoustic and distortion effects are particularly clean sounding, even at higher volumes.
- The Cube brand is a best seller for a reason, the Roland has a great build quality. I accidentally dropped mine down a few stairs and it still worked perfectly!
- Easy to use even though it has a lot of functions. Its Apple connectivity is a bonus.
- Quite heavy at 9KG, this isn't the most portable amp around.
- Definitely an amp to use for rocking out. I found that trying music such as Jazz, didn't sound quite right.
- Very simply design, the Cube doesn't look anything special.
3. ZT Amplification Lunchbox
This is probably my favourite looking amp of the five here. Imagine taking an amp to school for a lunch jamming session and the ZT would be the one in your mind. A great small amp with a powerful punch as it boasts 200W of power, enough to fill out a medium gig! With only five controls, the ZT is extremely easy to use and quite portable as it weighs less than ten pounds.
- Looks, sounds and feels good.
- Incredibly easy to use, this is a great amp for beginner players.
- Great sound when trying Jazz or blues music.
- The ZT can be bought for around £350-400, making this one of the more expensive amps.
- Limited functions, having only 5 controls could frustrate experienced players who want more.
- You can't necessarily get to its full power output without getting buzzing sounds.
4. Marshall MG30CFX 30 Watt
My collection of amps would never be complete without a Marshall popping up. This small amp has the great design of the Marshall brand with a lot of cool features. With a 30W power output, this amp has a good amount of power without losing its clean sound. It has a carbon fiber-clad look which makes it look incredibly smart. With four channels and a host of digital effects, this small amp is renowned for being the ideal practice amp for beginners and professionals alike.
- The speakers are 10 inches in size which is large for a small amp but gives the Marshall an edge with its overall look and sound.
- The durability is great, you can tell that the build quality of the Marshall is second to none.
- This small amp is middle of the road in price. Affordable for those who put the time in, I wouldn't recommend it for fair weather players.
- This is a heavy piece of equipment, weighing 11Kg. Not exactly portable.
- A foot pedal is required to truly enjoy all the features of this amp.
- There is a slight 'hum' coming from the speaker whenever it's turned on.
5. VOX VT40+
Another very simple design, the VOX doesn't look like much but its 60W power output will surely raise a few eyebrows. Through its 10 inch speaker, the VOX boasts a heap of various effects to put a smile on any player's face. Featuring 33 song presets, 11 pedal-type effects, 11 modulation effects and 3 reverb types, this small amp certainly has large aspirations.
- For anyone wishing to really play around with effects, the VOX is amazing with a host of options.
- Very reliable, weighing a heavy 16Kg, this amp is great for those wanting for a durable amp.
- Gives a clean sound at most volumes.
- Sometimes produces a hissing sound when guitar is played, at lower volumes this becomes more apparent.
- The VOX doesn't look anything special and considering its range of controls, it can be unsuitable for beginner players.
- Its range of effects do make playing more complicated for those wishing just to have a practice.
Personally, I think the top 5 guitar amps I have mentioned can be great for different reasons. However, I believe the best all rounder would be the Roland Cube 20GX. The Cube hits all the marks for choosing a small amp; 20 Watts is all the power you need, it has a lighter weight than other contenders if portability is an issue and its price tag makes it one of the more cheaper options. A reliable, great sounding amp with Apple connectivity gives the Roland Cube 20GX a special place in my heart, and my personal choice to be the best small guitar amp.
Which small amp would you pick? Drop me a comment and let me know.
Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.