When you are on a quest to create your signature sound, the amplifier is one of the most essential ingredients in that recipe.
An amp’s performance dictates the overall sound that your instrument produces. If you want to develop a better tone, that often means investing in the best possible amplifier your budget can afford.
Although meaningful debates about what brand to buy are important to have, that conversation begins with an awareness of the sound differences in British vs. American amps.
British vs. American Amps
British amplifiers place additional emphasis on the midrange Hertz frequencies, especially in the upper tier. American amps produce beefier sounds in the low range, offering extra bass and rhythm to any playing style. Some U.S. amps push the treble more, creating the scooped, hollow sound for metal, rock, and similar techniques.
The actual result of a specific amp depends on several different characteristics. Although each make and model delivers similarities for musicians, each also has an independent profile that requires consideration.
It is impossible to judge the quality of an amplifier based on the published specs from the manufacturer.
Even when other musicians use the same equipment, the results vary because of different environments, playing conditions, cord quality, and other factors.
When comparing the differences between British and American amps, you can find these general qualities associated with each one.
|Qualities of British Amps||Qualities of American Amps|
|A more defined midrange is available in this category, delivering a narrower tone with more precision, sharpness, and crunchiness.||This option pushes the lower frequencies to become the dominant force in notes and chords, leading to heavy bass and a louder low midrange.|
|Additional saturation is typically incorporated into the audio by default, making it easier to replicate sounds from the 1960s without further tweaking.||Additional hollowness gets included with the audio output in this design, creating the necessary foundation for power cords and big solos.|
|Cleanliness is the emphasis with this design, pushing sharpness to the edge of comfort while requiring musicians to deliver opportunities for clear transitions.||The generalized tone is warmer with this choice while still adopting the cleanliness from the British design. It creates a slurry without being muddled or muddy.|
|The trademark of this design is to deliver a sound with robust power and intense grit. And||Smoothness is the ultimate goal, delivering providing something mellow and soft that still speaks of the musician’s edginess in virtually any genre.|
You can find British amplifiers that sound a lot like their American counterparts, and the opposite is also true.
That’s why it is essential to review the best amplifier brands in each category to ensure that you’re getting the sound you want out of your instrument.
Best British Amp Brands to Buy Today
British amps are known for the pronounced upper mids to produce a narrow tone with extra crunch and precision.
When you want to find the best brands in this category, you’ll be looking at names like Marshall, Vox, Orange, and Blackstar.
Each of these British brands provides specific outcomes worth considering when working toward a signature sound.
■ Best Marshall Amp to Buy
Marshall amps are one of the best brands you can purchase today in any category. If you’re interested in replicating that classic British tones like Noel Gallagher or Eric Clapton, you’ll want to get the extra grittiness from this option.
Marshall’s distortion is what makes it an iconic choice. Most units have plenty of bite, a bit of crunch, and lean toward the treble frequencies more than their counterparts.
If you’re interested in this brand, the best choice for most guitar players is the Marshall Guitar Combo Amplifier M-DSL20CR-U.
■ Best Orange Amp to Buy
This British brand creates distorted tones that work well for heavy metal, hard rock, and similar formats. You’ll get a punchy output with plenty of power, producing some extra fuzz with the sound when pushed to the brink.
You can also create some lovely clean tones when working with this brand, although there isn’t much smoothness associated with the sound.
If you’re interested in this option, the Orange Amplifiers Rocker 15 Tube Combo is an excellent choice.
■ Best Vox Amp to Buy
This British amp manufacturer brings a lot of history to your music. Numerous bands and musicians have used it to create their signature tones over the years, including The Beatles.
When working with a Vox amp, the advantage you receive is that the audio tends to be more subtle and a bit smoother than other British options.
It doesn’t handle the gain well, with the distorted tone favoring the upper frequencies.
If you need something with above-average sharpness, the best option to select from this brand is the Vox Vintage Amp AC15C1 with its EL84 power and 12AX7 preamp tubes.
■ Best Blackstar Amp to Buy
As one of the newest British manufacturers of amplifiers, it’s remarkable how quickly Blackstar has made a name for itself over the past decade.
They’ve achieved this result because of their infinite shaping feature that adjusts your tone control. If you turn the knob clockwise, the amp sounds remarkably American.
If you turn the tone control counterclockwise, you still receive that classic British sound. That makes it an excellent choice for those who want the best of both worlds.
When you shop for an amp from this brand, the best choice is the Blackstar HT Series HT-1R 1×8 Tube Combo.
Best American Amp Brands to Buy Today
American amplifier brands typically place the majority of their emphasis on the lower Hertz frequencies, rarely even venturing into the bottom part of the midrange.
Although that design emphasis restricts the classic sounds heard in British rock, it also gives musicians a smoother, mellower sound that doesn’t have an edge to it.
When you think about the best brands that manufacture American amplifiers today, four names come to mind: Fender, Peavey, Line 6, and MESA Engineering.
■ Best Fender Amp to Buy
Fender amps provide the epitome of what to expect from an American amplifier. It typically delivers a bassy sound with extra warmness while emphasizing the midrange for support.
When you plug into a Fender amp, you can expect cleaner tones without significant distortion.
If you’re interested in finding out more about this brand and what it can do, the best choice is to grab the Fender Champion 40.
It’s reasonably affordable, delivers the signature sound, and has enough power to handle small gigs or big jams with the band.
■ Best Peavey Amp to Buy
When your goal is to improve the tone and character of the bass or electric guitar in hard rock or heavy metal, you’ll want to think about using a Peavey amp.
It produces a thick, sludgy sound in the high gain while building a wall of sound to support power chords.
Although solos are possible with the amps from this brand, that option isn’t in its set of strengths. You create the rock atmospheres with these amplifiers, especially when playing a Fender or Gibson instrument.
If you’re interested in finding out how this brand can develop your signature sound, you’ll want to consider getting the Peavey KB 2.
Although it’s marketed for keyboards, it has the perfect voice for everything from an electric guitar to a drum machine.
■ Best Line 6 Amp to Buy
Line 6 is a polarizing brand in the American amplifier market. You’ll find some guitarists who can’t say anything bad about these amps, and then you’ll find others who struggle to find something good about them.
What makes the company stand out as a top American manufacturer today is the impressive set of different controls and features that come with each model.
It’s a great choice if you prefer American sounds, but you also want to experiment with something British. There’s enough variation out there where almost anything is possible.
A great choice to consider here is the Line 6 Cabinet Spider V412 Mk II Amplifier. It comes with 320W power handling, mono and stereo inputs, and four 12-inch custom Celestion speakers.
■ Best MESA Engineering Amp to Buy
If your playing style requires lots of gain from your amplifier, you’ll want to grab a model from this brand. Although the company is officially MESA Engineering, the products are often sold as Mesa/Boogie products.
The Mark Five: 35TM delivers a vintage look, right down to the woven weave for the speaker front.
All your settings are there in the front, including a five-dial EQ that lets you create plenty of balance.
Controls are available for the gain, treble, mids, bass, and presence – and all of that is before the master volume. You can even tweak your solos with the unique setup offered here.
These amps are harder to find. You must purchase them from an authorized dealer. The company’s main office is located just south of Santa Rosa, CA.
FAQ about British vs. American Amps
British and American amps are known for their sonic specialties, but you can find niche brands in both categories that deliver the opposite result. It’s better to stick with the known manufacturers to ensure your signature sound has an expected result.
When shopping for a new amp, you might have a few questions to consider before selecting a favorite British or American option.
Here are the answers to the common queries that people have when shopping for amplifiers.
■ Why Do Amplifiers Sound Different from One Another?
Tube and valve amps sound different because of how they produce audio waves. Some brands use higher quality materials than others, while others incorporate more prominent speakers or bigger subwoofers.
■ Do Vintage Amplifiers Sound Better than Modern Ones?
There isn’t a direct answer to this question because it is based on personal preference. Some musicians believe that a vintage amp sounds better because it might have been built by hand or given more attention during the manufacturing process. Others prefer something modern because of the extra effects or tone changes that are possible without pedals.
■ What Is the Difference between a Solid State and a Tube Amp?
When guitarists use a tube amp, they take advantage of the benefits of vacuum tubes to amplify the signal delivered from the instrument pickups. A solid-state amplifier uses transistors to create the same result. That’s why the latter option produces clean tones that become thin or clipped when the distortion is higher.
■ What Is a Combination Amp?
Combo amps provide an all-in-one experience for musicians. It eliminates the need to purchase the head and cabinet separately from each other. The benefit of using the combination design is that they’re easy to set up and transport, whereas you’d get more overall versatility by using a head with passive speakers.
■ How Can I Make My Amp Start Sounding Better?
The easiest way to help an amplifier sound better when playing the guitar is to place the unit against the wall of your room or put it into a corner. Most amps lose some of the bass qualities in sound production when they are in the middle of an open space. By allowing it to reverberate against close surfaces, it’s much easier to enhance the lower frequencies.
■ How Much Money Should I Spend on a New Amplifier?
Although price isn’t always a defining feature for the quality of a brand or amplifier, you’ll undoubtedly find fewer lemons when you’re willing to spend more. Whether you prefer British or American sounds, the brands that are listed it in this guide provide the most consistency for the average musician. Expect to pay at least $250 for something that doesn’t sound terrible.
I have always been a big fan of using Fender amps because of the way that I played the guitar.
Depending on the setting or gig, I’ll use an electric or an acoustic, and my amplifier does a great job of handling both instruments consistently.
That’s why I highly recommend using the Fender Champion 40. It provides enough of a punch to get the listener’s attention without creating problems that overwhelm the other elements of a song.