Choosing the best clean guitar amp provides you with an ideal blank canvas to create your desired tones. Coloring your guitar's output is great for certain scenarios, but sometimes playing clean, as the instrument was intended, is the best option.
Top 3 - Clean Guitar Amps
Some particular attributes and characteristics make an amplifier capable of producing an excellent clean tone. In this post, you'll find a selection of the best options for this purpose.
8 Best Clean Guitar Amps for Pedals
1. Roland JC-40
Roland’s Jazz Chorus amp has been going strong for almost 50 years now. From the original JC-120 to the JC-40 introduced for the amp’s 40th anniversary.
The JC-40 is a very well-built and solid amp. It doesn’t feel like a fragile amp that you need to handle with care. Instead, I feel like it was built to take a beating out on the road.
I also really like the controls. They are in depth without being complex or intimidating for beginners.
It has all the features you would expect from an amp like this, with a few neat extras. The main feature being the vibrato/chorus effects.
You can easily switch between the two effects or turn them off entirely. You can then set the speed and depth, which I find to be very precise and responsive.
The JC-40 is also a fully stereo amp. It features not just stereo output, but also stereo input and stereo effects loop. These can also be used in mono, giving the amp a bit more versatility.
On the sound side of things, the JC-40 is a fantastic amp. Its clean tone is incredibly smooth, full, and somewhat warm.
With such a great clean sound, it is no wonder that so many guitarists use the JC-120 and JC-40. From Pat Metheny to even Metallica. You can actually hear the JC-120’s clean tone in the intro of Metallica’s One.
The clean tone also makes for a great base for effects pedals. The JC-40 handles effects pedals with ease. I didn’t find it changing the sound of the pedals. It actually allows pedals to shine quite well.
This is also a good thing, because I am not too fond of the onboard distortion of the JC-40. The distortion is good and quite versatile, but it does become a bit sharp the higher you push it.
But that it a minor issue on an otherwise fantastic amp.
2. Vox AC15C1
The Vox AC15 is a true classic. It is one of the most famous amps that can be heard on albums from The Beatles to The Rolling Stones.
The AC15C1 is a sort of redone, modernized version of the classic AC15. It brings the amp into the 21st century without sacrificing any of the classic tone.
If you have ever heard an AC15 or AC30, you know exactly what you are in for. The AC15 is that classic British rock tone.
The AC15C1 has a very crunchy gain with quite a lot of attitude. The gain is also quite crisp, even when you push it. It doesn’t become muddy or even really dirty.
If you are looking for that classic sound in the vein of The Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin, the AC15C1 is really the only way to go.
Its clean tone is just as impressive as its overdriven tone. It has this very smooth clean tone that I would almost describe is ‘centered’. It isn’t really bright or warm, but rather sits in this nice sweet spot somewhere in between.
This makes the AC15C1 also perfect for using with pedals. Since its clean tone isn’t overly colored, it is also not going to add too much color to any pedals.
Instead, you are getting more of a raw sound that stays true to what the pedals actually sound like.
I am always surprised by just how loud the AC15 is. It might just be a 15-watt amp, but it sounds like one that is four times as powerful.
Another thing that I am also always surprised by is how heavy this amp is. The AC15 is a hefty amp at nearly 50lbs. I always find this a bit strange since there are tube amps larger than the AC15 that weigh less.
But otherwise, the AC15 is always an easy recommend. The AC15C1 is also relatively affordable compared to other variants available.
The Bugera V5 Infinium is a bit of a deceptive amp. At first glance, it doesn’t look like it has much to offer. But once you plug your guitar in, you discover a fierce little amp that packs quite the impressive punch.
Tube amps are often quite large and very expensive. But Bugera has taken everything that makes a tube amp great and packed it into a small, portable, and very affordable package.
I really like the design of the V5. It has this very vintage-meets-modern look to it. With old school control knobs and a power switch, with the Bugera logo also looking like it belongs on an amp from the 1950s.
It also sounds more like a vintage amp than a modern one. It has a very warm, bluesy tone compared to the more clean, almost sterile tone of other modern amps.
It doesn’t have a very aggressive gain. Instead, it has more of a classic crunch to it, with some slight fuzz, especially when playing on the neck pickup.
The clean is fairly midrange-y. There isn’t a lot of high-end and it isn’t very bottom heavy. I do think it leans a bit more to the low end, though.
The V5 does work really well with pedals which helps open up its versatility quite a bit. Distortion pedals sound especially great with the amp and allow you to give it a much more aggressive sound.
A boost pedals is also a great companion to this amp. Since it is only a 5-watt amp, a boost pedals really helps to push its volume, making the amp stand out a bit more.
The controls on the V5 are rather basic. You are only getting Gain, Tone, Volume, and Reverb. The controls are nice and responsive, but are not as versatile as a larger amp’s.
While I do like the V5, I see it as more of a practice amp. It isn’t really loud enough for gigs at venues larger than a café or for busking.
If the Vox AC15 is the classic British rock tone, then the Fender ’65 Deluxe Reverb is the classic American rock sound.
The ’65 Deluxe Reverb has become a staple among guitarists and for good reason. It is such a well-designed amp that looks as iconic as it sounds.
Fender amps, and the ’65 Deluxe Reverb in particular, are well-known for their excellent clean tone. The amp has a very sweet clean tone that has a nice bit of snap to it.
It is definitely brighter than the other amps, but I wouldn’t call it twangy or chimey like other Fender amps. IT has this nice balance between bright and smooth.
Turning the volume up, the amp starts to get some nice break up and starts to become overdriven. There is quite a lot of crunch at higher volumes, and the ’65 has quite a bit of bite.
But the ’65 is a very versatile amp. At lower volumes with less gain, you get a very vintage blues sound. This amp can do almost anything from jazz, to blues, to even AC/DC levels of hard rock.
And add some pedals, its versatility is pushed even further. The ’65 is one of the best pedal platforms in my opinion.
Instead of pedals just being an addition to the amp’s sound, the two actually compliment each other. Pedals add color and texture to the amp, while the amp doesn’t overshadow a pedal’s sound.
The only downside of the ’65 Deluxe Reverb is its price tag. This isn’t an entry-level amp.
It is going to be out of reach for a lot of guitarists. This is really a shame since I think everyone should get to own such a fantastic amp.
The ’65 Deluxe Reverb comes in Wine Red for that truly vintage look, or Black if you are looking for something more modern. The black finish is quite a bit more expensive, though, which I find a bit odd.
Most guitarists might look down on modeling amps, but Boss has proven that they are more than just gimmicks with their Katana series. The Katana-50 MKII might be the best modeling amp currently on the market.
Modeling amps have come a long way since first being introduced. The sounds they emulate are much closer to the original than they were starting out.
With the Katana-50 you are able to get almost any amp sound you can think of. From a classic British rock tone, to a vintage blues, and even modern metal.
Since the Katana-50’s sounds are also controlled through software, you can easily tweak the onboard sounds or even replace them entirely. This is probably the most versatile amp I have ever played.
You also have a huge selection of effects, both onboard and with the software. The Katana-50 is essentially one big pedalboard built into an amp.
But you aren’t limited to just what is on the amp. The Katana-50 also works with external effects.
Analog effects sound just as great as they would on a tube amp or normal solid state. You aren’t losing any tone on your effects pedals when they go through this amp.
But my personal favorite thing to do with this amp is to connect a multi effects pedal to it. Something like the Line 6 Helix works especially great.
Since the Helix is effectively also a modeling unit, you can map certain sounds to the Helix, and others to the Katana-50. This gives you an almost infinite combination of amp and effects sounds.
But even just the Katana-50 alone is still more than versatile enough. If you play in multiple bands in different genres, or you play in a cover band, this is the perfect amp.
You can get your sound almost perfect for every song, no matter the genre. You don’t have to settle for a ‘close enough’ that ends up almost changing the genre of the song or just doesn’t fit.
Supro might not be the most well-known name in the amp industry, but they are by no means a small brand. Some of the biggest names in guitar play Supro amps like Joe Perry and Joe Walsh.
On the outside, the Supro 1970RK is nothing too fancy. It is fairly compact with very straightforward controls.
It is a bit weightier than you would expect from such a small amp. But I wouldn’t call it heavy, it just feels solid.
One thing that I also really like about this amp is its look. Supro has given it a nice light blue finish, instead of the standard black. This makes the amp stand out a bit more on stage.
The cleans on this amp are surprisingly pleasant. They aren’t overwhelmingly bright or warm. Instead, I feel like they have this nice midrange richness to them, with a touch of character.
The amp also has some very nice drive to it. It is a very crisp, crunchy drive that kind of reminds me of The White Stripes’ Fell In Love With A Girl.
But the 1970RK isn’t really meant to be played on its own. This is an amp that is meant to pe played with effects pedals. And play with effects pedals it certainly does.
As far as a pedal platform goes, the 1970RK might be as close to perfect as you can get. This is largely due to the fact that this amp was designed in partnership with pedal manufacturer Keeley.
This amp was made to make pedals shine. It also has more than enough headroom, so you can really stack it with pedals without any issues.
Keeley has also clearly not shown any favoritism with their pedals. I tried a number of different pedals from different manufacturers and they all sounded equally great.
The 1970RK is a bit expensive for such a small amp. But for what you are getting, I think it is a reasonable price.
Another Vox amp, the Pathfinder 10 is a great little amp. It takes everything great about full-sized Vox amps and puts it in a compact design.
The Pathfinder doesn’t deviate from the Vox design like small amps often do. It has the same look and high build quality as a full-sized Vox like the AC15 or AC30.
The Pathfinder does feature a much more stripped-down control setup. You only have Volume, Treble, Bass, and Gain.
While I personally prefer more controls on an amp, I don’t think it is a requirement on an amp like this. The controls also work fairly well, but aren’t as sensitive and accurate as on a bigger Vox.
I do like the addition of a headphone jack. This allows you to still be able to practice late at night without disturbing the neighbors or your roommates.
In terms of sound, the Pathfinder is incredible. It somehow still manages to have a lot of character for such a small amp.
The clean tone isn’t quite on par with bigger Vox amps, but it still has more than enough of that Vox chime. The overdrive channel is something else, though.
Small amps usually have quite dull and a bit muddy distortion. But the Pathfinder blew me away when I turned up the gain. This amp screams almost as good as a full-size Vox.
For such a small amp, the Pathfinder still manages to handle pedals well. Practice amps usually have a bit of a hard time with pedals since they aren’t really powerful enough. While it isn’t quite on the level of its big brothers the AC15 and AC30, I feel like the Pathfinder still performs much better than it should.
What is important to remember is that the Pathfinder is a practice amp. While it is quite loud for a 10-watt, I wouldn’t take it to any gigs.
This amp is meant to be played in a bedroom. I can see it maybe being used as a busking amp, or maybe for warming up backstage.
Any brand carrying Eddie Van Halen’s name has a lot to live up to. Luckily, EVH amps are well-built, fantastic sounding, and the EVH 5150 Iconic has become one of my favorite amps.
I really like the clean design of the 5150. It has a no-thrills look, with just a simple mesh grill with the EVH logo at the bottom, and a big, bold 5150 logo at the top.
All of the controls are at the top of the amp. The 5150 has quite a bit more controls than you will usually find on a 40-watt amp.
Two channels, both with independent gain and volume controls, a three-band EQ, and reverb with controls for resonance and presence. The 5150 also has a boost for when you want to give the amp an extra push. And most interestingly, it also has a noise gate for the second channel.
This isn’t something I think I have ever seen on an amp like this. But I do like it since this amp can get quite rowdy.
This amp gets loud and mean. On channel one, you have a very nice crunch which can get quite aggressive when you push the gain far enough.
Channel two is the lead channel which pushes the distortion further. This is where the amp is especially true to the EVH name. The amp sounds like something Van Halen himself would have played.
The clean tone is a bit of a disappointment for me. It isn’t clean, but rather clean-ish. There is still a bit of dirt on it. It is a very nice clean, but I would have liked if it were completely clean.
As for using pedals with this amp, well, they just work. You can pretty much use any pedal with this amp and it will just keep rocking.
But the 5150 is just an incredibly fun amp overall. Whether you are using it as is or putting a pedalboard in front of it, you are going to have a ton of fun with it.
Buying a Pedal Platform Amp
While pedals will work with pretty much any amp, they don’t all give you the same experience. Some amps will perform better with pedals than others. There are a few things that can influence this.
The first thing that will affect how an amp performs with pedals is something called headroom. You might have heard people mention the headroom when they are talking about amps, but what exactly is it?
Headroom refers to how loud an amp can get before it starts to break up. When an amp starts to break up, it starts to distort.
The more headroom an amp has, the better it will perform with pedals. This is because you will be able to push the volume on the amp more before it distorts.
When you are using pedals, you want the sound to be coming mostly from the pedals. The natural distortion can interfere with the sound of the pedals.
For example, if you are using a distortion pedal, you don’t want distortion coming from the amp as well. Or if you are using a reverb or delay pedal with the clean tone, you don’t want distortion creeping in.
More headroom also means that you will be able to put more pedals in front of the amp before running into noise issues. If you have a pedalboard with ten pedals, you are going to want to use an amp with a lot of headroom.
The power output of the amp ties into the headroom. For example, a 20-watt amp is going to have more headroom than a 5-watt amp.
But a more powerful amp is, of course, going to be louder. Louder amps are also better suited to larger venues.
If you are playing large venues, you want a more powerful amp. Not just because it is louder, but because it will perform better with your pedals, resulting in an overall better sound.
Solid State vs Tube
The two types of amps, solid state and tube, perform differently with pedals. Tube amps have a more natural sound. This means that they aren’t going to change the sound of pedals too much, if at all.
This is important if you want to get the truest sound from your pedals. If you are using analog pedals, who also have a very natural tone, you want an amp that won’t change it too much.
Solid state amps aren’t quite as natural sounding as tube amps. Modern solid state amps are closer in tone to tube amps and they don’t affect pedals at all these days like older solid state amps did.
Modern solid state amps work much better with analog pedals, having just as little of an effect as tube amps. Solid state amps do have an advantage when it comes to digital pedals.
Digital pedals can interfere with the signal of a tube amp and vice versa. This can cause noise and other issues. Solid state amps don’t experience these issues when digital pedals are used with them.
Power output also differs quite a bit between solid state and tube amps. Solid state amps don’t have a 1:1 comparison with tube amps when it comes to power rating.
A 50-watt tube amp is going to be much louder than a 50-watt solid state amp. This ties back into headroom.
As I mentioned, an amp with more power is going to have more headroom. So, a 50-watt solid state amp is also going to have less headroom than a 50-watt tube amp.
You should also consider if the amp has an effects loop. The effects loop allows you to place effects after the amp’s preamp.
The reason you would want to do this is because certain effects sound better when they are placed after the distortion. Effects like reverb, delay, modulation sound better when placed after distortion.
The effects loop simply ensures that effects are placed in the best position in the signal chain.
While all of these models are great clean amps for pedals, there are a few standouts. The Vox AC15C1 and Fender ’65 Deluxe Reverb are both classics. They are icons of British and American rock respectively.
The EVH 5150 Iconic is just a fun amp to play with overall. It has such a fantastic distortion, that it doesn’t really need any pedals, but can still benefit from any you pair it with.
The Boss Katana-50 MKII is my personal favorite. If you like playing around with sounds and want one of the most versatile amps, it is a no-brainer pick.