Owing to its status as one of the most iconic guitars in the history of music, there is one question that many Stratocaster players are faced with:
“Which amp will make the best companion for my Strat?”
This can be an especially tricky question to answer for new Strat players. There are many amps out there that are great for a Fender Stratocaster, but only a few that can really be called the best.
To test these amps, I used a Fender Player Stratocaster since it is a fairly standard and popular Strat.
5 Best Amps for Stratocaster Guitars
Table of Contents
1. Vox AC15C1
The Vox AC15 is a classic amp that has been used by the likes of The Beatles and even on the theme for Dr. No. It is no wonder that so many guitarists have it on their list of favorite amps.
I am one of those with a real love for the AC15. It has such a unique sound that is undeniably British. Combine that with the uniquely American sound of a Strat and the result is truly wonderful.
The AC15 has a natural chime that I feel accentuates the twangy sound of the Stratocaster. The AC15 also has a very gritty sound when you start increasing the drive. I do think the amp is a bit too dirty on high amounts of gain.
This is all on the normal channel, but the AC15 also has Vox’s signature Top Boost channel. The sound is much fuller and a bit warmer on the Top Boost channel. Pushing the gain more the AC15 is still very gritty, but it is less dirty and sounds better in my opinion.
These two channels give you two fairly distinct sounds: a nice and bright clean sound, and a full and warm overdrive channel. I would have liked it if the channels were switchable with a footswitch, but unfortunately, you can only switch by plugging into the different channels.
Another small issue is that only the Top Boost channel has a 2-band EQ and the Normal channel only has a volume control. That means you’re stuck with the Normal channel as is.
Apart from the two great-sounding channels, the AC15 also has maybe the best reverb and tremolo sound of any amp. The tremolo and reverb on the AC15 is very vibrant and natural, I don’t think there is anything else quite like it.
I am always impressed by the volume on the AC15. On low volume, the AC15 is quiet enough that you could play it without disturbing anyone in the next room.
Turn the volume up, and you could easily perform in a stadium. I don’t know what magic Vox uses to make a 15-watt amp so loud, but I am very happy that they do.
If the Vox AC15 is the classic British sound, then the Fender Princeton Reverb is the classic American sound.
Pair the Princeton with a Strat and you get what I think is one of the purest Fender sounds. The tone is crisp, clear, and clean. The Princeton also dials back the twang of the Strat a bit and the tone is a bit more on the warmer side.
I think the best way to describe the clean tone is smooth and jazzy. The Princeton also isn’t very midrange-heavy and I get a slightly scooped sound from the amp.
As for the overdrive, it is fairly crunchy and has a bit of grit, but I don’t feel like it is overly aggressive. You can definitely rock out with the Princeton, but I see it more as a blues or jazz amp.
You can add pedals as the Princeton handles them pretty well. For me, though, it shines best on clean or with light overdrive. The Princeton’s sound is smooth and creamy, especially with a Strat, and doesn’t really need anything added on top.
What the Princeton especially doesn’t need is added reverb. The onboard reverb is wonderful. At low intensity and speed, the reverb is delicate and vibrant. By increasing the intensity and speed, I get a very Dick Dale surf rock sound.
At 12 watts, the Princeton Reverb isn’t the loudest amp around. It does have quite a bit of volume, but you probably aren’t going to play in big venues with it. Luckily, cabinets and external speakers can easily be connected to it, making it act more like an amp head.
It isn’t hard to believe that a Fender amp and a Fender guitar work well together. I would certainly be confused and disappointed if they didn’t. A Strat and Princeton paired together creates a very vintage American sound.
Playing a Start through the Princeton, I couldn’t help but start playing riffs and licks with a wild west vibe.
The Boss Katana 50 MKII is one of my favorite amps. It is extremely versatile and one of the best-sounding solid-state amps out there today.
The Katana has five amp settings from acoustic, which is, of course, meant for acoustic guitars, to brown, which is a high gain modern sounding distortion. The Katana has five different onboard effects as well as a 3-band EQ.
You also have the option to connect the Katana to your computer and set up different effects and simulated cabs for even more sounds. The Katana also allows for direct recording through USB if you don’t have an audio interface.
The Katana is basically an all-in-one amp. But being able to do everything doesn’t matter if the amp doesn’t sound good. Comparing the Katana next to a valve amp like Vox AC15, I could hardly tell the difference.
As I said, the acoustic setting is for acoustic guitars. The sound here is pretty much determined entirely by the guitar you’re playing.
On clean, the amp has a smooth, delicate, and warm sound. I also get a slightly breathy and open feel from the clean setting.
Crunch is the lowest overdrive setting that thins out the tone a bit. It isn’t bad, but I probably wouldn’t use it too often.
Lead is very much the same as crunch, but slightly thicker. This is pretty much the overdrive setting. Playing with a Strat, I was able to pretty closely recreate the Iron Maiden sound on the lead setting.
Finally, brown is what you could call full distortion or the metal setting. This is the high gain setting and I actually get a fairly close '80s thrash metal vibe from this setting.
It is amazing that the Katana does all of this and sounds so great at such an affordable price. No wonder it is one of my and many other guitarists' favorite amps.
It does take some getting used to, but once you master the presets and the software, the doors to hundreds of incredible tones will open up to you!
For a long time, tube amps were limited to larger, expensive makes and models. This meant that most guitarists probably didn’t own a tube amp, especially a compact amp that could be used for everyday home use.
But tube amps have become easier and cheaper to make in recent years. This has opened up the opportunity for companies like Bugera to make small tube amps that sound just as great as their full-sized cousins.
The Bugera V5 Infinium is one such amp. It is a small, lightweight full tube amp built for the average guitarist at a very affordable price.
Smaller amps like the Infinium don’t always have the best sound. They can feel a bit dull and sound a bit muffled. I was very surprised when I first played the Infinium.
It has quite a bit of warmth and fullness that you often lose on a small amp. It isn’t as full sounding as a larger amp, but I would say that it is full enough for an amp of its size.
The Infinium also has a lot of clarity. Even on high gain, the sound doesn’t become dirty and muddy like other small amps often do. This is usually a big turn-off for me for amps under 10 watts.
The Infinium might also be the perfect companion for cheaper guitars like a Squier. It doesn’t cost more than most Squiers and you won’t lose out on sound quality when playing a cheaper guitar through the Infinium.
I also appreciate the tube life monitoring at the back of the amp. This is a great feature that more tube amps need to implement since it takes away the annoying guesswork for times when you need to replace the tubes on your amp.
The Infinium is definitely the least versatile amp on this list. With only one channel, you don’t get a wide spectrum of different sounds. Instead, you are just getting a varying amount of gain.
At only 5 watts, the Infinium is also not the most powerful. It does get quite loud for its size, but you won’t be taking this amp to a gig. It is really only suited as a practice amp in your room and I can maybe see it being used at band practice. That is if you don’t play in a very loud band.
Another fantastic Fender Amp, the Blues Junior IV is a massive improvement over the older models. Where previous models tended to sound a bit harsh, the IV has a fantastically full and strong sound.
The Junior IV is also balanced much better than the previous versions in my opinion. The bottom end is very full and the highs are sparkly. The biggest difference, though, is in the mids.
The mids are much fuller which evens out the frequency range and gets rid of that scooped sound from the older models.
The clean sound on the Junior IV is excellent. I would almost compare it to the clean sound of the Princeton Reverb. It is very smooth and colorful and a Strat sounds incredible through this amp.
When you turn the gain up on the IV, you start to see why it is called the Blues Junior. Playing with a Strat, this amp gives me the exact sound I hear whenever I think of blues.
Activating the Fat mode I almost immediately get that fat and heavy Jimi Hendrix style of blues-rock. A Strat and Blues Junior IV might be the easiest and most affordable way to get a nearly perfect blues sound there is.
The Junior IV is only a single channel amp, but it luckily plays really well with pedals. That means you can easily set up a good clean sound on the amp and then use pedals if you want to switch to overdrive.
Like the Vox AC15, the Blues Junior IV is also exceptionally loud for a 15-watt amp. That said, I wouldn't probably play in a stadium with the Junior IV, but you can absolutely use it at medium-sized venues.
It also scales really well and still sounds great at lower volumes while being quiet enough so that it won’t disturb anyone in the room next door. Overall the Blues Junior IV is an easy recommend for any blues player.
Choosing the Right Amp for a Strat
Because the Fender Stratocaster has such a unique and recognizable sound, you want to pair it with an amp that will accentuate that sound rather than hinder it.
What Do You Play?
Depending on the type of music you play, one amp might be more appealing than another.
For jazz, funk, and similar genres, an amp with a great clean sound would be a better pick. For example, I would choose something like the Princeton Reverb over a Blues Junior. Even though both amps have great clean sounds, the Princeton’s is a bit smoother and creamier.
If you are playing higher gain or with a lot of overdrive, an amp that handles high gain better or with a better natural overdrive would be chosen. In this situation, my choice would be reversed and I would pick the Blues Junior over the Princeton Reverb.
Amps have a huge impact on the tone of your guitar, and a Marshall will never sound similar to a Roland Jazz Chorus, even if both might be tube amps. So, you have to decide beforehand about your requirements in terms of tonality and musical styles before you purchase an amp for your Strat.
Tube or Solid State?
Many guitarists believe wholeheartedly that valve amps are better than solid-state amps. I would argue that solid-state amps have gotten to the point where they are close or even equal to tube amps in terms of sound quality.
But both amp types have their benefits and weaknesses. Valve amps usually are a bit warmer and have a better natural distortion, while solid-state amps are balanced much better. To conclude, they sound equally good and loud when both clean and distorted.
If you have the budget, a valve amp would be my choice most of the time. For beginners, however, a solid-state amp might be the better choice even if you have the budget.
Solid-state amps are a bit more straightforward. I have seen beginners become confused as to why amps have valves and think that they are used differently.
The other big benefit for beginners is that solid-state amps are much easier and cheaper to repair. Valve amps can often cause confusion here as well since the amp’s sound will start to degrade and beginners don’t realize that the actual valves are dying and simply need to be replaced.
Buy Amps and Guitars in the Same Price Range
This is something that often causes issues for guitarists, especially beginners. They will buy an expensive Stratocaster and then think it will still sound good through a cheap amp.
The opposite also happens where they think that an expensive amp will make a cheap guitar sound better. The truth is that amps and guitars complement and work off of each other.
If you are playing a Fender Strat, you want to go with a higher quality amp like the Vox AC15 or Fender Princeton Reverb. If you are playing a Squier Strat, something like the Bugera V5 Infinium would be a better pairing.
Of course, there are exceptions like the Boss Katana that sounds great with both a Fender and a Squier Strat. The general rule of thumb is to match the price of your guitar with the price of your amp. It doesn’t need to be exact and you can certainly have a difference of around $150 - $200.
Your Primary Use Case
If you've recently bought a Strat and are still exploring the guitar, a modeling amp such as the Boss Katana or Yamaha THR would make excellent choices. They're perfect for not only bedroom practice sessions but also exploring various tones.
Sure, you're not going to get the oomph of an actual tube amp, but spending a lot of money upfront on a costly tube amp might actually backfire if you end up discovering that it doesn't quite match your preferred genres or musical styles.
If you're already convinced about getting a tube amp, however, you can start with a low-watt tube amp like the Bugera V5 I've talked about above. Amazon sells an even cheaper Monoprice 5W tube amp which gets plenty of praise for its price. There are a few other quality options too that I've discussed before.
Even a 5W tube amp still sounds full and the volume is usually enough for most use cases other than playing live in front of a large crowd.
If you're strictly looking for a practice amp, it might be obvious that it must have a headphone jack. This is one scenario where you'd be almost entirely limited to solid state or modeling amps, since very few tube amps have a headphone jack.
The Stratocaster is a fairly versatile guitar. It sounds great through almost any amp. That means there are many other amps out there that are great companions, but these are some of the top picks for the best amps for Stratocaster guitars.
Ultimately the amp that you pick needs to match your playing style and preferences, and fit in your budget. So, although there are a few popular combinations for popular Fender and Squier Strats, it's impossible to pick out one or two amps as the absolute best option for those guitars.