11 Best Mini Guitar Amp Heads: Your Buyer’s Guide (2018)

mini guitar amp head

In this modern age, there’s just no need to drag around an Earth-destroying vintage amp. Take advantage of the multitude of improvements in manufacturing and buy yourself a mini guitar amp head that combines all the tone and modern amentities you could ever need in a super compact package. Our list includes mini versions of venerable, well-known amplifiers as well as near-novelty amps designed to chase the tone of the big makers. We’ve tried to include something for everyone on this list, from professional to total novice.

Celebrate the golden age of amplifier design by considering the best mini guitar amp heads.

Mesa Boogie mini guitar amp head
  • Two channels with independent controls
  • 10 or 25 watt modes
  • Four voice options
Price: $1,199.00 Shop at mesaboogie.com Shop now Read our review
hughes & kettner mini guitar amp head Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Power attenuator
  • Two channels
  • DI out
Price: $508.48 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
  • Handbuilt in the U.K.
  • Blend level for effects loop
  • Very compact for the power
Price: $899.00 Shop at victoryamps.com Shop now Read our review
Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Super compact
  • Great driven tone
  • Tube preamp
Price: $149.00 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Peavey mini guitar amp head Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Power attenuator
  • Modern I/O options
  • Footswitch controllable effects loop
Price: $499.94 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Handbuilt in Germany
  • DI out
  • Two channels and reverb
Price: $999.99 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Very compact
  • Above average solid state tones
  • Effects loop and reverb
Price: $399.00 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Class A tube amp
  • Straightforward
  • Full complement of tubes
Price: $536.90 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Tube life monitor
  • Power attenuator
  • Inexpensive
Price: $149.99 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Bluetooth connectivity
  • Hybrid amp power
  • Very compact
Price: $159.99 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Super tiny
  • Inexpensive
  • Effects loop
Price: $87.31 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Our Unbiased Reviews
  1. Mesa Boogie Mini-Rectifier Twenty-Five

    Price: $1,199.00
    Pros:
    • Two channels with independent controls
    • 10 or 25 watt modes
    • Four voice options
    Cons:
    • Expensive
    • Wattage is somewhat inherent to the tone of the larger Rectifiers
    • Limited I/O options

    This is a fully-featured monster amp in a small package. Distilling the tones of its larger brethren into a mini amp head, this Mini Rectifier is still going to be plenty loud at 25 watts. You still get two channels with entirely independent controls; that's both EQ and volume.

    What sets this apart from a great many other options is that not only can you choose between the clean and drive channels, each of those channels can be configured separately using one of four different voices. The clean  channels allows you to choose between standard Clean and Pushed, which gives you that edge-of-breakup chunky tone. The drive channel has a Vintage and a Modern setting, which should be fairly obvious to most. In addition, each channel is independently selectable between 10 and 25 watts, which gives you a multitude of on-the-fly headroom and drive options to be dialed in for your bedroom or stage needs. It's certainly pricier than other options, but it's also extremely good.

    Specs:

    • Amp type: Tube
    • Wattage: 10 to 25 watts
    • I/O options: Speaker out
    • Speaker output resistance: 4 to 8 ohms
    • Number of channels: Two
    • Reverb?: No
    • Other features: Effects loop
    • Country of manufacture: USA
  2. Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister 18 – 18/5/1-watt Tube Head

    Pros:
    • Power attenuator selects between 18, 5, 1 watts
    • Two channels and lead boost
    • DI out
    Cons:
    • No reverb
    • EQ is shared between channels
    • Some quality control issues

    Hughes & Kettner's TubeMeister line have been landing in a lot of places of late. In particular, this model is very good for home recording thanks to its small size and power attenuation options. It also offers a DI out, which is a nice touch regardless of where you're playing.

    Controls include a three-band EQ shared between the clean and drive channels. Each channel gets its own Master and Gain knob, and there's also a lead boost. By using the FS-2 footswitch, you can easily swap channels or engage the boost as needed. On the back, the power attenuation knob. Choose between 18, five, and one watt, as well as a mute which allows for silent recording and doesn't require a speaker to be plugged in to load the circuit. There's also an effects loop to round it all out.

    Specs:

    • Amp type: Tube
    • Wattage: 18 watts
    • I/O options: Speaker outs and XLR DI out
    • Speaker output resistance: 8 to 16 ohms
    • Number of channels: Two
    • Reverb?: No
    • Other features: Effects loop, power attenuator, mute for silent playing with no speaker plugged in
    • Country of manufacture: China
  3. Victory BD1

    Price: $899.00
    Pros:
    • Handbuilt in the U.K.
    • Blend level for effects loop
    • Very compact for this amount of all-tube power
    Cons:
    • No reverb
    • No advanced I/O options
    • Limited tone-shaping

    If I were shopping for a new amp right at the moment, offerings from the Victory Compact Series would be at the top of my list. I’ve loved their sound in all the various guitar gear videos I watch, and for being handbuilt in the U.K., the price really isn’t altogether that steep. The one that most fits the theme of this list is the BD1, which is the black version of Rob Chapman’s signature amp.

    The BD1 is the smallest of their small offerings, with three 12AX7s and two EL84s working together to make 28 watts. Gain, Contour, and Master knobs dial in your sound with help from Bright and Deep switches. You can run this in full power or two watt mode depending on context using any combination of the 16 ohm or dual 8 ohm outputs. The finishing touch is that the effects loop has a mix knob on the back for setting the exact level of your pedals relative to the preamp level.

    Specs:

    • Amp type: Tube
    • Wattage: 28 watts
    • I/O options: Two 8 ohm speaker outs and one 16 ohm speaker outs
    • Speaker output resistance: 8 to 16 ohms
    • Number of channels: One
    • Reverb?: No
    • Other features: Effects loop with blend level, low power mode
    • Country of manufacture: United Kingdom
  4. Orange Micro Terror 20-Watt Head

    Pros:
    • Super compact
    • Great driven tone
    • Tube preamp
    Cons:
    • Clean headroom very limited
    • Limited tone-shaping options
    • Hybrid amps won't appeal to all

    Taking after its older brother the Tiny Terror, this amp helped define the lunchbox style, bringing crushing tones to easy-to-move units. For much less than the more famous version, Orange will deliver for you 20 watts of actual tube tone using a 12AX7 valve preamp. These amps are consistently surprising doubters and in many ways set the benchmark for what the genre is all about.

    Controls on this very simple unit includes controls for Volume, Tone, and Gain. The matching cabinet is available for $99. If you need a little more bass response, you might opt for the PC112C 1×12 cab instead. This little package can also be had in Dark Terror flavor, if you prefer. That's the one I have, which is currently part of a two-amp setup with a large Fender combo to give me the fine combination of raging Orange amp and clean headroom without breaking my back.

    Specs:

    • Amp type: Hybrid
    • Wattage: 20 watts
    • I/O options: Headphone jack, aux in, and speaker out
    • Speaker output resistance: 8 ohm minimum
    • Number of channels: One
    • Reverb?: No
    • Other features: None
    • Country of manufacture: China
  5. Peavey 6505 MH

    Pros:
    • Power attenuator
    • Modern I/O options
    • Footswitch controllable effects loop
    Cons:
    • Some don't think the mini sounds like the full-size version
    • Shared EQ
    • Lower wattage means the Lead channel can sound thin

    Boiling a fully-featured amp head into a miniature package, this Peavy offering has a full slate of options to rival any larger unit. Unlike most of the options on this list, this is a two-channel amp with Rhythm and Lead channels that each have their own Pre-Gain and Post-Gain volume knobs. They share a three-band EQ, but the Rhythm channel also has a Bright switch and a Crunch switch that boosts the channel into overdrive. Finally, the Power Amp section offers Resonance and Presence knobs to fine tune the low and high end response, respectively. Like the Bugera later on this list, there are two tube status monitoring LEDs perched over the power switches.

    The back panel offers a plethora of modern amenities. First is the power attenuator that is selectable between one, five, and 20 watts alongside the 8/16 ohm resistance selector. The Mic Simulated Direct Interface section offers XLR and headphone out with a speaker mute and ground lift. There’s an effects loop that can be controlled with a footswitch, as can the channel selection. Finally, a USB output acts like the XLR out for directly connecting to a computer.

    The 6505 is, of course, very similar to the EVH 5150, which is available in a 15 watt mini head version. Another tiny head offering from Peavy is the hybrid 6505 Piranha which is small enough to fit in a gig bag.

    Specs:

    • Amp type: Tube
    • Wattage: 20 watts
    • I/O options: XLR out, USB out, headphone jack, and speaker out
    • Speaker output resistance: 8 or 16 ohms
    • Number of channels: Two
    • Reverb?: Yes
    • Other features: Power attenuator, ground lift, speaker mute, effects loop, channel and loop footswitch inputs
    • Country of manufacture: China
  6. ENGL Amplification E 309 MetalMaster 20 Head

    Pros:
    • Handbuilt in Germany
    • DI out
    • Two channels and reverb
    Cons:
    • Somewhat pricey
    • Reverb is digital
    • Channels share a single EQ

    For those metal-inclined, ENGL has this handbuilt offering for you. This is a two-channel 20 watt amp driven by two ECC83 tubes in the preamp and two EL84s in the power amp section. The two channels share the three-band EQ, and there’s a Mid Scoop switch. Speaking of switching, you can use an external footswitch to switch between the effects loop or the on-board digital reverb, and another with a stereo ¼ inch in to access both the channel switching and the Mid Scoop state.

    The rest of the controls are Clean Gain, Lead Gain, Reverb, Lead Volume, and Master volume. The effects loop is in the back, as is a balanced line out for front of house use. The speaker outs allow for standard eight or 16 ohm cabinets, dual eight ohm cabinets, or eight to 16 ohm power soak options — see the manual here for more on that.

    ENGL also offer the Gig Master 30 for a more all-around tone.

    Specs:

    • Amp type: Tube
    • Wattage: 20 watt
    • I/O options: Balanced line output and three speaker outs
    • Speaker output resistance: 8 or 16 ohms
    • Number of channels: Two
    • Reverb?: Yes
    • Other features: Effects loop and power attenuator
    • Country of manufacture: Germany
  7. Quilter 101 Reverb 50W Guitar Amplifier Head

    Pros:
    • Very compact
    • Above average solid state tones
    • Effects loop and reverb
    Cons:
    • Some will not be sold on solid state
    • Limited I/O options
    • Almost always ends up as a backup amp instead of the main attraction

    Another relatively new amp I’ve become fond of is this super-small Quilter. Yes, it is solid state, but the technology packed into this little gem more than makes up for it. They’ve found a way to jam a huge amount of headroom into this amp, which restores the transients and harmonics you expect from a high-quality tube amp.

    The master volume on this works as a wattage controller, allowing you to dial in anything from zero to 50 watts. This is the second version, which replaces the two-knob EQ with a more traditional three-band section. There’s even an effects loop, conveniently located in the front of the amp. Gain, Limiter, and Reverb knobs round out the control panel.

    It’s a whole lot of power in a very small package, but for $200 more, you can also get the ProBlock 200, which boosts the power to 200 watts. Another option is the Overdrive 200. Alternatively, you could save $100 by foregoing reverb and the expanded EQ control in the standard 101. No matter what you choose, all of them are made right here in the U.S.

    Specs:

    • Amp type: Solid state
    • Wattage: 50 watts
    • I/O options: Headphone jack and two speaker outs
    • Speaker output resistance: 4, 8, or 8+8 ohms
    • Number of channels: One
    • Reverb?: Yes
    • Other features: Effects loop and limiter
    • Country of manufacture: United States
  8. Diamond Amplification Positron 18W Guitar Amplifier

    Pros:
    • Class A tube amp
    • Straightforward and simple
    • Full complement of tubes - three 12AX7s in the preamp and two EL84s in the output
    Cons:
    • Expensive
    • Zero additional I/O options
    • Very limited tone-shaping

    Just about everything else on this list is loaded with gadgets. But what if you just want a straightforward make-louder device? This might be the option for you. This is an all-tube Class A amp in a tiny package. Anything that could get in the way is stripped out, leaving you an essential tone machine with — you guessed it — three 12AX87 preamp tubes and two EL84 output tubes.

    Controls are as basic as it gets with a Tone knob and a Volume knob. Turn it up, toss a boost pedal in front of it, and get to work.

    If you need more options (and really, I can’t blame you), you could try the bigger brother Assassin, which has a four-band EQ and a diode clipping gain stage mode.

    Specs:

    • Amp type: Tube
    • Wattage: 18 watts
    • I/O options: Speaker outs
    • Speaker output resistance: 8 or 16 ohm
    • Number of channels: One
    • Reverb?: No
    • Other features: None
    • Country of manufacture: China
  9. Bugera T5 Infinium

    Pros:
    • Tube life monitor
    • Power attenuator
    • Inexpensive
    Cons:
    • Power attentuation a touch silly with a max of five watts
    • Still some quality control concerns
    • Not really giggable

    We included the V5 combo version of this amp on our small combo amps post for a few reasons. They’re excellent value for money, given that both are all-tube, hand-wired amps. Second, Bugera as a brand have come into their own after emerging from an early history of sub-par craftsmanship. They have a fairly dedicated following thanks to their solid tones at relatively low prices.

    This handsome little unit puts out a max of five watts, which is enough to be mic’d in small clubs and great for recording. Controls for Gain, Treble, Bass, and a master Volume make up the front panel. A Phat switch is basically a boost circuit and bypasses the EQ settings. On the back, a three-way power attenuator further complements at-home use with options for 0.1, one, and five watts. In addition to the speaker out and headphone jack, there’s an LED that indicates the tube life. If lit, the tubes are on their way out. It may be nothing your ears can’t readily detect, but it’s still a nifty little feature.

    Specs:

    • Amp type: Tube
    • Wattage: 5 watts
    • I/O options: Headphone jack and speaker out
    • Speaker output resistance: 4 ohm minimum
    • Number of channels: One
    • Reverb?: Yes
    • Other features: Tube life monitor and power attenuator
    • Country of manufacture: China
  10. Joyo Bantamp Series

    Pros:
    • Bluetooth connectivity
    • Hybrid amp power
    • Very compact
    Cons:
    • More gadgetry than tone
    • Questionable emulation of named amps
    • Looks a bit like a toy

    If you’ve read our cheap guitar effects post, you know the deal with these Chinese makers. They started out by (very) cheaply emulating more-famous pedals and other gear and are now branching out into innovating in their own way, combining different approaches from other makers. True, both this Joyo and the Hotone option that follow are probably not the very best sounding amps on the planet, but the combination of features make them compelling options to consider especially given that convenience is the very nature of these tiny form factors.

    Each of the Bantamps uses a single 12AX7 preamp tube, much like the Orange at the top of this list. That’s paired with a class D solid state output section which generates the relatively high wattage. They also all share in common a Bluetooth radio as their solution to aux in capabilities, so you can play along with any Bluetooth-enabled source. This could come in handy when your amp and, say, your computer are installed at opposite ends of the studio. Each amp has Gain, Tone, and Volume knobs, and each has a “channel” switch that either controls a Bright circuit or an Overdrive circuit, depending on the model.

    How they differ is in which amp style they emulate:

    These aren’t even the only small amp heads available from Joyo. They also offer the Mjolnir, which is an all-tube, dual-channel, 15 watt amp, and the Blues-focused Beale Street at 12 watts.

    Specs:

    • Amp type: Hybrid
    • Wattage: 20 watts
    • I/O options: Headphone jack, Bluetooth audio, and speaker out
    • Speaker output resistance: 8 ohm minimum
    • Number of channels: Two
    • Reverb?: No
    • Other features: Bluetooth connectivity and effects loop
    • Country of manufacture: China
  11. Hotone Nano Legacy Purple Wind 5-Watt Compact Guitar Amp Head

    Pros:
    • Super tiny
    • Inexpensive
    • Effects loop
    Cons:
    • Even more toy-like than the Joyo
    • Non-existent headroom
    • Solid state and it shows

    Competing with their Chinese-bred counterparts above, these Hotone amps are truly tiny, about the size of your hand. They’re equipped with a three-band EQ and an effects loop in the back of the unit. It also includes a headphone jack/line output and an auxiliary in.

    I tested this one for a month or so and was pretty impressed with it. The Purple Wind is based on a ’59 Plexi, so headroom is virtually nonexistent. Actually, that’s true about any of these, really. Just turn the gain all the way up and they work very well as a miniature fire-breather. I really quite liked the sound of this little beast. For use in the studio, these are almost cheap enough to buy one of each, just to have access to a decent guitar preamp inspired by vintage tones.

    The Nano Legacy line also includes the following models, each of which are designed to sound like a classic amp:

    Hotone has their own Nano Legacy cabinet that is specifically designed to deliver full-spectrum sound, including improved bass response. To my ears, it sounds a bit like a decent portable Bluetooth speaker and less like a guitar amp. As you’ll see in the video below, you’ll almost certainly want to look elsewhere for the cabinet. They won’t be terribly loud on the whole, but the tones are not bad considering the price.

    Specs:

    • Amp type: Solid state
    • Wattage: 5 watts
    • I/O options: Headphone jack, aux in, and speaker out
    • Speaker output resistance: 4 to 16 ohms
    • Number of channels: One
    • Reverb?: No
    • Other features: Effects loop
    • Country of manufacture: China

What is a mini guitar amplifier head?

We discussed this a bit in our best gigging amps post, but basically, improvements of all kinds in venues and recording situations means that you can let ease-of-use and convenience win out over anything heavy or cumbersome. Not to be confused with mini combo amps (which we covered over here) that are by and large for fun or novelty, mini amp heads are real-deal, mostly-giggable amps in small form factors. While those mini combos tend to be solid state only, these heads are often all-tube affairs, or at the very least hybrids with tube preamps. Additionally, you aren't married to any specific speaker. By choosing your own cab, you can customize the experience even further, developing an incredibly rich tone of your own. In a later post, we'll profile cabinet options you could pair with any of these.

Most of these come in the so-called lunchbox form factor, which is a metal box with a handle on top. Some are conventional head designs shrunk down, and still others are micro heads that fit in the palm of your hand. Prices vary widely from under $100 to just under $1,000, and extra features vary almost as much. You have your choice here between downright rustic amps with a pair of knobs to Bluetooth-enabled modern marvels. These super-small amps make wet/dry stereo setups very feasible, especially because many of them have effects loops.

The primary advantage of shrinking the amp head down is pretty obvious. It saves weight and space, both of which are at something of a premium for hobbyist or semi-professional players. Even some all-pros might appreciate the sheer ease of use of these small yet mighty amps, and their increasing ubiquity means they can easily compete tone-wise with their larger counterparts. Generally speaking, they tend to be cheaper, too, so it's easier to experiment with different types and brands and you won't even have to worry about your studio being stuffed to the gills with amplifiers.

In addition to our list, other strong contenders in this category include the Egnater Tweaker 15 despite some history of faulty units, the Marshall DSL-20 HR, and the Randall Divalo Series.

See also:

Heavy, Inc. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to Amazon. Our product recommendations are guided solely by our editors. We have no relationship with manufacturers.

3 Comments

3 Comments

Anonymous

I feel this List is Missing Very Good Mini Guitar Amps that Pack HUGE tone for size…and deserve to make this TOP 10 list instead of the Bugera, Hotone & Joyo – their good amps…their great Value…but not the Best.

Black Star HT-5R Head
Black Star HT-5M Head (High Gain Metal)
Marshall DSL-15 Head (Modern Tone)
Marshall Origin 20 Head (Vintage Plexi Tone)
Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister 18
Mesa Boogie Mini Rectifier

Anonymous

Hi – just wondering how far off the article re the cabinets to match is from being published?

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