In a time when the sonic merits of small amps are well known—both onstage and in the studio—how exactly do you define “practice amp”? Well, two obvious criteria are small size and the potential for performance at low volume. But given the way digital technology makes oodles of effects and recording functionality available on the cheap, a practice amp can now be a canvas for exploring hundreds of guitar textures and committing them to demos, digital sketchpads, and even studio recordings instantaneously. And now that many manufacturers have seen the worth in making small tube amps overseas, classic low-wattage tube sounds are available for very little cash.
Yes, the divisions between a practice amp and an amp that’s simply small have blurred. But that hasn’t eliminated the need to practice. And more and more, players have to fit that practice in around the constraints of limited time and small places where getting loud isn’t a real possibility. With those limitations in mind, we picked five amps that make practice within those constraints not just possible, but a creative and satisfying experience.