The best pedal platform amps to buy in 2023: 10 high-headroom boxes
Looking for a good partner-in-crime for your pedalboard?
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For many, pedalboards sit at the heart of their guitar rig. And rightfully so – pedals are exciting, affordable and can lend bucketloads of character to your tone. But what of amplification?
- READ MORE: The best budget tube amps under $500
If you’ve spent some time and money assembling a pedalboard, it’s only fitting that you should run it through an amp that will let your stompboxes sing. Let’s dive into the best amplifiers to provide all the headroom you could want to be a platform for your pedals.
What is headroom in guitar amps anyway?
When we talk about headroom in guitar amps, we’re referring to the maximum level your signal can be before it starts pushing the amplifier into ‘natural’ overdrive. As a rule, when we talk about pedal platforms, we’re talking about amps with high headroom as that allows the character of the pedals to come through without overly colouring the sound with compression or distortion from the amp itself.
Hoever, giving them lots of headroom is also not the only way to use pedals – the sound of a preamp getting obliterated by high-output effects is its own thing, but not applicable to every musical situation. Your mileage may vary, but for the purpose of this exercise we’ll stick with the traditional interpretation of high headroom pedal platform amps.
The best pedal platform amps to buy in 2023 at a glance
- Blackstar Debut 50R
- Fender Deluxe Reverb
- Boss Katana 50 Mk II EX
- Fender Hot Rod DeVille IV
- Orange Pedal Baby 100
- Vox AC30
- Roland Jazz Chorus JC-120
- Supro 1685RT Neptune Reverb
- PRS Sonzera 50
- Mesa/Boogie California Tweed
Blackstar Debut 50R
The most affordable amp on our list comes from Blackstar’s Debut line, which was originally designed for emerging markets such as Latin America and India, but has been embraced by guitarists all over for its blend of good sounds, simple functionality and seriously impressive price.
The 50R offers you 50 watts of solid-state power through a single 12-inch speaker, with the ability to turn it down to 5 watts should you want to use it at home, with a clean channel based on Blackstar’s popular HT Venue series, it offers huge headroom for a very small amp at a very good price.
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Fender ’65 Deluxe Reverb
When things are ubiquitous, it becomes easy to dismiss them, but there’s a very good reason why you can barely step into a gig venue in 2023 without seeing a Deluxe Reverb on stage somewhere.
Fender’s 22-watt workhorse remains as dependable and great sounding today as it was in 1965, as capable of offering you all the shimmering Fender cleans, but also some overdriven filth – it remains a hugely popular choice for stage and studio whether you’re playing to 10 people or 10,000.
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Boss Katana-50 Mk II EX
Boss’ latest version of its digital modelling combo tweaks and enhances the already impressive update second generation.
But in the context of this list, these upgrades pale in comparison to the addition of a Power Amp In socket on the back of the amplifier. This means you can bypass all of the Katana’s amp models and effects, and use any preamp pedals you may have as actual preamps, rather than having them immediately coloured by a second preamp.
The Katana-50 Mk II still works great as a more traditional pedal platform thanks to its clean amp voice, and thanks to the powerful digital modelling being leveraged, the front of the amp does respond naturally to being pushed hard. 50 watts also means it’s more than loud enough for gigs, too.
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Fender Hot Rod DeVille IV
The fourth version of Fender’s 60-watt combo only provides a minor set of tweaks over its predecessor, mainly because there was nothing crying out to be improved. 60 watts provides a hefty amount of headroom, with that signature Fender sparkle on the clean channel. All this, plus two 12-inch Celestion speakers, make the DeVille capable of getting very loud while staying very clean. Perfect for getting to gigging volume while keeping the best platform for your pedals.
And, in the event that you need to keep delay and reverb pedals clean while using the amp’s onboard overdrive channel, there’s a handy effects loop for just that purpose.
The downside to all this power is that the amp isn’t the most portable. At the cost of a little headroom, the 40-watt Hot Rod Deluxe is also a great option for a similarly-voiced pedal platform, and one that’s a little easier to lift.
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Orange Pedal Baby 100
This is an amplifier whose approach couldn’t be further from the other amps on test here. It is, in short, a class A/B power amplifier with an EQ. That’s it. It’s designed to colour your sound as little as possible, allowing you to feed it any amount of overdrive, fuzz, reverb and delay. As you’re not contending with any traditional preamp stage in the amplifier side of things, your pedal settings might need to be adjusted accordingly. Similarly, to get a clean tone with more ‘sparkle’ than the warm and rounded sound of the Pedal Baby alone, you’ll need to kick on a preamp pedal or overdrive and roll back the gain.
One of its main appeals is also its compact size. As long as there’s a cabinet of some kind already at the venue, it’s remarkable for a 100-watter to fit into the front pocket of a gig bag.
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Vox AC30C2 Custom 30W
It’s the Vox AC30. What more needs to be said? Well, in approach and aesthetics, not much has changed since 1958, but the latest Celestion Greenback-loaded edition of this classic combo comes with a few modern appointments. There’s a true-bypass-switchable effects loop, alongside both an external and extension speaker jack socket.
This maybe isn’t a pedal platform for those looking for extremely out-there sounds, or for those with a meticulously-crafted preamp tone already being provided by their pedalboard. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a better pairing for vintage-style pedals – treble boosters, germanium fuzzes, Univibes and similar have been good pals with the AC30 since its inception, their friendship the core of countless classic sounds. If you do want to mix the old and the new, the aforementioned effects loop will let you engage as many Strymon BigSky pedals as you want.
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Roland Jazz Chorus JC-120
This rather unique combo from Roland has a reputation for being one of the best pedal platforms out there, thanks to its complementary-yet-still-neutral preamp character. Its reputation has only grown with the expansion of the fully stereo effects market, as the JC-120 has a left and a right input, meaning you won’t need to mess around with ABY boxes to make full use of your stereo delays and reverbs. Even if you don’t have any of those lying about, the famed on-board stereo chorus will lend some real depth to drive tones. It’s also a great option for amplifying modelling effects boxes, letting you make full use of their stereo capabilities.
While the JC-120 might negate the need for a tangle of cables, there’s also a fully stereo effects loop for even more in-depth stereo rig building.
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PRS Sonzera 20
The PRS Sonzera 20 sports a number of features that make it pedal-friendly. Dedicated clean and overdrive channels mean you can pick your poison when it comes to gain staging, and an overall presence control will help you tame any unexpected harshness from pedal sounds. It will also let you dial in some sparkle if you’ve managed to filter out some high end with something like a fuzz pedal.
The two channels are especially handy if you often change up your pedalboard, and need to have the option of running into a dirty amplifier.
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Mesa/Boogie Mark VII
The Mesa Mark series is renowned for its versatility and quality tones – that’s why everyone from Keith Richards and Carlos Santana to Kirk Hammett and John Petrucci have used them over the years.
The Mark V’s clean channel is where you wanna go if you want headroom, especially in this monster 90-watt version – the quality of the Celestion Custom 90 speaker will also ensure your sound is as clean as you want it even if the volume is enough to re-arrange your internal organs, which trust us, it can be if you want it to be.