I'm a big believer in using smaller amps especially for rehearsals and gigs at small venues. Let's face it, even if you are a gigging musician, most of us play in small venues. And even if you do occasionally play in larger venues or outdoor festivals, a sound engineer is always going to mic your amp anyway. So really all you need is enough sound to fill the stage, not the whole venue.
My rule of thumb for amp volume is this: Just mix your own volume so that it sits nicely with the rest of the band -- in particular the drums. If you are louder than the drums, you are too loud.
So, here are my favourite smaller guitar amps that are available in 2021. They each offer their own set of features and tone. If you play a certain genre then take that into consideration as you will need something that will give you the appropriate tone and volume for that genre. Otherwise, you can't really go wrong with any of these.
Fender Deluxe Reverb Reissue
There are a few variations of these amps and all of them are good. The '65 Reissue (otherwise known as the blackface) is the most common. To me this is a good all-round rock-and-roll amp.
Same goes for the '68 Reissue (known as the silver-face). The tone of the '68 is a little different and you can get reverb on both channels, which is handy. Try them both out and see which you prefer.
If you want a more vintage sound, look for one that has an alnico speaker. They're more expensive but it can be worth it if, especially if you play country music. This is the sound of classic country and '90s country.
I have the "red wine" tolex blackface Deluxe. Basically all that means is that the amp has classy colours and more importantly it has the Jensen Special Design alnico speaker. That speaker isn't as loud as the standard Celestion, but it sure has the vintage tone.
These amps also have the famous spring reverb that people love. The reverb does indeed have great tone, though I always find the tail is longer than I would like, but that's being picky.
PLUS: Great tone, fairly light-weight cabinet. Perfect for many genres from rock to country.
DOWNSIDE: It's more expensive than some of the other choices.
To get some of that British "chime," the Vox AC15 is a great little amp and quite reasonably priced. You can get it with a Celestion greenback speaker, which is very rock and roll. Or if you want something more authentic and vintage-sounding, you can get the Celestion Blue. It's more expensive, but might be worth it if you can afford it.
If you play anything from the Beatles era, or garage rock, I think this Vox amp is a great choice. It has both a normal channel and a Top Boost channel. The Top Boost adds crispiness to the high end and sounds great when you drive the channel hard.
This amp has both a volume and a master volume which means you can create natural tube overdrive by keeping the master volume low and turning up the channel volume.
The downside of this amp for me is that it doesn't have much low end. So when you are playing on your own, the sound won't be as full. However, it means the amp really cuts through the mix when playing with a band.
The other downside to me is that the cabinet is a beast -- it's heavy at 48 lbs. For a small amp that's a lot of weight. However, the reason for it is that the back of the amp is closed off, and the cabinet itself is bigger and more boxy in shape. The advantage of this is that the delicate tubes inside are very well protected. You could drop this thing and it would probably be fine (mine still is!)
PLUS: Nice classic British style tone, solid construction, especially good for Beatles era and garage rock sounds. It's less expensive than the Fender Deluxe.
DOWNSIDE: It's heavy for a small amp, and the low end is a little flabby.
Orange Rocker 15
I really like this amp and curiously I don't see a lot of people buying it or playing it. That's too bad because if you play harder-edged music, like hard rock, or classic rock with more overdrive, this amp has killer tones. I wouldn't use it for a country band, but if I was playing in a grunge band this is what I'd buy.
Orange has been around for a long time, and is another example of the "British" sound. Traditionally their amps are wrapped in orange-coloured tolex. Depending on your own sense of style, you might love that or hate that. Personally I'm not a fan of the orange colour, but now you can also get them in black, which I think looks amazing.
The amp has two channels -- a very simple clean channel, and an overdrive channel, so if you don't want to use overdrive pedals, you've got some sweet all-tube overdrive right in the box here.
The amp has a smaller 10" speaker, but don't let that scare you away. The tones here for rock are fantastic.
PLUS: Great British tone, solid construction, especially good for harder styles of rock. Two channels gives you one clean and one overdrive.
DOWNSIDE: The tone might not work with your genre. Also, if you don't care for the colour orange, you might not enjoy the classic design.
Boss Katana 50 Mk II
This amp has been out for a while now but it's totally new to me. I bought one recently and I am loving it. I never thought I would like a solid state amp so much. And usually I shy away from amps that include lots of onboard effects. I prefer to use pedals for effects.
But the more I play this amp the more I love the tone! I originally purchased this for rehearsals because I wanted something that was very light weight. Something I can throw in the car or even walk the five blocks to our rehearsal studio with. This thing really is that light.
But now I'm thinking of using it for gigs. So far the only on-board effect I really use is the spring reverb -- which is a digital reproduction of spring reverb, though one would never know as it sounds so authentic. I have created a Katana "patch" that matches my Fender Deluxe quite well, and I use my pedal board for overdrive and other effects.
After spending a lot of time getting it to sound as much as possible like my Fender, I realized that I didn't need to. The inherent tone of this amp is great to begin with. I set it on the "Clean" channel, pull down some of the mids, dial in the reverb and that's it.
And it's a bargain at only $300 or so! The 50 watt version is plenty loud to play in a band. They do make a 100 watt version but I'm not sure most of us would need it.
PLUS: Good tone especially considering it's a solid state amp with digital reverb. It's very light weight and inexpensive!
DOWNSIDE: It might not fit your ego since we are all still so obsessed with needing to have "tube" amps.
Fender Princeton Reverb
If you want to go even smaller than the above tube amps, but you still want a classic Fender sound, this is the amp for you. You might look at this little guy in your local guitar store and think, "that's too small." But try it out first. You'll be surprised.
And depending on the genre of music you play, this might be the perfect amp for you. (It certainly seems to work great for Chris Stapleton) Plus it's easy to carry!
The Princeton has a long history and it has been used on countless famous recordings. Another advantage is that when you need to replace the tubes, you don't have to replace so many, thus saving yourself some money.
Similar to the Deluxe Reverb, the Princeton comes in a few different flavours, including both "blackface" and "silverface" varieties. Most of which come with a 10" speaker, as was the standard back in the day. But now you even get a "Chris Stapleton" version that includes a larger 12" speaker. As the story goes, Stapleton had his vintage Princeton altered to fit the 12".
PLUS: Classic Fender tone in a smaller package. Great tone for recording sessions.
DOWNSIDE: Would not be loud enough for some genres of music.
Hand-wired Boutique Amp Equivalents
I don't want to recommend any specific amps here that I haven't personally played, so I was struggling to put my recommendation behind any of the other amps that are out there -- and I am sure there are more then the above.
So here's one more extra suggestion, though this one is for those of you who might have the money to do it as these will be more expensive.
One of the downsides of all the above amps is that they are more expensive to repair because they are all built using modern PC-board technology. If something goes wrong, it can likely be repaired but it will take longer and therefore cost more. And in some cases, it just won't be worth repairing at all.
But a hand-wired amp is much easier to repair. All the wiring is done "point to point" and a repair technician can easily open the thing up and see what's wrong at a glace.
The downside is that hand-wired amps are far more expensive to manufacture because someone needs to actually hand wire each part.
Still, if you have the money, you can actually buy hand-wired versions of the Princeton, and many boutique makers will create hand-wired versions of just about any famous amp design. Try asking around at the guitar shops in your neighborhood and you may even get to buy a great amp from a local producer.