Best Guitar Amp for Thrash Metal: Finding Your High Gain Monster

The answer: Mesa Boogie Mark II C Plus

OK, OK, we all don’t have thousands of dollars for this coveted amp, so lets talk about what why type of amp you want for that thrash sound.

I who grew up in the 80s and played in a thrash metal band and have had my share of high gain amps.  The right amp can make all the difference in creating that aggressive, high-gain tone that defines thrash metal.

But with so many amps on the market, it can be overwhelming to choose the best one for thrash metal. As someone who has spent countless hours researching and testing various amps, I can confidently say that there are a few standout options that are perfect for achieving that classic thrash sound. So lets talk about what to look for and go over some ideas for finding that bad ass sound.

Understanding Thrash Metal

Thrash metal is a subgenre of heavy metal that emerged in the early 1980s. It is characterized by its fast tempo, aggressive and abrasive sound, and its lyrics that often deal with social and political issues.

Brief History of Thrash Metal

Thrash metal was born in the early 1980s in the United States, specifically in the San Francisco Bay Area. Bands like Metallica, Slayer, and Megadeth are considered the pioneers of the genre. These bands incorporated elements of punk rock and New Wave of British Heavy Metal into their music, creating a new sound that was faster, heavier, and more aggressive than traditional heavy metal.

Thrash metal quickly gained popularity, and soon other bands like Judas Priest, Anthrax, and Iron Maiden began incorporating thrash elements into their music. The genre reached its peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but it continues to be popular among metal fans today.

Characteristics of Thrash Metal

Thrash metal is characterized by its fast tempo, typically ranging from 120-200 beats per minute. The guitar riffs are often complex and technical, with palm-muted chugging and fast alternate picking. The guitar solos are also an important part of the genre, often featuring fast and intricate playing. The vocals are typically aggressive and abrasive, with a focus on shouting and screaming rather than melodic singing.

When choosing a guitar amp for thrash metal, it is important to consider these characteristics. You want an amp that can handle fast and technical playing, with enough gain and distortion to create the abrasive sound that is characteristic of the genre. Some popular guitar amps for thrash metal include the Peavey 6505+, the Mesa/Boogie Mark V, and the Randall Thrasher.

In conclusion, understanding the history and characteristics of thrash metal can help you choose the best guitar amp for this genre. Keep in mind the fast tempo, complex guitar riffs, aggressive vocals, and political lyrics that are characteristic of thrash metal when selecting an amp.

Guitar Amp Basics

We all know what a guitar amp does, but lets talk about the different types of amps we can choose when looking for the best guitar amp for thrash metal.

Types of Guitar Amps

There are several types of guitar amps, each with its own unique sound and features. The most common types of guitar amps are:

  • Tube amps: These amps use vacuum tubes to amplify the guitar signal. They are known for their warm, rich tone and are often used for blues, rock, and metal music.
  • Solid-state amps: These amps use transistors to amplify the guitar signal. They are known for their clean, crisp tone and are often used for jazz, country, and pop music.
  • Hybrid amps: These amps combine the best of both worlds by using both vacuum tubes and transistors. They are known for their versatility and are often used for a wide range of music genres.

Key Components of a Guitar Amp

These are the key components that work together to produce the desired heavy metal thrash sound. The most important components of a guitar amp for a metal guitarist are:

  • High Gain Amplifier: This is the main component of the thrash sound.
  • Speaker: This is the component that converts the electrical signal into sound and shapes the tone.
  • Effects loop: This is a feature on some amps that allows you to connect external effects pedals after the preamp but before the power amp.
  • Overdrive pedals: These pedals are used to add some power. They can add some juice to a high gain channel.
  • Distortion pedals: These pedals are used to add a more extreme distortion to the guitar signal.
  • Volume or Boost: This allows you to adjust the overall level without coloring your tone.
  • Tone control: This allows you to adjust the tone of the guitar signal, such as the bass, mid, and treble frequencies.
  • Clean channel:  Not as important but leave to Metallica to play jazz chorus style cleans in their songs.

In conclusion, a guitar amp is an essential piece of equipment for any electric guitar player. There are several types of amps, each with its own unique sound and features. Understanding the components of a guitar amp can help you choose the right amp for your playing style and music genre.

Choosing the Best Guitar Amp for Thrash Metal

Here some factors to consider when choosing the best guitar amp for thrash metal and some of the top guitar amp brands for this genre.

  • Wattage: Thrash metal requires a lot of power, so you’ll need an amp with high wattage. Look for amps with at least 50 watts of power, but preferably 100 watts or more.  You can go lower if you don’t plan to play live.  You can also use an attenuator to reduce the wattage and volume for bedroom playing.
  • Tone: Thrash metal requires a very specific tone, which is typically characterized by a lot of distortion, mid-range, and high-end frequencies. Look for amps that have a lot of gain, a good EQ, and a bright tone.
  • Features: Consider what features you need in an amp. Do you need a built-in effects loop, a footswitch, or multiple channels? Make sure the amp you choose has all the features you need.
  • Brand: Some guitar amp brands are known for their ability to produce great tones for thrash metal.

Top Guitar Amp Brands for Thrash Metal

Here are some of the top guitar amp brands for thrash metal:

  • Marshall: Marshall amps are known for their high gain and bright tone, making them a great choice for thrash metal. The Marshall JCM800 and JCM900 are both great options.
  • Orange: Orange amps are known for their unique tone, which is characterized by a lot of mid-range and high-end frequencies. The Orange Rockerverb and Dual Dark are both great options for thrash metal.
  • Mesa/Boogie: Mesa/Boogie amps are known for their versatility and high gain. The Mesa/Boogie Mark V and Dual Rectifier are both great options for thrash metal.
  • EVH: EVH amps are known for their high gain and great tone. The EVH 5150 and 5150 III are both great options for thrash metal.
  • PRS: PRS amps are known for their great tone and versatility. The PRS MT15 is a great option for thrash metal.
  • Friedman: Friedman amps are known for their high gain and great tone. The Friedman BE-100 is a great option for thrash metal.
  • Blackstar: Blackstar amps are known for their versatility and great tone. The Blackstar Series One and HT Metal are both great options for thrash metal.
  • Vox: Vox amps are known for their unique tone, which is characterized by a lot of mid-range frequencies. The Vox AC30 and AC15 are both great options for thrash metal.

High-Gain Tone and Clarity

The gain control on an amp determines how much distortion is added to the signal. For thrash metal, a high-gain setting is necessary to achieve the desired sound. However, too much gain can result in a muddy tone that lacks clarity. It is important to find the right balance between gain and clarity to achieve the perfect high-gain tone.

Achieving Clarity in High-Gain Tone

Achieving clarity in a high-gain tone can be a challenge, but it is essential for a great thrash metal sound. One way to achieve clarity is to focus on the mid-range frequencies. Boosting the mids can help cut through the mix and make the guitar sound more present.  But on some amps, you can get good results but cutting the mids.   Mesa Boogies have the EQ sliders to adjust frequencies. Metallica Master of Puppers tone was created by dropping that mids on a Mesa.  The EQ sliders were in the shape of a V.  This is known as “scooping the mids”

scooped mids

scooped mids

Another way to achieve clarity is to pay attention to the low end. Too much bass can muddy up the tone and make it difficult to distinguish individual notes. A 12″ speaker can help provide a tight low end that is both powerful and clear.

Output is another thing to watch when it comes to achieving clarity in a high-gain tone. A high-output amp can help deliver a clear and articulate sound even at high volumes. It is important to find an amp that can handle the high-gain settings without sacrificing clarity.

Unique Features for Thrash Metal

Here are some key features that I look for in a guitar amp when playing thrash metal. Not all of these are 100% necessary and sometimes can be handled by pedals.

Noise Gate

100% must.  When you are playing high gain, your amp is going to pick up unwanted noise and feedback.  You’ll also have some extra noise from the aggressive style and palm muting. A noise gate helps to eliminate this noise by cutting off the signal when it falls below a certain level.

Its a big positive to have an amp with a built-in noise gate.   It saves space on your pedal board.

Effects Loop

The effects allows me to connect my pedals directly to the amp, rather than running them through the front of the amp.  If you end up running a large chain of pedals and they are all going through the front, it can be difficult to keep the tone clear and saturated.  By runing reverb, delay and mod pedals through the effects loop, your tone will sound better.  This helps to preserve the integrity of my signal and ensures that my pedals sound as they should.

Speaker Size and Configuration

The size and configuration of the speakers in a guitar amp can also have a big impact on the sound. For thrash metal, I prefer a 12″ speaker, as this provides a good balance between low-end punch and high-end clarity.

In terms of configuration, I prefer a closed-back design, as this helps to focus the sound and provides a tighter, more controlled low-end. However, some guitarists prefer an open-back design, as this can provide a more spacious sound.

Buying Advice

As a guitarist who loves thrash metal, I know how important it is to have the right amp to achieve that aggressive, heavy sound. Here are some buying advice tips to help you find the best guitar amp for thrash metal.

Budget Considerations

When it comes to buying a guitar amp for thrash metal, you don’t necessarily need to break the bank. There are plenty of affordable options that can give you the sound you’re looking for. However, keep in mind that the more you spend, the better the quality and features you’ll get. If you’re on a tight budget, consider buying a used amp or a smaller-wattage amp that can still deliver the sound you’re looking for.

Thrash Metal Amps to Consider

Here list of some of the best guitar amps for thrash metal that you should consider.  These list are based on their features, sound quality, and overall performance.  I’m breaking this down into premium vs. budget.  If you are gigging out and need more power, then consider the premium amps.  For home and recording use, you can save money with a combo.

Premium Amp Heads

  1. Mesa Boogie Mark V: This versatile amp can deliver everything from sparkling clean tones to blistering high-gain distortion, making it a great choice for thrash metal players who want to be able to switch between different styles and sounds.
  2. Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier:  This is another popular amp used by a lot of
  3. Peavey 6505: With its brutal distortion and powerful midrange, the Peavey 6505 is a favorite among thrash metal guitarists. It’s also incredibly durable and road-ready, making it a great choice for touring musicians.
  4. EVH 5150 III: Developed in collaboration with Eddie Van Halen himself, the EVH 5150 III is a high-gain monster that’s perfect for thrash metal players who want to shred at lightning speed.
  5. Marshall JCM800: This classic amp has been used by some of the biggest names in thrash metal thanks to its aggressive, crunchy tone and versatile EQ options.
  6. Marshall DSL 100H: One of the best values for a tube amp head.  There are multiple DSL versions at different wattages.
  7. Orange Rockerverb 100: The Orange Rockerverb 100 is known for its thick, rich tone and responsive feel, making it a great choice for thrash metal players who want to dig in and really feel the music.
  8. Engl Savage 120: The Engl Savage 120 offers tight, focused distortion and plenty of headroom for complex, technical playing.  Engl amps are made in Germany and are more popular in Europe than in the U.S.
  9. Randall Satan: With its demonic name and brutal sound, the Randall Satan is a favorite among thrash metal guitarists who want to unleash pure sonic hell on their audiences.
  10. Blackstar Series One 200: The Blackstar Series One 200 is a versatile amp that can deliver everything from classic British rock tones to modern high-gain distortion.
  11. Hughes & Kettner Triamp: The Hughes & Kettner Triamp is a high-end amp that offers three channels of pure tonal bliss, making it a great choice for thrash metal players who demand the best.
  12. Friedman BE 100: BE stands for Brown Eye, as this amp is modeled after the Brown sound.  Like most Friedman amps, it has enough gain to do thrash but tends to have more versatility.

Home / Studio Combos

  1. Marshall DSL 40C or 20C (Combo):  I owned the 20C and it has plenty of gain. Sounds killer with a boost. I think its incredible with a speaker upgrade.
  2. EVH 5150 Iconic 40W Tube Combo:  A bit more expensive, around $900, but it’s got that old-school 515 sound.
  3. Blackstar HT Club 40:  Very popular due to its good price. There are EL34 and 6L6 versions of this amp.
  4. Bugera V22 Infinium:  This amp has 2 channels with a Triode and Pentode switch to change tones.
  5. Boss Katana 100 MKII: It’s a solid state amp but packed with great effects and they just sound amazing. By far the most popular amp under $500.

Home / Studio Heads

  1. PRS MT15 Mark Temonti:  Only 15 watts, but this is probably the best-sounding guitar head that you can get under $800.
  2. EVH 5150III LBX 15-watt Tube Head:  This mini gives you the 5150 sound at a better price and a smaller, lighter package that’s a better option at low volumes.
  3. Peavey 6505 MH: If you are considering the EVH 5150 LBX then consider this amp as well as both are very similar. I’d take the one that I can find the best deal on.
  4. Hughes & Kettner Tubemeister 18: 2 channels and can attenuate down to 1 watt for low volume.
  5. Laney Ironheart IRT Studio: I’m biased as I own this, and it’s a killer tube amp that has versatility.  More of a modern metal sound and also has a 1-watt option for lower volume.

I can get into way more details with every amp, but the purpose of this list was to give you a place to start.

My take

You can’t go wrong with most of these amps, but when taking everything into consideration, I believe the best guitar amp for thrash metal is the Peavey 6505.

This amp has been a staple in the thrash metal scene for decades and for good reason. It delivers a powerful, aggressive tone that perfectly complements the fast and heavy playing style of thrash metal.  New, the full-sized 120W amp will run you about $1300, but since this amp has been around for so long, there are usually quite a few used amps available for around $800. They also make a 20W mini head that sells for around $700 new and $500 on the used market.

Some of the key features of the Peavey 6505 include:

  • Three channels with separate EQ controls for maximum tonal versatility
  • 120 watts of power for plenty of volume and headroom
  • Preamp tubes that deliver a warm, responsive tone
  • A rugged and durable construction that can withstand the rigors of touring and heavy use

What do I play?

I’m into a huge diverse range of music so I tend to pick amps that have versatility.  Here are amps I currently use in 2023, but this changes.

I own a Ceriatone Yeti 100 which I will never sell.  It is basically a Jose-modded hot rod Marshall circuit that is amazingly versatile and loud as hell. It has 3 voicings. The first is a Marshall Plexi sound which I have tried chasing with pedal and modelers and this nails it.  It also has a higher gain JCM800 voicing I pair with a Boss SD-1 (classic Zakk Wylde combo).  Then there is a modern voicing that can do more of a modern metal sound.

I play a Friedman Runt on the high gain chain with a TC Spark boost or a Tubescreamer, I can get good metal tones, but this is the one I like more for crunch and hard rock.

I also own a Synergy IICp, which is a preamp modeled after the famous Mesa Boogie IIC+.  This produces a great Metallica tone.

I picked up a Laney IRT Studio because it was such a good deal.   It has a modern voicing and I like running it with a rat pedal clone to produce a great thrash metal tone. I use this in my bedroom instead of my amp room because it can go to down to 1 watt and has some good options for recording.

Of course, every guitarist has their own unique preferences and playing style, so go to a guitar store and try to play some of these amps to see which type high-gain thrash will fit you.


Rob Z

Got my first guitar in 1987, took lessons and played nonstop. Spent some time in hard rock and metal bands in the 1990s. I eventually switched to acoustic guitars only and rarely played for years. I got back into electric guitars when my daughter began playing in 2018. I now collect way too much gear.
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