What amps work best with humbuckers?
The humbucker pickup was at one moment in history a revelation to guitar players. By placing two polar opposite magnets next to each other, these pickups are able to cancel out the prevalent hum when using single coil pickups. Humbucker pickups, therefore, became the go-to choice for overdrive and distortion as they could handle the gain without kicking up a fuss.
We’ve compiled a rounded list for players who use humbuckers for their original crunchy rock purpose, those after deep cleans and guitarists at the other end of the spectrum in search of full-on distortion. There’s also a range of prices, so no matter your budget, you’ll find something appropriate. Let’s get stuck in.
Marshall’s combination of versatility and affordability. The DSL range is a powerhouse of sound, able to cover chiming clean tones as well as modern high gain. DSL amps are a cornerstone of the Marshall catalogue thanks to their classic design, all-tube saturation and vast array of sounds.
These feature two channels with built-in reverb, very handy resonance and presence dials, as well as separate gain stages for ultra-gain and classic gain. The DSL is a little workhorse that could last you years of touring, recording work and home practice hours.
A now much-established big hitter in the guitar world, the Blackstar HT series serves up sleek hybrid technology to cover American and British tones. The Infinite Shape features guarantees plenty of versatility, which is perfect at this price for players still discovering their style.
The HT is available in both head and cab and combo form – whatever setup suits you. Its gain stage is aimed more towards rock genres but add a good noise gate and heavy mids overdrive pedal and you have an excellent modern metal rig.
A more alternative choice on the list. The Orange TremLord was built by the British tone masters for soaring cleans and works perfectly with a pair of humbuckers. Orange amps always have a bit of bite to make things interesting, so running your humbuckers into the TremLord’s classic ‘50s tone isn’t a problem.
Of course, these are housing 12AX7 preamp and four EL84 power amp valves for exquisite clarity and compression. Orange have also teamed up with Italian brand Lavoce for their high-end speakers. Only available in combo form, the TremLord is a great session amp.
Boutique amp brand Victory specialise in classy high-end amps. Their Heritage range is the pride of the fleet and is home to some of the most uniquely-voiced amps on the market. There really is an amp for everyone in the range, from the Super Kraken’s behemoth modern distortion to the Duchess’ deluxe sweep from American cleans to British overdrive.
Meanwhile, the Sheriff covers all the classic ‘60s and ‘70s hard rock tones and the Super Countess has a hand in all camps (designed with the help of Guthrie Govan). First modelled on the Compact series, the Heritage line-up takes precision and tonal wealth to a whole new level.
Even humbuckers are wary of the EVH 5150. A modern classic, the 5150 spits out fiery gain over two or more channels, even trying to break free when you’ve dialled in a clean tone. The amp has seen many iterations over the years, but it’s become even greater each time. It truly is devastatingly heavy.
Metal players will naturally gravitate towards the EVH on this list. Available in 100W or 50W models, it’s certainly a high gain amp you can keep at home and tweak to find the perfect settings. Overall the 5150 is slightly on the pricey side, but you’ll never get sick of the crushing performance.
The boffins at Japanese giants Yamaha packed a lot into the minute THR. The THR series combines the perks of lunchbox portability with the power of modelling technology. You’d be surprised by the amount of sounds you can get out the THR – be it the Classic Blues, Extreme or original compact head.
With saveable presets across the board, amp and speaker simulation and even a pair of 8cm speakers in the THR10, you can’t go wrong pairing one up with humbuckers or any other style of pickup. By far the most versatile choice on the list.
Responsible for some of you favourite crushing metal tones of the last two decades. The Peavey 6505 and its associates could probably now be considered in the same legendary category as the likes of the Mesa Dual Rectifier and Marshall JCM. Its tones may have defined music dating back to the noughties, but it’s certainly still relevant today.
Even better yet, it’s not ridiculously expensive like some of its high gain counterparts. This American beast obviously specialises in gain and it’s as sweet as ever thanks to 6L6 power amp valves designed to provide both biting, articulate distortion.
You would usually associate single coil pickups with Fender amps, but this time it’s the humbuckers that are front and centre. The Fender Bassbreaker is a powerhouse of an amp, utilising EL84 power amp tube for its modern high gain voicing.
By far Fender’s hottest range of amps, the Bassbreaker doesn’t completely abandon its roots. The cleans at lower volumes and set on the low gain structure mode are sweet and sound great paired with the reverb. With just one channel, these amps are meant to be driven hard and do an admirable job of rivalling the big boys for hard rock and metal.
Friedman are an American company who ironically design their amps with a crunchy British voicing. There are few more characterful boutique heads out there than Friedman’s. These lunchbox size amps might not look like much but they’re packing serious hot-rodded mod style – enough for classic Plexi gain or mountainous leads alike.
These are the kind of amps that were born to be played with humbuckers. The rhythm tones out of the likes of the PT-20, Dirty Shelley and Runt are thick and chunky and really shine in single lead notes. Not really ones for deep control parameters, Friedman amps are all about out-the-box fat sound.
Not much needs to be said about the Mesa Boogie Rectifier. Whatever amp in the range you pick up, you know you’re getting one of the best amps ever created. Period. Yes, the price is pretty to say the least, but they’ve been backed by some of the most popular guitarists in the world for decades.
Starting with that iconic chrome front plate, the Rectifier is the Mecca of high-end tone, be it cleans or high gain. Channel one cleans up like a ‘50s blackface Fender with rich highs and sweeping lows. The gain channel is one of the most iconic sounds in rock. There’s also plenty of headroom to run any pedal you like. The ultimate guitar amp.
Want to know more?
If you'd like to learn more about the amps featured in this article, please don't hesitate to get in touch - we've got a full-time team of friendly, knowledgeable gear nerds who can answer any query you may have!