It seems as though we have a lot of new members who are asking the same question, "I'm new to expensive amplifiers, and I want something that will sound great!" Well, I've found that more often than not, each member will give his own take on what he feels is the best amp out there, either based on the information you give, or lack thereof, and it tends to be the same good advice. So, why not have it in one place?
I want to have everyone post up their own short Heavy Metal Amp Buyer's Guide. Just a few quick words on what you've used in the past, how you arrived at the gear you're currently using, where you want to go, and why you've taken the path you have.
Whether you want a classic metal sound, something darker, or something tighter, we've got a lot of pooled experience to set you on the right path.
This thread will be true.
I started off with a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe, and quickly learned that it couldn't make me sound like James Hetfield - too "hairy", no "grunt" or really thick saturation. As I was 16, that's all I wanted. Natural impulse: add a Boss Metal Zone and suck the mids.
Tones easily dialed: Vintage clean tones, SRV, Pantera (with MT-2)
Time satisfied with this rig: 6 years.
I sold that amp and bought a Peavey XXX 2x12 combo. Everything I'd read about it said that it was a relatively versatile amp with tons of gain and a unique character. Definitely correct. I eventually became dissatisfied with it because while I could dial in most varieties of brutality, it became clear that if the gain wasn't at least halfway up (thick crunch/singing blues distortion level) it sounded thin and weak, so I couldn't do more classic tones. I suffered through a Pink Floyd tribute gig by throwing a bunch of pedals at the clean front end of the XXX to re-create the various fuzz, overdrive and clean boost sounds used throughout their career, but since the clean channel is more pushed and modern and dark, it wouldn't react like a vintage amp would have and it required a lot of compromising to get good tones. It made me GAS for my old Fender! And it made me move to a new rig.
Tones easily dialed: Arch Enemy (or any 5150/6505-type Peavey amp), 80's shred, Metallica (not authentic, but a good imitation)
Time satisfied with this rig: 4 years.
So I researched a lot and tried to find something that would be able to fill in that low-gain gap while retaining requisite levels of kick-ass... and stumbled on the Mesa/Boogie Mark IV. I bought a combo as I'd read so much good about the EVM-12L speaker and found a good deal on one.
As it's based on a modified Fender Princeton, it can actually be tweaked to sound like anything from wicked smooth jazz and old school doo-wop to Lamb of God trademark ripping-your-earlobes thunder and Petrucci-smooth leads. It's really quite amazing, and as far as I am concerned the Mark series of amps is the final word in tube amp versatility. I find the sound to generally be very clear and hi-fi, and as such it exposes your technique. It won't sound like an Engl or an Uberschall - that thick, grindy low end is missing in lieu of a more bell-like bottom end attack -- again, think clarity. And as for pedals, it reacts with them better than the XXX ever did.
The second mid-gain channel is ripped on for no reason. It's basically a Marshall, especially if you throw a pair of EL34s in the power section. No, it's not insane. It's a Marshall. Boost it, and it gets nuts like it should.
Tones easily dialed: Any vintage clean tone, Authentic Metallica/Megadeth (whole career with proper tweaking), Alice in Chains, SRV, Gary Moore, Dream Theater, Lamb of God
Time satisfied with this rig: 1 year.
Now, in the search for simplicity, I've sold or am selling all of my effects and amplifiers for a rack-based Axe-Fx rig. I've been convinced through videos, sound clips, anecdotes, other forum members and artist endorsements that the unit will deliver all of the tones I've come to expect from my rig and tenfold more, in addition to simplifying my budding desire to start recording things. The jury hasn't even met to deliberate, as the receptionist just emailed me to tell me the box from Fractal has arrived.
Note the exponential increase in my gear-whoring frequency. Kids, don't let this happen to you. Feel free to PM me with questions about any of this.