Is it your first time getting an electric guitar? Or is it your umpteenth guitar, or maybe the Nth year of owning a guitar? It makes no difference, because if the guitar is in any way electric, you need to start considering what Amp you are going to buy. Otherwise, how are you going to be making those sweet sounds. The thing with choosing an amp is the actual amount of decision-making involved. The idea is probably that you want to get the best guitar amp you can land your hands on. Well, are you looking for something affordable, or are not bothered by something on the more expensive side? Do you have an acoustic-electric, hollow body, semi-hollow body, or a bass guitar? Do you maybe want to know more about electric guitar amps before you actually commit to buying one? Lucky you, I am about to drop some useful knowledge.
Best Guitar Amps
|VOX AC30HW2 Hand-Wired||(4.9 / 5)||Check on Amazon|
|Fender Amplifiers Vintage Reissue||(4.9 / 5)||Check on Amazon|
|Peavey Delta Blues 115||(4.8 / 5)||Check on Amazon|
|Fender 68 Custom Princeton Reverb||(4.8 / 5)||Check on Amazon|
|Line 6 Spider V 240||(4.8 / 5)||Check on Amazon|
|Peavey Vypyr VIP 3||(4.7 / 5)||Check on Amazon|
|Fender Blues Deluxe Reissue||(4.8 / 5)||Check on Amazon|
|Marshall JVM-410H Joe Satriani Signature||(4.9 / 5)||Check on Amazon|
|Line 6 Spider V 240||(4.8 / 5)||Check on Amazon|
|Marshall Acoustic Soloist AS50D||(4.9 / 5)||Check on Amazon|
The Importance of a Good Amp
When you first start playing your electric guitar, when you are just studying the basics and getting used to the very entry level stuff in terms of music, you are likely unable to identify all the way in which a good amp is important to your music. The electric guitar is a complex instrument, composed of many parts beyond the very basic strings and body and neck. For the full functionality of the guitar, it requires a combination of things, including pickups, bridges, the nut, cable and most importantly, an amp. So, in a way, I guess you could argue that the amp is part of the instrument, without which an electric guitar is pretty much useless. I mean think about it. Without an amp the electric guitar cannot produce a sound beyond the barely audible. So the amp is quite possibly the most important part of an electric guitar.
As such, you probably wouldn’t want your guitar to have an amp that is not of quality that can keep up with the rest of the guitar. I have heard some musicians even say that a guitar that is worth two hundred and fifty dollars combined with an amp that is worth a thousand sounds better, than the reverse combination. And it is true. The ability of an amp to reproduce and amplify sound is proportional to its value. Which is why investing in a good amp is just as important as investing in a good guitar.
Yet not everybody needs an out of this world amp. Not everybody is going to go beyond the very basics, no everyone is going to become a professional. For these people, the beginners, the amateurs, a cheap amp can be sufficient. And yet even among cheap amps, the best can be inspiringly powerful in the amplification in their sound, whether it be volume or tone. So all I am saying is that you don’t need to pick the most expensive amp, but what you do need is an amp that works well with what you have. I think, so far, you agree with me. In which case, let’s get a little more in depth with the types of amps and what they do and how they do it and talk about how you can pick the amp that is perfect for you.
How to choose a guitar amp
The very first thing you need to know when you are about to pick an amp, is what you are getting an amp for. Are you a person looking for an amp for the general purpose of playing all genres, or someone more concentrated on playing jazz or metal? If you are looking for a practice amp rather than a performance amp, you might want to look at different things. Even if you have a certain budget within the context of the other questions, you might want to consider certain amps and not the others, even without the price tag.
There is a great variety of amps available in the world, all of them having a role and character in the way they work. The specifications of each, such as whether they have reverb controls, whether they are tube or solid state and so on and so on all determine the price, quality and the sound of the amp. Being able to identify what end you are buying an amp for, what the specifics of your sound are and what kind of effect you want to have on your listeners, you will have to choose one of the different options available. Which is why it is important to know the varieties, the difference between them, and how they can affect your sound. I, being the kind man that I am, have compiled a short guide at what you should know and what you should look at when buying an amp.
Tube and Solid State
The first thing you are going to have to learn about is the two different makes of amps there are available on the market currently. The two have been around for a while, and both offer certain things over the other, though theoretically speaking they shouldn’t, which is strange of course. But then again with music and musical instruments, everything makes a difference when you ask a musician.
So what is the difference between solid-state and tube amplifiers? Well the very first difference is schematic, or design to be more precise. The tube amplifier uses a combination of vacuum tubes inside of it to produce sound. The solid-state amplifier on the other hand uses a combination of electronics to produce a sound that should sound similar. This design difference produces a number of sound differences that can feel very important.
First of all, for a tube amp to sound good, it needs its volume cranked up a little high. So maybe above the number three, for the juicy, warm tones to flow like water. On the other hand a solid state amp usually sounds pretty consistent from the very 1 (or zero, though that means no sound) to the number 10 (if you can turn it up to eleven, good on you). This means that if you need to play quietly, such as in a practice setting at home, you might want to consider picking up a solid-state amplifier.
On the other hand a lot of people state that the tonal capabilities of the vacuum tube amplifier are something that the solid-state could never achieve. This has a lot of truth to it as the tube amps usually sound slightly more detailed and slightly warmer than solid-state amps. Add to that the dynamic range available to the tube amps and you get a sound that you can justify many for calling superior.
Though this comes at a trade off. You see to maintain the ability to produce this sound, the owner of a tube amp will have to do about a yearly switch out of the vacuum tubes inside their amps. This means extra yearly upkeep that you have to pay on top of the already expensive piece of equipment. And yes tube amps are more expensive than solid-state amps from the very beginning. The tube amps are also heavier than the solid-state amps, which makes them a pain to lug around everywhere. Probably the worst offense is the fact that the tube amps have a tendency towards having more noise as compared to solid-state.
Still, the trade-off is worth it is what many will tell you. I will not side with any side on this issue, but I will say that tube amps do sound gorgeous.
Guitar amplifier size
Another thing that is surprisingly important about an amp is its size. Though, it really isn’t surprising is it? I mean depending on the size, an amp can be a blessing or a curse. An amp that is too large is heavy and uncomfortable to lug around, while a small amp might be comfortable and easy to transport and store, but might not have the capabilities that the bigger one offers. The thing is, there is even tonal and volume implications when we speak of the sound of an amp.
So let us say you buy yourself a smaller sized amp for the purpose of practicing with your band. Your bring it back home, or it arrives through mail, you set it up and you plug in your guitar to start playing. You hit the first chord and all of a sudden you notice that there is something missing. The sound is fresh, it is vibrant and yet it is missing something. You strike the chord again and bam, all of a sudden you realize that the smaller amp has a much better expressiveness in terms of high tones, while lacking in the low tones. This is a thing with all amps. The smaller they are, the likelier they are to be good at high tones but bad at low tones. The reverse is true for larger sized amps. This is why there combinations available, or amps that are designed certain ways, such as open or closed backs, to get around these issues and add layers of sound. Doesn’t always work, but when it does, the success is spectacular.
Amps for Specific Purposes
So the most important question that has yet to be asked is, what type of an amp are you looking for, and for what purpose? There are three types of amps that you will always be looking at, to be general about it. There is the practice amp, there is the studio amp and there is the live performance amp. The idea is that you will have to have a different amp for all three, as all three situations have specific requirements in their settings. So for example in a practice amp you might be looking for an amp that is not too expensive, can play clean sound with a wide tonal range, all the while being in a low volume setting. You will have a different set up for this, such as maybe a medium or smaller sized solid state practice amp.
On the other hand, if you are throwing life performances for audiences of at least a hundred people, you might want to look at other options. A couple of tube amps that can take full advantage of a full volume setting, with amps being on the large size (if you are not the one lugging them around by hand) should be able to handle most of your demands. If you are the one lugging the stuff around, and your audiences are on the smaller size, maybe you don’t need large amps, but a medium sized single tube amp that can supply you with everything you might need.
Finally a studio setting requires great power in terms of tonal range, but also need subtlety and the ability to play low volume, so you don’t get in the way of the other players. You will need a separate amp for this as well. Of course having three amps is not always an option for everyone, so quite often you will have to compromise one way or another. If you are starting out all you need is a practice amp. If you are moderately popular, a live and practice amp will suffice. If you are recording albums though that is a whole other story. Then again, thankfully most studios already have amps on location, so you will not always have to bring your own. Be careful, the studio amp might produce a sound very different from what you want produced.
What to Look For
So what are you going to be looking at when buying an amp? Hopefully at all of the things I mentioned above. Maybe you’ll even take a look at our in-depth reviews to better understand the amps before you buy them. Still, here is a quick rundown of qualities that you might want to consider.
- Tube vs Solid State vs Hybrid
- Open Back vs Closed Back
- Overdrive, Sustain
There are a whole bunch of amp types out there, and all of them have a personality of sorts. The more you know about an amp, the more likely you are to buy one that fits your character and the songs you want to produce. So take a closer look, always.
Best Guitar Amp Brands
If you ever wondered what those orange boxes you saw on every stage represented, now it’s time to answer your questions and satisfy your curiosity at last. Though I can’t speak about every single case, I’m pretty sure those were Orange amps. This brand was founded in 1968 by Cliff Cooper, giving birth to the company that would later on occupy countless stages. I think it’s important to tell you that we’re talking about a British company with British amplification. If you’re not a beginner, then you’ll easily understand why that matters. For the novices, I’ll briefly say that British amplification means a different character, strength and final outcome. Therefore, Orange amps are saturated with that uniqueness. They are distinctive in terms of appearance as well – not often do we see orange boxes with tweeds on the front. These vintage-looking beasts can destroy any venue with their power, but they can be tamed for subtler utilization as well. Orange creates amplifiers for electric and bass guitars, enabling low-end lovers to have something of their own. Once you try their products, you’ll have a hard time playing with anything else. And that, my friend, is distinctiveness!
Is there anyone left on this planet who hasn’t heard of Marshall yet? – I really doubt that, because this brand is huge. Whether you’re into guitars or not, you’ve probably seen their products somewhere throughout your life. But this company bears particular importance to guitarists, because it has always been creating legendary amplifiers. Don’t get me wrong – not all of their units are mind blowing. But the ones that are will amaze you so much that you’ll be literally out of words and expressions. It can be hard to imagine, but even such massive brands start out small and develop gradually. Jim and Terry Marshalls owned a tiny musical store that was catching on more and more each day. Once their customers started complaining about the flaws of existing amplifiers, they decided to create their own. The first model, a.k.a. Number One was called JTM45. It marked the beginning of the new era for the family, as its popularity allowed them to open another store. As the demand grew, Jim and Terry eventually had to open their own factory (two years after selling the first model). Why were they successful? – the answer is quite simple. They created special amplifiers with unique sound. Marshall tone is widely sought after till this day, regardless of countless copies being created. The original Marshall sound is hard to replicate and that’s probably why they still maintain their fame.
The first Peavey amplifier was built back in 1957 by Hartley Peavey, who decided to create an amplifier himself after he got into rock and roll. He understood that this genre required a special device in order to acquire all the girth and overdrive needed. He sketched the design of guitars back in school along with the logo of the company. Later on, all his ideas became a reality and the first Peavey branded amplifier was produced. The main goal of the brand was to create wonderful units at an affordable price. That way, they made quality sound accessible to the masses. Such an approach has turned into a real pattern, as the people behind Peavey did their best to maintain low prices. As the company grew, they refined the design and diversified products. Their renowned Vintage Series (now known as Classic Series) amps were launched in 1973. This line catered to jazz, blues and classic rock players specifically, which enabled these guitarists to achieve that famous amp overdrive. They have collaborated with Eddie Van Halen, which has resulted in the 5150 series. Peavey’s focus on innovation and development, as well as the hard work of their team has resulted in a company that is one of the biggest in the amplifier industry.
Fender is one of those brands that is really diverse in their products. You’ll have a hard time finding a gear that they don’t produce. Be it electric or acoustic guitars, amps, pedals or accessories – they have it all. They acquired their fame with electric guitars, however, they are equally known for their amps. You might get the idea that Leo started creating these fellas later on the journey, but, in reality, it happened during the beginning. Fender had a small shop in California where he repaired guitars and amplifiers. When he figured out that creating amplifiers would be more profitable than repairing, he decided to manufacture his own. That’s when he stepped into the industry. The production of the most iconic models began in 1946. Since then, the brand has come out with legendary units such as the Deluxe, the Professional, the Dual Professional and the Princeton. We definitely can’t forget about their Champion, which has become the most famous of their creations. Their Bassbreaker and Twin Reverb have enjoyed similar popularity as well. Fender amps have been known for their pristine clean tones (with plenty of headroom) and high volumes. You can easily recognize those qualities even if they play a bunch of different models to you (it’s up to you to decide whether it’s good or bad). Some of you might dislike them, but it’s undeniable that those properties made Fender famous among blues and country players.
The history of Vox starts with the collaboration of Jennings Organ Company (JMI) and Dick Denney. The latter was a guitarist and knew perfectly what was going on in music in that era and what it lacked. He was eager to create an amplifier that would respond to the needs of modern players. The joint effort of JMI and Dick brought to life the amplifier called AC1/15 (later renamed as AC15). It came out in 1958 and was the first model with VOX name on it. This model was featured in the “James Bond Theme”, which definitely helped in terms of gaining popularity. But it was apparent that it lacked the power needed to rock up the stage. That’s why Dick decided to increase the power in the existing AC15. For that purpose, he added extra 15 watts, kept vacuum tubes, increased the size of the cabinet and included a second 12” Celestion speaker. The result was a 30 watt beast which had a distinctive voice. It had a bright and jangly tone that added a unique flavor to any sound. Of course, it was saturated with British vibes, enabling guitarists to create the most badass grit. Vox amplifiers have been used by the Beatles, Radiohead, Queen, the Rolling Stones, U2, the Yardbirds and many more.
The brands we have already discussed had one thing in common: they all mainly focused on classic, vintage tone. Even though they have added some innovative products in their line, they are still known for their classic models. Line 6 is a different story in that sense. It started off when Digital Signal Processing became cheaper and more available. Instead of creating something well-known, they decided to launch something that was completely modern and innovative. Their first amp was released in 1996. It was AxSys 212, a digital-modeling amplifier with two 12” speakers. It was capable of recreating various instruments and sounds, enabling guitarists to diversify their tone as much as they desired. As they refined digital modeling, they came out with amplifiers that could emulate various amps, cabinets, effects and microphones. That meant countless possibilities for the guitarists and a guaranteed success for the brand. Apart from versatile amplifiers, Line 6 also creates pedals, multi-effect processors, portable recording devices, guitars, software and wireless systems. Once you get hooked on their amps, you dive deeper with other devices and get addicted to the brand without a way out.
Blackstar is yet another British amplifier company, but it’s certainly not a traditional one. It was founded by people who knew perfectly well what they were doing. Bruce Keir was previously a Marshall employee, namely, a chief design engineer. Ian Robinson had the knowledge to create amplifiers as well. But they did still spend a lot of time researching all the technical details until they were ready to start building. The company was established in 2007 with amplifiers that were absolutely flawless. I mentioned in the beginning that Blackstar isn’t creating traditional British amps. Rather, they are producing models that are extremely versatile in their character. With some adjustments, you can achieve both American and British tones and you’ll only need a single amp for that. The majority of Blackstar amps are compatible with effects pedals, enabling you to add as many layers to your sound as your heart desires. Their amplifiers have been played by Ozzy Osbourne, Neal Schon, Silenoz, James Dean Bradfield and others. Thanks to the support of their customers, the company has continued to grow in terms of production. Since they are relatively new compared to other brands, they mix together classic and modern sounds and release mind-blowing and exquisite amps.
Boss is a bit of a different story when it comes to amplifiers. These devices aren’t their primary focus, as they are mainly famous for their pedals. However, that doesn’t mean that they don’t know what they are doing. Their amp line is increasing day by day and customers seem to be satisfied with their products. As with their guitar effects, amps are quite affordable as well. They are quite durable and do a decent job at delivering wonderful results. Boss amps might not be your primary choice if you’re a gigging musician, yet they will be really useful for practices and small performances. You can get the most powerful model and crank it up as much as you can. That way, you’ll be able to disturb a neighborhood or two. Their line is quite diverse, as well, so you can easily pick out the suitable one for you. You can choose from Waza, Katana, Nextone or Acoustic Singer lines. If you have ever played with Boss, then you’ll know what to expect. This brand is definitely worth your attention.
Lyndon Laney got into the art of amplification in 1967 when he was playing in “The Band of Joy” with Robert Plant and John Bonham. He was working in his father’s garage and set out with the goal to create an amplifier with an ultimate tone. As a result, he founded Laney Amplification the same year. The brand is most commonly associated with Black Sabbath. A Laney amplifier was utilized during the recording of the release “Black Sabbath” in 1970. Though the company was already famous, this increased its fame even more. The brand always looked out for the trends that were prominent at that time, creating amplifiers that would cater to the needs of the musicians. As a result, the AOR (Advanced Overdrive Response) line was launched, featuring tube amps with an extra stage of pre-gain. That way, it was possible to create heavily distorted sounds. These amps were employed by guitarists such as Vinnie Moore, Vinnie Vincent, George Lynch and others. Of course, more amazing models were added to their line along the way, but I can’t name them all. It’s already apparent that Laney Amplification has always been about finding and nailing down that perfect tone and that pattern hasn’t changed ever since.
Back in 2007, Eddie Van Halen decided to create a replica of his beloved electric guitar. With that purpose, he collaborated with the Fender team – a trusted brand that would surely deliver fantastic results. It sparked the beginning of the EVH brand that would create the musician’s signature amps, guitars and other musical devices. The initial result of the collaboration was Frankenstein that revived an already legendary guitar. However, their amplifiers have been a major success as well. They are meant for musicians who are in search of a powerful beast. The majority of the models are loud without being muddy. They have a lot of bite and dimension to them, enabling guitarists to go as crazy as they want and still retain the characteristics of their tone. EVH definitely carries the legacy of its founder. These amplifiers are really versatile. Take a look at 5150III 50-watt 6L6 Head and you’ll definitely understand what I’m talking about. This beast is packed with power, character and is surely a tonal haven for anyone who wants heavy attack, amazing bass response and that sought-after crunch. And the rest of the line is similarly breathtaking. You shouldn’t buy EVH amps because of Eddie’s name – you should purchase them because they are mind-blowing.
The beauty of picking a new amp is the fresh sound you hear flowing out of it when you play it for the first time. The list of categories above is representative of what we have talked about, and I hope it is comprehensive enough for what your purposes are. Now go and get looking for something you might find suitable for you. Good luck!