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 Amplifiers
Everybody has to start somewhere and starting under one hundred is the place to start for so many of us. While you don’t get the best quality when you are buying an amp this cheap, what you get in exchange is possibly not that much worse. When you just start out playing around with your guitar you don’t need that much power and you don’t need that much detail in sound. What you do need is a practice buddy, an amp that will get you through hours upon hours of play every day, until you are good enough to graduate to something better. Unfortunately the market is such that you will always get what you pay for. So if you pay what seems like too little for your amp, expect that sooner rather than later it will break down and be less than useful. On the other hand I also know of some pretty nice quality amps that come for less than one hundred. A lot of these amps are better than the amps that come with starting out guitar bundles, but not by too much. Anyway, they are usually just fine for a beginner, so you will have a good enough time with the amp you pick out from one of these, until you decide to upgrade.
The guitar amp under two hundred is something of a strange land. It is better than the world of guitar amps under one hundred and yet they are not the best thing in the world. The difference between the two categories is marginal and yet this marginal difference is sufficient to make a few people sit down and consider going for the slightly more expensive amp. Honestly, if you have the little bit of extra buck, you might want to consider going with the slightly more expensive option. The beauty of it is that you can hear the difference, with the amps under two hundred sounding more powerful and having deeper, more expressive tone than the amps under one hundred. Still, remember, you are getting what you are paying for and under two hundred is not the optimal price in terms of sound quality for amps. Even the best of amps under two hundred, all of which we have more or less compiled into a comprehensive list, struggle with things such as powerful output and expressing the tone of a guitar fully. So to make the basics clear – the under two hundred amp is slightly more expensive than the under one hundred and also slightly better at everything.
Now we are talking definitely much better than whatever the under two hundred and the under one hundred electric guitar amp categories offer you. The jump in quality from under two hundred to under three hundred is surprisingly large, with the under three hundred amps outperforming the cheaper ones in every way. These amps have a longer lifespan and produce a more powerful sound, while also being better at recreating the tones that you want to hear from your guitar. It is also here that the amps begin to specialize a little more in the sound that they try to produce. While all cheap amps allow you to control volume, and a number of different sound options, as well as add sustain to your sound, it is here that these controls become more detailed and have a larger impact on your sound. Which is always very exciting, especially if you are a beginner graduating from your old amp to a new one, more suitable for your intermediate level of skill. Still, the under three hundred amps are not the greatest in the world and despite their smaller size, are not entirely suitable for gigging. Mostly just practice with the band, which you hardly could with the the cheaper amps.
The beauty of modern technology is the fact that it allows you to achieve great things for so much cheaper nowadays than you could even about ten years ago. Which is why I am about to sing praise of the guitar amps worth a little under five hundred. The amps in this category again have a huge jump in quality from the under three hundred category, achieving sound and longevity feats that only the best of the under three hundred category could dream of. While the cheaper versions are good mostly for practice, alone at home or with a band of geeks (and freaks, no offense, I am one of you) such as you, the amps in this new category open up a world of possibilities for you. Most of them are larger in size, but they are also larger in sound, with tonal and output capabilities you could have never dreamt of before. Some of the best of these amps you could take on your gigs, which means lugging them around, but honestly, with sound this good it would be worth it. These are made with guitars of all kinds in mind, though a lot of the models in this category start specializing even more in terms of the tone they produce.
This is where things get a little out of hand. You see for a whole lot of guitar players out there in the world, a bass guitar that is worth just a little under five hundred is enough. People ranging from beginners all the way up to semi professionals don’t need all of the power and tone provided by the amps that are worth more than five hundred and a little less than a thousand. The professionals are the ones looking to get these amps, that or extreme guitar enthusiasts. These amps, the best of them especially, provide an exceptional quality of sound with a level of sound control and specialization that allows them to feel custom to a specific genre. These amps are not usually useful to beginner guitar players, not because they are not good enough, but because beginners are unable to fully utilize the potential of these amps. That and these amps are also a little too expensive for beginner guitar players to invest in. Intermediate and advanced players are much more likely to appreciate the abilities of these amps, even if the professionals are the most like people to buy them. Still, always worth your consideration.
The idea behind an acoustic guitar amplifiers is not inherently bad. Honestly, getting an amp for your acoustic guitar might even be a good idea, if of course you know what you are doing and your acoustic guitar can take. Hopefully though, you are doing it for the right reasons, instead of considering all the wrong ones. The idea behind an acoustic guitar amp is that you want to make it louder, enhancing the power of the pure acoustic sound that is already there. If your goal is to change the way an acoustic guitar sounds, altering its voice to sound a little more electric, or something stranger, you are much better off just getting yourself an electric guitar and playing around with that. The best acoustic guitar amps, and even the ones that are not the best, all have the very same goal: amplify the clean sound of the guitar, not alter it. Which is why the acoustic guitar amplifiers that we talk about on the website are all dedicated to this purpose. There is of course a great range in price, and you do have to remember you are getting what you’re paying for, so prepare your budget and your expectations.
When you are a traveling musician without the space or strength to lug around a whole lot of guitar amplifier, you might end up not knowing what to do. You don’t want to buy cheaper amplifiers simply because they could turn out to not be as high in quality, but large amplifiers with good quality are not an option. This is when the mini or small guitar amplifiers come into play. These little demons of noise combine the best of two worlds, allowing themselves to be light, small and portable, easy to store and carry around, while also having a nice level of powerful sound with good quality tone. The best of the small guitar amps provide the player with something of an unexpected power in tone, which is why they are highly appreciate by travelling musicians. Even children find use for these mini amps as they start learning to play their guitars better. Though, just like with everything else, these amps have a level of quality associated with their price. Combine this with the fact that if an amp is small it is likely to have a weaker sound, you start to realize you don’t want to go beyond a certain price threshold.
If you have been out and about looking for amps, you have probably learned that there is a very basic difference between solid state and tube amps. While I am not going to get into great detail about the difference, I will say that if you are looking at solid state guitar amps, than you might be the person who values stability, reliability and durability in their amps. You also might be the type of person who does not like to pay a whole lot for their amps and does not want to pay for the constant upkeep of their amps. The solid state guitar amps do a great job at satisfying all of your needs. These beautiful amps possess a lot of power and a lot of tone, and while some say they are not comparable to tube amps, I think they are satisfactory all on their own. The best solid state guitar amps produce a whole a lot of tone for the cost not even comparable to the tube amps. These solid state guitar amps are a wonder of technology, whether they are a pure solid state guitar amp or whether they are a combination of tube and solid state, while being mostly solid state.
They say that solid state guitar amps will never be able to compare to tube guitar amps in terms of tone. While I myself in my years of experience and knowledge don’t have a particular preference, unless we are talking about a specific sound I want to produce. In terms of tube guitar amps I do know that they produce a slightly warmer tone, as compared to solid state guitar amps, which is a quality I find important and endearing when playing blues or even rock and roll. It is honestly entirely up to the taste of the musician who is performing, though I do know that a whole lot of musicians like a tube guitar. The only thing I find a little troublesome is the fact that tube guitars are more expensive both in the upfront cost and in the maintenance cost over time. So if that is something that bothers you, maybe consider buying a different type of amp. If not, well then, there is no better amp type for you than the tube amp. While these tend to be a combination of tube and solid state as well, the best ones are usually purely tube and have a pure, warm tube amp sound. They also are made better, which means they don’t have to be that heavy on your pocket in terms of maintenance.
Whether you are a beginner or you have been a practicing professional for many years, you probably spend hours upon hours every day working on your skills with your guitar. The idea is that if you spend hours upon hours practicing your guitar skills, then you probably need the correct setup. You probably have a practice guitar and you probably have a designated practice room, as well as a time to practice. Well, now you need a practice amp. What do you need a practice for? Well, if you are a beginner, you are probably thinking about buying a cheap amp currently, or already have bought one. While this is not the worst way to go about buying a beginner amp, it is also not the smartest. You see as a beginner you would not be gigging any time soon, so what you need is to concentrate on practice and using a practice amp for that is the optimal way to go about it, since these amps are optimized for this purpose. While not the most powerful, they are usually tonally more adept at producing a large range of tone. Even for a professional having a practice amp may mean a better practice time and quality.
After a certain point of practicing and working on your guitar skills, you get to a point when you need a specifically specialized amp for the type of music that you play. Which is why there are guitar amps created specifically for the purpose of sounding perfect within the constraints of a certain genre. The amps that I would like to introduce you to are the jazz amps. These amps are specifically created so that they produce the cleanest, clearest sound, recreating the tones produced by the musician in their purest form. With incredible detail in their tonal reproduction, these jazz guitar amps look like and sound like they are indispensable to any jazz guitar player worth their salt. These usually have detailed controls of the volume and levels produced by the guitar, high mid or low range wise. This incredibly sound clarity combined with the control flexibility lends itself well into the genre. Just like with any amp, you have to remember that price is an important factor in the quality of sound for an amp. Even jazz amps have a range of quality that can be grasped by their price. So be careful with what you end up buying!
Speaking of genre specific amps, I would also like to speak to you about another rather popular caste of guitar amps, ones made for the sake of metal. These amps usually abandon their tubes and go for the solid state, just because the solid state is more likely to take abuse easily. This is not a rule of thumb though, and you might end up seeing a whole lot of tube amps among the best amps for metal. The amplification of metal requires that the output produced by the amp be exceptional, capable of picking up the power of the guitar without any hindrance. Which is why they are specifically designed to be able to produce incredibly high volume, while also having the power to customize the sound towards metal, as per the musicians will. This is why some of the best metal guitar amps have incredibly detailed controls on them. The thing is, most metal amps are capable of doing a decent job at producing a metal sound, even if they are cheap. The difference between a cheap and an expensive amps is the level of output and the quality of sound produced. Anyone can growl, but not everyone can growl the same way a professional can.
If you did not expect me to talk a little bit about how electric guitars are not the only ones in need of powerful amplification, you have not known me at all. You see, while electric guitar amps can work for bass guitar amps, the needs of the bass guitar are much too specific for an average electric guitar amp to handle. The lower range of tones introduced by the bass guitar to the mix of what an amp has to handle means that some amps, most electric guitar amps, have trouble reproducing the sound as per the musician’s expectations. This is why we have some bass guitar specific amps. These are designed so that they can handle the lowest of the low tones, reproducing them perfectly and in incredible clarity, without losing the funk, the ring and the power. The best of these amps tend to be on the expensive side, though there are affordable ones that can give them a run for their money as well. It is important to pick the right amp for your bass guitar, just like with any instrument, because the sound can be so much better with an amp designed to handle bass. Just try it and you will see what I mean.
For all of you plebs out there still using your own keyboards preamps to play the music you want, I have news: keyboards have and need amps as well. Why? Because to reproduce a sound that you actually want to get out of your keyboard, you need a device specifically built to produce a powerful, intricate tonality and sound. Which is why the musical instrument manufacturers and amp manufacturers have joined forces and started producing some great amps specifically for keyboards. The amps have a much expanded tonal range, so they can handle the high requirements coming from a keyboard. These amps have an enhanced volume output, in hopes of making up for some of the lower volume tones produced by keyboards. They are incredibly detailed in their sound and need to be very powerful. The thing is, just like with every other type of instrument or amp, these tend to have a great range in quality. The cheaper you go, the more likely the amp to have an inferior sound. Still, this does not mean you have to save up for an extremely expensive piece of keyboard amp equipment, with even the cheapest among best keyboard amps producing a great sound.
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 Pick and 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 amps? 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 aps, 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.
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.
The beauty of picking a new amp is within 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!