Electric guitar amps
The electric guitar amplifier has the biggest impact on the tone of your guitar even for a beginner. There are two main types of electric guitar amplifiers Tube amps and solid-state amps. ‘Note you will also find a mixture of the two.’
Basic misconceptions of the first time buyer
- “I only need a small practise amp”- a small is great for space however the tone is generally very thin and tinny. Try to buy a larger amp for a nicer tone.
- “Doesn’t need to be loud I’m only practising” – Of course the amp doesn’t need to be loud for practising. But this does not mean you have to buy a small low powered amp. You can turn a larger amp down and it will generally sound better than a small amp at the same volume. If you try to turn the small amp up it will generally begin to distort and sound very bad. Also if you ever need a larger amp for a band practise or some kind of performance this will mean going out and buying a larger amp thus taking up more space with two amps instead of one.
Tubes amps are what have been the go to amps in the guitar industry for many years. Valve amplifiers are analogue and create the guitar sound by using a combination of tubes and valves to create the wattage and tone of the amplifier. More detailed information of this process is available online. They provide the most natural tone and loads of power for gigs. Generally tube amps are more expensive than a solid state amp however are still considered to be the better option for people who like a natural tone. They are not as versatile for practising as to achieve the best tone you need to have the amp loud to drive the tubes. However most of the manufactures now have designed small practise tube amps that are like running an amp loud but at low volume, thus resulting in all the tone of a loud amp at a manageable practice volume. Some of the best of these amps are the Orange micro terror and the Laney Iron Heart.
These amplifiers also take a small amount of maintenance as you will need to get them re-valved and serviced from time to time depending upon there use. A lot of high-end valve amplifiers are also hand wired which gives them great signal strength and tone. They will also last for many years and retain their value as they age. Here are some well know tube amps such as the VOX AC-30, Fender Twin, Marshall JCM 800 and the Mesa Boogie dual rectifier. A valve amp is designed to sound as that amp should sound and a lot of amp enthusiast can almost tell you what the amp is on a recording due to there unique tones.
Solid- state amps
These amplifiers have no tubes or valves in them and are completely digital, they produce the guitars sound by a use of processors. There are many forms of solid-state amplifiers around on the market today. These amplifiers are considerably cheaper than the valve equivalents and generally you will be a much louder amp for you money. Also most solid-state amplifiers will have build in effects where as the valve amp generally only have delay and reverb as a standard. It has become a popular trend in solid-state amp market now to design the amps to be what are know as modelling amps. This is where the amp will have multiple settings that allow the amp to model tones of other popular amps. Thus meaning you can have one amp that sounds like 10 other amps, usually these tones are modelled off some of the most popular and highly regarded amps on the market. These amps require zero maintenance and are becoming considerable better with each new model that is released. They make a great amp for a beginner student as they are generally cheaper and are a more versatile option for practising.
Desktop amps/ USB interface
Desktop amplifiers are a relatively new product that provides a guitar player with a small practise amp as well as a USB interface that will allow you to record directly to you pc without the need of a full studio setup. They are a great option for a beginner and are generally solid-state modelling amplifiers with a low wattage. Some of the best on the market are the Yamaha THR10 and the Black star ID-core range, both have stereo speakers and a similar wattage, see below for more details.
Combo amplifiers are a great choice for a beginner guitar player as it is an all in one option that is very portable and space saving. These amps have the amplifier and the speaker all built together in one cabinet.
Head and cabinet
The gigging musician generally uses Head and cabs, however there are now much small practise amp versions available on the market meaning they are also great for practising with. Most head and cab setups are valve-powered heads with a matching cabinet. This is a very versatile set up as you can have as many or as little speakers as you would like depending on your needs. You can also pick and choose what speaker and wattage head you would like to combine giving you complete control over you tone options.
Important factors to consider:
- Speaker size - the bigger the speaker generally the nicer the tone. If you have space try and buy the biggest speaker size that you have space for. If you are limited on space try and have to get an amp with a small speaker try to get an amp with multiple small speakers for stereo sound such as the Yamaha THR10 or the Black star ID-Core range.
- Cabinet type - as you increase the speaker size you are also increasing the cabinet size, which is what houses the speaker. You will find two main types: open back and closed back. Both have a different sound. Closed back cabinets generally have a tighter sound and an open back cabinet tends to have a warmer airier tone. Both are great and it is personal preference as to which to get. Most of the time when buying an amp the manufacturer has chosen what they believe to be the best option for that amp, It is then your choice if you wish to change it.
This is a way of measuring how loud an amplifier will be, the higher the number the louder the amp will be. A good wattage for home you will be anything up to 30 watts, stage and band practise use 50 watts and above. Depending on the amps use will determine what amount of wattage you choose. Valve amps generally are a lot louder than solid- state amps i.e a 20watt valve will most likely be as loud as a 40 watt solid-state amplifier.