Choosing the right Amp for Yourself


Choosing an amplifier

Choosing the right guitar amplifier can be quite confusing. If you walk into a random guitar shop they will often have tons of them, in all kinds, stacked up to the ceiling. If you do not know where to start or what to choose, here are the basics:


There are, roughly, four kinds of amplifiers, judging by how the sounds is produced in the pre-amp and power-amp stages:


Transistor or 'solid state' amplifiers

This kind of amp uses transistors in the power stage to generate the sound. This makes it perfect for clean sounds. Distortion is generally less good on solid state amps. They are generally cheap and require no maintenance.


Some of the best solid state amps, designed for CLEAN sounds, are those made by:

- Roland: most famously the Jazz Chorus 120 and the various Cube models

- Polytone: great big tone, especially in models with a 15 inch speaker, however less durable than other brands

- AER: super-lightweight and hightech amps, can also amplify microphone at the same time using XLR.

guitarhow - choosing an amp, back of a tube ampThe back of a tube amp. Old-school technology that sounds great!


Tube or Valve Amplifiers

Tube amplifiers are sometimes also called 'valve' amplifiers. These use tubes in the power stage, just like old radios had them.


They usually have a very natural sound, making them suitable for clean as well as distorted sounds. Tube amps are also very loud when compared to solid
state amps.


Tube amps are more expensive and require you to change the tubes once in a while. Some of the best tube amps are made by Fender (famous for their clean tones), Marshall (famous for their overdriven sounds), and Mesa Boogie (also famous their overdrive tone).


Hybrid amps

These usually combine pre-amp tubes with a transistor power stage. Cheap and can sound pretty good.


Modeling amps

These have effects built in and also amplifier simulation. When trying these, don't let the amount of features, buttons and options fool you. What matters is the quality of sound the amplifier produces. In some of these amps the effects aren't that good, so you'd be better off getting a more basic amp with good tone, and seperate effects pedals.


Amp specifications - what to look for

If you visit a shop, they will have all kinds of amps, in all sizes and all price ranges.


Things you have to decide to be able to choose the right guitar amp for you are:


- wattage. How many watts should your amp have? If you need one to play and practice at home, between 10 and 40 watts will be ok. If you want an amp to use in a band situation (rehearsing or performing), you'll need something more powerful. Think roughly between 60 and 100 watts for solid state amps, and between 40 and 100 watts for tube amps. If you want to get a great sound at home from a tube amp, get one with less wattage, say 5-10 watts. This is because tube amps sound best when set loud, this pushes the power-tubes and gives a beautiful overdrive and natural compression.


- clean, distorted or both? If you'll be playing heavy music through the amp, you'll need an amp that specializes in heavy distortion. Wanna play jazz or country? Go for an amp that gives good clean sounds at high volume. Pop? You'll need clean and overdrive/distortion. If the amp has two channels, it usually lets you switch between clean and distorted sounds using a footswitch.


- effects yes/no? If you use floor pedals for effects, you will not need effects in the amp. Onboard amp effects are usually less good than effect pedals, so it's wiser to spend your money on an amp that has no fx and better amplification. If you have no budget for seperate effects, get an amp that has at least overdrive, reverb and maybe delay. And remember, if it doesn't do its basic task well, which is amplify your guitar sound in detail and clarity at various volumes, even 10000 onboard effects won't make it better.


- speakers. Guitar combo's come with built-in speakers. Guitar speakers are usually 8, 10, 12 or 15 inch. Because of the physics involved, 12 inch and 15 inch speakers normally have more detail in the sound and can handle higher volumes. Some amps have two or four speakers built-in. Be careful, those are really heavy to carry around. For the tone quality of your amp, speakers are very important. Some of the best speakers are made by Celestion and Jensen.


- tone. This really depends on the kind of music you play and which guitar sounds you like. Some examples: rock and blues guitarists like Jimi Hendrix and Slash use(d) Marshall tube amps, jazz players prefer Fender or Polytone, heavy metal players like Metallica's Kirk Hammett use Mesa Boogie. Always try out the amp of your choice at all of its settings before buying! Even at full volume... If something rattles, buzzes or sounds not quite right, you might be looking at a lower-quality amp that is not worth your money.


- combo or stack?

A combo is an amp with one or more built-in speakers, it's the most-used type of amp. A stack has the amplifier in a wooden box, and the speakers in a seperate cabinet. Those are sold seperately. A tube amp stack combination is usually more durable because the tubes are not effected by the vibrations of the speakers. If you want a 4-speaker amp, get a stack. 4-speaker combos are so heavy you'll need roadies!


Good luck choosing a guitar amp, if you can choose all the above options to fit your situation and wishes, this shouldn't be difficult!


guitarhow - choosing an amp, fender comboA small Fender combo amp.