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Buying an Electric Guitar Amplifier. A Guide.
Walk into a well stocked music store and you will be faced a huge selection of guitar amplifiers. What amp is the right match for you and your guitar/s? It can be a difficult buying decision. With some basic research, the buying decision is made a little easier. So, here is a brief guide for amp buying. Sure you need to inform yourself about amplifier specs and features, but do not stress too much. The simple approach is pick your budget, review a few models and make the purchase. The state of current technology and manufacturing techniques means that most amps are of good build quality and will deliver acceptable performance.
A common adage used by guitarists is that you should always spend as much on the amp unit as you are willing to spend on the guitar. The reason is simple: why diminish your musical talent and the quality of your guitar with an amplifier of lesser value than your instrument. Bottom line is; don’t retard your instrument’s potential by pairing it up with a less than suitable amp. However that does not mean that less pricey amps are of low quality. Today, because of computer aided manufacturing, costs of amp units are dropping considerably without affecting the quality of the sound that produced. This trend benefits amp buyers.
At first glance, amps are designed to match the four types of guitars, namely: electric; acoustic; electric bass and electronic keyboard.
Electric Guitar Amplifiers: These are by far the most popular category of amplifiers. The popularity of the electric guitar explains why this trend.
Acoustic Guitar Amplifiers: The electronics of these amps capture and project the full range of the acoustic guitar's highs, mid-ranges and bass tones. Typically, the acoustic amplifier houses inbuilt speakers; feature a microphone plug and a line-in for guitar pickups.
Bass Amps: These amplifiers are optimized to not distort sounds of the lower lower registers.
Keyboard Amplifiers: Basically these amps are designed to accurately reproduce keyboard sounds in a similar manner as a PA system.
Amp Unit types
Combo Amps: One box containing both amplifier and speaker. Most of the amps that you will see are of this variety. These are very good for carrying around, as long as they are not too large.
Amplifier Head: Is a single amp unit without any speakers. These need to be paired up with speakers by a cable. You will need real speaker cables designed for handling higher voltage outputs rather than standard instrument cables. If you plan to use several speakers, then this type of amp is well designed for the task.
How an amplifier works
The basic function of an Amp is to convert electrical signals into audible sound. The electrical signal to sound is achieved by the preamp and power amp circuitry. The preamp processes the signal received from the guitar and sends to the power amp and other processes in the amp, such as the EQ and effects loop. The power amp boosts the signal so that the speakers can produce the audible sound.
Vacuum Tube Amplifier
A vacuum tube is essentially the same as what you find in older style ratios.
Tube type amps produce a unique sound, appealing to those musicians seeking the warmer tones and special distortion effect tube amps deliver. This is the reason why even today, when they are soundly obsolete and replaced with solid state diodes, they remain in vogue.
Solid State Amps
Solid state amps are a newer generation of circuitry, inspired by the tube type amps, optimized to reproduce the those more authentic and classic tones achieved by tube amps.
Trying to decide whether to go in for a vacuum tube based amp or a solid state based amp is a very personal question. Both vacuum tube and solid state amps produce reproduce excellent sound quality. Purists argue in favor of the more organic sound quality of vacuum tube amps and their ability to produce that unique analog warmth and fluid distortion. Newer generations of musicians tend to opt for the latest in amp technology, namely solid state circuits, primarily because this type of amp suits modern music genres. Plus very affordable quality amps are available with this newer technology.
Most amps support multiple channels, which when independently setup, allow you to switch channels easily while playing. Channel switching or switching between multiple channels while playing is a rather important feature that many guitarist now-a-days prefer. Electric guitarists use this to switch between the loud distortion sound and the clean rhythm tones. Most amps come equipped with a footswitch with which you can change and juggle between multiple channels at the same time.
The power capacity of an amplifier is measured in Watts. And it is this wattage capacity that drives the speakers. Keep the following things in mind when selecting the kind of power you want your amp to be based on:
a) The higher the wattage spec, the louder sound capability of the amplifier.
b) Vacuum tube amps reproduce a louder sound per Watt of power when compared to solid state type amps. A vacuum tube being driven on 5 Watts of power produces the same level of sound as a 40 Watt solid state unit will produce.
c) If you are buying for a beginner then make sure that the amp unit has a headphone jack.
Amps offer a number of effects which you can switch between. These can be summarized as:
a) The EQualizer controls sound frequencies. An amp will feature 2 or 4 dial knobs to control these adjustments. For instance, increase treble settings for a brighter sound, adjust the middle EQ to full and the treble and bass to zero to achieve a the natural sound of the guitar, add extra bass tones by increasing the bass frequency. As we are familiar with the slider type EQ controls on a home stereo system, then experiment with the EQ controls on an amp. Adjusting the treble higher produces brighter sounds, while adjusting the middle and bass produces rich deeper tones.
b) Effects Loop: Modifying the signal from the preamp and power amp is achieved by an effects loop controller.
c) Digital Effects: Many amps offer digital effects like flange, phase, reverb, echo, chorus, pitch shift, etc. Remember we mentioned channels earlier, well channels can control effects which can be preset and assigned to a channel. The channel switcher can then easily switch between different effects presets. In many instances, amps will feature preset effects combinations.
Obviously this is what the world listens to! So it is good to have the best speakers which you can buy. bear in mind that heaver and more expensive speakers are generally translate better sound quality. Better quality speakers facilitate better coloration of the amps signal, thus creating a richer superior sound.
- 8” Speakers: generally housed in smaller amps.
- 10” Speakers: find these in amp for for practice sessions.
- 12” Speakers: found in general performance amplifiers.
- 15” Speakers: come in separate cabinets, are paired almost exclusively with bass amps.
Things to keep in mind
There really are gazillion things that you will need to consider if you sat down to decide what kind of an amp you should be purchasing. Some considerations include: the style of music you plan now, the number of instruments you plan to attach to the amp, are there other band members who want to plug into your amp, the size of performances and venue types.
Points to consider
- A 40 Watt solid state amplifier featuring 10" speakers will project adequately in most performance situations, depending on the loudness of the drummer.
- For larger performance situations, a 60 Watt amp connected to a 12" speaker will deliver excellent performance.
- 30 Watt tub amplifier is the pic for a full rock band performance in most contexts.
Use this guide as a starting point to formulate a criteria for your guitar amplifier research and ultimate purchase.
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