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Electric Guitar Amplifiers. Buyers Tips.
Buying a new or pre-owned guitar amp can be a difficult can be a challenge to decide on the right amp for you, your guitar and your musical style. Here is a basic guide to assist your amp choice. 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 pretty simple; the music that you create needs to pass through the amp before it reaches the world. Basically, do not diminish your guitar's potential by matching it with an inferior amplifier. That does not mean that low priced amps are of an inferior quality. Today, because of computer aided manufacturing, costs of amp units are dropping considerably without affecting the quality of the sound that produced. This market trend is good news for guitarists researching and buying a new or pre-owned amplifier.
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 hands down the most popular of all the amplifiers. The popularity of the electric guitar explains why this trend.
Acoustic Guitar Amps: 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: Bass amps are optimized to reproduce and project the low sonorous sounds of the bass guitar.
Keyboard Amps: Simply try to reproduce the sounds made by the keyboard as accurately as possible acting like a PA system.
Types of Amplifier Units
Combo Amps: House both amp unit and speakers in one box. These amplifiers are the most common type on the market. These are very good for carrying around, as long as they are not too large.
Amplifier Head: As the name suggests, this amp is one unit not containing speakers. Amp heads require a cable connection to speakers. You will need real speaker cables designed for handling higher voltage outputs rather than standard instrument cables. This type of amplifier is designed to manage the connection of several speakers.
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 works on the signal it gets from the instrument and makes it good enough for the power amp and the other instruments within the amplifier such as the EQ and the effects loop etc. The task of the power amp is to boost the signal sent to the speakers.
Vacuum Tube Amplifier
A vacuum tube is essentially the same as what you find in older style ratios.
Tubes, when they are over-driven and heated with electrical current produce the “distortion effect” which explains the popularity of these types of amplifier. 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
This type of amp incorporates newer circuit design and aims to replicate the tonal and sound processing qualities of the older vacuum tube amp models.
The choice between a tube or solid state amp depends on both your budget and musical genre. The sound and tonal differences produced by both type of amps is generally only detectable by a trained ear, however purists tend to opt for the vacuum tube amps because of the more analog tone and distortion sound quality. 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.
When research amplifiers, ensure the unit is capable of multiple channels, which can be set independently allowing the user to seamlessly switch between channels. Channel switching or switching between multiple channels while playing is a rather important feature that many guitarist now-a-days prefer. Channel switching is especially useful for the electric guitarist for the ability to effortlessly switch between the loud distortion effect and the clean rhythm tones. A footswitch, which is generally supplied with new amp purchases, manages channel switching.
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 type amplifiers deliver a much louder sound per Watt in comparison to solid state amplifiers. For instance, a 5 Watt powered vacuum amplifier produces sound similar to a 40 Watt state amplifier.
c) A headphone jack is standard in an amp unit. Although it is a simple feature, it is especially useful for practice sessions while not disturbing your neighbors.
Most amplifiers support a number of inbuilt effects. Here is a brief overview:
a) EQ: This generally comes in the form of 2 or 4 knobs with which you can control the range of frequencies in the sound. 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: An effect loop is controlled by an external chord and facilitates changing the signal carried between the preamp and the power amp.
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. Do note that the heavier and more expensive speakers are always of better quality than cheaper ones. Better quality speakers facilitate better coloration of the amps signal, thus creating a richer superior sound.
Common speaker types include:
- 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.
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. While evaluating your amp needs, consider: your musical genre; how many instruments use the same amplifier; how loud is the drummer in your band; what size performance do you plan and at what type of venues.
Here are a few guide tips
- 40 Watt solid state amp driving a 10” speaker will hold up its own in most performances. However this may not do so well if the band has a drummer as well.
- 60 Watt solid state amp paired with a 12” speaker will do well in all but the loudest situations.
- 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.