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Buying an Electric Guitar Amplifier. A Guide.
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. With some basic research, the buying decision is made a little easier. So, here is a brief guide for amp buying. On the one hand, it is wise to arm yourself with some research before entering the market for an amp. On the other hand, the quality of amps on the market these days, you could just as easily pick your budget, review a few models in that price range, and make the purchase. So do not stress too much.
What is the right budget
Many musicians will advise you to spend amount of money on the amplifier as was spent 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. In short, why reduce your guitar's potential by using a lesser quality amplifier. That does not mean that low prices amps are of an inferior quality. The state of amplifier manufacturing processes, that incorporate computer aided technologies, means that unit quality improves while retails prices become lower. This market trend is good news for guitarists researching and buying a new or pre-owned amplifier.
Amplifiers are generally optimized to perform with the four types of guitar instruments, for example: the electric guitar, acoustic guitar, electric bass guitar, electronic keyboard.
Electric Guitar Amps: These are by far the most popular category of 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: These amplifiers are optimized to simply and accurately reproduce and project the keyboard sounds like a PA system.
Combo Amps: One box containing both amplifier and speaker. These amplifiers are the most common type on the market. The combination of amp and speakers in one unit, is the ease of handling and transport.
Amp Head: As the name suggests, this amp is one unit not containing speakers. Speakers need to be connected to an Amplifier head to fully function. High voltage capable cables are the better choice for connecting speakers to the amp head. Avoid using standard guitar cables. This type of amplifier is designed to manage the connection of several speakers.
How an amplifier works
Converting electrical impulses into audible sound is the basic function of a guitar amp. The electrical signal to sound is achieved by the preamp and power amp circuitry. The preamp receives electrical signals from the guitar The power amp is responsible for boosting the signal from the pre amp and sending it to the speakers according to the wattage specs of the unit.
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. Some consider the tube amp to be obsolete, but for many musicians the authentic and classic sounds of the tube amp ensures its continued popularity.
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.
So, what type of amp is right for you? That can depend on two things: budget and your musical genre you prefer to play. 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. Solid state amps are generally cheaper than their vacuum tube counterparts. So, for budding musicians, a solid state amp can be bought with a smaller starting budget.
The Proper Channel
Most amps support multiple channels, which when independently setup, allow you to switch channels easily while playing. Multiple channels and channel switching is an important feature to look for when making buying choice for an amplifier. Electric guitarists find the ability to channel switch useful to achieve efficient changes between loud distorted sounds and those cleaner rhythmic 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. Here are a few tips to guide your amp selection, relating to wattage:
a) A higher wattage will produce a louder sound in the same amplifier unit type
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) Beginner musicians will find the feature of a headphone jack useful, especially for those practice sessions when you do not want to disturb the neighbors.
Here is a summary of the more common effects inbuilt into amps:
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 the natural sound of the guitar, add extra bass tones by increasing the bass frequency. As an example, increasing the treble settings will produce a brighter sound, increase the middle EQ with treble and bass to zero to deliver a raw natural sound of the instrument. And then play with the bass control for added bass depth.
b) Effects Loop: Modifying the signal from the preamp and power amp is achieved by an effects loop controller.
c) Digital Effects such as flange, phase, reverb, echo, chorus, pitch shift, etc are supplied in most quality amplifiers. Presets can be saved and assigned to channels in the more modern digital types of amps. And many amplifier models feature a selection of effects presets for easy selection.
Speaker quality is an equally important consideration when buying a guitar amp. It is not necessary to pay a lot of money, but nevertheless, try to get the best quality that fits your budget. As a general rule, speaker price generally determines projected sound quality. Heavier more expensive speakers manage sound projection better than cheaper lighter models. You get what you pay for is a good rule to apply to speakers. Better quality speakers produce better coloration of an amps signal and delivers richer sounds and tones when compared to cheaper models.
Widely available speaker types:
- 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: these speakers suit bass amps and built into separate speaker cabinets.
Before buying an amplifier, clarify the purpose of the amp for your needs now and in the future. Establish your budget and research brands and models within your budget range. There is no reason to over spend your budget. Why buy a Porsche when all you need is a ford for commuting purposes, as an analogy. 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.
Points to consider
- 40 Watt solid state amps driving a 10" speaker will deliver adequate results for most performance contexts.
- For larger performance situations, a 60 Watt amp connected to a 12" speaker will deliver excellent performance.
- 30 Watt tub amplifier is the pick for a full rock band performance in most contexts.
The tips in this guide will help you evaluate your needs for an amp and assist you find the right amp that matches your musical genre; performance and practice requirements and, budget.
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