Complete Guitar Amp Buying Guide and Reviews

First Guitar Amp

Being a crucial part of every guitarist’s music equipment, guitar amps and their purchase need to be approached with as much care and attention as the guitar itself. Although many argue that personal style, practice and playing techniques are the factors that define any player’s sound, none can deny that proper equipment helps express such style in proper manner.

There are many points to take into consideration while opting for a specific guitar amp, depending on the style and genres the player intends to cover. So if you are wondering how to chose a guitar amp that suits you best, we have the answer, simply scroll down and join us in our brief guide below.

Some of the critical points that definitely stand out are the following:

  • Combo amp or head and cabinet
  • Solid state or tube amp
  • Speaker size
  • Notable guitar amp features

Combo Amp or Head and Cabinet

This one’s a matter of venue size and the budget you’re planning to invest into the amp. Combo amps work perfectly fine for clubs, both small and big, whereas the head and cabinet version is more of a big venue amp setting. But it comes down to more than that, as the head plus cabinet setup is also prone to delivering higher quality output audio. But if you’re not planning to leave club gigs for some time, the difference is significantly smaller between the two.

However, once and if you go pro, the head and cabinet stands out as the obvious choice due to the mentioned sound quality increase. Furthermore, it gives you more room to experiment, but also demands greater skill when it comes to tweaking and sound adjustment.

Solid State or Tube Amp

It’s a widely spread opinion that tube amps are far superior that the solid state ones; however, a wide array of advancements made the two choices more even that one might imagine. Many professionals consider solid-state amps as better for delivering clean guitar sound due to the lack of fuzz massively present among the tube amp models.

Various notable hybrids have also surfaced, leaving musicians with valid in-between choices. Such models implement a tube preamp-produced basic tone and combine it with solid-state audio from the main power amp. Whichever your preferences might be, always give any amp a test drive, since that’s the only way of finding out if it’s the right fit for you.

Speaker Size

It’s a common mistake among players to focus on the guitar amp’s size and power without checking what the device holds on the inside, specifically speakers. Speaker size can make significant variations in the final audio output. To be precise, bigger speakers result with richer low, bass tone, whereas the smaller ones produce more of a high-end output. So if we were to compare a 10” speaker with a 15” model, we’d recommend the 10” to players demanding edgier sound, while the 15” model would be a recommendation to low-end fans.

Another striking sound difference is caused by a cabinet design. There are a total of two options – an open-backed cabinet or a closed one. And if you put absolutely the same set of speakers into an open-backed cabinet and a closed one, differences in final audio output will be easy and clear to spot.

Notable Guitar Amp Features

We’ve covered the basics, so right now we’ll focus on different specific guitar amp models and some of the key features you should look out for while testing or making a purchase. Some of the points about to be noted were already touched on, but we’ll return and cover them in more detail nevertheless. Make sure to scroll down for additional details.

Solid-State Amps

These amps use transistors for both preamp and power sections, hence the solid-state name. They rarely need to be repaired or even to go through maintenance procedures, earning them a good reputation for being reliable. Their tone is typically clean, but certain models do come with a dose of overdrive vibe. Solid-state amps often come with more affordable price tags, making them popular both among touring artists and beginners. Speaking of which, the vast majority of smaller practice, house amps fall into the solid-state category.

Tube Amps

Known as more powerful than solid-state amps, tube amps are typically praised by numerous guitarists around the globe for their rich, fat tone and organic warmth produced by tubes. Tube amps can easily be separated from solid-state models by distinctive sound, feel and overall vibe. Most of them feature separate channels for easier switch between clean and distorted sound. They also drop with heftier price tags and require maintenance and repairs more often, mostly due to tube deterioration.

Hybrid Amps

A bit more of a modern product than solid-state and tube amps, hybrid amps combine the two given types, aiming to grab the best of two worlds. So as previously noted, hybrid amps take the basic tone produced by a tube preamp and mix it up with solid-state amp-produced audio coming from the main power amp. These amp models tend to deliver the tube amp-quality sound without the actual use of tubes, turning them into more reliable tube amp renditions with more or less success.

Digital Amps (Modeling Amps)

Finally, there are digital amps, also known as modeling amplifiers. These devices basically use digital processing units to simulate the sound of tube amps. They implement such technologies to combine multiple amp sounds and wrap them up into a single product. Digital amps can be programed and usually come with an in-built set of effects such as reverb, delay, chorus and more. Depending on quality, digital amps are known to be both praised and bashed by musicians and experts, requiring a solid amount of knowledge for proper use.

So that about wraps it up, hopefully these tips were helpful and will guide you in the right direction upon purchasing your new guitar amp, or at least testing one out. Always make sure to have as much points covered as possible and always focus on the style that suits you the most, because that’s what it’s all about.

Sound Quality and Volume

The sound quality of these amps range from passable to utterly unacceptable. For a new player, this could lead to the mistaken assumption that they are not playing well. This lack of a good sound could very well be the fault of the budget equipment they are using and not their inadequate playing. Also the small amps will never get very loud, which could be a problem.

As players get better they will start playing with other people and the low volume of the amp could cause them to be drowned out by the other instruments. A drummer can be loud and may create too much for the guitar to play over. The small amp will simply not give enough sound to play with other musicians.

Do Your Research

In order to find which amp is best for you, thorough research is crucial. Be sure to read expert opinions and make sure that the amp you’re considering suits your genre of music. This way you can gauge the sound based on the instrument you will be using if you buy it.  If you’re a new guitarist looking to buy your first amp, be sure to check out our list of top 5 recommended beginner guitar amps and top 5 recommended gigging guitar amps.

Best of luck, and rock on!