Choosing a Guitar Amp
By Tennyson Williams, Author of The Essential Guide To Guitar Virtuosity
As you may very well know, there are so many different guitar amps out their, that trying to find that one, really killer little machine can become quite the process of elimination. Before you jump in a pick the first amp that you see, there are some simple questions that you should ask yourself first.
The first thing that I would like to mention is that an amp that suits your needs, specifically in terms of the sounds that you can get from it, should be a major deciding factor. The sound that an amp can have can be the decider of inspiration.
If you love the tone that you can get from an amp then you will enjoy playing the guitar at its fullest. If you get a cheapy amp that can do what you want it to, then you’ll probably never want to touch the guitar again.
The first question is tone. Do you want a more classic tone from your guitar amp, or a more modernized digital sound? This is an especially important question if you plan to do a lot of playing with distortion. However, even if you plan to play with just strict clean settings, you also need to determine what kind of tone you will be able to get from an amp.
In my own personal experience I have found that I can get the exact tone that I want out of any amp. This is because I have a mental amp that guides me when I am tweaking the knobs of any amp. In other words, I have over the years created the perfect settings for a guitar amp in my mind, and this is true of a lot of guitar players.
A good place to start figuring out the right choice in amp is number of speakers and speaker size. If you want a practice amp then a simple one, ten inch speaker amp will work, but I highly recommend going with an amp that has two, twelve inch speakers. This is pretty standard and it really doesn’t have to cost you that much. My reasoning is that if you are going to spend the money on a practice amp, then you might as well spend a couple hundred more to get a full amp. You’ll probably end up doing this somewhere on down the road anyways.
An excellent starting amp would be the Marshall MG250 which has two, twelve inch speakers, and 50 watts of power. Fifty watts doesn’t sound like much, but this little amp can put out a decent amount of sound, while at the same time maintaining a good deal of diversity in the settings, especially with its contour feature.
I have worked with a lot of guitarists who were very strict about tube versus digital amps, and I would agree with them that you can get a great tone out of a tube amp. However, these guys were using the ever emphamous and expensive Mesa Boogie half stack set up. Unless you’ve got a few thousand to lay down or can find a dealer who carries Mesa Boogies, I don’t think you need to go that far.
The truth still stands in the fact that you can get an excellent tone out of a commonly played on and standard guitar amp. The tone is really up to you and there is so much accessorizing that can be done with any amp to get the desire sound.
I said this, because if you are just buying a guitar amp for the very first time, its very important that you don’t start off with a bad experience.
Stray away from generic brands, or not so commonly known amps. I don’t doubt that there is such a thing as the holy grail of amps, but don’t attempt to pursue that kind of amp until you’ve had a little bit more experience under your belt.
My favorite amps have always been Crates. I still miss the sound that I could get out of them, but they are notorious for giving out right around the two year mark. I have had three now and they all went out the window at the same time.
If you are not too prudish about a more digitally processed sound, then I also highly recommend the amps that Line 6 puts out. They have a good range of models as well as price range, and all of their amps come with excellent effect features that can accommodate clean or distorted playing. Currently, a Line 6 Spider III 75 1×12 amp will run you a mere three hundred dollars, and its a really fun amp to play with.
My advice would be to stick with any of the big names when it comes to amp makers. Fender, Marshall, Vox, and Line 6 all produce excellent guitar amps, at the same time providing a diverse range of budget.
My final advice, which is the best that I can offer, would be the process of elimination. Go to any store and take the time to try out many different types of amps. Play around with the settings and be sure to experiment with the effect settings as well. Don’t feel stupid for doing this as it is common for a guitarist or bassist to walk in and try out the gear.
Buying an amp, especially your first one, can be a big deal, and any employee of a Samash or Guitar Center understands this very well.
Take your time, and just like when purchasing a guitar – don’t settle.
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