A Guide to Buying your First Amp
Published on 16 December 2019
Today, we’re here to demystify the world of amplification. Guitar amps play a huge part in your guitar playing journey. It can take your playing from 0 to 100 in seconds; adding gain, grit and down right tasty tones. An amp can help you create the sounds you aspire to have. Some amps are best suited for at home practice, others are made for world wide stadium tours. With an endless variety of styles, brands and sizes, we can imagine that when it comes to buying your first amp it may seem a little, well, scary!
If you feel bewildered by what is essentially a box with speakers, we’re here to help. We have created a simple and straight-talking guide to adding some crunch and sweet tones to your playing. We’ll save the tech-talking for another day. So, fasten your seat belts. Here we go!
Firstly, let’s debunk some lingo…
Combos: Guitar amp combos are the most popular type of guitar amplification. Essentially, a combo amp keeps everything under one roof, making it extremely practical and a big win for many guitarists. They come under to major categories; valve and solid state.
Valve amps. We’re not gonna get too techy here, but in short, this type of amp have physical vacuum tubes in them, which provide a vintagey, high-quality tone. These types of amps can also be called ‘tube’ amps.
Solid state combo: This type of amp is usually the kind you find with lots of features and built-in effects. Since these amps use computer circuit-boards to make the sounds of samples, they give you an excellent bank of sounds to play with. Most at-home practice amps are solid state combos.
Cabinet/cab: Keeping it simple, a cabinet is just a really big speaker. A guitar amp cabinet takes the sounds generated by an amp head and unleashes them to you (or your sold out stadium audience) via speakers. Speaker cabinets for electric guitars come in a variety of sizes and combinations.
Amp Head: A cabinet’s best friend! An amp head processes your guitar’s signal and them amplifies it through your cabinet speaker. Simple! They come in all shapes and sizes nowadays, so it’s really down to personal preference which one you choose…
Stack: Here's an equation for you... cab + amp head = stack! Now, that's maths we like!
Right, now we’re well acquainted, here are some top tips and advice for when you’re buying your first amp!
Amps are a real personal choice. What works for one guitarist, might not work for another. There is really no right or wrong, however, some amps are best suited in certain environments.
What's it for?
You may have grand plans for you and your first amp. It's important to think about what environment you and your new amp will likely be in. Having a massive stack might not be the most ideal option, especially if you have neighbours! You may have plans to go busking, but do you really want to be lugging around a cabinet that's bigger than you? This may feel tempting, but no matter how rock star you feel, we wouldn't recommend it. Your back will thank us later!
For your first at-home practice amp, we'd recommend something like the Marshall MG15G. Marshall is a pretty legendary guitar brand so you can always count on them to deliver the goods. This little guy may be small, but it sure is mighty! It's straightforward which will suit players who just want to rock out without having to fuss around with controls. It's got mini-jack inputs for headphones, which is perfect for practicing at home without annoying anyone by playing Stairway to Heaven for the 70th time! Something like the Blackstar ID:CORE 10 V2 is also great for endless riffing at home. This amp will give you a little more control over your sound than the Marshall, delivering some sweet, sweet tones.
If you're feeling confident enough to showcase your new talents to more people than you cat, a battery-powered amp will be your best friend while busking! The Roland Cube Street Gig Amp does exactly what is says on the tin and is probably the most popular busking amp in the world. Whether you play acoustic, electric or even keyboard, the Cube Street will have your back! It's compact, lightweight and you can connect a mic too! WIN!
If you're wanting an amp that's suitable for rocking out at home and on a (small) stage, the BOSS Katana 50W MKII Combo is an excellent choice.
Try before you buy!
The most important advice we can give you when buying your first amp is... try it out! By taking one of a spin before you buy gives you the chance to test out the different options that are available. You never know, you might have your heart set on a certain amp, but completely fall in love with another that delivers the kinda tones and sounds you're after.
As always, if you have any questions at all, just give us a shout! We'd be happy to answer all your amp related questions.