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Guitar amplifiers basic guide

This article is a step-by-step guide to everything you need to know about amps, from how they work, to what kind of amps there are.

You’ve probably thought at some point that you need to sound a little louder, as using just your instrument as a sound source, whether it’s an acoustic, electro-acoustic or electric guitar, isn’t enough when you’re on stage or when you want to record your favorite songs.

With this in mind, you will be able to know if you should buy an amplifier, which one is more suitable for your needs, and later on, we will present you some buying options, which will have different budgets according to the comfort of your pocket.

What is an amplifier?

In this case, we are referring to an electronic amplifier, whose function is to increase the current intensity, voltage or power of the signal that is applied to its input. The signal from the guitar arrives through a line cable which measures 1/4 inch (in the case of acoustic guitars, a microphone or a contact microphone should be used). Next, we are going to review different types of amplifiers.

Types of amplifiers

There are several types of amplifiers, let’s summarize them below:

  • Vacuum tube amp: valves are a widely used electronic component nowadays, even though alternatives to this technology emerged from the 70’s onwards, it is still the preferred choice for a lot of guitar players due to its sound. Fender is a brand that is quite popular for selling tube amps, with models like the Fender Twin Reverb or the Fender Hot Rod Deluxe.
  • Solid state amps: these are transistor amps, much cheaper to build, more reliable and lighter than tube amps, although the Roland brand has significant models, it is generally not common for this type of amp to be sold in the high end, some jazz guitarists prefer their sound.
  • Hybrid amps: it is a mix between tube and transistor amps, the MusicMan brand usually uses this type of amp quite a lot. It is characterized by new power levels, however it is not common for a guitarist to choose this type of amplifier.
  • Modeling amplifiers: these are amplifiers that have microprocessors, which allow the use of digital effects and the simulation of different tones of other existing amplifiers. Line 6 is known for designing this type of amplifiers, but they have an important competition such as the Fender Mustang 1 v2. These amplifiers are the favorite of rock or metal guitarists.
  • Acoustic guitar amplifiers: they are similar to keyboard amplifiers, they are characterized by having a flat frequency response, so that nothing alters the color of the original sound of the guitar. Nowadays, these amps include effects such as reverb and compression, as well as some tools such as equalizer and noise suppressor. Several brands manufacture these amps, such as Fender, Marshall and Laney. Below is an example of the Fender Acoustasonic 150, designed to amplify acoustic guitars.
Test Sound, Fender Acoustasonic 150!

Advantages and disadvantages

With such a wide variety of amps, you will surely want to know a little more in depth, the reason why a guitarist prefers one more than the other apart from its sound.

Well, first of all we must state thattube amps require more care and attention than modelers or solid state amps. It is possible that a hard enough hit can cause one of your tubes to break or break down, and after that you will have to replace it.

Although this mishap won’t cost you more than 75 euros or so, you should also keep in mind that over the years, valves wear out and eventually need to be replaced. Additionally, it is recommended to service a tube amplifier once a year, as certain types of wear on the tubes can affect other components such as the output transformer or the speaker.

Aside from this, you should consider that a modeling amp could save you a good amount of money on analog or multi-effects pedals, as its huge variety of configurations will leave you well armed for your performances. Here are some basic tips on how to treat your amp well.

How to handle an amp?

Although there are many different types of amps, they all have pretty much the same care and controls, here we will review the most relevant ones.

Before plugging your amplifier into the socket, make sure it is turned off, and before turning it on, set the volume and gain levels to zero. This is to prevent possible damage to the amplifier’s speakers. If you ignore this instruction, the amplifier will emit a paperclip-like noise when you turn it on.

It is important that when you plug or unplug the guitar, you also make sure to keep the amp turned off or at least with the levels set to zero, to avoid annoying current noises.

If your amp is a tube amp, you need to let it warm up for a few minutes. Besides having a power switch, it also has a standby switch, which is used to keep the amp warm without still emitting any sound. Below is an example of these two switches.

Among the most common controls is the volume, which you will use to level the power you want your amp to boost the guitar signal. Additionally, an equalizer generally has three controls: “Treble”, “Middle” and “Bass”, these refer to the treble, middle and bass registers. If you’re not sure what you want your guitar to sound like, you can leave them in the middle, over time you can experiment with different settings.

It is common to find other controls such as effects channels or distortion, depending on the type of amp you have, to access the distortion you will usually find a button which will change the signal immediately. Each amp has an independent volume for the distortion channel(s). Here is an example of a clean channel and distortion channel, on the Marshall DSL 15C model it looks like “Classic Gain” and “Ultra Gain”.

Head or combo amp?

Most amp brands sell two versions of the same model, the head, also known as the “stack” or the combo. This is because they serve different needs.

If you want an amp for studying at home or playing your guitar in small or enclosed spaces, you may not need a combo, or a cab for your head, because firstly, it is more practical to move around, and secondly, the power of the built-in speakers is sufficient for your needs.

If you want an amp to play at large events or open spaces, the combo is your best option. Using the cab allows the sound of your amp to be better projected on a large scale. You don’t need to buy a combo if you want a cab, you can mix several brands and models according to your needs, there are several types of cabs, which we are going to see below.

Cabin Types

The three main elements to consider when choosing which cabinet you need are: the type of cabinet, the configuration and the type of speakers. Despite this, there are other factors that influence the sound result, such as the type of wood, the internal structure and even the material of the front grille.

Among the most popular types of cabs we can find the 1x12 cab, the 2x12 cab and the 4x12 cab. Below we illustrate the 3 examples with the popular Marshall MX model.

Despite being to scale, each model from left to right is considerably larger than the previous one. Most booths have 1 or 2 speakers, which have either a straight or angled position, which is slightly tilted upwards for better projection.

As you can see, you should choose the type of booth according to the power and projection you need, to start with, we don’t recommend you to buy a booth, for sure a head or stack will be enough for you.

Now that you have more knowledge about amplifiers, we are going to show you some options to buy, I hope this information has been helpful to help you decide to buy an amplifier.

Recommendations from the blog

If you are a guitarist who wants to study at home and buy an amp on a small budget, we definitely recommend the Fender Mustang 1 v2.

You can check its main rivals like the Line 6 Spider IV 15 or the Fender Champion 20, but we assure you that it is an excellent option, and the best of all is that you can get it for less than 150 euros.

If you are a guitarist with constant events in various scenarios and you are willing to make a big investment, we recommend the real heavyweight Fender Twin Reverb.

You can appreciate all the review of this magnificent amplifier, which will leave you with your mouth open, its reputation precedes it, yes, you must get your wallet ready, because to acquire one of these you will need around 1700 euros.

Have you bought your amplifier? Feel free to leave your opinion in the comments below. We hope you liked this article.

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