Electric Guitar Amplifier Buyers Guide
Whether you’re buying your first practice amplifier or a boutique “hand wired, point to point amp” you can always use a little more knowledge about the available Guitar Amplifiers. Since the choices are so vast, we at Sam Ash Music try to offer you the widest selection and latest models of guitar and bass amps available. We’ve been selling guitar amplifiers since before the bass amp existed.
Over the years, we have seen changing trends in electric guitar amps. It all started with vacuum tube amps, then transistor amps, hybrid amps, modeling amps and then it seems to be that everything old is new again, tubes amps are back and stronger than ever. There are a lot of amps that were designed to be specific to different styles of music. Originally amps were designed with low wattage and voiced for Jazz with a warm smooth sound. When Rock and Roll became dominant the Jazz amps were supplanted by Rock Amps, with heavy power and distortion. All the original amplifiers were designed with tube technology because that is all there was 60 years ago. One amp that was very popular was designed for bass players, the Fender Bassman but in all my years I never saw a bass player use one.
Most guitar amplifiers are self contained “combo amps” where the speaker and amplifier are in a single unit. Guitar Combo Amp cabinets come in a variety of styles, designated by the number and size of the speakers. Common arrangements are 1-10 (a single 10 inch speaker), 1-12, 2-12, and there are even a few that use 15″ speakers which are primarily used by blues players and pedal steel players [links are to combo amps only with the named speaker arrangements]. They come open backed and closed back depending on what sound you are looking for. Today, most guitar combo amps are closed backed to focus more of the sound forward and give the sound a little more bottom end. You can get vintage style or very powerful modern style, high power handling and very heavy weight speakers. Sam Ash carries a full range of replacement speakers for your amps including Celestion Vintage and Modern models. Many customers ask, “can I play my bass guitar or keyboard through my guitar amplifier?” We don’t recommend that; guitar speakers are designed for the specific sound and output of guitars and will not sound right with (and may even be damaged by) the extreme low frequencies produced by bass guitars and keyboards.
We now have many different guitar amplifier technologies, each one with its own characteristics and we have provided a buyers guide for each. For those of you looking for a quick explanation, here we go:
Tube Amps: Have a characteristic warm tube sound and can provide the kind of overdrive distortion that many players want. They can be very powerful — 100, 150, 200, and even 300 watt guitar amplifiers are common and tend to be very heavy.
Solid State and Hybrid Amps: Transistors permitted the amplifier to shrink in size, weight, and cost and to run a lot cooler, but it is harder to get the classic guitar amplifier sound out of a Solid State Amplifier. A great compromise is the Hybrid Amplifier that combines the best of both worlds.
Modeling Amps: Todays digital technology can mimic the sound characteristics of many different amplifiers, speakers, cabinets and effects in a single, cost effective package.
Guitar Amp Stacks: While many players today are choosing smaller, lighter guitar combo amplifiers, for certain players (you know who you are), only a stack with a powerful amp head and one or two big speaker cabinets will do. If you are a shredder, if you absolutely must have a volume control that goes up to 11, or you are trying to satisfy your inner Jimi, a stack is the way to go.
Acoustic Guitar Amplifiers: The focus of this guide is on the electric guitar amplifier. At Sam Ash we also carry a great selection of amplifiers for acoustic guitars. Acoustic Guitar Amplifiers are designed for clean, high fidelity reproduction of the sound of your steel string or classical acoustic or acoustic/electric guitar, whether played through a microphone or connected directly to a guitar pick up. Most acoustic guitar amplifiers also allow you to plug in a vocal mic, making them the perfect system for a solo or small group in clubs and other venues.
Click here for our helpful guide to matching your guitar amplifier to your style of music.