Amplifiers are electronic devices that reinforce the electrical signals sent from a guitar’s electromagnetic pickups so that the resulting sound comes out loud and clear. Amps can greatly change a guitar’s sound and will give guitar players plenty of options and settings that will allow them to tweak the end product to their liking. However, a great amp can be a pretty large investment, so making an educated purchasing decision is absolutely vital.
Why buy a guitar amp?
Technically, you don’t need an amp to play the electric guitar. However, if you’re playing an electric guitar without an amp, you are better off trading it in for an acoustic model. Playing on a great guitar amp, on the other hand, will gain you access to the distinctive electric tones that you associate with your favorite rock bands. It will also give you the ability to enhance your practice sessions by adding raw power to your chords and allow you to learn how to modify your sound by utilizing your amp’s setting dials. Simply put, a great amp is able to enhance the sound of your guitar and make it loud enough for others to hear it in all its glory.
What should you look for in a guitar amp?
- Amp Type: Guitar amps have come a long way since a trusty tube amp was your only option. Many serious guitarists still prefer tube amps for their tried-and-true dependability and warm tones, but these are becoming increasingly expensive due to the modern lack of vacuum tube manufacturers. Solid-state amps, on the other hand, are a very durable option that can usually be purchased for much less than a tube model of a similar wattage. Finally, digital amps utilize solid-state technology and are capable of producing a wide range of sounds since they utilize digital effects to modify the sound output of your guitar. This type of amp is also an inexpensive option that is great for beginners.
- Power: If you’re a beginner, you probably won’t be needing an amp that the entire neighborhood can hear. Lower wattage amps come with the advantage of being much more affordable and portable than high-wattage versions. However, if you plan on jamming with a band or playing shows in small venues, it would be wise to find something around the 50W range that includes a decent speaker. For a sound that is ideal for a larger venue, a 100W amp with a large speaker will be in order, but be prepared to pay for all that extra power.
- Effects: Understanding basic amp effects can also help you find the amp that is right for your style. Functional, responsive EQ controls are perhaps your most important consideration, as these will help you quickly modify the amp’s tone, as well as optimize the amp for playing in a specific environment. A responsive gain knob is equally important (especially for punk and metal guitarists), as this will control the amount of distortion present. Finally, reverb and more complex digital effects do not always come standard with your amp purchase but can transform and specialize your sound without the need for additional effect pedals for your amp.
Does the size of an amp’s speaker really matter?
Although speaker size is usually considered less important than wattage when shopping for an amp, it is an integral factor that will help determine your amp’s volume and sound. The size of an amp’s speaker will also subtly change the amp’s tone, making it absolutely imperative that size be considered along with wattage. In general, smaller speakers tend to produce a tighter sound while larger ones produce beefier low and mid-tones.
Fender CHAMPION 50XL
This amp comes with a number of handy effects and tones, as well as enough power and volume for small-venue gigs.
Pros: Featuring a light-yet-durable solid-state design with plenty of power to fill a small venue, the Fender CHAMPION 50XL is versatile enough to complement a wide range of playing styles, thanks to its numerous effects and tone settings. It’s also incredibly loud for a 50W amp and sports enough low-end warmth to perfectly capture what many loved about their favorite tube amp. This is likely due to its impressive 12-inch speaker, which is a great addition given this amp’s budget-friendly price tag.
Cons: While this is a fantastic amp to use at small, intimate venues, you will need to look for something else when upgrading to medium-sized or large stages (or to play beside an overzealous drummer). Although considerably more expensive, the 100W Fender Champion 100 and its dual 12-inch speakers is an excellent candidate for larger venues.
Bottom Line: Simply put, this is an excellent amp for its price and is as suitable for southern rock and country as it is heavy metal. Even those who avoid purchasing solid-state amps should consider this one, as it has more than enough mid-range punch and low-end warmth to convert quite a few non-believers into the realm of solid-state technology.
Orange Amps Orange Crush 20 Twin-Channel 20W Guitar Amplifier
This little amp prioritizes clean-sounding tones and classic features over excessive settings options.
Pros: If you’re looking for a minimalist practice amp that forgoes settings you’ll probably never use for warm, crisp tones and some nifty features, this is the amp for you. Its clean and dirty settings, while basic, offer a quick way to modify your sound without the use of a pricey pedal, and the amp and speaker tandem is definitely loud enough for any practice space. Speaking of volume, this is an amp that sounds as good at 3 or 4 as it does at 11, making it a must-have for newbie guitar players on a budget.
Cons: In terms of build quality, there are probably more durable solid-state amps available at this price range. This will be apparent when you first plug your guitar in, as the back of the amp gives a little more trouble than one would like it to. However, it’s still a more travel-friendly option than your practice tube amp; you will just want to treat it with due love and care.
Bottom Line: If you’re looking for a practice amp that sounds great and keeps things simple, this one offers a ton of value for the price. That being said, if you’re practicing with a full band, it will probably be necessary to invest in something with a little more juice in order for your guitar notes to shine through the noise.
The perfect beginner-friendly amp for jam sessions on a budget.
Pros: The PVAMP60 is an absolute steal at its price point, especially considering how much power it packs into its small housing. As a beginner amp, it is definitely loud enough for anything you could use it for and sports surprisingly clean sound given its wattage and price tag. This amp doesn’t include much in terms of bells, whistles, or nifty effects, but this does well to keep things simple for the average beginner guitar player.
Cons: This amp hums when an instrument isn’t plugged into it, likely due to Pyle’s interesting addition of a two-pronged, ungrounded outlet instead of a standard grounded power source. However, this subsides nicely once your guitar is plugged in. Also, don’t expect much in terms of effects from this budget guitar amp.
Bottom Line: This amp has very decent sound and a lot of power to complement its price point. So, if you’re on a budget and looking for an amp that is great for practicing alone or with friends, this is a fantastic choice. That being said, if you’re willing to sacrifice some power and volume, you can probably find a better-sounding app for just a few extra bucks.
Positive Grid Spark Guitar Amplifier
Featuring endless presets, an intuitive app, and versatile sound, this is the king of digital guitar amps.
Pros: If you’re the type who loves to play around with different tones, presets, and styles, this amp from Positive Grid will be right up your alley. It makes it easy to modify and share presets, as well as test out community favorites in order to broaden your horizons and find the tone that’s right for you. It also scores points for impressive sound quality and a speaker that is great for sitting in your room and experimenting with your guitar.
Cons: While the Spark’s low tones are fairly solid right out of the box (it doubles as a bass amp, after all), some will be disappointed by the lack of depth of its mids and highs. While settings can be tweaked via the app to improve this aspect of its tonal range, those looking for something with “plug and play” simplicity might end up finding more value in a more traditional amp.
Bottom Line: This is easily one of the most fun to use amps on the market if you are willing to take the time to play around with it and learn what it can do. Naturally, its output and speaker aren’t good for much other than practicing, but it makes up for this with its feature-rich offerings and thriving community content.
Fender Frontman 10G Electric Guitar Amplifier
Featuring classic Fender sound and durable build quality, this amp is a reliable option for practicing.
Pros: The Frontman 10G is a surprisingly powerful specimen given its tiny 10W output and is durable and lightweight enough that you won’t have to worry every time you stow it away into your vehicle. It’s also very flexible with what you can play and is an ideal choice for those who practice bass or electro-acoustic guitars along with their trusty electric guitar.
Cons: This amp won’t let you tweak the reverb, which might not sound like a problem for most, but beginners lacking quality effects pedals will be missing out. Also, this is a practice amp above all else, so while it’s loud enough to wake your wife up downstairs, it wouldn’t be wise to bring it to a venue of any size when playing a gig.
Bottom Line: Seeing as how there are much more powerful practice amps that you can get at this price range, some might assume that you’ll simply be paying for the Fender branding. This, thankfully, is not true. While this is probably not the best practice amp on the market, it does offer enough in terms of durability and versatility to make it a worthy addition, especially for those who have a bass or electro-acoustic lying around.
As you can see, solid-state amps have taken the functionality and affordability of quality amps to the next level in recent years, which is great news for those who are just beginning their journey with an electric guitar. While finding the perfect amp for you will definitely take some research, if you focus on what’s important you should be able to find an amp that will give you many years of joy, all for a price that won’t break the bank.