How to Choose a Guitar Amp

That’s it, the guitar is there! What is missing? The amp of course! Here is a very useful little post to better understand the different amps, so you can make the right choice!

The amp, how to say, is the last link in the long and difficult chain to tame to have a good sound! If the sound lives up to what came before, it will be the icing on the cake. If so, he will rot all the work you have done…

Here are some tips for choosing your guitar amp according to your needs and expectations:

1. What is an amp?

An amplifier is made up of a preamplification system, a power amp, and of course one (or more) loudspeaker!

There are 3 preamplification systems: tube, transistor, and more recently modeling.

There are 2 power amplification systems: tube and transistor.

All this means that we have 4 different categories of amps on the market!

mini guitar amp

2. The amp categories

There are a number of guitar amp categories, and each has its own set of features and benefits.

Transistor Amplifiers

A transistor amplifier combines preamplification and power amplification, both of which work with transistors.

The first advantage is: the price! Indeed this amplification technology is the cheapest of all because it only uses transistors. Of course, like everywhere, with a low price, the quality is not the same as if you paid double! It is therefore the quality of the sound that will be reduced.

The sound will be “neutral”, “cold” and will lack dynamism in comparison with that of a tube amp, which does not really suit my taste in the spirit of the guitar but hey: it’s up to you to choose your priorities, if the price is your first criterion, go for it!

The transistors originally weren’t made for saturation, however, progress has been made, even if the result will obviously be incomparable with that of an all-tube amp. Also plan a small margin of power because this technology does not like to be pushed to the bottom.

These amps are however simple to use, light, and rather resistant, therefore rather practical to lug around! This category of amps is often appreciated by beginners because of their low price.

Marshall MG 30. This transistor amp is often encountered by beginners attracted by the look and the brand more than by the sound. Indeed, if this brand is very well known and reputable in tube amplification, at the transistor level it is something else.

In short, I strongly advise against the Marshall MG series which is expensive compared to the competition and which does not sound.

Hybrid amplifiers

Nothing to do with cars, this is a technology using tubes in preamplification and transistors in power amplification.

Here it is a compromise between the transistor amp and the all-tube amp. The distorted sounds will be improved compared to a transistor amp thanks to a more natural saturation.

They do not weigh three tons and will be rather easy to use. On the wallet side, this is a good compromise between quality and price.

These amps do not like to be pushed to the bottom, it will also be necessary to provide a small margin of power.

The dynamics level is better than the transistor amp because of the tubes in preamplification, but this dynamism will unfortunately not be completely retransmitted because of the transistors in power amplification.

This category of amp tends to disappear more and more, replaced by modeling amps!

Vox VT50. A good amp for the rock / hard rock register!

All-tube amplifiers

It’s easy here: lamps (tubes) everywhere!

For most guitarists (at least those with working ears), this is the holy grail! The sound is “natural”, “warm” and “deep”. On the saturation side, they come quite easily and smoothly, which will allow the guitarist to integrate a lot of nuances into his playing.

In terms of power, friends, it’s pure and hard! Indeed a 50-watt tube will greedily f**k a 100-watt transistor!

friedman guitar amp

The output transformers are generally oversized (and if that is not the case, I advise you to do it quickly) because a 50 watt can for example reach 120 watts at peak! As for the power margin, it’s the opposite of transistor amps: the louder it is, the better your sound will be (that’s is rock n’ roll!)!

On the price side, it may hurt a little buttock but we get nothing for nothing! Another small disadvantage to take into consideration: is the weight which can be very important depending on the model.

A little time to warm up our friends with the tubes is also necessary before playing (1 or 2 minutes in the “Stand By” position is enough).

Also, be careful not to move the amp when the tubes are still hot because they will be very very very fragile. To put an end to these small inconveniences, the tubes are not immortal and it will be necessary to think of changing them after a few years (don’t worry their price is not very high compared to the price of the amp).

Even if it’s sometimes a bit of a hassle, these habits once taken will be the price of an exceptional sound! roll!)!

Randall Rg 50 Tc. A good tube amp in the hard-rock / metal register.

Modeling amplifiers

Modeling amps use modeling preamplification as well as power amplification using transistors. In some models, you can find a tube between the two to warm up the sound a little, but the saturation does not come from tubes.

In high-end models, it is possible to find a tube power amplification giving much more dynamics to the whole but they are generally very expensive.

What interests us above all with this type of amp is the versatility! Of course, these will only be pale imitations, but it is nevertheless possible to obtain very convincing results and to have a very wide sound palette if you spend a little time behind the buttons to fine-tune the settings.

Line6 Spider III 75.

3. The speakers

It is possible to find speakers from 6 to 15 inches depending on the amps! The larger the speaker, the more bass will be present and vice versa. 10 to 12 inches, therefore, seems like a balanced compromise for the guitar.

If you are using a tube amp, remember to take a loudspeaker at least twice as powerful as the advertised power of the amp. Indeed, at peak, these amps can easily double their sound power!

Celestion Vintage 30.

4. How many watts?

fender amp and guitar

You will choose the power of your amp according to the use you intend to make of it. Between tube amps and transistor amps, the sound power is generally doubled for the same number of watts advertised in a tube amplifier!

Your house

Count about 10 to 30 watts for a transistor. A good plan, however, if you are looking for an amp for your home, is to invest in a not very powerful tube amp that will have “the sound”, but not the price! There are 5 W, 10 W, or 15 W models that send pâté for a reasonable price.

At home or in a group

To cover the drums and other instruments during rehearsals, count 50 to 100 watts for a transistor and 30 to 50 watts for a tube amp.

In groups and on stage

There, it will be necessary to be heard the coconuts! I, therefore, recommend 100 watts and more for transistor amps and 50 to 100 watts for tube amps. During concerts, it is very likely that your sound will be copied (the magic SM57 microphone in front of your amp). In this case, the power of the amp does not matter.

fender guitar amp

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