What To Consider Before Buying An Acoustic Guitar Amp
. When you’re starting to become serious about playing the guitar, the question of “what amp should I get” is bound to pop up. There’s quite a deal of variety out there, with many brands and models, and constant innovation adding new features to choose between with each passing year. It’s enough to baffle even an intermediate player, let alone a rookie who’s just getting started. To ensure that you get the right amplifier for your needs, you’ll first need to know a bit about how the amp’s specifications translate to real life.
. Clean channel and overdrive
. Guitar amplifiers commonly have two channels, a clean one (sometimes referred to as a “primary”) and overdrive. The way they are called is indicative of their function, as the clean channel renders clear, crisp and mellow tones, while the overdrive puts out a grainier but much more powerful noise, good for amplifying heavy guitar riffs.
There are few amps that work equally well in both channels, with the majority of them better suited to rendering either the primary or the overdrive. A choice between them falls to what style of music you like to play most since country or soft rock will sound better on a clean channel while most metal genres need a powerful overdrive.
Tube amps vs. solid state
Tube amps use the height of the 1940s electronic technology to give out what is widely considered the best sound quality to date. Since some people tend to be confused by this, it’s important to note that only their sound rendering circuitry is based on vacuum tubes (or lamps) while the equalizers and assorted bits employ transistors like any other piece of modern electronics, with no bearing whatsoever on how the sound will come out.
Tube amps are appreciated for their high fidelity, which allows for the player’s ability and the quality of the guitar to be put to full fruition, and for their equally natural overdrive, which is achieved easier than with most solid state amps. However, besides being more expensive as an initial purchase, tube amps will also prove harder to maintain since lamps have a tendency of blowing up and are themselves quite expensive.
The solid state amp isn’t really new either, but it only came into its own following William Shockley’s world-changing invention, the transistor. Its use for the audio circuitry allows the amp to be more adaptable and easier to tune, but despite innovations in recent years, the overdrive of solid state amps isn’t yet on par with what a tube can offer, and only a few manufacturers can boast of products that come close to sounding as clean as a tube amp.
. Their primary advantages lie in low price, superior durability, and convenience, as they are easier to carry around without the constant worry of a vacuum lamp breaking in all the hustle.
. Configuration and portability
. Besides overall size, how easy the amplifier will be to carry around falls down to the way the speakers are positioned in or around its chassis.
. In a cabinet configuration, the speakers are placed outside the main body housing the amplifier, so an additional frame is required to keep them near one another during concerts. The most common configuration is called a half-stack and will have the amplifier on top of the cabinet holding the speakers.
. A full stack doubles on the speakers to give extra volume, and what is considered to be the best sound projection and resonance available, since all the units will be acting in concert to put out a veritable wall of sound that hits heavier than the sum of its parts.
. The combo amps won’t really allow for this kind of freedom in setting them up because their distribution is one-piece, rather than modular. The speakers and amp occupying the same case gives you a clear advantage, however, in that they would be far easier to move around.
. Even when featuring 12-inch speakers, most combos will fit neatly into the trunk of a car, with no need to worry about where to place an additional cabinet. Some newer models are also powerful enough to fill out a small hall, so they’ll allow the budding musician plenty of possibility when choosing a venue.
. Speaker size and power output
. The size of the speaker determines the range of sound it’s be best suited for. Smaller ones will do a better job at producing high frequencies and will be able to reach higher top ends than big speakers. Large models, with a sizeable woofer, are best at producing low, rumbling noises, but higher pitches will come off faded.
. You can choose between them depending on what genre of music you’ll be playing, noting that large units tend to be more expensive and are best suited for bigger venues. A good average size if you’re thinking about playing in a band is around 10″-12″, while practicing in your garage can very well be done with 5″ speakers.
. The maximum volume a speaker will be able to put out depends on the electrical power fed into it, which is measured in Watts. The correlation is not the same between tube amps and solid state, as the former requires significantly less energy to achieve the same volume due to the natural overdrive.
. For practice work or casual jamming, a solid state amp can go as low as 10 W and still let the guitar be heard loud enough, while a tube model will require even less, sometimes even half a Watt.
. When playing in a band, the primary guiding factor for determining the volume needed is the presence of a drummer. Drums tend to drown all other instruments in their noise and a solid state amp that gives out less than 70 W might not provide enough power for a well-balanced sound in a rock band.
. In the case of country music or blues, you could get away with half of that, but don’t expect to be filling out anything larger than your local bar.
. Other characteristics to consider
. There are two parts in an amp that receive and process the signal coming from your guitar. The pre-amp picks up the input and boosts it enough so that the second stage, the power amp, will process it and send it to the speaker.
. In the case of tube amps, a distinction between these stages can be significant, since they sometimes use different lamps. There are also hybrid models out there that employ both transistors and tubes for either of the stages.
. Most modern guitar amplifiers feature a built-in equalizer between the preamp and power amp. In the vast majority of cases, this will only allow you to adjust the volume of sound on three bands, delimited roughly in the same manner as in a common stereo: treble for high frequencies; mids in the middle; and bass for low, rumbling sounds.
. The so-called modeling amps can be said to differ from both tubes and solid state ones as they employ modern processing technology to apply preloaded characteristics to the sound. This can alter the output in a variety of ways, from imitating certain classic styles to rendering something entirely new. Needless to say, they are favored by cover bands and electronic music fans, but many guitarists don’t appreciate their “artificial” sound, although they can serve as good practice amps.
Frequently asked questions about guitar amps
. What guitar amp should I have?
. Among other factors, this depends on the style of music you most often play. For slower genres like country, blues, and soft rock, you should look for an amp that offers good clean channel tunes, while for something loud and fast like heavy metal or hardcore, an amp with a competent overdrive channel will serve you better.
. For “heavier” genres you’ll need powerful speakers with a lot of wattage, and often times during gigs an additional set of loudspeakers will be required, so always buy an amp that has an adequate jack to allow for this (fortunately, most good amp brands do nowadays).
. There’s also portability to consider. If you’re a one-person country act a small unit that also features a convenient handle should do, while a metal band might be forced to settle for a voluminous cabinet layout to offer the acoustics they need.
. How to record a guitar amp?
. By using one or multiple appropriate mics, of course, while paying close mind to a few useful tips to ensure the best possible results.
. To get an in-your-face sound try to jam the mic as close to the cabinet as possible, just a little off of the cone’s center. This should get you a little extra bass response for a grungy sound.
. You can change the angle of the mic head in relation to the cone by tilting it to get slightly different tunes. This is called “off-axis” use and requires trial and error to get just right.
. Always use more than one mic, and when possible, double down on the amp as well. This will give you additional options in the mixing phase. You can split the signal to the amp by employing a stereo FX pedal or a DI. The second mic doesn’t necessarily have to be close to the cabinet and can be placed as far as 3 ft away to give you more tonal range.
. What are guitar amp heads?
. This is the name given to the amplifier, separate from the speakers. It’s the pre-amp and amp in one box, which is usually placed on top of a cabinet or a stack of speakers. This is a common configuration for large venues, and it might be useful to have a separate amp head if you play a lot of festivals or “battle of the bands” events, where the speakers are generally provided by the organizer.
. It allows you to use an amp without forcing having to lob a set of speakers around as you would with a combo (the most common construction system right now.) The combo has the speakers and the amp occupying the same cabinet, which gives it a pretty convenient frame for carrying all these items around if using the stage speakers is not an option.
. Can guitar amps be used for bass?
. The short answer is yes, although it might not give you the best results since the bass noise needs more energy behind it to propagate properly. In other words, the sound will come at a lower volume than what you will experience a guitar.
. If you want to do this effectively, you should consider pairing up the amp with a set of powerful speakers, in the 200 W – 300 W ranges, with an appropriately sized woofer. The 12″ standard might do the trick at lower volumes but 15″ should sound a lot better for the full force of the bass.
. You can also play around with the equalizer to minimize treble and mids and have all the energy directed to the bass band to improve results further. It won’t be a good idea to do this for any considerable amount of time, as bass guitars can damage regular speakers at higher volumes, but the head itself should be okay.
. Can guitar amps be used as speakers?
. Technically yes, but they generally won’t deliver the best results. Most electric models available can only effectively reproduce the guitar’s sound range, which is between 50 Hz and 5000 Hz, so the highs and lows that a high fidelity speaker can reach won’t be accessible.
. Even compared with the cheap set of speakers a desktop computer comes with, your run of the mill electric guitar amp will be lacking, so there’s really no reason to risk blowing it up due to current differences in order to try this out.
. A lot of modeling amps are paired with high fidelity, full range speakers, which should deliver the same performance as specialized products. If you’re really adamant in connecting the amp to a stereo or computer, these are the models you should look into.
. How are guitar amps made?
. They usually have two amplifying circuit stages, and additional tone-shaping circuits, like the ubiquitous equalizer which works with up to two bands. Most models allow you to adjust the bass, mid and treble, with more advanced ones featuring two midrange controls and an additional presence control for treble (high) ranges.
. The two stages are the pre-amp, which is used to amplify the weak signal coming from the guitar so that it can be further processed and the power amp, which does the effective translating so that it’s picked up by the speakers.
. Besides an equalizer, most newer models have built-in circuitry between the two amp stages to offer a wide range of effects, which often times require pedal controls to be implemented during play. Reverb effects, compression, distortion, and chorus, are usually sought after by guitarists, regardless of the style of music they prefer.