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Tutorial: A Beginner's Guide To Guitar Amplification

By moosers on 02/14/2010 - (Beginner)
< All tips & tutorials

Introduction

For those guitar players new to the game, this is a tutorial aimed at giving you a better idea of what is out there in terms of guitar amps.  We'll cover all the ends and hopefully you'll have a good understand of the components of a guitar amp after this...

Step 1

The first thing that a new user should know about guitar amplifiers is that there are a lot to choose from!  Each amp has its own distinct sound with its own capabilities and limits.  Being informed about these specifications will not only help you choose the best amp for you, but will also help you in the long run for when you might be using different amps in the recording studio or otherwise.  In the next sections, we'll break down the different details that you will want to consider when examining a guitar amp.

Step 2

There are two different types of guitar amplifiers out there: tube, and solid state.  The difference between the two is a simply matter of how the amplifier will get its power.  The tube amp will have a series of different tubes, while a solid state will be have transistors to do the job.  For me, in terms of sound quality there is no comparison as I'll take a tube amp over a solid state one any day.  Vintage amps are usually tube based, while most modern ones are solid state, although there are a lot of modern tube amps as well.  The benefits of having a solid state is that in general they will be more reliable as you don't have to worry about the tubes breaking or being replaced.  They can also take more a beating since they are less fragile.  Solid state amps usually are a bit cheaper than tube amps as well.  However, in my opinion you simply can't beat or match the sound of a real tube based amplifier.

Step 3

Guitar amplifiers come in another two types of categories as well: combo, and head & speaker cabinet.  Combination amps will have both the amplifier and the speaker built into one unit.  However, you also can have a choice of mixing and matching a amplifier head and a separate speaker cabinet.  This is really just a matter of personal preference, but both options definitely have something to bring to table.  Most people who are playing a lot of gigs will use a head and speaker combination, but a combo amp will do the job just the same as well...

Step 4

Guitar amplifiers (and amps in general) come in all shapes and sizes.  There are a number of things that can differ from amp to amp.  Beyond the whole solid state or tube debate, the loudness that is possible with a guitar amplifier will depend on how many watts of power it delivers.  Most normal sized amps will generally have about 100 watts of power, but this really varies from amp to amp.  Also, it isn't a direct relationship to how loud the amp can get, as I've heard 30 watt amps that are just as loud as 50 watt amps; it really just depends on the overall make up of the amp.  Having said this, wattage is generally a good gauge on how loud you'll be able to crank it.  Another consideration is how many speakers an amp has and the size of the speakers.  Some amps only have a single 8", 10", or 12" speaker, while there are speaker cabinets that have four 12" speakers.  Again, this is a matter of preference and need...

Step 5

Lastly, let's talk a bit about some of the parameters and built in effects that you'll see on amps.  Some amps won't have any control at all, but most will have a least a few parameters.  Pretty much all amps at least have a two band equalizer, but some have more than this.  Many modern amps have built in overdrive, but again not all of them.  Vintage Fender amps will generally have built in reverb and vibrato, as is the case with the modern ones as well.  Now more than ever there are amps out there with a full palette of built in effects, but for me it is the true analog effects like reverb and overdrive that I would use from an amp.  Just know that when looking at guitar amps, what kind of parameters and built in effects that they might have should be a major consideration.

Conclusion

Whether you're looking for your first amp, or are just looking to learn a bit more about guitar amps, hopefully this tutorial helped you.  If you've got any questions, feel free to contact me or to check out my gear reviews for information on specific models...
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