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Guitar Amplifiers information
No electric guitar is complete without a guitar amplifier. Everything that a guitar amplifier does sits in the name: it amplifies the signal of a guitar. After that, the amplifier sends the strengthened signal to an external speaker (in the case of an amp and speaker cabinet stack) or to a built-in speaker (in the case of a combo amplifier) where it's pushed out as sound.
What Amplifier Does Your Guitar Need?
If you're looking for your first ever guitar amplifier so you can get to grips with your new instrument and practice at home, then it's worth going for an all-in one combo guitar amplifier , which has both the amplifier and a speaker built into one little cabinet. With a combo amplifier, all you have to do is plug your guitar in and play. As you grow as a guitarist, you can progress to a bigger combo amplifier, with more power and more options for gigging, or you could opt for a valve-driven amplifier head and an external speaker cabinet . We also have plenty of acoustic guitar amplifiers and digital amplifiers that are so compact, you could slip one in a backpack and take it on holiday. If you want to get some in-depth advice on picking out your amp, take a look at our Guitar Amplifier Buyer's Guide .
Combo Guitar Amplifiers
A combo guitar amplifier is literally the combination of an amplifier and a speaker in one cabinet, which can be handy if you're regularly lugging your gear to rehearsals and gigs. Combos can come in a range of formats: some will have a single 8 inch speaker, some a couple of 12 inch speakers, and some will have something somewhere in between. The speaker size and number of speakers you need depends on how loud you need to get. A combo with two or more large speakers will be able to displace more air and reach a higher volume than a single small speaker. However, the speaker size and number also has an influence over your sound: if you want a bigger sound with more bass to it, or you know you're going to be playing at larger venues, then a combo with a couple of large speakers will probably work for you. When it comes to valve-driven combo amplifiers, the smaller models also tend to have a lower wattage, which means you can get more gain at a lower volume level - giving you a nice and raw guitar sound without shaking the walls to bits.
Valve Guitar Amplifiers
The valve amplifier is considered the Holy Grail of all guitar amplifiers. Valve amplifiers use vacuum tubes (or valves) to strengthen the incoming signal of the guitar. While transistor-based amplifiers largely replaced valves during the fifties and sixties, the guitar universe is still absolutely bonkers about valve amplifiers. One of the reasons is the special sound of a valve amplifier, which to many purists, is the very best. When it comes to the kind of guitar tone you can get at reasonably high gain, the difference between a valve and a transistor can be heard immediately. With a valve amplifier, you get a fully formed, rock-ready sound as soon as you push the volume up. This sound is referred to as overdrive or distortion, and is thought to have a more natural feel to it via a valve amplifier than it does via a transistor amplifier. There is the point that valve amplifiers are often a lot heavier than most transistor amplifiers, but you can get combo valve amplifiers which are a more compact alternative, or a separate amplifier head that you can hook up to one or more speaker cabinets.
Transistor Guitar Amplifiers
Compared to valve amplifiers, transistor amplifiers - as you may have guessed - amplify the signal of a guitar using transistors. Technically speaking, transistors are more efficient than valves. They're also more lightweight and require less maintenance. Really small transistor amplifiers are also able to reach a really high wattage, so you get less distortion at higher volume levels - all without having to lug tens-of-kilos worth of amplifier to gigs and rehearsals. Some transistor amps also feature an AUX input or a Bluetooth function so you can connect your phone or computer to your amp and play along with your favourite tracks.
Hybrid Guitar Amplifiers
A hybrid guitar amplifier , or hybrid amp, is a combination of different technologies. Often, a hybrid amp strengthens the signal of a guitar using both valves and transistors. Many models have valves in the preamp and EQ section and then transistors in the power amp section. Because they're often fitted with transistors, hybrid amplifiers are usually a lot lighter than pure valve amplifiers, but still retain most of that natural valve driven guitar sound.
Digital Guitar Amplifiers
Digital guitar amplifiers use software to shape the sound of the plugged in guitar, so they can get really small - far smaller than something like a valve amplifier. Modern guitarists who want to save as much space as possible either on stage, or because they don't have the luxury of a rehearsal room, will get a lot out of a digital guitar amplifier, especially since you usually don't need to set up a special speaker cabinet - all you need is a set of headphones . Some digital amplifiers will even slot neatly into a backpack or the front pocket of your gig bag. Some models are designed for the bass as well as the guitar and come fitted with both a guitar and a bass input. Some models also offer a mass of different sound options, and many will offer a small mountain of built-in effects. For many guitarists, the sound of a digital amplifier doesn't quite reach the level of quality as a valve amplifier. However, that doesn't mean that a digital amplifier isn't a great alternative for beginner guitarists, or guitarists that just want something really user-friendly and that gives them a stack of sound options and inputs.
Frequently Asked Questions About Guitar Amplifiers
How do you set up a guitar amplifier?
Start with all the tone pots (control knobs), so the bass, the mids, and the treble and set them all to the 12 o'clock position. From there, play around a bit - so if you think the sound is a little treble or bass heavy, then pull the bass and treble tone pots down a little bit. For more help on setting up your amp see our Setting Up a Guitar Amplifier blog.
How many watts can a guitar amplifier produce?
You can get guitar amplifiers that produce just 1 Watt or even half a Watt of power, as well as amplifiers that are capable of producing up to 200 Watts. Higher wattage amplifiers can usually get louder, and it's worth knowing that, Watt for Watt, valve amplifiers are usually louder than transistor amplifiers.
What's a combo guitar amplifier?
A combo guitar amplifier is literally the combination of an amplifier and a speaker in one cabinet, which can be handy when you're lugging your gear to rehearsals and gigs. Combos come in a range of formats: some can have a single 8 inch speaker fitted, while some can have two 12 inch speakers fitted - and everything in between.
How much does a guitar amplifier cost?
If you pay around £50 to £100 you can set yourself up with a decent guitar amplifier. From there, it can get as expensive as you want it to. Luckily, expensive doesn't always mean better, so you'll always be able to find a great amplifier no matter your budget.
Which guitar amplifier should I go for?
If you're a beginner guitarist, it's usually a good idea to go for a combo guitar amplifier. They're generally the easiest to use, and can usually be set up at home. When you're ready for an upgrade, you might want to go for a valve amplifier. You can find further advice on picking out the right amp for you in our Guitar Amplifier Buyer's Guide .
What's the best beginner's guitar amplifier?
For anyone starting their guitar-based adventure, a combo amplifier will usually offer you everything you need. Combo amps are nice and compact, easy to carry, and since you can get combo guitar amplifiers with a small 5 inch speaker and an output that doesn't get any higher than just 5 Watts, it can also be set up in your bedroom.
What kind of guitar amplifier do I need?
If you're playing at home a lot, then you won't need a massive amplifier with astronomical wattage. Of course, if you're playing a lot of gigs, then an amp with an ultra-low wattage will never give you what you need.