Choosing the Best Amp for Your Guitar or Bass
A Buyer’s Guide to Guitar and Bass Amps
One of the most important decisions you can make as a guitarist or bassist is your choice of an amplifier. They help to shape and boost your sound. They make it possible for others to experience your talent.
But, even the briefest perusal of amplifiers can be mind-boggling. Guitar and bass amps are manufactured and marketed by hundreds of companies around the world, some famous, many obscure. They range from tiny desktop amps to arena-shaking stacks. Some offer very basic tone and volume control, others allow an almost unlimited range of sound shaping and volume boost. Some models are sold separately as amplifier heads and speakers, others are combined units.
So which one is best for you? There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Your choice should be based on several factors, many of which we will review here.
The Size of Your Practice or Playing Area
An essential factor in determining which amp is best for you is the average size of your venue. If that venue happens to be your own home, chances are a small amp will be just fine. If you play small clubs, a larger amp is recommended. A still larger one is suitable for larger clubs, theatres, arenas, and so on.
A good rule of thumb is to choose an amp whose sound can fill your typical venue at medium volume. This allows you some versatility for both smaller rooms and larger ones. In addition, a smaller amp usually means a lighter amp! There is no sense in breaking your back with an amp just to play to a small coffee house.
Your Genre and Style
You will need quite a different amp for smooth jazz than you would for 8-bar blues rock. If your genre tends toward a more basic tone, then a more basic amp head or combo will probably work just fine. If your style requires a more complex or nuanced tone, you can get an amp head or combo with more tone control. If you are not sure which way to go, it’s probably best to go for a model with more choices and controls. If you purchase a more complex amp, you will have the functionality to play more difficult styles, but you can still play the basics until you’re ready.
Separate Amp Head and Speaker vs. Combo – Which One is Right for You?
Both of these formats have their advantages and disadvantages. Having the units separated allows you more versatility in choosing the right products for the right sound. It also allows you to change one item or the other without having to replace the entire unit. If you play a wide variety of venues, this is a better choice. You will be able to change speakers for different sized venues while keeping your sound exactly as it was before.
Disadvantages include price; separate heads and amps can be a lot more expensive than their combo counterparts. It also means more items to carry and set up.
For many musicians, a combo amp is ideal. Everything is contained in one unit for easy transport and setup. It’s also generally a much less expensive choice. In the event that the combo needs repair, however, the advantage becomes the disadvantage. The entire unit must be taken in. If you play in primarily the same type of venue every time you perform, a combo amp is the way to go. It keeps things simple, and saves you money.
This article scratches the surface of what to look for in an amp. When making a decision, take your time. Talk to someone at your local guitar shop to find out more.