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What is a guitar amplifier?
A guitar amplifier strengthens the weak electrical signal from a pick up on an electric, bass or acoustic guitar. the signal is strengthened so that it can pick up sound from one or more loudspeakers.
What are the different types of guitar amps?
We will focus on the 3 main types of guitar amplifiers
- Tube/valve amplifiers
- Solid state amplifiers
- Modelling amplifiers
- These are the most common amplifiers. When most novices and even seasoned guitarists think of amplifiers they think of tube amplifiers. The most common image of a tube amplifier is the marshal half stack.
- Tube amps are also referred to as valve amps in the UK.
- Valve amps were the first amps ever made. They run on valves or tubes. These are little glass tubes or valves.
- There are pre-amp valves and power valves. Electricity runs through the valves which gives the tone of the amp and this makes the amp very loud.
- Tube amps are usually very lovely and warm. If you hit hard in a tube amp it will distort more and if you hit nice and light and turn the volume down on your guitar it will clean up crystal clear and sound fantastic.
- You can get small tube amps as well. Technology has made it so can get lovely small valve amps for the house.
- You do have to replace the valves every now and then. However, if you look after them they can last anywhere from 5-7 years.
- Tube amps can be somewhat versatile in the sense that you either have a clean sound or a distorted channel or a single channel
Advantages of tube amplifiers
- The nice thing about a tube amp is that you can play it with the volume all the way to the top
- The amp is touch sensitive and can clean up well, when the tube amp is set for rock distortion and you roll back the volume knob.
- Tube amps have better response and are a favorite of traditional rock music players.
- There is something very satisfying about the bouncy response given by a tube amp when you play a cord or pick notes is very satisfying.
Disadvantages of tube amplifiers
- Maintenance can be an issue for tube amps. This can be because of your tubes being affected by extensive use, climate, weather or just age.
- With valve amps when you change the valve, the amplifier could give a different sound.
- The light-bulb like filaments are prone to burning out and as a result can cause noise or signal loss, and will as a result need be replacing
- One drawback of tube amps is that they are less versatile than solid state amps. This is because they sacrifice a lot of versatility for that lovely valve sound.
- Also, if you want a certain sound you must buy that amp, with that brand and those valves, hence they are not very versatile. If you have a Marshall then you must buy a Marshall etc.
Solid state amps run on transistors an are sometimes referred to as transistor amps.
The transistors are makeshift valves. You turn them on and they turn on straight away.
You do not have to wait for any valves to warm up. You also do not have to wait for the amp to warm up.
With solid state amps, today you can get that lovely valve sound, but a bit cheaper, a bit lighter and a bit more portable.
Solid state amps these days sound fantastic. When they first came out they were trying hard to sound like valve amplifiers.
They were great for the times and the technology, but everything has advanced so much that they sound almost identical.
- When considering practice volume, solid state amplifiers usually sound good from the bottom up.
- Solid state amps are better suited (when compared with tube amplifiers) for home rehearsals
- Very good for bands with an array of songs and need to switch between different genres say pop and heavy metal.
- The perks of these are that they can be a lot louder in a small package. They are also more portable and light.
- You do not have to replace valves after 5-7 years.
- Solid state amps give you that lovely rock star tone. But if you are on a little bit of a budget. They are simple as well.
- Maintenance can be an issue for solid state amps
- Digital amps can struggle to return that spongy, bouncy lively response the same way that a tube amp can.
Amp modelling is basically Digital Signal Processing (DSP) that emulates the sound of different amplifiers and speaker cabinets.
Modelling amps are somewhat hybrid amps which fall in between the categories of solid state and tube.
Amplifier modelling refers to emulating a physical amplifier such as a guitar amplifier.
Amplifier modelling attempts to reproduce the sound of one or more specific models of vacuum tube amplifiers and sometimes solid-state amplifiers.
Most modelling amps come with very lovely effects, delays reverb and modulation.
- Modelling amps have the benefit of sounding like everything else.
- You can emulate the clean sounds, that sound like Marshalls and Voxes, or go to distorted sounds that sound like big fancy over driven Oranges.
- Modern modelling amps can serve as practice studio live amps, and have as a result negated the need for the use of various guitar amps.
Finally, I think it would be important to have a discussion around wattage’s, particularly in the context of an electric guitar.
Wattage’s is essentially how much power your electric guitar has.
The amount of power that you need will depend on whether you are gigging, practicing in the house or wish to gig in the future.
You can get some amazing l 10 watts to 15 watt amplifiers that are great for practicing at home, but you cannot go gigging with them.
Most big amps these days do work well quiet. Even tube amps that need to be loud to sound good, have managed to make them good when they are quiet too.
Wattag’es for solid state Amps vs Tube Amps
Tube amps tend to be loud even at lower wattage’s. Most tube amps these days do turn down wattage to get that lovely saturated sound at a lower wattage.
So, if you purchase a 100 watt Marshall, there are a lot of features on it to make it run at half volume, and even point 5 of a watt on some of the newer amps (such as the origin series).
If you are gigging and get a 100-watt amp, tube amps are heavy, and many venues these days do have stairs.
Singers will probably not help you carry your amp up the stairs.
Solid state Amps
Solid state amps are easy to carry, portable, and these days many of them do have emulated line outs on the back.
So, whilst most valve amps are miced up on stage, most solid-state amps are miced up on stage as well, but things have developed to the point where you can just plug the jack cable, XLR into the back of your lovely amplifier straight into the sound desk and you don’t have to worry about mic placement every night.
The bottom line:
If you are a beginning guitar player or buying for someone who is just starting out, find out what you or they love. If you are an ACDC fan, then Marshall is by far the best bet that you have.
Metal bands tend to like orange amplifiers. Every amp company has an amp for everyone out there.
Technology and engineering have advanced to the point where Everything can do everything these days, it’s all up to you.
It is important to decide about what you want to sound like in your head, then go into a guitar store and try your favorite amplifier out.
Although solid state amplifiers can be great for at home practice, all the major manufacturers do make fantastic tube amplifiers for the house or for gigging in your first gigs.
Solid state amps are not as versatile as a tube amp where you get that lovely rich warmth, however solid-state amps have made tremendous strides in this respect.
I am a big fan of learning by emulating.
Therefore, I would suggest you go and see if you can get a smaller version of you idles amplifier, see if you can get that sound in your head and see if you can get something that you can rehearse with in the kitchen and keep in a suitcase when you go on holiday.
More importantly, have fun with it and buy something that you want. Buy something that is going to inspire you and make you want to play more and more.