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Everything you need to know about guitar amps

Why do you need a guitar amp?

A guitar amplifier is a very specialized piece of audio equipment and it serves a single purpose: to amplify the signal from a pickup on an electric guitar or bass and play it through a speaker.

Without a guitar amp to plug into, you won’t hear anything but the plinking of strings.

What are the different types of guitar amps?

There are four main types of guitar amps: solid-state, tube, modelling and hybrid.

Solid-state amps use transistors, making them affordable and reliable. Tube amps use vacuum tubes instead of transistors, producing a warmer and more organic sound that many guitarists prefer. Some have two channels for instantly switching between “clean” and “distorted” audio. The downside is those tubes eventually need replacing. Modelling amps use processors to digitally reproduce the sound of a tube amp. Some also make use of those processors to add digital effects such as delay. Finally, hybrid amps offer the best of both worlds, combining a vacuum tube and digital circuitry in a single unit.

Guitar amplifiers also come in several different configurations. Combo amps have the amplifiers and speakers combined together in a single unit. Guitar amps are also sold as “head” units that stack on a standalone speaker. The advantage of the separate head approach is it makes the amplifier equipment easier to carry, and the guitar amplifier head can be combined with different speakers for greater versatility.

Finally there is one more distinction. If you install a pickup on an acoustic guitar, choose a guitar amp that’s designed for use with acoustic instruments for the best sound.

How loud is the average guitar amp, and how many watts do I need?

The power rating of a guitar amp really depends on its purpose. Practice amps are lower power, often 10W, 5W or under. For small venues, a 50W amp is a popular power level. And when it comes to large venues, the wattage starts to rapidly rise, starting at 100W and going up from there.

What is the best guitar amp for beginners?

The best guitar amp for beginners is a practice amp, and these are almost always solid-state, combo amps. They are affordable, compact, and although they typically have 10W of power or less, practice amps provide the amplification needed to hear yourself play—or for rehearsal in a small space.

How long do guitar amps last?

Solid-state and modelling amps have no replaceable parts and no real limit to their lifespan. Wear and tear will take a toll, but they are popular for touring because of their durability. Tube amps will require you to replace vacuum tubes on occasion. Most vacuum tubes are rated at 10,000 hours of service, so depending on how frequently you play, that could be years of use. And hybrid amps are a hybrid: their vacuum tube is typically used for pre-amplification with solid-state circuitry doing the heavy lifting for longer life.