The world of guitar amplifiers is often perplexing given the sheer amount of variables to choose from. There are new amps, old amps, new amps that sound like old amps and even amps on top of amps. But fear not, we’re here to give you a bit of idea on what to look for in an amplifier and hopefully make things a little bit clearer. Here’s a list of the different types of amplifiers on the market:
Tube amps were first applied to radio and phone lines – the technology used along with their practical uses have come a long way since then. In the world of amps thermionic valves, or tubes, are used to amplify the signal coming from the guitar (or bass – we don’t discriminate!). However, when you drive a hot signal into these valves, they cause the signal to saturate and break up a little, adding what can be a very pleasing distortion, creating a very characteristic tone. Valve amps are not only warmer, but are also very responsive and dynamic which can make them sound a lot more powerful than “non tube” amplifiers.
Solid state amplifiers came about in the ‘50s, introducing technology where the signal doesn’t leave physical or solid components throughout the electronic path. Using diodes and transistors as opposed to thermionic valves to amplify the signal, solid stare amps are often regarded as being much more reliable and require much less maintenance than tube amps.
Hybrid amplifiers as the name suggests provide a hybrid, or combination of both of the above amp types. Usually this means the speaker or the amp itself is powered by solid state circuitry while the guitar signal is initially driven by a tube pre amp. The purpose? To provide both the benefit of portability, and also retain that sought after tone present in tube circuitry. With their generally compact design and responsive sound, hybrid amps are a great “best of both worlds” solution for those looking an alternative to valve or solid state amps.
Modelling amps are amps which allow you to digitally emulate a variety of different classic amp tones in the one cabinet. They often feature multi effects processors, allowing the player to layer up effects like chorus and reverb in order to drastically change their tone with the turn of a knob. Because these amps are driven by what is essentially computer circuitry, they can also be very lightweight and portable. With this compact, feature packed design, modelling amps are a favourite amongst many new guitarists seeking to find their signature tone and experiment with layering effects!
Along with the different types of amps, they also come in different configurations. Usually they will come as a head (amp) and cab (speaker) or as a combo, where both the amp and the speaker are contained in one cabinet. Depending on what you want to use the amp for will determine which configuration is best suited to you. Generally for live settings, the head/cab set up is recommended as you can power multiple speakers with one amp to gain more volume. Combo amps on the other hand, usually lend themselves to players seeking that portability benefit for practicing and playing smaller venues.
Amplifiers are just one more aspect in the world of music that depends entirely on the players preference. When buying an amp it is important to consider not only the tone you crave, but the also the purpose of the amp, be it for live or practice settings. Seemingly an intimidating task; choosing the right amp is essential for complimenting your guitar and helping it sing!
Until next time,