The differentiation is simple; every amplifier gives you a different basic sound. It will depend on the type of amp and the brand as well. Even if you look at the same type of amp from two different companies, you'll notice subtle variations in the sound. Now, if you're a beginner or you intend to buy an amp for practicing in your room, a more generalized search is better. On the other hand, if you buy a quality amp that you really like, you won't be needing a new one for a long time.
Types of Amplifiers
If knowing is half the battle, here are the four most common types of amplifiers and their association with music.
The tube amps are more powerful than a solid-state amp of the same wattage. They provide that organic distortion that most guitarists of a softer genre (softer than metal) prefer. There can be said to be two of these; the American tube and the British tube.
- The American tube amp is smaller but provides a fresh sound to your guitar. The amp is characterized by its extensive use in Country music and Rock and Roll.
- The British tube amp provides a larger spectrum of sound frequencies at a more cleaner tone. You shouldn't buy this one if you're into raw distortion.
No tubes, only transistors work for this one. The main difference is the cleanliness of sound that you get on the solid-state, as compared to the tube. If you're not a metalhead, or you like to experiment with sounds, pick this one. The solid-state amp is used wherever clean sounds are necessary, like Jazz and R&B.
They were created with the intent to get the best from the two worlds they were made in. For example, a hybrid amp made with a tube on the pre-amp and a solid-state circuitry for powering the tube gives you the natural distortion effect with more control and at a lower price. Pick a specific type of hybrid amp if you know what genre you're going to play in and are sticking to it. Its versatility also makes it a good pick for beginners.
They are the newer type to be sold. A digital amp is mostly computerized. The amp provides you with the optimum control over the output sound and can also give you the widest range in sound output there is. If you have a little extra money and want to experiment the heck out of all sounds, get this one.
Knowing the Right Amp
Now that you know which amp fits into which style of music, here are a couple more things to understand before you head out to the store.
If you're a beginner, stick to solid-state amp around $100. Tube amps are costlier and also a lot more fragile. This goes only for the beginner, if you're really interested in playing for a long time (specifically music with less distortion), I suggest you start saving up for a worthy amp. There's no use in getting the cheaper ones, you'll just throw them out in some months and will regret their ever-deteriorating (it happens quite fast, too) sound till then. You will have units ranging from less than $100 to a few thousand. You will also have a universe full of options to choose from.
The wattage more or less decides the size and output.
- The smallest would be the 10 Watt micro amp. You just use it so that you're heard over the rest of the group who are not using amplifiers.
- The next one goes up to 30 Watts. It is meant solely as a practice amp, to be kept in your bedroom and not much for other things. All amps up to 30 Watt have a poor output.
- Anything bigger than 50 Watts would be considered big amps, like the 1x12 or 2x12 amps. The 2x12 amp is the largest that you will need for small to medium gigs, just short of a full blown stage show. If you're looking to go on tours, you will need stacks, which is multiple (4 normally) 4x12 cabinet amps and a giant 100 Watt head.
Knowing Your Idol
This has a brand angle to buying your amp. We are all, at some point or the other, influenced by someone greater in our field of interests. When you like Joe Satriani, you'll say the older Peavey JSX or his current Marshall amps are the best. If you idolize Hendrix (like me), you'll swear by the vintage Marshall stacks behind him. And well, if you think of somebody as your role model, you chances are you will play like them. And there isn't any problem in doing so, which means using their brand of amps will probably get you to sound like them. Of course, you won't really play like them, but hey, you can be pretty damn close!
This is one thing you should read up more on before buying an amp, especially if it's your first one. If you don't want get owned by the store helper and buy something out of embarrassment, research on everything these knobs are designed to do. More importantly, you'll be able to get the right sound right there in the store trial, so you won't need to keep looking for too many amps. You'll need to know about things like:
- Volume knob, which is the basic one that changes the output volume
- Tone knob, which controls the frequency output on the amp
- Overdrive, in essence, which is about the distortion that the amplifier can produce (without the help of a processor)
You should also know about the difference that materials can make on the final output of the amp. Things like the type of wood used, its thickness on the amplifier's box and the arrangement inside the box. Feel free to ask the store helper about these things, it goes a long way in figuring the perfect amp for you.
That pretty much sums up the whole checklist of things to know and see before and when you buy your amplifier. Just remember that even if you're set on buying some particular amp, it wouldn't hurt to go ahead and check all the others out there too, you never know what you'll find. Now go out there, buy the box an shake the world!