For a guitarist, there may be no less challenging a decision than needing to buy a new amplifier. With all the choices available today, it can be overwhelming! After all, you spent days, months, maybe even years finding that perfect guitar, and now you are deciding how all of that wonderful wood and steel makes its way into the world.
A daunting task, to say the least!
Even for the experienced musician, choosing a new amplifier may leave you scratching your head over what to buy. Today, we’re going to try and break down the process into bite-size chunks.
The very first thing you should look at when shopping a new amp is where it’s going to be used. So many of us exist and play in the small church venue, where there aren’t isolation cabs or fancy backstage hideaways to keep that 100-watt Marshall from blowing Aunt Susie’s wig off in the front row. And if you try to bring those big amps down to moderate volume levels, you’re very likely to be frustrated with anemic tone. Even your sound guy won’t like that! So shop for an amp that has a lower wattage rating.
Some of my favorites:
PRS has a new line of amps called the Sonzera that are designed to fit a budget and sound amazing, available in a 20-watt combo. And their 2-Channel line also sports a good option in the 20-watt range.
CrimsonTone Amps are some of the smallest wattages I’ve seen – their “se meany” is 4 watts total!
Jackson Ampworks is another favorite. They worked with Nigel Hendroff from Hillsong Church to design a beautiful amp, the Scarlett 30.
Of course, all of the majors, Fender, Marshall, and Vox, have low-wattage options too that are worth looking into.
Combo or Head/Cab
Another consideration in your search will be the configuration of the amp. Can you put your amp onstage near you? Then you could go with a combo amp. Or do you have the option of putting your amp offstage somewhere? Then the head/cabinet setup might be better. The combo amp can give you everything you need in one package, but depending on where you locate the amp onstage, you introduce stage volume and possible issues there. But a head/cab can give the option of locating the speakers in another room or offstage, and that may give you a little more freedom in how you run your amp. Just make sure you have a good quality speaker cable, because the length of cable can sometimes cause issues with tone. I have always preferred this way because of the ability to locate the speakers out of the way or faced away from the audience, to give the sound people the best case scenario for my amp.
If you already have an amp, but want the cab option, you can check out my friends at EarCandy Cabs – they have done their homework and have some great speaker cabinets (Including a mini 1×6!) that will allow you to pump your amp into a smaller speaker and thus reduce your actual volume, all while loading your amp correctly.
Digital vs. Analog
Yes, I said it! Sometimes, you need to consider whether or not the best option, considering your venue, is a digital modeling solution. Line 6’s new HELIX is a revolutionary piece of gear, and the introduction of the Helix LT puts that line within reach of more players’ budgets. But BE WARNED: all those options come at a price: the hours of tweaking your tone to work in your environment. You can get great tone out of it, it’s just going to require patience. But if you’re using IEM’s, you’re not actually hearing the direct sound of your amp anyway, so a digital solution can sound better than even a well-mic’d amp. You’d probably be surprised how many artists on the road these days use a version of digital modeling to achieve their tone. (And on the plus side, modeling gives you the option of hearing that cranked-up Marshall sound without the aforementioned wig-blowing!)
In the end, the search for an amp comes down to a lot of really personal choices, and it can seem frustrating at times. But hopefully, the hunt will be a little less elusive with these things in mind!
(and please feel free to find me on Twitter and let me know how the search is going!)