Where Are You Using It?
One of the biggest variables when it comes to amplifiers is their size and volume level. Obviously, you probably don’t want a huge stack of amps if you’re only ever going to use it in a studio or bedroom. Meanwhile, you wouldn’t purchase a pocket-sized practice amp for use on an arena stage! Let’s take a look at the different styles and sizes of guitar amps.
For a beginner or hobby guitarist, the bedroom amp is a commonplace to start. For the best practice amp, you want something that won’t blow the ceiling off your bedroom when you plug in your eclectic guitar. These amps are small, low-powered, and often relatively cheap. They will come with basic functionality such as a simple volume, distortion, or reverb setting. Other than that, you will be quite limited in your options on a budget amp. For this reason, many people like to keep their bedroom amp simple, as a good way to test their pedals and effects.
Bigger and Stage Amps
If you plan on doing some full-band rehearsals or even playing some shows, you’ll need something a little more powerful than a standard bedroom practice amp. Stepping up in power to 40+ watts, you’ll have a speaker that’s powerful enough to be heard above the noise of drums or other instruments.
These amps will also likely come with more advanced functions. You may have two channels, clean and distorted. Or, you might find more detailed EQ and reverb settings. Some will come with channel-changing pedals to allow you to cycle through the in-built channels and effects. All in all, you’ll be spending more money but be getting a more powerful package.
Combos vs Cabs
When you reach this level of playing or performance, the options diversify even more. You can decide between combos - amps with built-in controls and speakers - or separate cabs and heads. The head is the part that holds the power, the controls, and the inputs. The cabinet is simply a speaker in a box.
The benefit of combos is they are often smaller, lighter, and easier to transport. However, with a cab and head, you get greater flexibility in speaker size and power. You could buy your own head and use it through various speakers for different-sized events. This is ideal for a touring guitarist or someone who wishes to try different things at different times.
There is another type of amp not mentioned yet - digital amps. These have all the power of a regular amp and then more. They’ll come in at a higher price point, but give you all the flexibility you could ever need from an amp.
Digital profiling amps, like the Kemper range, have an inbuilt store of amp profiles. That means amp sounds that are literally recorded from real-life speakers and amps. This makes the output sound just as realistic as playing through a real amp. They also have inbuilt effects functions and far more diversity than a regular amp. The only real difference is that they play straight into a PA system or computer, rather than through your own speaker on stage.
Digital amps are great as they offer the ultimate flexibility when it comes to touring, writing, recording, or rehearsing. In your bedroom, you can simply plug in headphones and listen to the various sounds included in your amp. On stage, you can cycle through a world of sounds to play different styles for different songs. Though they are expensive, they are every guitar player's dream accessory.
So, the cheaper and smaller amps will often come with less flexibility and less power. However, these can be more than enough for a hobbyist or bedroom guitarist. Once you move into the world of production, recording, or touring, the choice is yours whether you go for combos, stacks, or even digital profilers.