Finding The Best Guitar Amp (How To Guide)
Finding the best guitar amp can be a total nightmare if you do not know what you are looking for. I have purchased guitar amps in the past that were not right for my style of playing. One in particular, I was young and didn't have a lot of cash. I play a lot of blues and softer kind of music but I was attracted to size. I bought a decently sized solid state amp for $600 because of the size of the amp and nothing more. It was a brutal decision. I had no need for an amp like that! I could have been better off getting a significantly smaller tube amp to get the tone I actually wanted. This was my first lesson in purchasing a guitar amp.
Making a mistake is a difficult thing to recover from and definitely not the cheapest hit to take. The best plan of attack when picking a guitar amp is to know what you are looking for going into it. If you are an experienced player, you probably know that, if you are a novice like I was buying my first amp, then really make sure you look into it.
This may seem really simple and obvious but I can say from experience that it is easier said than done. I mean, when I get into a guitar shop I am pretty overwhelmed with all of the options. Now that I have purchased various new and used amps I see the value in sitting down at the computer to do some research prior to going in to try out different amps.
When it comes to buying the amp I have found better deals online so my process is usually researching online, going to the guitar store to test the amp and once I find an amp that I like and I'll go home and buy it online. If I can save a few bucks here and there why not.
The Top Amps Of All Time
Electric guitar amps have only been around since the 20's & 30's. However, they sparked a catalyst of change that brought about a period of electrical revolution in music. Nowadays, it is hard to even imagine life without amplification.
Prior to electric amplification, composers and musicians would need to rely on the acoustics of their instruments and the rooms they were situated in to produce a large and epic sound. The electric guitar amp pushed musicians forward in their creative and artistic abilities. But where did it all start?
Interestingly enough, Hawaiian music was one of the first genres to fully incorporate the amplifier into the band. This occurred in the 1930's and ever since then the guitar amp has only gained in popularity.
First produced for acoustic guitars, the guitar amplifier took the market by storm in the 1940's and from then on it has been developed and innovated drastically to be very a versatile and sometimes complicated sound blaster. In the 1950-60's overdrive and distortion changed how guitarists viewed their amps and added the ability to create new types of sounds. More and more types of electronics were used in experiments to create different sounds. Due to that fact, we now have many different guitar amps offering various sound qualities and are available off the shelf.
Different Types of Guitar Amps
The first kind of amp that should be mentioned is the Tube Amp. These are the most classic and vintage sounding amps because they were the first amps around. They are also the amps we will be focusing on for this review.
In a very, very basic sense, they utilize vacuum tubes to control electricity and produce sound. Like I said, that is a very basic description of how tube amps work, but ultimately for this guide, we don't really need to go into exactly how tube amps work.
However, we will describe the sound the tube amp creates. It is known for producing a very warm tone with a touch of overdrive if the volume or level is turned up high enough. This overdrive can be applied to a clean channel so even your clean sound can have a bit touch of dirt. The sound can also be described as a "tubey", now whether or not that is just because tubes are used or not is up for debate.
The next type of amp that is largely used is a solid state amplifier. These guys were brought to fruition in the 60's and 70's along the same time as the wah pedal. They are made solely using electronic signals and because of that, they result in an extremely uninterrupted sound. These types of amps are used in a wide variety of genres and are definitely the most customizable for manufacturers. This means these amps can have a ton of effects, switches, and even amp types built right into the amp.
Solid state amps are used in a lot of hardcore rock and roll and metal genres as they allow for a better use of full on distortion. Whereas it could be argued that with tube amps the tubes produce some overdrive that changes the sound of the distortion. This is not a bad thing by any means but if you are looking to modify a pedal or something to get the exact tone you are looking for, then a tube would change the tone you built.
There are also other types of amps that are almost sub-varieties of the above two big categories. These sub-varieties would include amps like practice amps, acoustic amps and novelty amps like pocket amps. In this article, we will primarily focus on tube amps. However, we included a combo Orange amp that's sound is very similar to a tube amp. It is also small and could be perfect for a practice amp.
Top 4 Tube Amps:
The Fender Hot Rod Blues JR III is a classic guitar amp. It has a vintage tone to it that adds a nice texture to your guitar. It is moderately priced and is built fairly well. The controls on it are pretty basic but with this amp that is all you need.
Obviously, there is the standard Treble, Bass and Mid knobs to control the tone. Another standard control is the volume knob and a master knob which you can crank to get a really nice overdriven tube tone. In terms of extras, the Blues Jr includes a very nice reverb as well as a fat button that provides a signal boost and adds some qualities to the tone that fatten it out.
This is a combo amp so you the cab and the "head" are internal and enclosed in the amp body. It has a 1 x 15 50 watt speaker enclosed to give it a pretty decent loudness. It is powered by a 15-watt tube that gives it the warm tonal quality it is known for.
The DSL100 is not a combo amplifier, so this means it is just the head of the amp. You would need to purchase a separate cabinet for it to play effectively. Most higher end guitar amps and amps that provide a shit ton of power are separate head and cab amps.
Marshall is known for having awesome amp models. The DSL 100 is a more affordable head compared to the below JVM amp head. It provides a decent punch and a really nice tone. It has been thought of as the successor of the vintage Marshall amps that arguably changed electric guitar history. Those were the amps that Jimi Hendrix and other top blues and blues rock guitar players used.
It has two channels to switch between a clean channel and a dirty channel, or two dirty channels, really whatever you want to do. The second channel is known as the crunch channel as it provides a boost to the signal.
The clean tone that this amp provides is extremely nice to listen to. It is warm and has a vintage tone to it that really shines through. It is a very powerful amp so it can get really loud. The overdriven tone is crisp but still warm, and if you push it really hard it can get pretty intense.
The controls on it are more complicated than the Hot Rod but fairly easy to use once you get the handle on what everything does. There are the basic tone controls for each channel and volume/level. It has a digital reverb built into it instead of a spring reverb so you can get a solid studio quality sound.
I'll need to keep this review short for this guide since this amp is so vast. I will do a full review of it down the road but what you can expect from it is a similar tone quality to the DSL100 but maximized. It is a pretty tech based amp as far as tube amps go and that is the reason it is almost twice as expensive as the DSL100. Suffice to say it is for serious guitar players only, or for people with too much money to spend.
However, with that being said, the 205 doesn't even come close to complexity compared to its older brother the JVM410H. Compared to the 410 the 205 is a stripped down version perfect for a guitar player who doesn't want to overcomplicate things. It is a two channel amp with 3 drive options per channel. Each channel also has its own reverb so you can dial in each channel exactly the way you want.
It is a more expensive amp, but definitely worth it for the technology you get out of it. I have played one of these guys but unfortunately don't own one yet. Hopefully, one is on my horizon soon...
Orange is a cornerstone for awesome guitar amps. They are known for having some of the best quality amplifiers on the market and are sought after for their great tones. The Rockerverb 100 is no exception to that.
The head is best to be paired with an Orange cabinet, as they are really solid as well, but also fairly expensive. The head's controls are pretty simple but produce a complex sound. One unique aspect to the Orange amp is the fact they use symbols to dictate the controls. At first, it looks like the controls are labelled with Windings font but once you go through them it all makes sense.
The Rockerverb 100 amp has two channels, one for a clean tone and one for an overdriven dirty tone. It also includes a switch for controlling the output wattage to 75, 50 and 30W. This can be really useful for different jam spaces or venues so you can ensure you are getting the sound you want.
The Rockerverb is a pretty expensive amp but is definitely worth is as Orange is known for building top end amps that will last. The tone quality is superb and the controls are simple but effective. I would highly recommend this amp as well as other Orange Amps out there.
Bonus Practice/Smaller Amps
This amp is the smallest and cheapest amp in this review. Obviously, it can't really compare to the Rockerverb or the JVM205 or any of the other true tube amps out there. But it would be a solid choice for someone who wants the tonal qualities of a tube amp at a reasonable price. It is not a true tube amp but it includes a tube preamp that helps get the sound quality close.
Vox is a pretty big name in guitar amplifiers so you can trust that the quality will still be solid even at the price point it comes in at. The VT20 is a small amp which makes it perfect for practice in a bedroom but it may not be enough to play with a drummer. They make a VT40 series that would be sizable enough for a full band set up.
The VT20 is a "modelling" amp, so it models the sound off of different kinds of amps or effects. There are 11 different models built into the amp plus 13 effects and has 33 different preset options you can set for various songs or genres.
In my opinion, the Orange Crush 35RT amp is probably the closest a solid state amp could get to a tube sound. It is a cheaper Orange amp so you can get the quality you would expect from an orange amp at a lower price. The amp is pretty simple, it is 35W of power with two channels. The speaker is a 1x10 Orange Voice of the world. The controls are straight forward with a 3-band EQ, volume, gain, reverb and a built-in chromatic tuner.
Like I said, this amp would be ideal for a practice amp since it is the quality of Orange amps, built into a compact and affordable package. The tone is extremely similar to a true tube amp so you don't sacrifice too much of the sound quality going solid state. All and all, a pretty solid deal!