- What are the different types of guitar amplifiers?
- How do I choose the right guitar amplifier?
- How do different guitar amps affect my tone?
- Also, learn about the differences between bass amps and guitar amps
Guitar amps play a vital role in creating a guitarist’s overall tone and character. Choosing the right guitar amp is a significant step in any guitar player’s music journey.
While many guitarists may tend to have a favorite guitar, a surprising amount overlook the value of pairing it with the appropriate amp type to get the best possible tone.
We’ve put together this brief guide to the primary guitar amp types, as well as discuss their respective advantages and disadvantages.
We’ve also included some pointers at the bottom to help you select the right guitar amp.
What Are The Different Types Of Guitar Amps?
There are four primary amplifier types on the current market. Each amp type naturally comes with its pros and cons.
Some of these amps may be classified under different names or have certain modern modifications.
However, for the most part, the four primary amp types are:
- Tube Amps
- Solid State Amps
- Modeling Amps
- Hybrid Amplifiers
1. Tube Amps
Tube amplifiers were the first amps used commercially by electric guitar players.
Tube amps, also known as Valve amps, are named after the glass vacuum tubes used to power them. Tube amps are widely recognized for their warm tone and dynamic response.
The more intensely you strum or pick your guitar through a tube amp, the more distorted and intense the signal will become.
Tube amps are widely considered by purists as the most desirable amp type, particularly for their drive tones.
However, tube amps can be very high maintenance and are considerably more costly than other amp types.
- Tube amplifiers have a nearly unparalleled character in their tonal quality. The sound you get from these amps allows for a healthy degree of expression, even without pedals or effects.
- These amps are especially desirable for guitar players that play styles or genres that require distortion, as the amps can distort your signal progressively as you play harder.
- After long or frequent use, the sound quality of most tube amps will start to degrade. Tubes will have to be replaced over time, and this can make tube amps.
- Certain tube amps must be turned quite loud to achieve their optimum tone. This factor can make it tricky to practice or play comfortably in more intimate settings. Thankfully, there are certain low-wattage tube amps available on the current market, and some amps can be modified with a power attenuator to help aid this issue.
- Tube amps are considerably heavier than other amplifiers, adding stress to touring or travel plans.
2. Solid-State Amps
Solid-state amps were introduced to the commercial guitar market as a means of reducing manufacturing and maintenance costs.
The primary way that they achieved this is by replacing the traditional vacuum tube with a transistor.
Transistors are much cheaper to mass produce than vacuum tubes and don’t degenerate over time.
Solid-state amps are also considerably lighter than tube amps, which makes them a more convenient choice for touring or travel.
While solid-state amps may be cost-effective, they don’t possess the dynamic response that comes with traditional tube amps.
Solid-state amps also have a much less reactive distortion than tube amps, and as such, they’re less likely to be used for heavier tones.
However, solid-state amps generally come with a very reliable clean tone, which makes them ideal for softer styles like jazz or neo-soul.
If you want to dig deeper into the tech, we recommend reading up on tube vs solid state preamps.
- Solid-state amps tend to last much longer than tube amplifiers, even after frequent use. These amps also generally require less maintenance and servicing, thanks to their cost-effective transistors.
- Many solid-state amps can achieve a reliable tone, even at lower volumes. This factor makes them a great choice for playing or recording in smaller spaces. Their clean tone can also make a great canvas for building effects with guitar pedal boards.
- Solid-state amps weigh considerably less than tube amps, which makes them ideal for touring and travel.
- Solid-state amps can sound quite dull or sterile to guitar players used to traditional tube amplification.
- Most solid-state amps have been replaced by modeling amps, as the latter offers the same sound quality with added enhancements and tone variability.
3. Modeling Amps
Modeling amps are essentially enhanced solid-state amps.
These amps use the same transistors as solid state amps to produce sound but can also use digital technology to emulate various guitar amp tones.
This system allows guitar players much more tonal flexibility without breaking the bank on guitar gear. Modeling amps often come with hundreds of presets, effects, and amp models for users to utilize.
Modeling amps were initially met with heavy criticism upon their introduction. Many purists argued that these amps would never achieve the tonal quality of their valve predecessors.
However, as technology progressed, modeling amps have improved substantially, and most untrained ears can’t tell the difference between tube and digital amps in blind tests.
- Modeling amps allow players an incredible amount of access to tonal options without having to invest in extensive gear and effects units.
- Like solid-state amps, modeling amps are considerably lighter in weight than tube amps, which makes them a great choice for touring and travel.
- Modeling amps are generally cheaper than solid-state amps and around the same price range as most solid-state amps.
- Modeling amps aren’t as easy to repair as solid-state amps, which may cause some inconvenience to certain guitar players that need a quick fix.
- Modeling amps are constantly improving, so there may be a requirement to constantly buy the latest modeling amps to achieve the best possible tone, which isn’t budget-friendly.
4. Hybrid Amps
As the name suggests, hybrid amplifiers are quite a unique style of an amp.
Hybrid amplifiers use a combination of traditional and modern elements to offer guitarists the best parts of each amp style in a single unit.
Like modeling and solid-state amps, hybrid amps can come with a healthy list of presets, effects, and tone options.
Sadly, the common opinion surrounding hybrid amps is that they compromise quality for versatility.
Combining both tube and solid state technology in a single amplifier can make it quite tough to produce a high-quality amp.
Even in the modern age, most guitarists opt for tube or solid-state amplification exclusively.
However, it should be noted that hybrid amps are a relatively young innovation, and much like modeling amps, they should improve exponentially with time and development.
- Hybrid amps offer a wide span of tonal options to guitar players, as well as useful additional features like saveable user presets.
- Like solid-state amplifiers and modeling amps, hybrid amps are lighter in weight than traditional tube amplifiers. However, they will be slightly heavier due to the inclusion of smaller tube setups within the design.
- While they may not be the best sounding amps on the current market, future hybrid amps may be more commonly used with some development.
- Fans of tube amplification will stay far away from hybrid amps, as traditional tube models far outperform the modern variations. If anything, the tubes in current amps may serve no greater purpose than simple novelty.
- Because they still use valve technology in their design, current hybrid amps will need extra attention and more frequent servicing than solid-state or modeling amplifiers.
How To Choose The Right Guitar Amp
Deciding among the four types of amplifiers can be tricky if you’re unsure what your requirements or preferences are for playing.
Each amp type understandably has its benefits and disadvantages, tonally and practically.
Below is a list of factors you could take into consideration when trying to decide which guitar amp type is best suited to your needs:
- Size and Weight – It’s important to consider where and how frequently you’ll be using your guitar amp, as this will help you decide on an appropriate amp size. For instance, it makes no sense to buy a large and heavy amplifier if you plan to play exclusively in small spaces or go on a long road tour.
- Wattage and Power – Much like size and weight, you’ll need to determine how powerful an amp you need for the spaces you most play in. Tube amplifiers may not be the best option for most touring musicians, but are perfect for recording in a studio or other isolated spaces.
- Usage and Durability – It’s always healthy for guitar players to understand how they intend to use their amp to achieve their tone. If you’re satisfied with the warmth and character of your tone through your pedal board, a tube amp may be redundant. However, if you don’t use many pedals and express more through technique than tone, tube amplification will aid your performance.
- Brand – While many may argue that branding isn’t always a sign of quality, this isn’t always the case with guitar amps. Certain companies like Vox, Fender, and Line 6 all produce various amp types and models that are – if anything -reliable. Be wary of trying to save some costs by investing in cheaper name-brand products, as they will most likely break down over time.
- Pairing – Guitar/amp pairing is an often overlooked factor when choosing amps. Many seasoned guitarists understand that certain guitars pair well with specific amps and amp types. Solid-body guitars are generally the best for tube amplification, as hollow-body guitars tend to generate too much feedback and can be overly volatile. Conversely, semi and hollow-body guitars sound great over solid-state amps, particularly for anyone that requires a good quality clean tone.
Understanding the fundamentals of each respective guitar amp gives guitarists a healthy amount of useful insight when building their ideal tone.
Ultimately, each guitar amp type caters to different player preferences and circumstances, so it’s important to understand how the factors apply to you when choosing the right amp.
Many purists may argue that there is no better option than a tube amplification for their tone.
However, for many guitarists, the tone isn’t always their top priority, and they can find ways to achieve a reliable sound without relying on an amp.
Finally, it’s always a smart idea to test an amplifier in real life before settling on a purchase.
If possible, take your electric guitar to your local dealer and try out some amps with the guidance of a reliable technician.
How Do I Choose An Amp For My Guitar?
Choosing the right amp for your electric guitar may depend on the type and model of guitar that you use.
Solid-body guitars work great through tube amplification, whereas semi-hollow and hollow-body guitars respond better through solid-state amplifiers.
What Is A Good Wattage For A Guitar Amp?
Your ideal amp wattage will depend largely on your playing circumstances.
For most players that need an amp for recording, rehearsal, or playing local venues, 60-100 watts should suffice.
Before you head off, check out our guide to the 7 Best Small Guitar Combo Amps!