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Guitar Amps Buying Guide

Electric guitars, basses, even some acoustics — they become impressive instruments when teamed with an amp. Before you buy, consider your plan for using the amp. Some are more portable than others, some come with more bells and whistles (or knobs and controls), and others just straight up make it loud.

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Top 10 Things to Consider When Buying a Guitar Amp

1. Configurations Combination amps, combo for short, are self-contained units that include the amplifier and speaker together. A stack variation consists of a separate amp, or head, and a speaker cabinet. With a stack you can mix and match heads and cabinets to fine tune your sound.

2. Amplifier Types Solid-state amps use transistors for their preamp and power sections. They are the most popular choice today for their clean tone, affordability and reliability even though the sound is sometimes considered cold.

Tube amps require more maintenance as tubes wear quickly. They're also heavy but are appreciated for their rich, vintage tone.

Modeling amps, the best selling amp segment or most popular segment of the amp market, use technology to make solid state amps sound and feel like traditional tube amps and provide plenty of gain for almost any applications.

Hybrids are available, which have transistors generating power and a tube-driven preamp producing the basic tone.

3. Digitally Modeled It's possible to get the vintage sound of a tube amp without going old-school. Digital modeling amps simulate the sound through software, so you can get the sound of variety of amps all in one. They also come with built-in digital effects like tremolo, chorus, etc. and a footswitch lets you change between tones.

4. Construction The materials that make the amp can affect the quality of its sound. Since a thinner material can cause a speaker to vibrate itself loose, a thickness of at least 1/2" is recommended.

An amp with a closed back will produce a better bass response from a speaker.

5. Speaker Size Bigger doesn't always mean better. Much of your decision will be based on what type of sound you prefer. Several small speakers in a bass cabinet produce a tighter, more accurate sound, while a larger speaker is often heavy sounding. Again, it comes down to your personal taste.

6. Watts The more watts you have the more likely the amp will stay true to tone at higher volumes. Amps come with anywhere from 5 to 400 watts.

7. Equalizer (EQ) EQ settings let you emphasize or de-emphasize particular frequencies to alter the tone of your guitar. In many instances the EQ frequency settings are pre-set. Other times you have the ability to adjust the frequency, giving you greater control. Most preamps have three knobs, some have five, and others have even more.

8. Controls Look for tone controls, ones that include low, mid and high EQ, presence, gain and reverb. And make sure the controls carry a useful function and don't exist simply for show.

9. Sound Different amps have different sounds, so test-driving an amp is crucial to getting the sound you want. It's also important to consider the music genre you are likely to play. Do you have softer musical tastes or do you plan to rock out? Certain brands are often suited to one style and not so much to another.

10. Price You don't need to spend big to get a decent sound. Combination, or combo amps, tend to be cheaper when compared to stack configurations where you buy the amp and speaker cabinet components separately. So if you're just starting out, a combo amp is the cheaper and easier way to go.