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Amp Buyer's Guide

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#1 Matt B

Matt B


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Posted 17 August 2005 - 08:48 PM

This is how I'm going to do this, by Functionality and Musical Style.

Please note, all prices will be in USD, so convert accordingly.


Beginner or Bedroom Practice Amps: Any Solid State amp under 15w and $200 (new) is going to work for a beginner amp or as a bedroom amp. I personally use the Peavey Rage 158, I've had it for four years, and even after I upgrade my amp, it will serve as a practice amp.

Examples can be found here.

One of the better beginner/practice amps out there (IMO) is the Fender DEC. A great amp with plenty of great features. Great for learning, or just jamming in the bedroom. The tone is actually not bad either.

Gig Worthy Amps (on a budget): Any Tube (or Valve) amp that is at least 30 watts is going to stand you in good stead for small-medium sized gigs. I've seen guys with a 30w tube amp fill a bar. For Solid State, I would recommend going up to 50w. No matter what anyone tells you, you do NOT need a 100w stack to play in a garage band. In fact, for the average gigging musician, I would recommend a combo amp over a stack for several reasons. Reason one is mobility. Hauling a 50lbs head and a 70lbs 4x12 cab around to bars in the back of your car is gonna be annoying and painful (for your back). Reason two is price. Most heads cost only slightly less then their combo counterparts (note: most, there are exceptions) so by the time you pay for the Head and the Cab you could have bought the combo and a good cable. The last reason is set up time. You don't want to spend 25 minutes carrying in and setting up your stack amp when you could spend 5 minutes carrying in your 2x12 combo and plugging it in.

A good gig worthy amp could be gotten for $300 on ebay used. New you can expect to pay from $500 - $1000 or so for tubes. Solid States are going to run less generally.

Now, Solid State vs Tubes for gigging? It's up to you. Alot of people prefer solid state amps. Dimebag Darrel used solid states until just before he died. Don't let a pushy salesman talk you into tubes if that's not what you want...

Examples sorted by brand (you can find many of these amps on Musiciansfriend.com or on ebay.): I tried to avoid anything in excess of $1,000 (though is something was close, I probably included it)

Delta Blues 1x15 or 2x10
Classic 30, 50 or 100
Valve King 30, 50 or 100 (coming soon)
XXX 1x12
XXL 2x12 or Stack
6505 (same as 5150) 2x12 or Stack

Blues Junior
Hot Rod Deluxe/DeVille
'65 Deluxe Reverb
Anything they have made really, though some of the prices can get up there.

Check Ebay for used prices.

AVT Series - A solid amp series for gigging guitarist. It's a hybrid amp (Half tube, half solid state) and has some build in effects. The tone is not bad by any means and it would work very well for someone who needs an inexpensive amp for a band.

These are just the three most popular brands of gig worthy amps for the on-a-budget gigging musician. Try searching musiciansfriend or ebay. Go down to your local shop or guitar center and try out some stuff, see what you like. I tend to prefer Peavey's out of these amps, but some prefer Marshall, so find what YOU like before you buy.

Gig Worthy Amps (not so much on a budget): For these you are mostly gonna find amps priced between $1,000 - $2,000. These amps are generally going to be tube amps from well know companies, i.e. Peavey, Marshall, Mesa/Boogie, or Fender. I'll jump right into the examples, as I've already told you about gig-worthy amps in the above section. Just keep in mind that simply because an amp carries a $1,500 price tag doesn't mean that it is going to be 3x as good as an amp with a $500 price tag. It's all about what you need for your style and what fits your budget (we'll get to those later).


Lonestar (Classic {head or combo} and Special {combo})
F-series (30w, 50w combos, 100w head or combo)
Nomads (45w, 55w, 100w head or combo)
Rectifiers (Single, Double or Triple heads {50w, 100w, 150w} Recto-o-verb combo)
Stilleto (Duece 50/100w head, Trident 50/150w head)

Again, you can't miss, just look

DSL, TSL, JCM, JTM, Etc. Marshalls are great amps and are used by everyone and thier brother.

The Peavey's in this price range are going to be just more speakered or head versions of the ones listed above.

And once again, you can find many other brands in this price range. Just try stuff out at the store or look on Musiciansfriend or ebay for more.

High Priced, or Boutique Amps: The amps that I consider boutique amps are usually $2,000+. These are brands like Soldano, Bad Cat, Ceasar Diaz, Bogner, etc. I'm not going to list examples for these, because if you are looking are looking at a an amp in this price range, you will probably know what you want already.


In this section, I will discuss various amps associated with various musical styles. I will give examples from my own experience and will rely on others to comment on amps that I may not have experience with. I will also likely be getting more specific in this section then in the previous one. I will try to give a basic break down of the amps, or will have someone else provide a basic breakdown of the amp. keep in mind that this is a basic breakdown and that your ear will relay different information to you then mine will to me. I will also be putting in notable artists who use each amp (if any).

Rock: Now, there are a lot of different types of "Rock" music; Blues Rock, Hard Rock, Soft Rock, Classic Rock, Progressive Rock, Poly-ethnic Cajun Slamgrass (don't laugh, it exists), etc. Each of these is going to have a different sound to it. It's up to you to decide what type of sound you are going for. Okay, now on to the amps.


Lonestar: This amp is one of the most sonically versatile amps around and happens to my favorite amp in existance. It has a clean channel and reverb to rival the best tones that Fender has ever put out. It can do crunchy rythm, smooth lead, or high gain distortion easily. Put a good boost pedal in front of this and you can achieve almost any tone you want (except for really extreme metal). (ME!)

F - Series: Of this series, the F50 shines the most. It's cleans are as lush as the Lonestar, but it's overdrive can get heavier thanks to the contour control. (Can't think of any, this series is fairly new)

Rectifiers: This is generally thought of as a metal/hard rock amp, but the 6L6 tubes that come standard are equally adept at handleing lower distortion sounds. (Everyone from 3 Doors Down to Metallica to Tool to Dave Grohl to Korn, widely used amp obviously)

Nomad series: (need info, no experience) (no notables that I could find)

Mark Series: The little I know of this amp series is that it is extremely versatile. Everyone from Punk artists to Santana uses them. (anyone with experience, please feel free to make a post)


Delta Blues: This amp is L-O-U-D loud for 30w. It has a fairly sharp clean sound that doesn't appeal to everyone. It has a nice reverb on it as well. The distortion can get pretty crunchy and can do higher gain levels well. The only drawback is that the reverb isn't footswitchable. (none that I know of)

Classic series: Both the 30 and the 50 are great amps. Quite versatile and inexpensive. The 100 head isn't made anymore. (no one that I've heard of)

6505/5150 series: These amps are great for anything from rock to metal. (Eddie Van Halen, obviously)

XXX series: This series is geared more towards metal or heavier rock. The EL34 tubes provide a nice crunch tone to the distortion and the clean is suprisingly nice for something billed as a metal amp. (Josh Rand of Stone Sour)

JSX: I've never played the JSX, though it's supposed to be a sweet amp. (Joe Satriani, obviously)


Hot Rod series (Deluxe and Deville) - Great amps for the price. A really good rock tone, though if you want to get into any blistering gain, you'll need an external OD or Distortion. (lots of people here at GTU)

Blues Junior - as the name implies, it's a blues amp designed to be pushed. A 15w you can't get too many clean tones at volume out of it, but for pure tube OD, it is very sweet. (again, quite a few people here)

Any of the Fender single channel amps are going to be very nice for rock. (Derek Trucks, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Robert Randolf, Ross Childess<Collective Soul>, Chuck Berry, etc... these amps are good)


All the Laney amps are going to work for rock music, though I don't have any specific experience with them. Tony Iommi uses Laney.


JTM series - a good series for rock music, though can be hard to find at times as they are no longer made. (Clapton used a JTM 45)

JCM series (800 in particular) - A good amp for anything with distortion. (Zakk Wylde, Larry Laronde, Tom Morello)

AVT series - This amp series gets a bit of a bad rap, but for the guitarist who doesn't want to spend a ton on an amp and doesn't demand the highest quality, this is a very solid buy.

MG series - Don't, just don't.

Obviously loads of people use Marshall amps, you really can't go wrong with one (except the MG series).


SLO 100 - Absolutely killer amp. Excellent gain stage, wonderful for mild to blistering OD. (Warren Haynes uses this amp, 'nouf said.)

HR 50 - A great amp again. The gain stage is copied from the SLO 100. It is a single channel amp with a 2 channel version available in the HR 50 +.

All of Soldano's amps are going to be good (but pricey), for more specific information about them go to their web site, soldano.com.

Bad Cat:

This is a brand that intrigues me, though the nearest dealer is 10+ hours from me, so I don't have any experience. Web Site - www.badcatamps.com.

Most amps can be made to work for rock music, but if you go with one of the above mentioned amps you wont regret it and will most likely have an amp that will last you the rest of your life...


Most of the amps that I mentioned above are going to work for blues, the only exceptions would be some of the "hotter" amps such as the SLO 100, HR 50, XXX, and Rectifiers.


Again, all of the above listed amps are going to work well for metal, with the exception of the lower gain ones, i.e. Peavey Classics, the Laney VC series, Fender amps in general, and the Lonestar (though it can get pretty damn close). I will list some additions that are hard rock/metal exclusive amps.

Mesa/Boogie: Mesa Rectifiers are one of the two quintessential metal amps (the other is a JCM 800), so make sure you check them out if you are looking for a metal amp...

Stilleto Duece/Trident - Mesa's EL34 amp. This is a metal tone monster, I like it better then the rectifiers for Metal, though I find the Rectifiers to be a more rounded amp series. Play both and pick on if you are looking at a Mesa Metal amp.

Fender: Yes, Fender makes a metal amp (though I wish they hadn't.

Metalhead 550: This amp is a 500w monster. It's all solid state and it's LOUD. I do not recommend this amp unless you are playing exclusively arena shows.


Warhead - Dimebag Darrell's signature amp. It's a solid state again, and it's actually a very killer amp. Run this amp with an EMG 81/85 set and you've got yourself a very nice metal set up. Blistering amp.


I'm not real familiar with Krank, I just know that Dimebag Darrell switched to Krank right before the end of his life, so obviously they must be a pretty good metal amp.


Anything with a good clean and a nice reverb is gonna work well for Jazz. Fender Twins, a Roland Jazz Chorus, The Lonestar.


I will use the qoute feature to post information from various members. (If you want to contribute, please see the "note" at the end of this post)

My Advice:

Here are a few things that I think new players looking for their first amp get hung up on:

1. Stack vs Combo. - You DO NOT need a stack amp to play in a garage band or a bar band. The lack of mobility will be a huge factor when lugging your stuff from practice site to venue. Get a combo.

2. Tube vs Solid State. - Don't get hung up on the I NEED a tube amp thing. Tubes are great and all, but they aren't for everyone. Solid State is just as good. Play both and choose the one YOU want.

3. Gizmo's and Gadgest. - This is what happened to all those guitarist who bought Behringer V-Amps and Marshall MG's and are sorry now. Don't look at an amp just because it has lots of nice built in effects, look at an amp because it's practical and sounds good. If you want an amp with on-board effects, look at the Line 6 amps, otherwise keep your effects on the floor or in a rack.

4. Wattage This is akin to the Stack v Combo thing. You do not need 100 watts. 30-50 watts will do you just fine in almost any situation that you (the average guitarist) is going to run into. In the rare instances where you do need a louder amp then 30-50 watts, you can mic your amp and run it through the PA. That's the way loads of "rock stars" do it anyway.


Your best bet is to go to a larger music store and try out a bunch of amplifiers until you find one that does the job for you. And you may find that what you choose may or may not be one of the ones you have on your list.
My main gigging amplifier is a 1x12 30 watt all tube Marshall JTM30 combo. It is loud enough for any club gig. If I need to I can mike it or run it straight to the board with a line out. Though in most clubs I don't really even have to mike it. I paid $375 for it. And I would gladly pay the same amount for another one.
The next amplifier I may pick up is a Bad Cat Mini Cat. It is a 1x10 5 watt all tube combo. I tried one when looking for a nice archtop. And I was surprised at how well it filled up the room. I could also run it straight into my Marshall for a little extra power. A 5 watt all tube amplifier would probably not be the best choice for an all around gigging amplifier.
Although they are cool I do not recommend a half stack with a full cabinet for gigging in bars. They can get too loud. But the main thing is that they can be an ordeal to move around, especially if you are playing somewhere that does not have adequate parking.
My recommendation would be for a 1x12 or 2x12 all tube 30 to 50 watt combo. Amplifiers that size are about the most versatile amplifiers for playing situations you will most likely encounter. They can be turned down and still sound good. And they are loud enough for the largest bars. And if you ever needed to you could get an extension cabinet.

That's all folks!

note: As you can see, this is still incomplete, but I ask that you DO NOT post in this topic, infact locking it would be preferable. If you have some information, PM me and I'll edit it into this post. Lame, incomplete or otherwise bad PM's will be ignored. Make sure you are specific and complete before PMing me.

Edited by matt_theripper, 17 August 2005 - 08:57 PM.

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