No matter what instrument you play, if it has some sort of electronics in it (i.e. pickups), you will probably need an amplifier to make its sound audible. And when you start searching for the first time, you might not know beforehand what to look for. More often than not, the very first amp we purchase sounds like crap for various reasons but we still stick to it because we do not really have choice. In order to spare you from wasting for money and ending up with something that does not work for you, I decided to give you some advice on getting your first amp. Let’s continue and list down all the things that should be considered from the very beginning.
The purpose and environment
First and foremost, you cannot start searching for the amplifier unless you have contemplated carefully, what exactly you need it for. Depending on the scenarios in which you will utilize it, you will need to have a different set of requirements. If you want it for home or solo practice, then you will be good with a smaller watt combo. But if you perform with a band and want a great rehearsal tool, you have to think twice about the wattage. The environment does also impact the outcome of the amplifier. Something that is too loud for closed doors might be inaudible outside. And we cannot blame the manufacturer for it. Think and rethink the purpose and the environment before investing in something that you will not use.
The type of the amplifier
No matter what your level of craftsmanship is, if you have spent a minute in the amp world, you would have heard the appraisal of tube amplifiers. Be it old school players or musicians from newer generations, everybody admires their tone. Valves have their own niche place and seems like it will remain so for years to come. Well, tube amplifiers have their own properties to brag about, but you have to know if you like the specifics of their sound. Yes, they are amazing, but it does not mean that solid-state or digital amplifiers are crap. They are becoming more and more popular and their quality is being improved daily. They are way more affordable and easier to maintain. In order to choose between different types of amplifier, you have to set everything else aside and just let your ears say the final word.
The wattage a.k.a. the size
I have touched up on this subject a bit already, but the wattage is so important that we have to discuss it in depth. The amount of watts in your amplifier will define the loudness of the unit to a certain extent. The more the watts, the bigger the headroom (= cleaner tones). Generally speaking, 100 watts will be perfectly enough for stage, while 30 will shatter windows in your bedroom but might be perfect for small venues. Anything less than that will work for solo practices, but do not expect much more from them. And one last thing – tube amplifiers are louder than solid-state, so keep that in mind while counting the watts.
Dedicated amps for your instruments
Let’s say you are very skilled and own keyboards, electric guitar and bass. The easiest way to go would be to have one amplifier and make it work for all of them. However, when it comes to the quality of the sound, you have to spend a bit more and purchase the amplifier that is dedicated for the specific instrument. The thing is, every amplifier is built with certain sound and instrument in mind. Bass amplifier will have accentuated low-end, keyboard amp will be focused on clean tones, while electric guitar amp will have some of both.
Additional features and precision
The ability to tweak the hell out of your sound might be the main determinant when choosing the amplifier. You will come across all the levels of precision here, from 5 knobs to 20 encoders. But the quantity is not important here. The main thing is what exactly they can modify. The most optimal setup would be to have at least a volume knob and three band EQ. But if the amp has some more gems, the number of encoders will increase accordingly.
And when it comes to additional features, here again you have to know what you are looking for. You have the option to pick out a simple combo, sophisticated three channel beast with a bunch of on-board effects, digital amp with numerous cabinet modeling and effects options, an amp with effects loop and so on. For me, it is always better to have something extra than find out that you lack something midway.
These are just some of the basic things that should be considered before searching the market for the first amplifier. Some of them might be a bit hard to figure out in the beginning, but you will get the hang of it soon enough. It might also be a process of trial and error, but if you take into consideration the advice I have given you, the chances of failure must be very low. Good luck!