What Size Amp Do I Need?

If you’re interested in learning to play the electric guitar, you’ll find that there’s a lot to consider. For most people, it’s a bit overwhelming at first. Once you’ve decided which electric guitar you’re going to purchase and use to learn to play, you also need to decide which amplifier, or amp, you’re going to get. While it may not seem as exciting or important as the guitar itself, the amp you choose is important. Purchasing an amplifier for your guitar is an important decision because your amp will determine a lot about the sound you’re going to be able to produce. With all that in mind, we thought it’d be helpful to run through some of the basics of choosing an amp to use as you learn and play the electric guitar.

Amp Differences

Often, when people decide that they want to learn to play the electric guitar, they’ll purchase a beginner or starter guitar kit. These kits typically include a basic, straightforward electric guitar, a cord, and a small amp. When you’re just starting to learn to play, the amps that come with these kits are probably of sufficient enough quality to meet your needs. However, after you’ve been learning, practicing, and playing for a while, it might be a good idea for you to consider upgrading from that starter amp so something that’s higher quality.

Once you’ve decided it’s the right time to upgrade, you have to decide which amp is best for you. There are several things to take into consideration before making this decision. Are you interested in playing in a band? If so, you’ll want an amp with the power to compete with the other instruments in the group. If you’ve gotten good enough that you’re ready to start playing shows, you’ll want an amp that’s both portable and high quality. You may also be considering buying multiple amps for different situations. Many electric guitar players use practice amps, which are portable and produce a good quality sound when played at lower volumes.

Finally, if you’re interested in recording your music in a studio, you’ll want a small, low-wattage amp. If you think any or all of the aforementioned situations apply to you, you should know that it’s highly unlikely that you’ll find a single amp which can accomplish all of those goals well. So, if you are interested in different amps for different situations, you should understand the differences between the different types.

Tube Amp vs. Solid-State Amps

There are two main kinds of electric guitar amplifiers: tube amps and solid-state amps. Tube amps are based on the same technology as (outdated) tube televisions. They work by using vacuum tubes to increase the amplitude (or power) of a signal. While tube amplifiers are expensive to maintain, heavier, and hotter than solid-state amps, many enthusiasts prefer them, believing them to produce a warmer sound. If you’re a beginner, this probably won’t be your greatest concern.


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Solid-state amplifiers, or transistor amps, came to prominence in the 1970’s. Solid-state amps are less expensive to maintain, lighter, cooler, and more reliable than tube amps. They vary widely in power, functionality, size, price, and sound quality. Additionally, there are hybrid amplifiers that combine solid-state and tube technology to try to combine the strengths of both. At the end of the day, you’d most likely be served best if you go for a solid-state amp because of the lower cost.

Combo Amp or Head and Cabinet?

If you are planning to play the electric guitar professionally, you may be considering whether you need a combo amplifier or a head and cabinet. The truth is that, for most electric guitar players, combo amps are not only sufficient; they’re preferable. Head amps and cabinets are only necessary if you’re playing a large auditorium or large open area. Even if you’ve reached the level of mastery where you feel comfortable performing live, there are combo amps available that are capable of delivering the power you need.

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Modeling Amplifier

In addition to tube amps and solid-state amps, there are modeling amps. Modeling amps are digital amplifiers. They use digital processors to simulate or emulate the sound of other kinds of amps. Modeling amps can offer the best of all words because they allow you to produce a much wider range of sounds than you’d be able to using a traditional tube amp or solid-state amp. Modeling amps are able to emulate the sound of tube amps, producing that warmer tone without all the hassle, and they are as reliable as solid-state amps. This wide range of sounds make modeling amps a great option to use as practice amps as well as studio recording amps. Modeling amps are programmable, and often have digital effects such as delay, chorus, reverb built in.

Does Speaker Size or Power Matter?

When you’re choosing a new amplifier, you’ll definitely want to take both size and power into account. If you’re looking for an amp to practice with, you’ll want to get a smaller amp (8-10”) that’s low power (10-30 watts). Speakers of this size enable you to produce a higher frequency than you’d be able to with larger sizes. If you’re looking for an amp to perform live with, you should consider a larger amp (12-15”) that is 50 watts. If you’re planning to play in large venues, you can go for a higher power amp that’s at least 100 watts.


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Other Considerations

In addition to considering an amp’s wattage and speaker size, you should look for amps that are solidly constructed. Combo amps, which contain the amplifier and the speaker, are often housed in what are known as cabinets. These cabinets are generally made of wood. Cheaper quality amps are made with thinner wood that is likely to vibrate itself loose over time. When this happens, it adversely affects the quality of the sound you produce. Try to find an amp with a cabinet that uses ½” thick wood. Amps also have closed or open backs. What you choose here depends upon the sound you’re trying to produce, but it’s good to know that closed-back amps produce a better bass response.

Talk to Your Music Teacher

There is a lot to know when it comes to choosing an amp for your electric guitar. If you’re just starting out, you may be comfortable with a lower-end starter guitar amp. Once you decide to upgrade, remember to take the type of amplifier, the size, the power, and the construction into consideration. Finally, before making a purchase, consult with your music teacher or an experienced electric guitar

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1 Comment
  1. I’ve never really found that a head-and-cabinet setup was every needed. I learn much more towards a 2×12 Marshall combo amp – which provides as much power as one would ever need – from bedroom to rehearsal space to club. I don’t think anyone would need a head-and-cabinet until they graduate past the club phase. Whether that combo amp is tube or solid state I prefer tube but wouldn’t put it past a combo amp if I had to.

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