Upgrade Your Sound: Guitar Combo vs. Half Stack vs. Full Stack

As a guitar player who has finally mastered the basics and is ready to experiment with their sound, investing in speakers and amplifiers is a logical next step. Some of the best guitarists prefer to keep things simple, preferring tiny combos to massive stacks, while others wouldn’t plug into anything less than a massive full stack. There are lots of things to consider when researching amps and speakers, but before we get into that let’s get some definitions out of the way. For the sake of this article, here’s what we’re referring to when we talk about combos, half stacks, and full stacks:

  • A guitar combo- anything that includes one amplifier and at least one speaker in a single housing,
  • A half stack- an amplifier head unit and a separate speaker cabinet which can hold up to four speakers,
  • A full stack- same as the half stack configuration, except it includes one more speaker cabinet

Now that we’re on the same page, let’s get into the details.

The Stack Should Match Your Needs

If you play in the band, the entire point of investing in amps and speakers is so you can get loud enough to be heard in that setting. If your band plays metal or hard rock in larger venues, your guitar needs to be heard over the heavily amplified bass and always loud drums. If it was just a matter of volume, though, the process would be easy. But what most don’t know is that guitar amps add more than just volume to your performance. From nuances in tone to guitar distortion, it’s all influenced by the amp you play through. For this reason, we suggest that guitarists try a few different stage rigs until they find the one that sounds the best. But in the meantime, these pros and cons can help.

Full Stack

In the 1960s and 70s, when house PA systems weren’t up to par with those of today, playing with a full stack was practically a necessity if you wanted to be heard. Today, not so much. With that being said, some guitarists (like those into metal and heavy rock) like a lot of stage volume. If this is what you’re looking for, investing in a full stack is a great choice. There are some definite pros to a full stack (you’ll be ready to play just about any larger venue), but the primary cons come down to cost and weight. A full stack is a serious investment and requires a lot of muscle and space to transport. Unless you’re a professional musician who is sure to play the guitar in public for years to come, we’d recommend considering a half stack or guitar combo instead.

Marshall JTM45, 1960AX, and 1960BX Tube Guitar Full Stack Standard
This full stack includes one JTM45 amp head, one 1960AX angled guitar extension cab, and one 1960BX straight guitar extension cab. Learn More




Half Stack

Most guitarists play half stacks, or at least have one or two included in their collection. Half stacks are great for beginner or intermediate musicians because they can easily be upgraded to a full stack when the time comes. Plus, they generally cost less and are much easier to transport than full stacks. The cons of half stacks are similar to those of full stacks–though they weigh less than full stacks, a 4X12 cabinet can still be difficult to move and it’s still a substantial investment. And, like a full stack, there will be times when a half stack seems too big.

This half stack includes the Randall RX Series RX120RH 120W Guitar Amp Head and the Randall RX412 Speaker Cabinet. Randall’s goal was to develop a more affordable guitar amp with the tone of much larger combo amps and stacks. Learn more.






Guitar Combos: The Perfect Combination?

A well-designed guitar combo can deliver huge sound, making it a suitable option for pretty much every musician, especially beginners or those who are just starting to experiment with augmenting the sound of their guitar. The obvious pros of a guitar combo are portability and price. With some exceptions for higher-end boutique combos, you’ll be spending much less on a combo than a half stack, and most combos come stock with onboard effects, effects loops, and EQ sections. As you may have guessed, the primary setback of guitar combos is sheer output. Most guitarists are fine playing with guitar combos, but if you want something really loud you should select either a half stack or full stack instead.

Fender Mustang I V.2 20W 1x8 Guitar Combo Amp Black
The Fender Mustang I V2 guitar combo amp adds new features to one of the best-selling amp series in the world. Get the flexibility you’ve come to expect from a Mustang. The V.2 series raises the standard for versatility and muscle. Featuring five new amp models, five new effects and intelligent pitch shifting. The series features USB connectivity and FUSE software, letting your musical creativity and imagination run wild. Learn More






Buy Amps & Speakers at Music & Arts

Guitar amps and speakers are an investment in your instrument, which is why finding affordable and high-quality options is so important. That’s why so many guitarists just like you turn to Music & Arts. With over 150 stores across 24 states and over 150,000 products on our website, you’ll find one of the largest selections of guitar amplifiers and effects at Music & Arts. If you have questions about the specifics of a particular guitar stack or amplifier, contact us and we’ll be happy to help. With one of the largest product offerings in the world, we offer guitar amps, half stacks, and combos from some of the top manufacturers in the industry, including TC Electronic, Marshall, Randall, Peavey, and Orange Amplifiers.

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