Guitar amps come in all shapes and sizes, and choosing the right one for you has a lot to do with your particular playing situation and budget.
Guitarists that play electric guitar must have an amplifier to be heard. Acoustic guitars with built in pickup systems have the capability to be connected to an amp if desired.
Here are some things to consider when deciding on what type of amp to purchase.
If you are just starting out on electric guitar, and will only be playing at home, then a small practice amp will suffice. These are usually "no frills" amps but many will have channel switching capabilities that allow you to switch between a clean channel and a distortion channel. Many of these amps have a headphone jack so that you can practice without waking up the rest of the house.
These amps are usually inexpensive, in the under $100 range, and don't take up a lot of space.
Solid State Amps
Solid state amps have been around for a long time and are a good fit for a guitarist on a budget. They range in size from small practice amps to larger 2-12 (2-12" speakers) combos, stacks and 1/2 stacks. Most come with some sort of channel switching between clean and distortion channels.
Many solid state amps have good quality sound, and some models are powerful enough to play with a band on stage. Quite a few are made with built-in effects processors as well.
These are solid state amps with built in processors that "model" various amps and tones. They have become extremely popular because they offer a guitarist a wide array of tones and sounds. Some of these offer models of Fender amps, Marshall amps, Vox amps and more. There are usually numerous amp combinations to choose from, as well as multiple effects processors, to dial in virtually and sound desired.
Modeling amps range in size and price from small, play at home units, to larger, more powerful units capable of playing gigs with.
Tube amps are the amp of choice for pro players due to their warmer tones and natural distortions. They can be found in smaller models that produce 15 watts of power, and larger ones that produce up to 100 watts or more.
Tube amps are generally more expensive than solid state amps and require a little more maintenance. Tubes must be replaced on a regular basis as old ones wear out.
These amps can be defined in one of two categories.
Amps that are known for their "clean" tones fall into the family of amps that use 6L6 power tubes closely related to the "Fender" sound.
Amps that are known for their "distortion" tones fall into the family of amps that use EL84 power tubes are closely related to the "Marshall" sound.
Every guitar player has their own preference in tone so if you are looking at tube amps, it may be best to try out a few before making the investment.
Acoustic Guitar Amps
Some acoustic guitarists, that have pickups built into their guitar, prefer to use a guitar amp when playing on stage. Others prefer to plug straight into the mixer and let the PA do the work.
Acoustic guitar amps come in solid state models and tube models. The solid state amps are more prevalent and seem to be more popular.
Many solid state models will have built-in effects so that the guitarist can dial in choruses, delays and reverbs, to the desired tone.
Generally speaking, an acoustic guitar amp with a 15" speaker tends to re-produce the acoustic sound most effectively.
These amps can range in price from modest to expensive.
Obviously there are a number of factors involved in choosing a guitar amp. Your needs may be different if you are playing at home in a practice room, than they are if you are playing on stage. Since an amp can be a pricey investment it might be wise to think ahead a couple of years and spend a little more money on an amp you can grow into, rather than trading up every six months.
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Guitar effects pedals are units that are designed to produce various sounds and tones by altering the original guitar sound.
They come in many shapes and sizes and vary from, stand alone analog "stomp boxes", to complex digital units with numerous built-in multiple effects.
Most guitar effects pedals are built with a foot switch so they can be activated when placed on a floor or stage.
They are accessed by plugging the guitar directly into them and then routed to the guitar amp, or can also be routed through the effects loop of an amplifier.
Effects pedals are designed to produce many various sounds and tones on the guitar. Here are a few of the more common ones.
Distortion is an "over driven" sound that is created on a guitar amp by pushing the guitar channel to its fullest while adjusting the volume with a master volume control.
A distortion pedal produces the same effect in a pedal unit and is adjustable. Distortion is used extensively in rock, heavy rock, metal and some blues music.
There are many different types of distortion pedals available including overdrive, tube, fuzz and high gain pedals.
Chorus is a "modulating" effect that produces a "sweeping" sound. It adds a shimmering effect to the guitar tone and is used extensively in many genres of music.
A variation of a chorus sound is a flanger. The flanger is a more of a "swooshing" sound and, although popular, is not used as widely as a chorus.
A delay pedal produces an echo or slap back effect. Delay is in the same family as reverb, but is actually a "shortened" reverb.
The delay effect is changed by adjusting the delay "time" and "repeats" to produce the desired "slap back".
The wah pedal produces an adjustable "crying" sound. The pedal is essentially a "tone" potentiometer with a foot control. The original wah pedals were made famous by guitarists like Jimi Hendrix and went on to become a staple of disco music. They have since had a re-surgence and are still popular today.
A variation of the wah pedal is the "envelope filter", also known as an auto-wah. This pedal produces the wah effect automatically each time a note is picked and varies the amount of wah according to the attack of the note.
Compression acts to smooth the sound of the guitar by putting a "ceiling" on the transient peaks that a guitar normally produces. The "ceiling" is adjustable and many compressor pedals include a "noise gate" which filters out extraneous noise guitars can produce.
Compression pedals are very effective on guitars with single coil pickups, like Strats, for smoothing sound and boosting signals.
An octave pedal or "octave divider", takes an original signal and reproduces an octave of that note, which plays simultaneously with the original note.
The octave note can be set to be an octave higher than the original note, or an octave lower.
This is a neat effect when used sparingly, but not something you would use on every song.
Pitch Shifters can reproduce at note, in addition to the original note, that is at a variable pitch in relation to the original. It is used primarily to produce the sound of two guitars playing in harmony with each other.
These units can be set to the key the song is being played in and adjusted to produce various intervals of the original note such as 3rd's, 5th's, 7th's etc.
A talk box produces a sound that is similar to the human voice. The guitarist holds a tube in their mouth and talks, which shapes the sound through air that is pushed from an amp speaker when the unit is connected through the output of the amp.
Although the talk box has been around since the 1940's, it really came into popularity with Peter Frampton in the '70's. It can be heard on songs like "Show Me the Way" and Joe Walsh's "Rocky Mountain Way".
Multi Effects Pedals
There are many effects pedals on the market that contain a combination of various guitar effects all in one unit. These are popular because they can be space saving and money saving as well.
With single effect pedals starting in the $20 range and up, the investment in a number of these pedals can be substantial, making the multi effects pedal attractive.
(Editors Note: This is not a product endorsement - but after spending a small fortune on effects pedals for nearly 30 years, I finally discovered the Boss ME-50 multi-effects pedal and I love it! It has great distortions, delays, choruses, modulators, a tuner and, best of all, it's easy to use. Highly recommended for "old school" players)
Choosing Effects Pedals
With the vast number of stomp boxes, multi effect and rack mount units available, it can be difficult, and costly, to experiment.
If you are early in the guitar playing process and don't want to break the bank, a recommendation would be to go with a good distortion pedal and maybe a chorus pedal as well. These are two pedals that will have many applications and get a lot of use.
Other effects such as Wah, Flange, Delay, Pitch Shifting, Talk Boxes etc. are "icing on the cake" effects that will only be needed occasionally. You may consider adding some of these later.
Either way, please keep in mind that effects pedals are meant to "enhance" your guitar playing, they are not something your guitar playing should "rely" on.
By coloring the sound, effects pedals have a way of "covering" mistakes and many new players end up using effects pedals as a crutch, rather than a tool.
The key is to use them sparingly and focus first and foremost on learning how to "play" the guitar.
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If you drive a car, you probably have a little emergency road kit in the trunk. Maybe a set of jumper cables, some road flares, flashlight, a few tools and a first aid kit. If you don't it might be a good idea to put one together!
As a guitarist you obviously have a guitar. If you play electric guitar, then hopefully you have an amp as well!
But beyond the essentials here are some things you may consider putting into a guitar players "Survival Kit". These are things that will come in handy if you are out playing gigs, going to a band rehearsal, or just popping over to a friends house to jam a little.
The only thing worse than breaking a string on the gig or at rehearsal is realizing you don't have a replacement. I always carry a complete set of new strings and also a couple of spare 1st and 2nd strings. That way I don't have to split up the pack just for an E or B string.
Obviously wire cutters come in handy for trimming the excess off a new string. But they also are useful for those little pieces of broken strings that always get hung up in the bridge or wrapped around a tuner. I like a small pair of wire cutters that can get into tight places.
If you have ever broken a string on stage in the middle of a set and didn't have a backup guitar, you know how fast you need to do a string change. Having a string winder handy will speed up this job considerably.
If you play guitar, you gotta have picks. Don't rely on your band mate having a spare that you can borrow. Have plenty of extras in various sizes so you will be ready for anything. Picks are cheap so stock up!
If you play electric guitar, or an acoustic electric, you are probably using guitar cables. Always try to have a spare or two with you. Not only for when one of yours breaks, but also if one of your band mates needs one and wasn't as smart as you to bring a spare! It's also not a bad idea to have a spare low impedance mic cable. There are many times you may need one.
You just never know when a screwdriver will come in handy. From making bridge adjustments, tightening a tuner on the headstock, removing a back plate, opening a pedal....there are a million things that you may need a screwdriver for. You can't, of course, carry a big tool box full - but a small "jewelers" screwdriver set will take you a long way. And they're cheap.
If you play electric guitar through a tube amp, you have probably experienced that scratchy sounding loss of power that indicates a tube going out on you. If you're like me, this only happens in the middle of an important gig. Never at home, never at rehearsal! Carry one or two spare pre-amp tubes, if nothing else. Those are usually the ones to go first.
A guitar polish cloth or small towel is great to have to clean your guitar. But it also is good to have to wipe the gunk and build-up off the guitar neck while playing a gig. Especially outdoor gigs in the hot summer when you're pouring sweat. It's also good to have an emergency cloth or towel when someone spills a drink on your amp!
Always have your tuner handy. Don't rely on the other guy or girl to have one, his (or hers) may not even work! Tuners are small and inexpensive so have one in your kit at all times.
Guitar tuners and effects pedals tend to chew up batteries pretty quickly. Always have a couple of 9 volt and AA batteries close by. You never know when you or a band mate will need one in a pinch.
A direct box is used to convert a high impedance signal to a low impedance signal that can then be fed into the PA system. If you play an acoustic electric this is a must have item. Even if you play an electric you may need one to feed a signal to the PA if a mic is not available or if your amp goes down and you have to plug straight into the board to get through a gig. They can be purchased for $20 to $30 and you should always have one nearby.
This short list of items to keep in your "Survival Kit" should get you through most gig or rehearsal emergencies. Of course your particular situation may require the addition of other "must have" items. The point is, to be well prepared for anything that may arise, so that you can keep your focus on the important stuff - playing music!
Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions!