Amplifiers Buying Guide

Buying your first amplifier?

An amplifier takes the electrical signal from a guitar, bass or keyboard and boosts the signal so it can be heard through loudspeakers. Amplifiers are usually housed in wooden cabinets and come in many varieties.

Some amplifiers have speakers built into the same cabinet, referred to as Combination Amplifiers or ‘Combo’s’. When separate they are referred to as ‘heads’ (the amplifier) and ‘cabs’ (the speaker cabinet), simply connected by a speaker cable. This gives you the option to achieve different sounds by using different head and cab combinations, even connecting multiple cabs to one head for an even bigger sound!

There are amplifiers specifically designed for most instruments, i.e. electric guitar amps for electric guitars, acoustic amps for electro-acoustic guitars, bass amps for bass guitars and keyboard amps for keyboards and synths. All amplifiers are connected to the instrument by an instrument cable, allowing the electrical signal to travel to the amplifier and be converted to audio.

Many guitar amps have a couple of different ‘channels’, typically one for clean tones and another for dirtier distorted tones. Most have a fully functioning EQ section, with a lot of amps featuring onboard reverbs and delays, with some also having footswitch inputs to control channels and built in effects.

These days there are many different types of amp available:

Tube amps

These are the original amps and use vacuum tubes (sometimes referred to as valves) to boost the volume. They are often described as ‘warm’ or having a ‘fat’ tone and are generally louder than other amps.

There are many different types of tube available and different amps will be built to accommodate the various types, with each having their own characteristics and sound. Out of the vast array of tubes available, most readily available amps are built to accommodate either 6L6, 6V6, EL34, EL84 and KT88 tubes, with smaller 12AX7’s commonly being used in the preamp section. Pushing the amp harder with higher volume will cause tubes to naturally break up and distort the sound, a sound highly sought after by guitarists and a good reason why a lot of musicians still stand by tube amps today compared to modern tubeless alternatives.

Solid State amps

Also known as analogue amps, these amps use transistors in the creation of the sound. Due to the lack of tubes and the required electronic components to accommodate them, solid state amps tend to be more durable and typically a lot lighter in weight, making them more affordable too. However, in terms of difference in sound, solid state amps will generally have a lot more ‘headroom’ – meaning that the amp sound will remain clean at much higher volume than a tube amp would, where the tubes will begin to naturally distort once you hit a certain level.

Modelling amps

These are sometimes called ‘digital’ amps. They use sophisticated software to ‘mathematically model’ the sound of amps, being able to convincingly replicate the sounds from both tube and solid-state amps alike. They can also house a lot of onboard effects because they are at their heart a computer, basically allowing you to consolidate the tones you would usually need multiple amps and an array of pedals, cabs and everything that goes with it into one convenient box.

Hailed by touring musicians around the globe due to the convenience and significant reduction in gear required, modelling amps have been progressively getting more and more advanced over the past couple of decades, with many being indistinguishable from the real tube amp and pedal combinations they are replicating.


As the name suggests these amps combine solid state and/or modeling amp technology with vacuum tubes in an attempt to reap the benefits of each kind. This could consist of a tube pre-amp section driving a modelling amp eq section then being powered by solid state technology. Whilst most guitarists will have a preference of using all tube, modelling or solid state as a dedicated amp rather than a combination there are some musicians out there that enjoy the benefits of a hybrid amp, however they are not so common in comparison to the three previously mentioned amp types.

Bass amps

Because the Bass guitar produces much lower tones than a regular guitar, they require specific amplifiers and speakers that can handle low frequencies well and produce plenty of volume without distorting the sound. You will find them in all varieties of the four types mentioned above, with the same arguments and pros and cons being applied to each.

Playing a bass guitar through a regular guitar amp is not recommended and can permanently damage the speaker cones, however it is possible to run a bass into a guitar head plugged into a bass speaker cabinet to experiment with more distorted sounds from tube breakup, a technique sometimes used in recording studios. Playing live this method would not be recommended, purely due to the wattage of guitar heads (typically 100w) not packing enough for the bass to carry through the mix as a bass amp can usually be anywhere between 200 to 1000 watts!

Keyboard Amps

These are amps specifically made to allow the keyboards voice to shine through, rather than the voice of the amp. They usually have 3 or 4 different channels to allow different keyboards to be played at the same time, some also being able to accommodate other instruments where you would want the natural sound of the instrument to be amplified. As keyboards rely on a clean tone that doesn’t break up with high volume, keyboard amps will typically be solid-state for maximum headroom.

Electronic Drum amps

Specially designed to replicate the sound of a real drum kit, electronic drum amps are ideal for practicing with your electronic drum kit at home or at rehearsal. Providing a clean, clear stereo image with low-frequency coverage gets you as close to a real drum sound as possible. It is also possible to use small, full range PA Speakers instead, however this may require dialing in the EQ to achieve a drum sound similar to that of a dedicated drum monitor.

Need more assistance to find the right amp for you? Email us at [email protected] with any queries and we happily use our expert knowledge to assist you with your buying journey.

New to amplifiers? Simple answers to important questions.

Frequently asked questions about Amplifiers

Can electric guitar be played without amplifier?

Yes, it can! However, you will just get the natural acoustic resonance of the instrument vibration rather than the sound from the pickups.

Do you need an amplifier for an electric guitar?

No, it is not essential although you will sound your best plugged into an amplifier.

Can bass guitar be played without amplifier

Yes, but much like a guitar you will just get the natural sound of the strings.

Can you amplify an acoustic guitar?

Yes, by installing a pickup you will then be able to amplify your acoustic guitar much like an electric guitar.

What is the best amplifier for electric guitar?

In short, the one that you enjoy playing most! Depending on the style of music you want to play there will be certain amplifiers tailored to that sound.

What is the best amplifier for acoustic guitar?

Like with electric guitars there are many options. Decide what features you desire and go from there!

How much is an amplifier for an electric guitar?

You can pay anywhere from £10 to £10,000 for an amplifier! However, you can get brilliant beginner amplifiers for around the £100 mark, generally getting more expensive with more features, higher wattage, bigger speakers etc.

How to build an electric guitar amplifier?

We would not recommend building your own amplifier unless you are a qualified electrician! Amplifiers can carry very large electrical currents that could potentially kill in inexperienced hands.

How to set up an electric guitar amplifier?

Simply plug your amplifier into a tested wall socket, plug your guitar into the amplifier input using a guitar jack cable, switch it on and away you go! Be careful to start with volume at the very bottom and build it up so you don’t give yourself and your neighbors a fright.

How to set up/use/connect to an acoustic guitar amplifier?

Much the same as an electric guitar amplifier, acoustic guitar amplifiers simply require you to plug in, turn on, and adjust the amp setting as desired.

How to connect an acoustic or semi acoustic guitar to an amplifier/How to amplify acoustic guitar?

First off, you need to make sure your acoustic guitar has the capability to play through an amplifier - whether it be an electro-acoustic guitar with an in-built pickup and preamp system or an aftermarket pickup you have mounted yourself. Both of these options should leave you with an input jack on the guitar itself. Simply find it, plug in your instrument cable to the guitar and amp and away you go.

How to amplify acoustic guitar without amplifier?

Unfortunately to amplify anything you will require an amplifier, although acoustic guitars are naturally very loud so not always required. Another option is to play into a microphone mounted directly in front of your guitar, sending the picked-up guitar sound through the PA monitors.

How does an acoustic guitar amplify sound?

The natural resonant properties of the woods used and the hollow-body construction of acoustic guitars is what naturally amplifies the string vibrations, being directed from the sound hole usually found behind the strings on the body.

How to use effects loop on guitar amplifier?

The effects loop on an amplifier allows you to place pedals after the pre-amp stage in the amplifier. This is useful for modulation and time-based pedals such as delays and reverbs and they generally sound better after an amps distortion, going direct to the clean power amp.

How to use your computer as a guitar amplifier?

To use your computer as a guitar amplifier you will first need to install suitable software – plugins to replicate amplifiers and pedals and a recording DAW to host the plugins. You will then need a recording interface to get the signal from your guitar into the computer, and finally studio monitors or headphones to be able to hear your playing.

How does a guitar amplifier work?

A guitar amplifier takes the electrical signal from your guitar and converts it into audio

Can bass guitar be played without amplifier

Yes, but much like a guitar you will just get the natural sound of the strings.

How to choose a guitar amplifier for beginners/What guitar amplifier should I buy?

There are many amplifiers tailored to the beginner, depending on what you want to achieve. Small 10-watt amplifiers are perfect for practicing at home and a great way to try out different sounds as many will have built in distortions and effects.

How to clean Tolex on a guitar amplifier?

Depending on how dirty it is will depend on what level of cleaning you need to apply. A microfiber cloth and some spray polish will get your amp looking nice and shiny again, however if the dirt is really set in giving it a scrub with a soft to medium bristled brush and some warm soapy water (be careful NOT to get this in any of the electronics) before wiping down with a cloth should be enough to make it nice and clean again.

Who invented the guitar amplifier and when was the first guitar amplifier made?

The first amplifiers began appearing in the early 1920’s, some of which would be repurposed to amplify musical instruments although not having any form of adjustable eq. Purpose built guitar amplifiers started to be built in 1932 by Electro String Instruments - setting the standard for combo amplifiers with a wooden cabinet and carrying handles.

What is a combo guitar amplifier?

A combo amplifier is when the amplifier and speaker are mounted in the same box, as opposed to being separate as an amplifier head and speaker cabinet.

What is gain in a guitar amplifier?

Amp gain sets the level at which your signal is being driven though the pre-amp section of your amplifier, naturally distorting the signal and getting more saturated the higher the gain is set.