Music Gear Part 2

Hey all – Hope your Thanksgiving was good and now we’re moving to the time of presents.

Last entry was about guitars and all the different options. In this entry we will discuss amplifiers.

I’m going to reduce the list to 5 types of amps. Keep in mind that used gear from Craig’s List or Ebay can be a real cost savings here.

  1. Tube amps. This is an old technology going back to the early 20th century. The idea of using vacuum tubes (also called “valves”) was the standard way of amplifying guitars. These amps are preferred by “purists” who want to chase the tones of say Hendrix, Clapton, Slash or Page. They have a thicker, “warmer” tone. Characteristics about tube amps are: a) They are more expensive than most other types of amps, b) they are heavier and c) you need less wattage. While 400 watt tube amps exist, you won’t need that much. And there is a belief that the harder you push a tube amp, the better it sounds. Stick with 25 or 50 watts. I have such an amp (50 watts) and it’s plenty loud.
  2. Solid State amps – they came on the scene more aggressively in the 80’s as a cheaper, lighter alternative to tube amps. I’ve used this type quite a bit as well. You may need to play with the signal processing to get a warm tone (think EQ). You also need more watts in a solid state amp to compete with tube amps in volume. Whereas 25 or 50 watts would be fine for tube, solid state amps will probably be around the 100 mark (unless mic’ed to the PA)
  3. Hybrid amps – these are a combination of tube and solid state amps. The tubes are typically in the “pre-amp” section.
  4. Modeling amps – this has really come on strong in the last 15 years or so. Line 6 is a leading supplier of tube amps but now everybody from Fender to Marshall has gotten into the game. Modeling amps use the circuit design of their amp to “program”, as closely as possible, known amplifier sounds, like a Marshall Plexi or a Fender Twin Reverb. Sometimes they work great, other times not – you’ll need to play with it some to determine if that’s the sound for you. The pro is you can use a lot of different sounds out of a modeling amp if you’re a top 40 or classic rock kind of guitarist or a musician who wants to play a lot of different styles. The con would be if say you were in a Van Halen tribute band and you need Eddie’s sound in particular, a modeling amp may not cut it.
  5. Profiler amps – so far only Kemper out of Germany is the only game in town for Profiling. This idea has caught on because where with modeling, sound engineers need to program the models (and thus we wait for patches with new models), profilers make digital copies of amps using the Kemper head. For example, if you have a Marshal JVC and a Fender Deluxe, you can profile each of your amps and put them in an 11 pound Kemper head, and run direct out to the PA. In fact the idea has caught on so well, many people are selling profiles of their amps. Michael Brit is a well known profiler and most profiles come at $20 a profile, which means you can build up a collection over time.

So those are the types of amps – other considerations are combo amp or use of amp and head.

Combo amps are a combination of amplifier and speaker in one cabinet. They typically do not come with wheels, but a single handle on top (think heavy suitcase kind of lifting) and one to two speakers (typically 10″ or 12″ speakers for guitars). Combo amps can be tube, solid state, modeling or hybrid.

An amp head and cabinet off more flexibility of tone. They come in two flavors: half stack (amp head + 4 speaker cabinet) and full stack (amp head + lower cab with 4 speakers and upper cab with 4 speakers). The full stack is overkill unless you are playing outdoors or some extremely loud style of metal or rock. It’s just not needed.

Something else to consider here for performance : mic’ing the amp to the PA. Consider this for combo amps at least. The guitar is a higher frequency instrument and is thus fairly uni-directional. In other words, people can hear me when they are in direct line with my amp, but if they cross the room they cannot. Putting a mic on the amp, even for a half stack, is a good idea for better spread.

If you’re looking to cut corners or just looking for a practice amp, there is a lot of competition in that area – they will mostly be solid state combos.

The best thing to do is find a music store that doesn’t mind if you play an amp or several amps over some time. Some even offer rooms where you can crank it. The hard part is playing in a store, or your bedroom, or your garage is not going to sound like when you play a club or a High School. The acoustics will be very different and be prepared to make adjustments.

One last consideration – hauling it! If you’re going to get a Marshall full stack, you need to have a truck, SUV or van to haul it, plus your guitars, plus the rest of the gear.

Merry Christmas! Now go get some gear!

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