How to Choose the Best Guitar Amp for You
By Brad Tolinski
Buying an electric guitar without an amp is like purchasing an awesome car without an engine. It may look cool, but it won’t make much sound and it sure won’t get you to Madison Square Garden.
The good news is finding the best electric guitar amp for your needs is fun—all you need to know is what questions to ask. Lucky for you, we have them all here, along with a bunch of answers.
What types of electric guitar amps are there?
Amplifiers are usually divided into four different categories: solid state, tube, modeling and hybrids.
- • Solid state amps use transistors and they are often sturdy and reliable. They can sound a little chilly, but they can take a kicking and keep on ticking.
- • Tube amps tend to sound warmer and are often preferred by blues, funk and classic rock players.
• Modeling amps use digital processors to simulate the sound of numerous amps and speakers, and usually include an array of digital effects like distortion, chorus and delay.
• Hybrid amps are also versatile, combining the best of solid state and tube technologies in one package.
What are the best guitar amps for gigging?
30-50 watts and a cabinet with one or two 12-inch speakers will probably be fine for most live gigs and band rehearsals. 100-watt amps are loud and legendary—Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen used ‘em—but less in demand these days as most venues prefer to use microphones on amps to better control the sound the audience hears. Some modern amps even give you the option of running a direct out to the soundboard, allowing sound engineers to mix more effectively with less stage noise.
The 40-watt Spark smart practice amp from Positive Grid.
What is the best small practice amp?
Ideally, your practice amp should reflect the sound of your larger stage amp. Happily, most amp companies make small, affordable 5-to-40-watt versions of their larger amps. For example, if you are using a 60-watt Fender tube amp on stage, the best practice amp may be a 5-watt Fender tube amp. They won’t sound the same, but they’ll have a similar vibe.Text
If you are a beginner or are just starting to discover your musical identity, the best practice amp may be the one with the most options. Modeling amps like Positive Grid’s Spark, our smart desktop amp, can replicate the sound of multiple guitar rigs, giving you the opportunity to explore different tones while learning your chords and riffs. Modeling amps can also recreate the sound of many legendary amplifiers, and could be a great option for seasoned players of all genres.
In either case, small practice amps have other uses: they also double as great recording amps. Don’t laugh. Legends like Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page got their biggest recorded sounds from modest 15-watt amps.
What is the best guitar amp for the music you play?
Wondering what amp you should get for your guitar? Experts tend to make generalizations like “tube amps are good for rock and blues” or “hybrid amps are good for metal,” but the real answer is the best electric guitar and amp are the ones that inspire you to want to play more often.
Modeling amps are worth investigating, because they offer a multitude of options without trapping you into a single sound or style. Do you feel like playing blues one day and Metallica the next? No problem, a modeling amp can change with the turn of a knob—or in some cases, the tap of an app.
How will you be using your amp?
One of the most important questions you can ask yourself when buying an amp is what will you be using it for? Jamming with friends? Writing songs? Recording? Playing in clubs? Most amps sound best when they can be turned up about halfway. If your guitar never gets beyond 3, you should probably consider a smaller amp.
What are the best guitar amp speakers?
Popular speaker configurations for playing with a band include one 12-inch speaker, two 12-inch speakers (2x12) and four 12-inch speakers (4x12).
For most gigs one or two 12-inch speakers are fine, especially when your amp will be going through a PA system.
Practice amp speakers can be much smaller. Many are 8” and less. That may seem small, but as the legendary Jeff Beck once said, 20 watts through an 8” speaker in small room can slice off the top of your head. Consider the size of your practice space and adjust accordingly.Text
Do you need to have an amp with built in effects?
You don’t need a guitar amp with built in effects, but it's nice to have at least a touch of reverb or delay. Without some ambience, most guitars sound dry and unappealing. The best affordable guitar amps sometimes have dozens of built in effects. That might seem like overkill, but effects are fun to experiment with. Consider them like extra colors in the paint box—you never know when you’ll need a specific shade to paint a beautiful rainbow…or a gruesome Frankenstein’s monster.
Best Guitar Amp with built-in effects: Check out the Spark if you’re looking for a great practice amp with a wide range of built-in effects.
What other features should I look for in an amp?
Keeping your guitar in tune is what separates the amateurs from the pros. Many beginner, intermediate and advanced amps feature built-in tuners which can come in handy at home or at a gig. Tune often and your electric guitar and amp—and audience—will thank you!
Additionally, guitar amps are getting very clever these days with an ever-expanding array of technological features. Some amplifiers now offer Bluetooth connectivity for streaming music, while others have USB connectivity for flexible computer recording.
Now, if we could only find an amp that also mowed the lawn…
How much does a good amplifier cost?
In this case, size does matter. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that 100-watt will generally cost more than a 50-watt amp. More is usually more. The good news is most reputable brands offer various sizes at different price points, and some of the very best small amps will only set you back around $200 or less.
If you plan to join a band that has a drummer, as we mentioned earlier, you’ll need at least 30-50 watts and a 12”-inch speaker (or two) to be heard over your drummer’s kick and snare. There are plenty of options available for $500 and less.
What are the best guitar amplifier brands to buy?
A good place to start is to simply go online and see what some of your favorite players use and go from there. There are no shortage of amp manufacturers out there, from household names to off-the-radar boutique builders. Talking to friends and fellow players, reading reviews and watching YouTube demos can all be great ways to research and narrow down options—but in the end, trust your own ear.
The Spark smart amplifier from Positive Grid.
Spark is the best electric guitar amp for practicing and jamming
There is, however, at least one other option. There is a new breed of modeling amplifier that can replicate just about anything and everything—like our groundbreaking 40-watt Spark amp & app. In addition to offering dozens of exciting amp and speaker sounds, and a wide range of effects, Spark allows you to play and practice with millions of songs and access over 10,000 tones powered by their award-winning BIAS tone engine. Spark’s Smart Jam feature even uses artificial intelligence to learn your style and feel, and then generates authentic bass and drum parts to accompany your original music.
It's easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of information regarding amplifiers, but hopefully this will help you on your path. If any of the above ideas excite you, use the internet to explore them further. If there is one fact that is certain: there is no shortage of guitarists with opinions!
Want to see what all of the hype's about? Order Spark here.
Brad Tolinski is perhaps best known for his work as the editor-in-chief of Guitar World Magazine for 25 years. He is also the author of Light and Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page (Crown); and Play It Loud: An Epic History of the Style, Sound and Revolution of the Electric Guitar (Doubleday), which was the basis for a 2019 guitar-focused exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Most recently he edited the 50th Anniversary Commemorative Issue of CREEM magazine, and his latest book Eruption: Conversations with Eddie Van Halen (Hachette) will be coming out in October 2021.