The term mini amp almost always refers to a small instrument amplifier, usually one designed for use with an electric guitar or bass. Every electric guitarist knows that a full-sized amplifier is needed for most gigs. However, full-sized amplifiers tend to be heavy, bulky, and geared to a high level of amplification.
Mini amps are designed to be light and portable, and they’re normally used in situations where the volume needs to be kept down. A mini amp is perfect for practising at home or in a public practice area at a school or university, or for rehearsing at less than full volume. It isn’t a burden to carry around.
Many mini amps are battery powered and therefore don’t require bulky cords or available power outlets. They can even be used for performances in small venues, where a high level of amplification isn’t required, but where some of the effects offered by an amplifier are needed. Battery powered mini amps are also great for busking.
Types of Mini Amps
While most mini amps are meant for use with electric guitars, there are also mini amps available for DJs, for karaoke and for use with sound systems and headphones. DJ and karaoke mini amps are meant to be used in small venues and house parties. They can also be handy for practising DJ tricks and karaoke songs. Sound-system headphone amps boost the audio from a stereo system, television, or computer. They’re not meant for use with a musical instrument.
Guitar Mini Amps
Mini amps designed for use with electric guitars and basses come in two basic types: dual use amps and headphone amps. Headphone guitar amps are generally very small and inexpensive. They’re meant for practice, and they allow guitarists to play with amplification for their ears only. Conventional, dual use mini amps have built-in speakers, but are usually equipped with headphone jacks, as well.
Conventional mini amps are simply smaller versions of regular guitar amplifiers. They amplify the guitar’s sound, but they’re more compact and less powerful than conventional amplifiers. Many are battery powered. Mini amps may offer volume control, tone control, bass-to-treble tone control and a drive switch that can transition between a clean sound and a rougher sound. Some are equipped with other sound effects, as well. Some mini amps even have more than one channel and can be used for multiple instruments. Some mini-amps can be connected to a stereo system and thereby make use of its amplification technology and speakers. Mini amps generally have an output rated at one to ten watts.
Like larger amplifiers, mini amps are based on a variety of different technologies.
Vacuum tube amplifiers
Vacuum tube amps were the first type invented, and were the only option in the decades before the 1970s. They’re based on glass tubes and iron transformers, and they’re bulky and heavy. However, many musicians still prefer the sound quality offered by vacuum tube amps. They compress the sound of the guitar, blunting the hard edges at the top and creating a warm and sometimes fuzzy effect.
Solid-state amplifiers were introduced in the 1970s and are based on semiconductors. They can give a clean, modern sound, and they often feature a wide range of electronic effects. Compared to vacuum tube amps, solid-state amps can sound shrill and harsh. However, high-quality solid-state amps produce a clean sound that’s preferred by some musicians, particularly jazz and classical guitarists.
Digital processors and modelling amps
Computers usually use solid-state amplifiers, so it’s not really accurate to say that digital amplification is possible. However, built in digital sound manipulation can expand the expressive capacity of a solid-state amplifier and make it possible for it to mimic the sound of a vacuum tube unit. Solid-state amps that can imitate the sound of vacuum tube amps are called modelling amps. Of course, digital processors for amplifiers are capable of all kinds of effects.
Hybrid amps combine multiple technologies in the same box, digitally mixing sounds to give the musician maximum control over the character of the result. Generally, they contain a vacuum tube section, a solidstate amplifier and a digital processor.
Choosing the Right Mini Amp
When choosing a mini amp, guitarists generally look for a smaller version of the type of amp that they’d prefer to use at a gig. That preference is mostly a function of the style of music that they play. Both large and mini amps are sometimes aimed at a particular type of musician.
Acoustic amplifiers are meant to boost the natural sound of the guitar without distortion. They are almost always used by classical guitarists who need to amplify their sound, they’re often used by folk musicians, and they are sometimes used in jazz and rock as well. They are powerful amplifiers that never need to function at the top of their capacity, where distortion can occur.
Traditional amplifiers have a warm and consistent sound and a tremolo option. The amplification is provided by vacuum tubes, by semiconductors or by a combination of the two. This type of amp is most often used in rock, blues, jazz, and country music.
Hard-rock amps, or high-gain amps, are optimised to create an edgy, distorted sound with a lot of power and drive. They’re popular with punk, metal, and hard-rock musicians.
Bass amplifiers are designed to boost the deep sound of the bass guitar, and they can sometimes be used with string basses as well. They’re optimised for response in the bass range and have tone and sound controls geared to it, as well.
Finding Mini Amps on eBay
On eBay, mini amps can be found in the musical instruments section.
Starting from eBay’s front page, go to All Categories; Musical Instruments; Pro Audio Equipment; Amplifiers; Instrument Amplifier or Not Specified. Alternatively, perform a search under Amplifiers.
Some mini amps have been placed in the Instrument Amplifier category, and others are categorised as Not Specified. That’s why performing a search under Amplifiers will bring the greatest number of results.
Like so many musical instrument accessories, it’s best to hear a mini amp in action before buying. Scrolling through the options on the left hand side of the screen will reveal eBay’s local area search function. That gives potential buyers the opportunity to find mini amps that they may be able to try out before purchase. Keep in mind that vacuum tube amps, in particular, are heavy and may be expensive to ship.
It’s also possible to limit the search to used units, which may offer a better value than new. As always, read the item description carefully and check the seller’s feedback rating.
A mini amp is an invaluable accessory for every electric guitar or bass guitar player.
Before choosing a specific model, think carefully about how the mini amp will likely be used. If it’s going to be used for quiet practice, then it should be equipped with headphones-only functionality. If it is to be used for rehearsals and small gigs, then it will need to have an adequate and adjustable output level, along with any sound controls that are likely to be useful.
Check the features carefully and if possible, try one out before buying. Then, enjoy the freedom of movement and the flexible practice sessions that a mini amp can provide. Use it for rehearsals or for busking. It is an incredibly useful piece of equipment to own.