Your Guide to Buying an Affordable Amp

Like if this guide is helpful
Your Guide to Buying an Affordable Amp

For all musicians who play electrical instruments, and some who play acoustic ones, one of the most important pieces of equipment to acquire is an amplifier, commonly known as an 'amp'. They're also used by DJs, and even in stereo systems, although this buying guide is mostly concerned with amps for musicians.
There is no one size fits all answer to the question of which kind of amp is best or offers best value. Different musicians have different needs, depending on what instrument they play, where they play it, and at what stage they're at in their career. How big it should be, how loud it should be, and what other features it should possess all vary according to circumstances.

About Affordable Amps

The word amplifier comes from two Latin words: amplus, which means big, and facere, which means to make or do. And that is precisely what an amplifier does; it makes electrical signals bigger, which in turn make sounds louder.
Amps for musicians usually incorporate a loudspeaker. Some of the bigger, more expensive ones have the speaker, or speakers, and the actual amplifier as separate components stacked up together, but most affordable amps are made to a 'combo' design in which a single cabinet houses both.

Choosing Affordable Amps

Everyone from beginners who are just starting out to seasoned professional musicians need to bear a number of important factors in mind when selecting an amplifier.

What Type of Instrument Is it For?

It is important not to use a normal electric guitar amp for a bass guitar. Doing so can result in the amp getting seriously damaged. This is because the paper part of the amp (the 'cone') gets destroyed if it is used for wide bass frequencies it's not designed for. Additionally, it won't sound nearly so good as if a proper bass amp is used.
Here is a brief guide to amps for different kinds of musical instrument:

Electric guitar

There is a wide range of amps available for ordinary electric guitars.

Bass guitar

Bass guitar amps differ from ordinary electric guitar amps in that they can produce pitches of around 40 Hz, and their tone is optimised for bass sounds. The loudspeakers tend to be bigger than most of those designed for other kinds of guitar.

Keyboard

Although, unlike electric guitars, most keyboards and electric pianos can make a noise on their own without a separate amplifier, for stage work an amplifier is normally used. Most keyboard amplifiers are of the combo type, with the amplifier and speaker all in one. They can commonly cope well with a wide range of pitches, and many have multiple input sockets so that several keyboards can be played at once.

Acoustic instruments (like fiddle or acoustic guitar)

Unlike amps for electric guitars when changing the sound made can often be an important feature, these are designed to preserve the original 'acoustic' sound, just at a louder volume.

Where the Amp Will Be Used?

Consider what the amp will be used for. People who are serious about music and play or want to play professionally may find they need more than one kind depending on where they're playing.

Practising at home alone

A small, inexpensive amp should be sufficient, but make sure it has a headphone jack.

Rehearsing with other people

For musicians playing alongside others; for example, in a band or just a jamming session with friends, something a little louder may be necessary to avoid the risk of getting overpowered.

Busking

The essential feature of amps used outdoors, for example by buskers, is that they shouldn't need to be plugged in, but will have their own power supply.

Performing

The sort of amp needed depends on the size of venues being played. It's at this stage that investing in a really good amp can pay off. However, that doesn't have to mean spending a lot of money. Look in online auction sites and car boot sales for second hand bargains.

Different Amp Models

From iconic makes like Fender and Marshall to budget brands and newcomers on the scene, who made the amplifier can sometimes say something about its distinctive features.

Marshall

More professional musicians use Marshall amps than any other brand. They are known for their excellent value and quality and do a variety of models at all price points.

Fender

Founded in 1946, Fender is by far the best known of amplifier brands, and it still has a cachet that nothing else can quite beat. They produce some of the most stylish amps around.

Mesa Boogie

Although Mesa Boogie amps have an excellent reputation, they probably don't belong in a guide for affordable amps since, unfortunately, they are all a bit on the pricy side. It is a good make to look out for second hand, though.

Line 6

One of the newer amp brands, Line 6 was founded in 1996. Its reputation is mixed.

Orange

As one might expect, amps made by the Orange Music Electronic Company are orange, either in whole or in part. It is a look that puts many budding musicians off, which is a pity as they produce a good sound. Orange is a British manufacturer.

Wattage Considerations

Most amplifiers advertise a power rating in terms of a number of watts. This can sometimes give a rough idea of how loud a noise they are likely to be able to produce.
Unfortunately, however, it is not as simple as a 100 watt amplifier being twice as loud as a 50 watt one, and it's important to note that the advertised number is the maximum output rather than typical. Additionally, amps for bass guitars need to be able to give out a much larger wattage than those for other types.
If using a separate amplifier and speakers, the volume made will depend on both: there's no point in using a high power speaker with a low power amp or vice versa. Furthermore, wattage doesn't only affect volume, but also quality of sound.

Combi, Stack, or Rack

Cheaper amps tend to be all in one combi models, but that does not mean that all combi amps are cheap. As well as being good for beginners, combi amps, where the amp itself and the speaker can't be separated, are great for those who need something highly portable.
Amps where the different components are separate can either stack, in which case one simply sits on top of the other, or they can be designed to fit into a rack. The rack option tends to be best for complicated set-ups but also tends to be less affordable.

Solid State or Tube

Technically speaking, amplifiers use one of two different technologies. The traditional types use old-fashioned tubes. Many people believe these have a better tone, but they are also much heavier and more expensive. Solid state amplifiers use transistors instead of tubes, and they can be manufactured more cheaply. Their tone tends to be crisper and cleaner. They are also more responsive and need less maintenance. Essentially, it is a matter of taste and your wallet.

Find Affordable Amps on eBay

eBay is a great place to search for amps online, both new and second hand. To browse, go to the eBay homepage, open the All Categories tab, then Musical Instruments, then Amplifiers. Use the menus at the side to search by brand, condition, type of amplifier, or price. Alternatively, simply type a description of what's required into the search bar that appears at the top of all eBay pages. For example, to find a Marshall branded amplifier that's suitable for a bass guitar, searching for "amp Marshall bass guitar new" should bring up most relevant results. If affordability is an important issue, then try sorting the results of your search from lowest to highest price.

Conclusion

Choosing the right amplifier can be as important as choosing the right guitar, or even more so. It can completely transform the sound of the instrument it amplifies. Research different brands and different kinds, and if possible, try out a wide variety before buying. Affordable doesn't have to mean low quality; persistence in searching for the right amp can really pay off.

Have something to share, create your own guide... Write a guide
Explore more guides