Buying a new amplifier for your guitar or bass can be one of the most exciting parts of your musical experience. New sounds and options can promise new inspirations. So when you do get the opportunity to pick out a new guitar amp it isn’t unusual to find yourself rushing home to try it out. Unfortunately we sometimes realize later on down the road that we’ve overlooked something important we should have thought through when we went shopping. In order to make sure you get the right tool for the job, stop and think about some of the following considerations.
What’s in a Name?
To begin with we should look at one factor people often consider when making a selection that doesn’t always work out as expected: whether their favorite artist plays a certain brand or model. While it seems logical to choose the same amplifier as the artist whose sound you appreciate, you might not be able to achieve that sound if you can’t use it the same way or you don’t have all the other gear the artist uses. Will the 100w tube stack they use in a sports arena sound the same in your home studio or practice room? In a similar way, simply picking an amplifier because of a famous brand name won’t help if the product they’re selling today is different from the one they built their reputation upon. If you start out by weighing your situation (along with the more esoteric reasons) you’ll improve your odds of finding an old favorite instead of a future doorstop.
If you want a small amp for home or studio use, a small combo like Carvin Audio’s Vintage 16 might be just the right tool for the job. You’ll also appreciate the light weight if you have to move it around much. A lot of pro musicians try to choose one that they can conveniently carry in one hand while they carry their guitar in the other, for one trip from the car to the stage. When making size a primary factor make sure you also consider if it has the versatility you need for the music you’re going to be playing. If you pick a small, specialized amp you may find yourself wishing for more features later on. In the case where convenience and versatility are critical, a portable multi-channel amp (like Carvin Audio’s V3M) might be the best combination of portability and features. On the other hand if you are playing larger venues you probably do need a larger amp with lots of power.
Is it scalable?
Sometimes you want one amplifier for all situations. This is desirable because it is easier to achieve the same tone on a consistent basis if you are using the same amp at every gig. Scalability gives you the option of selecting output power and it also makes switching speaker configurations to suit the venue more convenient. You can put together a scalable system in different ways: a small combo amp with an optional extension cabinet, a separate head that you can use with a single 12-inch cabinet or a 4x12 cabinet depending on the gig, and of course if you choose an amp with selectable output power you can optimize your rig to suit the situation at hand. Carvin Audio offers a power selector switch on many of our guitar amps for this reason.
Is it practical?
This might mean deciding if investing in an amp with tons of features is worthwhile or if you will be paying for extra bells and whistles you won’t end up using. It can also mean considering the manufacturer’s reputation for quality and service. Getting a “deal” on a brand that is less established may leave you hanging if they’re not around to help you down the road.
Another practical consideration that most of us have to keep in mind is whether the amp is affordable to buy and maintain. If you really want a low-maintenance solution a solid-state amp like Carvin Audio’s SX300 will probably go a lot longer between servicing than an amp that uses tubes, and obviously whichever selection you make will have to fit your budget as well. With a little bit of brainstorming about what capabilities you need, you will be well-armed to make a selection you’ll be happy with in the years to come.