Guitarists have been mulling over which amplifiers work best for years without reaching any consensus. The guitar in a band has to stand out amongst the crowded stage. Guitar players tend to be opinionated and will swear by their half stack, full stacks or combo amps, depending on their personal preference. All three setups have been used to play different types of music in all kinds of situations. It’s hard to pin down specific reasons why one may select a particular setup over another in a specific situation. All this is to say we will not be giving you any definitive answers, rather we will sound out some pros and cons for combos and stack setups to help guide your decision.
Amplifiers cost an enormous amount of money and seriously affect your guitar sound so it’s vital to get information before splurging on an amp setup. Keep in mind, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes time to choosing which amplifier setup will bring out the best sound for your guitar. You have to go with the amp you feel works well in the type of environment you play, along with the tunes aired out by the band.
The amp setup you will want is highly dependent on the environment where you need to produce the sound. If you are in your bedroom, a lightweight 15-watt practice amp is all you need to disturb your neighbors. If you are in band, consider which amps other band players are using, how loud your bassists are, if the band has a hard-hitting drummer, and if you mic up your guitar amp when playing. All these factors must chime in to help make your decision.
Combos are probably the most convenient if you are in a band playing gigs all over the city and you have to lug your equipment around town. Of course, combos are not light, but you can likely lift them by yourself to your car in which case the combo will actually fit in there as opposed to stacks, which require at least a van. Then again, some musicians hate heavy combos and prefer carrying lighter weights even if it means they need to make two trips to get all their equipment to the venue.
If you are the type of person who enjoys simplicity, combo amps will sing to your music. Combos come with less worrying since you don’t need to think about speaker cables or impedance or which head to use with which cab only to find out the specs don’t match and you have to start over. Combos are a lot more plug and play and with a large selection of speaker combinations and amplifier designs available, you can find the right sound in a combo for your tunes, whether it’s western or heavy metal.
Generally, combo amps have enough power for the average guitarist in a band. They work wonderfully in parties and can be hooked up to the internal PA system in a club. If there is no PA system, you are probably in a venue small enough where the combo amp can handle it. Even if it’s a bit bigger, all you need to do is raise your combo amp a few feet above ground (if you are not on a stage) and your sound will project nicely.
Combo amplifiers come with fewer frills, but stacks give you versatility when it comes to your setup. You can mix and match plenty of different configurations. This also means you can end up paying more for similar sound specifications, since you can choose which head and cabs you want to buy and you can indulge in some pretty fancy equipment.
Full stacks were splendid back in the days when venue PA systems were not too powerful and you needed to project your sound through to the entire audience. These days, however, PA systems at concert venues tend to be better designed and are generally sufficiently powerful to project the whole band sound, unless if you are in an arena where you will want to have multiple rows of stacks booming out the music.
Having said this, we have to acknowledge full stacks are the coolest looking setups at concerts. The row of amps and cabinets stacked up looks amazing. Although often at these concerts, only a few are actually in use while the others are there for aesthetics or might be backups. Guitar players who like to sound louder on stage are usually satisfied with a few extra cabinets.
Half stacks tend to have an impressive tonal effect, which is hard to beat with any other amp setup. They are a good option for a guitar player in a band as they are loud enough for both rehearsals and concerts. You can easily pump a 100 watt head through four speakers in a 4x12 cabinet. But even this is a lot of sound you may not need.
Overall, stacks may look fancy and project sound well, but combo amps are simpler and cause less hassle while giving you great sound. Now all you have to do is sound out what works for you. Good luck!