How to Buy an Amp: A Guide for the First-Time Buyer
06. Happ’nin’ Crunch
Overdriven speakers create one of the most desirable distortion characteristics: crunch. The best way to test for this is to dial in a clean setting and turn the volume way up. Low-wattage speakers break up at lower volumes, but they have a tendency to turn to mush at excessive volume levels; high-wattage speakers may not break up at all. Choose a speaker that sounds lively, defined and harmonically rich at volume and distortion levels you’ll normally play at.
07. More Talk About Speakers
While often overlooked, the speakers are an amp’s most crucial component—they’re the last thing standing between all that electronic gobbledygook and the sound that reaches your ears (except for yo’ mama’s fist, but that’s another story). Different sized speakers have different tonal characteristics, and you should consider speaker sizes the same way you’d consider an amp’s wattage rating. Speakers are like booty—small ones are tighter and big ones have more bottom end. But like a pair of pants, cabinet design can shape bottom end as well. Which is why a closed-back 4x10 cabinet may put out more bass than a 15-inch speaker in an open-back cabinet.
08. Channel Surfing
Multichannel amps are great for players who use a lot of different tones, but if all you want is a good clean sound and a good distorted sound, they may be more amp than you need. If you decide that an amp with three or more channels is right for you, look for one that provides separate EQ controls for each channel.
09. Twist Some Knobs
You should be able to dial in a sound you like quickly and easily. Adjust each tone control and note how they interact with each other. If it’s too hard to dial in a decent tone in the store, chances are you won’t be able to when you get the amp home or onstage.
10. Additional Features
While tone and volume should be your foremost considerations, you should also determine what extra features you really need. Built-in effects are great if you want a no-hassle, all-in-one package, but they may not be as flexible as external effects pedals and processors. An effect loop is useful for effects like digital reverb and delay, but it’s not essential if your effects consists of a few stomp boxes. Line outputs with speaker emulation are helpful for home recording, and external speaker outputs are great for expanding your live rig. Bottom line: don’t pay extra for features you’ll never use.