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When buying a new amplifier, there are about ten gajillion things you need to keep in mind. Since I'm a space-conscious noder, I think I'll only list the first four or five gajillion here.

Firstly, do your research! Coming here was a great first step. A salesman can smell ignorance like a lion can smell a wounded gazelle...and they'll both pounce in a New York minute. Walking around my local Guitar Center, I've seen the uninitiated tiptoe around the place like they'd found Solomon's mine. With a little research and preparation beforehand, you'll be well on your way to getting exactly what you want without having to give up your firstborn as payment.

Solid-State vs. Tube Amps Ahh, the age-old question. Tube Amps get a warmer tone, overdrive easier, and make for a great conversation piece in a guitarists' pissing contest. Solid-State amps are cheaper, don't require regular maintanence, and are generally less moody than their valve-based counterparts. Y'see, a solid-state amp uses transistor circuitry to do its thang, which usually results in a sound musicians describe as 'cold' and 'unyielding'. A Tube Amp uses power tubes to process the signal coming through the input. Somehow tube gremlins are friendlier than transistor gremlins, resulting in a nice creamy tone with a much richer mid-range. However, the jazzies swear that solid-state's better, because they're harder to overdrive and they give off a more crisp high-range tone. It all depends on your personal preference.

Head n' Cab vs. Combo This one is mainly a factor of noise and money. If you're a professional performer playing to stadiums of 10,000+, get yourself a nice 100-watt head and a wall o' cabs and destroy the place. But if you're an amateur or a semi-pro weekend warlord, a nice 30-50 watt combo with a 1x12 or a 2x12 speaker unit should do you fine. Which brings us to my next point...

Wattage Don't let the numbers fool you; more wattage does not mean more noise. However, more wattage does mean that the amp will stay true to the tone at greater volumes, i.e. You have to crank it up to get good overdrive. Most high-end amplifiers will have a channel volume as well as a master volume, so you should be able to overdrive just about any of them without deafening your nearest neighboring country.

Effects On-amp effects are all the rage these days, and I've got to admit, they can be pretty useful when you've got something you really like and want to stick with through your entire set. I'm kinda partial to my amp's coil-driven reverb. It's an effect that's pretty much static in my repertoire, so I leave it on all the time. But then there are some onboard effects that just piss me off. Like flange. Some guys like a little flange in their music...I'm just not one of them. So I leave it turned off, and now I've paid for an effect I don't use. Another thing to look out for when you're buying an amp for the effects it to check whether the amp supports footswitching, and if so, find out whether the footswitch is included. This is one I learned from experience...



Well, that's all for now, kiddies...Good luck out there, and jam responsibly.
In addition to Ælien's node above, there are a few additional items to consider.

  • Price:
    If you follow Ælien's advice and do your homework, you'll know pretty much what you want. Now is the time to search prices and write down the best deal you can find. Since the markup on gear can be very thin, you may get a better deal through mail-ordering. My suggestion is if the difference between the mail-order place and the store in your home town is not that far apart, pay the extra. It solves several problems at once. Should your gear break under warrantee, it is easier to bring it in to Bob, the repair guy at the Local Music Store. Additionally, isn't it great having a local store for your small items, such as when you need a capo or a set of strings? Help the local guys stay in business.

  • Use your Ear:
    I've seen several folks buy an amp without plugging anything into it and cranking it up. They read that it was reliable and somebody recommended that brand. Unfortunately, they end up being dissatisfied quickly. The amps are all there, plugged in and waiting for your test drive. The whole purpose of having them out is for you to play and listen, then decide on which one you want to bring home.

  • Another note on wattage:
    Does a 50 watt amp sound half as loud as a 100 watt amp? The answer is no. The sound volume is rated on a logarithmic scale called decibels. Tossing aside the mathematics, as a general rule if you want something that is twice as loud, add a zero. A 500 watt amp can put out twice as much eardrum-bleeding sound as a 50 watt amp. As a general rule of thumb, unless you're playing for a large audience in an arena, a nice 50-65 watt amp will be more than enough for the dedicated player. I personally have a 100 watt keyboard amp, which I use for my electronic Yamaha MIDI drum set and the occasional guitar torturing. If I put the volume knob on three and play, the neighbors complain. I've played outdoors with the amp, and even then with the knob at six it was deafening.

  • New or Used?
    Sometimes it is best to look at used amps if you're really strapped for cash. Make sure you play the amp loudly in the store, and check if the store will give you a warrantee on it. Six months is about average for a store guarantee. Buying from some Joe is riskier, but you can save even more.

Take your time, and play!

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