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PG Explains: Amps

PG Explains: Amps

Get the facts on guitar amps with answers to ten FAQs from the experts at Premier Guitar.

What is a guitar amplifier?

An amplifier is to your electric guitar as a blast of electricity was to Frankenstein’s monster: it gives it life. In simple and traditional terms, it receives the signal created by your electric guitar’s pickups, processes and boosts that signal, and amplifies it through one or multiple speakers.

What’s the difference between an amp head and a combo amplifier?

An amp basically involves two sections. The first comprises a chassis, control panel, and circuit that process the signal, while the second comprises a speaker section which is connected to the circuit. Sometimes they’re both housed together in one box called a combo amp. Sometimes the first part is housed on its own, and can be connected to a separate speaker cabinet. That is an amp head.

What types of amps are there?

There are four main types of amps: tube (or valve, as the Brits call ’em), solid-state, hybrid (both tube and solid-state), and modeling.

What’s the most popular type of amp?

The tube amp. From the 1950s onward, tube amplifiers have dominated stages around the world, but solid-state amplifiers emerged in the 1960s as an alternative to the perceived unreliability of tube circuits. These days, loads of touring and studio guitarists are opting for modeling amps and even amp pedals.

What’s a tube amp?

Tube amplifiers are named after the glass vacuum tubes that form a key part of the amp’s circuitry. The signal is usually passed through two sections of tubes—preamp and power amp—which impart different characteristics to the resulting sound depending on how an amp’s controls are set. A lot of players describe the tube sound with words like warmth, sag, punch, and chewiness. You can check out our in-depth guide on tube amps for more info.

What’s a solid state amp?

Solid-state amps are those that don’t use any tubes at all, and instead use transistors to affect and amplify your guitar’s signal. Here’s an explainer on solid-state amp tech.

What’s a modeling or digital amp?

These are entirely digital modules that mimic or ‘model’ the function of amplifiers. They can be paired with real speaker cabinets, or with digital impulse response (IR) programs, which in turn mimic what a speaker cabinet does in various rooms. Given their size and ease of use, more touring guitarists are choosing them

What are 1x12s, 2x12s, and 4x12s?

These are shorthand terms for speaker cabinets that hook up to an amplifier. The 12 refers to the size of the speaker cone: 12 inches. The preceding number refers to the number of speakers in the cabinet. A 1x12 has one 12-inch speaker, a 2x12 has two 12-inch speakers, and so on. These are also sometimes designated as 112, 212, and 412 by manufacturers.

What type of amp is best?

You’re not gonna like this answer, but it’s the one that’s right for you. Whatever sounds best to your ears is the best amplifier for you. Don’t worry what the forum overlords and trendsetters are doing. They’re not listening to your playing, you are, so your own satisfaction comes first. Consider various factors: How often will you play through the amp? How loud or quiet do you need it to go? How big or small do you want it to be? What style of music are you playing? What’s your budget? Add ’em up, do your research, and pick what fits your style.

Where can I read more about amplifiers?

Try “Are Digital Modelers For You?” and “Top 10 Tips For Buying An Amp” at