When it comes to selecting the right amplifier for your electric guitar or bass, it pays to be particular. Your amp can make a huge difference in the sounds you have at your fingertips. Some would argue that choosing the right amp is just as important as choosing the right instrument.
We talked to some veteran guitar players and gearhounds to get their take on amplifiers and other musical equipment. They discussed their favorite amps, their must-have gear, and their own musical stylings, and they offered advice for beginners. Check out their ideas and advice when it comes to all things loud.
The Rumble Remedy
Corey Justin Horn was born and raised in Port St. Lucie, Florida. Corey had a heavy musical influence growing up: his dad taught him to play the drums and he learned the violin at a very young age. In middle school, after seeing how someone could move around while playing one, he convinced his parents to buy him a guitar.
Since I was a boy I would hear sounds, ideas and music and try and recreate them all by ear. Sometimes it was simple, sometimes it took weeks. But it always brought me to a better place and made me want more. I listened to whatever I could get my hands on, from the Beatles to Billy Joel, but I always loved classical music.
Corey played guitar for years before switching to bass and his influences changed along with him.
My influences changed to bands that were heavily bass driven: Muse, Kings of Leon, Mutemath and some of my favorites Victor Wooten and Bootsy Collins…I tend to do lots of listening and recreating of artists I love then pull away all I can from it and adapt it to make it my own.
After college he met David, the lead singer of Remedy Drive, and soon joined the band, which is currently getting ready to release a concept album called Commodity.
It’s a Rock and Roll album with a lot of real strings, drums and creative instrumentation. There is an electronic element to the rock - big with lots of space. Remedy Drive has always been known for our rowdy live performances. We are taking the rock aspect of the last album, Resuscitate, and incorporating a new dimension to it.
These days, Corey prefers tube amps when playing guitar or bass.
The quality of the sound and feel of a tube amp is unmatched. They do require some maintenance over time, so they might not be for everyone. [However] some people may prefer the built-in effects that come with the digitally modeled amps - it’s really a matter of personal preference.
Corey owns numerous amps, and each one does different things well. Every amp has its place. However, Tyler amps are his favorite.
They’re a company that is a few years old. They are so versatile, it’s amazing. Currently, I use the Flip-Top Tyler Amp. It’s an all tube amp, and small and compact with a lot of volume. The enclosure is made of birch and pine and the speaker is a 15-inch eminence.
Like many guitar players, his setup is always changing. But Corey has a few pieces of gear that he can’t live without:
I always like to have [an] Ernie Ball volume pedal, a tuner, and Cusack effects pedals. Another special part of my rig is the Buttkicker. It’s a subwoofer that is attached to the platform I stand on. It makes the floor shake underneath me so I can truly feel what I am playing.
When choosing an amp for yourself, make sure that it produces the sound you’re looking for and that it is appropriate for the where you’ll be playing.
Chinatown Dance Rock
Portland-based band The Slants are the first and only all-Asian American dance rock band in the world, and features Thai Dao on rhythm guitar and keys, Will Moore on lead guitar, and Simon Tam on bass. The music is a combination of 80's-driven synth pop, indie rock, and strong beats, which fans have affectionately dubbed "Chinatown Dance Rock".
I would recommend researching your favorite guitar amps. Often there’s a more affordable version available (especially at lower wattages). I like warm vintage tones and I push the amp to get that overdrive sound. [But] it gets dangerous out there. Don’t drop your guitar - no matter what!
Thai likes to play his Telecaster through a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe.
It’s a good price point, and quite versatile. The overdrive on the amp is great. I prefer it to some of the pedals I’ve used. For the longest time, I thought they’d only sound good with Fender guitars. I’ve been using some Gibsons and Epiphones recently, and I’ve been getting some great tone.
That amp gives me the fullness and roundness I want. But it has good mid-range response for when I want to show off.
For a beginner bass amp, Thai recommends the Ampeg BA110.
That little thing can do well in a small room or a coffee shop too.
Simon, like his bandmates, prefers the warmth of a tube amp for guitar or bass.
I like bright guitars that don't sound overly processed or compressed. They generally fit better for indie rock/alternative. However, country music or heavy metal usually lends itself to other tones from solid state or modeling amps.
Simon has a list of amps he recommends for beginners.
The one thing he can’t live without is a new set of strings.
I like strings made by Jim Dunlop. They sound great, are comfortable, and reasonably priced.
For many bands, employing a range of amps and pedals is ideal; doing so easily allows for a ton of potential sound variations and fine-tuning for every member.
Paul Blissett is a native of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada and is involved in many different facets of music, from being a singer/songwriter to a producing to owning a label - PMB Music. Paul developed an interest in instrumental music and the versatility of the guitar at an early age, and has released three instrumental albums, Fire and Soul, Guitar Christmas and Luna.
When it comes to amps, Paul likes tubes - specifically, Fender, Mesa Boogie and Marshall amplifiers.
I have always preferred the tube amplifiers for their clear, crisp and warm reproduction of the guitar tones. I use mainly a Fender Twin amp (2 12 inch speakers) which has plenty of power and gain and produces smooth overdrive. [Fender, Mesa Boogie and Marshall amplifiers] all offer a wide range of high end models and smaller versions ideal for the beginner.
Paul doesn’t use many effects, preferring a clean guitar and amp tone as the basis for his pallet.
All I have in my pedal rack is a tuner, a blues overdrive (which I often use) and a delay (which I rarely use). I usually play the guitar with its natural tone. It is important to note that a guitarist's signature tone and sound is mainly in the hands, and of course the type of amp contributes to that sound.
Paul uses a wide variety of guitars, and each has its own voice. From the single coil sounds of a Fender Stratocaster or a Gretsch Nashville to the humbuckers of his Gretsch Chet Atkins and Country Gentleman, each track will have its own guitar.
Don’t be afraid to use different instruments for different songs in your own sets. The proper sound makes all the difference.
The School of Rock
Richard Callaghan is a professional guitar tutor and mentor with several schools in the UK, teaching students of all ages and abilities. He is a classically-trained guitarist, and aims to provide lessons that are unique to each student’s style and skills.
Like many of the other players here, Richard is devoted to the warmth of tube amps.
I’ve tried lots of amps and I think best tone is subjective to what kind of sound you are after. For example, if you are heavily influenced by classic rock bands like AC/DC, Thin Lizzy or Guns N’ Roses you are more likely to enjoy playing through a Marshall amp more than a Fender-type amp. I prefer tube amps as they have a warmer sound than solid state. I usually keep to a pretty basic setup once I find a sound I like, and I tend not to do much tinkering apart from the controls on the guitar and a few pedals.
Richard uses a Comford Harlequin MK1 in his teaching studio.
A lot of beginners like the Roland Cube or the Line 6 modeling amps. They give a lot of options for experimentation with different sounds. That usually leads to more time playing and being more likely to stick with the instrument.
Gear is important to any player, and Richard’s teaching led him to find a guitar that was versatile and able to deliver a wide range of tones. However, he has definite personal preferences:
My PRS Studio. It saves me from carrying around a lot of guitars to get different sounds. the 57/08 pickups and the Narrowfields are a winning combination!
With a full teaching schedule, Richard tends to cover a huge variety of styles.
It’s rare to get a guitar that can do a good job getting similar tones to the big three: Les Paul, Strat or Tele. Overall, the PRS Studio is an extremely well-built, easy-to-play and great-sounding instrument.
Whether you’re a seasoned teacher or a student that’s still wet behind the ears, it’s worth researching gear before you buy.
For over five years, Black Alley has pushed music to its rhythmic limits. Hailing from Washington DC, the band has fuses elements from funk, jazz, soul, and rock to create a their own genre-bending sound called "Soul Garage”. Black Alley released it’s critically acclaimed debut, Soul. Swagger. Rock. Sneakers., and a follow-up live album Black Alley: Live from the RNR Hotel.
I feel that tube amps with my pedal set up give me the best tone and response from the guitar because it's working with the natural tone of my guitar instead of the amp working for my guitar.
He currently uses a Fender Hot Rod III for his main amp.
For someone looking for their first tube amp I would highly suggest it. It's easy to get good tones quickly, as well as being reliable.
Eric loves his Snark tuner and suggests everyone should have one. For tone Eric’s go-to must-have piece of equipment is his Pro Co Solo pedal.
It has really helped me create my own sound away from all the digital effects.
Black Alley embrace a variety of styles, calling themselves ‘genre benders’. From blues to rock, and some jazz and reggae thrown in, Eric is called on to deliver an eclectic blend of guitar tones.
I've been on the never ending journey to find the most versatile gear and guitars to cover it all. I play a Schecter C-1+ with a Dimarzio Tone Zone in the bridge and Air Zone in the neck with a coil splitter to get single or humbucking tones. For amps, I play through either a Fender Hot Rod III, a Twin Reverb or anything Marshall with tubes.
Obviously, gear is a very personal choice. However, it’s a good idea to take a page out of a more experienced musician’s book when you’re just starting off.
Though born in St. Petersburg, Russia, Ivan Smirnov was heavily influenced by the both classical Russian composers and the American/British rock scene. He plays guitar and classical piano, and has incorporated inspirations from both into a new style of rock he calls 'Blitz-Rock'. Ivan believes in using the right amp for the job, whatever that may be.
Every amp has its own unique sonic character. I usually work with Marshall and Vox. I love their capability to produce that big fat rock sound that goes so well with my Gibson Les Paul. I love both the analog warmth of tube and the diverse character of digital.
Ivan uses mainly Marshall amps, but recommends Fender amps for beginners.
They have that more defined, clear sound. I started with the Fender myself. It's a classic.
Ivan’s style has progressed over the years, collecting many diverse influences along the way. However, his Les Paul is in charge of the raw punk side of things when it comes to putting together Blitz Rock.
I used to experiment a lot, going from Heavy Metal to R&B to Pop and Punk. And there's nothing wrong with that. But at some point you have to find your sonic niche. And I believe I've finally found it. It's Blitz-Rock. It's a combination of Classical, Punk Rock and Electronic. It's loud, dry and expressive.
Be willing to experiment! If you’re interested in a variety of music genres, you should probably be exploring the wide range of amps that are out there too.
Country in My Veins
The Charlie Rogers Band is a country rock band based in Nashville, Tennessee. Originally from Kansas, Charlie straddles the gap between classic rock and modern county. Aside from the eponymous Rogers, the band features James Black and Everett Bowles on guitars, as well as Erik Coveney on bass, Alex Horton on keys, and Jake Robinson on the drums.
Charlie Rogers describes how his band fits into both the rock and pop aspects of the country genre.
Everett usually plays a Gibson Les Paul Custom (robot guitar) or a Fender Telecaster. James on the other hand brings more of the rock side with an Ibanez and a Gibson Les Paul Standard. We don’t aim for the conventional country sound when it comes to instrumentation. We like to mix it up and keep things interesting. I think we owe that to our listeners and to ourselves so we avoid the mundane. That's something we owe to our producer, Josh Gleave. He's got a great ear for our style and knows how to constructively expand upon our vision for a song.
The music started out more straight country. But that’s not me, that’s not us. Over the years the music has gained more and more fidelity as I went back to my roots. … I think the Midwest and Kansas itself really plays into the authenticity of our music. If it’s not the real thing, the fans will know and won’t listen.
For their guitar amplification needs, both James and Everett are fans of tube amps. James’s favorite is the Egnater Tweaker combo.
I like it because the knobs (especially the EQ) don't really alter the tone that much, so I feel like I can't mess it up. Tubes always sound better, though some of the high end digital modeling stuff has started to get really good. After a while you just start to hear the difference.
Everett uses a Mesa Boogie Mark V.
It has tubes that give off a warm, inviting sound. I find that better for country and blues.
For a beginner, James recommends the Egnater Tweaker combo.
It's a good entry level tube amp. I think for beginners, it doesn't really matter what amp you have. Just learn to play your instrument well first, then worry about being a gear nut later.
Everett, on the other hand, likes the Fender Blues Jr for those just beginning to play.
I recommend a Fender Blues Jr. tube amp, especially if you’re leaning toward the country, rock or blues aspects of guitar.
Charlie doesn’t play guitar during shows, but his prized guitar is a Collings 000 acoustic guitar, and he can’t live without his Ultimate Support mic stand.
It’s one of the few mic stands that I’ve actually found to be tall enough for me! (I’m 6’4’’).
James swears by his Polytune mini tuner pedal by TC Electronic. Bass player Erik Coveney’s favorite bass is his Limited Edition "Dargie Delight" 5-String Green Music Man Stingray Bass. Keys player Alex Horton loves his Yamaha Motif ES-8, while drummer Jake Robinson is particularly fond of his Alclair in-ears.
The Fingerstyle Master
Born in Southend-on-Sea, England, David Buckingham began learning the classical guitar at the age of seven, and won his first guitar competition award at the age of 10. David studied jazz and classical music at Leeds College of Music under the tutelage of classical guitarist Luigi Palumbo and flamenco maestro Robin Kaye. David continues to study in Seville, Spain, the capital of flamenco music.
Performing with his acoustic guitar, David prefers his amps to be clean and transparent. His favorite is the AER compact 60, a solid state acoustic amp, but he has a different recommendation for those just starting out.
For a beginner, I think the Roland Cube amps are great.
Preferring a simplistic live setup, David’s one go-to piece of equipment that he can’t live without is the L.R. Baggs Venue D.I. pedal.
I play flamenco and Spanish guitar so I try to use equipment that doesn’t modify the sound but instead gives a true representation of the natural sound at source.
If a natural sound is important to your playstyle, it’s best to get an amp designed for acoustic guitars. Price points may be higher, but it’s often worth the extra cash to be true to your particular style.
Crank It Up!
Amplifiers are the soul of a guitarist’s sound. Each has a unique sound and can be integral in bringing a player’s artistic vision to audible reality. Whether it’s a simple practice amp like the Fender Blues Jr., or a Line 6 modeling amp with built-in effects for a wide range of sounds, there is an amp for every type of player. Let us know what amps you use and tell us why you love them!