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Amplifiers & Effects Pedals – Frequently Asked Questions

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What type of amp should I buy?

In the past the choice for amplifier buyers was between valve amps (those that use valve tubes to amplify the sound) and solid-state amps (those that use transistors to amplify the sound).

Where budget was not an issue, most guitarists tended to prefer valve amps since the distortion they produced had a smoother, more organic sound than solid-state amps, and pound for pound they were considerably louder.  Solid state amps were more convenient as the valves didn't wear out and need replacing, and they were generally cheaper to buy, but they made quite a harsh, thin distortion sound.

Valve amplifiers are still popular today - in fact there's probably a greater choice of models available now than there ever was in the past - but also becoming increasingly popular are the new generation of modelling amplifiers.  These use DSP computer modelling technology to emulate a range of classic amplifiers from the past - for the most part, the emulations are surprisingly accurate (although don't necessarily expect your little 10 Watt practice amp to be able to sound like a 200 Watt stack system with 4 x 12 inch speakers!).

As these modelling amps are solid-state, they're still not as loud as the equivalent wattage of valve amp, but they're generally much lighter in weight, more durable, don't have to have the valves changed, and they can change between the sound of many different amplifiers at the flick of a switch - we know of quite a few guitarists who were once die-hard valve amp users, but have now switched over to modelling amps.

How big an amp do I need?

This will depend on what you want to use it for.  A 5, 10 or 15 Watt practice amp will usually give you plenty of volume for practising at home (generally, the higher wattage practice amps will be louder and, if they have a larger speaker, less 'tinny' sounding).  Most 15 Watt amps are more than capable of annoying the neighbours!

If you want an amp to gig with, you should really look at a minimum of 25 to 30 Watts for a valve amp, or 50 watts for a solid state / DSP modelling amp, which should be loud enough to be heard over a drum kit (unless your drummer is a real animal) in a small venue, and powerful enough to be used as 'backline' in a larger venue.

Louder combo amps (amps that have built-in speakers) are available with 100 Watts or even higher output - bear in mind, though, that in most situations you will probably never be able to turn the volume up above a quarter of the way without seriously damaging your ear drums!nbsp; While this doesn't really matter with solid state / DSP modelling amps, valve amps need to be turned up around half volume to get the best tone out of them, so if you buy an amp that's too powerful for what you need, you might find that you're hardy ever able to turn it up loud enough to hear it really 'sing'.

Price and weight are two other important considerations when choosing an amplifier.  Generally the more powerful amps are more expensive and heavier - some powerful valve amps will need more than one person to carry them, unless you want to risk damaging your back.

Single Effects Pedals or Multi-Effects?

Ok, so you've got a decent guitar and amp, you can play a few things, and now you want to experiment with some different sounds.  So where do you start?nbsp; There are dozens of different pedals and effects units available, which one is right for you?

A good starting point is to decide whether to splash out on a multi-effects unit, or build up a collection of individual effects pedals.  A few things you might want to consider when making this decision:

  • Value - multi-effects units may be two or three times the price of an individual effects pedal, but add together the cost of all the individual pedals you need to get all of those different sounds, and the multi-effects unit works out much cheaper. 
  • Ease of use - effects pedals are switched on and off by standing on them, and have a few simple control knobs to alter their sound.  As multi-effects have lots of different features, it can take a while to learn how to edit the sounds.  However some multi-effects units are now available with much clearer controls which are more intuitive, and can be used without reading the manual cover-to-cover!
  • Noise and signal quality - each extra piece of equipment in the 'signal chain' between your guitar and amplifier will dull the tone slightly, and add a small amount of background noise (this will be a lot less of a problem if you use good quality leads).  With only one or two pedals, or a single multi-effects unit, this loss of quality is usually so small that it isn't worth worrying about, but if your stage set-up involves sending your guitar sound through a sequence of many different pedals, you will probably find that, even when they're all switched off, the sound of your guitar isn't as clear as when you plug it directly into your amplifier.
  • Range of sounds - a multi-effects unit will give you a wider range of different sounds, but an individual pedal will usually give you more options to fine-tune that sound to exactly how you want it.

If you're unsure where to start, but you'd like to experiment with lots of wierd and wonderful sounds, then a decent multi-effects unit is probably the way forward.  Otherwise it's really a matter of personal preference - there's nothing to stop you using a multi-effects unit and individual pedals together if you want.  We always keep a selection of effects in our shop, so feel free to come in and try them out!

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