Tom's Guitars Manila

Tom's Guitars Manila
Vintage and rare guitars!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

What to Look For When Buying a Practice Amp

Are you a guitarist looking for a practice amp that you can use in your bedroom or apartment? Here are features that you may want to look for when shopping for that guitar amp.

Solid-state amps
The most common guitar amps I see in music stores in my part of the world are solid-state amps. They are very affordable and come in several power ratings. I used to have a VOX Pathfinder 15 and it was very good and loud. I also had an opportunity to try a small ZT Lunchbox and it was very loud and decent sounding. Affordable solid-state amps can be good for cleans, but I prefer tube amps when I want an overdriven tone.
Tube amps
Do not be fooled by small wattage tube amps. I have a 2-watt Fender Greta connected to a 1x12 cab and it is loud. My old 15-watter can shake wooden walls when cranked. For bedroom or apartment use, I would advise getting a 5-watt tube amp or lower.
While tube amps generally give good distortion, adjusting its controls can be tricky for those more familiar with solid-state amps. Solid-state amps usually give you separate clean and distorted channels, and changing tones can be achieved by pressing a button or footswitch. On the other hand, tube amp tones change from clean to overdriven as you adjust the volume and gain controls. Even adjusting your guitar volume knob can change the tone. Those new to tube amps may find it frustrating at first to dial the tone they want.
Modelling amps
Modelling amps are best for those still searching for the tone they want. By selecting pre-defined settings, you can get emulated tones from the most popular guitar amps and cabs of all time. Some models even use real tubes in the circuit, giving you response similar to a real tube amp.
Note that modelling amps generally use a flat response speaker since speaker characteristics are emulated. Do not replace them with guitar speakers. In addition, do not expect all emulation options to sound similar to the original amp.
Special features
Here are features that I recommend you look for in a practice amp.

External speaker out – Amps with small speakers are easier to carry around the house. However, you would not realize the true tone of your amp until you connect it to a bigger cab with a better speaker. A bigger speaker with high sensitivity can also make your small amp appear louder. A practice amp with small speakers, but with external speaker out gives you the best of both worlds.
Line out – Who says that you cannot jam with a drummer using a small amp? Connecting your small amp to a powered speaker or PA will let you play with your band. Note however, that modelling amps have emulated speaker outputs, which may not be available on other amps. My tube amp’s line out is connected to the preamp section only; hence, only preamp distortion can be heard via its line out.
AUX in – I believe that an auxiliary input is necessary for practice amps. Sometimes labelled as CD IN, this lets you connect an MP3 player or PC to your amp, allowing you to play along backing tracks. You can even download smartphone apps like JamPlayer to slow down the music without changing the pitch, allowing you to listen to all the notes clearly. If you love YouTube, AUX IN allows you to follow video lessons without your amp drowning the sound coming from your small PC speakers.
Headphone out – Do you want to play it loud at night? Get an amp with headphone out and buy a good pair of headphones. The tone may not be as good as regular speakers, but at least you are not disturbing someone else.
Power attenuators – Amps with attenuators or selectable output power let you overdrive your amp without your neighbors knocking on your door. However, do not expect to hear the same tone with a lower selected output.


  1. I love the design, look really vintage

    1. Thanks! It is a very good practice amp that looks good on a small table :-)