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Guitar amp does matter a lot in producing sound. The type of amp, wattage, speakers and even age plays a role in creating the sound when you play.

If you want a better sound, it’s always a good idea to improve the amp rather than the guitar. You can totally change the sound profile and effects – depending on your guitar amp. 

I have personally tried playing a cheap guitar on an expensive amp (and vice versa). The result is not shocking. 

A good amp can significantly elevate the sound of a cheap guitar – whereas an expensive guitar cannot change the quality of a cheap amp.

In this article, I am going to focus a lot on the guitar amp – discussing the factors that change amp sound and the difference between cheap amp vs expensive amp. 

Here are the topics covered:

  1. 6 Amp Factors That Change Sound Output
  2. Cheap Vs Expensive Guitar Amp
  3. Is Upgrading To An Expensive Amp Worth The Money?
  4. Which Is Better: Expensive Guitar Or Expensive Amp?
  5. How Much Should A Good Amp & Guitar Cost?

6 Factors On Amp That Change Sound Output

As I said, a good amp can make all the difference when it comes to sound. Here are 6 factors in an amp that can change the sound output.

This should make you understand why an amp is very important and matters a lot when playing guitar – especially to the sound. 


1. Amp type

Tube amps use vacuum tubes to amplify sound and it creates a more natural true tone sound. The sound is amplified naturally and is much louder. Tube amps generally sound even better at high volume with distortion.

Whereas solid state amps use transistors to amplify the guitar sound – this is inferior to tube amps in terms of volume and distortion.

Tube amps and solid state amps with the same wattage will produce significantly different volumes. Tube is louder and sounds better – the sound increases gradually without any clipping and breaking. 

Although it is possible to achieve the sound of a tube amp at high volume nowadays by using amp modeler software. 

The point is – depending on the type of amp, you will get a different sound profile (especially at higher volume). On lower volume, tube amps and solid state amps are comparable. 

Tube amp

Tube amplifier sounds much better at high volume when compared to solid state amp.


2. Speakers inside the amp

Speakers that come with your amp play a big role in the sound produced. Amps with bigger speakers usually have higher volume and sound much better than amps with small speakers.

I think this point is a no brainer. We all know your guitar sound comes out from the speaker within the amp. 

If the speaker in your amp is low quality, then you won’t get any good tone out of your amp. This does matter a lot. 

3. Amp age (& warm up)

Fragile amps like tube amps will degrade over time and produce lower quality sound over time – in which you will need replacement parts.

This is because the tube amp gets hot when in use and the components in the amp like tubes and speakers can wear out.

With tube amps, you also need to make sure the amp is warmed up before you play – this should be written in guides / specifications.

Playing a tube amp immediately before warming up can produce different tones or even damage it in the long run. 

4. Amp wattage

Amps with higher wattage can produce louder sound and will not over-distort when pushed to the limit. You need to get an amp with higher wattage if performing live in a band.

Remember, tube amps are naturally louder than solid state amps on the same wattage. If you need to perform live in a band, you need to get 50 watt tube amp or 100 amp solid state amp.

If practicing at home, you should get a 20 watt solid state amp. Don’t bother with a tube amp if you are a beginner. They are more expensive and fragile. 

5. Amp brand

Each brand that produces amps will have their own sound characteristics. They are minor but you can clearly tell the sound difference between an amp from two different companies.

For example, playing guitar on a Fender amp will produce a brighter sound – whereas playing the same guitar on a Marshall amp will produce a warmer sound.

It’s up to your playing style and personal preference. Comparing the sound online is hard because the sound has been converted digitally and is compressed when uploaded online.

I suggest you plug your guitar to different amps in the store and hear the sound produced before buying. 

6. Amp controls

Different amps have different available controls and knobs that can produce different sounds. Most amps have the basic controls like gains and volume but might not have controls for reverb or tremolo effect.

Without the out of the box controls, you may need mode pedals to achieve what you want. It’s still possible but this shows how different amps can produce different sounds.

More expensive amps even have 3 or 4 different channels – allowing you to easily switch sound with a switch.

marshall amp

Amps with more controls can provide guitarist with more options to produce sound effects.

6 Differences Expensive  Vs Cheap Guitar Amp

Knowing that a guitar amp does impact sound significantly, it doesn’t mean that you need to get an expensive guitar amp to play.

Here are 6 differences between cheap and expensive amps – so that you can decide whether buying an expensive amp is worth it for you. 

  1. Expensive amp has better quality speakers. Generally, the speakers in expensive amps are louder and made with better quality. This means you can properly hear the mids and bass when playing. 
  2. Tube amps are more expensive than solid state. Tube amps are great in producing natural tone and can handle high volume and distortion without issues. If you need to perform live, a tube amp is the way to go. Otherwise, a solid state amp is great because it’s durable and cheap.
  3. Expensive amps have higher wattage. Amp wattage is important for volume. The higher amp wattage, the more volume. If you are just playing at home, getting a small 20 watt amp is good enough.
  4. Expensive amps are more durable with better parts. Expensive amps are usually made from durable material that last longer. This doesn’t mean that cheaper amps will break quickly. This depends entirely on how you treat the amp. 
  5. Expensive amps are handmade with better quality control. Many expensive amps are handmade – instead of mass produced in another country. This means the amp is hand crafted by a professional who’s been making an amp for a long time.
  6. Expensive amps have more controls and channels. Generally, expensive amps will provide more control knobs – allowing it to be more versatile. You need lesser pedals with expensive amps.

Is Upgrading To An Expensive Amp Worth The Money?

Upgrading to an expensive amp is definitely worth the money if you are serious about playing the guitar or if you need to perform live in a band. 

More expensive amps typically sound better, can handle higher volume, and are more versatile with more controls and channels. These are all the characteristics required by a seasoned guitarist. 

If you are not performing live or simply want to record at home, I recommend you to invest into better pedals or audio interfaces instead. This way you can try out different effects and even dabble into recording and digital amp modelers.

Which Is Better: Expensive Guitar Or Expensive Amp?

An expensive amp is always better than an expensive guitar. An expensive amp can significantly change the sound output of an instrument.

Guitar’s job is to generate signals when you pluck it. I do agree that the guitar is important – different strings, pickups and body can help in producing a great sound.

However, when compared to a guitar amp, the sound difference provided by better pickups, strings and body will not match the sound difference provided by a better amp. 

An amp is a device that creates the sound. All sound effects, tones and volumes are controlled by the amp. 

You should look into a better guitar only after your amp is good enough to support it. Playing a cheap guitar on an expensive amp can sound great. 

But playing an expensive guitar on a cheap amp will never sound good. I have tried it myself.

How Much Should A Good Amp Cost?

A good amp from Marshall can cost about $600. Generally an amp should be more expensive than the guitar – at about 50% more expensive.

With a $600 amp, you can practice at home or even perform live in a band. Practicing with a good amp drives you to play more because the tone produced is always great.

I personally think $600 is the highest you should go for an amp (as a regular player). Instead of spending more on the amp, you can invest in a better guitar or pedals. 

I personally use this Marshall amp for years now and haven’t seen the reason to upgrade

For guitars, I recommend getting a guitar with HSS (Humbucker, Single, Single) pickup – this makes you more versatile.

When needing to play solo, switch to the neck single coil pickup. When needing to play high distortion, switch to the bridge humbucker pickup.

Ifandi S.

About Ifandi S.

Ifandi started Strumming Bars to answer all the questions of a guitarist. As a self-learned guitarist, he remembered how frustrating it was to not find answers to his many questions in the journey. With Strumming Bars, that's no longer the case!

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