What makes a blues amp different?
Blues guitar is characteristically bold and soulful, so plugging into an amp that can fully embody the groove pouring out of your guitar is of utmost importance. A capable blues amp is different from other amps most significantly by its components. Amplifiers can be one of two different types: solid-state or valve (often referred to as “tube”). Solid-state amps use electronic components, such as transistors, to amplify the signal coming from the guitar. On the other hand, tube amps namely use vacuum tubes to amplify the signal, which renders them slightly more fragile than their solid-state counterparts. To most musicians, however, the extra risk (and commonly the higher price tag) is minimal compared to tonal vibrancy and authenticity produced by tube amps.
Features to consider while choosing a blues amp
The features that an amplifier boasts are crucial in determining the output sound. When deciding which combination is right for you, it is of utmost importance to have a clear idea in mind of the style of music you want to play. We have listed the different features below to help you reach that vital decision.
Type and Configuration
The type of amp you need depends solely on the sound you wish to produce. A tube amp such as the Fender Bassman ’59 or the Vox AC series will traditionally play with more crunch due to its amplification process and is favored when playing blues or another form of distortion-reliant rock. Solid-state amps like the Blues Cube produce a clean-sounding tone and are typically preferred for touring or heavy use, as they seldom break down or need repair.
Configuration refers to the way the amp is set up. For anything outside of a sold-out arena, a combo amp will usually get the job done. In a combo amp, the head and cabinet components are all combined in one machine, as in the Marshall Bluesbreaker. If playing a sold-out arena is what you seek, however, then purchasing a powerful head and a sizeable cabinet is the way to go. There are exceptions to the general rule, but most are made by experienced musicians looking to create a very specific effect.
Power and speakers
The biggest question you need to ask yourself regarding the power and speakers you choose is how loud you want to play.
The general trend is: the larger the speaker and more powerful the amp, the louder the sound produced and the larger the venue.
For most at-home musicians 30-watts or less will do the trick, moving on up to the 50-watt range for band practice or small venues. The 100-watt range and up belongs to the big-time musicians that want to fill the eardrum of thousands of people at a time.
Inputs and outputs
Although it can often be difficult to remember exactly where the signal is going in and where it is coming out, a good musician needs to understand the ins and outs of jacks properly. In essence, by following the signal path we determine that output is anywhere the signal is going out, such as the jack on your guitar, and input is anywhere the signal is going in, such as input jack behind the speaker cabinet on your amp. When purchasing your next amp, you should have a clear idea of where you will be playing.
If you live in a quiet neighborhood and want to practice at home, you should seek an amp that has a headphone jack so you can practice silently. On the contrary, if you want to blow some ears out, seek out an amp with a line out to connect to larger speakers or a PA system.
Additionally, this might be a good time to think about the effects pedals you want to buy, as connectivity between your guitar, pedals, and amp needs to be possible. Another useful feature is USB connectivity like that of the Blues Cube that allows for direct amp-to-PC recording.
Built-in effects are most popular with modeling amps, which use electronic components to mimic the sound produced by their tube counterparts. Amps that have this capability are becoming increasingly popular due to their versatility. Musicians wanting to play surfer rock, for example, often seek out amps with the surfer-trademark tremolo effect.
As with any purchase, the warranty is the only sure-fire way to know whether or not your amp is going to last. The best-built amps don’t always have the longest-lasting warranties, but few things are more comforting than knowing your amp is protected against mechanical failures.