Ins & Outs of Using an Amp

Ins & Outs of Using an Amp

By Shawn Leonhardt for Guitar Tricks and 30 Day Singer

There is already so much to cover in your beginner guitar lessons. Then, you need to add technology if you want any chance of altering your sound or being heard! If you want to perform or gig, it will be important to have an amp that you know all about. There is no one-size amplifier for genres or styles; it all comes down to your budget and how you utilize your gear. Here are the ins and outs of using an amp.

It's All In The Guitar Signal

Not too long ago, we used large wooden sound bodies and theaters or landscapes to amplify the sound of our music. Once we invented electricity, we turned soundwaves into a signal and boosted the power with vacuum tubes. Guitarists found that altering that signal could change the tone, project more volume, and even create new song ideas. They could finally hear the guitar chords over the loud sounds of the big band they were playing in. They turned the gain up, so the signal clipped, which led to distortion, overdrive, and more grit!

Later, damaged amps would help create fuzz, and doubling the signal led to even more effects. Now, all those abilities come in tube amps that use older analog tech and digital modeling amps that replicate it. Most modern amps have a preamp and power amp stage to boost the signal and gain, along with frequency controls for high, mid, and low adjustments. The more expensive amp you buy, the more knobs you will have to twist and shape your tone.

You can find amp modeling software on your phone or computer, and it only requires a guitar interface to explore different sounds. It's one of the best ways to learn amplification and how to create different vibes. Of course, high-budget gear will always sound better and be preferred, but don't underestimate how much you can learn with a simple phone app and your guitar. The early electric guitarists would have been thrilled to have easy access to so many effects!

Amplification Dos and Don'ts

Unlike software, real amps require more careful handling. Read the manual, join forums or groups for people with the same amp, and get to know the gear as much as possible. Guitarists who treat their gear like an extension of their instrument are usually better at learning to use it. Your final sound doesn't just come from knowing how to play guitar but also from the way you alter your signal.

Avoid damp or overly hot environments, and keep the amp dry, as any moisture will be a problem. If you are totally new to amps and pedals, get to know the amp first and slowly add a pedal at a time while you study the signal chain. A durable amp doesn't need to be handled with kid gloves, but you can also destroy the electronics if you aren't careful. That's why reading instructions is so important—so you know the basics. 

Tube amplifiers have many more specific rules, such as ensuring they are warmed up, all connected, and hooked to the right gear. The loads of your output transformers matter, and you need a better idea of what you are doing. Tube amps are also very hot and will collect dust, and they must be handled appropriately in these extreme temperatures. You must also consider when the parts must be changed to avoid damage. Expensive amps always require further research and care; they aren't for newcomers to rush into.

When transporting your amp, ensure it is upright and not face down, keep it padded, and lock it in place so it has less chance of breaking and tearing. Even when stored at home or in the studio, be mindful of where it is placed, especially near heat or light. Most decent amps will increase in value over time if they are cared for. While understanding these amp aspects might not be necessary when just learning to play guitar, they will be helpful in the future.

Amplification For Gigging And Performance

When you are playing a show in public, you want great sound, but simplicity, durability, and portability are more important. It is essential to consider all the times it will be moved, how far, and how you'll transport it. Small to medium-sized amps will fit in most vehicles and not be too heavy, while the high-budget massive amps can require multiple people to move. A gigging amp has the chance to be damaged or broken because of the nature of using it so much and moving it around a lot. So it is wise to avoid anything that costs too much.

The best amps are reserved for studio time, the place where your sound matters the most. This is where we are more likely to have separate amp heads and speaker cabinets as opposed to one contained system. These setups will give you maximum control over tone and power, perfect for recording those power chords. Of course, large amp and PA setups can be transported, but it will take some help.

One way to tell which amps are perfect for gigging and performing in a studio is to see what the working musicians use, especially in real situations like small concerts and successful home studios. Surprisingly, you often see amps that are digital and portable. Yes, analog sounds the best, but most people don't notice, and digital gets the job done fine. 

The more dedicated and gear-loving guitarists will seek watts, ohms, and speaker specifics, while the average singer-songwriter needs something the crowd can hear. Both groups can benefit from getting to know the gear they have and listening to what the various knobs do by tweaking and experimenting. The best guitarists back in the day usually didn't chase gear; they just took what they had available and made the best of it.

You can learn the ins and outs of the amp by using digital software or your amplifier. Always keep volumes and levels as the instructions suggest and take it slow. Of course, don't forget you need a properly set guitar and plenty of practice to get the most out of your playing. If you aren't the best guitarist, you can dial in your amp settings all you want, but it won't matter much without good guitar technique.