For wood shedding at home, a practice amp is a quieter, smaller, and less expensive alternative to loud, heavy gigging amps.
All aspiring electric guitarists know the feeling: you take one look at that big, beautiful Marshall stack at your local music shop, and suddenly you are transported to a massive arena, ripping a screaming rock guitar solo in front of 50,000 adoring fans. As romantic as all that seems, taking home one of these behemoths would most likely result in enraged neighbors, shattered windows, and an eviction notice. For those of us who want to postpone our Rock n’ Roll lifestyle until after our big hit record, loud Marshall stacks and Mesa Boogies are simply not practical for wood shedding at home. At a fraction the size, and cost, of their big brothers, practice amps are an important tool for both novice and seasoned players. While they aren’t loud enough to use in noisy bars and concert arenas, these little guys work great for quiet home practice, jams, and sometimes even small coffee shop gigs. There is an abundance of practice amps on the market designed to meet a wide variety of needs. Here are some basic things to take into consideration as you begin to narrow down your choices.
The main difference between a practice amp and larger, louder amps is wattage. Generally speaking, the more wattage an amp has, the more powerful and louder it is going to be. Practice amps can range from two to 25 watts of power, with guitar and keyboard amps averaging 10 to 15 watts. Bass amps require more power to produce low frequencies, and therefore will have more wattage, around 15 to 25 watts.
Since practice amps have less power than larger amps, they use smaller speakers. A single 10-inch speaker is about as big as they get, with smaller models sporting eight-inch and even five-inch speakers. In general, the larger or heavier the speaker, the more bass frequencies you will hear, especially at higher volumes.
More wattage and bigger speakers means louder and better tone, but it also means a bigger and heavier amp. Practice amps generally can range in weight from seven to 25 pounds, and come in many shapes and sizes. If you plan on toting your amp around a lot, you may want to consider a smaller, lighter amp, for the sake of your back.
Tube or Solid State?
Tube technology was the norm in amps up until the late ’60s and ’70s, when modern solid state technology came of age. Despite their higher cost, maintenance, and weight, many players swear by them for their warm, vintage “tube” sound and unique distortion. Solid state amps tend to be more rugged and affordable. Since they generally sound tinny and sterile in comparison to tube amps, most solid state units feature onboard digital amp modeling and effect processors that allow you to dial in a wide variety of tones. Solid state amps almost always feature headphone jacks for silent practice, as well.