Guitar Amps Under $200 Buyers Guide
Before investing in a new amplifier there are a number of considerations that you must think of first. There is a huge range of options when it comes to amps, and the last thing you want to do is purchase one that doesn’t suit your need.
Lots of people simply look at the wattage, thinking that the most important thing about an amp – especially when paying under $200 – is how loud it gets when it’s turned up. But power is only one of the many specifications of an amp that you should look at when choosing one.
There’s no doubt that power is important. To work out how powerful an amp is, then you simply need to look at the number of watts it has. The higher the number, the bigger the power. And more power means more volume. You need to work out first, though, what you will be using the amplifier for.
If it is to practice in your bedroom, then you can be quite comfortable with anything in the range of 10 watts to 20 watts. You’ll get more than enough power out of a 10-watt amp to be able to rock out in the comfort of your own home. If you want an amp that you can take to band practice, then you’re going to need something over 20 watts to be able to hear the guitar over the drums.
Anything in the range of 20 watts to 30 watts is more than enough for a beginner amp that you can take to jam sessions too. Once you start thinking about getting on the stage or become more serious about rehearsals, then you’ll need at least 50 watts, but ideally something closer to 100 watts.
This has nothing to do with sound. It’s a purely practical consideration. Do you intend to leave the amp at your rehearsal room or in the corner of your bedroom? If so, then the weight isn’t exactly an important issue for you. But if you plan to move the amp around often, then the last thing you want is to tire your arms out before you’ve even picked up your guitar.
There are a number of lightweights, portable amps on the market that offer decent wattage. But if you’re ordering online, you might forget to check how much the amp actually weighs.
The majority of the tone you will get out of the amp will come from the speaker. They tend to range in size from 2” all the way to 15”. Size does matter when you’re looking for a high-level amp, as if you want to record, you’ll need at least 12” to get a good range of tone.
But beginners don’t need to concern themselves too much with the speaker size. You’ll be absolutely fine with something on the low-end of the scale. That will provide you with enough range of tone for practicing in your bedroom.
Many modern amplifiers offer a range of built-in effects, but the most important for a beginner is reverb and gain effects. When you’re looking at amps under $200, you might find that some offer a range of in-built effects, but then cost a lot more than cheaper, more simple amplifiers that have no effects at all.
The question you must ask yourself is whether you’re willing to also invest in an effects pedal or not. These are very affordable and will offer a greater range of effects and higher quality of effects than you’ll find built into an amp.
Microphone Jack and Second Channel
This is more of an issue for singer-songwriters who play with an acoustic guitar. If you want to be able to use just one amplifier when practicing or performing, then you’re going to need a microphone jack, and a second channel to do so. Most guitar amps targeted at acoustic players will have this function, but make sure you check before ordering.
Should I get a tube, solid-state, digital, or hybrid amp?
It depends on your level of play and how much money you’re willing to spend. If you’re a beginner, then you’ll be absolutely fine with a solid-state amp. Most amplifiers that are available under $200 will be solid-state amps, and you’ll have no trouble getting good volume and tone out of them.
Once you progress, you might want to invest in a tube amp, especially if you like to play loud rock guitar. If you need lots of effects, then digital is better, but a hybrid combines everything, then again, often at a cost.
What special features do I need?
As a beginner, you don’t need any special features beyond a 1/8” headphone jack, so that you can practice without annoying your family or neighbors. If you want to hook up your amp to your computer, then you’ll need to find an amp that has USB connectivity. Actually, quite a lot of amps that cost under $200 will have this function these days.
How many controls should my amp have?
A basic amp will come with volume control, and probably a treble and bass control too. That’s sufficient for a starter amp. But if you’re looking to have more freedom to create your perfect sound. Then you want an option for reverb, for mid-range, and also for the drive too. If you want distortion, then there must be a control for a drive.
That’s what it does. Reverb offers an echo effect, that makes it sound as if you’re in a large concert hall. It’s fun to play around with and can help you create some great tones. But if it’s your first amp, and you’re paying under $200, then don’t worry if it only has a couple of knobs on it.
Don’t be too focused on the wattage of an amplifier. Of course, it is important that you want to be able to get a lot of power out of the amp, but you need to be aware that there are other features that will impact more greatly on the sound that you actually get out of the amp. Having a loud, simple amp that gives no versatility of tone will lead you to become frustrated at your inability to create the sort of guitar sound that you’re striving for.
Did you know?
The sound that you hear out of your amplifier when you strum the strings on your electric guitar is a result of a signal being recognized by the guitar’s pickups. The vibration of the strings is the signal that is then amplified through the amplifier itself, which is only possible because of the coil inside the pickup. You could say, then, that an electric guitar isn’t actually an instrument until it is connected to an amp.
The market is flooded with guitar amps. The range of size and power go from anything like a tiny 3-watt micro speaker, all the way to Fender’s classic 400 PS that had a whopping 435 watts of power. If you’re looking for an amp under $200, then you’re going to be happy to have something powerful enough for you to learn and practice on, and that you can take to rehearsals once you’ve found yourself a band.
Remember, though, that power is only one element of choosing the right amp. It needs to sound good too. Picking an amp that has a good range of tone and has the option to use an effects pedal is important. As is the weight of the thing, you don’t want to break you back every time you go to band practice. Do you?