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5 mistakes guitarists make when choosing their next amp

You know when the time is right. You’ve been plugging away on your trusty practice amp, with its tinny distortion and crackly reverb pot, but now the big leagues beckon! You’re ready to graduate into the world of big boy’s amps, and need some help deciding which is right for you. We’ve all been there, and we’ve all made the mistakes. Learn from us as we try and guide you through the minefield that is choosing your next amp.

There are certain mistakes which keep cropping up. Here we’ll outline five of the most common, in the hope that when it comes to choosing your next amp you’ll avoid making them and ending up with something you regret in six months.


Choosing an oversized volume monster you’ll never use properly

Look at the ‘for sale’ sites on Facebook, or on your favourite online auction portal, and you’ll see hundreds upon hundreds of top-of-the-range, cutting edge amps which the current owners absolutely had to have as if their lives depended on it. Nearly all, you’ll notice, will feature the immortal phrases ‘never gigged’ or ‘studio use only’. More often than not, this is down to one very simple fact. Unless you’re headlining the local stadium, or live in the middle of nowhere without neighbours to worry about, you simply aren’t likely to need 100 watts of raging amplifier behind you.

You see, without getting too technical, a good chunk of your tone will come from the power amp valves/tubes, and these only really get going when there’s some volume being pushed through the amp. And realistically, you’re not likely to be able to enjoy a 100 watt amp to its fullest glory without making your ears bleed.

For the vast majority of players, a good quality 30 watt amp will provide more than enough juice to fill all but the very largest of rooms, all the while pushing those power valves/tubes to realise their glorious harmonic potential. So, in conclusion, the advice here is to be realistic about what situations you’re likely to find yourself in performance-wise, and choose an amp which will meet those needs without going completely over the top.


Choosing an amp you’ll ‘grow’ into

Another fairly common mistake often linked to the previous point. Ask yourself whether you’re buying an amp you can use immediately in the way you envisaged, or if you’re buying something you can look longingly at knowing one day you’ll check into the armchair-blues hotel. Sure, a vintage flavoured piece of amp history will look great in your living room, and one day you probably will enjoy nerding out over the types of transformers used, but if you’re playing in a heavier band now then there is literally no point buying an amp that doesn’t serve your immediate needs.

Same goes for buying that stadium filling 100w head in lieu of actually playing the stadiums. If you’re ever booked to play a stadium, we’d wager you’ll be flush enough to buy a new amp then for the occasion.


Being swayed by a big artist’s tone

Ever wondered why you can buy the signature guitar and amp, run the pedals in the exact same chain, even wear the same clothes as your hero yet never quite sound as good? It’s because tone is in the fingers, as the old guitar cliché goes. When going by a recorded tone the waters are even further muddied by virtue of the fact that no end of production and processing will have gone into achieving what you’re listening to. So, unless you’re a bone fide super-fan and are buying as some form of musical pilgrimage to your hero, aim to get a rig that sounds how you want it to sound. Be bold! There are no right answers in the quest for tone, so forge your own path. Chances are that no matter how much money you wax on identical gear, you’ll never quite sound as good as the artist and that, my friend, will chip away at your soul until the final pennies have left your bank account.


Falling for a brand

Yeah, we get it. We know Orange amps are like catnip to guitarists, and we wouldn’t want to discourage that. But, playing devil’s advocate for a second, we’re also keen to point out that our reputation isn’t solely built on fancy branding, winning personalities and a good sense of humour. People like our amps because we have built a heritage based on quality, craftsmanship and good old fashioned tone. So when you’re looking for your next amp, be radical and make your decision based on the features, functionality and sounds you can actually hear, rather than the logo on the front. You’ll be glad of it in the long run.


Bad research

Kids of today have it so easy. The internet has made it so simple for people to carry out rudimentary research into their next purchase. Literally anything you can think of has been video reviewed up on YouTube, or written about on a blog. The trap to fall into here is making a purchasing decision based on some 14 year old kid and his 20 minute ‘cam audio only’ monologue about how a particular amp has changed his life. He’s just spent his entire year’s pocket money on it; of course he’s going to say it’s good. It’s hardly objective, right? While these first-hand user experience accounts are worthwhile for building a general overview of a product, you should always (where possible) try and physically go and look at the gear on your shortlist in person. Poke it, play with it, whatever you need to do. Just don’t shell out hundreds or thousands of pounds/dollars/Euros on an amp only to find it doesn’t sound like our 14 year old friend ‘promised’ it would.

So there we go. We hope this list helps you when it comes to making your next big purchase. Stick to first-hand research, based on a rough idea of what you want to sound like, and you can’t really go wrong.

  1. Rafael Cervera
    Rafael Cervera says:

    Good article, i’ll add another mistake which is Cab choosing, sometimes people spend hundreds or thousands on an amp and go cheap on the cab, or just go with the matching cabinet regardless of its construction, speakers used, etc.

    A friend of mine had a Dark Terror with a really cheap home built 2X12 speaker cab, and i hated the amp, it sounded horrible IMO, it wasn’t until i tried one with a PPC112 that i fell in love with the little monster and i decided to take it home.

  2. Conor
    Conor says:

    Such great advice. Advice that, unfortunately, stopped me from buying an Orange because it just isn’t my thing! Too much attitude! Got a Hayden instead. I loved the process of finding the right amp; of being honest about needs and preferences. It made me realise that when you find what suits you it changes how you listen to and play music. I weirdly wish I had liked Orange amps more because they are so beautiful!

    • Håkan
      Håkan says:

      Thanks for your honest note.
      I’ve been a Marshall guy for as long as I can remember but is at the same time a bit scitzofrenic liking old stuff like Sweet (Orange), Purple (Marshall, Vox, Fender), Frank Marino (solid state homemade preamp into different tube amps), Pat Travers (Marshall, Vox), Alex Lifeson (Marshall, HH, Hughes & Kettner) to Allan Holdsworth (too many to mention) so I kinda don’t know what path to follow soundwise…

      I’ve been playing a Rockerverb III (50w) for almost two years now but have ever since I bought it been trying to make It sound like a Marshall or something else with smoother and less fuzzy gain structure. What to do?

      I guess the search is on again…

  3. fabio
    fabio says:

    great text….at the end of the reading i can only say that, i respect you guys even more now….keep rocking us with these articles

  4. Nyms
    Nyms says:

    I use an OR-15 on top of an Orange 412 slant clone I built. 15 watts into a 412 is earsplitting. I like the complex tone of four speakers because no speaker is exactly the same. I don’t switch to half power, I use a Weber power soak to tame it. Then it can be miked for the mains. Hugs…

  5. Thad Cornett
    Thad Cornett says:

    Every novice and semi pro should have this written down or memorized.I always try and try if i want a particular brand until i can find one to suit me even if it is the cheapest.Money only allows the musician to purchase what has already been made,regardless why.Unless your set to Headline Madison Square Garden before a sold out crowd all while you rarely even show up for sound check most of us will always know that bigger is not better.That 4.000.00 dollar Head and Cabs yu bought while never fully testing it may just cause your last show.

  6. John Hellon
    John Hellon says:

    Great advice ! I have used a lot of amps over the years, the highlights of which have been a Fender Pro Reverb – unsurpassable for clean – and an old Vox ac 15 with valve rectifier (spongy and brilliant at full tilt in a band) however, after a couple of modelling, and a small Vox all valve, I can honestly say that the micro terror is a revaluation. Not satisfied with doing one of the best blues rock tones ever, it is supremely controllable from the guitar, equal ro the venerable Vox that I mentioned earlier. Nuff said !

  7. Tommy Thunder
    Tommy Thunder says:

    I started with an Egnater Tourmaster 100 watt. Too loud and they have weird harmonics on overdrive, then an orange thunderverb with matching closed back 2×12, loved the od and thought clean was kinda sterile in bedroom volumes, bought ceriatone SSS 100 watts for clean (dumble), and used a head switcher. Amazing sound…but too loud for gigging! Then I bought a closedback bad cat single 12 (oversized) and a small baffle and mic it. Also a matching hot cat 30. My favorite amp overall. In tonequesting, I bought a matchless lightning, hand wired ac30, Mesa lonestar, built a 5E3, and bought a blackfaced 71 twin reverb. Finally I fell in love with the dr z z-lux…on reviews. It was ok… Now I discovered that the cleans I didn’t like in the orange thunderverb actually sound awesome in my bands mix, while the other channel does amazing overdrive. Haven’t even considered changing amps in about a year! My friends have called me Tommy Thunder for years, and now I’m back to the reason why.

  8. Michael Kremer
    Michael Kremer says:

    Great article! When I was younger I fell into that mega-watt trap. I had 70 watts and could only turn the volume up to 2 in the space we practiced. After I lost my guitar and amp in a flood, I decided to be more reasonable. After much research, I picked up the Gretsch I had been playing and saving for, then I got the Micro Terror. It captures the sparkle and growl of my Gretsch perfectly and I can get all the tone from it because I can crank it up in nearly any space. XD

  9. Isaiah Furrow
    Isaiah Furrow says:

    Good stuff, right now I have a Marshall MG30CFX with the accompanying pedal. Also have a crush 12 we got first. Both are great learning tools, and someday I hope to upgrade to a Crush 35 RT. It should be plenty for anything, run it through the PA if needed, and the FX loop makes it as “pro” as I will ever need. Love the tone of the little 12watt, and the 35RT sounded as sweet as anything I’ve heard when I toyed with it a bit at Guitar Center…

  10. Jason Rush
    Jason Rush says:

    I’m a new owner of the Crush series amps, that I absolutely love…Playin guitar for over 20 years now. I enjoyed this article and look forward to more orange amps in the future…Keep up the good work!

  11. Tyler
    Tyler says:

    Great article. I’ve recently gone through the process of finding an amp test suits my current needs.

    A while back I had a 50 Watt head that, in spite of the 15 watt mode, was just too loud… I suspect that the 2×12 I was using was a big factor in its volume. So, I sold it and got a Laney Cub 12R. Since I was only playing for my own enjoyment it was perfect.

    This year I started jamming with a band again and discovered no matter what I hooked up for cabinets and no matter what tubes I put in, I didn’t have the clean headroom I wanted at jam levels. (The crunch was amazing though).

    I spent a few months researching, trying amps in stores, etc. I took a good look at Orange, but I find they sound better when someone else uses them. Same with Mesa Boogie. I had decided that Marshall was the sound I wanted and the DSL40 looked to be the amp that would get me where I was heading except at 40 watts, I wondered if it would be too loud. The local Marshall dealer didn’t have any in stock and even if they did, the only way I would know for sure was to buy it and bring it to a jam. I had already decided that 30 watts was as big as I really wanted, but there is no 30 watt Marshall.

    Then an Egnater Rebel 30 showed up on so I jumped on it. I had no cash and they weren’t willing to trade so I dropped a bunch of unused gear off at the pawn shop along with a guitar that I didn’t really want to sell, but I needed the amp more. I immediately fell in love with the fact I was able to get pristine Fenderish clean and huge crunch and smooth lead tones from it. I play everything from jazz to metal so the versatility was an added bonus. I was planning to get a small Vox or Fender amp for when I’m more in the mood for blues; but now, I don’t think I need to worry. I just need a similar amp to the Rebel 30 now as a backup in case it dies at a gig.

  12. Keef
    Keef says:

    I use Dual Terror it’s totally all I need it covers all the places I play in. Run on full 30 watts and crank it to get those valves pumpin. I put it through a Zilla 2×12 loaded with Vintage 30’s and then through the PA works absolutely fine for me. Thanks.

  13. Daniel
    Daniel says:

    Bad research. Holy effing moly. I’m new to bass and since Guitar Center has swallowed most local shop, my first hand bass amp experience is limited to what they have on stock. Yeah, they are called Guitar Center for a good reason. Their bass amp selection is laughable at best. Soooooo my purchase is the result of research. TalkBass, holy effing moly. Just for kicks try asking about thoughts on any given amp or, heaven forbid, what’s the best speaker size.

  14. Scarey Larry
    Scarey Larry says:

    So many people do not understand what 96db/1 watt means, the function of the inverse square law, and what is considered loud. 96db is loud.

    Great article. Glad I don’t want to be anyone else.

  15. Luke St. Michaels
    Luke St. Michaels says:

    I’d say that the first one doesn’t really apply. I used to play out of my Dad’s old 100 watt Sovtek, and I only played one show with it. It was an incredible amplifier, and I wouldn’t want to sacrifice tone for price. That being said, my dream is a Superlead, but obviously I can’t afford that.