Budget Priced Practice Amps

Listening to music through a ‘Ghetto Blaster’, a micro or mini stack system or indeed an I-Pod, has never been about appreciating the finest quality of Hi-Fi sound, it is more about practicality and convenience – Appealing to the mass market, coupled with far eastern production lines, the prices, quality and selection of such products has never been so good – Albeit on a smaller scale the guitar practice amp market has now gone down the same direction – Please note that from now on when I use the term low cost, I do not mean it in a derogatory way, I just mean it in a general way that places £80 to £300 amps into a particular market segment

Twenty, thirty or forty years ago a guitar practice amp was generally bulky and ugly with just about no tonal variation whatsoever – Many had no reverb, or indeed an overdrive channel, whilst any effects other than perhaps tremolo was non-existent – If you looked at the best selling transistor amps of the day from the likes of Marshall, Fender, Peavey, Carlsbro or HH, a small low wattage practice amp was only a seriously down scaled version of a gigging amp and as such it was devoid of any ‘goodies’ to enrich the tone

Whilst many of the older smaller valve amps produced a superior quality of tone, unless you hooked them up to a pedal or two, you would still be limited to a small choice of tonal variation – Yet today this is still the preferred option for many discerning players – Buy a boutique 1 watt to 10 watt valve amp, that is a pure tone machine, then add a few chosen pedals – I for one like this option and if I have two or three hours of spare time for some serious practice, then it is the option I prefer – But a) it costs more and b) it takes longer to set-up and tidy up when I’ve finished – Yet many times I may have less than 30 minutes or so to doodle around, so on that basis I just want to plug in and play, so convenience takes over

Today’s low cost practice amps are stylish and blessed with a whole host of convenient options – A new breed of hi-tec studio and keyboard based companies like Roland (Boss), Korg (Vox), Line 6 and Yamaha (THR models) have introduced software based designs, coupled with low cost far eastern production lines, to bring such amps to the market place, that are loaded with ‘processed digitalized’ tonal options – Whilst traditional manufactures like Fender and Blackstar, to name a few, have now come on board with a selection of similar amps, that offer an impressive quality of tone, allowing you to practice and doodle around for many happy hours – Such gadget based amps allow you to delve into cleaner jazz/blues, subtle overdriven blues, classic rock or hi-gain rock settings, so there is something there for everyone – Is it the best tone you’ll ever hear ? – No – Are they superior in tone to most of the 20th century transistor amps that I mentioned earlier? – Most certainly – Are they practical and fun ? – Again most certainly – Are they relatively low cost ? – Not half – Do they bring out the best of your high end boutique guitar ? – No way, but I don’t think that is the point in this instance, as it is about instant fun and convenience as a practice tool – Spoilt I know, but I currently have a Boss JS5 Jamstation and a Fender Blues G-Dec at home, both with a host of backing tacks built in, so they offer a lot of fun and in short a great ‘Johnny No Mates’ jam box – As a practice tool they are fun and easy to use, so whilst you tend to select your favourite classic backing tracks on a more regular basis, at other times you’ll find yourself wondering off into other less familiar styles, that helps you to develop fresh ideas and phrases – Granted tones are studio processed and as an overview they tend to make you sound better than what you are, but overall they are great fun and when you’ve finished playing, you only have one lead to unplug and tidy away – Some are so small and convenient that they can be taken away if required, on a short break, working away from home or holidays

Many models offer options that will allow you to connect to a PC, which in turn opens up a whole world of options – Even connect with other on-line players and exchange patches, if that is your thing – My choice is to keep it simple and spend half an hour playing, practicing or doodling around and as such I probably only fine tune the factory pre-set voices, as I find that they are more than adequate – Otherwise I’d be spending too much time pulling my hair out, trying to interface it with a PC that may involve various down loads, only to find I have no time left to practice – But that is the players view over the techno, gadget, knob twisters view – Again many such amps offer a CD or MP3 plug in option, allowing you to play along with songs or backing tracks – Again headphone sockets are now available on all amps, so don’t worry about late night practice sessions, annoying the neighbours or indeed the rest of the family who are watching Eastenders – If you are into any home recording they are excellent with endless options

Is there a negative to such low cost amps – Only in that as time goes by they will effectively become disposable in the same way as a portable TV or Ghetto Blaster is – Once the warranty has expired the cost of a repair, via a reputable workshop, will barely merit any costs involved – £100 will buy you very little repair time from most electrical repair workshops, so unless you have a handy technician in your neighbourhood who can do it on the side after work, it becomes more cost effective to forget the repair and buy a new version

Go back to a small deluxe valve amp, with or without a couple of boutique pedals and you’ll fully appreciate the far superior tonal quality, expression, soul and emotion that is available from such a set-up – But as I mentioned earlier, that whilst such low cost amps are often the only alternative for a beginner, for a more experienced player, such amps are now seen as essential practice tools for their convenience alone – Compared to the smaller amps that I sold and used 20 or 30 years ago, today’s low cost amps offer the player far more fun, convenience and in most cases a far superior quality of tone – Buying one is a no brainer