[In celebration of the 10th issue of She Shreds, we will be posting some of our favorite selections from across our print catalog throughout April. The feature was originally published in the fifth issue of She Shreds Magazine, June 2014 and has been edited for timely accuracy. Subscribe here and receive your copy of She Shreds’ 10th issue when it is released later this month!]
Snobby gear bros and tech-heavy publications can make buying and troubleshooting issues with your amp seem daunting. Don’t be deterred. The information in this article is meant to equip you with basic amp knowledge, lend some tips so you can confidently seek out the perfect amp for yourself, and help you figure out what’s wrong when it isn’t acting so, well, perfect.
BUYING AN AMP
When you’re buying an amp, you need to know your goals. Are you wanting to use the amp for playing live? Practicing at home? If you’re playing with a band, what sort of band is it? Knowing the sound you need is very important. Your amp is your canvas, your pedals are your colors and the electric guitar in your hands is your paint brush. The size, style and brand you choose should be based on the outcome you’re looking for.
Once you know what you need from your amp, you can quickly narrow down your options. Be patient, though. Many people go through two, three, or even 10 amps before finding the right one, and that’s totally fine. That is the beauty of buying and selling on sites like Reverb.
Remember that no single brand works for every sound. For example, Fender amps have an unmistakable chimey, clean sound. They are a great blank canvas that take pedals very well. On the other hand, Marshalls and other British rock amps (like Orange) have that dirty sound: classic rock grit. And there are endless boutique and smaller companies. Once you know what kind of sound you want, you can pick the brand that fits.
When considering an amp’s wattage, keep in mind that tube amp watts are (usually) a lot louder than solid state watts. For example, a 15-watt tube amp can sometimes be as loud as 150-watt solid state amp. For a typical rock band, anything 25 tube watts or above will work depending on how loud your drummer is. If you’re lucky enough to play a venue with monitors and mics for the amps, a lower wattage amp will work. There is a misconception that double the tube watts equals double the volume. To get an actual doubling of your volume, you have to go 10 times your wattage. So a five-watt amp turned all the way up is half as loud as a 50-watt amp turn all the way up.
EQ-ING ON STAGE
It’s simple: you are the only person who understands exactly how you want to sound. EQ-ing your amp (adjusting the knobs) is an important aspect of achieving your sound live, and even if you play at a venue with a sound person, they can’t be relied on to EQ your amp. So make sure to find the right balance of settings for your sound. For example, if you’re playing heavier music with lots of distortion, cranking the mids and turning down the bass and treble will help your guitar cut thru through in the mix (you’ll come through clearly). There’s no magic formula, though, so take the time to figure out specifically what works for you.
TROUBLESHOOTING AMP PROBLEMS ON STAGE
Problem: amp lights up but no sound.
Step 1: Make sure you’re fully plugged in both at the guitar, between your pedals, and at the amp. If you have a separate head and cab, make sure the speaker cable is fully plugged in on both ends. If you have a tube amp, make sure it is out of standby mode.
Step 2: Make sure the volume on your guitar, the volume on your pedals, and the volume on your amp are all turned up. Both of these steps sound really obvious, but they are the most common mistakes people make that result in not getting any sound.
Step 3: Check that all of your pedals have a solid power connection (i.e are plugged in and light up when you step on them). True bypass pedals will let a signal go through even when they are not powered, whereas buffered pedals (most common pedals, such as Boss pedals and Digitech) will not.
Step 4: Investigate the integrity of your cables. If you use pedals, disconnect them and plug your guitar directly into your amp to see if they’re the problem. If you still don’t get sound, you might have a bad cable. Always carry extra cables!
Step 5: If you’re using a tube amp look behind the amp to make sure all the tubes are lit up, if visible.
Step 6: Wow! If none of those steps solve your problem, you probably have an issue that needs some more in-depth repair.
Problem: amp will not power on.
Step 1: Is your amp fully plugged in? Does the outlet work? Are you using a power strip that works?
Step 2: Check your fuse. The fuse is generally located in the back panel of the amp. Take it out (after turning the amp off and unplugging), and if you can see any visible burning or charring, you know you’ve got a bad fuse. Sometimes a fuse can go bad without showing any visible difference, so either way, see if using a new fuse does the trick. Always carry an extra fuse! The back of your amp should say what type. Replacing the fuse may very well get you through your show, but afterwards you should still get your amp checked out by a professional, as fuse problems can be indicative of larger issues.
HOW TO REPLACE YOUR TUBES
There are two types of tubes in your amp: preamp tubes and power tubes. We don’t recommend replacing power tubes on your own because it can get a bit tricky but pre amp tubes can be replaced in just these four easy steps.
Step 1: Very, very important: make sure your amp is off and unplugged.
Step 2: Make sure your amp has been off for about 10 to 15 minutes then lightly touch the tubes to make sure they’re no longer hot.
Step 3: Very gently wiggle the tubes until they come loose from the tube socket (you may need to unscrew a panel on your amp to access the tubes).
Step 4: Get the appropriate replacement tube (generally preamp tubes are 12AX7, and power tubes should be clearly labeled when you look inside your amp). Align the pins on the tubes with the holes in the tube socket and gently press down until secure.
Tube Amp: Any amp that uses vacuum tubes for power. They tend to produce a warmer, rounder sound.
Solid State Amp: Any amp that uses transistors for power, rather than tubes, which produces a more flat sound.
Head: A guitar amp where the amplifier section is in one case without any built in speakers.
Cabinet: A speaker box with no built in amp.
Half Stack: A head and a cabinet.
Full Stack: A head and two cabinets.
Combo: An amplifier with built in speakers.
Fuse: A small metal and glass tube that is in the circuit of your amp to protect it from being damaged by electrical spikes. If there is a sudden power surge, the fuse takes the damage (and blow), thus preventing the surge from getting into the inner workings of your amp.
Watts: the output rating for an amp.
Ohms vs. Khz: Impedance refers to Ohms, which are units of measurement for electrical resistance. The only reason you need to know this is if you have a tube head and cab (rather than a combo), you need to make sure they are paired correctly. You need to match your impedance from the amp to the speaker. The way to do this is look at your cabinet or speaker and read what the impedance (ohm rating) of the cabinet is. Generally it will be eight or 16 Ohms. Your amp/head will either have different outputs for eight and 16 ohms or an ohm selector that will allow you to switch between eight and 16 Ohms. This subject can get very complicated if you’re running multiple cabinets or if you don’t know the impedance reading of the cab you’re using. In these cases, go to your local gear store and ask for some assistance. Generally, you match 8 to 8 and 16 to 16. This is just for guitar amps. For bass amps you’ll generally find 4 or 8 Ohms as your options and you’ll match in kind. The risk of not matching is damage to either your speakers, output transformed in your amp or both. Also! Make sure you’re using a speaker cable, which is different from an instrument cable, to plug your head into your cab. This should be clearly marked on the cable but if it’s not, ask!
Head Room: The volume that your amp can achieve before the tubes start to distort. If you want a loud clean sound, you’re going to want a higher wattage amp.
Want to read more from Issue #5? Head over to shop.sheshredsmag.com and order your issue today!