The guitar’s amplifier is a wonderful tool.
They magnify and equalize the nuance of the instrument.
An unplugged electric guitar is nothing until you connect it to the amp.
Then boom! You are bound to accomplish the greatest tones.
Now, what happens if I told you that guitars can work without amps.
And no, I’m not talking about electro-acoustics. I’m referring to regular electric guitars.
You’d probably say I’m nuts. If the amp’s so important for the final sound, it cannot be out of the equation.
Well, truth is, it can. Nowadays, some young musicians decide not to play with amps anymore.
Instead, they stick with the alternatives.
Physical amps are not used by many players because of the more convenient alternatives. Some programs and apps produce almost the same results real amps create. They are easier to carry because they are within a smartphone or PC, and they are cheaper too.
However, this doesn’t mean that traditional amps are dying.
There are plenty of details to consider before jumping to conclusions.
Thus, I invite you to read this interesting article.
Who knows? Maybe you end up changing your mind about the topic.
Is the guitar amp going out of fashion?
Guitar amps are not exactly going out of date. There are thousands of guitarists still creating music with quality amplifiers.
After all, amps intensify the guitar’s sound. We would be doomed without them.
The question emerges because there are lots of younger guitarists who prefer playing with alternatives instead of the classics.
More specifically, they select digital simulations rather than physical amps.
For instance, one of such alternatives can be run on a PC or a Mac. A program can emulate the amp’s functionalities without the necessity of a concrete object.
More comfortable still, is the possibility of playing with your iPhone or iPad. Then you have the tool within your pockets, which is very useful in the long run.
Lastly, some old-school-type-of players prefer a multi-effect pedal or a micro-amp. They too are easier to carry; they fit everywhere.
The reason behind this choice is mainly convenience. It’s super comfortable to have an amplifier within your smartphone.
Simply take it out of your pocket, connect the guitar to the iRig HD 2 (for example), and then to the phone.
Voila! Music guaranteed.
It’s also worth noticing, these alternatives are way cheaper than a tube amplifier.
You are still getting quality tones almost for free. If not, then they cost lesser money than the real amp.
All in all, the causes for getting the alternatives sound logical. But are there other reasons as well?
Drawbacks of traditional guitar amps
There are always pros and cons in every situation in life. Amplifiers cannot be out of this fact either.
They are, undeniably, objects of high value. But what are the setbacks of traditional amps?
Well, first of all, carrying an amp is no easy task.
Certain models are as small as a cool-box, which makes them simpler to take from point A to point B.
However, even the smallest of the amps become a nuisance when having to take your guitar too. All of a sudden, you have both hands occupied, which is a bit inconvenient.
Second, amps take out a lot of space. This detail can easily be forgotten if you live in a big house.
Now, for those whose bedroom is rather small, having a huge speaker in the middle can be problematic.
Let’s back up to what was mentioned before. The reason many choose not to get an amp is because of money.
Amps are expensive, and some musicians barely could pay for their first guitar.
Why spend more when you can get almost the same product with a free program?
Lastly, consider that amps get hot and require maintenance. This issue never happens with an app.
Ultimately, this goes hand in hand with yet another drawback: repairments.
It’s already expensive enough to get an amp, let alone restore it.
Once again, this problem is avoided when working with an installed program.
Reasons why you should still consider a traditional guitar amp
Despite all the disadvantages named before, amps can still be practical for many.
Think about it. Amplifiers are a kind of “Plug & Play” thing.
You just leave it somewhere in your room or garage. Every time you feel like playing loud, you simply reach to it and plug in your instrument.
Nonetheless, the most important reason to still get a physical amp is sound.
Most high-quality guitar amps just sound good without the need for a lot of tweaking.
Lots of musicians strongly believe that nothing can compete with a solid, quality amplifier.
Also, there’s something with the feel of playing them. The way real amps respond to how you play might be imperceptible for the audience, but a really big deal for many players.
It doesn’t matter if your PC is connected to some huge speaker or anything. The amp will always be better.
After all, the main job of an amp is to enhance the guitar. And the job is done perfectly.
Are digital amps actually better?
The world better doesn’t fit this context.
On the one hand, real amps will always be superior regarding capacities. Therefore, they are the best option.
On the other hand, musicians picking the alternatives over physical format believe digital equals better.
So, “better” will always have to do with one’s expectations and personal preferences.
Now, there are reasons why digital amps are a top choice for younger guitarists.
Amp resemblance programs are improving remarkably over the years.
They get much better than their previous versions as time passes by.
Eventually, digital alternatives could end up sounding exactly like a real amplifier.
If not, at least they get real close to the actual sound. This makes the second choice the first choice.
Moreover, they are cheaper, and sometimes even free. Although it’s worth mentioning, paid apps or programs are a better product than their free versions.
They always come with more tones and settings. This also counterbalances the other option.
Equal sound, with more possibilities, and for a lesser price… Why buy solid amps then?
And last, but not least, in many cases, digital amp sims offer a free trial period.
Do you think that would be as easy as just downloading a plugin?
Why are there still people defending traditional amps then?
It’s hard to get rid of traditions.
Once a tradition is hardwired in our society, getting rid of it takes lots of time and conscious effort.
Truth is, picturing live shows without amps on the stage feels strange. Especially for older generations.
However, it does not mean it will never happen.
Other than customs, people still prefer amps because they are simpler.
Again, it’s a matter of plug-and-play. Music guaranteed.
Also, consider how many still opt to turn knobs and not have to carry a laptop or any other multi-effect pedal.
This too could be related to tradition.
Lastly, it is a fact that digital amps are harder to configure and dial. Too many settings are confusing and need to be set up before a rehearsal.
Tube amps, on the contrary, take less amount of time to get sounding right.
Most importantly, they can sound good already by simply turning some knobs around.
Multi-effects and digital amps, in my opinion, have the tendency of requiring a lot of tweaking to get an extremely good tone.
Should you get a traditional guitar amp or go the digital route?
So, what’s the deal?
Should you stick to the classics? Should you play solely with tangible amps?
Should you give a chance to the new technologies? Should you use programs and apps to play music?
Or should you combine both?
As we stated above, it has to do with your preferences and values.
If you believe digital amps cannot compete with traditional ones, then go with the latter.
Real amps will not disappear from the radar yet, I assure you.
Now, the convenience of the digital counterpart cannot be denied.
Money, space, weight. Those aspects should be considered too.
Think about it. Being able to make music with just a phone sounds magical, almost a dream.
We should not be too rigid regarding thoughts and preferences. We must consider how good having digital amps can be for beginners.
Last but not least, I want you to reflect on other aspects of life. Consider all those tools and objects and their digital counterparts.
Physical books vs digital books. Physical albums vs digital albums.
Physical notebooks vs digital notebooks. Physical video games vs digital video games.
Both co-exist with little to no turmoil at all.
The majority may prefer Spotify over a CD, but there’s a reason why new artists keep releasing their music in cassette format: Because people enjoy the old-school method!
Change is inevitable, and should not have negative connotations.
If digital amps will become the norm in the future, I cannot tell.
Luckily, you have the right and the freedom to choose your favorite, even if the norms change.
And as that Lady Gaga song says: “Nostalgia’s for geeks”. If you are a geek for playing with tube amps, so be it proudly.
Thanks for reading.
Hello there, my name is Ramiro and I’ve been playing guitar for almost 20 years. I’m obsessed with everything gear-related and I thought it might be worth sharing it. From guitars, pedals, amps, and synths to studio gear and production tips, I hope you find what I post here useful, and I’ll try my best to keep it entertaining also.