My better half...

"Hey Man, what's up? You look down to me."

"Well yeah I'm really bummed. Remember that guitar I just bought for $12,364.68?

"Sure Do"

"It sounds horrible. All distorted, no sustain and a real high pitched edge to it. I'm gonna sell it on the list man. I hope to get $500.00 if I can find the right buyer."

"Let me ask you a question You paid over 12 grand for that guitar, right? What amplifier are you running it into?"

"Hey man I've been listening to you so check this out. There's a guy on ebay who takes vintage early '70's transistor radios and then installs them into a cigar box made of cedar wood. Then he wires a tube into the circuit and that makes it a "tube amp". He uses vintage pulls of authentic Sovtek 12AX7's from the '90's. Then he hand wires some wires to hook up the input jack. 

"Umm, what kind of speaker?

Ohh man, he keeps it vintage there too. It uses the original 3" speaker from the transistor radio. Check it out. It's "authentic vintage", uses a solid wood cabinet, totally a tube amp with almost NOS tube, "analog hand wired" and he guarantees that you will have 'creamy distortion' no matter what guitar you use and when you pull the battery it turns it off and that makes it "true bypass". See man, I've been listening to you."


(Please note my inclusion of the term "creamy distortion". This term is so widely recognized I will try to include it into as many posts that I can. You are welcome.)

        Electric guitars, when you play them, put out a very small amount of electricity. A really small amount. Is that why we call them "electric" guitars? Now that I think of it, that's a darn good question. Sort of a chicken or egg thing. Very philosophical. Anyway where I am going with this? Many beginning guitar players obsess on the guitar. That's OK because I do too. Guitars are cool. An electric guitar is only ½ of the instrument. New players focus on the guitar, spend most of their money on it and then buy an inexpensive practice amp. Then they wonder why their tone is nonexistent if not offensive. "It doesn't sound like a real guitar, man." Many parents approach me with the exact same outlook when it comes time to figure out the budget for their offsprings entry into the wonderful world of the guitar.

       Think of it this way, I can take the greatest guitar on the planet and plug it into a $99.00 solid state amp and it's gonna sound like garbage. Now let's take the cheapest electric piece of junk guitar and plug it into a $3000.00 boutique amp. It will sound great. Don't take my word for it. Go to a music store and ask them to pull out their most expensive and cheapest amplifiers out. Grab one guitar. I don't care which one. Play the guitar into both. Now do you understand what I am saying here?

        It boils down to this. Whatever your budget is to get started playing, place a minimum of ½ of it into the amplifier. Already have a guitar and an amp? Going to buy a new guitar that's twice the cost of the one you now own? Do yourself a huge favor. Sell you amp. Take that money, and all of the money you were going to spend on the guitar, and buy a great amplifier. You will be better off musically because if you choose wisely the tone pallet that you have will expand, your current guitar will sound great, you will hear more of your mistakes and will focus to clean them up (I hope). Once you have a great amp then go crazy buying guitars because only then will you be able to actually hear what they sound like.

       I see people buying new guitars and building a collection and they are playing through a "nice" amp. Guitars are cool. A guitar is what you hold onto. A guitar is what you play behind your head in front of your friends. An amp? It just sits in a corner. Nobody notices that. Amps aren't what your friends come over to see. (OK, mfriends will come over to see it.) An amp just lights up or is broken and they're heavy to move and they're just a necessity to be dealt with. Not so. If you have the privilege to experience a number of different amp styles, manufacturers, vintages and power ratings take that opportunity as you will learn how the amplifier is an instrument all to itself. You will find, just like a guitar, just because it's expensive doesn't make it a good fit for you and an inexpensive oddball might be just what you have been searching for. Remember, it's your tone. Nobody else's.

          Amps are a huge world by themselves and spending without knowing can be rough so if you know somebody who has it together then take them along or ask for their advise and study the subject as objectively as you can. Sometimes I think that might be harder today will all of the self serving information that you run into but that topic is for some other website. Play as many as you can because tone is the only true measure, along with reliability, as the decision maker. The biggest challenge of all is finding somewhere that actually stocks quality amplifiers for you to play. They are an expensive item to stock that will most likely sit due to the unique customer base. One store might make the decision to stock one boutique brand but not 20 for you to place side by side for 6 hours of honest comparison. Do I have an answer for that particular problem? No, I don't. You are pretty much stuck with videos or a great trip to one of the few stores in the US that do have the resources to stock a few different brands or many trips to different stores to experience the different makers wears. I have found those trips to be a lot of fun! 

        By the way, when you plug an electric guitar into an amplifier it is the guitar that produces the electricity and the amplifier only, well, amplifies that electrical signal. Clear? Great. I am glad to be of some service today.


by Robert Gundry