Whether you use headphones or not, don’t play too loud so you don’t do long term damage to your hearing. (Read about rock stars that suffer hearing problems.)

I always think the base line requirement for an amp is a decent sounding reverb. Beyond that, they are either analog Tube amps, or digital Modeling amps. Some are better than others. You have to be your own judge on pleasing sound. One mans trash is another mans treasure. A lot of people get all wrapped up on reproducing some iconic sound from the 60s. The ironic thing is that those artists were looking for a new sound that was distinctly their own. Modeling amps typically have some effects. Some modeling amps go quite deep with their simulations and effects. Fender Mustang amps have programmable effects and a USB Audio Interfaces built in. Most amps these days have an Aux in jack where you can connect an MP3 player, and a Headphone jack for quiet practice.

Whatever you choose, read the reviews and test it in the store if at all possible before you buy.

Practice Amp

Ideally, you want an amp that lets you focus on practice and doesn’t distract you into playing with all the knobs forever, which takes time away from practice and really isn’t very productive.

You’ll also need a durable guitar cable. No need for an expensive cable, but avoid the very cheapest cables as they often buzz or fail prematurely. Molded ends may be more secure, but soldered screw-on ends can be repaired if you have a soldering iron and are so inclined. Budget $15 for a decent cable.

Whether you’re starting out, don’t want to annoy your flat mates, need something ultra portable, or want to practice late at night, some sort of headphone arrangement may be best. Most of my daily practice is completely unplugged.

Headphone Amps

VOX makes some ultra portable headphone amps that model some of their popular amps.

Line-6 makes the POD which simulates amps, cabinets, microphones, rooms, and effects.

Korg makes the Pandora pocket multi-effects processor which simulates amps, cabinets, rooms, effects, along with bass and rhythm patterns, and doubles as a USB Audio Interface.

Boss makes the Micro BR-80 which simulates amps, effects, along with rhythm patterns, plays backing tracks, and doubles as a USB Audio Interface, Field Recorder and an 8 Track Pocket Studio.

There are also a number of iOS Apps with different amp, cabinet modeling with pedal effects that can be used by connecting with an interface. You’ll want an interface that uses the doc connector for sound quality, and simultaneously allows charging of your iOS device or your practice sessions will be quite short.

The Griffin Studio Connect is one of the few that does both.  Apple has a new Lightning Camera Adapter (version 3) that has both a lightning charge port and a USB port, which allows some “Class Compliant” USB devices to be used while also allowing simultaneous charging of your iOS device.

Of course, you can always plug some headphones into your practice amp.

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Bedroom Amps

The term “Combo Amp” simply means the amp and speaker are in the same cabinet. This is the most common type of amp for Guitar and you’ll be using one for many years.

On the simple side, my base line requirement is some eq (treble, bass) controls and a decent sounding reverb. The Roland Microcube for $129 is a small modeling amp with more effects than necessary, but it’s quick to dial in a great sound and get back to practicing. It can even run on batteries which adds to its portability and potential usefulness.

On the biggest bang for your buck side, I might suggest the Fender Mustang I for $119. Some of the controls are hidden in the computer software, but the included software also handles backing tracks and recording direct over USB. If you’re a Mac guy, you may be less excited to find out that the Fender software requires Microsoft Silverlight to run.

There are a lot of other options. These are just two to get you started and keep you going until you’re ready to play with others, at which point, you may need more volume to compete with a live drummer.

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Gigging Amp

When you start rehearsing with a live drummer or start gigging, you may need to up the power of your amp. You may love the tone of Tube amps, but they do require more frequent tube changes when you move them around. Solid State amps have improved greatly in recent years, and their reliability on the road is unsurpassed. Even if you choose a Tube amp as your primary gigging amp, many people keep a Solid State amp handy as a backup.

For venues with their own PA, you generally Mic or Direct Connect your amp to the House Mixing Board, so power becomes much less important.

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Amp Sims

Initially, Amp Sims were a novelty suitable only for practice, allowing the simulation or test drive of a huge number of amps and pedals. While they are still great for headphone or bedroom level practice, Amp Sims are getting better and finding their way into the recording chain and into live performances.  Hook up your guitar to the amp sim and feed the output into the house PA system.  They sure are lighter to load in and load out than the real deal.

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