Posts Tagged ‘guitar amps’

So you’re thinking about taking the leap and buying your first electric guitar? Choosing a guitar, amp, and pedals doesn’t have to be as intimidating as it might seem. There are a few things you’ll want to consider and keep in mind though.

What are your goals?

In other words, what types of music do you want to play? The type of guitar and amp you get will largely depend on the type of music you want to play. If you can identify, the types of music you’ll be playing, this can help you narrow down what types of guitars you might buy.

For example, if country is your thing, you might want to get a more twangy type of sound, so you would look at something like a Telecaster. If you’re a rocker, to get a really fat and dark type of sound, you’ll want to look at a Les Paul or an SG with some humbucker pickups. If you’re into metal, you’re going to want to be focusing more on your amp and effects pedals to get a hi-gain distorted sound. And then, if jazz is more your thing, you might want to look at a semi-hollow body guitar like an Epiphone Dot to get that darker, warmer sound you’d except from jazz.

In all reality, one electric guitar is not just limited to play one style of music, but guitars generally have different tonal characteristics, so identifying the sound you’re going for can help narrow down your options too.

What’s your budget?

Before you even start looking at buying guitars, it’s really important you set some sort of budget. What can you afford? When it comes to buying guitar gear, the sky is the limit, so having a budget gives you a bit more focus in what you’re looking at and eliminates a bunch of options.

It’s been my experience with guitars that more often than not, like most things, you generally get what you pay for when you consider the quality (there are always exceptions). A $100 dollar guitar is most likely going to play, sound, and feel much different than a $500 guitar. Generally, the cheaper you go, the quality tends to be poorer (e.g. doesn’t stay in tune, poor action, fret buzz, poor electronics, etc.). You don’t need to shell out a ton for your first electric guitar, but you also want something that will be inspiring to play and won’t give a lot of trouble down the road either.

You’ll not only want to consider the guitar in your budget, but you’ll also want to consider your amp and effects pedals (e.g. distortion, delay, reverb, etc.) as well.

It’s important that you see your first electric guitar purchase as an investment. I think one of the fears is, “What if I shell out all this money and then end up not sticking to it?” Even if you do end up finding out that guitar is not really for you, if you’ve made a good investment, you can always make a good part of that money back in resale. You might want to consider buying used too. Check eBay, Craigslist, and your local newspaper’s classifieds.

All to say, what can you afford? Set your budget and stick with it.

Gear Recommendations

So you’ve thought about your goals and have set a budget. Now what? It’s time to start looking at some gear. You have to keep in mind there are literally hundreds of options for a beginner’s set up, so recommendations are going to vary person to person. For my recommendations, I hesitate to suggest you something so dirt cheap that it’s going to cause you grief later down the road, but I also realize you don’t need to break the bank either.

I’ve divided these recommendations up into three categories depending on the type of music you want to play: country/pop/blues, rock/metal, and jazz. And then, within those categories I’ve given a couple different price categories depending on your budget. Also, keep in mind that a lot of these guitars aren’t restricted to play only the music in their category. For example, I know a lot of guys who will play an Epiphone Dot in a rock setting.


  • Epiphone Special-II GT ($199.99)
  • Epiphone Les Paul 100 ($299.99)
  • Fender Standard Telecaster ($499.99)
  • Fender Standard Stratocaster ($499.99)
  • Gretsch Electromatic ($699.99)


  • Dean Vendetta XMT ($159.00)
  • Epiphone Explorer-GT ($199.99)
  • Epiphone G-310 SG ($249.99)
  • B.C. Rich Metal Master Warlock ($299.99)
  • Epiphone Les Paul Studio Deluxe ($399.99)


  • Epiphone Dot ($399.99)
  • Ibanez Artcore AF75 ($399.99)
  • Gretsch Electromatic ($699.99)

Now, choosing an electric guitar is only half the battle. You’re going to need an amp or a multi-effects processor. Some amps are “combo amps” which means they have some effects built in to them (e.g. distortion, reverb, chorus, delay, etc.). These are definitely worth looking at for a beginner.

Another thing to keep in mind is that a lot of country, blues, and rockers can often use a amps built in overdrive and gain channel to get a distorted sound, but if you are playing metal, you probably need to look at some sort of hi-gain distortion pedal in addition to your amp.


  • Fender 25R Frontman Series II Combo Amp ($99.99)
  • Vox Valvetronix VT15 Combo Amp ($169.99)
  • Line 6 Spider IV 75W Combo Amp ($299.99)
  • Vox Valvetronix VT50 Combo Amp ($379.99)
  • Peavey Classic 30 Tube Amp ($599.99)

Sometimes players will opt out of getting an amp and just getting a multi-effects processor unit that has amp models and effects built in to one box. This might be a great option for your first guitar.

Multi-effects Processor Units

  • DigiTech RP255 ($149.99)
  • Line 6 Floor POD Plus ($199.99)
  • DigiTech RP355 ($199.99)
  • Line 6 POD X3 ($399.99)

This is just a starting point. The best thing to do is to go into the store and play as many different guitars and play through as many different amps as you can, or if you can’t play very well, bring someone along who can or knows a lot about guitars so you can get their opinion and hear what it sounds like.

So let’s recap. It’s important to think through your goals and your budget. Thinking through these things really eliminates a lot of your options. You don’t have to spend a ton on your first guitar, but do think of it like an investment. Your guitar is only half of the equation so don’t forget about an amp or a multi-effects unit. And lastly, there’s nothing like going into a store with a friend and trying out as many different pieces of gear as you can.

All of you guitar veterans out there… what would you recommend to a beginner player getting their first electric guitar?

Brett McQueen is a full-time music student, guitar player, songwriter, and blogs in his spare time. Brett is passionate about teaching free guitar lessons for beginners so other guitar players can take their playing to the next level and reach their goals.

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I was noodling around the other day, and came up with a riff. The riff turned into a jam track, then the jam track turned into a full song. I’m still working on the song, but thought I’d post it for folks to give it a listen. Here it is:

Here’s what I used:

  • Rhythm Part: Clean Strat in Neck/Middle position. My Aracom VRX22 in the Clean channel, with the Master cranked and volume at halfway. Used a Red Bear Trading Tuff-Tone pick to get that percussive sound out of the chords.
  • Part 1 Solo: Strat in Neck Position into my MicroVibe and the same amp settings. Also, used the Tuff-Tone pick to get a more percussive attack to the notes.
  • Part 2 Solo: Strat in Bridge Position into MicroVibe. Amp was set on Channel 2 with the Master dimed and volume at 6 for some nice, but not over-the-top breakup. I love that 6V6 breakup! Here I used my V-Picks Psycho to smoothen out the attack and give the bright bridge pickup a bit of extra oomph.
  • Part 3 Solo: Strat in Neck position, nixed the Vibe, into the clean channel with Master and Volume fully dimed. Used the Psycho here as well, but used a percussive attack.

In order to get those kind of high power settings from the amp, I used a soon-to-be-released Aracom attenuator that’s like NOTHING I’ve played through before! This thing is completely transparent because it maintains reactance between the amp and speaker; something that a lot of attenuators have a problem with (please don’t get me started on the UA, which I think is the biggest bunch of hype I’ve ever run across as far as attenuators go).

Another word about the VRX22. When the Master is fully open, and the power tubes are getting lots of juice, this amp just oozes all sorts of tone. And as the rectifier circuit kicks in, this amp feels as if it has built in reverb! As you can tell, I love this amp! Check it out at: http://www.aracom-amps.com.

I know that you might think I’m a bit nutso for using different picks; obviously in a live situation I’d probably only use one. But the in the studio where I can do pretty much anything I want, using different picks to affect my tone is totally cool. Check out Tuff-Tone picks at http://www.redbeartrading.com and the Psycho pick at http://www.v-picks.com. I swear by these two brands, and while I don’t work for either of these companies, like the Aracom Amps, they’ll always be part of my “rig.”

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Fender Hot Rod Deluxe
If you’ve had your ear to the ground about the oncoming Fender price hike well, it’s real, and it’s here. I was in a shop today, and a brand new Fender Hot Rod Deluxe – the exact same amp I own that I got for $599, for a whopping $839, with a list of $1200! For cryin’ out loud! This amp is NOT a boutique amp. While a tube amp, it has a solid state well, everything. All the electronics are on PCB boards, and the damn thing’s not even assembled in the USA!

If I was looking for my first tube amp, at these prices, I’d ignore Fender, and get something like an Orange Tiny Terror, or an Aracom RoxBox. The Tiny Terror costs $550 new, and RoxBox head is $895. I’ve played both, and they both sound way better (at least to my ears) right out of the box than the Hot Rod, which I had to spend even more money on mods and better tubes than the stock GrooveTubes that come with it.

Make no bones about it: Fender amps at this level ain’t boutique, not in the slightest, but they’re approaching boutique amp prices. Well, I guess it’s the sign of the economic times.

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4.75 Tone Bones - Almost perfect but not quite. Still way above average!

Aracom Amps RoxBox 18 Watt Combo Amp

Aracom Amps RoxBox 18 Watt Combo Amp

Aracom Amps RoxBox 18 Watt Combo

Summary: The RoxBox is an ideal small to medium size venue amp. Don’t let it’s diminutive size fool you. This amp is LOUD, and packs a real punch. Oodles of clean headroom in Channel 1 and capable of super-sinister drive in Channel 2 due to the “hidden” extra gain stage. Very pedal friendly.

Pros: Crystal-clear clean tone in either channel, though the second will break up earlier. Switchable from 18 Watts down to 9 Watts, so you can use this on stage and in the bedroom. Master volume kicks ass, and acts very similar to an effects loop attenuator. At 18 Watts, it’s loud enough to blow your ears off! Very pedal friendly.

Cons: Only a nit, but I wish this thing had a spring reverb. Also, overdrive can be a bit harsh at lower volumes, especially with single coils, though it’s gorgeous at louder volumes and moderate volumes using hubuckers.

Price: $895 direct


– (2) EL84 Power Tubes
– (2) 12AX7 & (1) 12AT7 Preamp Tubes
– S.S. Rectifier with “sag” circuit
– Hi/Low B+ voltage switch (18/9 watts)
– On/Off Switch
– Indicator Lamp
– Custom Heavy Duty Aluminum Chassis
– Custom Wound Transformers
– 4, 8, 16 ohm Speaker Jacks
– Custom Handcrafted
Turret Board
– Handwired
– Weight: ~35 lbs

Combo Cabinets
Standard Tolex: Navy Blue Levant (as tested)
– Dimensions
1×10 Combo: 18″w x 19h x 10″d
1×12 Combo: 18″w x 19h x 10″d
– Weight
1×10 Combo: 36 lbs
1×12 Combo: 39 lbs

Tone Bone Score: 4.75 On value alone, this would get a 5, but the mildly harsh breakup at lower volumes gives it just a slight mark off. Still, it’s a great amp!

Jeff Aragaki, the owner and designer/builder of Aracom Amps is on a mission to transition from his telecommunications business entirely into his amp building business. I’d say that based upon playing just this one amp (both the head and combo versions), and having a look at a couple of other amps in his line (which I will probably review in time), he’s well on his way to successfully completing that mission. And Jeff’s not alone in this quest. A few folks I know here in the Silicon Valley have preceded Jeff, moving from their high-tech careers into the music equipment business; and while they may not have become super-wealthy off these new endeavors, they’re certainly living their dreams.

It’s like that in the Silicon Valley which, for decades has been a hotbed of innovation and dream-chasing. And while its star has faded somewhat as the global technology leader and the market has opened up allowing more players to the tech scene (China and India, for instance), the spirit of innovation and going after your dreams upon which “The Valley” was built remains alive and well, as evidenced by guys like Jeff. And true to Silicon Valley form, what these guys produce is quality stuff, and Aracom amps definitely follows suit!

When Jeff and I first hooked up, I was really excited about his 18 Watt RoxBox. First of all, I just dig the EL-84 tone, and secondly, I was amazed that he could offer this amp for less than a grand, and it’s a hand-wired amp, for goodness sake! I knew I had to check it out. And lucky for me, the city where Jeff lives is a half-hour away (if the traffic’s good), so two days after I first spoke with him, he personally delivered a head and a combo. I’ve been playing with both since (though I was so excited, I let my buddy borrow the head for a couple of days to see how he likes it). I’ve tested both amps in the studio as well as at gigs, but I’m writing this review about the combo. If you want to hear how the head sounds, check out this clip:

My Tests

For my tests, I used my Strat, my PRS SE Soapbar II with P-90’s, and a Saint Baritone Messenger that I’m also testing. The amp performed excellently with all three guitars, but was especially responsive to the baritone which has active humbuckers in Channel 2. But before I get ahead of myself, let first me go over the amp’s features apart from its technical specs.

Controls and Equipment

The RoxBox features two independently voiced channels, each equipped with a volume and tone knob. The Tone control functions similarly to a high-freq sweep. It also has a Master volume which is available to both channels. The Master volume is very cool as it functions as an attenuator between the pre-amps and the power tubes, so you can slam the front of the amp with tons of input gain to get that sweet, mid-rangy pre-amp distortion while keeping the output volume at bedroom levels. Great for edgy blues and classic rock tones. The combo I tested also sports an Eminence Red Fang Red Coat 12″ speaker. Operating at 30W, this sucker has a lot of balls! As expected, the sound was a little harsh when I first tried it out, but after several hours of playing, it’s starting to break in and the tone is starting to become a lot more smooth. Now with that out of the way, let’s get into some details.


Channel 1 would be considered a normal channel, while Channel 2 is a drive channel that will break up a lot earlier. But with Channel 1, the name of the game is “clean.” With my Strat plugged in, this channel has so much clean headroom that I had to really dig into the strings to produce even a slight amount of grind. My PRS with P-90’s and the Saint Messenger could only produce moderate amounts of grind when the volume was dimed. That’s pretty impressive, and definitely not what I expected. With so much clean headroom, Channel 1 is VERY pedal friendly.

Channel 2 on the other hand definitely breaks up early and is voiced just a tad brighter than Channel 1. But it also has a lot of clean headroom as well. With my Strat, I had to turn the volume knob past 7 to get some decent grind, and had to peg my guitar volume. Believe me, that’s not a bad thing either. On the other hand, My PRS SE Soapbar II and the Saint Messenger had no problems producing grind. I could get breakup at around 4 with the Messenger, and around 5 with the PRS.

To get earlier breakup, Channel 2 actually has a third “hidden” pre-amp gain stage in series behind the pre-amp you plug into with fixed settings. It’s voiced a bit hot, and as Jeff puts it, it’s like having a built in tube overdrive. The end result is you get breakup a lot earlier. I have to say that while I like Channel 1’s tone, for pure versatility, Channel 2 really does it for me, as it is lively and responsive to changes in attack and guitar volume. And putting a booster in front of this Channel really brings on the growl that this channel is capable of producing.

How It Sounds

Tonally, this is definitely an EL-84 amp. It’s bright and chimey, and with the Red Fang, it also has lots of balls. For sweet, clean tones, Channel 1 produces a lush clean tone, and my Strat in the Neck/Middle position sounds gorgeous through this channel. As I mentioned, it’s a bit brighter than Channel 1, which made me tweak my guitar tone knobs a bit, but not so much so that it’s unusable. And where this amp really shines in the tone department is when it’s moving lots of air. Plugged into Channel 2 with the volume turned up around 12-2 o’clock, and the Master past three, the amp simply sings its heart out, though at those volume levels in an enclosed space like a home studio, the assault on your eardrums can get a bit uncomfortable.

And while I don’t want to say anything negative because I truly dig this amp, I have to say that at lower to moderate volumes with a Strat, a driven Channel 2 (Volume around 8, Master around 2) seems a little flat sounding. At this level, the pre-amps are distorting with little contribution from the power tubes. Don’t get me wrong: It’s not bad sounding, it’s just a bit uninspiring. But turn the master up so that the second gain stage starts clipping and the power tubes start getting hit, and the world is made right again. I did, however, find a couple of workarounds to this. The first was easy: Just engage my Tube Screamer to add to the grind produced by the pre-amps at lower volumes; instant sweetness. Also, slamming the front-end with input gain from my booster worked wonders as well. The best solution I found that will also engage the power tubes was to use my Dr. Z Air Brake Attenuator. The world definitely became right with that in the signal path.


The RoxBox is very versatile and is comfortable on both the stage n in the studio. I really dig the master volume on this because that’s really what makes this amp so versatile. And one feature that is mentioned in the specs but something I’ve found incredibly useful is that the amp is switchable from 18 Watts to 9 Watts with the flick of a toggle switch underneath the amp chassis. For home studio use, this is a godsend as the lower wattage allows the tubes to saturate earlier, which means you can get grind at lower volume levels. Some people think this means lower volume – it doesn’t – for any variable wattage amp. All it means is that the amp breaks up earlier. But having this capability means that you can gig with it at 18 Watts, then bring it into your home studio and get some great tube distortion without keeping the neighbors up late at night while you’re wailing on your guitar.

Also, as opposed to having a single output jack for external speakers, the RoxBox sports three, for 4, 8, and 16 ohm extension cabs.

Overall Comments

This is an amp that I’ll definitely be considering to add to my arsenal because of its tonal similarity to the classic Vox AC15, plus its gorgeous and plentiful clean headroom in Channel 1, but also for its value. At $995 for the combo the tonal versatility you get for the price is well worth the expense. If I had a nit, it would be the same nit I have with the Reason SM25, and that is the absence of a nice spring reverb. But that is just a nit because both amps sound great without it – it would just be icing on the cake.

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