Help me find an amp and learn the electric guitar!

January 29, 2013 1:49 PM

Someone gave me an electric guitar. I only know how to play acoustic. Anyone have amplifier recommendations and/or advice?

I'd want an amp I could practice with, but that I'd be able to use if I ever got decent enough to play with other people. I'm a student, but I have a job and I'm willing to save up for something if it's really nice.

I'd also appreciate any advice on resources or what helped you personally if you started on an acoustic and later switched. What's different? What should I watch out for? Also, do I need to use a pick for electric guitar? I usually strum with my fingernails or fingerpick on my acoustic.

Thanks in advance.
posted by topoisomerase (10 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Not sure it really makes sense to try and cover both bases on an amp at this point. Amps that are used to play with others need a lot more power, and it can be tough to get a nice tone from them at lower volumes. This is particularly true for tube amps, where you kind of have to crank it up a bit to get the bite that sounds really great. I'd recommend that you get a small solid state amp to start with, maybe a Fender Frontman or a Vox Tonelab, then buy something appropriate to the music you want to play when you get to that point.

Using a pick is a personal choice, lots of people don't.
posted by InfidelZombie at 3:20 PM on January 29, 2013

Anyone have amplifier recommendations and/or advice?

first, you need to decide what kind of music you want to play - clean stuff, like you would with your acoustic, or something that rocks harder? - or both?

the squier champ 15 i have is pretty good for clean - the distortion channel sucks badly, though

i've got a little battery powered ms-2 marshall that has a harder feel, but can be useful at a lower level

the little honeytone danelectro 20 buck amp i have is great for blues stuff - a little piercing, though - perfect for harmonica

if you want to rock out, the battery powered orange micro crush is great, but getting a clean sound out of it is not in the cards, really

the vox da-5 i have is very versitile and can do a variety of sounds

i've used all of these, except the squier, for recording - dialed in right, miked well and processed well, they can sound good

also there's all sorts of multi-fx/amp sim pedals from the cheap to expensive

i don't have a recommendation for live play - i would probably get a separate amp for that

What's different? What should I watch out for?

an amplified guitar is ruthless in revealing everything you play - buzzes, semi-muted notes, squeaks, everything - little glitches that you might get away with on acoustic are going to be loud and obvious on electric

you'll probably have to make some adjustments in your technique and style - i'd start out playing clean, so you can hear how well you're really playing instead of covering it up with lots of gain

Also, do I need to use a pick for electric guitar?

no - jeff beck doesn't - strumming's a little problematic, as you've really got to be good at it - but fingerpicking is fine - and you'll probably have to be a little more aggressive about how you pick the strings - you'll also need to reconsider how you play chords - open chords can sound great on electric, but not in every situation - sometimes 3 or 4 string chords is all you need

i started on acoustic - nylon string classical - and then moved to electric - believe it or not, it's an advantage to do so, as you've already learned to get a good tone out of an acoustic guitar

i used a pick for many years because i thought that's what i needed to do for lead - fingerpicking is a bit slower, but speed isn't something i care about that much - since i started playing bass a few years ago, i switched from using my fingers for most leads to my thumb - if it's good enough for wes montgomery ...

but there's no fast rule - experiment with and without picks and figure out what works best for you
posted by pyramid termite at 6:40 PM on January 29, 2013

It depends what you want. The little Fender Champ and Blackheart 5w amps are great though... very loud and very versatile. A cheap tube amp will generally be louder and funner than a cheap solid state amp.

It's totally OK to play electric guitar without a pick. I played pick-only for years and years but these days I play about 50:50 with my fingers and with a pick, and I can see a day coming where I only play with my fingers.

Fingers give you a whole hell of a lot more control, plus you can play more than one string at a time. Soloing is trickier but then listen to Mark Knopfler.

As noted above, amped electric guitar requires that you be diligent about muting strings that you aren't picking. It becomes second nature after a while, but you may sound like shit while you're getting the hang of it. ALSO, be content to only play two or three of the six strings. Trying to play every chord as a 6-string chord ends up sounding muddy on an electric, which is why so many electric players play power chords (e.g. EBE for an 'E' chord).

Basically, follow your nose. If you want to play lots of notes use a clean sound. If you're using a distorted sound, play fewer notes.
posted by unSane at 8:07 PM on January 29, 2013

I almost never play fingerstyle on the electric, but you can definitely get some pretty sounds. I just generally find the tone to be too dull for my liking; I'd rather cross-pick, or hybrid pick if I really need to play two non-adjacent strings.

And for me, even a 5W tube practice amp is too loud. There are probably some good solid state practice amp these days--my little Fender is from at least ten years ago, and sounds like the one I had before that, and it's terrible. No joy in playing through it at all. I'd rather play through an amp sim. (Which, by the way, you might consider for practice purposes; the Pocket POD is old tech in a really small package and sounds "good enough" for practice.)
posted by uncleozzy at 5:06 AM on January 30, 2013

The Blackheart Little Giant 5w amp has a 3w setting which definitely isn't too loud -- it's very 'bedroom' -- but the amp really opens up on the 5w setting.

I agree you really need different amps for practice and playing with a band. With tubes, 5w and under is good for practice and 15w and over will probably do you for the band.

You can pick up some very good older solid-state amps for not much, though. Any of the Roland JC series are terrific and tend to go for not much. They have uniformly horrible distortion but easily solved with a pedal. The bonus is they work great as keyboard amps or acoustic amps as well.
posted by unSane at 5:52 PM on January 30, 2013

There are a ton of little 5w amps that will sound great for practice or recording. If you're playing out, your requirements might vary depending on the sorts of venues you'll be playing, if you're trying to be heard above a drummer, etc. It's entirely possible that your practice amp will work for playing out, if it's just you singing and playing guitar.

You'll get better specific recommendations if you tell us what guitarists you want to sound like. Think about their guitar sound, rather than their songwriting ability.

I have a Blackheart amp and love it to bits. There's a knob to adjust between marshall-y and fender-esque. They don't use those terms - i think they say British and US voicing.

Previously i've owned little Fender solid state amps (didn't like 'em), the Vox Pathfinder (pretty good), the Valve Jr (amazing) and a vintage epiphone (great, but large and loud)

If you really like chorus, though, definitely get a roland JC, as they are currently cheapish and haven't been "rediscovered" yet.
posted by dubold at 3:22 AM on January 31, 2013

Fender SuperChamp. Cheap and cheerful.

What's different?

Everything. Acoustic guitar and electric guitar are the same genus but as far apart as a tabby cat and a tiger. Don't let that hang you up though. Get an amp, plug in and crank it up. Find your own path. That's what we all do. If you really want to know the difference between acoustic and electric - Mr Hendrix had a few pointers you might check out....
posted by MajorDundee at 4:11 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I like the way the guitar sounds here and here.

Thank you for the helpful comments. I really appreciate it.
posted by topoisomerase at 7:58 PM on February 11, 2013

Those are classic, very dry, crunchy tube sounds. You won't get them from a pedal and a solid state amp. Any of the little tube amps we've talked about above will get you there. Neck pickup and no reverb.
posted by unSane at 5:56 AM on February 12, 2013

For an amp, I like the Bugera V5 (modern chinese-made tube amp - around $200 at Amazon). With the attenuator set to 0.1W, it's fine for practice alone in a quiet house. It's got decent crunch, and with the attenuator off, you may be able to use it playing with others. Definitely can if you're playing solo.
posted by DaveP at 4:56 PM on February 12, 2013

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