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Cheap Guitar Amps

So you aren't made of money, huh? Need cheap guitar amps options? Join the club - most of us start here! Whether you're still in school and working part-time jobs, or you're into your career but don't have a lot of spare cash, you need a choice of cheap guitar amps or alternatives to get you started.

No worries – there's all sorts of possibilities out there. You don't have to go amp-less with that new (or new-to-you) axe. And once you need to upgrade to gigging gear and the "fund-age" is there burnin' a hole in your pocket, you can graduate from the low-cost options to a better guitar amp.

Audio Interfaces/Modelers

TonePort GX USB Interface/Modeler

If cash is really tight, you have a couple different ways to go. The first is to get yourself a USB audio interface, which gives you a direct line-in to your computer from your guitar.

Line 6 makes a computer USB device called the TonePort GX that doubles as modeling device, giving you access to multiple amps and effects. You plug your guitar cable into the TonePort, which is connected to your computer with a USB cable (you'll need to have a cable).

Install the included GearBox software to your computer and you now have 18 different guitar amps to choose from. These amps are modeled after expensive names such as Marshall, Mesa Boogie, Vox and Fender. You also get a couple dozen effects pedals and amp cabinets. Talk about big sound at a cheap guitar amps price!

For a relatively low price (as little as $50US new), you can run (and record) your guitar playing directly through your computer. You don't even have to have great computer speakers to start.

A huge benefit to this approach (besides price) is the number of onboard options. Now you're not limited to just one amplifier and range of tones. These modelers usually have at least a dozen different "not so" cheap guitar amps modeled, with separate choices for speaker cabinets plus all sorts of guitar effects and pedals built-in. It's almost unlimited the number of amp/cabinet and effects combinations you can create.

This really gives you an opportunity to try out all sorts of expensive guitar amps (often known as boutique amps) without having to find stores that carry them. You can try them out in your home and develop your sound without laying out tons of cash.

You also get a feel for how rock guitarists get such a variety of tones. By mixing up different amplifiers with different cabinets, you can start hunting down your own tone.

I haven't checked out any other audio interface/modelers personally, but other companies like M-Audio, IK Multimedia, Korg and Zoom offer USB units as well. But no one seems to come close in price or features to the TonePort GX.

Micro-Amps

The next step up is to get a "micro-amp". There are many small guitar amps from 5 to 15 watts in power that house a single speaker. These are the same design as the larger "combo" amps, just lesser wattage and smaller speakers . You can get into a micro-amp for around $80-$150US brand new. These will give you access not only to nice, clear channels, but also overdrive and, in some cases, effects.

The Roland Micro Cube Amplifier

For example, the Roland MicroCube series has built-in overdrive, with reverb and delay, chorus, flanger, phaser and tremolo. All this for $125US! It's a good practice amp, and has a speaker jack for headphones or another cabinet.

As cheap guitar amps go, this unit will give you enough volume to rattle the windows. I wouldn't say you'll necessarily want to gig with it, unless you use the line out to a PA, but the wattage isn't going to drive a loud enough volume to play too many clubs.

Hey, you're not going to get a tube amp at these prices, but at least you can hear what you're playing!

All the big name manufacturers have cheap guitar amps in their line up. Whether you like Fender, Marshall, Peavey or Vox, all of them offer a good choice of small practice amps with a variety of features. Just head to your local music store and ask a salesperson to show you some micro-amps. Obviously, the better known the name, the more expensive the amps tend to be...

New or Used?

So far I've only been talking in the context of new gear, but you can find awesome deals on used cheap guitar amps if you're willing to do a little extra work.

Sometimes it's as easy as walking into the local music store and checking out the used gear they have in stock. You're probably not going to find the best deals because the store has overhead costs, (you know, rent, salaries, insurance, inventory…), so they have to charge enough to stay in business.

On the plus side, you're going to have more to choose from onsite, rather than running all over town checking out gear. And at today's gas prices, no one wants to be driving!

Some other ideas for places to find cheap guitar amps could be:

  • Consignment shops
  • Classified ads in the paper
  • Craigslist
  • College newspapers and bulletin boards
  • Ebay and other auctions
  • Estate sales
  • Forums of guitar websites
  • Garage sales
  • Pawn shops
  • Thrift shops

Like I said, it's going to take more legwork on your part to find these cheap guitar amps, but many times the people selling them don't know anything about the gear. They're just trying to clean out the basement or garage.

They'll be happy to have it gone, and you might just find a diamond in the rough. Stranger things have happened. I remember a story about a vintage Ferrari being found in rusting under a cherry tree…

Here are some guidelines to help you choose everything from cheap guitar amps to the high-end boutique amps of the pros...


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