I need a mini amp for electric guitar
September 23, 2016 2:18 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to get a small amp for a beginner electric guitar player. It's my stepson so he can only use it a couple days a month here to practice but I'd really like to encourage his new hobby. I know NOTHING about music or guitars, etc. I'd love to get something cheap but I don't want to be too cheap. I am willing to spend as much as I need to get the job done right.
posted by beccaj to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I am a great fan of the Roland "Cube" amps. They are cheap and well-made with some very good emulation of sounds of other amps. I used to play through a Marshall stack and a Mesa Boogie. But I switched. The Cube 15 is great for playing at home (I keep one at my office), and I use a Cube 30 for playing small club gigs. The Micro Cube might be enough for what you want here
posted by NotAlwaysSo at 2:42 PM on September 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

I picked up a Fender Mustang a few years back and quite enjoy it.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 3:17 PM on September 23, 2016

A small digital modeling amp like the Cube is just the ticket; it allows him to experiment with different sounds without cranking the volume too much. Sweetwater has a decent overview of amp types.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 3:34 PM on September 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Another vote for the Cube. They are great and properly scalable from portable practice amps to giggable rigs.
posted by jonathanbell at 3:57 PM on September 23, 2016

I'd love to get something cheap but I don't want to be too cheap. I am willing to spend as much as I need to get the job done right.

So, as above, something like a Roland Cube (and there are other manufacturers) with modelling/emulator stuff built in would be ideal - the link Johnny Wallflower provided is a great explainer. For younger players (and older ones too) being able to mess around with a cornucopia of effects is pretty fun.

This also depends on your living situation - if you're in a house where noise isn't going to be an issue, do you want something that he can crank up a bit?

I know NOTHING about music or guitars, etc.

Per what NotAlwaysSo said, an amp that uses "emulation" or "modelling" (meaning it uses programmed - but adjustable - digital presets to create different sounds and effects like overdrive, chorus, delay, etc) and is a "combo" amp (meaning it's a one-piece unit where the speaker cabinet and actual amplifier are together) between 20 and 40 watts with a 1x10 (i.e., one speaker that's 10 inches across) or a 1x12 would do. The 1x12 will make it seem like a more "serious" amp, let's put it that way.

These amps have headphone jacks as well - that might be a selling point if he wants to rock out while you want peace and quiet.

There are tons of amp reviews on Youtube, like this one of a Roland Cube 30 (regardless of brand, the model name usually tells you what the wattage is - so that one's 30 watts).

Hearing the features via the Youtube reviews might help you triangulate what you want to buy based on what your stepson is into playing.

If you want an IRL loudness test, and there's one convenient to you, go into a guitar shop and ask them to show you what they can do in terms of cranked-upness. They'll probably be happy to show you if you go in and say "Hey, I'm looking for a good modelling combo amp that's not crazy expensive as a gift."

Assuming he's beginner youngster, at this juncture in amp technology, you're probably looking at $300 USD for something really impressive for him - or even much less.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 4:55 PM on September 23, 2016

Pignose has long been the standard for lil' practice amps.
posted by gnutron at 5:32 PM on September 23, 2016

I would definitely suggest something with modeling to encourage a beginner. It might be worth considering an external effects unit that does modeling rather than something built into the amp, as some of them can be headphone interfaces as well if your stepson wants to play late at night. The Line 6 Pocket Pod comes to mind off the top of my head, but I can probably come up with others of you're interested. That can be combined with a non-modeling amp for a versatile practice setup.
posted by Candleman at 6:00 PM on September 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Does he have a smartphone yet? If he has even an older iPhone or iPad there is modelling amp software that is well reviewed. If it's only seeing intermittent use and he doesn't need a cab this could be a good starting place.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 6:07 PM on September 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I love the basic Fender Mustang 1 for a practice amp with modeling. About $100.

I play mostly through a $1500 Fender '68 Deluxe Reverb reissue tube amp with a Jensen speaker and custom matched tubes, and I have 5 other guitar amps (Including the Mustang 3 modeling amp and a vintage Twin) of varying power levels and generations in my practice room to choose from. As you might guess I play fancy guitars too. But I still often choose to practice through my baby Mustang 1 all the time if I'm keeping it down. It sounds great for the size and price and has a very wide range of useful tones. For its size and power it's pretty loud too, definitely ok for jamming, and can certainly rock a bedroom or basement. It's built like a rock too. It's basically bulletproof. And feather light.

Modern solid state practice amps are (compared to the options of decades past) simply amazing, and dirt cheap for the quality of tone and power. You almost can't go wrong with any major brand. But I do think a modeling amp is the best choice for a new player still finding her style and sound.

As a non-modeling amp the similarly powered and even cheaper Fender Champ has less flexibility but a very good basic roots music tone.

Plus, and this can matter to a young player, the Mustang line has a really cool looking vintage design.
posted by spitbull at 6:59 PM on September 23, 2016 [4 favorites]

Also I would definitely go real amp and not iPhone modeling app. Practicing an electric guitar through headphones is for shit. Learning to play is learning to play the amp as an instrument in its own right. You need a speaker for real feedback.
posted by spitbull at 7:06 PM on September 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

Agree that you should definitely get a modeling amp for a young player. Experienced players might prefer a single purpose great amp, but that's because they know what sound and style they want. Young players need to experiment.

No matter what you get he's going to think it sucks and there's something else that would make his life complete within a short while, even if you got something amazing, so don't be tempted and don't give in. It will not make his life complete, or him a better player.

Get something that sounds good at low volume and doesn't get too loud. If it goes loud you will be listening to it loud and fighting about it. Get something that reaches a reasonable compromise volume.
posted by bongo_x at 8:08 PM on September 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

What's he got for a guitar?
posted by spitbull at 9:15 PM on September 23, 2016

Also, it's always nice to patronize a small local merchant for such things if one exists in your area. But if your only local options don't have it (or worse, is a Guitar Center), the best online music store by far is Indiana-based Sweetwater.com. (Link to the Mustang 1 at $120). I have dealt with them for years and they have been flawlessly perfect and great to deal with. Great people. All musicians.

I'd recommend them over Amazon even for a few more bucks because if there is a problem someone will make it right for you.
posted by spitbull at 9:31 PM on September 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

Fender Blues Jr seems to be popular among beginners. If he has his heart set on a tube amp then look at that.
posted by thelonius at 9:37 PM on September 23, 2016

My son's first guitar amp was a Roland Micro Cube. He has now been in a band for four years, has access to professional gear for band practice and gigs, but still uses the Micro Cube for practice at home.
posted by The Architect at 9:40 PM on September 23, 2016

Nthing the Micro Cube. The Line6 Spider IV isn't bad for a intro combo, but I believe the price/quality advantage their previous modelling amps had over their competitors has faded away a bit since I've bought my Spider III months after release.

Also, don't forget pawn and second hand shops are rife with amps from people who bought (occasionally expensive) gear and used it a couple of times before getting bored with it or needing the cash. This adds an extra layer of risk as you might not know if there's a problem, but you might find something better for around the same price as a new combo.
posted by lmfsilva at 1:24 AM on September 24, 2016

You can probably bond with him by taking him to a music store and trying the Roland and Fender options.

Pro tip from a former teenage boy guitarist: whatever he picks out will be his favorite.

I myself think the Mustang sounds better than the Cube albeit both are solid choices.

I am, I must add, not a fan of pawn shop music gear. Often broken, sometimes stolen, and you are supporting an evil industry.
posted by spitbull at 6:05 AM on September 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

Roland Micro Cube is a great little amp. Bought one for young master flabdablet and never had cause to regret it.
posted by flabdablet at 7:14 AM on September 24, 2016

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