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Expensive amplifier, cheap guitar…

Everyone knows that’s the rule, right?

Jonathan Thomas
Apr 13, 2019 · 3 min read

I grew up swearing by this ethos. If I had a good amp, it would pretty much mask anything, old strings, a rubbish guitar made of driftwood, bad technique…okay, not so much, but I’ll stand by the guitar part.

Fact is, a cheap guitar will sound fairly decent on a good amp. A good guitar will sound absolutely awful on a cheap amp.

At least that’s what I grew up thinking. I’ve come to realise nowadays…what is “good”? And who defines “awful”? We have great recordings using small practice amps, nowadays, who cares?

Regardless, in those days I could only afford one expensive piece of gear growing up and amps always intrigued me way more than guitars ever did.

I could never find the guitar shape that I identified with, nor did I identify the sound with a particular guitar shape. I did however, identify sounds and tones with particular amps.

Fender amps gave me a very crisp and clear, clean tone. Marshall amps gave me a dirty and full on crunch and Mesa Boogie amps could get metal. Primitive, maybe. But 20+ years on, I now know that this isn’t too far from the truth.

So all this lead to an obsession with guitar amplifiers in my late teens and early twenties. The kind of obsession that kept me up all night.

I’d be thinking about Mesa Rectifier’s and Fender DeVille’s, how I could utilise both to get two extremes. How I could utilise four to do stereo! Ridiculous, really.

It wasn’t until I reached the age of 29 did I spend more than £1000 on a guitar — An American Fender Stratocaster, ’57 Reissue. But from the age of 14 to then, it was all amplifiers. In fact, before my 29th birthday, and before the Strat purchase, I had the following amplifiers:

Not cheap and certainly not your ‘run of the mill’ amps. The Mesa’s were huge and they were great fun to play around with. The Lionheart became one of my favourite amps, ever.

I’ll be controversial and will say that most of the tone comes from the amplifier, not the guitar.

Over the years, I’ve switched out the amps for digital alternatives, and that’s something I never thought I’d do…so I’ve obviously let my standards change (carefully trying to not say “slip”) over the years. But I’ve come to learn that guitars are vital and quality isn’t something you should underestimate with regard to the actual instrument itself.

In fact, I could possibly have changed my whole view on this…Keep a look out for “Expensive guitar, cheap amp…”!

What do you think…expensive amp or expensive guitar?

Red Chair Riffs

For guitarists.

Jonathan Thomas

Written by

User experience designer and guitarist

Red Chair Riffs

For guitarists.

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