Amplifiers (amps) come in many sizes and price ranges. They all basically do the same thing, amplify your guitar sound.
There are solid-state amps and tube amps. Tube amps are generally more expensive and over time will require tube replacement. This can be done yourself or have an amp tech take care of it for you.
Many people feel that nothing sounds as good as a good tube amp. Tube amps and know for a warm and very responsive feel giving the player great dynamic control. Solid-state amps have come a long way. They used to sound thinner and harsh but many companies are producing amazingly affordable and great-sounding solid-state amps.
Combo amps are one unit. The speaker and amplifier are one piece.
A head and cabinet are two pieces. The head is the amp (pre-amp and power amp) so it is the piece you plug into electricity and has all the controls on it, the second piece is the speaker cabinet, which is a cabinet containing the speaker or speakers. The two pieces are connected with a speaker cable.
Although the head and cabinet is more to carry around, there is a lot of flexibility because you can mix and match heads and cabinets.
Speaker cabinets come in many different sizes containing a variety of speaker combinations. Usually, one size speaker but there can be anywhere from one to eight speakers in one cabinet.
Interesting fact: even the smallest amps can be used with a band or in a large venue if the amp has a microphone in front of the speaker. Placing a microphone in front of the speaker and connecting that to a PA system is how most live performers set up.
The smallest practice amps, (3” to 7” speaker) are inexpensive and designed for practicing so you can hear your electric guitar but are typically not loud enough to play with a band. Some practice amps can be run on batteries or an adapter.
Slightly larger practice amps with (8” to 12”) speakers may still be considered practice amps but are usually capable of being loud enough to play with a band. Pro tip: for many gigs of 50 to 300 people I, many times, use a one-speaker combo amp and mic.
Combo amps also come with a variety of speaker combinations such as 1x8, 1x10, 1x12, 2x12 and 4x10.
Speaker cabinets usually contain a 1x8, 1x10, 1x12, 2x12, 4x10 and 4x12. Smaller cabinets are much easier to carry around and all cabinets sound very different from one another. There are many construction designs of cabinets. Some have a closed back while others have an open back, they can also be built with different speakers, wood, grill cloths, handles, wheels/no wheels, mono/stereo, ported and the list goes on. 2x12 cabinets can be built horizontally or vertically.
Try different combos, heads and cabinets and see what you like. Also, think about the sound and features you are interested in. For example; effects loop, channel switching, built-in effects, wattage, and tube/no tube.
The other thing to consider is the size. What are you able to carry and what will fit in your vehicle? Over time it's nice to have a couple of options. You might want an inexpensive combo with channel switching and built-in effects for smaller gigs or gigs where you have limited space and have to set up fast. Then maybe a head and 2x12 cab for a bigger presence on stage as well as a bigger fatter tone. And maybe a tiny practice amp with a headphone jack for home practice.
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