You may be in the lookout for a guitar amp and are a little surprised at the price. Technically speaking, guitar amps are supposed to amplify the sound your guitar makes, so why are guitar amps so expensive?
Guitar amps may be expensive due to the materials used. Some amps are handmade instead of being mass-produced, meaning additional costs. Amps are also priced high to factor in import tax, sales commissions, research, and development, marketing, and advertising.
In this post, we explore why guitar amps are so expensive by breaking down the individual parts that make up a guitar amp. We also look into additional questions about guitar amps, such as if you should prioritize budgets on your guitar or amps first.
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Why Are Guitar Amps So Expensive?
In general, much effort, time, and money go into producing guitar amps. Guitar amps, in general, are priced based on factors such as materials, manufacturing process, and sales and marketing structure. Guitar amps also take in factors such as research and development, taxes, and levies.
A guitar amp may look like a simple electronic product we plug in and play. Still, much effort, time, energy, money, and research go into producing one. These are likely to cause the guitar amp’s price to become expensive.
Materials: There is a reason why you have cheap amps that just sound awful and great amps that sound like gold. It’s the materials used. An amp consists of many electrical parts such as transistors, tubes, speakers, etc. Higher quality parts and materials may be more expensive, so the makers need to raise the price to avoid losses.
Manufacturing Process: Some guitar amps are mass-produced in low-cost countries such as China or Vietnam, while some high-quality amps are handmade right here in the United States. Some amp maker even allows customization. These represent both extreme ends of how the manufacturing process may cause guitar amps to be expensive or cheap.
Research And Development: Guitar amps are constantly undergoing research and development to ensure they perform better. They may integrate new technology to make the amps sound and function better. All these research and development efforts require investments from the amp maker and may be passed down to you in a higher-priced guitar amp.
Marketing: Guitar amp makers must also spend money to market their amps. These could be done in many ways. Aside from advertising in guitar-related media such as websites or magazines, amp makers also experiment with creative placement of their products in music stores to attract customers.
Many amp makers also sponsor musicians to use their amps to entice their fans to purchase similar amps. Most fans do this as they try to achieve the same sound as their favorite players. These efforts involve money and usually is passed down to you through a higher-priced guitar amp.
Branding: Branding may also affect the price of guitar amps. Established brands of amp makers are usually sold at a premium compared to less known ones. Some brands also made a case for quality by sponsoring many artists and bands.
As a result, these amps become more expensive. Premium amp brands include Marshall, Vox, Fender, Laney, Mesa Boogie, etc.
Taxes: Depending on the origin of the guitar amp, they may be subject to taxes. These taxes usually push up the pricing of the guitar amp. The general rule is if the amp is imported, there is usually some tax.
For example, suppose that the amp is under $2,500 and imported from China into the US. There may be an import tax of $2, $6, or $9. On top of that, you may also have to pay sales and services taxes as charged by the federal, state, or county administration.
Commissions: Most amp makers rely on a network of music shops and sales agents to help sell their amps. Some have also experimented with online, direct-to-consumer models, but amps may be hard to sell online. Before buying, customers may want to play and hear how these amps sound.
Often when sales are made, these guitar amp makers have to give these sales agents and music shops commissions. These commissions are usually, again, passed down to you at a higher-priced guitar.
What Is In A Guitar Amp?
You may find parts such as transistors, tubes, speakers, speaker cabinets, and circuit boards inside a guitar amp. The quality and materials used in these parts may hugely influence the performance and quality of a guitar amp. It heavily influences the final selling price as well.
Transistors: Inside an amp, there are circuits called gain stages. These help to increase the strength of the electrical signals, which allows you to manipulate the sounds of your guitar better. For example, you adjust the gain stage to switch between clean and dirty sounds.
Transistors are used inside gain stages, and depending on the complexity of the amp, you may need many transistors. Depending on quality, a transistor may range from $1 to $5 each. If you use a typical 4-channel amp, you may be talking about $4 to 20 dollars just in transistor costs.
Vacuum Tubes: Vacuum tubes may be a little old, but many amp makers still use them. It somehow provides that ‘imperfect’ sound some guitar players look for in their amps. These tubes can be a little space-consuming, so you may not see vacuum tubes in compact amps.
Speakers: The speaker’s job is to finally project the electrical signal into sounds. Compact practice amps may generally use speakers from 4 to 8 inches (10-20cm) in diameter.
Larger amps for concerts may host multiple speakers, greatly enhancing sound projection and volume. Speakers, in general, may cost around $10 to $25 on average, although some may cost a lot more.
Speaker Cabinet: Speaker cabinets are basically the housing of the guitar amp. All the speakers, tubes, transistors, and circuitries, are bolted to the cabinet. Cabinets may be made of plastic, metal, or wood. Tougher quality materials such as metal or wood may also push up the amps’ price rather drastically.
Finishings: Some guitar amps come with only simple finishings, for example, colored plastic panels. More premium amps may come with genuine leather finishing for better scratch protection.
Premium amps may also use steel meshings to protect the speakers and edge protectors against drops or knocks. These additional premium finishings may also push up the guitar’s price.
How Much Should I Spend On Amp vs. Guitar?
In general, if you have to prioritize between a guitar amp or guitar, always choose to spend more on a guitar first. This is because a high-quality guitar may sound good on a cheap low-end amp, while cheap guitars tend to send bad, even on a very good amp.
Not all of us are well cashed to be able to spend a large chunk of money to acquire the best guitar that we want and, at the same time, pair it with our favorite dream amp. Most of the time, you may be working with a limited budget and have to prioritize which to spend more on.
In this case, you should spend more on the guitar than the amp. There are several reasons, such as the sound you will get and also long-term effects on your guitar-playing journey.
First, an amp’s main job is to project the sounds of your guitar. This means it takes an input electrical signal, amplifies it, and blasts it through the speaker. So logically speaking, for an amp to project good sounds, it needs a good guitar. Good input, good output.
Very good amps usually can project the sounds with more accuracy. So if you pair a high-quality amp with a low-quality guitar, chances are you will only project low-quality sounds.
Second is that spending your money on a good guitar makes your playing experience much better. The guitar is what you will be touching and honing your skills with every day. Having a good guitar may make it much easier and more enjoyable for you every time you play.
Suppose you start with an expensive amp and cheap guitar. In that case, you will struggle with the playing as the strings may be hard to play, the guitar gets out of tune easier, and your expensive amp may not give you a good sound either.
These difficulties, when added up, may make your playing experience much less enjoyable, and you might just give up playing guitar.