The 50/50 guitar and amp equation

We’re a guitar dealer and it’s our mission to match the right guitar with the player. We sell amplifiers too, but far fewer of them than guitars. This is to be expected, as guitars are viewed as the primary determining factor in chasing the “tone goal.” Plus they look cool, and New Guitar Day is celebrated across the internet.

But we see many guitar players continually buying new and sometimes very expensive guitars with only casual concern to the rest of the signal chain. Or beginners who spend the majority of their budget on an electric guitar, only to plug it into the least expensive amplifier they can find. In both situations, the outcomes may be less than satisfactory.

So we’ve come up with the 50/50 rule for how to budget your dollars, especially at the lower end of the spectrum. In general it goes like this: If you have $800 to spend, you should strongly consider equally dividing your budget between guitar and amp. Why? The amplifier is at least half your sound if not more. And a bad guitar through a good amp is always better than a good guitar through a bad amp. No amount of fancy woods or high end pickups will sound good through a tiny practice amp with an 8″ speaker. You don’t need to have tubes or hand wiring, but amplifiers have a very important job of reproducing the guitar signal. There is a floor to how cheaply you can make a speaker or transformer, and the very low end of the amp world is not a place to be.

Let’s take the $800 budget: Can you get a new or used $400 guitar that will play well, sound good and get the job done as you improve your craft? Absolutely. Now you have that same amount to spend on a new or used amplifier. Maybe a used Blues Junior, a Peavey Classic 30 or a solid state amp with handy features like a headphone output. But the point is you can get something worth plugging into for many years that will sound good, and you can easily gig/jam/record with.

The 50/50 rule works as your budget increases, but naturally if you are going to drop $3500 on a Custom Shop Fender, the law of diminishing returns comes into play. Spending $3500 on a guitar is a completely subjective choice not really based on performance. Much the same could be said for an amp at that range; but at least with an amp you are spending it on hardware and components and not on bling.

What if you have maybe only $400 to spend on guitar and amp? It’s tough to do both in that range, but stick with the 50/50 plan. A $200 guitar can be had, and a $200 amp will sound way better than a $79 “starter pack” amplifier.

As we said, we are in business to sell guitars, but budgeting for and finding the right amplifier will greatly improve overall satisfaction. Happy players keep playing which is the ultimate objective.