How much can I spend?
Only you can answer this question, based on your own financial circumstances. This article will discuss a number of considerations relating to the budget for your amp. I don’t go into specific budgets, and what sort of amp you can get for your budget (e.g. “The best amp for €500”); rather, I focus on the thought processes that should underlie your budget decisions.
New vs Secondhand
There are two main reasons for buying a secondhand amp. One is to save money – secondhand amps can be every bit as good as new amps (maybe barring a few marks and a lost manual), while costing significantly less. You can also probably sell the amp again on the secondhand market for roughly the same amount (perhaps excluding shipping costs), making it an inexpensive way of trying different gear.
The other main reason is to acquire an amp that is no longer made, such as a vintage model from a well-known brand. That touches onto buying as a collector, which is not the target of this article.
Of course, the main drawback with buying secondhand is that you have no guarantee, and no recourse against the seller in case of failure. If you lust after the latest, cutting-edge gear, you’ll probably have to buy new too, and some people just prefer to buy new things anyway.
Either option – new or secondhand – is perfectly valid, but the one you choose will affect the choice of amps that are available to you.
Focus on your needs
It can be very tempting to buy something based on impulse, or because it has received a great review, either in the press or from a friend who has just bought it. However, you might end up with a great piece of kit that simply doesn’t fit your needs. In a way, this is the whole point of this series of articles, which is to help you to identify your needs, covering all aspects of a prospective amp purchase, so that you can choose the one that best fits them.
Consider your current needs and those that you will have in the near future, for example if you’re going to start performing some small gigs then you’ll need a suitable amp (and you may need some time to get used to it before you perform). On the other hand, don’t look too far ahead or speculate about what you might need in a year or two’s time, because there’s a significant chance that things won’t go as you hope – and even if they do, by that time there might be new gear on the market that suits your new needs even better.
Beware of buying cheap gear because of the price; there are multiple traps here. Cheap gear might not have the same quality as dearer items, and you might compromise on your needs in order to buy something because of the price. This could lead to you having to upgrade, supplement or replace your new gear, which can end up costing you more money at the end of the day.
As an example, a friend of mine recently bought an amp for around €400. It’s a decent amp from a top brand, but it’s well known that some of the components are of mediocre quality , and he has ordered a replacement speaker and tubes to upgrade this brand new amp, which wil probably cost around €200 more. That’s fine if you want to experiment with replacing hardware as a small project, but personally I would prefer to add the €200 to the original budget and buy a better amp to start with.
Although manufacturers generally recommend standard prices for their products, sometimes you can find lower prices by shopping around. As a simple example, I live in Belgium and I regularly check both amazon.co.uk and amazon.de, and they often have different prices for the same articles (sometimes depending on recent currency fluctuations). I will also check the main UK retailers and a number of European retailers before buying guitar gear.
With that said, I also encourage readers to go to their local guitar shops and, if the price is similar, to buy from them. We need guitar shops to stick around, because you can’t go and try gear from an online retailer, and we will all lose out if the small, local guitar shops disappear.
Right First Time / Know when it’s good enough
This is a reiteration of some of the earlier themes of this article. If you get your purchasing decision right first time, you will save yourself time and money in researching and acquiring more gear after you realise that what you just bought doesn’t work for you. Again, know your needs and do your research to make sure that your new amp meets those needs. Time and time again on Internet forums I see people who keep buying and selling equipment, taking a loss with every transaction, in a constant search for the perfect rig. This relates to the second part of this time – there is no mythical “perfect tone”, so try to recognise when you have a great rig and work with it. Spend more of your time playing, and less time obsessing over the Holy Grail of Tone.
Financing your amp
Be realistic about your budget and your ability to pay for your gear. I would not advise people to take out loans for guitar gear if it’s just a hobby, because consumer debt can be dangerous. It’s different if you need gear for professional (money-making) purposes because then it’s an investment, rather than just an expense, but even then you should be realistic.
The worst situation – and one that I’ve observed several times in tales from Internet forums – is when people combine two of these mistakes. They buy gear on credit, and then realise that it doesn’t meet their needs so they sell it secondhand. Of course, they get back less than they paid, and then they are left with a debt and no corresponding asset. This is a pernicious trap that should definitely be avoided.