Brief Introduction to Guitar Amplification

Some people say that “the tone” of a guitar is in the player’s fingers; others claim that it depends on the wood or on the pickup used. But probably the most important part of the sound of a electric guitar is in the amplifier. Without the amp, you don’t even get any sound!

Considering that most Electric Loog Guitars have already been delivered, we thought it would be cool to quickly write up about guitar amps, at least to get the basics you’ll need to get the best sound out of your guitar.

Standard acoustic guitars were hard to hear in acoustic ensembles, until Leo Fender -one of the pioneers of the electric guitar- added an electromagnetic pickup that could be connected to an amplifier, bringing loudness into the guitar game. And here’s where the story of guitar amplification begins.

The first amps were all tube-based, giving them a smooth and beautiful tone, that became crunchy and mean when cranking up the volume. This was disliked by some musicians but, with time, became one of the most important components in the now well-known electric sound (you can also check out our post on guitar distortion to better get this). In the late 70s and early 80s, solid-state amplifiers which were louder, cleaner and more reliable became the new standard. Yet tube amps had a huge comeback in the 90s – people just love the warm, sweet tube-based sound of old Fender and Marshall amps.

And, in the mid-90s, amplifiers went digital, with digital emulation of amplifiers becoming advanced and ubiquitous enough to become a real option for musicians. These amplifiers can sound like dozens of different amps with just the flick of a switch – or turn your iPad into one when plugged into your guitar (or Loog) with a guitar amp modeler.

Here are some of the most iconic amplifiers in the story of rock music.

Fender Twin Reverb 

Fender Twin Reverb

Pinnacle of the clean guitar sound, the Fender Twin Reverb is almost impossible to overdrive. It sounds super clean and warm, with a great tremolo circuit and a spring reverb. It’s still manufactured and used today.

Famous players: The Beatles in their rooftop concert, Johnny Marr from The Smiths, Jack White.

Vox AC30

Vox AC30

With less headroom than the Twin Reverb, the AC30 -as its name suggests- holds only 30 watts, but don’t be fooled – these are seriously LOUD 30 watts. It has some slight crunchy distortion that is very sensitive to the player’s attack when overdriven. The Vox AC30 is basically the sound of brit rock from the 60s onwards.

Famous players: The Beatles, Brian May from Queen, The Edge from U2, Tom Petty.

Marshall Super Lead

Marshall Super Lead

This Marshall amplifier is THE rock ‘n roll sound. Not as metal as you would think, the sound is fat and creamy. These amplifiers are now rare and sought-after, but were very influential in the story of rock music.

Famous players: Angus Young (he still uses one!), Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Johnny Ramone, Graham Coxon.

Roland Jazz Chorus

Roland Jazz Chorus

The only solid-state amplifier on this list, this amplifier is impossible to overdrive. It sounds clean and a bit sterile, but is great in its own way. The Roland Jazz Chorus was very popular in the 80s and is still in use by some great players. They also can create a beautiful -albeit overused- chorus effect. Oh, and they are indestructible.

Famous players: Andy Summers from The Police, Robert Smith from The Cure, Pat Metheny, thousands of jazz players worlwide.

Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier

Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier

Last but not least, the Mesa Boogie is the definitive sound of alternative rock and metal from the 90s. You know that super distorted guitar sound that covers the entire spectrum of sound? That’s the Mesa Boogie sound. But that’s not just it! It can also produce a great, clean sound or can sound awesome as if on the verge of breaking.

Famous users: Santana, Wes Borland of Limp Bizkit, Dave Grohl, James Hetfield & KirkHammett from Metallica, Tom Delonge of Blink-182.

The Tinkering History of Guitar Distortion

Hands up if, like us, you take guitar distortion completely for granted. It’s dumbfounding to realize that, such as electric guitars themselves, distortion hasn’t been around for that long – or even that it was never popular until pretty much recently.

Yet the awesome thing about distortion is how it started: tinkering on broken amps or guitars, looking to control and expand a new sound that already came up uncontrollably on old, low-fi amps. Most discovered the sound accidentally, like Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm, when recording their song “Rocket 88” in 1951. Rhythm guitarist Willie Kizart got to the studio with a busted amplifier. Depending on whom you ask, the amp had been left in a trunk and rain leaked in, or had fallen off the car – what’s certain is that the resulting sound was pretty cool:

Soon enough, some musicians started to try and control distortion and bring into their own sound, by playing smaller amps to their maximum output. This method was known as “clipping” and widely used by Willie Johnson or Chuck Berry.

Yet most cases of distortion continued to happen coincidentally, by accident, with wider discoveries made once musicians tinkered with their amps in order to recreate the sound on stage or at the recording studio.

This is the case of Link Wray and his Ray Men, when they were invited to Cadence Records’ to record their song “Rumble”. Wray was not happy with how un-distorted the crisp, studio sound left the song, so he took a screwdriver to the amp and got to work – resulting in the first instrumental song banned from radio for its odd sound, which the American public thought would provoke juvenile delinquency:

What the song did provoke, though, was the interest of two bands that eventually went down in history for their own sounds: The Kinks and The Who. Both bands are known for having tinkered with instruments to create new sounds, but they’re also a huge part in instrument manufacturers taking notice of the need to control distortion.

First came trying to introduce distorted tones into amps, with Leo Fender and Jim Marshall (with a little help from his friend Eric Clapton), paving the way. But in 1960, Grady Martin went a step further. While recording for Marty Robbins’ “Don’t Worry”, Martin busted a key fuse on his bass, resulting in this distorted sound:

Martins actually took the time to figure out what went wrong – and then replicate it to play the song on stage. The result was probably the first fuzzbox ever made, which inspired The Vultures to try their own hand with the sound. Manufacturers started building their own, but not many musicians caught onto it.

Then, in 1965 The Rolling Stones’ released Satisfaction, using the Gibson Maestro Fuzz-Tone, which sold out its entire stock in less than a year after the song came out. In 1966, Jimmi Hendrix decided to combine the fuzzbox with Wah Wah pedals and Univibes – and the rest is history. And that’s only less than 50 years ago to reach the awesome, well-known sound of this Electric Loog Guitar distorting away: