Let’s face it: this shit right here just isn’t cutting it anymore:
Sure, something like this works in a pinch, and it’s probably marginally better than playing completely unamplified, but in 2015, there’s no excuse for not having a good practice amp. With a plethora of high-tech and superior sounding options, your practice sessions could dramatically improve without having to break the bank.
For me, the importance of having a good practice amp comes from wanting to be able to sit down, turn something on, and be jamming immediately with no time spent fiddling in the tone department. I’ve got some high end, professional, large format amplification already – it’s just not suited for bedroom practice time. But I’m still spoiled as shit with great tone, so I’m stuck in a bind – what can I get that is good enough to not be distracting to my practice session, but compact enough to carry around and not blow the walls out with volume (and maybe has some cool, modern features)?
Lucky for us, the future is now, and there are loads of great new practice amps designed to make practicing with killer tone easy and fun. Let’s take a look at some of the contenders:
With users such as Keith Merrow, Misha Mansoor, and Wes Hauch, this practice amp from Yamaha is clearly pretty popular among the metal crowd. It looks a bit like a military radio, and I like to think that it’s just as tough, although I haven’t actually put my hands on one. It’s got a much wider range of tone options and knobs than your dad’s practice amp, and the ability to record directly through USB and dial in tones with a PS editor put it head and shoulders above any I’ve used to date.
It can be powered by battery or adaptor, making it even more portable, and has 5 user memory slots where you can save your tones for later recall. It even ships with a lite version of Cubase to get you recording right away if you like. One thing I’ve noticed as a rising trend in a lot of these amps is the ability to use them as a small home stereo system, and the THR has this ability with either the Aux jack in or USB direct from your computer. This is extremely handy for playing along with backing tracks (any battery powered practice amp + backing track playback = ultimate busking amp).
If you’re curious how it sounds, here’s some demos.
The Roland Cube was, for me, the original hi-tech practice amp. I was a Fender practice amp kid for the first many years I played, and when I first tried a Roland Cube, I was really blown away. With a ton of instantly accessible high quality tones and simple, good sounding effects, the Cube was an instant hit. It was so popular that there are now 19 different versions available.
The newer cubes have I-Cube Link that allows the amp to interface with your mobile device, for streaming music from your phone to the amp for jamming along, or recording direct to said device. Loads of tone controls and amp models to choose from make the cube extremely versatile and a great set and forget practice tool.
So by now, you’ve started to notice a trend. Practice amps are best as small, solid state amps with good modeling and some kind of digital connectivity. The Fender Mustang, although poorly named from an SEO standpoint (the Fender Mustang is already a guitar. How hard could it have been to come up with another name?) is no exception to this rule. With 17 amp models to choose from and USB connectivity for direct recording and tone designing, it’s so far the most versatile of the bunch.
With 7 versions of varying size and wattage to choose from, you can tailor your amp to fit your practice style and needs. Unlike the previous amps, however, the Mustang does not function as a home stereo (although it does have a standard Aux input jack)
Line 6 may have been the original commercially available amp modeling company, but they were overtaken in the pro market by Fractal Audio some years back. With the recent release of Helix, however, it’s looking like Line 6 might just be back in the game for real.
Either way, I’ve always thought Line 6 Spiders made great practice amps because of their instantly accessible decent sounding amp models. Now with the Amplifi system, they’ve taken the practice amp to a step far beyond. Not only does it have all the features of these other amps (more or less), the mobile interface app is waaaaayyyy more sophisticated than the others, and the amp is designed to be a super hi-fi full-range home Bluetooth stereo. Plus, it looks like something out of a sci-fi movie.
Available as a 75 or 150 watt version, each has 5 speakers, one of which is either an 8 or 12 inch guitar speaker, and then 2 mid and 2 high frequency speakers for reproducing the full range of anything you plug into it.
The important thing, to be sure, is to practice with whatever you’ve got, as much as possible. But is there any reason not to practice in style? I think not.