As I was thumbing through the latest GC flyer, I started thinking about all the different brands and models of guitar amplifiers that are available (and these are just the better known brands and models). I mean, there are so many to choose from. While most are
During the past ten years or so, there has been an emergence of independent guitar amp brands (aka Boutique Amps) that have appeared in music stores or factory direct via on-line. While the majority of these home-brew companies have products that are pricey
In the end, however, I think most amp designers would agree that most of their amps are conceptually based upon several old tried and true desi
Through the years, we’ve all seen hundreds of models come and go from long-standing and one-hit manufacturers (Sunn, Acoustic, Chicago Blues Box, Crate). Sure, each brand had differences in their designs and sounds. Multiple input channels and switching, built-in FX and tuners, loudspeaker
What’s the benefit to us players having all these amp choices? I mean, the traditional market structure that says “more choices will drive down prices” isn’t very true. From what I’ve seen in my music store travels, prices continue to climb, features and quality often suffer, and the main music store chains are forcing the same brands on us. Take a look around GC or Sam Ash (or Sweetwater and many other
Who’s buying these Boutique Amplifiers? Good question. I reside outside of a major US city where live-performance music clubs and venues are everywhere. From bars and clubs, to Pot Belly and House of Blues, there are gigs and opportunities for plenty of players. But lately, I notice that guitarists all seem to all be using Fender, Marshall, Peavey and Vox amplifiers. Other than larger cities having more stores with
I’ll go out on a limb here and say that most guitarists make their amp purchasing decisions based on just a few factors:
- Comfort level of a known brand
- Price (budget always is an issue)
- What amp my guitar hero plays
Unfortunately, I think price is often the real driving factor of these criteria that ultimately matters. With so many brands available, manufacturing quality control and fantastic warranties, along with attractive store return policies, it goes without saying that your choices
So where do makers of Boutique Amps fit in? In my opinion, purchasers often view these products with hesitation because of several factors. First, a minimally perceived sonic difference by the uneducated buyer when compared to the hefty price is a big problem. Sure, modifications to a classic Fender amp design such as tube-type changes and tube brands, circuit enhancements, loudspeaker types, solid wood cabinets and more can
Some things to remember about Boutique Amps?
- These manufacturers are making one amp at a time, with each product getting more hands-on attention, where larger vendors are using the assembly line approach.
- The level of detail is often better. Fit and finish, final testing and more are carefully approved prior to shipping to the customer. Custom orders are often available from some boutique makers, allowing design changes or cosmetic enhancements.
- Domestic or import? While a VOX AC15c1 has British design origins, it’s owned by a Japanese company and manufactured in China! Boutique Amps are typically
made (or parts are made) in their country of origin. This helps the local economy and supports the “Homemade” enthusiasm.
- Uniqueness of design and concept. While many builders like Fender base their newer products on market trends, price and user feedback, Boutique Amp makers are free to apply whatever they view as what’s best for the player, amp and company.
- Reliability. While big name vendors have lots of advantages and have the ability to offer extended warranties, a broken amp sitting at the manufacturer (while under warranty) is very frustrating. Boutique companies will use better quality parts in hopes of producing a better product that is free of defects. However, when one of these amps does fail, shipping costs to the factory, turnaround time and frustrating warranty policies tend to level the playing field in this regard.
- Custom orders. While many of these companies allow or only take custom orders, be sure to clearly understand the time to build your amp before you take delivery. In fact, a few of these smaller builders only start assembly as orders are placed (you pay, we build). So if time is critical for you, keep this in mind.
- Are they still in business…? Sure, companies like Fender, Vox, Marshall, Orange and others have been bought and sold, but they still have been going strong for decades. This provides many of us some added piece-of-mind when making a purchase. However, these smaller Boutique Amp companies are often challenged financially, have limited staff and are little more than a garage operation with few resources. Chances are, they won’t be around long. Therefore, when a broken amp from a long-gone vendor needs repair or parts, the price to fix it can be scary.
So, when the time is right for a new (or another) guitar amp, keep an open mind. Do some research and try