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Blues Harp Amps – The Basic Rules

Your mileage will vary.

Rule 1:
You must get a tube amp! I have never been happy with solid-state amps. They are too clean and harsh. Even the distortion effects for amps come out sharp and jagged on a solid-state amp. Tubes give you a smoother mellow tone and tend to take off the harsh edges a little. I am sure that there are solid-state amps that will fool my ears, but they are not in my price range. Tubes are a simple, proven, and reliable technology. I am even skeptical about amps with a solid-state rectifier. I can’t really tell much difference, but I just don’t like the idea.

Rule 2:
Unless you have money to burn, you should always buy the cheapest amp that you can find. The components in a vintage tube amp are pretty much the same and are of the same quality across all brands and lines. A resistor is a resistor. Speakers and transformers are the exception, and I wouldn’t worry too much about the transformers. Old speakers are, well old. You might want to refresh them with a new set of Webers, but if they sound good, don’t worry. Amplifier circuitry is all based on handbooks put out by tube manufacturers that had sample circuits. The circuits were given out freely to manufacturers in the hopes that they could sell amps and radios and thereby sell tubes. Few amp manufacturers did more than tweak the circuits a little, and since you can’t patent a circuit, they all "borrowed" circuits from each other.

Rule 3:
Buy an amp as though you were going to turn around and sell it in within the year. Don’t fall in love with a bad amp. A good amp is like a Chevy pickup truck. There a lot of them out there and there is not much difference between them. Get two or three that you like that are in decent condition and you can always sell them to help pay the rent if the economy tanks.

Rule 4:
Buy as many amps as you can find room for. One amp is not going to cover all situations. After a while you’ll realize that one of you amps never gets played through. You sell that amp and buy another. You tastes will change, you life situation will change, and your playing style will even change. One size amp definitely doesn’t fit all.

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