What is: Amp in a Box

This series will start to look at some of the terms and concepts that new players may not be aware of and may be afraid to ask. Today, we are looking at the concept of ‘Amp in a Box’ – what the hell is it and why do people use them?

All amps are in boxes, right?

Ok, so an amp in a box is not an actual amplifier. An amplifier is what you plug your guitar into and includes the speaker and potentially some other on-board effects (most commonly things like reverb). An amplifier is usually a pretty bulky and big purchase for the beginner guitarist and will often be similar or even more expensive priced than their actual first guitar. The amplifier is how we hear the guitar, it picks up the magnetic changes in the movement of strings and converts this to sound. Most likely you will get something mid range and suited to your style of playing for your first amp and this is where the amp-in-a-box comes in.

The other thing to note is that you cannot just plug an amp in a box direct into a speaker cabinet and expect that it will work. You also need a preamp for this (such as a Sans Amp) to do this, however the way that most people will do it is plug into their combo amp or into their amp head and cabinet. The amp in a box name mainly refers to the tone that the pedal generates, rather than the fact it is a standalone.

Why not just buy a different amp?

Go for it John Mayer, go and buy that Dumble and play to your hearts content in your living room..

Why not? There are a few reasons for an amp in a box setup, one of which is cost – to go out and buy every amp that you like the sound of is going to cost you a fortune, you are looking at anywhere from the high hundreds to the multiple thousands to buy the amps replicated by amps in boxes. Having that many amps around may be good if you are a touring musician constantly changing the way you play and experimenting with different sounds, but we all can’t be Joe Bonamassa.

The other problem is that some of these amps aren’t in production even should you want to go and buy them, but the most convincing reason is that an amp in a box allows you to keep both your current amp and add to the sound. This means that you can now have twice the sounds with only the cost of a single pedal (and only taking the space of a pedal, rather than another corner of a room). Amp in a box type pedals are brilliant especially when you are still seeking your sound, or you have only certain times when you want to sound a certain way.

What are some examples of an amp in a box?

Amp in a box

Sunn T – A boutique amp with probably the most well known amp in a box at the moment – the Earthquaker Devices Acapulco Gold.

Marshall JCM800 – The Marshall JCM800 was one of the amps of the 80’s – just check out their list of users on Wikipedia. There are plenty of pedals that try to emulate the sound such as the Suhr Riot and the Marshall Guvnor, but for sheer bang for your buck, and small footprint you really can’t go past the Xvive Golden Brownie. The Brownie was one of the hits of the year for Guitar Nerds and has great reviews in general, for the $65 at Artist Guitars, you really can’t go past it – I will also be writing up a review of the Brownie very soon.

Marshall Plexi – Marshall comes in again with their Plexi this time. The 1960’s, you could argue, was when rock and roll really kicked off, and it did so with the Marshall Plexi. This was the amp that was used by Hendrix at Woodstock, so therefore had a massive impact on popular music. The good thing about the Plexi pedals is that they often have ‘Plexi’ in the name to be able to identify them, so you can always run a ‘Plexi’ search on ebay for a range of pedals. Some of the standouts are the Wampler Plexi Drive, for the mid range the TC Dark Matter (which you can pick up for around $100) and the Tone City Golden Plexi.

Supro – more a boutique amp that are now making some beautiful stuff – the JHS Superbolt is the go-to pedal if you want to emulate the tone.

The reality is, that if you have heard a classic amp or guitar sound there is probably an amp in a box out there for it. What are some of your favourites?

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