What is a Guitar Combo amp?
A combo amp contains a preamp, power amp, and a speaker cab.
Combo amps have speaker cabs with at least one speaker, a preamp, and power amp all in one box, where combo is short for "combination" amplifier. These are the most commonly used form of amplifier among beginners and many amateur guitarists, while most pros buy separate amp heads (power amp plus preamp) and speaker cabs.
If you're early in your electric guitar playing journey you might have heard the term "combo amp" and wondered what on earth that meant. You might even recognize one if you see it - the box-shaped square-looking thing. It's the most common amplifier for beginners because it consolidates the three parts that make a guitar amplifier into one box.
To amplify an electric guitar, you need three things:
- Power amp
A combo amp houses all three of these pieces, meaning you do not have to curate and connect them separately. Most pros use a separate amp head and speaker cab, but for simpler rigs and beginners, a combination setup is the easiest way to accomplish electric guitar amplification.
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What do combo amps look like?
Here's a graphic that shows you how it all fits together:
In a combo amp all of these elements are turned on at the same time and come properly connected. There's no setup required on your end, aside from tweaking volume and settings to your preference.
How much do combo amps usually cost?
Combo amps are the cheapest form of a guitar amp you can get, so many of them can be had for as little as $100 or even less if you buy used. But as quality goes up, price does too, so you can spend in the $2000-$3000 range - or even higher - if you buy from boutique brands.
However, the bulk of combo amps usually retail between $400 and $1000, depending on their circuit type (solid state or tube), number of channels, and brand.
Beginners should aim to spend around $200 to $300 on their combo amp.
- Low-end/beginner combo amps: $100 - $300
- Popular and most mid-tier combo amps: $400 - $1500
- High end combo amps: $2000 - $3000
- Combo amps from boutique companies: $3000 - $4000
Are combo amps only for beginners?
In fact, Fender's incredibly popular amp lineup is almost entirely made up of combo amps and used by a ton of professionals.
Other high-end amp lines like Mesa and Marshall also make a lot of combo versions that are considered pro-level options. The Mesa Mark V 25, in particular, is one of our favorites.
Read the full review: Mesa Mark V 25
Combo amps are particularly ideal and helpful for beginners, but they're used by players of all styles and skill levels.
- Ideal for beginners but not exclusive to beginners
- More user friendly
- Used by players of all skill levels
- Used by players of all musical styles and playing styles
What are the benefits of a combo amp?
Here are some of the pros of a combo amp:
- Easy to transport
- No setup or cable fussing required
- Manageable learning curve
- Plenty of low priced options
- No need to buy separate pieces of gear
- Great for practice or playing indoors
What are the drawbacks of combo amps?
What about some of the negative aspects of combo amps?
- Less flexibility and/or customization than rigs with a separate preamp, power amp, and speaker cab
- Onboard distortion or gain channel is often not as good as amp heads
- Harder to use for recording
- Usually need to be mic'd when playing live
Combo amps are a great fit for starter electric guitar rigs, though are fine to use as you progress into higher skill levels. I still use a Mesa Boogie combo amp, because it's just so much easier to set up, so it's really just a matter of preference. I've had both setups and the combo amp is just simpler to manage.
If you have questions about combo amps, feel free to drop me a line via the comments section below.
We'll talk to you then.