Do you really need an amp? Think twice if you are just starting

I guess I am not the only one who started later in life and with some nostalgia as part of the drive.

Therefore, starting along with my 11 yo, I went for a solid state, beginner level-amp and a beginner guitar, a Shecter Omen 6 for us two to share till we see who wants to keep going :). Within 2 months, it became clear that the cheap Shecter has a lot of production issues that end up benefiting my son due to hand size but not me. So I switched to a Fender Player Plus Telecaster and I love it. I learned two things:

1/ The guitar must be above all comfy and 2/ a good guitar can play anything with modern tech. Meanwhile, I also put a Di Marzio Super Distortion bridge pickup in the Shecter so my son can also enjoy high-quality sounds. I play Enter Sandman with the Telecaster and Van Halen and I think it sounds great. Plus with software you can even alter the profile of your guitar anyway.

2/ The reason I am writing this post, however, is the amplification side of things. When I began I was aware of modellers as well as of the price of the newer high-end models: Not really for somebody who may not keep playing. I had also read about plugins but nostalgia and heroism took over so I first bought an Orange Crush 20 RT and then a Blackstar HT5R tube amp. I had misgivings about mono sound for a solo home player, but I could not resist the temptation of having a 12" speaker tube amp at home.

W-e-e-l-l-l. The Crush 20RT is not terrible, but it sounds 10X better via headphones. And the same is true of the Blackstar. The Blackstar makes for a good Marshall impersonation. The Orange gives a hint of, ahem, an Orange and that’s about it.

Then I bought a Boss Pocket GT. I found the Marshall simulations very disappointing. I am not an expert, sure, but you don’t make a beginner tool for experts, do you? On the positive side, I found many other things to love especially for the 100$ price tag. I loved the 5150 simulation. Regardless of how close it is to the actual thing, it is really saturated and works great for such scenarios. Logically, the Boss Pocket seems to do well the Boss pedals. It is not really a Pocket tool (the Fender Micro would be way better if you want mobility above all). But it offers a range of options all for 100$ or less. And again, stereo sound via headphones.

Next, I got a Revalver 4 plugin which by now is pretty obsolete, especially the interface. BUT boy does this thing rock! Playing with cabinets–for some reason some sound way better than others (prototype 6505 vs standard), it gives a very realistic 5150 (6505) impersonation, a far better Orange one via the Rocker 30 simulation than the Crush 20RT physical thing, and a pretty darn good to my ears JSM 900. I don’t personally need anything else. Any decent clean amp simulation would do for the rare moments I may want a truly clean sound.

Both the Revalver 4 and the Boss Pocket GT can be used with a set of studio monitors (don’t buy stuff that colors the sound). I got Presonus 5.25 BT because I also needed the BT functionality to have the speakers pull triple duty. If you don’t need BT, the Kali 6.5 has great rep as well as the JBLs. If you have to go cheaper, maybe the Mackie 5" are a good option.

So good software + good stereo studio monitors are a fantastic beginner option for home use and if you have to have a physical amp consider the Blackstar ID Core series with stereo.

Starting with software and studio monitors, down the road, you could upgrade to a Fractal or another premium hardware modeller while retaining the monitors.

All you need to start are a comfy guitar with decent pickups, good plugin and good stereo monitors. Then if you start playing with others you will know much better what amp you may want and why.

DO what you please, but know that you don’t need an amp to start at all. The idea that you should spend tons of time and learn things like Ritchie Blackmore did back in the day is all cool for teenagers with serious music aspirations, but if you are working full time and/or have kids, be real, skip the heroics, and make use of all the software available to get straight to the noise you always wanted to make. Sure, the Katanas of the world can model but it is less intuitive than clicking on that Michel ASM 900 picture that happens to look just like a Marshall JSM 900 :slight_smile: and do you really want mono?

I am selling both the Orange and the Blackstar.


interesting read. I started a few weeks ago and have yet to use my amp. I bought a Fender Micro and use that instead. I cant play enough yet to use the effects but saves torturing the missus ears.

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I’ve been playing guitar for a number of years now, and the only physical amp I own is a Roland Micro Cube… which I almost never use. It came with my first electric guitar which I bought it from a friend. (They realised real guitar is somewhat harder than Guitar Hero…)

I started out using Rocksmith 2014, which has a pretty decent range of virtual amps and effects you can string together however you please. Perhaps the simulations wouldn’t sound great to a pro, but to a beginner’s ear they’re fine.

Later I dabbled with the free versions of Amplitube and Guitar Rig. They’re a lot better than Rocksmith in terms of tone quality, not to mention all the other features they have. I thought Amplitube sounded the best so invested in the basic version to get more gear, then upgraded to the Max version during a mega promotion to get it all.

In order to be able to play away from my PC I recently bought a Zoom G1X. This fantastic little device has loads of amps, cabs and pedals built into it which are all completely customisable, as well as a drum machine and a looper. No amp required as you can plug headphones straight into it, and you can plug it straight into an audio interface for recording. All that in a little box about the size of a VHS video tape, making it ridiculously portable.

If I was starting out again right now (or advising another beginner), I would personally go for the G1X over anything else. It may not sound quite as good as Amplitube, but for ~£80 it is massive bang for buck, does everything a beginner/intermediate needs, and can be later used just for it’s effects pedals when you do eventually get a physical amp.


Sounds like the perfect way to get going. The Boss Pocket GT is marketed for beginners but for a beginner tool it has overwhelming options. In addition, it is not a pocket thing unless you have overalls with a kangaroo pocket :slight_smile: The reason is that the cables stick out from opposite sides.


Great point. The Zoom is another product in the same camp.

Now, I should qualify what I said earlier with respect to my 11 yo. The first amp I bought was the Orange and I bought it specifically for both of us. He hates using headphones. So if you have a kid who wants to play and would rather not buy an amp, consider going Zoom/BOss/whatever + stereo studio monitors but be wary of suggesting that headphones are the only way because they may or may not like them…and unlike parents, they may not be willing to force themselves into headphones either…

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Problem solved. I bought a 1m cable with 90 degree plugs and my headphones also have 90 degree plugs. It fits in my back pocket quite nicely.
I like this little rig so much that now I will just plug the GT into the AUX jack of my little Fender Mustang and completely by-pass the Mustang. Also, I find that it dovetails nicely with my Katana amp, both version of the Tone Studio use much (if not all) of the same components.


Good for him! He will be among the minority of his generation that don’t have serious hearing issues when they reach middle-age. Already having slight tinnitus I hate headphones too, but have little choice when playing guitar.


I think the point is you can carry it in your pocket between gigs (or, more usefully, in the pocket of your gig bag).

I do wish it had a belt clip option like the earlier MicroBRs did.

I’m not a beginner, but I really don’t think it’s any more overwhelming than any other MultiFX system. It comes with a bunch of useful (and not so useful) presets and you can download pre-made ones using Boss Tone Studio.

If you want to get into detailed tone shaping, that is complex, just as it is on every other system with similar capability (including analogue pedal-boards).

The G1X is a great and low cost multifx unit which I owned and used for a while in 2020. Usability compared, using the apps, I would say the Pocket GT is easier than the G1X, but either is suitable for a beginner.

I actually started out with a Roland Cube 20X amp ut soon moved to using a multifx unit with headphones. In that case, I used a Digitech RP250 (which was also more complex to use than the Pocket GT) but it gave me the option for a wide range of tones, with headphone use to not disturb the family.

Personally, although I have Tonelib on my PC, I much prefer to use standalone units so I don’t have to mess around with the PC. Also, although the latency is pretty low, I do find the small additional latency there is with PC-based FX systems to be a distraction a lot of the time.




I am glad you were able to use 90 degree plugs, OpsRes. I tried a Roland 90 degree cable and to my amazement it did not work.

Goffik, I wish! He is constantly using headphones (but at reasonable volumes) because he is on his desktop all the time. He also uses them for music. BUT for some reason, he hates using them with guitar.

Majik, I agree on Pocket GT being similar to most, the exception is the Fender Micro.

Now, I am a beginner and I am not overwhelmed by it, but the Fender Micro takes easy-to-start to another level. Similarly, the presets in Revalver 4 are a lot more useful than those in the Pocket GT if one wants to hear replicated famous tones rather than what an effect can do.

I also agree with not being happy to mess around with PC at first. Since all I do all day is PC, I was not happy to go that route. But now I am, whether it is via plugin or a modeller’s software.

The variety of options and stereo sound proved irresistible.

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My hobby room contains both my PC and my guitars, so for me I just click an icon and reach for my guitar. The combined cost of Amplitube Max for me was less than £100 thanks to the promotions, and for that I got more pedals, amps and cabs than I will ever likely be able to afford in my lifetime. While inevitable, I literally can’t detect the latency at all (I have a good PC), so it’s only real drawback is being tied to my computer.

That’s where the G1X comes in. Not having to fiddle with the mouse just to change patch or whatever is great, as is being able to pick it up and go play in another room if my wife wants to listen. I have probably spent more time using it than I have Amplitube since it arrived, and not just because it’s a new toy. It also just feels more like playing a guitar should, if that makes sense. So I can definitely see where you’re coming from.

I think both have their advantages and disadvantages, depending on what it is you’re trying to do. I would definitely steer newbies in the direction of a physical multi-effect pedal rather than software though.


This GX thing sounds interesting (no pun intended) but do you need to plug it into something else to get sound out? Do you have to use it with a computer? I have a VX1 VOX modelling amp and don’t really have a clue whether it sounds anything like the amps it’s supposed to be modelling. There are some buttons on it that I don’t really understand but I can get lots of different sounds out of it just messing around :slight_smile:

Nope, you’re good to go with a set of earphones. Plugging it into an amp is an option if you want to hear it out load, or if you want to combine you own amp with it’s pedal effects, but is entirely optional.

You can connect it via USB and use PC-based software to edit/create patches. However, you can achieve the same thing using it’s onboard controls so it’s optional. You can also connect it to an audio interface to record it directly if you want.


It’s an interesting question and there’s pros and cons either way. I suppose my arguments in favour of an amp would be as follows:

  1. If it’s only for home use then amps don’t have to be expensive
  2. Some amps offer headphone outs if you need to be quiet
  3. When you’re starting out you should be concentrating on learning to play rather than faffing with PCs, software and patches. Just plug a cable into an amp and play
  4. Sooner or later, you’ll want an amp

I’d certainly agree that some of the modelling amps do also have around 1000 different settings that can leave you searching for the perfect tone that you never actually settle on. Again though, if you’re just starting, probably better focus on your playing than whether your amp has a good Marshall tone or not.


I guess you brought in the philosophical question to which I alluded at the start. It will depend on the person.

It is important to know what you are after. If you want to become a musician, then it is one story. But if you simply want to play the more doable among your favorite songs and/or are too busy, and/or have hand issues or whatever, it is quite another.

In the latter case, taking maximum advantage of the available sounds is key. I even find it harder not to make major mistakes if I don’t like the match between sound and song.

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I get this completely. I think it’s why despite having a couple of nice electric guitars, a reasonable amp and a multi-fx unit, I frequently ignore it all and practice with my acoustic guitar instead! There’s a time and a place for the other gear, it’s ultimately the direction I want to go in, but sometimes it’s more of an obstacle than a help to me doing the practice I need to do


Interesting - I am also a beginner, former bass player and for absolute starters there is not much need of an amp. I have two electric guitars now, both are mahagony body and I am surprised how loud they are. I absolutely enjoy their unpluged sound.

I have been also bit oldschool and tempted to buy litle tube amp, but I bought Positive Grid Spark

  • Its stereo so it works as decent BT speaker
  • It can get pretty loud - of course its not the pressure of 4x10…but
  • It sounds good - even tho bit bassy
  • It works wit bass as well
  • the app with amp and pedals simulation is great

I think if you have the money its better than small practice solid state.

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Funny you should mention that, because my other advice to any beginner would be to get an acoustic, even if they only aspire to play electric in the long term. I find that even relatively clean electric guitar tones can still disguise little errors and poor technique, whereas an acoustic leaves nowhere to hide.

Also, being able to just pick up and play instantly, without messing with a PC, an amp, a pedal, etc can be the difference between actually practising for a few minutes on a lazy/tiring day… or not bothering.


“Do you really need an amp? Think twice if you are just starting”
Think all of the thoughts, and try all of the things. No one thing can do everything. Using a computer as your only amp will limit your ability (and therefore the joy) of moving sound (in a dramatic way) through the air.

Buying and selling gear is pretty common and nothing to be ashamed of.

Don’t take this the wrong way, but I think you’re kind of missing the point. You quoted it yourself… “Think twice if you’re just starting.” Beginners are not going to be concerned with moving sound through the air, perfecting their personal tone or performing live.

How many people interested in guitar choose not to pursue it because they think they need the instrument itself, expensive strings, an amp with a thousand features, at least five pedals, and who knows what else? How many beginners waste a pile of cash on extravagant gear they think they need but don’t know how to use and realistically won’t have a use for until much later on in their journey? Even on this forum I regularly see beginners being advised to buy expensive things when there are cheaper or even free alternatives perfectly good for those just starting out.

Nobody is saying one product can do it all or that there is shame in buying lots of gear. We’re simply pointing out that there is no need to, especially early on. In a community squarely aimed at beginners, I think that’s an important point to get across.


I don’t think I am missing anything. A fair amount of players get drawn in by listening to another player they know that is “moving air”, or have gone to a concert and felt the driving guitar hit them square in the chest. Then they go to the guitar store and feel the rumble that starts from their own hands. There is no one way or one thing that works for every beginner. We all have our own journey and will find our own path (or not) toward becoming a player.

Getting an amp and guitar is pretty basic, tried and true and should not deter or limit anyone. Gear is so affordable now that I don’t think getting started with a guitar and amp is cost prohibitive.

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