It can be difficult to identify what are the best amplifiers and guitar accessories, even for people that love to play the guitar. There are so many options on the market, each claiming to be the best, that making the right choice becomes almost impossible. There are just too many factors to take into consideration, like price, quality, specific features, durability, etc.
To help you decide what amplifiers and guitar accessories you should purchase, we asked Minuca Elena to reach out to 45 guitar players and we asked them the following three questions:
1. What features do you look for when choosing an amplifier?
2. What are your favorite pedals?
3. What guitar accessories can’t you live without?
We received a variety of answers that you can read below.
- 1 Ian Pritchard – Korg
- 2 Frank Maraldo – Dr. Z Amps
- 3 Myles Bacon – Blaqrock
- 4 Yogi Lonich – Yogi Music
- 5 Nicholas Freeling – TakeLessons
- 6 Quinn Lukas – Icarus Witch
- 7 Genaaron Diamente – Online Guitar Books
- 8 Sam Tharp – Fretish
- 9 Dusty Hughes – Tunedly
- 10 Cecilia Villar Eljuri – Eljuri Music
- 11 Matthew Thompson – Mosaic Sky
- 12 Chris Fossek
- 13 Josh Berry – The Rivers
- 14 Caroline Weinroth – Cinema Hearts
- 15 Ashley J. Saunders
- 16 Adam Chase – Instrument Find
- 17 Cory Amundsen – Green River Blues
- 18 Mike Risko – Mike Risko Music Store
- 19 Ellen McIlwaine
- 20 Johnny Pisano
- 21 Gary Pihl – December People
- 22 Rob Roy – Power Station Studios
- 23 Robinson Earle – Midwood Guitar Studio
- 24 JG Kemper – Summer Plans
- 25 Andrew Gerhan – Nevada Nevada
- 26 Tara Simon Studios
- 27 Brady Novotny
- 28 Craig Smith – Lifein12keys
- 29 Michael Spitzer – RawSound Records
- 30 J.J. Vicars
- 31 Glenn Crytzer
- 32 Alessio Menconi
- 33 James Robert Webb
- 34 Travis Scelia – Violent in Black
- 35 Rusty Wright
- 36 JD Torian
- 37 Bobby Kittleberger – Guitar Chalk
- 38 Zach Bellas
- 39 Ben Smith – Ben Shock & the Waves
- 40 Matt Kaplan – Sage Music
- 41 Yung Rizzo
- 42 Evan Oxhorn – Stock Music Musician
- 43 Ryan Waczek – Indie Music Academy
- 44 Michael Abiuso – Behind the Curtains Media
Ian Pritchard – Korg
1. I am a big fan of playing an amp right on the edge of breakup, where lowering your guitar’s volume or turning on a boost pedal can totally transform the character of your sound.
This means I’m typically looking for the right power and headroom in an amp so I can find that sweet spot, either for playing live or practicing at home.
I’ve found that I prefer the slight mid push in British-voiced amps like the VOX AC-15, but I also keep an American-voiced amp and a good vintage transistor amp around for some variety.
2. I love fuzz because there can be so much variety between them. The Electrofoods Lil’ Pig, Smallsound/Bigsound Mini, and Electronic Audio Experiments Dude Incredible, and Death By Audio Fuzz War are a few favorites.
I also gravitate towards pedals that inspire new creativity from you, almost like you are collaborating with them. The Red Panda Tensor, Chase Bliss Audio Thermae, Deep Space Devices Radio Bright, and Empress ZOIA are a few that have really done that for me.
3. My favorite guitar accessory is obviously a tuner! Hearing even tiny problems in tuning and intonation bugs me, especially if I’m playing in an open tuning.
I’ve even grown to love clip-on tuners for playing around the house because they’re getting more and more accurate.
A good set of strings can make a world of difference too. I recently switched to using 11 – 50s from Stringjoy on all my guitars, and I love the tension and tonal balance I get from them.
Frank Maraldo – Dr. Z Amps
1. I look for a really nice clean sound, as to layer effects on. I’m mostly into single-channel amps with no master volume, so the nicer the clean sound, the better. The headroom is key.
2. My favorite pedal of all time is the Earthquaker Devices Hoof. Other pedals that have impressed me are the Friedman BE OD, the Dr. Scientist Elements, the Dr. Z Z-Drive, and basically anything Strymon makes. Some of the best recreations of old pedals are made by a company called Basic Audio. They have the best sound muff fuzzes and tone bender type recreations.
3. I use a BOSS ES-8 as a MIDI controller and pedal loop switcher, and all my band’s songs are programmed on it. It stops the pedalboard tap dance and allows very creative routing of effects.
Myles Bacon – Blaqrock
1. I look for versatility in tone. I recently started using the victory countess which has a beautiful blend of British gain and American sounding cleans. This is really important given that I play a multitude of styles
2. My wah pedal (Dunlop slash wah), my digitech whammy, and my talkbox. All three pedals help me stand out on stage in any situation. The talkbox is my favorite, even though I use it the least.
3. I cannot live without d’addario nyxl strings. These strings have served me well for years and for many years to come.
Yogi Lonich – Yogi Music
1. Great sound is the first and foremost requirement for me. If I’m going to be running pedals, then I prefer amps voiced clean (like Fender Deluxe or Vox AC30s). If I’m going to not be using pedals, then a high gain amp like a Marshall is always a good choice.
My 2nd concern is power. If it’s an amp for club gigs and smaller situations, I need a minimum of 30 watts, but 50 is preferable. For big rock gigs, I like 50 or 100 watt half stacks, like my Divided by 13 (Plexi) or my Fender Tone Master.
Lastly, If I’m lugging an amp around myself (locally), I need to consider the weight and size,
2. My absolute favorite pedal is my vintage Boss DM2 analog delay. I can pretty much set to get reverb, delay, slapback, swirly ambient sounds, backing pads, and other random sounds.
Next is my Prescription Electronics Hendrix Octave Fuzz pedal. It takes up a lot of real estate on my pedalboard, but it’s simply the best fuzz I’ve played thru.
Xotic EP booster is a great pedal to give your tone a preamp sound and sparkles everything up a bit.
I have a Carl Martin Quattro, that I take with me in place of a traditional pedalboard to all of my local gigs. It has delay (with tap tempo), chorus, 2 overdrive channels, and a compressor. It’s all analog and really high quality. Love it!
3. My go-to accessories include a Polytune TC Electronic clip-on tuner), Ebow, an Ernie Ball stainless steel guitar slide, spare Ernie Ball Slinky strings (10-46), Levy’s leather strap, 50-foot coiled cable by Bullet (for large stages) and medium gauge Ernie Ball picks. I also like the Ernie Ball string winder/cutter combo tool.
Nicholas Freeling – TakeLessons
1. There are a lot of exciting changes happening right now, especially with amplifier companies drifting away from the ’80s and 90’s arena rock product lineups consisting of mostly a variety of 100-watt tube amplifiers.
50 watt or smaller amplifiers are now getting to be the norm and I really dig this trend, since I tend to always be on the lookout for a low wattage amplifier I can really drive in small venues, play late at night, or use easily in the studio.
Not being able to practice plugged in because your amp is too big is a major bummer and your chops are going to fall apart if you don’t strive to make practice as convenient as possible and something you can do anytime.
With smaller amps, you can really open up the tubes by increasing the volume knob on your guitar to get some distortion while still keeping your mix reasonable so the band can get good dynamics. From there you can use your volume knob to adjust the gain or even get a boost if needed. At 50-60% you want clean, and as you roll you should get progressively more gain.
In larger venues, bigger stages or festivals, you’re just going to mic up your amp. I’m finding that any all-tube amp between 15-30 watts are a lifesaver and worth adding to your collection.
Portability, durability and ability to make small fixes yourself are also really important. I gig a lot, so handles on the sides are a great feature especially when it’s hard to park at a venue or get to a stage. Having the ability to easily get inside and fix basics like fuses and tubes is also great. If your amp craps out on the road or while your paying for studio hours, you need to be able to fix it quickly.
Having to find an authorized dealer to change a fuse or take apart a complex assembly to get into the tubes can really become a problem when you sound check 40 minutes before your set and there is an issue.
2. I tend to keep fewer pedals around than most, and I prefer to keep it simple. The more that’s there, the more that can go wrong in a pedal chain and result in shuffling around your feet plugging and unplugging, trying to find a bad cable in the middle of a set.
It’s happened to me, and I’ve seen it happen to others, and it’s always ugly. I’ll always keep a solid floor tuner, I like the Boss TU-2 because I think it could almost survive an atomic bomb blast, and I usually have a boost, an EQ, and a chorus.
3. Any solid pedalboard that folds up like a briefcase is nice, the Gator Gig Box has a fold-up guitar stand all in an easy to carry a briefcase. A comfortable double gig bag, because having a second guitar ready to go is always useful and sometimes necessary. Coated strings are great to keep your guitar sounding crisp between practice and gigs without having to spend practice time changing strings.
My Manhasset music stand is probably one of my favorite pieces of gear, they are very sturdy and I just leave whatever sheets I’m playing on there at all times. I try to keep all my guitars out of their cases as much as possible because you can’t play them in the case, which is a really stupid joke from one of my guitar teachers growing up.
It’s true though, sometimes the guitar we pick up the most is just the most conveniently located one, so having wall mounts and a space set up ready to go anytime for practice makes a world of difference.
Quinn Lukas – Icarus Witch
1. I look for all-tube amplifiers with a foot-switchable effects loop and an excellent master volume. You need to have ample headroom to be loud enough to be heard with a full band in a live setting but you still want the amp to sound good at low volume.
2. I love the Friedman BE-OD deluxe for a solid gain sound. You can’t beat an Ibanez TS9 for driving the front end of a tube amp to get that extra sizzle. And my go-to effect pedal is the Dunlop Slash signature Wah.
3. I can’t live without Monster “Rock” instrument cables. You never know how much a good cable adds to your tone until you don’t use one after getting used to them.
Dunlop Jazz III nylon picks, fast fret and definitely schaller strap locks are three other accessories you’ll always find in my case.
I’ve also been a longtime endorsee of Seymour Duncan pickups and Dean Markley Strings, both of which are essential elements in the classic Icarus Witch sound.
Genaaron Diamente – Online Guitar Books
1. When choosing the best amplifier, it’s important to know what it will be used for. If I’m purchasing an amplifier to use for live gigs, I’ll generally need something big and loud enough to hear on stage, over drums, for example. If the amplifier is only going to be used at home, for practice or recording, it’s generally best to get something smaller, as it will be cheaper and easier to carry.
Valve amplifiers generally sound better than solid-state amplifiers, so if my budget allows it, I always focus on valve amplifiers.
In terms of sound and functionality, the most important thing is that the amplifier has a nice, clean channel and a warm, dirty channel. Many amplifiers come with digital effects these days, but I use effects pedals, so I never look for amplifiers with built-in effects.
2. My favorite pedal at the moment is the Line 6 HX-FX. It’s a small, affordable pedal that allows you to program in lots of different effects, all in one place. I also enjoy using a simple overdrive pedal such as the Ibanez Tube Screamer. The Vox V847 Wah pedal is also super fun.
3. Guitar accessories these days are getting pretty high tech. Being able to easily connect your guitar with your smartphone or computer is becoming easier to do, and there are a few great accessories that make this possible. For connecting my guitar to my phone, the iRig 2 allows me to quickly connect my guitar to my phone, which then gives me access to music apps on my phone.
Line 6 has a cool accessory called Amplifi. With this device, I can easily hook my guitar up wirelessly to my computer or headphones, while accessing hundreds of different amp models and effects on the device itself.
Sam Tharp – Fretish
1. Given that I live in a townhouse, the first thing I look for in an amp is an attenuator. Beyond that feature which is really for my neighbor’s comfort, I prefer the sound of tube amps with a 5F8-A circuit, hardwired on an eyelet board. 6L6 power tubes with Celestion™ speakers produce a classic rock tone.
2. I primarily play music inspired by rock bands from the 1970s and 80s. As such, I gravitate towards the Dunlop Wah, MXR Phase 90, BOSS Flanger and MXR Carbon Copy Analog Delay pedals.
3. My needs are simple. The only must-have accessories for me are guitar strings (Ernie Ball Super Slinky) and a clip-on tuner (Snark Super Tight HZ).
Dusty Hughes – Tunedly
1. For amps, I look for an all-round workhorse; something that can provide clean tones, warm breakup when driven a little harder, and sounds good when the level is pushed hard.
Vox and Fender have always been my go-to, but lately, Quilter Labs has been putting out some head-turning amps! Warmth and clarity are a must.
2. I like to build my own pedals, but additional ones I love are the Ibanez Tube Screamer, Analog Alien Double Classic, and the Boss RE-20.
3. Probably the least glamorous, but most essential- the D’Addario clip-on tuner.
Super fast and easy tuning between takes (studio) or songs (live). A simple no-frills, no-fuss way to ensure that your guitar, no matter what you play, is going to sound its best!
Cecilia Villar Eljuri – Eljuri Music
1. The features I look for in an AMP:
As far as tone, I want TUBES TUBES TUBES. Features: 2 channels are fine and dedicated EQ knobs (treble, mid, bass). I am not interested in built-in onboard effects (tremolo and reverb ok)
For recording, either combo or head and cab and lower wattage is fine. Always good to have options when recording. For live, I like combo amps with 2×12 speakers and a higher wattage.
2. My favorite pedals:
- Zvex Fuzz Factory
- Zvex Double Rock
- Seymour Duncan Vapor Trail
- Zvex Wah Probe
- Crybaby Wah Pedal
- Digitech Whammy
- Tech21 RK5 flyrig
- Pigtronic Philosopher’s Tone
- Line 6 Helix/Line 6 HXFX
3. The guitar accessories I can’t live without are:
- My custom Eljuri guitar picks
- Moody Guitar Straps
- Calton Les Paul Fiberglass Guitar Case
Matthew Thompson – Mosaic Sky
1. While I enjoy the warm tones and sound of a valve amp, they can be difficult to carry around without damaging them, and expensive to fix. The amp I use is a solid-state, and it has served me well for over 10 years now.
I like a simple clean tone from an amplifier as I like to add a lot of effects with my own pedals. I want something with reasonable volume to compete with the noise on stage at live performances and something that is not too heavy to carry around.
2. I don’t have any specific pedal brand favorites, I like to try a little of everything.
As for types of pedals delay and reverb have to be my favorite to use and I have several that I layer together to get a range of interesting sounds.
3. I try to keep it pretty simple, I have a good quality capo, and several picks in case I drop one halfway through a set.
Good quality earplugs are essential for playing live, and a pedal tuner saves a lot of mucking around when I need to tune on the fly.
1. Portability is a big one. If an amp or speaker system is too heavy and clunky, I’ll pass… got to save the hands for playing. I look for speakers that are able to show off the 70-150Hz range without creating a muffled feedback. Highs need to be clear too and mids just innocently present.
2. I like a really subtle reverb that doesn’t have an electronic-sounding decay. A looper pedal is also handy for doing soundcheck – you can play, loop, then walk around the audience space and hear what they will hear…not all sound engineers know what you’re after and we all know that what we hear on stage ain’t what gets pumped through the main system.
3. Capo, clip-on tuner, and my very own custom made armrest some have called the “El-Bro” – that saves my spine and allows me to keep a hold of my guitar without having to hunch over too much.
Josh Berry – The Rivers
1. I need an amplifier that is gonna make me want to play with passion and give me more ability to give people my best expressions through my guitar. I love it when I find the exact sound I’ve been looking for, and it, in turn, inspires me to play!
I love my Blackstar HT Club 50 MK II for its amazing tone.
The reverb on this amp has always impressed me like the first time I heard it, and the tone I get from the gain blends into being the best I’ve heard from one amp.
2. My favorite pedals are Cry Baby Wah, Open Road Overdrive pedal, and my C9 Electro Harmonix Organ Pedal. Everything has its own use, but when it really comes down to it, my effects are just to add more taste.
3. My guitar tuner and Sure Wireless System is something I could not live without!
When my guitar started to unplug on stage by stepping on a pedal the wrong way, I needed a wireless system to keep up with what I was doing. It has saved my ass so many times I can’t count, and it’s now part of the show. A guitar pick is also important.
Caroline Weinroth – Cinema Hearts
I play a Fender Modern Jaguar electric guitar.
1. My music is inspired by retro garage rock and surf music, so I love tube amps for their authentic, warm sound. I play a Vox AC-4 combo amp because it’s small (I can carry it with one hand) and great for my needs on the road (fits in my car, doesn’t need an additional cabinet). It’s loud enough to pack a punch!
2. My go-to’s are the classic Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail Reverb and Ibanez Tube Screamer.
3. I hate to play without my favorite picks; Fender Heavys in the opalescent abalone color. I also love my black sparkle guitar strap from K’La Straps.
1. Personally, for the music I make, single-channel combos are always a winner. Especially if they are around 15 watts. I want an easy to carry amp that projects well and plays nicely with pedals. Anything else is a bonus.
I’d rather run 2 smaller amps in stereo, on the edge of breakup and EQ each slightly differently than use a single amp with a bigger output. Again this personal choice based on years of playing all types of amps.
Currently, I use 2 Laney VC-15, however, if I can’t bring amps, I’ll ask for a Vox AC30 as they always sound superb regardless of the volume level.
2. I’ve owned close to 100 pedals over my guitar playing life! So picking a few favorites isn’t easy!
Pretty much the most versatile pedal is the True Tone Route 66 – it has two channels: a compressor and an overdrive. Both sides can be set as boosts, which makes it’s ideal if you’re running small amps on full or using a few guitars with different pick-up outputs.
Another favorite is any delay pedal from BOSS. They’re all fantastic for thickening up a sound, adding a subtle echo or dialing in the classic U2 sound. I’ve had a DD-20 on my main pedalboard for over 15 years and very little comes close.
3. Pedal tuners as someone who’s clocked up over 1000 gigs in the last decade alone, I can’t standard out of tune guitars. My favorite has to be the BOSS TU-3. I’ve had many of them over the years and they’re rock solid and reliable.
Adam Chase – Instrument Find
1. When choosing a guitar amplifier, there are several things I consider. Ultimately, it’s going to come down to the guitar amp that can produce the sound that reflects my taste and what I hear in my head. More specifically, the factors start with:
Wattage – The wattage of an amp can be as low as a single watt and can exceed 5000 watts. The wattage will affect the power of the amplifier, the volume and how much of a signal the amp can handle (this applies to pedals). The consideration for wattage is based on the application.
If you need a guitar amp for a small practice space or for having something to use while traveling you can settle for a low wattage amp. If you are a guitarist playing stadiums and need to be able to hear yourself over thousands of adoring fans, then you are going to need a high wattage amp.
Tone – When it comes to the tone, the first thing if you want to consider if you want a solid-state amp or a tube amp. The tube amp is known for having more warmth, grit, and power while the solid-state amps typically have a cleaner, bluesy tone and tend to be more reliable.
My personal preference is a combo amp that is the best of both worlds. From there, I look for an amp with Spring Reverb that is not too wobbly. From there I rely on my pedals to fine-tune the tone.
Price – The price of any instrument is worthy of consideration unless of course, you have an unlimited budget. Since there are some really great amplifiers at affordable prices, I try to find the gems for each price range. Even if you are looking at expensive amplifiers, there are great deals even in the higher price ranges.
Look – This may seem shallow, but the truth is that our instruments (even amplifiers) and visual representation of our artistry. If I am looking for a cheap practice amp, I don’t really care about the look, but if I’m touring with a jazz group in theatres or a metal band in stadiums, I want to have the gear to match the attitude.
2. Since I really create my sound through my pedals, there are a few essential pedals that I want to have on me at all times.
My preferences might not be right for everyone, although for this list I did stick to the essential pedal and left some of my more experimental pedals of the list. I like to have an Overdrive Pedal to create a baseline and then use the following pedals to shape my tone:
- Passive Volume Pedal
- Analogman Compression
- Crybaby Wah
- Boss Modded Tube Screamers
As is the case with most instruments and effects, it is important to try different pedals out and see what speaks to your ears.
We are living in a time where there are countless options for creating amazing and unique sounds. With the advancements in technology, guitars can be made to sound like just about anything nowadays.
From standard pedals like the Crybaby Wah to the Moog MiniFooger, it’s a fun time to be playing with pedals.
3. The obvious guitar accessories that come to mind are guitar straps, guitar picks, and 1/4 inch instrument cables.
Since I sometimes play guitar without a pick, I’m not sure I would consider the guitar pick something I can’t live without, but I definitely have one on me at all times regardless if I am going to use it or not.
I think for the touring guitarist, an underestimated accessory that should be a high priority is a comfortable guitar strap.
When you get into playing long concerts, night after night, the weight of the guitar and how it affects your shoulders can become problematic if you have a cheap, crappy guitar strap.
Finding a nice padded guitar strap was one of the best accessories I ever purchased.
Cory Amundsen – Green River Blues
1. As a rhythm player, I look for an amp that has a fat round tone like the fender deluxe or Louis Electric.
As a lead player, I always like to dig into something with more bite like a vintage fender twin silver face, or a marshal super lead.
If I’m filling both lead and rhythm as a guitarist it’s always fun to combine 2 amps as a a/b, or I’ll go for something that has a little bit of both qualities like a fender hot rod deluxe.
2. I go for a tube screamer, a cry baby wah and a boss Delay D6.
3. A glass slide.
Mike Risko – Mike Risko Music Store
1. The features that I look for in an amp are as follows:
First and foremost the amp has to sound great and be extremely reliable. I typically use a one channel amp and use pedals for my overdrive sounds, but having a dirty channel is a useful feature for those quick “jump on stage’ or sit-in gigs because I can just use a little switcher pedal for my overdrive sound without setting up my whole pedalboard.
On my current amp, I also love the power control feature. I can select .5, 15, 30, 45 or 80 watts. This is great because you can adjust the amp output specific to the venue and depending on the type of music you are playing, you can set the amp to be clean or have a pushed sound. I also like to have onboard reverb as well as an effects loop.
I always run my time-based effects through the loop, this way if I run overdrive before the delay of use, the dirty channel of the amp the level of the delay is not affected. The amp I use is the Roland Blues Cube Artist.
2. My all-time favorite pedals are BOSS pedals, and I love them all. I currently use the TU3 tuner, compressor, waza supper overdrive, waza blues driver, waza analog delay, dd3 digital delay and volume pedal all from BOSS.
3. Daddario guitar strings. I am currently using the NYXL – they are long-lasting, stay in tune and are unbreakable.
1. For amps, I need at least 50 Watt Tube (Blues Jr). Before, I used to use 100 Watt Tube amp Musicman
2. My favorite pedals are distortion, silent tuner, and Mutron-3 or one made by the original company, and a Morley Wah.
3. My favorite guitar accessories are finger picks, a metal slide, and an E-Bow.
1. When choosing the best amplifier for my bass, I look for big but clear sound and even volume from low notes to high notes. I look for an amp without a built-in compressor and like an old school sound without the old school size and weight.
2. My top three pedals are the envelope filter, the auto-wah, and the POG octave pedal. These petals have a variety of sounds to help me enhance my creativity and create what I feel is the best bassline for the song I am supporting.
3. When playing a gig and touring on the road, I can’t live without my amp, a tuner, a strap, a flathead screwdriver to adjust the truss rod and a phippips head for intonation.
Gary Pihl – December People
1. When playing in BOSTON, a Rockman – of course! With December People or Alliance, I build my own tube amps.
3. Cornstarch. It keeps my hands moving smoothly up and down the neck, even in the most humid conditions. It’s biodegradable and even edible!
Rob Roy – Power Station Studios
1. First, it depends on what style of music we are performing. In a general answer to the question, my focus is tone, tone, and tone! Beyond that, I’m looking for how the sound translates and the evenness of tones and frequencies. I want to hear the harmonic content of the resonance and evenness of the frequency spectrum.
The guitar, pickups, and even the guitar pick have a lot to do with this, and especially the player. But looking at the amp I focus on these elements and how they translate to the song.
For some song situations, we look at tube amps and how they translate the harmonic content. In others, we look at solid-state amps. Sometimes it’s how an amp reacts to the speakers or if it’s a separate amp head, how different amps react to different cabinets.
There’s also the new world of digital modeling units. Sometimes we’ll opt for a Fractal AxeFx III direct or sometimes routed through a tube power amp and a speaker cabinet… Sometimes we’ll use the AxeFx III with the real amp we’re modeling together. Just another layer of tone and harmonics.
Most importantly, we choose a guitar or bass amplifier based on how the tone interacts with the song. Some of my favorite amps that always seem to get used here at Power Station Studios are our Vintage Fender’s (early Twin, Deluxe, Princeton & Pro-Amp) customized Marshall JCM’s and our VHT Pittbull custom build by Steven Fryette.
2. A TUNER PEDAL!!!!! Just kidding – well, kind of… The pedal market is really interesting these days. There are so many options available now. Between these really cool boutique and handbuilt pedals, to those you find a major music retail outlets to effects within an AxeFx III and those right inside your DAW.
Some of my all-time fav’s are some of the simpler options. The legendary Tube Screamer, Phase 90, and the simple Boss DD-3 Digital Delay. These have been in my rig for years.
I’m a big fan of the Horizon Precision Drive. Putting this on the front end of an amp is amazing. Especially for those folks playing 7 and 8 string guitars. Those really low frequencies are hard to translate. Especially when the scale of the guitar doesn’t support those frequencies properly. This tightens in the lower frequencies and adds just the right amount of boost at the front end of the amp. It does a way better job than just adding a regular OD pedal.
The Precision Drive is better designed for this application. Additionally, the noise gate on this pedal is amazing and “feels” right on the money when playing!
Most of the time we are recording here at Power Station Studios where we have even more flexibility than I would when living on stage. Unless I am looking for something specific, my go-to effects are my AxeFx III. Even when I want a “live” feel I can add any effect in realtime from my floor controller.
I like the AxeFx III setup because the on-screen layout is just like a live pedalboard. Really easy to use and all the control and tone in the world.
3. Lately, my favorite guitar accessory for guitar or at least the one thing I’ve been over-obsessing about is simply the guitar pick. When working in the studio under that magnifying glass so to speak, it’s amazing how much tone and the sound difference comes from this little device called a plectrum!
Heavier picks, softer picks and everything in between drastically change the sound and tone coming out of the amplifier – not to mention the way a pick can change how I perform when playing.
Lately, I’ve been really into the clarity, detail, and attack of metal picks. But dislike how stiff they feel. Recently I went on a tirade and tried every type of metal picks from steel, aluminum, copper, brass, you name it. They all sound different – really different.
My biggest issue was that I lost the “feel” when switching from nylon or some kind of plastic or celluloid to a metal pick. The metal picks have no “give” and I missed that feeling. I had started collaborating with a certain pick company to make the best of both worlds until I found a pick from Dava.
One of their claims is with their picks is that depending on where you hold the pick the stiffness changes. Pull back and it feels like a thinner pick, choke up and it feels like a heavier pick. I found that they had a line of picks with metal tips. Exactly what I was looking for. A pick that has the feel of any gauge but with the sound of metal. These use the same steel as fret wire and have become the accessory I can’t live without.
Robinson Earle – Midwood Guitar Studio
1. When choosing an amp, I look for a clean headroom and a full mid-range. I need to be able to get loud without breaking up, and I need plenty of string-to-string definition if I want to play fingerstyle.
2. My favorite pedals are delay, overdrive, and uni-vibe. A short “slap-back” tape delay to add depth, a transparent overdrive to push my amp harder when I want grit, and the uni-vibe to add subtle dimension and movement.
3. The guitar accessories that I can’t live without are a strap and a glass slide. The strap ensures that I maintain proper posture while playing (I wear it high), and the slide lets me get in between the notes.
JG Kemper – Summer Plans
1. I like amps that are tube and that are old or have a vintage sound, fender amps from the 50s and 60s in particular or Marshall amps from the 70s. I’m especially a fan of amps that sound amazing without effects and at low volume.
2. Archer overdrive. Anything by JHS. EH Holy Grail reverb.
3. My must-haves are case humidifiers for acoustic guitars, quality capos and tour-grade cases.
Andrew Gerhan – Nevada Nevada
1. I look primarily for tubes. Tube amps are just so much more responsive and my whole style of electric guitar playing has developed around coaxing tubes into breaking up in a musical way.
The second thing I look for is low wattage – amps are ALWAYS too loud. If you can only run your amp with the volume pot at 1 or 2 it is too powerful.
Bonus points for the simplicity of the circuit. No “amp modeling”, no onboard digital effects of any kind. Good reverb is okay, I have a silver face Twin with reverb that I love.
2. Boss tuner pedal, I know, a boring choice but nearly indispensable on stage. Ibanez TS808. ProCo Rat (I think mine is a “version 2). My newest toy is a Death By Audio Reverberation Machine, it has a totally weird reverb that I am loving more and more.
I get turned off by the trend of a massive pedalboard and the guitarist just looking at their feet. I try to keep more of it in my hands.
3. Good cases for travel if with a vehicle (gig bags only acceptable if you walk and take transit a lot), good stands for stage and studio (no leaning guitars on every surface onstage), picks (Fender heavy or occasionally weird wooden ones), brass slide, once in a while an ebow, nail clippers.
I was given a rattlesnake guitar strap as a gift for the holidays last year, now I can’t imagine life without it.
1. The headroom would be the first. The more headroom you have the more dynamic expression you have to work with when you play. The tone is key also. It’s important choosing between a solid-state or a tube amp. Generally, the tube amp sounds more vintage and the solid-state sounds more modern.
2. You definitely need an overdrive and distortion pedal in my opinion. I also can’t live without reverb and delay pedal. I personally like Boss and Ibanez as far as brands go.
3. I have to have my Poly Tune clip-on tuner, a small wire cutter for when you have to change your strings on the fly, and a D’Addario capo and a microfiber cloth to keep my strings from rusting too fast are my “must-haves”.
1. The two things I search for is the tone of the amp and the purpose of the amp. A practice amp, in my opinion, has to sound good enough to function in your practice studio. Does it sound good at a practice volume? However, an amp I would use to play out live would need to have enough wattage, with both a good clean and distorted channel.
2. I have several pedals on my board that I can’t live without, but there are a few that are a must-have for me. The first is a digital delay pedal. I use TC Electronics Flashback pedal. Digitech makes the second pedal and it is called the Freqout pedal. It allows me to get controlled feedback when the pedal is engaged.
3. Strap locks are a must for any performing guitarist. I also often use an Ebow in my music. AnEbow simulates a violin bow and basically can have infinite sustain.
Craig Smith – Lifein12keys
1. Sound and portability these days. Good sounding amps are getting smaller and lighter. If you’re a working guitarist, this is a good thing!. I don’t feel the need to lug a heavy 4-12 stack anymore.
2. I love the Line 6 HX Stomp right now. It’s essentially an entire live rig in a pedal. Amps, Cabs, Mics and effects and an intuitive software editor that makes creating great sounds a breeze… and under $600.
3. Any of the Voodoo Lab Dingbat Pedalboards with built-in power bricks. I have one for my acoustic rig and one for electric. Rock-solid, dependable and easily configurable to different gig/studio situations. Can’t leave home without it.
Michael Spitzer – RawSound Records
In today’s world, where most people are unable to play 100-watt amps at full volume, I like amplifiers that are able to produce a good tone at lower volumes.
Since I am a bit of an older player, I still prefer real tubes in my guitar amps.
Digital modeling has come a long way and sounds very good.
But the FEEL is still something that is not exactly the same with digital emulation compared to the way a real tube amp driven by a pedal reacts to your pick attack.
Being a mostly rock player, I look for an amp that can provide a good sounding crunchy distortion along the lines of 1970’s rock or AC/DC and then boost that further with overdrive pedals to drive it to higher levels of gain, distortion and sustain.
2. My favorite pedals are:
- DOD 250 overdrive
- Analogman TS-808 modded overdrive pedal
- Majik Box Fuzz Universe “Paul Gilbert” signature pedal
- Keeley 4 knob compressor
- MXR Mini Dynacomp
3. Since I like to sometimes practice or record late night when the wife is asleep, but still use my real amps instead of emulators or plug-ins, I rely heavily on the Two Notes Torpedo Cab.
It lets you play a large tube amp totally quiet and to the mixing board by way of advanced Cabinet IRs in real-time.
Zoom G3 – This is a great sounding multi-effects amp modeler with built-in drum machine patterns that can allow for quiet practice when traveling, while watching TV, out by a pool, etc.
1. When looking at amps I have some basic criteria. First, it has to be a tube. Since I play Roots music (Blues, Rockabilly, Western Swing, etc.) anything else just sounds cheesy. An old Fender or something built along those lines always does the trick.
The next thing I look at is the cabinet. Many are plywood anymore which sucks up your tone. Solid panels are the way to go, preferably with some room around the speaker. Lastly, I prefer that it have reverb built-in (think Magic Sam) and if not reverb then tremolo.
2. Although not using a pedalboard at the moment I have a Vox Double Decker delay pedal that I’m quite fond of. It gets a good slapback, does something similar to what Prince did with his Boss delay (especially on clean tones), and a host of other cool sounds. Most of all it’s driven by a single 12AX7 and has a unique tone that I haven’t heard from any other pedal.
3. There are no guitar accessories that I can’t live without since I generally run my Telecasters straight into tube amps. Having reverb or tremolo is about it since they smooth out the highs. I do strongly prefer Dunlop Ultex picks at 1.14 thickness. The dense material gives a nice attack.
1. I am looking for a great tube sound in an amp. Because I’m going for a pre-WW2 sound, I’m looking for a tube sound that is distinct to that period. It’s got to break up just the right amount and most tube amps break up too much or have a more consistent and sustained distortion.
Right now I play a Peavy Classic 30 on some gigs and a Vintage 47 National Copy on others. Other amps that do well for me if I’m on the road are things like Fender Blues amps.
2. The only pedal I use is the EletroHarmonix Humdebugger. With a single coil pick-up, you’re pretty much destined to have a terribly noisy amp. The Humdebugger takes all the noise out with only the most minuscule change in tone.
3. I really hate playing with anything other than Wegen Picks. I also love, and I know these are cheap and not a major item, but those little rubber rings that fender makes to keep your strap from slipping off are a miracle.
If you have a more modern guitar and want to install a strap lock system, you don’t need to worry about losing your box, but with a vintage instrument, it’s reassuring to know you’re not going to lose the guitar.
1. I look for a “flat” sound, I mean, I don’ like amps who give too much eq to my natural sound, and also a not too heavy amp.
2. I like reverbs and delay stereo, but also envelope filter and phaser
3. Tuner, cutter for strings, picks, keys for the truss rod.
1. It depends on what I’m using the amp for. For live shows, I like a good balance of portability and sound quality. If I’m playing a solo acoustic show, I love the battery-powered Fishman Loudbox. For 3-4 set pieces, I use the Bose L1 system with the B2 bass module. That’s more of a sound system, but for acoustic, if works great.
A lot of times we get away from the joy of guitar we had when we started playing. There are so many ‘in the box’ modeling options when you’re recording, a lot of gearheads roll their eyes when I say this–but I still like experimenting with different guitar sounds like when I was a teenager. For me, a versatile amp like the Line 6 Micro Spider is a fun way to play around and reconnect with your teenage rockstar.
2. I prefer a multi-effects pedal and my favorite is the Line 6 Helix, but it’s a little pricey starting out. The pocket POD (also by Line 6) is a cheaper way to test out their sounds and technology.
I’m not a huge loop pedal guy, but the Boss RC-1 is a time tested favorite, especially for those looking to test the loop pedal waters for about a hundred bucks. But really, if you’re looking at loop pedals, it’s hard to beat the Boss VE-2 harmonizer. You can do a lot with it for a solo gig and there are a ton of videos on youtube to get you started.
3. These are essentials–although an Anthology strap is a little more expensive, these others are super affordable and make great stocking stuffers.
-A basic Snark or Boss clip-on tuner. This is the only thing I’ll get purchase protection on because I’m hard on them.
– A combo string winder/cutter. D’Addario has a great one. Just makes string changing so much easier and it’s a great gift.
– Investing in a really cool guitar strap is a great way to make your style stand out.
Travis Scelia – Violent in Black
1. I look for a deep rock sound with reliable hardware.
My favorite companies are Zildjian Cymbals, Mapex Drums, DW hardware, and Vic Firth sticks.
2. DW double bass pedals (currently using the DW3000)
3. I need that cowbell! And a solid stick holster.
1. I’m still old school. I prefer an analog circuit amp as opposed to digital amps, either an all-tube pre and post amp or I have found certain solid-state amps to be very warm (Solid-state is still an analog circuit without the tube compression but still warm in its own way). I like a 2×12 speaker setup with an open back cabinet rather than a closed 4×12 cabinet because I feel the bottom end is easier to EQ than the closed cabinet. Also, a nice spring reverb really puts the “cherry on top” for me.
Digital amps can do a lot of extraordinary things but I can hear that digital “brittleness” in the overall tone from the way digital reproduces the dominant harmonics of the signal so I always go for that smoother analog tone which has a certain roundness of the hard edges… what people refer to as warmer tones.
2. I use pedals in two regards. General workhorse go-to pedals and exotic special effect pedals.
My standard go-to pedal for any situation is my compressor pedal. I have used MXR Dyna Comps and Boss but lately, I’ve found the Behringer CS400 Compressor Sustainer to be just as good sonically at a third of the price. The housing is a little lacking being plastic instead of steel, but I leave it on all the time so I’m not punching the pedal continually.
I dial my guitar volume up or down to get a nice clean tone or max it out for a fat and sustaining lead tone. If the pedal is driven at max output into the amp it gives a much more musical kind of overdrive rather than a buzzy sounding distortion pedal.
As for my favorite “special effect”, I have been really taken with the Leslie simulator for guitar. It recreates the sound of your guitar plugged into a rotary speaker cabinet (like the B3 organ’s Leslie cabinet). I run dual amps and have the Leslie line run through a volume pedal so I can blend it with my straight tone in whatever amount I like.
3. Being a slide player I have found Rocky Mountain Ceramic slides and Jim Dunlop Bone slides to be crucial and the Jim Dunlop slide holder for your mic stand is a must for me for a smooth-running show. It slips into the Dunlop pick holder which goes on your mic stand and the slide sits right there where it’s easy to grab. No more fumbling around looking like a dork digging through my pocket for a slide. “I had it during soundcheck, gimme a second!” LOL!
My wife and I (she too is a guitarist) also just this week discovered an extremely affordable guitar wireless system by Getaria that runs a mere $40 and works beautifully. This replaces a $600 guitar wireless system that recently quit. We were skeptical because of its price tag but after reading the hundreds of five-star reviews decided to give it a shot. We were both shocked and very pleased at how well it works considering how affordable it is. This small system has a built-in lithium rechargeable battery and comes with a dual USB charging cable.
1. I gig a lot, so my amp needs to be powerful but portable, quick to set-up, and it needs to get a great sound at any volume (so it needs a master volume). You never know, night-to-night, what the room will require. Even though I keep it simple, key is the right tone at any volume. My amp: Mesa Boogie Filmore 50-watt (cleanest cleans)
2. For electric, a tuner, delay, and reverb are a must. Chorus if the amp already has reverb. All others are optional. I go with the industry-standard Boss on all three. Anything else does not make a discernible difference live or in a mix. I play acoustic gigs at least once a week, and I cannot live without my Tech21 Acoustic Fly Rig multi pedal.
3. Capo, clip tuner, and a sturdy gig bag. Mono bags are great, but I buy them used since I have not had any luck with their warranty people.
Bobby Kittleberger – Guitar Chalk
1. For an amp, I look for tube circuits, multiple channels, and extras like an effects loop or MIID control
2. The Empress Heavy (distortion), Line 6 DL4, and Morley Bad Horsie wah pedal.
3. Peg winder.
1. When looking for an amplifier, I want to hear a nice clean tone that lets all of the guitar’s dynamics be heard. I also want it to get crunchy and loud when turned up and it should take effects pedals well.
2. Analogman King of Tone is an absolute necessity for me at this point. I can’t live without it. I will also give the EarthQuaker Devices ‘Hoof’ pedal a shout out – that thing is mean!
3. Picks. Lots of picks in all different shapes and sizes.
Ben Smith – Ben Shock & the Waves
1. Versatility. Having an amp that’s a good clean pedal platform but can also get a bit dirty when you need it is the mix for me. Onboard reverb is always handy too.
2. Delay. A good delay does wonders for any sound. I use two, one for a slap and one for longer trails. Hook one up with an expression pedal and you’re set for all kinds of oscillating weirdness.
3. Whammy Bar! I use a floating trem system and I swing off it all gig. Easy way to make rhythm tones more interesting and add accents to held notes in lead licks.
Matt Kaplan – Sage Music
1. Generally, I look for a tube amp that is versatile for many different guitars and styles. Mobility is a huge plus. One of my favorite go-to’s is the Vox AC30.
2. A tried and true classic for me is the Ibanez Tube Screamer TS808. It’s perfect for so many situations. For something fun, an MXR Carbon Copy Analog Delay is always welcome on my board.
3. Honestly, I can’t live without 1.14MM Jim Dunlop Gator Grip Picks (RIP Jim!). For my acoustic guitar, there is no better support than the Sagework Atlas Magnetic Guitar Support.
1. Guitars are more than just an instrument to music, they complete and make a song whole, especially the riffs I come up with. When choosing the best amplifier, it all depends on the type of guitar and sound quality.
I look for the quality of the amp to bring me a great sound without too much distortion to my production since when I create music everything is recorded into a mic from the amp and straight into my DAW program.
2. I love the BigSky pedal, it has a variety of effects. The reverb and an ambient setting are a couple of my favorites.
3. Electronic tuners are key for me, especially to my production when using a guitar.
Evan Oxhorn – Stock Music Musician
1. When I look for a guitar amp, there are two things I’m focused on. First, I’m looking for wattage. If you’re in the studio, you don’t want anything too powerful, because amps tend to sound best when they’re pushed to their louder volumes. A 20-watt amp is more than enough for recording (and also for a lot of gigs). You can get a great tone from it, and won’t annoy the neighbors.
Second, I’m going to be concerned with the overall tone. Some amps are great for distorted tones, but others are much better clean. It’s a good idea to get amps that complement the ones you already have so that you can have a palette of tones to choose from. But if you can only afford one, it’s best to think about what your most important tone is. If you’re unsure, then maybe get an amp that does both well, but is not as good at either.
2. While expensive, the Empress Reverb is one of the most incredible pedals out there. It not only does great reverb sounds, but it’s the type of pedal you can build your signature sound around. That’s because it has far-out sounds ranging from distortion to delay to modulation stacked deliciously with layers of reverb.
TC Electronics makes an incredible line of super affordable, wonderfully sounding pedals. My favorites are the Cinders overdrive which adds just the right amount of grit to your guitar, helps push your amp, and has a flexible tone knob. The Echobrain is a delicious analog delay that creates beautiful, slightly degraded echoes and can be tweaked to create far-out soundscapes.
3. My two most recommended accessories sound simple, but they’re essential lifesavers. First, I recommend cable ties. The help keep your cables organized so you’re not walking around with a rat’s nest. You can also use them to help color-code your cables so that you can quickly distinguish between XLR and 1/4 cables, or USB, or whatever.
My other essential accessory is my pedalboard, the BOSS BCB-60. I did a video review of it here. In a nutshell, it holds and protects the right amount of pedals, comes with its own built-in power supply, routing for A/B wet dry setups, and is really affordable. It’s great for keeping things organized in the studio or for going out to a gig.
Ryan Waczek – Indie Music Academy
1. When choosing an amp for myself, I look for classic tones. Every one of my amps has been a tube amp and I currently own a Vox AC30 and AC10. I landed on Vox because I’m not necessarily looking for a large variety of tones, I’d much rather get to a high-quality and familiar tone quickly so that I can focus on recording and playing.
2. I absolutely love my Strymon Timeline. It not only has pristine quality delays but I utilize the looper extremely often when I play a solo gig. Equally as important is my TC-Helicon VoiceLive Play Acoustic. I love being able to add effects and harmonies to my vocals—making me sound bigger than just a one-man act.
3. Beginning with the basics, I bring my Kyser Quick-change Capo and a clip-on headstock guitar tuner (even though I have other tuners in my pedalboard). When playing acoustic, I always try to plug into my LR Baggs Venue DI—it just adds so much richness to my sound.
Lastly, I try to put strap locks on all my electric guitars, especially after my Strat took a tumble during a driveway concert.
Michael Abiuso – Behind the Curtains Media
1. When looking for an amp, I often check to see if they’re tube amps first, as I like the ability to naturally drive and control dynamics with the intensity (or lack thereof) of how I’m playing the instrument.
Secondly, simplicity. On/Off, a few EQ options and a drive control should do the trick, if a million knobs are required to dial in a sound, it would lead me to believe the source sound of the amp may be lacking and/or covered up.
2. I’d say I use Eletro-Harmonix “Holy Grail” on 90% of projects even if super subtle. I’m also a fan of delays (DL4 / Echo Park) to name a few, and then different distortion pedals if suiting for the project (EarthQuaker Devices’ “Hoof Reaper”)
3. No one should live without a tuner, but other than that, metronomes are amazing to practice with and internalize.
Thank you so much to all the musicians that participated in this expert roundup! If you enjoyed reading this post, please share it on social media with your friends and followers.