History of Guitar Amps

A guitar amp (short for amplifier) is an electronic device that takes the signal from a guitar and amplifies it so that it can be played through a speaker. The great thing about guitar amplifiers is that they can be used to play around with the guitar’s timbre by selectively amplifying specific frequencies and by adding different effects. Basically, the vibrations of the guitar’s metal strings are picked up by a microphone known as a pickup in an electric guitar. In acoustic guitars, a normal microphone is used to pick up the vibrations from the strings. Once this vibration is turned into an electrical signal, it can then be amplified by the amp.


The first electric amps for musical instruments were not specific to the electric guitar. In the 1930’s the first guitar amps started showing up. Thanks to new technologies in capacitors and rectifier tubes, it was now feasible to include a power supply that could simply be plugged in (rather than having to use huge, clumsy, and impractical batteries). Battery technology wouldn’t catch up until later. Because of this, the first guitar amps were used with acoustic guitars. Strangely enough, the first guitar amps became popular thanks to a huge boom in music from Hawaii! This music relied heavily on the Ukulele and a Hawaiian steel guitar, both of which required considerable amplification.

In early guitar amps, there were only very basic tone controls. While there was a lot of possible treble boost, the fact that most guitar amps were low in power before the 1950s and that loudspeaker technology was not very advanced meant that bass and treble controls were not all that effective. Early models sometimes included basic reverb and a built-in tremolo. The first Fender guitar amps referred to what we know today as tremolo as vibrato. Then they labeled the guitar vibrato unit as the tremolo bar.


Musicians in the 1960’s started using distortion in electric guitars by forcing amplifiers into overdrive. One way in which early distortion was achieved was by plugging more than one amplifier in a chain, taking the distorted output of one guitar amp and plugging into the input of another amplifier. Later on, electric guitars started to include pre-amp distortion and manufacturers started to build effects units so that musicians could produce effects and distortion safely and without resorting to these kinds of methods. Today, distortion is an integral part of many musical styles and one of the qualities that makes electric guitar music unique.

The first guitar amplifiers were designed to be used for keyboards or for bass. However, other instruments started requiring amps due to the wider range of frequencies, leading to the development of full-range speakers and advancements in guitar amp technology. Low frequencies and higher volumes tax the amp more. Because of this, guitar amps need to be combined with woofer or subwoofer speakers and specially-built cabinets to house them. Early amps were definitely not well suited for today’s high gain, high volume musical demands.  Article Source