What is a combo amp?

If you’ve recently found yourself shopping for a guitar amplifier, you’ve also probably stumbled upon terms like “combo amps”, “amp heads” and “amp cabs”.

At the most basic level, you could break your guitar amp down to two main components:

  1. The actual amplifier itself (the device that powers your guitar speaker)
  2. The speaker cabinet (or speaker cab)
    • This is your speaker’s enclosure.

This brings us back to the question then…

So, What Is A Combo Amp Then?

A combo amp is a single unit that houses both the amplifier and the speaker(s) in a single enclosure. These enclosures will generally include either 1 or 2 speakers.

So what’s the alternative? Purchasing an Amp Head and a stand alone Speaker Cab.

amp 4064539 1920
This image shows a combo amp

What Is An Amp Head

An amp head is the power amplifier housed in its own separate unit, separate from the speaker enclosure. This is what powers the speaker in an external speaker cabinet.

There are a few reasons you might opt for purchasing your an amp head and speaker cab separately:

  1. It gives you more flexibility to combine different amps with different speakers.
  2. If your amp breaks beyond repair, it’s cheaper to replace an amp head by itself.
  3. Splitting your amp and speaker into 2 separate enclosures reduces the weight of each unit for transport.
  4. Larger, more powerful amp setups aren’t going to come within a combo. A 4 x 12 cabinet, for instance, and amplifier are extremely heavy.
Orange Amplifiers Crush Pro CR120H 120W Guitar Amp Head Black

The Orange Crush Pro shown above is an example of an amp head.

Related Terms

Half Stack

A Half Stack is a term for an amp head combined with a speaker cabinet. The amplifier is usually stacked on top of the speaker cab and will generally contain 1, 2 or 4 speakers.

Full Stack

A full stack is a term for an amp head stacked on top of 2 speaker cabinets. Again, each of these cabinets will usually contain 1, 2 or 4 speakers.

This illustrates the difference between a combo amp, a half stack and a full stack.
Combo Amp vs Half Stack vs Full Stack

Conclusion

Shopping for amps can be daunting. It’s important to take your time when trying to make your decision and really do your research.

Just because your favorite guitarist uses a Marshall Half Stack, doesn’t mean that going to be the best amp for you. Many young guitarists get caught in the trap of saving for a 4 x 12 cab stacked with a 100 watt head. It’s likely going to be more then you need or will even want.

Unless you’re playing an arena, or big open areas you’ll probably be better off with a combo amp or smaller stack (2 x 12 or even 1 x 12). 30 – 50 watts will easily allow you to gig. You can also mic your amp through the PA. It will likely sound better and not piss off your bandmates.

Stacks look cooler though!

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