31 August 2011

Why Are Guitar Amps So Ugly?

Would you put the average guitar amplifier in your living room? Maybe more importantly, would your family let you put it there?

 

I recently got an electric guitar and spent some time looking around for an amp for playing at home. Most of the time I’ll be playing in my living room, so it would be kind of nice to have an amp that looks a little decent with the rest of the decoration.

 

Surprisingly, my living room is not painted black and doesn’t resemble a grimy stage. So why are all guitar amps designed to fit into that setting?

 

Guitar Amp Aesthetics

It seems guitar amp manufacturers have a serious lack of imagination when it comes to the design of their amps. The typical guitar amp boasts a surprisingly standard set of stylistic characteristics…Guitar Amp

 

  • It’s black.
  • It’s a no-frills square or rectangular box.
  • It has big chunky corners made of black plastic.
  • It has an unstylish handle that sticks up out of the top and stops you putting things on it.
  • It has a control panel full of industrial looking buttons that would be more at home in a power station than the average home.
  • It has an ugly speaker cover ideal for gathering dust.

 

Apart from the odd model fitted with quaint brown vinyl or tweed (think Fender Blues Deluxe) and some variations in the colour of the speaker cover – not always very tasteful – the average amp has little to help it fit into your household decoration.

 

Most Amps Spend Their Time At Home

Now, this typical look might be fine for rock concerts on a dimly lit stage. But most guitar amps don’t live their lives on a dimly lit stage.

 

Most guitar amps spend 99% of their working lives in the homes of us guitar players. So, why are there no guitar amps designed to fit into such a setting? Why don’t they build amps that you might find in a Habitat or Ikea store, something that you’d like to invite into your home?

 

It might be fine to build a 100W tube stack with the rugged black looks suited to stage and touring use. But those little 15W practice amps, people they are just not going touring anywhere beyond the guitarists front porch. So why not spruce them up with a few decorative touches to make them more amenable to household life? How about some nice wooden finishes, soft painted colours, or pastel fabrics to go with the other items in your home?

 

A Better Looking Guitar Amp Helps You Play Guitar More

You might be wondering what all my ranting about guitar amp design has got to do with your guitar playing. Well, a better looking guitar amp is not just a decorative matter, it can actually help you practice and play guitar more.

 

Your current amp is probably hidden away in the cupboard at the back of your spare room because it’s too ugly to be left out in the lounge. So, every time you think about practicing guitar you have to go and search for the amp, install it and set it up before you can play.

 

That’s not only a little lost practice time, it’s also a barrier that makes it harder to start. From time to time I bet you’ll even give up the idea of guitar practice because setting up that amp just seems like too much effort. It’s so much easier to just switch on the TV…

 

But if you have a nice looking amp sitting ready to go beside your sofa you have one less obstacle to starting guitar practice. Ensuring it is easy to start practice is a good way to help you practice more.

 

A Call to Guitar Amp Manufacturers

So come on you guitar amp manufacturers, help us out. A lot of guitar amps spend more than 99% of their lives in the homes of guitar players, so why not make them look a little like something you’d like to invite into your home?

 

What do you think of guitar amp looks? Share your thoughts by clicking the comments link below…

 

Photo by Cody McComas.

14 comments:

Christoph Hammann said...

I think my Vox AC 30 C2 looks fine. Old-fashioned and strange, but fine. Especially the speaker grille cloth.

Anonymous said...

You are right on target. Guitar amps are uuugly and my first and second wife let me know this each time I tried leaving mine in the living room for more than a 24 hour period of time. I now have worked my way around the problem by leaving the amp plugged in and in the garage, where I can plug in and crank it up. In the house I have my accoustic (electric) Takamine EN-10C in a stand and with that I can play whenever I wish and I even walk to other rooms including the bathroom for different acoustics. Will manufacturers change their designs? My guess is a resounding NO. But I've been wrong before. Thanks

Robert Fisher said...

My amps aren't hidden. They're sitting out near my computer. They are covered with a cloth, but that's to keep the dust from messing up the pots. I'd rather they were uncovered because I think they look great. And they aren't much special. A couple of Crate 1x12s and a Princeton.

I've seen guitar amps that were explicitly designed to be living room furniture. They did look even better, but they were way too expensive.

Dave said...

I'd be interested in seeing a more home-friendly amp, but I don't hold out much hope. I especially agree that it would be nice if the amps had a flat, usable top. If the amp is big enough, it pretty much takes two hands to move it anyway. Of course, no matter what, sound would still have to be the first priority.

amandaharper said...

Not a guitar player (yet at least) but I do own an electro-acoustic ukulele and have an electro-acoustic mandolin put away. Regardless I've run into the same issue. I want a good looking amp that I can use with both instruments. My partner has point-blank told me precisely (with GPS co-ordinates) what parts of hell will freeze over before I'll be allowed to put a normal amp anywhere visible.

This has led to some frantic searching for something suitable. Needless to say nothing good has been found. In the end I've been led to the conclusion that the only way out of this is to buy any good amp. Then strip the innards out and build my own casing, possibly adding a connection point for MP3 players.

The only worry about that approach is my spotty history with electrical safety. You only need to be thrown across the room by a couple of electrical shocks to find yourself becoming a little twitchy at the idea of stripping anything including a largish transformer down. I'd be very interested to know if any other readers have experience with this sort of re-engineering.

muzzoid said...

Id have to say that this was probably a bit of a factor when i bought my guitar amp, as i had a choice between a laney stack, and a kustom 36 coupe 210 at the time. I ended up taking the coupe because it sounded better had a much better quality build and the black leather look of it is pretty damn sexy.

Buy id say that the utilitarian design of most amps is because amps can get scratched easily and damaged. How often do you take a bookshelf in your car and head to band practice? If amps were prettier it would be a shame to damage them. Not a good excuse but it could provide some thinking towards the design considerations.

Anonymous said...

Hey.
I agree. I play an electric acoustic ukulele. I recently got one of these(http://marshallamps.com/product.asp?productCode=AS50D)
Sounds great with the ukulele (built for piezo pickups), is loud and sounds great.
It also looks great, it's a centerpiece of my room.

Don Mackrill said...

How much are you willing to pay extra for 'better' aesthetics? What constitutes a good looking guitar amp?

John Russell said...

My entire front room is filled with recording equipment, amps, guitars, a 2X12 cab, a 4x12 cab, a drum kit, mics, mic stands and cables all over the place! This is the first thing you see when you walk into my house. I like the stage look in my house and the family doesn't care. The walls are even black! The handles do bug me though for putting stuff on top. Remove them and put them on the side. If the grill comes off you could easily change the cloth covering it. I'll never need to worry about it fitting into my house decor, because that is my house decor! Rock on!

Anonymous said...

So just so that you know there are some that are trying - check out the solutions from BOSE - they are expensive and are not proven, especially with hard-driven guitars - but they are very home-friendly!
Craig

http://www.bose.com/controller?url=/shop_online/speakers/portable_amplification_systems/index.jsp

Anonymous said...

AMPS WERE MADE TO BOOGIE WITH NOT LOOK AT, MINE ARE ALSO HIDDEN BY A COVER. YOU COULD PURCHASE A BASKET TYPE COVER OR ANY THING REALLY THAT WILL ALLOW THE SOUND TO PENATRATE IT. I KEEP MINE IN A ROOM WE CALL THE OFFICE ITS UNDER A PIECE OF FURNITURE MADE TO HOLD A TV AND GAME. THE AMP SITS UNDERNEITH WHYLE THE CONTROLER IS ON THE SHELF ABOVE AND THERE IS EVEN A PLACE TO STORE THE STRAT.
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Scott said...

I have to disagree. I think guitar amps have a certain sexiness to them. They say power and aggression. Seeing a Marshall JCM800 on top of a half stack brings me back to my childhood. Most wives wouldnt appreciate them sitting in a formal living room but there is a place for everything.

We saw a similar shift with speakers. People didnt want to see large tower speakers in their tv room and those dumb little cube speakers were invented.

Anonymous said...

Dust is not good for guitar amp pots. Much better, unless you live in one of those mythical dust-free environments, to keep your amp protected by a good cover like a Tuki. Many people don't leave their most expensive guitars out and exposed to dust, and you shouldn't do that with a decent amp either.

Anonymous said...

Please tell me how to hide my husband's black furry amp??

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