Boutique Amps Versus Big Brand Amps

The Rambler Carr is just one of the many high quality Boutique amps on the market.

Boutique Amps Versus Big Brand Amp

If you are a bit of a tone freak, you may have had the same inner self issue as other guitarists – should you buy that shiny new big brand amp, like the new Fender Hot Rod III series amp or perhaps you decide to pull the string on a Carr Rambler boutique guitar amplifier.

Decisions, decisions. What doesn’t help the matter is the fact that there are so many different brands and types of amps out there. You may want to think about the following three aspects when you find yourself pondering a new amp purchase and it just might help to sway your decision in the right direction.

Price

The first thing that you are probably going to look at is price. What does your budget look like? Boutique amps are generally going to be more expensive. The main reason for higher prices is that boutique amps are usually made by one electronics wizard in their shop and they only churn out a small number of amps per year. The amount of time and effort usually put into these amps and the attention to detail is greatly superior to the big manufactured brands.

Amp Specs

Most boutique amps are built around the same specs as a regular amp. Many times, a boutique amp builder will begin with a schematic for a well known and loved amp and tweak it into his own version. All of this is usually done by hand, with all of the amps innards meticulously placed as if almost to imitate art. Seriously, looking at the interior of some of these hand built amps is just incredible.

The Fender Hot Rod Series of amps offer quality tone at an affordable price.

Big brand guitar amps are often mass produced, with not too many built by hand. Often times, there are computers involved in the creation of circuit boards and integrated circuits in some of these amps. This can mean that there is less human error involved in the amp building process.

Handling Repairs

If something happens to go wrong with your amp, it may be easier to have it repaired if your amp is not from a boutique shop. A lot of times, the larger manufacturers will have authorized service centers in your area so that you can get any repair work done locally.

Boutique amp problems may not happen too often, but should you have an issue, you might have to send it back to the maker to get the repair done. This could mean that if you are fairly far away from the amp maker, you could end up not having your amp for awhile and you may end up having to pay a hefty shipping fee to get it there. Luckily, due to the attention to detail on these types of amps, this doesn’t happen very often.

There are definitely other things to think about when choosing your next amp, but these three topics will get you on your way to finding that right amp. I hope this helps during your next G.A.S. attack!

Corey Palmer is a guitarist from Woodstock, NB Canada who has been playing for the past 20 years.  During this time, he has been a member of many different bands ranging from rock, metal and even a little country.  He currently jams with a band called gNosh.

Like this post? Then you won’t want to miss the other awesome posts we have planned. Subscribe to Share My Guitar and get new posts delivered daily…for FREE!

  • Interesting post Corey! Now I need to compare them for myself and hear the differences!!!

  • Hi Corey,

    Interesting article! You have hit on some good points that differentiate a boutique amp builder from a mass production, BIG amp company.

    Your point about repairs is a good one. However, if someone is really considering a boutique amp they should determine if the builder is willing to work with a local tech if repairs are necessary. If the tech is experienced usually all they would need to make troubleshooting and repair relatively easy is a schematic of the amp’s circuit. In many cases you should find that a boutique amp company will provide phone support for the tech free of charge.

    Anyway, good article! If you’re interested in reading more about what defines a boutique amp company vs. a mass produced amp company here is another article: http://www.mackamps.com/articles/what-is-a-boutique-guitar-amp-copy/

    • Don, good point about the schematics… I assume that if you buy an nice boutique amp, there would be a limited warranty as well. This might mean that it would have to be shipped to the builder to fix, unlike big names that outsource their repairs to “authorized service centers” but it’s something to consider for sure. Some might be willing to just pay a little extra to have their own guy fix the amp, should it need repairs, rather than ship it out of state and be without the amp for an extended period of time.

  • Very timely article as I’m facing this decision right now. I’ve got my eye on a few boutique amps but just read about the release of Fender’s reissues. Tough decision!

    • Dan, please keep us posted on what you end up adding to your collection!

  • I can’t comment on all boutique builders, but there are many (like me) who will work with whatever local tech you care to take your amp to.

    On the other side of the coin, ‘authorized service centers’ may not be local. If your local dealer doesn’t happen to have amp repair capability or if they do, but have not been appointed as a service center, your amp will have to be shipped somewhere – even if you bought a big name brand.

    Smaller builders tend to provide more personalized service, so even if you do have to send it back they will make an extra effort to make sure the experience is as painless as possible. That may or may not happen when you have to send your amp to the big company service center.

    Anyway, if service is a key buying criteria you should check out exactly how the manufacturer will handle issues whether you buy a big name brand or a boutique amp.

  • Excellent point on working with a local tech. Something that I never even thought about.

    True about “authorized service centers” not always being local. I can relate to that very well because I come from a small town in Canada. The closest authorized service centers for any of the major brands is around 6 hours away. Luckily, I’ve never had to deal with any of that but it is a consideration as well.

  • Sometimes small boutique manufacturers are making some of their amps on well known schematics, but just putting in it a little different tuned EQ and high-grade parts. They can also use simple, well known wiring methods. In this examples, you don’t need any special connections between local tech and manufacturer (if your local tech really know how tube amps works – not only how to read schematic and how to soldering/desoldering/mounting different types of parts).

  • I agree with Don that Smaller builders tend to provide more personalized service, and that you have to make a research about repair services in advance, regardless of whether you are buying custom amp or not.
    Custom amp manufacturers are usually focused on precise work and consequent quality. For example Hot amps boutique is giving 3 years warranty – http://www.musicians-navigator.com/hot-amps/
    Thus it is more-less question of the budget you have by a hand and your personal demands on sound one wants to have.

  • Peter

    I have nothing against boutique amps, and you can get either boutique or big brand serviced at a local amp tech… I chose two big brands that were cost-efficient for my hardware rig: Fender Blues Junior and Orange Tiny Terror. Dependable and sound fantastic, also have to factor in the ability to mod these platforms (which I haven’t really done aside from sing different speakers).

  • CKYoung

    Just to add some more thoughts…

    Some big brand makers charge almost as much as boutique ones (i.e. Boogie is not cheap).

    Point about repairs…Most (big name) touring artists/guitarists I can think of use big brand amps. One of the reasons must be service and support. Something goes wrong, they got to have a replacement fast. The ones that I can think of that use boutique amps seem to have a close relationship with the company (again, got to have fast service when it’s needed).

Subscribe to SMG Podcasts!
Download the latest show
from iTunes >>>