Why Are Amps So Expensive? Here’s What Exactly Makes The Price


No electric guitar setup would be complete without a guitar amplifier. Invented in the 1920’s, the guitar amplifier was invented by engineers to amplify the sound of pickup equipped guitars. Nowadays, there are so many guitar amp makers selling their craft at many prices.

These amps vary in complexity, size and quality. There are so many components that make up a guitar amp so let’s dig into what makes up the price of each guitar amp.

So, what makes guitar amps so expensive?

Various parts and components (transistors, electronics, speakers etc.) make guitar amp cost. Also, there is a labor that needs to be paid. Let’s not forget import taxes and retailer increases, too. We’ll get into details further in the text.

Part By Part

Let’s go part by part through the structure of a guitar amp. We’ll see the approximate price of each part.

Preamp, Power Amp and Speaker

Most guitar amps are made up of 3 parts. These 3 parts are the preamp, the power amp and the speaker.

The preamp’s main role is to shape the guitar’s sound and deliver it to the power amp. Then the power amp receives the signal from the preamp and outputs a larger version of the preamp’s signal which is large enough to be amplified by a speaker.

So what is inside each part of the amp? Let’s find out.

Transistors

Inside the preamp there are many circuits called gain stages. Most gain stages consist of a transistor or a vacuum, although most modern gain stages uses a transistor.

  • the cost of these transistors range between less than a dollar up to around 5 dollars each.

Each guitar amp requires multiple transistors depending on the size and complexity of the amps. So, on average, all the transistors in an amp costs around 5 to 20 dollars.

The most simple amps will have a single gain stage. Apart from the transistors, there are also other parts of the circuits which cost around 5 to 10 dollars combined.

  • in total, the average preamp stage of a guitar amp will cost around 10 to 30 dollars.

Side note: some complex guitar amps will feature preamp stages costing up to 50 dollars per stage.

These complex amps often feature multiple channels for the player to select both clean and overdriven sound. Therefore these amps require more gain stages and circuits.

Simpler amps offer less gain stages, which in turn save production cost and can also save energy consumption. Transistors and other electronic parts also comes in different quality grades.

The higher quality grades are manufactured with premium materials such as precious metals like gold. Those are made with more precision than the cheaper ones.

Therefore, the more expensive transistors and electronics are less likely to fail. To sum all of this up, the cost of producing the preamp stage depends on the quality and quantity of the transistors and electronics used.

After the preamp stage job is completed, the signal is sent to the power amp. The preamp signal is very small, so it cannot be usable in a large speaker. This is where the power amp stage’s job comes in.

The power amp stage’s job is to send out an electrical signal which is the same waveform as the input signal from the preamp stage. The electrical signal sent out by the power amp stage is much stronger than the input signal from the preamp stage, so it can be used in the speaker.

The power amp stage contains transistors and tubes do the job of amplifying the input signal. These transistors and tubes are quite similar to the ones used in the preamp stage, except they may be larger because they need to send a more powerful signal.

Tubes

Although vacuum tubes are quite old fashioned, some guitar amp makers still use them these days. That’s because their imperfections add a unique and pleasing element to the output audio.

Transistors are also called solid state devices which allow designers to create very lightweight and compact amps. These compact amps can still maintain the multiple channels found in larger amps. That’s because the smaller transistors can be fitted in a way to make the amp compact and light while maintaining it’s function at the same time.

Some hi tech amps also feature links between the preamp stage and power amp stage. These links are used to adjust each stage’s output and processing to create a desirable sound and to control the guitar amp as a whole better.

  • on average, the transistors, tube and other electronics inside the power amp stage cost around 20 dollars on average for medium sized amps.

Side note: other larger amps, such as 100 watt amps, may contain electronics costing up to 50 dollars in the power amp stage.

Speakers

After the guitar’s sound has been through the preamp and the power amp, it is finally time to project the sound to the atmosphere.

This is done with the guitar amp’s speakers changing the signals received from the power amp stage to sounds. Most smaller guitar amps used for practicing at home are equipped with smaller speakers from 4 to 8 inches in diameter.

These smaller speakers are more than adequate for projecting sound around a practice room or a small to medium sized room.

  • 4 to 8 inch diameter speakers cost around 10 to 25 dollars on average. The price varies with the quality of the speakers.

Higher quality speakers emits less unwanted noise than lower end ones and are often more powerful and capable. The speakers that emit clean and clear sounds are often harder to produce, due to the need for high precision during manufacturing and often cost more to produce than regular ones.

Speaker Cabinet

So, we got the 3 main stages of a guitar amp. But where do these 3 stages go? The speaker cabinet houses all of the components of a guitar amp. It is comparable to a computer case where all the components are installed and linked to each other.

Speaker cabinets comes in all sizes. The smallest portable guitar amps will have speaker cabinets less than a foot long on all sides. These portable amps are designed to be carried around and often feature metal or plastic speaker cabinets.

  • portable speaker cabinets cost around 5 to 10 dollars.

Small practice amps are usually about a foot wide and around 2 feet tall. These small practice amps have speaker cabinets made out of wood or synthetic material boards.

The speaker cabinets are constructed by joining panels into a box shaped structure. Practice amp speaker cabinets made out of wood are more expensive than those made out of synthetic materials.

Wooden speaker cabinets cost about 10 dollars to manufacture on average. Synthetic material speaker cabinets cost a few dollars less than their wooden counterparts.

Larger professional guitar amps, like the Fender Champion 100, features long panels which are custom made to fit the large speakers and electronics inside.

Finishes

These large speaker cabinets cost over 20 dollars to manufacture and this doesn’t include the finishing that some manufacturers use. Some manufacturers use fancy materials such as leather to decorate the outside of the speaker cabinet.

  • some high quality leather finishes are estimated to cost up to 20 dollars because of the huge area that needs to be covered outside of each guitar amp.

The finishing cost of the outside of a guitar amp depends entirely on the outside surface area and the material selected for finishing.

Electronics

Every guitar amp needs a controller or some sort of hardware designed to receive control inputs. These controllers are often linked to knobs and switches located on the faceplate of a guitar amp.

These controller units compose of electronics, switches buttons and some other parts like external plates with labeling. The priciest part here is the electronics.

  • electronics can cost around 5 dollars for each guitar amp, because they are more complex than other parts.

The plates and knobs with labels are custom made for each guitar amp and can cost around 5 dollars combined. So, in total, the control unit costs around 10 dollars for an average guitar amp.

Miscellaneous Parts

There are hundreds or even thousands of little parts which hasn’t been accounted for at this point. These unaccounted miscellaneous parts include parts used to hold and join panels such as nails and screws.

Structural support parts such as L shaped brackets and corner brackets are also essential to the durability of a guitar amp. The rest of miscellaneous parts include electrical wiring which is pricier than other items on this list.

  • all in all, most practice amps and portable amps contain around 7 to 10 dollars in miscellaneous items while larger professional stage guitar amps may contain as mush as 25 dollars worth of miscellaneous parts.

Electrical wiring has been mentioned and accounted for. Still, there are many different types of electrical wiring used in making guitar amps. Electrical wires are made up of a conductive material and an insulator used to cover the wire.

Copper is commonly used in electrical wires and is valued. Still, it’s affordable to be used in many guitar amps. Some high quality guitar amps feature well insulated wiring to minimize external disruption noises and electromagnetic waves.

These disruption waves and noises can cause huge embarrassment during large events and concerts. This is why popular guitar amp brand don’t go cheap on this part. Poor electrical wires or circuitry can be clearly noticed by both musicians and non musicians alike.

Labor Prices

The last part of costs that go into making an amp in a factory is the labor and factory costs. Those can vary significantly, depending on the country of production and the facility used.

  • the average labor and factory costs for a small practice amp is around 15 dollars while the same cost can exceed 40 dollars for larger guitar amps.

By now, pretty much all costs before the amp leaves the factory have been accounted for. Getting a guitar amp from the factory to a customer costs money.

Shipping

Most guitar amps made overseas are shipped at extremely low rates not exceeding 10 dollars per amp in most cases. Locally made guitar amps may cost less to ship than guitar amps made overseas.

If the guitar amp originates from a different country than where it is sold, there may be import taxes charged. This is extremely hard to calculate due to different countries of origin and different countries where the guitar amp is distributed.

For example, United States of America charge 2 , 6 or 9 dollars on products under 2500 dollars originating from China. Some countries have trade agreements which agrees on reduced or waived import taxes.

So, in some cases there will not be any import taxes charged on guitar amps originating from another country than where it is sold.

Retail Taxes and Commission Rates

Retail taxes also vary by country and play in part in the guitar’s retail price. Some countries offer tax free retail and some other countries charge a huge part of the price as retail tax.

Some of these countries may charge over 10 percent in retail tax which can significantly increase or decrease a guitar amp’s retail price.

Retailers also mark up the prices of guitar amps. The commission rates of different musical instrument retailers depend on the retailer and the model of each guitar amp. In most cases, the mark up is less than 20 percent and retailers usually try to sell their products at the market price or the brand’s retail price.

Retailer’s mark up prices do not vary much for the same model of guitar amp because every retailer must compete with each other to offer the lowest price for customers and must try to follow the manufacturer’s recommended price.

Brand Research and Development Prices

After all of these prices have been accounted for, it is the brand’s turn to make a profit on their design.

Research and development prices don’t cost much to a brand when the product is mass produced. The brand can take in most of the profit left from selling a guitar map after all of the mentioned costs above have been accounted for.

Conclusion

So, in conclusion, guitar amp prices vary on material costs, labor and factory costs, taxes, retailer markups and the brand’s profits.

An average mid range practice amp may cost around 40 to 50 dollars in production cost before being marked up by retailers and being charged taxes.

Larger well crafted guitar amps may cost up to 200 or 300 dollars to produce because of their use of premium materials and craftsmanship.

I hope this article gave you some insight on what makes the total price of a guitar amp. If it helped you in any way, I’m more than happy about it.

Check Some Cool, Affordable Guitar Amps For Yourself

Feel free to check out the list of some great affordable amps. Hope you’ll find something for yourself!

Also, don’t forget to check out other interesting articles from this site about various guitar topics and issues!

Cheers, and rock on!

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