It’s important to understand the difference between a guitar amplifier and keyboard amplifier when you’re looking for the best way to play your keyboard. Each type has a different amount of inputs, effects and distortion levels.
As a keyboard player, you need to be careful with amp selection. Take the time to learn how to choose the best keyboard amp so you sound great on stage and in the studio.
Don’t make the mistake many novice keyboard players make where they choose a guitar amp. The result is often a sound too distorted to effectively express each keyboard note in a clear manner.
Let’s discuss the differences between each type of amplifier.
A keyboard amp is the tool used by keyboard players to amplify the instrument’s sound. Distortion is minimized in order to produce the clean sound you need to hear coming from your keyboard as you play with other bandmates.
The most basic design features found with keyboard amps are:
- Electronic amp
- Cabinet to house the loudspeaker & amplifier
Sometimes, mixers are included to plug multiple keyboards into. A mixer is helpful if you happen to play in a prog rock band and need to use several types of keyboards, such as:
- Electric keyboards
- Semi-electric keyboards
Keyboard Amps Comes in Different Sizes & Prices
As you can imagine, the basic cost of a keyboard amp goes up based on size. Although all amplifiers make use of semiconductors to produce amplification, each keyboard amp is different when it comes to features such as quality, output power and size.
Deciding on how much to spend on your amp centers around what you need it for. Do you just need to practice at home? If so, you can get away with a smaller and cheaper model.
You’ll find that many practice amps come with a 10-inch speaker and put out about 30 Watts.
Do you need to play with a band in larger venues? Then, you need to select a larger, often more expensive model. You might get away with a 12-inch speaker and 75 Watts if you play in small places. On the other hand, go for at least a 15-inch speaker and 300 Watts if you and your band play in big clubs.
A guitar amplifier, of course, is made specifically for amplifying the sound of a guitar.
One type of guitar amp is a single amplifier circuit. This kind of guitar amp means you need to house the speaker itself inside a separate cabinet.
How a Keyboard Amp is Put Together
A keyboard amplifier needs to bring the capability to produce a wider range of frequencies than a guitar amp.
As a keyboard player, you know that you’re going to play high-frequency notes that must sound crystal clear. On the other hand, your amp must have the ability to produce those low rumbling notes when you move into the lower end of the frequency band.
That’s why a keyboard amplifier is made with a high-frequency tweeter and low-frequency bass port.
Keyboard amps must also reduce levels of distortion so the keyboard sounds clear when any chosen frequencies are used for a song. They’re also made as combo amps so your controls, circuitry and speakers are combined together.
A keyboard amp typically makes use of several different inputs so you can plug more than one keyboard at a time into it. This allows for flexibility if you’re using multiple keyboards, synths and even microphones.
Amps meant for the stage also incorporate compressors to protect the speakers from blowing out during high-volume use.
How Guitar Amps Differ
Guitar amplifiers usually come with only one input. There isn’t generally the need for multiple inputs like when playing the keyboard.
Also, a guitar amp isn’t made for as great a frequency range as that of a keyboard amplifier. The guitar amp is made to produce more distortion and rolls off many of the high-end frequencies you need as a keyboard player. This is one reason why a keyboard simply won’t sound good coming out of a guitar amp.
Most guitar amps don’t come as combo units like keyboard amps do. A guitar amplifier usually needs a separate speaker cabinet.
Can’t You Use the PA Instead of a Keyboard Amplifier?
A PA (public address) system comes with many characteristics that are similar to a keyboard amp. For example, the frequency range is similar. You might wonder if using the PA system is a good replacement for an amp.
It’s possible that plugging directly to the PA will work well in certain situations. For instance, you might try this method if using a simple mic while playing solo on stage. However, you’ll lose out on the ability of your keyboard amp to dial in a better sound via its preamps and dedicated microphone channels.
One big reason to bring your own amp is because you’ll know ahead of time that the sound will be what you want. It’s difficult to judge how well your keyboard will sound from one PA system to the next.
Even if you are playing solo, it’s advantageous to show up with an amp that mimics many PA systems via its multiple channels, RCA and mic inputs, etc. It provides flexibility and security in knowing you have everything set up correctly prior to arriving at the venue.
Another reason to choose your own keyboard amp over the PA system is to gain better control over your tone and stage volume when playing with a band. Rather than depending on the house engineer’s skills, you and your band will achieve a consistent sound from gig to gig.
The bottom line as a keyboardist is to choose a specific keyboard amplifier that allows you to create the best output possible each and every time you play.