Should I buy a guitar combo or stack?

Guitar amps are great. Particularly if you play the electric guitar. From walls of huge Marshall stacks on the biggest stage to the aging, ripped tweed of a vintage combo in the studio, guitar amps are the perfect thing for amplifying your guitar.

We’ve already discussed plenty of things you might want to think about when buying a guitar amp, so let’s quickly take a look at one specific question you may have: should you buy a combo or stack (an amplifier ‘head’ and speaker ‘cabinet’)?

Blackstar Amps: combo or stack?

Combo or stack?

As anyone who has tried to play a Fender Twin in a flat without the neighbours calling the council will confirm, don’t think you can’t get enough volume from a combo. And if you’ve seen an Orange Micro Terror and PPC108 stack, you’ll know that the head and cab option doesn’t force you to choose between a stack and a sofa in the living room.

Generally speaking, a combo will cost you a bit less than a similar specification of amplifier head and speaker cabinet, so that’s an important consideration. Combos are also much more straightforward: no speaker cable to use, no deciding on the perfect head and the perfect cab only to find that you can’t use them together because they don’t have the right specification.

With a combo, you just plug in, switch on, and play. And there are plenty of styles of combo available. With a plethora of amplifier designs and speaker combinations; the purest of jazz tones to the filthiest of metal sounds, the right sound for you is there in a combo.

Combo or stack: Fender BLues DeluxeStack or combo?

With a separate head and cab, you have the flexibility to choose the amplifier with the sound and features you want, then a cabinet with the sound and features you want. Just make sure and check those impedances!

Want to pair a low-power, single channel head with a 2×12 closed-back cabinet with Celestion Vintage 30s? Done. A versatile, multi-channel high gain monster to a 4×12″ with Greenbacks? No problem. Mixing and matching heads and cabs gives you more flexibility when it comes to perfecting your sound.

A separate head and cab can also be very handy if you’re gigging. For many gigs, you might not want to carry around your whole rig, but you might not the sound of the venue’s own backline. If they have a stack, then you can (usually) just take your own head and use their cab. It’s much easier to carry an Orange Tiny Terror to the gig on the bus with your guitar than a Fender DeVille!

Additionally with a stack, particularly if you go for two 4×12″ cabinets, you are going to move more air, and get a ‘bigger’ sound, which might be exactly what you want, but it’s not over yet…

The combo strikes back

Time for the combo to fight back. Many combos offer access to the cable that connects the amplifier to the speaker, letting you unplug and connect an external cabinet (watch those impedances again though!). Many others, such as the Fender Deluxe, give you sockets that let you easily connect another cabinet.

Let’s take the Vox AC15C1 as an example. This lovely 15W combo gives you all that Vox chime into an open-backed cabinet with a 12″ Celestion Greenback speaker. There are two sockets for connecting an external speaker cabinet: one that disconnects the internal speaker, and one that doesn’t. Take an Orange PPC112, plug it in, and now you’ve got a closed-back Vintage 30 speaker. Using both together, mic’ed with different mics can be a nice thing to do when recording.

When playing live, you can place the combo in one place on the stage, and the extension cab elsewhere, or have one pointing out to the audience, with the other tilted back so you can hear yourself better.

Stack or combo?Sound, style, convenience, space

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that there is no right answer! Combo or stack; stack or combo, there are plenty of reasons to go for either (or both!).

With such a great variety of guitar amps available, both combos and stacks, it can be difficult to choose a winner. The flip-side of that of course, is that with such a large choice available there is the right guitar rig for you out there; the one that gives you the sound you want AND looks the part on stage with you. As always, we’re here to help if you have any questions.

Happy tone hunting!

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Fynn Callum

producer, guitarist, engineer & dj
From indie guitarist to deep house producer via Northern Soul dj; mix engineer, producer and gear enthusiast. Jaffa Cake aficionado.

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