5 Reason to Buy a Boutique Amp

There's no doubt a "boutique" amplifier costs more than the mass produced main-stream brands out there.  If you're going to spend the kind of money it takes to get a truly fine amplifier, we feel it's our duty to make sure you get your buck's worth! 

So, because we do specialize in high-end guitar amps, we get questions from time to time that all boil down to one question; Why should I spend more money on a boutique amp?  Perfectly fair question, and one we love to field!  In this article we'll address the top 5 reasons to invest in a boutique amplifier.

Top 5 Reasons it's Better to Buy a Boutique Amp


Easily the most important aspect of an amp.  If you don't have good tone nothing else about an amp really matters.  The fact is, and we realize it's a bit bold to just come out and say it, but the higher end amps simply sound better.  It isn't all that hard to believe when you consider that is what they are designed to do. To fully understand this you have to look at the motives of a builder and how that translates to the final product. With boutique amp shops, the motive for building a certain model amp is quite different than a factory that is pumping out mass produced amps. It is a basic quantity over quality equation. For boutique builders the idea is build the best sounding amp possible, for the big shops the idea is to build (a) the most cost effective and (b) easy to produce amp possible that (c) has the widest mass appeal. It is pretty clear that these approaches are pretty different and often lead to products that are quite opposite.  

In our experience, most boutique amp builders are extremely passionate aboutt what they do. They take pride in every aspect of their amp builds. When they design an amp, each individual component is selected based solely upon its performance. Naturally, this isn't a very cost effective way to build things, but that's not what they're concerned with. They want to build the best sounding amps possible. Period. They design and source parts with one focus in mind: Tone at all costs.

On the other side of the equation, you have the brand name mass producers.  In these cases, it has as much to do with accounting as it does amp design. The idea is to try and source the cheapest components possible and put them together in the quickest (and cheapest) way. It's definitely more cost effective than the guys that make amps by hand, but it's really hard to argue that this style of making amps is in the same class as the boutique guys, and the differences are apparent.  This is not to say that all mass produced amps are awful, just that they are designed with a completely different idea in mind. 

Service Life / Reliability

As we just pointed out, the companies that produce amps on a mass scale have cost in mind when it comes to just about every decision involving their production. This translates to a lower production cost for them the producer and a lower initial cost to you the consumer(unfortunately this is not always the case, but that is another article in itself). In theory, this sounds like a great thing. Saving money is always a winning proposition.  The problem arises when you look at how these decisions affect the performance of the amp in the long run. Being that the amp was designed with cost cutting in mind, very little thought is given to how the amp will perform over a long period of time. Tube amps endure quite a bit more abuse than the average electronics when you consider how they are used. The amount of heat and vibration produced with normal use is very hard on components. In our experience, it usually shows very quickly if sub-par components were used in the production of an amplifier as they tend to fail quite often and unfortunately quite significantly. Cheaply made tube amps don't tend to last very long.

When you start figuring in the cost of repairs and ultimately premature replacement instantly the initial value of some of the more mass produced amps is quite diminished. In fact, in many cases it would have actually been cheaper to spend the extra money and bought a higher quality amp to begin with. There is a reason why many vintage amps are so highly sought after. They were built very well and the components used in production were top notch. For that reason, most are still performing just as well today as when they came off the line 50 or 60 years ago. Most of the the boutique builders build their amps in quite the same way as their predecessors and if history is any indicator it's probably safe to say they will still be rocking in half a century if not much longer. We truly believe when you buy a nice amplifier it is an investment for life.

Resale Value

Although, naturally most people give very little thought to what they're ultimately going to sell something for before they buy it, with how indecisive we as musicians can be it's always something to consider. In our experience, musicians for one reason or another go through a lot of gear. Some of us spend just as much time scouting our next purchase as we do enjoying the gear we already own. There is an undeniable thrill to the hunt itself. Anybody who has done it for any period of time can tell you it can get expensive quickly. This is especially true when you buy new and sell used. It can be a nauseating experience to look at the resale value with some brands. A lot of this goes back to the reasons we brought up when we were talking about the service life of some brands versus others. Some brands were never meant to last forever. Knowing this, and also being unsure how hard an amp has been played up until this point can make buyers somewhat leery of certain brands in the used market. This often leads to quite low resale value on certain brands.

We have found, and you can look at it for yourself, that boutique amps hold their value drastically better than some of the mass produced brands. Take a look at some of the online auction sites if you really want to see this for yourself. The boutique brands tend to bring a higher percentage of their new price on the used market. Buyers are just more comfortable investing money on a used item when they know it was built to high standards to begin with. It eliminates many variables and inspires confidence. Although, most players don't buy an amp to turn around and sell it, resale value (or lack there of) may be something to consider when you invest in an amp.

Custom Options

One huge benefit to amps being built one at a time and the components being spec'd by the builder themselves rather than the guys in the accounting department is the ability to build amps on a more custom basis. This type of manufacturing allows for much more freedom to build the exact amp the player wants. When shopping for boutique amps most builders offer quite a few options wither it be functional or aesthetic. They want to build the amp that is right for each player and they understand that everyone has different needs/tastes. Honestly, we think that is the really awesome part of whole boutique experience. It is nice to have exactly what you want, no more and no less. That is one of those rare things in life. We also understand that for some people only Surf Green tolex is going to cut it. For those people, we salute you and think that is exactly what you should have :).

Like this for example: Dr. Z Maz 18 Jr. NR in Surf Green w/ Tan Grill

Customer Service / Warranty

As a retailer ourselves we understand the importance of being there for a customer when they have a problem. One of the most frustrating things a player can experience is having a piece of gear on the fritz and having the manufacturer leave them high and dry. It's sad to say, but that seems to have become the norm these days. Most players that have found themselves in the situation can tell you it is not all that rare to call a company and be on hold and transferred around the switchboard for hours only to be told you have to call back later. When you're finally "allowed" to send your amp in for repair, it 's not uncommon for it take months to get it back and very little effort is made in the way of communication. Ask anyone who has had a warranty issue with some of the larger amp producers and they will tell you it is often a nightmare trying to get it taken care of. No customer deserves to be treated like that and especially when it comes to a warranty repair. If anything this is when the manufacturer should treat the customer the best. This one thing that really sets the boutique guys completely apart from the rest. These guys will do almost anything for a customer when they have a problem with a product.

It's very rare to ever have an issue with a boutique amp to begin with. The way that they are constructed as well as the components used limit the amount of things that can go wrong to such a degree that there just are not that many things that can break. In the rare instance that there is an issue, in our experience most small builders are happy to go way above and beyond to make sure the customers are taken care of in a timely manner. In most shops, when there is a warranty issue it takes priority over everything else and repaired in a matter of days as opposed to months. We have actually seen items turned around in a matter of hours.  It is not uncommon for the builders to drop everything that they are doing to get someone back up and running. These guys take an immense amount of pride in what they do. This is very evident in the type of service they offer after the sale. There are even a few builders that will actually repair an amp for life even if it no longer belongs to the original purchaser. Now that is confidence in your product. It's probably also worth mentioning they answer the phone when you call :). How old school is that?

If you take a quick glance at our website, it's probably pretty clear...  We're fans of boutique tube amps.

We consider it an honor to carry the brands that we do and we're always excited to add one more to the roster. One thing that we pride ourselves on, and have since our first day, is that we only carry products that we truly believe in and we feel offer value to our customers. Call us old fashioned, but quite honestly that is the only way we think it should be done.