How to Decide if You Should Get an Expensive Guitar or Amp

If you’re a beginner, or you’re thinking about upgrading your rig, then you’ll probably be asking yourself the age old question, should I get a better amp or guitar? 
It’s a big debate that divides a lot of guitarists, so if you’re struggling to decide, then you’re not on your own! Luckily, there are some things you can think about to help you come to your decision. The three main things you should consider are: 
  • Sound
  • Look 
  • Feel 
The choice between whether you should get a better amp or guitar depends on which of these you value the most for your next purchase. I’ll go through each one in detail to help you decide. So let’s get started! 

At a Glance

This is a pretty hefty post, so it’s great if you’re looking for a more comprehensive answer. But I appreciate some of you may be in a rush, so I though it’d be a good idea to briefly summarise things to start off with and then go into detail a bit later on. 

So I’ve created this flow diagram to help you decide if you should upgrade your amp or guitar and which is best to spend money on if you’re a beginner.

how to choose between a guitar or amp

Generally, the lower budget you have, the more you should spend on your guitar compared to your amp. This is because very cheap guitars usually sound awful, but budget starter amps tend to be of better quality. So if you’re only spending $250, then spending $150 on a guitar and $100 on an amplifier is a good idea. 

If you have a higher budget then it’s better to spend the money on the amplifier. So if you have around $1000 to spend, then it’s good to split this evenly between the amp and guitar. Whereas if you have a lot more, then you may benefit more from spending a higher amount on the amp instead. 

The Sound

One of the main considerations, if not the biggest one, is the sound of your equipment. There’s no set rule with this though. If you value the sound above all else, then that doesn’t mean you should get an a new amp instead of a new guitar or vice versa. It more depends on the kind of sound that you’re trying to achieve. 
It also depends on whether you’re purchasing a guitar and amp for the first time, or if you’re looking to upgrade your current sound. 
First we’ll go through the importance of each piece of equipment and how exactly it impacts the sound, then I’ll talk about the best to upgrade in each situation. 
Why the Guitar is Important

Everyone knows that the guitar is super important when it comes to the overall sound you produce when playing. But what exactly makes guitars sound different from one another. Here are the main things.

  • Body type: whether it’s a solid body, hollow or semi-hollow design.
  • Tone woods quality and materials. 
  • Pickup type and quality. 
  • Neck construction e.g. bolt-on, set-neck or though-neck. 
  • The setup e.g. action, which affects the intonation. 

If you want to learn a bit more, then head over to our post on the 7 factors that affect the tone of an electric guitar

Why the Amp is Important 

The sound originates from your guitar, but it’s played via the amp and speakers, so they can really affect the overall sound produced. Here are some ways how. 

  • The volume of your amp will dictate how well your guitar sounds when you play live or with other instruments. 
  • Some amps are better for clean tones and others for distorted tones. 
  • The physical design will vary between amps and so will the durability and style.
  • The signal to noise ratio varies between amps. A higher ratio results in better clarity at higher volumes. 

What is Most Important to You

In order to make things a bit clearer, I’ve split this down into three sections. You may want to purchase a guitar or amp to create a signature tone, for higher volume, or for better overall sound quality. Here’s a bit more about each point to see which you relate to the most and help you decide which is the best upgrade.
Signature tone
Usually, if you want to create the perfect signature tone, then you’ll need the help of both the amp and the guitar. Most famous guitarists use high end amps and guitars to achieve this sound. But what if you can only afford to upgrade one? 
If you’re most concerned with developing a specific tone for a specific genre, then I would say it’s best to upgrade your guitar rather than your amp.
I’m not saying that amps don’t have an impact, or course they do. But there is usually more variation in the sound produced between different guitars compared to different amps. This goes back to the factors we discussed before, like the pickups, body shape, wood etc. 
If you’re a beginner guitarist looking to step up into a band and perform live with other instruments, then you’ll need volume. And lots of it. But most starter amps simply aren’t capable of producing a lot of volume without losing the clarity.
So if this is you, then upgrade your amplifier instead of your guitar. It’s what’ll give you a lot more benefit if you’re after high quality sound at high volumes. The guitar itself impacts this a lot less. Plus you can just add some thicker strings to your guitar to help with this, rather than just purchasing an entire new guitar! 
Sound Quality 
Finally, this leads us to the overall sound quality. If this is what you’re after, then deciding whether you want to spend more money on your guitar or amp can be tough. So let’s break this down a bit more. 
Generally, starter amps and guitars are usually pretty good quality. If you have a really cheap model of either though, your sound will suffer. That’s why it’s best to split your cash fairly evenly.  
Guitars priced around $300 or more tend to have great sound, especially if you purchase from a reliable make. You can usually get pretty good amps for around $150. If you go much lower than this, the quality can slip though. 
If you’re starting out, spend a bit more on your guitar to begin with. But if you’re looking to upgrade, then you’ll usually get more benefit spending a few hundred more on an amp, than jumping up to a $750 guitar. 

In a Nutshell

Here’s quick summary of the main things to consider when deciding whether to spend more on an amp or guitar, if you value the sound mostly.

  • Beginners usually get the most out of their rig if they spend around $100-150 on an amp and $250-300 on a guitar.
  • If you need more volume, then it’s best to upgrade your amp instead.
  • If you want a signature tone, then usually it’s best to spend more on a guitar. 

The Feel

Usually, when you’re purchasing a guitar for the first time, you’ll end up trying a few different models in a store. This helps you to both find out what kind of sound you prefer, but also helps you decide which kind of feel is best for you. 

Different makes and models vary significantly when it comes to how the guitar ends up feeling. This affects how easy they are to play and ultimately, how good they sound. Here are some of the main factors that affect how easy a guitar is to play:

  • The string gauge
  • Shape of the neck, including the profile, width and depth.
  • The shape of the body, ie. is it a double or single cutaway design. 
  • The weight of the guitar. 

If you want to learn more, then head over to our post on the 5 factors that affect how easy a guitar is to play

So how does this relate to which you should spend more money on, the guitar or the amp?

Well, if the feel of your guitar is most important, then obviously, you should prioritise this over the amp. This is because, as long as your amp isn’t terrible, then you’ll get more out of a guitar that feels great to play, because you’ll ultimately be able to play better! Some people also reckon that more expensive guitars can be easier to play, I address this in the 5 factors that affect how easy a guitar is to play, if you’re interested in this topic. 

The Looks

The final point I’d like to talk about to help you decide whether you should upgrade your amp or guitar, is the looks. To some guitarists, this seems very superficial. But to other players, the look of their instrument is one of, if not the most important factor that comes into consideration when they’re choosing a guitar. 

It’s obvious, but if you value looks above all else, then it’s probably better for you to upgrade your guitar instead of your amp. There are so many variations in colours, models and makes, that choosing a guitar can be as much a style choice, then one that’s about the sound. 

Like I said, some people think this is shallow and that people who choose a guitar based on the looks have their priorities all off. But I disagree. Although I wouldn’t say that the looks are more important than the feel or the sound, I do think they’re really important. When I purchased my first “semi-expensive guitar”, a PRS SE Custom 24, I did so partly because I loved the colour and the shape. I also thought that the bird inlays on the frets looked really cool.  

So don’t let anyone else’s opinions get in the way! If you want to purchase a more expensive guitar because of the looks, then go for it! After all, if you like how it looks, you’ll probably play it more and become a better player because of it!

Yes, the amp can also be considered when it comes to the looks of your rig. Some amps can look really cool, personally I love how Orange amps look, in particular the Crush Pro so you can also consider this to. But generally, if you want a unique look, then it’s best to upgrade your guitar rather than your amp as they vary a lot more in appearance than amplifiers do. 


Okay, so this has been a pretty long post, so I think it’s best to sum everything up so you can leave with a clearer answer. Here’s the flow diagram again to show you which is most important depending on your priorities, so you can decide whether to spend more on an amp or a guitar. 

Of course, this is all just my opinion, so don’t take it as textbook. But hopefully you’ll find it helpful!

how to choose between a guitar or amp

So there you go! That’s how to decide if you should spend more on your amp or your guitar! I hope you’ve found this article helpful, thanks for reading, and have fun shopping for a new guitar or amp! Here are some other posts you might find useful:


Hey, I'm Heather. I started playing an electric guitar when I was given a Squier Strat for my birthday around 15 years ago. I now own an acoustic guitar and several electric guitars including my personal favourite, a PRS SE Custom 24.

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