7 Features to Look for in Vintage Amplifiers

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7 Features to Look for in Vintage Amplifiers

Vintage amplifiers remain popular among musicians and music enthusiasts because of the unique sound quality they offer. Although many amplifier manufacturers attempt to recreate this sound, there is a noticeable audio difference between vintage and modern amps. However, there are a number of features buyers should look for when searching for a vintage amp, and becoming familiar with these features will result in more confident shopping.

The following guide shall examine the 7 features to look for in vintage amplifiers and will explain how to successfully locate a desired vintage amp on eBay. The site has a large selection of new and used vintage audio equipment for sale at very reasonable prices.

Vintage Amplifiers 

People buy vintage amplifiers for different reasons. For some it is purely for nostalgic purposes, but the majority of people who buy vintage amps do so because of their unique and identifiable sound. Vintage amplifiers are renowned for their warm and bright sound, as well as rich reverb. Vintage amps are favoured by guitarists across the world, and are used in recording studios to achieve a specific tone. Buyers need to be aware of the features that contribute to an amp’s sound and tone, and the following are 7 all buyers should be familiar with.

1.    Tubes

The tubes in a vintage amplifier are vacuum tubes, and these components are responsible for amplifying the sound of the signal being processed by the amp. Vintage amplifier tubes are made from glass, and vintage amps generally contain two sets of tubes. These are preamp tubes and power tubes.

The tubes are directly responsible for the warm sound associated with vintage tube amplifiers, and buyers need to ensure that the tubes of the model they intend to buy are in good working order. Buyers should check the item page for details regarding this, and use the ‘Ask A Question’ feature to request information about the tube’s condition. The tubes in a vintage amplifier can last a very long time, but the majority of musicians tend to change these components yearly.

2.    Wattage

This is a very important feature as it directly relates to the size, power, and the maximum volume output of the amplifier. Buyers need to determine what the vintage amplifier will generally be used for when deciding upon wattage.

Amplifiers with lower wattage have lower harmonic distortion, allowing the amp to be played at lesser volume. This makes them ideal for practicing, recording or playing live when the amplifier is mic’ed up. Vintage amplifiers with higher wattage can achieve much louder volumes, but will begin to distort towards the peak. Wattage and volume are compared at 10% to 50%, meaning a 10-watt vintage amp is half as loud as a 100-watt model.

3.     Input and Master Volume

Not all vintage amplifiers come with this feature, and it’s a good idea to search for those that do. The input volume controls the volume of sound as it enters the amp, while the master volume controls it as it exits. What this means is the input can be used to achieve distortion in the preamp, and this in turn allows it to be maintained regardless of the actual volume of the amplifier. In other words, distortion can be achieved without cranking all the dials on the amp up to ten.

4.    Tremolo 

Tremolo, also known as vibrato, is an audio effect included in many amplifiers that were built in the 50s and 60s. Tremolo is a form of oscillation that modulates the volume level of the signal as it leaves the amplifier in a rhythmical way. Tremolo is synonymous with surf-style pop music, and a dial on the amp controls this feature.  

5.    Reverb

Reverb is a common feature on vintage amplifiers, and is used to create room sounds simulations, i.e. give the impression that the music is being played in a large empty concert hall. Reverb is an extremely popular effect, and is used in many different styles of music.

This effect is accomplished by running the signal through three or four mechanical springs within a tin can. The springs vibrate and bounce the signal off one another, thus mimicking how the signal would react in various open rooms. As mentioned above, this feature is common in vintage amplifiers and buyers should avoid models that do not have it.

6.    Material 

The material used for the casing of the amplifier will influence the sound quality. The majority of modern amps are housed in hard plastic casing, but vintage amplifiers tend to be housed in wood. This contributes to the warm sound of the amp, but buyers need to ensure that the wood is at least .5 inches in thickness, as this will result in good sound quality while keeping everything in place.

Removing the back of a vintage amplifier can help it achieve a louder volume, but at the expense of the bass frequencies. There are a number of vintage amplifiers made from materials other than wood, but buyers are advised to avoid these, as they will not be able to achieve the same sound quality as those that have a wood casing.

7.    Wiring

The wiring inside vintage amplifiers can be made from a number of different materials, with copper being the most common. Buyers concerned with achieving the warmest and softest tone possible should look for amplifiers that use silver wire, and again information regarding an amp’s wiring can be requested using the ‘Ask A Question’ feature.

Searching for Vintage Amplifiers on eBay

eBay has a large selection of vintage amplifiers to browse through, and the benefit of buying from the site is that items sold on the site are generally less costly than those sold in music stores or on amp dealer websites. The first thing to do is head to eBay.com.au, and when the home page has loaded take the following simple steps:

· Click on the Electronics heading, which is found to the left of the search bar.

· On the following page, scroll down and click on the Vintage Electronics title located at the bottom of the page.

· Type Vintage Amplifier into the search bar and press enter. Buyers looking for a vintage amp with a specific feature should also include this information into the search, e.g. Vintage Reverb Amp.

· Buyers can also use the ‘Product Type’ filter to list Amplifiers only, and the ‘Condition’ filter to list Used amps. It is advised that all buyers check the ‘Description’ box on the item page of a listing for exact details about a vintage amplifier’s condition, and visually inspect any photographs of the item.

· Buyers may find a number of audio accessories such as headphones or connector cables for sale at reduced prices on the eBay Deals section of the site. To find these accessories, simply click on the ‘Deals’ link at the top of the page, followed by the Audio title that is found within the Electronics menu. Pro audio accessories are located three quarters of the page down.


Vintage amplifiers produce a unique and identifiable sound, with warm and soft tones and very rich reverb and tremolo. Musicians all over the world seek out vintage amplifiers because modern amplifiers are unable to recreate this sound quality. However, there are a number of features that buyers should look for when searching for a vintage amp, and the above 7 are the most important.

Always remember to check the ‘Description’ box on the item page for exact details regarding the condition of the tubes, the material of the casing, and the type of wiring, and use the ‘Ask A Question’ box to request any information that is missing.

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