What keyboard amp should I choose?
If you are psyched about your new keyboard or synth and need a way to amplify it other than going direct to a PA, there are options for you! Amplifiers come in many shapes and sizes and have varying features. If this is the first (or only) amp you are purchasing for your keyboard, it is first a good idea to decide what your needs are and what you will be using it for most.
Here are some uses you might have for a keyboard amplifier.
Home practice. If your primary use for a keyboard amp is to have something that will amplify at lower volumes and reproduce your keyboard's sound with minimal color added, try a smaller Roland (such as the 50watt KC-80). Or, if you are on a budget, try a Behringer (perhaps the 50watt K-450). The Roland in our experience has had a lower hiss noise floor and ran a little cleaner. Both of these amps feature line-ouputs and headphone outputs so there are options to send the sound elsewhere or practice silently.
Clean transparent amplification in a small venue. This application’s needs are nearly identical to a home practice setup, so see above. Note that if you need to send sound to a mixer to further amplify, many keyboards, such as the ones listed above, have 1/4” line outputs.
Clean transparent amplification in a larger venue. If you need to fill a larger space or are playing outdoors, where sound can sometimes get lost, you should consider 100 watts as a minimum. Consider the Roland KC-200, KC-600, or the Leslie LS2215. In this case, the KC-200 has a 12” speaker and the KC-600 and LS2215 both have 15” speakers. All of these amps have either tweeters or mid-frequency drivers. These are additional smaller speakers that compliment the sound by faithfully delivering your instruments higher frequencies. As a rule, the larger the speaker, the more your low-frequency sounds will be reproduced.
Using a Guitar Amplifier to Amplify Keyboards
A very common question keyboardists ask is, can I use a bass or guitar amplifier for my keys? If you are looking to think outside the box for your keyboard amplification and try different sounds, the answer is certainly. In fact, many bass amps, like keyboard amps, are designed for clarity and headroom.
Can I use a guitar amplifier? Yes, you can play your keyboard through a guitar amplifier. Keep in mind that the speaker compliment (usually one or two 12”) as well as the circuit design in a guitar amp are tailored to handle the sound and frequency range that guitars produce. Your keyboard has a broader frequency range. While a keyboard amp might perform better in reproducing a broad range of sound, a tube guitar amp could shape the tone of your keys in a way you find appealing. A little experimentation here will go a long way.
Guitar amps tend to offer less clean headroom and have settings meant to induce clipping and drive. These features are desirable for guitar but may not be as desirable if you are looking for clarity in your synth or piano sounds. On the flip side, if you are looking to add a unique bite to your keys, this type of amp may be perfect for you!
A word of caution when using a guitar amp for a keyboard: keyboards are active and can potentially push much more signal than guitars. Start with your volume on the lowest setting and ease up until you find a level that wont damage your guitar amp’s speakers.
Can I use a bass amplifier? Bass amplifiers make great keyboard amps. They tend to be designed for clarity and often have 15” or 4x10” speakers which add up to produce a beautiful frequency range and tight lows. Many keyboardists love using bass amps and get great results.
How about amp heads? There are not too many amp heads marketed specifically for keyboards on the market currently, but we have gotten so much mileage out of using a Hartke HA-2000 (see also HA-2500 or the new HA-3500C currently available). An amp head can give you the ultimate flexibility in allowing you to choose the speaker cabinet you wish to pair with it. Just take note of the speaker impedance that the amp requires, which is usually 8 ohms or 4 ohms.
You can also find extreme portability in the new smaller heads that are currently available. This includes the TC Electronic BAM200, which has a direct XLR out, weighs 2 lbs, and can fit in most keyboard gig bags’ zipper compartment. Another lightweight option is the Hartke TX600, which has many output options - including a direct XLR out - and also features an actual 12AX7 tube preamp.
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