The three most important things a guitar player wants from an amp are tone, tone and tone. This is why boutique products are always the better choice. There is nothing quite like that moment when you try out a new boutique amp for the first time: you can see that every detail has been meticulously thought out, and that it has been cared for and loved every step of the way from conception to testing. You find a place to set up your new best friend, plug in your favourite guitar – savoring every moment – and flick the switch that starts the magic. The tubes start to glow with a deep red aura, warming up to deliver that rich, deep tone they were born to give, and then when the time is right you strike the strings and the rest of the world ceases to exist for the briefest, sweetest of moments.
Designing and building amplifiers can be a simple manufacturing process, or it can be a kind of alchemy, mixing just the right tasteful amount of wood, plastic, metal and glass into a thing of beauty. This is the main difference between the boutique amplifier builder and the standard amplifier manufacturer. Bigger companies have the wrong idea; they exist for money only and so they deliver products as quick and as cost-effective as possible. Cheaper components, automated manufacturing and thousands of the same product are the result.
The boutique amplifier company is another creature entirely. These companies are smaller, more personal and care more for the quest for the perfect tone than anything else. Components are carefully sourced and chosen purely for their effect on the sound of the amplifier: if the more expensive component is the better one to use to get the desired sound, then the more expensive component is the one that is used. Even if it has to be flown in from the other side of the world.
With so much attention to detail, careful component sourcing, and hand crafting, boutique amplifiers are often more expensive as a result. But to skip over them in favour of a cheaper model from a bigger manufacturer is false economy. When a tube amp is used for extended periods of time, the heat from the tubes and the vibrations from the speakers put the internal components under a huge amount of stress. Cheaper components will not handle this very well and will often break sooner, and with devastating results. The boutique amplifier, however, is ready for this. The quality of the components means that boutique amps not only sound better than their mass-produced counterparts, but they also last much longer and – thanks to the flexibility of the designers – can be custom made to look better too.