An instrument amplifier is an electronic amplifier that converts the often barely audible or purely electronic signal from musical instruments such as an electric guitar, an electric bass, or an electric keyboard into an electronic signal capable of driving a loudspeaker that can be heard by the performers and audience. Combination ("combo") amplifiers include a preamplifier, a power amplifier, tone controls, and one or more speakers in a cabinet, a housing usually made of hardwood, plywood, particleboard, or, less commonly, moulded plastic. Instrument amplifiers for some instruments are also available without an internal speaker; these amplifiers have to be plugged into an external speaker cabinet.
A Fender "combo" amplifier being picked up with a microphone in a recording studio.
Instrument amplifiers are available for specific instruments, including the electric guitar, electric bass, electric keyboards, and acoustic instruments such as the mandolin and banjo. Some amplifiers are designed for specific styles of music, such as the "traditional"-style "tweed" guitar amplifiers used by blues and country musicians, and the Marshall amplifiers used by hard rock and heavy metal bands.
Unlike home "hi-fi" amplifiers or public address systems, which are designed to reproduce accurately the source sound signals with as little harmonic distortion as possible, instrument amplifiers are often designed to add additional tonal coloration to the original signal or emphasize (or de-emphasize) certain frequencies. The two exceptions are keyboard amplifiers and "acoustic" instrument amplifiers, which typically aim for a relatively flat frequency response.
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