Do I need to have a loud amp? Is it worth buying a 100-watt guitar amp, or 15-watts will do? Our blog will answer all you need to know about how loud your guitar amp REALLY needs to be!
I believe that a guitar amp doesn’t need to have more than 50 watts of power… ever!
Heh! I can hear the clicking of many keyboards preparing their rebuttals to that comment!
It’s never wise to make such a sweeping generalization. But there is some sense behind my comment – at least I think so! My belief that more than 50 watts is a waste has to do with where guitarists play, the type of equipment available in live venues if a guitarist gigs, and how output power affects a guitar amp’s performance.
Guitar Amp Power Requirements Have Changed Over The Years
Back when rock and roll was young guitarists required huge amounts of back line power to fill ever larger live venues. Public Address or PA systems just weren’t up to the task of being used to amplify electric guitars so everyone in the room could hear. So, walls of 100 watt amps became a common site.
Today, if a guitarist plays a venue that would require 100s of watts of amp power to fill the room the venue will have the capability to mic the guitar amp. In that case, a 4 watt Gem or a Fender Champ could work just fine!
There’s also the unfortunate fact that some bands still insist on playing with punishingly high stage volume levels regardless of whether their amps are mic’ed. I’m not going to address this topic here – musicians should protect their hearing and the hearing of their audiences!
So, why aren’t all guitar amps under 10 watts? Because of tradition – that’s a BIG reason why lots of manufacturers still make high powered amps – and because different styles of music require different tones and varying amounts of clean headroom.
Guitar Amp Power Determines Clean Headroom
If you could compare two guitar amps that were identical in every way except one had more power than the other, what would you find?
Well, interestingly, Mack guitar amps make that comparison easy! For example, our Heatseeker amps – the Heatseeker HS-18 and now discontinued Heatseeker HS-36 – are identical amps except that the 18 features two EL84s producing about 18 watts and the 36 features four EL84s producing about 36 watts.
How are they different? The 36 has more clean headroom than the 18. Otherwise, in a ‘blind; testing they sound the same.
What? The 36 has to be MUCH louder than the 18 doesn’t it? After all it has twice the power! What gives??
Guitar Amp Power and How It Relates To Volume
OK, here’s the deal with power and how it relates to volume..
- Double guitar amp output power – increase volume by 3 dB. The decibel, or dB, is the unit of measurement for audible sound volume. The more dB, the louder the sound. An increase in sound volume of 3 dB is generally considered to be the smallest change in sound volume that the average human ear can detect!! That’s why the 36 doesn’t produce much of a noticeable difference in volume compared to the 18.
- Increase guitar amp output power 10 times – double the sound volume. It takes TEN TIMES the output power to double volume!! That means you have to play through a 100 watt amp to produce twice the volume as your 10 watt amp!!
So, jumping from a 25 watt amp to a 50 watt amp and then to a 100 watt amp will result in higher volume for sure. However, there won’t be nearly as much volume difference between the 25 watter and the 100 watter as you might expect. The 100 watter will be about 6 dB louder than the 25. You’ll hear the difference, but it won’t be huge. 25 watts is already REALLY LOUD! In fact, as you can now guess, 10 or 15 or 18 watts is LOUD AS HELL when you turn it up.
The above information is based on physics and how the human hear translates changes in air pressure – sound waves – to what our brain perceives as sound. It is also based on all things being equal other than output power – primarily that means that to perform comparisons you plugged the amps into the same speaker cabinets and played the same guitar through them with the same intensity.
How Many Guitar Amp Watts Do You REALLY Need?
This is how I help customers decide on how much power they really need. Bascially, we determine together how much clean headroom is required and select the amp on that basis.
Headroom is defined as being the volume at which the amp starts to overdrive or distort the incoming signal from your guitar. Fender Twins are known for producing LOUD clean tones – it’s extremely difficult to get that amp to overdrive. Therefore, it has LOTS of clean headroom.
A 1 watt amp designed to produce overdriven and distorted tones (basically more of a distortion pedal than an amp!) will overdrive at very low volume. This type of amp has very low clean headroom.
So, how do we figure out how much clean headroom and output power is required?
- Determine the syle of music. There are two extremes that relate power to music style to clean headroom. AC/DC cover band? Crunch all night with extra distortion for solos. Country band? Predominantly clean all night. The cleans have to be loud enough to keep up with your band’s stage volume.
- Determine how to get distortion for solos. Are you going to rely on your amp for distortion or are you going to set up your amp for cleans and use pedals?
- Determine the venues where the amp will be played. Do you only play at home? Do you occasionally jam with another guitarist or two? In a garage/basement band? Gig in small venues only? Large rooms? Stadiums? The jump from playing by yourself or with another guitarist to playing in a band is step that may require more clean headroom regardless of music style and method of generating distortion. The jump from a band setting in a small venue (basement, small bar) to a larger venue (bigger bar, halls, etc.) may require another increase in clean headroom. The key is to determine when/if your amp will be mid’ed and your band’s stage volume.
The louder you need clean tones the more headroom you need and the more power you require.
- Playing music that requires lots of clean tones and you have to be loud enough to keep up with the band on stage? You need more headroom.
- Do you rely on pedals for overdrive and distortion and your amp to be clean all the time? You need more headroom.
- Do you want your amp to produce overdrive and distortion and loud cleans are not as important? You don’t need as much headroom – you want the amp to overdrive at lower volumes. You need to drive the amp into its sweet spot at a volume level that won’t make the first 5 rows of the audience look like those guys riding rocket sleds.
Now, not all amps are designed the same. Some amps of equal power are specifically designed with more or less headroom. It’s rare to get the opportunity to play an amp in your chosen venue before buying – whether you buy online or from a local store (ever tried to determine an amp’s clean headroom when the kid next to you is practicing tapping using that 100 watt Marshall?) – so you need to rely on knowledgeable players and the manufacturer to guide you. It also helps to have an unconditional, money-back guarantee so that you can get ALL your money back if for whatever reason it turns out that the amp you bought is not suitable (see Mack’s 100% Money Back Guarantee).
How Much Guitar Amp Power Is Enough?
Getting back to where we started, why do I think that 50 watts is all that would ever be required?
Because regardless of the clean headroom required, you should never be in a position where stage volume demands more power than 50 watts. A 50 watt amp turned up enough to get it into its sweet spot is PUNISHINGLY loud.
So, before you assume you need 100 watts because that’s what ___ uses, think about the music you play, how you get your overdriven/distorted tones and where you play. Then carefully consider how much power you REALLY need!
– Don Mackrill
73 thoughts on “How Much Guitar Amp Power Do I Need?”
A good argument. I am a fan of some of the low power tube amps. I didn’t know about point 2 “Increase guitar amp output power 10 times – double the sound volume. It takes TEN TIMES the output power to double volume!! That means you have to play through a 100 watt amp to produce twice the volume as your 10 watt amp!!”
I found that very interesting!
Yurp Yurp, 50 watts is a whole dang bunch of power. I live in a basement apt. and wound up selling a perfectly nice JCM 2000, because it not only caused trouble with the upstairs whiners but also rattled the whole room so hard I had to use an iso cab to record with whilst running a 3 watt amp so I had a feel for the room and getting moving air (I gotta have that when tracking).
I hung on to my GT Electronics Solo 75 though, el34 tubed it gets me a faily Marshall grind, way better cleans and hits it’s sweet spot at about 10 watts rms but enough headroom for the rare occasions I play with a loud drummer.
For my one man show (vox and rhythm and lead electric guitar live with back trax burned to cd including bass, drums, keys, stereo acoustic guitar and back vox) it’s either a Rebel 20 attenuated or a Lexicon Signature 284 (3 watts). Cab is loaded with a Reignmaker (attenuable speaker) for even more control.
Both the baby amps give great feedback at lower volumes, I mike the cab and give the front whatever volume it wants
whilst not blowing my ears out.
The one man thing provides appropriate low or high volume for tiny to medium venues, and no “echoes of the amplifier ringin’ in my head”
I think the best of both worlds is to own a great 50 watt amp and a great 3 to 5 watt amp, for recording ISO cab is good to have and Reignmakers are a good plan too.
Couldn’t agree more, and wish I knew that when I was young and foolish. I bought a ’68 Fender Twin (85 watt) that has a great clean tone – but is a beast to move around from gig to gig. I never needed the power, or volume it can produce, but have been burdened by weight I don’t need to carry. And when I think about it, the amp never get’s into it’s sweet spot at the volume I play anyway.
Great points—I found out many of these things by trial and error while failing to get appropriate sounds at live gigs. I think the most important lesson I learned was how profoundly speaker efficiency/wattage affects the headroom and perceived volume of an amp.
I now think a really ideal setup is to have a 5 watt, class A combo amp with a small speaker for home practice, along with a high-power speaker in an extension cab if more volume is ever needed. Admittedly, even this might be overkill as long as a good P.A. is available.
I also wonder why more amp builders don’t experiment with combining two very different speakers in one cabinet, maybe allowing their outputs to be mixed together to produce a balance of speaker breakup with clear tones. I guess this might be tricky to pull off, but it seems like something worth exploring.
Thanks so much for the article, Don. I’m in the market for an amp since I picked up a Fat Strat for Christmas. There were so many things to consider and I found your article really informative. I’m running it (the fender) thru an UltraSound 250w amp and it’s really fun to put some juice thru it. Well, I should say fun for me. My neighbors are really understanding so I don’t do it often and as you said, the amp is on 2 or 3 and the guitar on 2 and they can hear it, across the parking lot, with my doors closed, and their doors closed, in their house. Not good. Anyway, I think this may hold a clue to the inexplicable deaths of so many birds in this area. I appreciate your column.
Rock on, man.
Completely agree, I think every guitarist/bassist would do themselves and everyone else a great service to buy smaller amps.
Here’s the thing though; low wattage amps are becoming (unless they’ve always been that way) quite expensive. I’d love to have a nice silverface princeton reverb, but my twin was $400, and the former is $800 if you’re lucky. Doesn’t make any sense to me, but that’s what I’ve observed in the market.
good equipment usually costs a little more than the budget to buy that particular piece of equipment. can i afford it and do i deserve it vs how can i live with out it
anyway, yes i have been looking for a good low wattage amp for a while now. in need of a mellow but gently sweet clean, not much head room required for the size room (ok big closet) i practice in…but can growl a little when i get tired of scales et al. and way too tired of ringing ears from working the tubes to get into the sweet spot.
For once, my three sons listened to me when I explained the travails of loading, hauling and schlepping what seemed like refrigerator-sized amps to sessions and gigs back in the late ’60s. So we have a collection of small, vintage and current Fender and Vox boxes, some tube and some SS. The only “big” one that stands out is a Hot Rod Deluxe, and it is LOUD in my oldest kid’s bedroom, but what a lovely “Palomino Club” TWANG!
Mixing boards and PA’s have made big, heavy amps unnecessary even in the largest venues. And just think how many classic records have been recorded from a cranked and mic’ed Fender Champ!
What is the maximum power required in a bass amp?
This article is great stuff! The one thing I wish the writer would have commented on, is how sometimes distortion is perceived as being louder. Case in point; I’ve been playing the same venue for years, and have always used my 65 Super Reverb Amp (40 watts), never heard a negative comment, but then the first time I played the same room with my 65 Deluxe Reverb (20 watts) the owner mentions “You know the guitar was a little loud tonight”. I believe it was simply because the guitar distorted easier, and that warm distortion that I was trying to get at a lower level was actually perceived as being louder. The higher head room from the Super was not perceived as being louder, simply because it was cleaner. 20 Watts, a good microphone and a good monitor system is all you need.
Wasn’t it the band Kiss that had the walls of Marshalls out front, turned on, but turned all the way down, and in the back was a Champ being mic’d. The Marshalls were just for show! The mic’d Champ was what the crowd was hearing.
don’t disagree at all – I’m trying to find the right amp and although I have 50W and 100W amps I am looking for a good 15/22/30W amp that performs the way I want AT THE RIGHT PRICE.
Also – it’s kind of like enjoying the power tube types – that’s why attenuators are such a big deal these days – get the tone 6L6’s or EL34’s give you that EL84 just can’t.
The biggest mistake most local bands make is to spend big bucks on BIG amps and go cheap on the PA. What you end up with is the audience hearing primarily the amp closest to where they are sitting. The smart move is to use small amps (that sound good) for the musicians to hear on stage, and to mix everything through the PA. At that point you raise the level of the outboards if the band needs to be louder, and turn it down if you need to be softer. You always have the same mix at any volume level, and allow the audience to hear the WHOLE band regardless of where they are seated.
Don, I couldn’t agree more. I have quite a few amps and only two are bigger than about 18 watts. I use my Bassman RI at blues jams where everyone else is wheedling away as loud as they can. I need to hear my rhythm guitar a little bit.
My latest purchase is a 59 Gibson G5, the Champ killer, and mic’d, I would put it up against anything. I can get the tones I want without hurting myself too badly.
i been tellin all the guys i know this very thing for years and years . i use 2 little 15 watters in tandem and its great .. an ampeg and a vintage club crate ..
and i agree with josh too .. it seems that the idea of smaller amps is finally catchin on and now its the prefered method for most guys .. took quite awhile to get em here but they’re commin .. but its also raisin the price of the smaller amps ..
and jim too .. i still remember the days movin an ampeg 8×10 bottom all around .. eeeeeee.. who the hell wants to do that nowadays .. i’m getin way to old for that shit ..
Great article, really sets the point. Just to add my two cents (or two watts) :
1. “So, why aren’t all guitar amps under 10 watts? Because of tradition” Sure, the amp techs at the companies have been in research of more power for many years, and hopefully maybe it’s over. Another reason : greedy consumerism ? the more power, the more expensive in the most common catalogs, the same thing for over-powered cars, over-sized big macs, and so on, uh ?
2. “Your style determines the Clean-headroom determines how many amp watts you need” I certainly agree : i remember gigs where my small Ampeg Jet II had such a early break-up, i had to live with distortion all through the set. I soon changed for an old Ampeg Gemini I : large clean headroom and a treble booster to change territories with my vintage-vibe-late-breaking-up Jazzmaster. Here i noticed how much nuance i could add to my music !
And it leads me to another question / experience :
3. the second question that arises for any guitarist picky about versatility and sound is “How many amps to you need ?” The Style factor is a criterium, another, connected, is the instrument : what is hard to attain is “the right amp / guitar couple”. Example : my old supro gretsch (18 w) and my new Italia mondial guitar REALLY make the right rock n roll couple, whereas the supro felt really dull with many other guitars ! The Gemini Ampeg (circa 18 watts) on another hand, with the right pedal (treble booster or Proco RAT), is really opened and enhances many guitars. But it is a lot heavier..
cheers, thanks for your great webzine !
I do agree with the main portion of your argument. However, there are times when the all out roar of a 100 – 120 – 150 watt amp is needed. Marshall made a 200 watt monster that peeled back the hairlines of many a metalhead. A lot of fun, but bands that make your ears bleed are usually one dimensional.
Without dynamics, however, most rock ‘n roll does tend to sound one dimensional. That’s where having the headroom needed to make your guitar sound good no matter what the volume level comes in so handy.
So then it comes down to whether you want to sound good at any volume level, or take out the back wall of the venue you are playing in.
Me, I have a Randall RG120ES, a Bugera V22, a Peavey Classic 50, a Marshall 15 watt mini stack and a Peavey 110 Audition. Each has it’s own tone, and each does it’s thing magnificently. It really doesn’t matter solid state or tube, it’s what’s coming out of the speaker that counts.
Speakers are another matter altogether and can also take reams of paper to discuss.
In the end, I love to play, acoustic or electric, just put a guitar in my hands and I am happy as a pig in mud. LOL!
Great article! Curious as to how these wattage parameters change for bass?
I’ve always wondered what difference the number of speakers you have running from your amp makes? I’ve always thought that more speakers = more load = more power required to achieve the same volume. But I expect its nonsense…
A great article! Over the past two years I’ve been consciously choosing lower power tube amps — I used to play through a 40 watt fender deluxe. Then I downsized to 15 watt blues jr. and now I’m playing live through a silver face Fender Vibro champ. This little guy is the best sounding amp I’ve ever owned, has plenty of clean headroom and has been used live in rooms seating up to 500. The best part, it weighs around 15 lbs. The surprising thing is that this little guy is only 6 watts! But 6 watts produces plenty of warm tube tone for – dare I say – just about any size venue.
My dad had a music store in the sixes and 70’s, we would put a 12″ electro-voice in a small amp and have a bullet proof killer. They sold really well when you could get the guy to just try it. I play bass and I don’t believe this small idea works with bass. Mind you 4-100 cabs have come along way but I need to bi-amp highs and lows myself.My bro, use to tri-amp his Alembic bass and great results. You are now getting these venues that want nothing but monitors on stage or even less ear buds.All is done though the house, I just can’t bow to that.(yet)OLD DOG
That, 4-10 cabs (above post)
It’s a matter of taste, I promise you your theory is wrong I will turn up my amp next to your 36 watt amp and watch you run for the hills. You are stating these things like they are science but I am pretty sure it’s just your opinion. I like stage volume and you don’t but in my article I am not going to pretend I am a scientist just a loud guitarist.
The Fender Champion 600 or Pro Junior might be good choices. I have a Pro Junior and it’s a great amp. The 600 will push into its sweet spot at lower volumes for sure, while the Pro Junior has beautiful cleans but can still get into the zone without splitting your head open. There are a number of good independent demos on YouTube.
But my Amp goes up to 11 .
if you spend a time around DIY heavier music, there’s still a place for high power amps. crust and grind bands playing warehouses still need that kind of oomph, because that kind of show rarely has any more microphones than are needed for vocals.
It is in fact science and is common knowledge within the recording community.
Yep, that’s right. To increase the volume 2x you need ten times the power. Now you have to take into consideration your hearing allowance as well as the room you are in. Every person has a different tolerance to volume and what we hear. Some can take more than others, and some can hear things that others can not. With that said, if you place a 100 watt amp in a small room and turn the volume up to max, you not be able to hear the full potential of that volume because you ears will only allow so many db’s of sound pressure to occur. That is your hearing protection that comes into play there. Put the same amp in a large room and it will sound louder. Now, if you a/b that same amp in a large room with a 10 watt amp at full tilt, you will have half the volume in the large room. In a small room the 10 watt amp will sound almost as loud as the 100 watter. If you play the 100 watter for extended periods your hearing will become damaged. I hope that gives you some insight to volume.
i totally agree with the article. one thing i have noticed over the years is that SS amps tend to not be as “loud” as an equivalently-rated tube amp. someone explained it to me once, but i think it breaks down to how SS and tube amp volume is rated. either way, i’ve never owned an amp louder then 50w, and it was always plenty of volume. if you feel that it’s not “pushing enough air”, then trying a different speaker cab (such as swapping out a 2×12″ for a 4×12″ cab) seems to make a bigger difference than simply just getting a louder amp. i’ve got a friend that plays with a metal band, with a 100w Mesa full stack, and he says he can’t ever remember having to turn the volume up past 4 on a gig. seems like a total waste, but i’d certainly never fault anyone for having a rig like that: if you’ve got the money and want it, then go for it.
this also brings up another interesting point that a lot of people STILL aren’t aware of…many bands (especially back in the 70’s and 80’s) mic’d up smaller combos offstage. they’d have stacks of dummy cabs and heads onstage (some even had working pilot lamps) simply for looks. this way they could really crank up the low-wattage tube amp offstage and get that tube saturation without completely destroying their hearing (and i’m not even exaggerating: 10 or 12 100w Marshalls, turned up full volume would EASILY surpass the pain threshold and cause serious hearing damage within seconds.)
with the advent of good speaker simulators (like Palmer DI’s and H&K RedBox’s), you can certainly crank up a 50- or 100-watt head to saturation, send the signal to the PA, and then a passthrough, lower-volume signal to a cab for on-stage monitoring (Alex Lifeson has been doing this for quite a while now, and his live tone is still incredible.) i worked at Red Rocks a few years ago, and i think people would be surprised just how low the on-stage volume really is these days (and that goes double if they’re using in-ear monitors.)
one of the rigs i saw at Red Rocks that surprised me the most was Billy F. Gibbons: that 3-cab stack on stage? it’s for show. he runs through a rack offstage (IIRC, he was using a JMP-1 for his preamp.) it’s been a few years now, and i only got to talk to his tech for a couple minutes, and i think Billy MIGHT have had one cab hooked up onstage as a monitor, but most of his sound is going pretty much straight into the PA. his reasoning was that Billy wants all of his guitars to sound basically the same, regardless of what make, model or pickup config they have and it was way easier to do that with a rack pre than carrying tons of different amps out on tour. i thought for sure that if there was one person who still used a cranked tube stack on stage it would be BFG, but nope!
the nice thing about low-wattage amps is that you can still crank them to get tube overdrive, but it’s far more controllable. plus, they’re cheaper to maintain (less tubes to replace) and they weigh a LOT less
I’ve read this a million times..and I’m 44 years old, played many types of amps, many different watt-ages…and on “paper”, I’m sure it’s true, but when you have that kind of power, 50 to 100 watts, the paper gets thrown out the window. Perhaps for recording, even then..it’s all about how it FEELS. I’m a player who plays in the moment, and if it doesn’t feel right, then my playing suffers…otherwise, you’re just going through the motions, and that simply does not work for me The combination of headroom, breakup and punch…cannot be matched by ANYTHING under 50 watts, and even then, I’m leaning BACK to 100 watts…and the difference of FEEL is MUCH more apparent between 50 to 100 than what is suggested by your fancy pants city-boy physics. If weight is an issue for you, then I have no argument…you are kidding yourselves if you think it doesn’t SOUND different or FEEL different to the player or even the audience. I play small clubs, and I’d rather fill the room with me than some crappy PA and shitty sound man…so that throws the PA argument out the window as well.
“Wasn’t it the band Kiss that had the walls of Marshalls out front, turned on, but turned all the way down, and in the back was a Champ being mic’d.”
I don’t know about Kiss, but in the 70s Alex Lifeson had at least 4 full stacks of Marshalls, but he was plugged into a Super Reverb. Still a loud amp, but 40 watts and 4 10″ speakers is a lot better than 4 100w amps and 34 12″ speakers. BTW, everything from Fly By Night, Caress of Steel, and 2112 was the 335 and Super Reverb.
50 watts is more than enough tube for most applications but many solid state amps rating at 50 watts (especially 1x12s) will fart out at rehearsal volume
+1 to what matt said. I play in a DIY rock band at college, we play a lot of loud, rowdy house party shows with only vocals through a PA (if there is one). I’ve loved playing through 100 watt amps because i can get a clean and clear tone loud enough to compete with drums, other guitars, and the crowd. Although, getting more tube saturation out of a slightly lower wattage amp is appealing…
I would say this is true of guitar amps but NOT bass amps, why? Because unless you go for the head and cab route frankly the bass speakers put in the 50 watt and under amps is junk, and the clean headroom (which is a MUST for a bass player) just isn’t there.
Take my amp, the Trace Elliot 350, one of the last of the great Brit Trace bass amps. Is it a back breaker? yep. Do I EVER get to turn it up past 4? Only once when I was playing an outdoor concert and some of the channels fried on the mixer. Would I give it up for a 50 watter? NEVER, because even on 3 my tone is so thick and warm that I have played with it against Ampeg SVT tube stacks and ended up with the stack owner selling his SVT and getting a copy of mine, its THAT good. The reason is the bigger ones have better speakers with heavier magnets, better cabinets with thicker wood and better porting, they simply put more love and care into the big ones.
Does this mean you can’t make a good 30w bass amp? Nope, I’m sure its possible, but the only ones I’ve seen that didn’t sound like trash were frankly more expensive than a Marshall stack. We bass players simply can’t get a good nice clean fat tone out of a 30w-50w amp because no builders make ’em except for a few exotics that cost frankly exotic money. I have had guitarists that sounded great through a $300 low watt Fender, if we bass players try that we end up with pre-amps that distort, cheap speakers that sound like a busted car stereo, and EQs that give you less control than an MP3 player.
One could argue that its a “chicken or the egg” kinda deal but until we can find truly good clean sounding 50w bass amps for an affordable price you can expect us bass players to keep our monsters, better to have a back ache than a lousy tone.
Not mentioned in the article – as distance from the amp doubles, the volume drops by half. Stand back from the amp a couple extra feet, and especially from the crash cymbals, and your ears will really thank you. (The drummer is hosed.)
is it possible to bring down a 100w guitar amp to 50w.Like taking somme tubes out of the amp ?
Yes, you can pull two power tubes from a typical 100 watt amp and run it at 50 watts. Follow the amp’s manufacturer’s recommendations. However, this will not result in a significant drop in volume. In fact, you may not notice the volume difference. As the article explains, increasing or reducing power by 1/2 results in only a 3 dB change in volume at any given setting on the volume knob. Some people’s ears are sensitive enough to hear that, others aren’t.
Hah! Why is it I like reading this better with my Peter Criss greasepaint on my face. Plugging into my guitar amp now to jam and bother the neighbors.
I would say that unless you’re doing huge outdoor concerts, you won’t need anything bigger than 100 watts, and most guitarists won’t need more than 50. Many guitarists report shredding a pub to pieces with a 30 watt amp.
I have recently bought a Les Paul Special II, but I am not sure which amp will go best with this guitar. Can anyone please give me advice? I want to give it to my daughter for Christmas, but want the amp as well.
So true. I used a 30W Marshall (Artist 3203 as I recall) for two decades. More than enough power for enything I played. Then A Randall 120W for a few years that used the extra 90W for added noise and a terrible sound. I’m saving up for another amp which will be 50W at most but probably less. During rehearsals I use a small 5W tube head plus a distortion through a 1×12 cab. It’s loud enough.
Only reason to go for another amp is more knobs. This has a volume and a tone knob. And it doesn’t look as awesome as a head on top of two 4×12’s 🙂
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Don’t forget that an output power rating doesn’t mean anything without a distortion figure and the type of power (peak, peak to peak, ave (RMS). Assuming a comany gives you RMS power they usually don’t tell you at what % distortion they mesured the power. You touched on that with the headroom discussion. Each company decides at what percent distortion they want to measure the power output. Fender watts are not equivalent to Peavey watts or Marshall watts and so on because we just don’t know how much distortion or head room there was while power was measured.
To me, the sweet spot is 15-25W for high headroom tubes, like 6L6 or even 6V6 ones. 30-40W seems pretty enough for EL34s and EL84s. So 50W seems to be an upper bound of any guitarist needs. In truth, he/she needs less, but the two 6L6 tubes is a pretty classic design. If you can tolerate a mildly overdriven sound at high volumes, 25W, 6L6 is more than fine for playing jazz and country. If you need going any further at the stadium show, just use mics.
I have a Fender Super Champ XD, 15W, 1×10″ which I plug on a Marshall 4×12″ cabinet when needed. I like playing jazz and funk/disco sounds. It sometimes overdrives a little when using high-output pickups, but not enough to give a tube screamer feel.
I am a DJ and soundman and from experience I agree. I have bands that insist on running 100 watt guitar and bass amps in outdoor venues. My sound system pushes 6000 watts of power completely setup and can be heard clean and clear over 3 miles away. While doing a venue in a park in down town Toledo Ohio a few years ago I only took a pair of 800 watt powered speakers and pair of 500watt JBL powered subs. had another soundman come down from half a mile a way and ask me to turn my stuff down because they could not hear the band they had on stage with stacks of subs and speakers well in access of 10,000 watts. and I had my faders less than 1/8 up with my mains zeroed. You are 100% right , the human ear can only hear so much and the volume does not make up for not knowing how to setup or run a system. if I cannot get a 50 watt guitar amp mic’d through my system clean too loud it can’t be done with 100 watts or a stack either. Nice post
Call me on it! I’ll tell you why!
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I play jazz, mostly in small to medium venues. I sat in on a friends 30W amp, with an organ player and it sounded awful with all the distortion. I’m not sure a 50w tube amp would be enough to smooth it out, but I’m not under the misconception that I need all those watts, for stage volume. When I hear a little extra fuzz on chords, I call that distortion and I don’t wanna hear it! Point is, one guy’s “sweet spot” is another man’s hell.
I like a little breakup pretty much all the time. I run attenuators between my amp and speaker on all of my rigs, even my 15w Bblues Jr. Allows me to get the right tone at the right volume.
Maybe your amp had bad tubes or wasn’t a very good amp. I use a 40W amp and most recently played an outdoor gig with a 7-piece band with no loss of headroom. I played clean and my tone sat in the mix just fine and I was completely out front with solos. I had no distortion in my tone.
You may need to make sure your gear is set up properly.
Paul Sherman, you are an idiot!
Musicians have been playing too loud all along, to their own detriment and to the detriment of audiences. Granted that there are a few styles of music than can actually flourish in using high-volume amps, but the state of technology is such that one can produce finely textured overdrive and distortion (or a clean sound over the rest of a band) without high volume. the demand for loudness is mostly a mythology driven by a foolish masculine mindset. (This leaves aside the question of why venues pump up their volume so much, forcing careful listeners to wear earplugs. It’s ridiculous and unnecessary — doesn’t add a thing to the intensity or interest in a performance.
I know this is old and nope, I didn’t read a comment. Stage volume is absolutely essential. If my guitar amp isn’t loud enough to blend equally with the drums whilst playing rhythm it’s terrible. If the only way I can punch through is using my bridge pickup to play lead it’s terrible. This low wattage fad is miserable for gigging musicians. The rich kids and adults have screwed us as far as the market is concerned. An AC30C2 , which was 800 bucks only a few years ago is now 1300 and every amp maker is building those bedroom amps and charging ridiculous prices for them. If you believe an 18 watt amp is enough then you are ignorant on the subject. So you take your Bonner Arma to the festival and put a sm57 in front of it. It’s not mixing well so to get stage volume you have to pull it through the monitor mix. The bassisn’t and singer lose some of their mix so they turn up to match…now your lost in the mix again…etcetcetcetc. There’s a reason artists used 100 watt amps, 85 watt amps etc. They didn’t turn the amps up so loud it peeled paint. They used their amps to have a nice clean even stage volume. I’ve been gigging all over the southeast USA for 20 years.
I will gladly extend advice to anyone on getting a great stage mix. There are some great tricks used by the pros that can be really helpful. These tricks include speaker placement, angle , and direction along with help in setting your amplifier up as far as EQing
i do have a Question. I live in Puerto Rico and much small venues and medium size venues sport bar o club they don’t have PA systems most of the time, the Question is how many Watts i need for performing on small venues or mediums with out PA Systems?. thanks in advance
I have been playing for years…decades…lol
How much power? it is a no brainer…simple 50 WATTS rms
I do not care about the room. The only guy in the band that can not turn up …or down is the drummer. Maybe not in the first 5 minutes…but after that ALL drummers will fall into a medium loud groove that may bump up know and again…but never down.
If the band is not ‘balance with the drummers volume…the whole effort will sound gutless…no matter who is too loud or two quiet.
So at 50watts…keeping up with a particulay loud drummer works…yet under most situations you can turn down…but not so much as to thin out your sound. Very few 50 watt amps will not give you so little power that doing a country gig with a Tele is an issue.
On the low side with changing attitudes 40 watts could get yo by…less???
Less you are pushing your luck.
Excellent article, thank you
not many folks talk about power scaling,80 watt amp half power ? nice to have extra head room.look into carls amps ?
My amp is a 50 watt soldano head running through a 4×12. It lacks power so I slave it out to a second head and I run my cab in stereo.
This is for rehearsal and most gigs, most often the PA sucks and we run only the vocals and drums and bass.
For top notch venues (very rare) I play through a 5 watt marshall class 5.
I play in a touring hardcore band.
Venues with good PA AND good soundman is rare I don’t know what the author is talking about.
My 2 cents
This is a great article, and I checked the physics; it’s all valid and correct, however from experience:
Volume doesn’t equal TONE.
So when a person asks about volume, I immediately ask if they mean tone, sound, etc… I use action words like those to dial in what they mean, because often we think Volume = Tone which isn’t true at all.
But, this helped me get over the need for a 100w, and solved my problem about what to buy for an in between amp for off stage and one that could be mic’d through a PA and decided on a 40w amp.
40w for guitar
25w for bass
I have used 10w and 15w amps but honestly, yes they are loud- but then you have horrible tone.
Use that to help narrow your search for an amp.
Big sound can come in a pretty cool and small package!
In a totally different arena, when playing in our church’s Praise band, the drummer was also in charge of setting the sound, and we had fundamental differences concerning using amps at all. His take was run everything direct and no amps onstage. Mine was I want my amp, not for excessive stage volume, but control over my guitar’s tone. Eventually, this led to confrontations, but having the amp prevailed. In a church where there are a significant number of senior citizens (including myself), volume is an issue, but 50 years as a performing musician has given me a pretty good idea of acceptable volume in a given situation. To me, clean headroom, as provided by a higher wattage amp, is most important to my sound. To that end, my main gigging amp is one of the holy grails of clean, the Twin Reverb. I may run the volume at 3, and the guitar volume no more than half up, but I achieve a tonality that has all the shimmer an chime Fender amps are noted for, as well as a bottom end that is full and sweet- in a word, pretty, almost acoustic. Screaming overdrive just doesn’t work for my sound and style. For others, that sound works well, just not for me, so reaching the “sweet spot” of my amps is not a priority. Smaller venues are covered by my 6l6 powered, 2×10 silverface Deluxe Reverb (30 watts). It’s not much, if any, louder than a standard DR, but the extra headroom and punch of a pair of JBL D110Fs, makes the 30 watts of this amp puts it firmly in the ballpark of the Twin, sonically speaking. So, I guess I straddle the 50 watt line with amps on both sides, giving me flexibility of volume, with continuity of tone.
Several arguments are logical, like those to choose the wattage you need in an amp. But one “fact” is clearly wrong : you don’t need 10 times the wattage to double the volume of an amp. In fact, an increase of 3 dB represent twice the volume : it’s called the 3 dB rule. That means that the 36 watt amp as twice the volume of a 18 watt amp.
Reference : https://pulsarinstruments.com/en/post/understanding-3db-rule
15 watts “sounds” loud, but is NOT loud enough to jam with a full band, on 10 it will get drowned out by the drums. I know I’ve had it happen. Some people want and like the headroom a higher wattage amp gives, and I’ve played with my 120 watt amp on 3.5 to 4 for over 35 years, never wore ear protection and my hearing is perfect. Minimum 40 watts would work in a practice situation where no one is mic’d but not a 15.Not unless the drummer is a wuss and plays soft.
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