In Defense of Small, Low-Wattage Amps

After reading Adam Gotch’s excellent case for using 100 watt amps at gigs big and small, I am compelled to come up with a counter-argument.

There is simply no sonic reason outside of tight, riff-based metal to use a stack these days. Even then, I’d argue that there are probably plenty of instances a well-defined metal tone can be had that is quieter, in a smaller size, and more sound-person friendly. There, I said it.

First, let me explain. I am not a vintage snob. The music I write can be described as ambient. I am a fusion guitarist playing in a blues band using very unconventional guitars, amps and pedals who gets weird looks whenever I play at a blues festival. I am not one of those people who think only tube amps have the best tone. I will use anything that sounds good, but sounding good is only one of the requirements of this pro guitarist.

Small Amps
This is the amp I use the most live. No master volume, and 18 watts.

Wait? It isn’t all about the sound? Then, its gotta be the looks, right? It is certainly the looks. Nothing looks cooler than a row of stacks, right?

Well, it sort of looked cool when Van Halen was doing it in ’83. And Judas Priest. And Yngwie. And every metal band that followed. Lets face it- there is a certain iconography and fetishizing that goes with giant amps ALL IN A ROW! Then as well as now, many of those Marshalls were/are fake!

Yes, someone actually makes these.

Well, stack-lovers argue that there is no other way to get that sound. And anyone who has played an A power chord in front of a whole stack (or 2 ) knows what I am taking about. Yes, I understand headroom. I understand that stack-lovers love that tightness and focus that comes from standing in front of speakers 6 feet high. I understand many tiny clubs only put the vocals through the PA, and you wanna rock, dude. And you wanna be heard. Oh yeah, it looks cool too. It is a symbol of masculinity: Look at my killer stack, doood! It sounds sooo awesome!

You know who hates stacks? Sound men & women. Many times they can’t mix the PA properly because the 100 watts are competing with the vocals. It makes their PA work harder, and they eventually give up trying to make your band sound good. All those hours posing in front of the mirror with your stack are wasted when you have terrible sound. The soundperson is the gatekeeper between your bitchin’ tunes and your audience, right? Don’t ever make them mad. Be easy to work with. I compare it to yelling at your waiter before he/she delivers your food. You don’t want to regret it later, right?

I will agree this gig needs a good ENGL. But just one.

Back when Hendrix and Page and Blackmore were tearing it up, PA systems were terrible. Now, at any good venue or festival, there are wonderful top-notch PA systems. There are soundpeople who really know what they are doing. They like guitarists that are easy to work with, and don’t make their job any harder than it needs to be. Respect them, or regret it later.

You see, years ago, there was no such thing as a master volume on amps. Amps had to be LOUD to get those big power tubes to distort. But when they did, oh baby, you had a wonderfully glorious sound. These days, it is all about the buzzy tightness of preamp tubes distorting , which can be done at many different volume levels. Smaller amps allow you the flexibility of getting the sound you might want in a smaller package. Yes, a smaller package means less stage volume, but that is a good thing. Ask your singer.

Another point is that standing in front of a giant stack is terrible for your hearing. You know that ringing after an awesome show? That is permanent damage to those little hairs in your ears. Ask Pete Townshend (someone who definitely played louder than anyone reading this) how cool standing in front of loud amps is, and what it does to your hearing.

Small Amps
John McLaughlin doesn’t use an amp at all. MacBook straight to PA.

Finally, my biggest gripe with big amps is that they are, well, big. If you have friends or band mates willing to help you get a few cabs out of mom’s Oldsmobuick, awesome. Or if you are at Yngwie’s level, and can pay people lots of money to maintain, carry and set up these amps every night. But most pros are slinging gear themselves. Less to carry saves your back and takes up less room in the van, which the other musicians will appreciate. Not just the musicians in your band either. If you are in a multi-band show, and you insist on competing with the PA with a giant amp, the soundperson will not be in a good mood for the next band either. That is a good way to get a whole lot of people mad at you at once.

So yes, my gear choices are based on more than sound. Personally, if I can get my entire rig onstage with one trip from the car, I am happy. So is the soundperson, as well as the other musicians. The audience hears the sound mixed well from the PA, the stage volume is low, and my back doesn’t hurt. Yes, a big amp might sound better to the guitarist, and he/she might feel like they can play better. But this isn’t all about the guitarist. It is about many things coming together to make a great show for the audience.

How about other guitarists out there? I can’t be the only one that thinks low-wattage, smaller amps are the right tool for the job most of the time. Or maybe you are one of those ‘give me 100 watts or give me death’ types that think nothing but a stack will do. Lets hear you state your case.

Join the Conversation


  1. I think that I’ve split the difference here. I have a Mesa MkI loaded with 6V6’s and on tweed for about 30 watts and then have a jumper in the effects loop and it turned down to about 3. I get wonderful feedback and no one’s ears bleed. Keep in mind these settings are for a small stage. They will change some for a larger venue. I love the look of a stack but don’t see the point at this point in time. I just don’t have the room or the back anymore. Sold my last half stack to a 14 year old that could out play me and sounded so much better through it than i did. So everybody’s happy.

  2. You can *definitely* get a respectable metal tone out of smaller setups… The Axe Fx for instance – doesn’t have to go through a 4×12, and can also run into the desk. Also Blackstar’s HT pedals do great metal tones, and sound authentic through most amps imo. I’m currently using a 2×12, and a 100W amp with its power scaling set between 10 and 30W. Once you can get decent levels in the master volume (and enough from the preamp aswell), you’ll be hearing and feeling the power tubes. Not the same as a cranked 100W, but not bad.

  3. I agree with all the terms of your text … stack of amplifiers for guitarists are legionnaires or for people who have the Oedipus complex … I like the great rock n roll guitarrist who made the pure rock n roll without a dumb style…… I prefer a tube amp and a lot of personality.
    Hugs from Brazil.

  4. If John McLaughlin uses a MacBook, who is anyone not to? By the way, cheers on that nice looking Steinberger!

  5. The engineer will only mic one speaker anyways so whether you play a combo or a full stack that makes no difference for the audience. The point of having louder amps and more speakers is only useful for on-stage monitoring IMO. I play a 15 watt amp and make it work just fine.

  6. Big believer in small tube amps and low stage volume here. A lower stage volume gives you the ability to hear the other players as well as yourself. you might even be able to *gasp* SAY SOMETHING to your bandmates while onstage without shouting full on right into their ear canal. If you need to be louder the PA can be turned up. I truly could not imagine playing any music at any venue that required 100 watts into a full stack unless the PA did not exist. And even then, I could do it just fine with a half stack or a 2×12 cab.

  7. Agree with everything you say here. I play an 18watt amp into a 1×12 cab. I can crank the amp to get those power tubes driving and it sounds great. This set up is suitable for 99% of the venues I play. I do also have a 50watt valve head for that 1% of the time that I might need the extra power, but that would only be outddors or in a large venue where the backline is a long way from the front of the stage.

  8. Low wattage amps aren’t the only amps that can be sound-person friendly… I’ve gigged heaps of 100W heads and gotten great tone out of them, while still being extremely soundperson friendly! So… if that’s your ONLY argument FOR low wattage amps… it doesn’t make a particularly strong case to me, sorry.

  9. Drew Shirley of Switchfoot uses low wattage Fender combos just cranked to the max for recording–like 22 watts. Saw an interview on the interview.

  10. I agree. My whole guitar rig contains ISP decimator ProRack G–> ENGL MIDI tube preamp –> Audio interface –> Amplitube on Macbook (for cabinet simulation and delay-chorus-reverb etc)+ MIDI pedal-board for controlling both ENGL and Amplitube presest. That’s all. and it sounds great in studio AND on stage whatever the genre is.
    For carrying the whole rig which also includes my Les Paul I wouldn’t even need a car!
    Taking the guitar with one hand, the rack case with another hand and the rest of the gears in my backpack!

  11. Sorry dude have to disagree. Other than the weight, most modern day 100 watters have a master after the power amp so you can get those tubes to distort at a freindly volume and now we’re seeing amps with built in attenuation which is better than a master vol due to the amp still working very hard and resulting in zero tone loss. I use a 150 watt Marshall AVT which is not a tube amp, but still has a 12ax7 preamp tube and the Marshall FDD which makes it behave like a pseudo-tube amp in that the louder you crank it the more the distortion smooths out and behaves like power tubes. Awesome tone. Best part is you crank the channel volume and dial the master back. Its a heavy S.O.B though.

  12. So Dave, did you have a case to make for the low-wattage amps, or are you just arguing against high-wattage amps? 😉
    Readers will notice my article didn’t disparage low-wattage amplifiers – I merely stated that they aren’t always the right tool for everyone’s situation, and to assume – like you might be doing here – that the case for large amps is just about the ego of the guitar player – is kinda closed-minded and presumptive.
    Otherwise, an interesting read!

    1. I completely agree with you,and your article,I liked your article,in this one all it sounded like to me is like this guy is just someone whose never had a good quality 100 watt amp. and has always had good enough fortune to have a good sound man to make up for his low wattage amp.And in my experience,no not all clubs or festivals have “top quality”PA systems,and as far as someone “pissing off the sound man”simply by bringing a stack onto the stage,that is simply not true,what I always do is approach the sound man,before bringing my gear on stage,and tell him what I’m using and ask him if I can mic it so I don’t have to turn it up and above “practice volume” and the response I almost always get it ” just turn it up loud enough so you don’t have to mic it,and I’ll just adjust the vocals accordingly” sort of reverse physiology,if you make them think you don’t wanna dime your amp unless you have to then you’ve shown that you’re a team player,that being said I have a 50 watt 1977 Marshall Master Model that I use with one 4 12 cab for small gigs,and a 1966 Marshall 100 watt Superlead Plexi(non-master volume) stack for bigger gigs and I just use a THD Hot Plate to tame it down to a manageable level.

    2. Actually, not an interesting read at all, particularly in light of yours Adam. But points for trying to be positive and/or professional!

  13. I ride the fence–I love the simplicity of my Dr Z Maz 38/Vox AC30 with my boutique pedals but love the power and technical switching/loops of my 100w Mesa amps and “real” tube amp distortion. Compact/lightweight size, not having to find bedroom volume between 0 and 0.8 on the volume dial, and type of band I’m in all play a factor, but protecting my hearing outweighs any coolness of a half stack that I’d need. In this respect I agree with you completely. On the flipside there is no such thing as “can you make it quieter?” to a metal drummer who is also making it difficult for the soundman and singer. Also EL84 vs 6L6/EL34 “tone” comes into play for downsizing to smaller wattage amps. Amps like the Mesa Roadking have a multitude of options so physical space on the amp is required for all the switches and jacks. That’s not possible on something the size of a Blues Junior. Good read on both your articles. The fake amp walls are hilarious.

  14. I would have to agree with Adam on this one. While there are
    a number of AMAZING low wattage amp out there (Soldano Hot Rod 25), they are
    simply not right for any and every situation. The same can also be side for
    high wattage amps. That said there are far more ways to “manage” a high wattage
    amp, iso-cab, speaker simulator (Palmer, etc.). There is something about the
    tone from a higher powered amp that can’t be replicated in a low watt amp. And
    I’m not talking about 100, 200 watt monsters, even just a 50 watt amp. The clean
    headroom available in a higher watt amp can’t be beat. This reasoning is why
    some of the most coveted and sought after amps off all time are higher wattage
    piece. Dumble Overdrive Special (100w), Marshall Plexi, Trainwreck. And if you
    look at the big time touring pros, from all genres (Brad Paisley and Keith
    Urban to Zakk Wylde and Slash, who have the luxury of ANY amp they want, and
    are playing through the best PA available are still using high watt amps. Short
    of the players using modeling technology (Fractal Axe-FX), from Country to
    Thrash Metal the 100w amp still rules. And on a side note, even Fractal devotee
    Tosin Abasi has started to use 50 watt Port City Pearl. Just my humble opinion
    on the subject.

  15. I have both and there’s definitely reasons for each. Certain tube types and certainly manufacturers sound different, so distorting an EL-34 sounds different than distorting an EL-84 even from the same manufacturer. As far as speakers, even if you only mic one speaker, the air space inside a 4×12 closed-back cabinet provides a specific amount of damping on the speakers that affects their frequency response, and it is something that is perceptible, particularly through a mic placed a few inches away from the speaker (where your ears will never be).
    That said, I have used an low-watt Emery through a 4×12 (because it only uses 1 power tube instead of 4, it only puts out about 12 watts, but I can distort the power stage) with really great results for ‘big’ tone at lower volume.
    Modern 100-watt amps with a master volume will not get all the ‘legendary’
    tones because they will only allow you to distort the pre-amp tubes,
    where as many of the ‘legendary’ tones were achieved by distorting the power stage.
    Power soaks/power brakes lose treble and what treble compensation they have doesn’t exactly make up what was lost because it doesn’t match the frequency curve of what was lost. But they are a fair solution.
    Emulation amps don’t sound like good amps as much as they sound like a recording of a good amp, so if you put a mic in front of one, you’ve lost a generation of tone, in my experience.
    One option for big amp sound at controlled volumes which I haven’t heard discussed would be to build an isolation box for the cabinet with a mic inside and place it off stage, or at least turned away from the audience and other stage mics.

  16. if it sounds good use it. if it is the tone your looking for, use it. i have a half stack and love it but i do agree to what he is saying.. besides.. if you are playing a gig and doing it properly, your amp would be miked up and have some sort of sound proofing around the amp if available to your disposal. but then people will say it’s not the same tone. well.. simply put, dont buy crap mics. i’ve set up for a few bands and watched how they roll.

    1. forgot to mention most amps i see are low wattage single/dual speakers. such as fender bassman, 15 watt bogners, ac15/30s, orange, list goes on.. i havent seen anyone so far use more than 30.. maybe 50 on rare occasions. my half is actually a solid state, and it sounds great to me shockingly. tubes do have a cleaner side to it and that distinct crunch. for my purpose it fits with slight overdrive.. so it depends on all your gear, your playing.. you get the drift.

  17. I think that a good 40-60 Watts is a great wattage for stage volume. at the level where the soundguy starts doing his thing, that’s right about where the tubes start breaking up and giving you that nice saturation that are heard on recordings all throughout rock history. I think that if you go overboard with power, there can be tone lost (not getting into that “sweet spot”). My personal opinion is, get yourself a good 1 or 2×12 combo at about 50 watts (orange rockerverb 50 for example)…. you can play anywhere in the world with that amp, get that big massive tone, not take up too much space, and it looks awesome too.

  18. Fair enough points, but you’ve ignored a few crucial details. Firstly, metal musicians want to FEEL their amps. Those who go to Doom shows will know this. The big amps are a part of the atmosphere and experience. That is why a famous Doom/Drone band named themselves after a particularly loud and raucous amp. You’re a blues musician. You don’t live the lifestyle of a metal-head. So just like a would never pretend to understand why jazz musicians go to such lengths to find their ‘zone’, you’re only pretending to understand why rock fans do what they do. Practicalities come second to the music, and the big amps are a big part of that music. We each make sacrifices only where we feel fit.

    1. The FEEL that you claim is glorified by your metal camp is just another ‘arcane’, ‘esoteric’ idea subjective to personal taste, like ‘LOOKS’ that Dave proposes in his article. If you want FEEL, than don’t play metal, be a porn actor.

    2. I think most of your feel is from a halfstack, not the wattage of the amp. 4×12’s make the entire world better. I am hoping someday to run an 18 watt through a 4×12.

      1. +1
        2×12 or 4×12 stacks makes a huge difference. I’m really glad with my 2×12 cab with my Marshall head. I’ve never really liked my previous combos, they were good amps but it sounded like coming from a box (no matter how powerful they were).

  19. ive been down the 100 watt road, i now play on several smaller combos. my main in a orange dual terror, while not really a combo, it maxes out at 30 watts and i get some of the best sounds ive ever had through any amp. and all at a respectably low volume. ive been on stage and behind the boards and the one thing ive learned is that dave is correct, the whole experiance is better with low stage volume. if i want it loud, i get in in the monitors, no playing tug of war with the other guys in the band. and yes, i have been behind the boards when a guitarist wants to crank it and im stuck with trying to fix the mix the best i can. and you know what happens? the band sounds like shit and everyone blames the sound guy. no, here is no need for a big stuff on stage. if you cant figure out how to get that “big sound” out of smaller gear, then its time for you to go back to school!

  20. if you want to know the real deal with alot of your fav metal bands, seek out their recording practices and see how loud they are there.

  21. I use a 15w Orange Dark Terror and have never needed to put it above 9 o clock, PA or otherwise – I’ve played my share of 100w+ amps and would argue a lot of the advantage comes from them usually being attached to 4×12’s as opposed to the higher wattage; that “Thump” is four speakers moving air rather than one or two.

  22. As Miles Davis said, if it sounds good it IS good. What you actually use to get that sound doesn’t matter.

  23. How about a 100W head with a 2X12 cab? There are some 2X12’s out there that can match the sound of their bigger brothers. That should make it less of a burden in carrying it around.

  24. I’ve been saying that for years being a musician & sound man, you hit the nail right on the head, but if you look at the ones that insist on bringing that oversized S.O.B. of an amp. it’s usually because the guy has an Ego & don’t give a flying F#%* about any one else but themselves,… Hence the reason bands break up so often.

  25. I truly believe a lot of this has to do with the type of music you play. I play a lot of different styles and usually get away with playing through a 17 watt head and 2×12. But when I really want to get heavy, deep, downtuned or get that Sabbath or Doom feel I go for the big rig. It is what it is. I can’t begin to get the same tones and amp interaction when doing loud music like doom rock or sludge with a smaller amp than I use. The genre was built upon that type of incredible volume levels and tone from power tube break up. There is no real argument here, only different people expressing their different needs. I really understand personally that there is a need for both amps and we are fortunate to have them.

  26. You don’t get the same amount of sustain with a small low wattage combo amps as you do with a full stack because there is a lower amount of vibration being produced by the amp,also you don’t get the same tone from two different types of power tubes an EL84 won’t sound like a EL34 and vice versa,and just because you have a 100 watt stack doesn’t mean you have to blow everyone away,you might have the ability to do so but that doesn’t automatically mean your going to.I’m not downplaying low wattage amps for certain situations,but I don’t remember saying “This amp is to high wattage to usable”But I have been in situations ware I wished I had a more powerful amp.I’t just sounds to me like you’ve got a illegitimate argument,like you don’t have the experience to have a legitimate point.

  27. Adam Gotch is delusional. So Adam, if I need to replicate the sound of Metallica in my 3x3m bedroom, the only way I can achieve that is by using Mesa Boogie stacks (as opposed to using a distortion box and a 50-watt combo) even though that would break the glass windows and my eardrum? Get real man…

    1. Add to that, as opposed to using a modeling amp like Line6 or Behringer V-amp, I should go direct for Mesa Boogie stacks Kirk Hammett uses.

  28. Since I play both guitar and bass, I’ve played through as many different amps as there are grains of sand: twin 15s, 8x10s, single 15″ with a piezo tweeter, single 18″ with a horn (a modified subwoofer), 4×10 aluminum cones, 2×12 combos, Marshall stacks, mic’ed single 12″ combo through a PA, 4×10 paper cones, solid-state, tube, hybrid, pedal board to PA, tube-preamp direct box with effects to PA, etc.
    If I’m playing a small room, I travel light. I know my equipment well enough to get the sound I need for the gig. If it’s an outdoor/festival venue, I’ll work with whatever backline is provided, or I’ll use what’s necessary for the music and the event.
    If we don’t stop using amp stacks as phallic symbols, and consider them for what they are, sound reproduction devices, we’ll lose sight (sound?) of our true purpose… we’re there to make music, not to impress the fanboys.

  29. We’ve got more tools available to us than ever before why get hung up on just one type or one way to use them. If you don’t talk to the soundman before you play to find out what they expect or hope for you are working against yourself regardless of the rig you run. Also get a good tone without a lot of fuss and any soundman that isn’t a jerk is going to dig working with you, have a good band and it’ll get even better.

  30. I agree, and as far as sound goes I just recorded two killer tracks using a 79 Vibro Champ for both guitars, I used a MXR Distortion III and the amp up full, everyone thinks I’m playing through huge British STACKS haha!

  31. Sounds more like an argument against big amps, not a case for small amps. There really is a place for both and I agree with Tom, just depends on what you play. I have more amps and cabs than most people will ever own, large and small. I also play in a very loud southern stoner/doom band, but I do not play a stack, kills my hearing. Bigger venues, I might do a side by side stack, but usually just a head and 4×12. And it is about the feel for the music style we play. If you don’t understand it, don’t bash it. Has nothing to do with ego. I could play two full stacks if I wanted to and I don’t – first that’s a lot to carry, second most club stages cannot accommodate it, and thirdly, it is just overkill. I can get what I need from a single 4×12 with a good head on it. Someone mentioned doom – when I go to doom/sludge/stoner rock shows, I want to feel that in my chest, it is part of the experience and what “that” audience loves and expects. And let’s all be honest here, a good sound man can work with a loud guitarist – it’s usually the bad ones that have a hard time. 30 years of being bands has led me to that conclusion. So all you fedora headed, Hawaiian shirt wearing, strat slinging old farts play your little tiny combos all you want. I’m as old as you and I prefer to rock out. And by the way, the other guitarist in my band has 3 non-master volume amps, so lots of people still play them as do I from time to timel. And let me say one more thing, there is a perception from the audience when a band has amazing tone and can feel it in their gut – that this is not some local rinky dink band, these boys are serious, professional, and are here to put on a real rock show. And screw those little 100 watt amps, my current amp of choice is an 80s Peavey Butcher, 120 watts. Loud and proud brother.

  32. I think both Dave and Adam have made their points very well. It is just about each one of us finding the best for our own situation or needs. I remeber Marty Friedman using earphones so he could actually hear him self so sometimes I wonder if a stack wall is actually too much. I don’t know anything about sound engineering but I have been in different concerts, some of those sounded like s**t and other sounded so cool. If using a PA will help the audience to get a bettter sound quality and balance of all the instruments during the gig I think I would like to go that way.

  33. I hate master volumes. Anyone that loves a deep, throaty, well-defined power tube distortion is gonna have a hard time getting it out of their 100w 4×12 at reasonable volumes. Unless you like high gain or are playing in the big leagues enough to have a venue big enough for it or are able to afford isolation cabinets, you’re stuck with sizzly, dynamically poor preamp gain.

  34. I use a Peavey Vypyr 30W as my main amp, but then again I don’t go frequently gigging at venues either. Smaller amps are ideal for practicing, there’s no about that. It’d ridiculous to use a 100W in your bedroom to practice. That said, it only seems logical to use a louder/more powerful amp for bigger venues. Technology is at that point nowadays though to where you can get a lot of the big sound from more powerful amps in smaller packages. Hell, my Vypyr has a post and pre gain controls, several different editable amp channels, 12 different effects, and also several different pedal simulators, and all of them sound as true as the original pedals (albeit with less footwork). Back in the day you’d need a small army worth of equipment hooked up to your amp to get all those different tones. And mind you the Vypyr is still a tube amp at heart. A more powerful amp isn’t necessary per say to get a great tone, but it is neccesary to get that tone heard depending on the size of the venue. That’s my two sense anyway, coming from both my own playing experience and numerous concerts I’ve gone to. You’re not going to use a 100W to practice in your bedroom, but on the flip side you’re not going to see EVH or Slash using a 30W at a place like Madison Square Garden.

  35. right now im going for a 120 watt combo that has a power break built in ,that way i can scail down power according to venue and doing research on mics ,i want one amp i can use in many situations since limited finances is an issue both sides of this discussion have great points im somewhat in the middle i want one amp where i can adjust to any situation

  36. I try to accommodate most of the venues I play, and also make up for the deficiencies in the monitors that are there from time to time. I have a Randall RG120ES and a Peavey 4×12 half stack that serves me well, with my Zoom G9 pedal board with 2 12AX7 tubes I get all the tone I need and want.
    I also have a Peavey Classic 100 50 watt combo with 6L6 power tubes and a pair of Celestion speakers, again with the Zoom pedal board I get what I want. Then I do have a Bugera V22 that uses EL84 tubes and 3 12AX7 tubes that puts out 22 watts and absolutely just screams when dimed. Then I have a Peavey Audition 110 that has 20 watts solid state watts that emulates tubes and again with the pedal board it does itself proud.
    I also have a few 8 and 5 watt amps as well as a Marshall Micro stack that runs 15 watts and a Marshall Lead 12 Reverb for recording and bedroom practice.
    It all boils down to what the situation requires, some of the time the PA and/or the sound guy and/or the monitoring system leaves much to be desired. At those times a little help from the backline is helpful in getting the stage volume good.
    I imagine it gets to the point of what is better for the player, looking good or sounding good. Your choice.

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  38. I generally use two old Fender Vibro Champs plus a Fender Blues Deluxe that’s been modded with 6V6s so it only pumps out about 22W. All three through a Boss LS-2 & it’s more than plenty loud enough for anywhere. It’s also plenty friendly enough for the smallest gig. I get much more nuance & flexibilty of sound using that set up than the Marshall Mark II1959 100W head I’ve got & now never use…

  39. I just picked up a Mark V Combo, and I have to say, on Channel 3, the 10 watt mode smokes, and can easily clear a heavy handed drummer. I love it, and so does any sound-person tossing a mic in front of it.

  40. i seen a band afew weeks back.. i cant think of the name, but it was a popular cover band. with some old washed up long haired dudes that look like they just walked out of a pink floyd poster or something lol… there equipment was all pro class stuff.. the thing that puzzled me was the guitarist.. hes pulling out gibson guitars and tunning them up.. through a roland cube with an 8 inch speaker if not smaller.. i thought maybe he was just tryin to stay quite while the drummer and bassist do there thing.. until the started playing i then realiezed that the small amp was mic’ed and thats what we was playing through he got an amazing tone out of it.. but i kinda wondered how do that work in the practice room?? and pushing through a PA like that, sure its what the PA was desigen to do.. but i question the long term effect it may have

  41. I have several 5 watt amps for recording. I think you get the best tone for your buck from them. For live performing I have a Boogie Mark IV. (I had a flight case that fit and I got a really good deal on it.) However, I do that for the clean headroom. It’s usually set to 3 or 4 and I use pedals with it to get overdrive, etc. My favorite “big” amp is a pre-CBS 40 watt Super Reverb. Unless you’re playing a stadium, you really don’t need more than that. You could probably do real well with something as simple as a Vibrolux Reverb, a Brownface Super or one of the Rivera era Concert amps.

  42. There is nothing in this article that defends small amps. it’s just a list of reason not to use 100w+ stacks. Misleading headline is misleading.

  43. I own a hundred watt 212, fortunately I can dial it down to about 40W, so it’s not deafening, I love the super saturated sound, but it’s really only useful for gigs, I’m currently shopping for something about 20W or less, hoping for a single 12, or head/cab separate setup, I’d like it for home rehearsal and small gigs, certainly want something more easily portable , but like how low watt tube amps can be focused at lower volumns

  44. For every 10 db of gain (Which the ear perceives as a doubling of volume) you need 10 times the wattage. So a 100 watt amp is only twice as loud as a 10 watt amp. The reason the higher wattage amp sounds so different than the 10 watt is due to the poorer speaker efficiency of the lower power amp. With speakers that have the proper spl level a 10 watt amp is capable of filling most any club you play in in terms of volume. You may like the feel of 120 db’s on stage but it does cause hearing damage not to mention making your sound person want to shoot themselves when trying to make a band sound
    good as a band. For example, I’ve seen Jeff Beck use a combo amp at MSG and a small theater like the Paramount and he didn’t sound quiet or inadequate. A good PA and sound person is what makes for great sound but only when they can control realistic stage volume. The point is how the band sounds in the audience, not whether the guitarist is getting off by frying everybody’s ears.

  45. Have always been a small amp fan, but there is something about the tone of a non-master volume, high-wattage amp cranked up loud. Neil Young’s core sound comes from a Fender Deluxe, but he pumps it through a giant Magnatone stack at earth shattering volumes. To each his own.

  46. My only argument for size of amp is that I can use a 2-12 stack indoors or on small stages (yes it is a 100W tube head and a 2-12 cab, extremely flashy too), but outdoors or larger stages/venues I prefer the trusty half-stack, 100 Tube watts and badass tone. If I were able to multiply my fans by a thousand and play a stage big enough to please those thousands, then I would see the niche for multiple stacks, but I’m not there yet and the soundman can mic my pretty little beast… Not to mention I run a Boss GT-8 in my pedalboard so amps are only just for power sections, plus I can roll my master volume up or down to accommodate a given venue. Sure it’s not the godly tones of a Plexi, but it functions extremely easily, a trained monkey can set up my rig, I don’t have to tap dance to change sets of effects, and I haven’t spent more than $2000 on a rig that I am comfortable gigging with. (Though I would be happy to leave it at home and play a 2/3 channel Marshall Stack for a gig with nothing but a footswitch, wah, and my wireless)

  47. Great article that I just came across this morning and much of what’s written makes a great deal of sense (especially in regard to NOT making life hard on your sound person). Having played now for 37 years, I’ve come to learn/understand a great deal about what works best for me in regard to amplifier coice and how to make the most of what it is I’m playing through. I’ve never been a proponant of the “wall of sound” mind-set but then again, I’ve never played the genre’s of music that call for it. Subsequently, I’ve learned to look for the appropriate on-stage “blend” that makes things easier for my band-mates AND the sound-person behind the board. For practice and smaller in-door venues my 30W VOX combo (in which I changed-out the stock 12″ speaker with a Hellatone SA-40) is entirely sufficient (sometimes mic’d with a 57, sometimes not) and for larger in-door and any outdoor venue my Kustom KG212 (in which I changed out the stock 2×12″ speakers with 2×12″ 50W Warehouse Guitar Speaker “Reaper HP’s, used as a cabinet only since I run a BOSS GT-6 Guitar Processor through it) works perfectly and RARELY needs to be mic’d. I think the old “louder means better” adadage is no longer agreed ad being true by most seasoned guitarists, for with age and experience comes the understanding that finding the right blend to make the band sound it’s best would be far more important, and that applies for EVERY instrument on stage!

  48. I think the argument is for high headroom but low power amps. That usually means big speakers too, and who builds a big cabinet with a low power amp when they can? Note the comments here from people using an “oversized” cab with their small amp.
    From my perspective, the main reason to have high power is for the sound you get from feedback. If that’s what you want, then AFAIK, you have to have real volume outside a tiny room.

  49. I play through an EVH 5150 III 50 watt head and 2×12 cab. It not only sounds good but saves your back and fits nicely in a trunk of a mid sized car. 50 watts is plenty when gigging. Yes, a stack looks great on stage, but so does a good looking small head and 2×12 cab. IMO.

  50. you’re assuming that everyone who plays a stack just wants to crank it. maybe they just like the clarity of 4 speakers and the headroom?

  51. i’m playing small clubs and bars and such. there is a pa. I live in an apartment in the middle of town. a stack doesn’t even factor into my conceptual thinking – i don’t need it. I have several amps that are light and do the job. a stack just too big, loud, cumbersome, and childish for my needs.

  52. Wattage works thusly: Doubling your power increases your volume by 3db. Doubling again, another 3db. Cutting your power in half? A reduction of 3db. It takes 10 db to sound twice as loud. So eight times the power give you 9 db, almost twice the loudness. Follow that formula, a 15 watt amp is about half as loud as a 100 watt, through the same speakers. so a 50 watt head is not half as loud as a 10 watt.
    Cutting the number of speakers in half does the same thing as cutting the power in half. So 1/8 the number of speakers with the same power = half the volume. I use a 15 watt tube amp through 1 12″ so that’s about 1/4 as loud as a 100 watt full stack. Plenty loud for any gig but metal.
    To the poster that pays through an AVT, master volumes are not after the power amp. Take a look at a potentiometer, that little thing cannot handle a 100 watt input. It would burn up in less than a second.
    Also I have found that tube amps with less than 15 watts don’t sound as good. That is because the smallest popular power tube, the EL84, produces 7 1/2 watts class A. The best sounding amps are push-pull, using power tubes in pairs. So 2 EL84 = 15 watts. To get less than 15 watts, you have to use a “single ended” power amp, using just one power tube. That is how amps like the Fender Champ, and the Boogie Mark V in 10 watt mode work. Not near as full sounding.
    Guitars sound way better through guitar speakers than PA speakers. Emulators can be OK in the studio but not stage. The best stage sounds come from micing a cabinet if the amp isn’t loud enough. You need not just the tube preamp, but also the tube power amp and the guitar speaker. IMHO

  53. My current rig is a vibrolux (1×10, 1×12) and I’m ready to downsize. If the room is big enough, the sound guy mics it.

  54. I’ve owned both low watt amps that I loved, and hi watt that I hated. It depends on the amp. I think this article is a little silly. After playing through Fender Mustang, which at the time, I thought was loud. I bought a Flextone II XL 100. I began to see the virtues of more volume. First it does fill the space in ways, that a smaller amp could not. Further, you cannot be heard, as the old arguement to a new article might dress up, with a 10 watt amp in band practices and live. I was in a cover group, as a teenager, I owned a 25 watt Peavy Bandit. Loved the amp, but when the drummer played, I would say “Who unplugged my amp.” Yeah I think that my little story rings true.
    Yes more is more for overall sound quality. Further, most manufacturers put all the cool EL34’s, and 12AX7, in big tube amps like manufacturers like Marshall, Blackstar others.

  55. I agree, I’ve had tinnitus for some time and I don’t want it getting worse, also been attending a lot of jazz shows and now I don’t want anyhting louder than that (even for a metal show), to me it just sounds better. Also I was kind of dissapointed the last time I saw Steven Wilson live because the band was just stupidly loud, ironic considering that his thing when mixing is low volume, lots of dynamics and great sound.
    Recently I played a show through my Yamaha THR10 connected to a PA and it was killer, low volume and killer tone.

    1. I am happy you are saving your ears. I am also astounded at the volumes some bands play at in smaller venues. I can’t imagine it is ‘fun’ as a musician trying to critically listen to your performance (and the rest of the band) at those volume levels.

  56. I’m a bassist and I’ve been using one or two (depending on the type of gig) Laney Cub 15 heads (15 watt class A/B full tube) with my Ampeg SVT 2×10 AV’s and/or Ampeg 1×15 (15″ PA low-mid woofer) bass cabinets.
    This rig provides me with more than enough ‘clean’ volume and great tone! I max the volume and (passive) bass eq controls, and set the gain as low as I can.
    The apparent ‘volume’ easily matches the levels I get with my Ampeg SVT Micro AV (with two cabs) and my biggest amp, (a 2×750 watt Taurus TH Cross head) as long as I use the same cabinets.
    I think this depends on the type of tube amp design, the speaker cabinets used and (for bassists) depending on the style of music and used playing techniques, the amount of ‘clean’ headroom you will be needing. I don’t use highly dynamic playing techniques (like thumping/popping).
    I might not be able to boost the bass frequencies with the Laney’s passive eq, but that just keeps the sound engineers extremely happy and their job so much easier, resulting in a super deluxe spot for the bass in the FOH mix! Yes, with just the right amount of fat extra lows provided by the happy engineer!

  57. The point is ego. That is why guys like Stacks. It was necessary back in the 60’s and 70’s but not anymore. The last 10 gigs I have played have digital PA’s and guys with Ipads standing right beside you asking if you want more in your monitor. It is the best. Some even have in ear monitors and that is heaven. In my opinion a 20 watt amp and an sm 58 do a great job. If you are playing in a place and the sound guy tells you to just turn it up and go for it. Chances are your band sounds like crap.l

  58. After reading this article, it occurred to me that most of my time spent shopping and trying amps was a continual matter of what is light and sounds great. At present, I have a Fender Blues Junior with a Eminence Cannibis Rex and a Marshall Class 5. My favorite solid-state amp that I used in the ’90s was the Peavey Express.

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