ProGuitarShop

How Loud is Your Amp?

September 6, 2013

Hi folks.  Welcome back to The Corner.  This week we’re going to have a discussion about amp wattage.  What’s appropriate and what’s too much?  How do you know if your amp will keep up with a drummer?  We’ll try to answer these questions and more as well as provide some insight as to power (wattage) vs. volume (db).  It may surprise you to read about the difference in volume between a 100 watt head and a 30 watt head.  So let’s have a look at the guitar amp and see if we can find out what the appropriate wattage is for you.

The first thing we need to do is to have some basic technical knowledge drummed into our heads.  We are going to use two different units in this discussion.  Wattage (power output) and db (decibels).  Wattage is the measurement used to indicate power.  It’s derived from multiplying the voltage and the current.  That’s it (in a simplified manner).  All guitar amplifiers will give you their output power in terms of wattage so we will use the relationship between wattage and db for this article to keep things as simple as possible.

Decibels (db) are a ratio between two power levels.  It is a very common measurement used to describe loudness since a very large amount of ratios can be described using the decibel.  It’s also a good thing to keep in mind that a decibel is one-tenth of a Bel.  A full Bel is perceived as twice as loud to most people.  So, in order to compare two different output powers, we must first make sure both powers are expressed in wattage (or the same unit if comparing voltage or SPL).  The basic equation for this is:

P1
10 x log ————-
P2

Where P1 and P2 express the output power of the two different sources.  It’s also very important that both output measurements are taken with the same load on both amplifiers.  Taking 30 watts at 8 ohms is different than 30 watts at 16 ohms, so in order for us to get a proper figure out, both powers need to be measure with the same load on the output.  Let’s take a look at a 50 watt head vs. a 30 watt head.  First we take 30 divided by 50 which gives us .6.  Then we take the log of .6 which is .222 and multiply it by 10 which gives us 2.22 db.  So a 50 watt amplifier is only 2.22 db louder than a 30 watt amplifier.  For reference, twice the output power is equal to a 3 db change, and 3db is barely enough for the human ear to discern the change.  So one more for fun, we’re going to compare a Fender Deluxe Reverb that has a nominal output of 22 watts to a Marshall 100 watt Super Lead.  Now we all know the Marshall is louder but after running these through the equation we find that the Marshall is only 6.576 db.  Considering that 10db is a nominal figure for what most people hear as twice as loud, then the Marshall is not even twice as loud as the Deluxe.  Surprised?

Here’s a handy little chart I got from http://www.analogrules.com/dbwatts.html:

0 db increase = same power
3 db increase = 2 x power
10 db increase = 10 x power
20 db increase = 100 x power
30 db increase = 1000 x power
40 db increase = 10,000 x power

So the difference in the Marshall and the Deluxe is over twice the power (as stated by their outputs in watts) but not twice as loud.  Also, in order to get twice the perceived volume of the Marshall, we would need an amplifier that had 1000 watts of output.  Interesting stuff isn’t it?

Now let’s have a look at decibels and put them into a relation so you have a reference point for all this db nonsense.  I got this chart from http://www.gcaudio.com/resources/howtos/loudness.html and find it very handy referencing db to sounds I am familiar with.

Weakest sound heard 0dB
Whisper Quiet Library 30dB
Normal conversation (3-5’) 60-70dB
Telephone dial tone 80dB
City Traffic (inside car) 85dB
Train whistle at 500’, Truck Traffic 90dB
Subway train at 200’ 95dB
Level at which sustained exposure may result   in hearing loss 90 - 95dB
Power mower at 3’ 107dB
Snowmobile, Motorcycle 100dB
Power saw at 3’ 110dB
Sandblasting, Loud Rock Concert 115dB
Pain begins 125dB
Pneumatic riveter at 4’ 125dB
Even short term exposure can cause permanent   damage - Loudest recommended exposure WITH hearing protection 140dB
Jet engine at 100’, Gun Blast 140dB
Death of hearing tissue 180dB
Loudest sound possible 194dB

A live rock concert comes in somewhere between 110 and 140 db.   So the difference of 6.576 db in relation to the chart is quite nominal.  In fact to the human ear it will be a pretty slight difference in volume.

Choosing an Amplifier Based on Wattage

Now that some of the technical jargon is explained, let’s talk amps.  There has been a trend toward lower wattage tube amplifiers in the past few years and for good reason.  Let’s face it; most of us are not playing in front of 5000+ people on a regular basis, if at all.  That coupled with the trend of a lot of modern music to move away from the arenas and into smaller, more intimate venues has changed the needs of a lot of professional guitarists.  If you’re rolling into the club that seats 100 people with a 100 watt Mesa stack, you’re probably going to get some strange looks.  The fact of the matter is, most 15 watt amplifiers are going to produce enough sound to be considered LOUD.

So why are there 100-200 watt guitar amps?  First of all, back in the heyday of rock music, the sound systems that were used were not as high quality as what we have now and did not reproduce sound quite as well.  A 100 watt amplifier was necessary in a lot of cases to carry the guitar sound in larger venues.  Second of all is clean headroom.  A 15 watt amplifier and a 30 watt amplifier are going to be really close in volume, they have approximately a 3 db difference in level which is just at the level that the human ear can hear the difference but the 15 watt amplifier is going to start saturating and distorting earlier.  For someone who uses the amplifier for overdrive and the volume of the guitar for attenuating between clean and dirty, a 15 watt amplifier is going to be loud enough for most venues, perhaps even too loud for some.  An 8 watt combo is an ideal amount of power for the volume knob player.  It’s loud enough to get by the drummer and if the venue is big enough, they’ll most likely have it mic’d anyway so there’s no need to drag out the half-stack.  For the country player or someone who uses pedals for their overdrive tones, a 30 watt amp might be more suitable.  Even a 50 watt amplifier is going to be a good bet but getting past 30 watts is not always necessary.  Take an AC30 and crank it to the point of saturation.  It sounds great but man is it LOUD!

Venues are also a consideration.  Keep in mind that if a venue is well organized, they are aware of the size and the amount of volume needed.  If it’s small enough that the PA system only has vocal mics, you definitely can use any amplifier that is loud enough to practice with.  If they have a full PA system with mics for the amps and drums, then more than likely the sound guy will still want your amp fairly low so the front of house has a balanced sound.  Ever been to the show where the amps were mic’d and the guitarist still had his/her Marshall stack cranked?  Not only is this uncomfortable for the 40 people directly in front of that amp, but the overall front of house mix is thrown off balance and if you move about the room you’ll notice that the guitar is overpowering in some areas and non-existent in others.  A good rule of thumb that I’ve found from both running sound and playing live is that you want to find the right tone at a volume that you are comfortable standing in front of and stick with it.  If the venue is bigger than usual, let the mics do the work.  Any solid soundman will have some sort of monitor mix for you so there’s no reason to make ears bleed.

The trend toward lower wattage amplifiers has another upside.  The iconic guitar sounds we all want to achieve in a large part come from the 60’s and 70’s.  Due to their lack of high powered public address systems, these guys needed to crank their 100 watt amps up to be heard and pushing them to their limits is what generated that sweet tube saturation and tone that we all lust after.  This day and age, cranking up a Marshall stack is not only going to garner dirty looks and hands over ears, but it may result in not being invited back to that ultra-hip club it took two years to get a gig at.  The smaller wattage amplifiers allow us to push our amps to their limits at a volume level that is comfortable for both you and the band as well as the audience and the soundman.  If it’s not loud enough, the soundman will make it louder.  You don’t have to be the loudest instrument on the stage (drummers have that luxury, beating on things and all) to be heard in modern venues.

One last note before I wrap up this long-winded article.  A lot of low powered combo amplifiers come in a 1x12 configuration and even though it might be loud, it just doesn’t have the push of a large 4x12 cabinet.  If you want to make your low watt amp sound bigger and be perceived as louder, grab an extension cabinet.  A nicely made 2x12 extension cabinet can make all the difference in to that thin sounding Deluxe Reverb.  A larger enclosure and the extra driver allow more air to be moved and will give more of that satisfactory punch and “big amp” feel to the little guy.

If you’re still unsure about this, then by all means keep that 100 watt Plexi, but try this.  Go to your local music store and find the lowest wattage tube amp they have and hook it up to a Marshall 4x12.  A Vox AC4TVH or Z.Vex Nano Head would be ideal.  Set the AC4 on 1 watt mode and crank it up.  You’ll be surprised by how quickly the sales representative comes in and asks you to turn it down.  You might also be surprised at how good it sounds.

Hopefully this article has helped spread some uncommon knowledge about the wattage rating on amplifiers.  Next time you look at that boutique combo that’s rated at 8 watts don’t be so quick to dismiss it as “too small for live use” and plug it in.  It might just surprise you at how well it keeps up and the fact that you can crank it and make the tubes work for their money results in sweet, singing tone that tube amplifiers are known for.  Thanks for reading folks.  Until next time, in The Corner.

Guest Contributor: Rusty Wiseman

Comments

  1. santiago says:

    great article, very informative. im gonna change my 50watter for a mor portable 30 thanks to you guy

    cheers

    posted on September 7, 2013 at 4:17 am
  2. Abbacus says:

    Great information on a still touchy subject for some!  The 2 X 12 Extension speaker cab suggestion does work very well in real-world giging: giving you, the guitarist, a real full-feeling and inspiring stage fill area to play in without going too big or loud. Unlike the 70’s, you really could now gig at even the biggest of venues with a couple Blues Juniors. Everyone has their needs and sound that they must have.  I still favor the Hiwatt SA212 for all the usual reasons, versatility being one important one, and by itself it has the fill and thump you need to feel it in your stage zone: but with the volume range for almost any real-world giging situation. We are in the golden years of gear. These are the good old days!

    posted on September 7, 2013 at 4:32 am
  3. George says:

    Have a 1975 dr103 100 watt Hiwatt head and 4x12 cab.  It is the loudest thing in the world…Sadly never maxed it out because I would probably be like Marty McFly in the opening scene of Back To The Future.

    posted on September 7, 2013 at 6:11 am
  4. Jonas Carlsson says:

    There are two other points that may be a bit controversial but are quite evident.

    3) A higher wattage will give you more bass, and with headroom more clean bass.

    4) It’s not only a power issue. More sensitive (SPL) speakers w. a lower wattage amp may play as loud as less sensitive speakers w. a higher wattage amp. But the less sensitive speakers are bound to sound sweeter and more precise. Thus hifi speakers are 87-92dB whereas most guitar speakers are 97-103dB

    posted on September 7, 2013 at 7:13 am
  5. Elliot Diggs says:

    awesome to see the math put to it!
    i always wanted a big stack but only had small combo money. then my band played a gig with a metal band with 2 full Ampeg stacks and another stack of cabs per member! in a bar that could hold 100-150 people it was soo unbelievably loud we couldnt even stay inside and most people listened to their whole set through brick walls!
    then we get on stage with my Peavey Backstage 30 and the bassist’s Ampeg Rocket and got some condescending looks, til we started playing… everyone was headbanging by the third song.
    totally changed my thinking in terms of big vs small amps

    posted on September 7, 2013 at 9:28 am
  6. Paul Hawk says:

    indeed a touchy subject. I’ve been fortunate in the past 28 years as a guitar player to play amps now selling for as much as a new car at wattage from 5 watts to 140 watts. I build amps. I love the feel of handwired tube amps that dont give you that “ear fuzz” after playing for an hour but to this day the amps that inspire me to write new riffs, to compose new songs, and to enjoy playing are big wattage amps turned to about 3 with some great pedals.

    Big tube, big watt amps feel better if designed properly (I feel at least 90% of the big watt amps are just loud not great but that other 10% are just better feeling and inspiring than any 20 watt amp I’ve ever played). That said I’m developing designs which are audible at 30 watts pressure yet provide 100 watt tones and feel which has been insanley difficult but I believe possible. Great article in that it at least brings up the subject and/or debate!

    posted on September 7, 2013 at 10:33 am
  7. Mike says:

    Having worked throughout 50+ years in every imaginable venue from clubs to rock festivals to china (literally) shops, I have taken my responsibility as of an electric guitar player using appropriate volume levels very seriously.

    After abandoning digital technology used for live performance with one extreme exception, the Roland Micro Cube (used for a year on a jazz gig in a restaurant) I believe the availability of sub-50 watt amps are finally making this possible. I understand completely the “make the air move” feeling of big amp sound. I had one of the first 100 watt Plexi stacks in the northwest at the end of the sixties, and I miss it to this day. I still own a non-master-volume 50 watt Marshall that is retired due to lack of appropriate venues to use it. I now have my greatest success with volume levels with 18 watt combos and one-twelve piggyback systems. Master volume designs have improved greatly since the “box of bees” results obtained in smaller amps in the 80’s, now that the contribution of fully-heated output sections on tube amps to frequency response is understood.

    Some comments on additional factors in the wattage discussion:

    Before purchasing a boutique combo amp (Fastback) recently I had the opportunity to test two models that were identical EXCEPT for the power tubes: two EL84’s in one, two 6V6’s in the other. Although I like the very different fundamental tone of both of these tubes, the most striking difference was in “perceived” volume. The EL84 version was MUCH louder at similar and maximum volume settings. I suspect this is due to the midrange content of EL84 tubes, but at least it suggests that the issue of volume is dependent on power tube type selection in addition to the other factors mentioned, regardless of the power ratings (18 watts for both, same speaker in both) of the amplifier.

    I have found that the cabinet design (in addition to open or closed-back configurations) is also involved. Bass response (and perhaps perceived loudness) is noticeably affected by cabinet size. Two of my single twelve cabinets (Avatar, open and closed back) were built using the Thiele speaker cabinet formula resulting in a slightly larger one twelve speaker cabinet. Don’t be surprised if a four twelve model loaded with the same speakers isn’t much louder or punchier than a two twelve model. The impedance loading (wiring method) of multiple-driver designs is another factor.

    Regarding the inclusion of the sound man into the volume equation:

    I recently attended a live sound seminar on live sponsored by a large equipment manufacturer, with an emphasis on “worship” live sound. The presenter (well-known in the industry) projected a photo of his stage setup asking the audience what was unusual about it. No one noticed that the drum set was outside of the plexiglass drum cage. He went on to describe the acoustic problems the drum cage created with a justification of why drums had to be loud anyway. I was in total agreement with his position, having started out as a drummer. Modern drums were designed to be loud enough to be heard over cannon fire to keep the troops marching.

    Then the topic shifted to electric guitar, with much groaning and rolling of eyeballs. His preferred solution to dealing with electric guitar was to place the amp in the basement, using an active direct box to send the guitar signal to the distant amp with a mic send to the monitors with no mention of electro-acoustic “latency” incurred by the basement location.  Just prior to the drum comments he had insisted that monitors should have lows and highs rolled off to be used for vocal pitch and timing only (remember those drums allowed to be loud?), not for creating a perfect stage sound for the players.

    So there’s no consideration for the guitar player hearing the sound he was creating. Apparently the presenter and most of the sound man audience had forgotten that the electric guitar was invented to be heard over those drums that were supposed to be heard over the cannon fire. I have endured this kind of sound man thinking for many years, ever since the PA system started to catch up to the stacks, and in fifty years the number of live mixes with audible electric guitar has been significantly less that the number with inaudible “air guitar”.

    Our responsibility as guitar players, and our only hope of hearing what our instrument is sounding like, is to master the stage volume dilemma, and to NOT assume that the sound man will insure your sound is heard.  Nor can we do so by pilling on the wattage and the cabinets. The good news is that the tools we need are available, we must chose them wisely and learn to operate them well.

    BTW, I was in the Portland store a few months ago (excellent store and staff) auditioning a Divided-by-13 combo amp and nostalgia-inspiring Fuzz Face testing.  We talked about amplifiers then so the topic still has legs!

    posted on September 7, 2013 at 12:52 pm
  8. Bassick says:

    Very nicely expressed - now if someone can only get the bassists in line, for while guitar amps are trending toward lower power the wattage of bass amps is going through the roof. I realize the goal is different: bass requires more clean headroom for many, yet it seems that many modern bassists fail to consider that they will more and more be performing with guitarists who are trending toward less power. Speakers are the thing. For what it’s worth, I’m a bassist who survived very well with a 2x15 or 4x10 and 100 - 200 watts. SVTs, they were for stadiums and for making club soundmen roll their eyes.

    posted on September 8, 2013 at 4:14 am
  9. Jorge says:

    I love gigging with my Marshall Class 5!  I’m typically miced up at every gig anyways, and they still ask me to turn down!) :-)

    posted on September 9, 2013 at 1:27 pm
  10. wowowowo says:

    I just want to say that I tried the low watt thing and it felt short for me. It’s not for everyone… depends on your style and especially your drummer. All of these articles (and forum posts) fooled me into buying lower wattage and I quickly went back to bigger things.

    I play with beastly drummers & can’t hear these small amps at all.

    However,  15 watts or even 5 watts are way louder than most people thing… I’ll give it that and I can see how it would be enough with a drummer who doesn’t rip too hard.

    posted on September 11, 2013 at 8:00 am
  11. -jim says:

    Umm, no mention in the article about differences in speaker efficiency, which can make a 10+ dB difference.  At least you did mention that low power tube amps can do the job beyond what the wattage number would suggest.

    As for Bass, it requires between 3 and 10 times the power of the guitar players amp unless large high efficiency cabs are being used (like old Sunn horns).  So if the guitarist is using a 100 watt stack or a Twin, an SVT is appropriate for bass.  A 15 watt Blues Junior can fill most bars but less than 200 watts for bass will sound weak in most cases.  Although I’ve played bass in church with a small combo and that worked great.  BTW - I’m primarily a guitar player.

    posted on September 11, 2013 at 8:00 am
  12. Myron says:

    Some time ago I switched from a 77 watt 2x10 to a 30 watt 1x12 and would never go back. I still have most of the headroom that I need on this thing. Most of… recently I was blown away by the Vox AC302CX. Still 30 watts, but so much more headroom and clarity. So, I attribute some of that to the 2x12 speaker area and quality. Unfortunately the darn thing weighs 70lbs or more.

    Checking out a hand-wired AC15 1x12 tonight. My brother-in-law reports that it breaks up a lot earlier than the 30. Anyway, I agree that the monster wattage of yesteryear is no longer relevant in many applications, but having decent headroom is critical so in my opinion you can go too low.

    posted on September 11, 2013 at 8:00 am
  13. Igor says:

    It would be great to have a small article about power attenuators. Some of us already have like 60W amps and if you don’t have or don’t want to use a master volume, I’d be interested in hearing about possibilities like attenuators.

    posted on September 11, 2013 at 8:03 am
  14. Micheal says:

    Finally. Articles like this are long overdue. Down with Marshall half-stacks. It’s too much for the 50 cap dive bar venue, guys…

    http://www.splinteredinherhead.com

    posted on September 11, 2013 at 8:20 am
  15. squirtloaf says:

    Yeah…this is all great…BUT…

    One thing nobody EVER addresses with these little amps it that no matter how well the soundman pumps it out front or whatev, a *huge* part of those ‘60’s and ‘70’s guitar sounds are a function of sheer volume.

    ...that being the magic that happens when the guitar itself is vibrating and alive.

    NO MATTER how much power amp saturation you have, (or whatever today’s magic buzz-concept is), a 15 watt amp is NEVER going to get you to that point.

    That vibrational thing is why guys like Page and Townshend could have those clean, punchy tones, but still get sustain for days…every note being either clean or feeding back depending on the way you hit the strings or move your hand…it’s a beautiful thing…it’s where dynamics lives.

    ...and, yeah, f*ck soundmen. Ever since the small amp craze has hit, I go to clubs, and all you hear is drums and vocals. It’s a rare soundguy who has any idea of what a good mix with some real flesh in the midrange sounds like, let alone one who can create that.

    I might be in the minority, but I don’t ever remember going to a show either in the big-amp days or now and going:“Gee. That guitar is too loud.”, but I do remember going to shows and having them sound electric and exciting as opposed to now, where everything sounds stiff and neutered.

    posted on September 11, 2013 at 8:29 am
  16. squirtloaf says:

    Oh, I’d also like to add, I play in something like 6 bands from country to metal to soul to a Tom Petty cover band, and in EVERY instance where we video or record digitally with a zoom, (which is almost every show now), the guitars sound too low in the mix…

    In EVERY one of these instances, the sound guy tells you to turn down, then there is no guitar on the recordings. Very frustrating.

    posted on September 11, 2013 at 8:33 am
  17. Micheal says:

    “...and, yeah, f*ck soundmen. Ever since the small amp craze has hit, I go to clubs, and all you hear is drums and vocals.”

    Spoken like a true guitar player… lol

    posted on September 11, 2013 at 8:36 am
  18. F. says:

    Unfortunately while people love to think that 100 watter’s are obsolete and 15 watter’s are the way to go, that’s not the way it is. It’s less about the volume but more about the headroom nowadays. With modern amps you mostly get more than enough preamp gain on tap than having to resort to power tube overdrive, in that case you would mostly want the power tubes to stay clean than further saturating your preamp tone. Also like Jonas mentioned, more headroom=more lows.

    I can get loud enough by turning up a 15 wattter but a 100 watter with volume turned down sounds better. Once the 15 watter is past it’s clean zone I just begin to lose low end and it starts to mess with the preamp gain.

    Lunchbox amps are basically a marketing trick IMO. They are still way too loud for home use (especially when you are flatting), yet they start to crap out when you take it to the rehearsal with a hard hitting drummer.

    If you play blues or classic rock then maybe it’s less relevant since power tube overdrive is the way to go. But if you play modern hi gain or need big loud cleans don’t think you can get away with a 15 watter, you need 50-100 watts.

    posted on September 11, 2013 at 8:39 am
  19. Ry says:

    Nigel Tufnel: 195 decibels.

    posted on September 11, 2013 at 8:52 am
  20. squirtloaf says:

    @michael:

    Guitarist, singer, drummer, bassist and *occasionally* keys, depending on the band.

    Nice try though. Thanks for playing.

    posted on September 11, 2013 at 8:59 am
  21. Jp says:

    This article isn’t a surprise to me, one day I tried a tinny dark terror into a 1960 Marshall RI cab and it sound just as good as any 50 w or 100 w. I have a also heard some experiments’ with blues jr. Into 4x12 Marshall. This type of stuff get ignored by guitar snobs at PGS purchasing 4 to 8 thousand dollar guitar amps.

    posted on September 11, 2013 at 9:03 am
  22. Jeff Hall says:

    I was very surprised to not see anything about speaker efficiency (unless I missed it).  Speaker efficiency is a huge factor in determining how much wattage is required to create a certain dB SPL.  For every 3 dB increase in volume that a speaker produces requires double the power.  So, a speaker that puts out 92 dB SPL @ 1w @ 1 meter would produce approximately 107 dB SPL at 32 watts.  For comparison, if we take a speaker that only produces 86 dB @ 1w @ 1meter, then to get that same 107 dB would require approximately 120 watts.

    posted on September 11, 2013 at 9:33 am
  23. Jim Gross says:

    A couple of comments: I’ve been using an Ibanez TubeScreamer TSA15H all-tube amp head with built in Tube Screamer with a low end Marshall 4X12 cab and it sounds fantastic. The Ibanez head has 5watt Triode and 15 watt Diode settings with 6V6GT power tubes. The head has multiple output options 1X4Ohm, 1X8Ohm, 2X8Ohm, 1X16Ohm and 2X16Ohm Even at the 5 watt Triode setting this thing is LOUD! At 15 watts it is incredible. I have to agree about speaker type, though. I recently bought a new 4X12 cab loaded with two Eminence Texas Heats and two Eminence Swamp Thangs and it’s unbelievable how much this changed the character of the amp head as well as a noticeable increase in vvolume. Both cabs are 8 Ohms, but as of yet I have not tried using both cabs together with this head, but I’m confident that it would only be better yet. I’ve yet to encounter a situation where this isn’t enough, but if I do, I have a Peavey Tube Classic 50watt 2X12 cabinet with an extension speaker out to hook up either 4x12 cabs, so feel I have all my basses (bass’) covered.  Tone before volume, anyway is my opinion-anything can be efficiently mike’d. Thanx-Jimbo

    posted on September 11, 2013 at 9:58 am
  24. Jesse says:

    Great info for the average Joe, and more than informative it brought all the good points!
    What made more sense to me there are some really good Solid State amps made to replicate tubes cranked and with effected tones to boot. The DI’s, in line effect loops and Digital goodies . Plus all the power and SPL levels are more coherent into practice.  Good tube amps @ 40watts got kicked in the butt along the years, it’s what made Mesa,Marshall just a few as the go to’s the norm. But I remember playing my SS Baby Boogie by Yamaha 10 watts w. a Sony Stereo cab of 2x8’’ vs the bass amp Marshall 100watts and drums of 8 drums w. 7 cymbals and that’s loud,  when I heard the playback the monotony of the loud guitar was not, but was very pleasant I was amazed as was the band and hangers on…I prefer to the minimum of Tube 50 watts,, but on that day say a tube amp of 10 watts maybe a 30 watter tube played clean may not have been enough… but your point of SPL and decibels does explain most of your theories, thanks very good and very informative! BTW to date the Yamaha
    10 watter is the best sounding amp I’ve heard the Clean somehow is clean but with linear crunch that I’ve experienced with Plexis ,Parks,Hiwatts and Orange amps guess I prefer British sounding circuits but my love is always the ‘‘BF & SF’’  Fender 40-45 watt Super Reverb played clean with the Strats and Deluxe Reverbs with the Telecasters! Les Pauls it has to be the British circuits! These are for the Wattages,Decibels and SPLs as a norm for when playing out in a band and audience appreciation!

    posted on September 11, 2013 at 10:01 am
  25. Frederick says:

    36 watts is what I find to be the minimum to keep up with the average drummer. Smaller amps than that usually sound like the equivalent of a yapping chihuahua because they are pushed to their limits whereas larger amps (I prefer 50 watts for bedroom to stage) are fuller and sweater even with the master down.

    posted on September 11, 2013 at 10:27 am
  26. Jim King says:

    I wish that every guitarist I’ve ever met would read this. And, I’m going to do my part by sharing it with groups and friends on Facebook. It’s a start, right?

    posted on September 11, 2013 at 11:40 am
  27. Brut Slick says:

    I’m old school!  Loud and Proud, sometimes play my Gibson melody maker with a Pandora Mini through a Baringer 450 watt base head!!  I consider it a compliment if I am too loud!!:))))

    Fender twin and Peavy Windsor are cool for my living room!!

    Rock on my brothers!!!

    posted on September 11, 2013 at 11:58 am
  28. Abbacus says:

    Would be nice to have an excuse to use a couple 100 watt Plexi’s or Hiwatt’s.

    posted on September 11, 2013 at 12:38 pm
  29. Blues Dude says:

    I have two modified (power stiffening & hum reducing caps) fender champ 600’s.  Best little amps ever.  For a 5 watt - they can get pretty loud and almost keep up w/ a drummer - mic them and they’re golden.  Love their clean tone and they take a pedal like a ‘champ’ - pun intended.

    posted on September 11, 2013 at 1:27 pm
  30. Francesco De NIgris says:

    Main difference between low wattage and high wattage amps is HEADROOM, not volume. A low wattage one will saturate and compress at a much lower volume than a high wattage on, and stacking pedals in front of it will not change the perceived volume but only the timbre while a 100W old Marshall will welcome any pedal you stom on without compressing too much.

    posted on September 11, 2013 at 3:26 pm
  31. JP says:

    quoted from the article : “So one more for fun, we’re going to compare a Fender Deluxe Reverb that has a nominal output of 22 watts to a Marshall 100 watt Super Lead.  Now we all know the Marshall is louder but after running these through the equation we find that the Marshall is only 6.576 db.  Considering that 10db is a nominal figure for what most people hear as twice as loud, then the Marshall is not even twice as loud as the Deluxe.  Surprised?”

    It depends on the speaker sensibility, in most case Fender use higher sensibility speakers than Marshall :

    A 22w Fender Deluxe with a 100Db Eminence speaker will be nearly as loud, and thus will provide more clean headroom, than a 100W Marshall with a 93Db Celestion speaker.

    Going further, a 40W Fender Blues Deluxe running a 103DB Eminence Wizard speaker is a lot louder than any 100W head driving a G12 Celestion speaker.

    posted on September 11, 2013 at 8:35 pm
  32. David Scott says:

    I have a ‘76 Fender Princeton Reverb tube amp rated at 15 W and a 2011 Fender G Dec junior solid state also rated at 15 W. The Princeton set on a volume of 2 is louder than the G Dec junior set on 10. Can you explain?

    posted on September 11, 2013 at 8:43 pm
  33. JP says:

    stupid yet fun yet informative video : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sNOnt71Rna8

    posted on September 11, 2013 at 9:18 pm
  34. Jordan Grunow says:

    My 18 W Dr Z Carman Ghia wil trounce the loudest drummer I work with. My old Gibsonette will not cut the quieter drummer I work with.

    posted on September 12, 2013 at 12:04 am
  35. Sebastian Lema says:

    Agreed… I have a VHT Special 6 Ultra (6W, 1X12), and with an extension cabinet its nearly as loud as a VOX Night Train (50W) working together.

    posted on September 12, 2013 at 12:40 am
  36. Mark Hammer says:

    There are the hypothetical watts that the amplifier can produce at its output, and there is the actual practical loudness that results from what the speakers can do with those watts, in the particular cab they are installed in.

    Look through the “efficiency” specs of different brands and models of speaker.  This figure stipulates the sound pressure level created one metre away from the speaker, with one watt of power applied (usually at 1khz).  You’ll find that different speakers can vary in efficiency by as much as 10db.  It is likely the case that this differential loudness/SPL is not maintained across the *entire* range of amp power outputs they can take without going poof, but it does give an indication of probable loudness differences at modest power levels.

    Is greater efficiency always better?  Not necessarily.  Perhaps the desired tonal characteristics of a given amplifier only emerge when it is pushed.  In that case, a player might prefer a LESS efficient speaker such that they get the preferred tone at reasonable volume levels.  On the other hand, you’d be very pleasantly surprised at how far you can stretch 12 watts, when coupled with efficient speakers in an efficient cab.

    posted on September 12, 2013 at 2:16 am
  37. steve says:

    I have a deluxe reverb & a super reverb @ 40 watts. The super reverb is not only louder with the but sounds way better with the 4x10"s. No brainer between the 2.

    posted on September 12, 2013 at 3:21 am
  38. Erik says:

    As others have mentioned, speaker sensitivity can have a significant impact on the actual volume produced.  Indeed, a startling omission from this article.  The article provides nice relative comparisons between reference amps, but fails to establish an absolute reference for any particular amp + speaker.

    Definition (Wikipedia):  [Speaker] Sensitivity – “The sound pressure level produced by a loudspeaker in a non-reverberant environment, often specified in dB and measured at 1 meter with an input of 1 watt (2.83 rms volts into 8 Ω), typically at one or more specified frequencies. Manufacturers often use this rating in marketing material.”

    Take a Celestion Vintage 30, with a rated sensitivity of 100 dB (at 1 meter) while driven at 1 watt.  On the provided sound level chart in the article, that is comparable to the loudness of a snowmobile or motorcycle.  There—now we can gauge how loud a 1 watt amp with a V30 can be, and indeed, a 1 W amp can be surprising loud!  To make it as loud as a 110 dB soft rock concert, you need a 10 dB or 10X increase in power, which is 10 watts.  To get it to a blistering 140 dB rock concert volume (a little excessive in my opinion), you need a 40 dB increase or 10,000 times the power… or a 10,000 watt amp!  Never mind the fact that a V30 is only rated for 60W.  Your measly 100 W amp will provide a 20 dB (100X) increase, getting you to sandblasting and a pneumatic riveter volumes… near the threshold of pain.

    So, yeah—more watts is louder.  But there are diminishing returns, and a modest 1W starting point is actually pretty impressively loud.

    posted on September 12, 2013 at 6:40 am
  39. Peter wehrmeyer says:

    Old players used Super reverbs for clean, 50Marshalls for dirty. We knew and understood. My Carvin 16 let’s me play portable, the Extension makes it loud. 2X12.

    posted on September 13, 2013 at 4:36 am
  40. Rick says:

    My amp is 195db….....lol..(yeah right) ...very informative article,good job !

    posted on September 13, 2013 at 9:36 am
  41. Mojave Johnson says:

    THANK YOU!!!!  I’ve been saying this for YEARS!!!  As a guitarist and sound engineer, I’ve always preferred small, low powered tube amps because, as you also said, you can crank them to get amazing tone without killing yourself or your fans with ear-splitting SPL!!

    One of my main amps (I have 4 that I rotate through depending on the situation) is a modified 1974 Fender Vibro Champ.  Although it was modified when I bought it, I went and modified it more by swapping out the cheap 10” speaker that was in it (one of the previous mods, since it originally had an 8” speaker) with a good quality - and efficient - 10” MusicMan speaker from a ‘70’s MusicMan HD 410 combo.  Then I added an extension speaker output so I can connect it to a wide variety of cabinets to get various sounds.  When I connect it to a Marshall 1960AV it sounds like a JTM-45, albeit with significantly less apparent volume!

    posted on September 13, 2013 at 12:34 pm
  42. Michal says:

    MAXIMUM VOLUME YIELDS MAXIMUM RESULTS

    posted on September 14, 2013 at 8:34 am
  43. George says:

    Someone should tell Jimmy Page that little 8 watt Supro was no good for rock and roll!

    posted on September 14, 2013 at 8:35 am
  44. JP says:

    It depends on the style of music and kind of venues !!

    Someone who never plays cleans / crunchs at all, or someone who always plays exclusively in large venues (with guitar amp picked by PA) : this one can live with low powered amps.

    If you need a light crunch (for example think about Wayne Krantz’s dirty cleans) or pure cleans : 30W with 100Db speaker is the least (or maybe a 15W Fender with 103Db speaker).

    posted on September 14, 2013 at 4:29 pm
  45. Donnie M of Only One Way says:

    I tried my 60 watt amp in church; I couldn’t hear myself when I played clean (even with the channel on 10). I am going back to my 150 Watt set-up. I don’t use most of it for the distortion playing, but, I need at least 80 watts for playing clean (and hearing myself over the piano, which is miked, as well as the vocalists, and drums).

    posted on September 15, 2013 at 10:48 am
  46. biffoz says:

    Wow, clean headroom, especially with effects and rackmount stereo stuff going on, needs more than low-wattage combo amps. You can channel switch or use any of the amazing disto/fuzz pedals out there for girth, but under 30w just doesn’t cut it for bell-like cleans that ring for days. Another thing is the visceral “hair standing on end” that you feel when you’re riging that big-ass bell and stomp on your Rat, or Big Muff, or other fave pedal and just light the place up. 100w JCM800’s were the backbone of my setup and many others and of course; tiny clubs and coffee houses aren’t what I’m talking about, but even then there are times that drummers and bassists just bury tiny amps, even at low levels.

    posted on September 17, 2013 at 5:36 am
  47. Robert says:

    I have found the 40 watt Enganter Tweeker Head thru an open backed 2X12 vintage 30 cab sounds great for small bars , med rooms , larger venues, out door events. 2 channel amp with nice clean bassy headroom, touch sensitve sustaining leadtones. I use a BBE sonic stomp in the singel chain left ON all the time to enhance the tone, and with a Reverand Drivetrain overDrive petal , it will go right to Marshall terriory. Great little tube amp. 40 watts..

    posted on September 18, 2013 at 10:52 am
  48. biffoz says:

    Yes, the Egnaters are pretty sweet and I’ve demo’ed both the 40w Tweaker and Rebel, but now I’m looking at the Renegade 65w/18w models for ultimate “one-amp” use. I dumped my midi switcher and rack a long time ago and have been modeling and going direct, but hope to return to gigging with a smallerized setup that I can actually hump around myself, without too much hate. The 4x10 version seems like it might invoke that old Super Reverb / Concert vibe, both being faves I owned and gigged with from my early days, before going the big-rig route. There’s something truly godly about a Super on top of a 4x10, or 4x12 cab. Being able to mix both 6L6 and EL84 seems brilliant. Loving the Egnaters I’ve tried so far!

    posted on September 19, 2013 at 1:59 am
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