Is Your Amp Loud Enough?!

May 30, 2013

By PGS Fitz


Here at PGS, we spend a lot of time working with our customers to figure out exactly what they need or sometimes simply even just what they want! Helping players figure out what they need in an amp can sometimes present a challenge, but a challenge that we love to meet head on. There are some common misconceptions out there in guitarland about amps—specifically about wattage, volume, headroom, decibels, etc. Sometimes you think you need two full stacks to get the stage volume you think you want but you just need a 40w combo. Sometimes you think you want a small watt amp that will break up and provide the perfect tone, but you’re not going to hear it over your drummer and his Neil-Peart-tribute-kit with three bass drums AND a gong. This week in Andy’s corner, we’re looking again at your amp to learn a little about the overall ‘volume’ of your amp and all the factors that contribute to it so you can make sure your rig is right for you.

How Loud is Loud?

We’re all musicians. Hopefully we’re all aware of decibels—specifically in protecting our ears from high levels of them! Decibels, or dB, are the measurement used to identify the volume or intensity of a sound. Like the Richter Scale, each increase in dBs is not a linear increase but rather an exponential increase.  10dB is considered ten times more powerful than 0dB, and to the human ear, a 10dB difference is heard as “twice as loud.” This means if you’ve got one amp pumping out 100dB and another pumping out 110dB (which is close to being 1,000,000, 000,000 times as powerful as the smallest audible sound!), the first amp is going to sound like it has half the volume of the second. (Public Service Announcement: we at PGS would like to remind you that exposure to levels above 85dB can cause hearing loss, so take it seriously, yo!)


Watt Do You Mean?!

Part of the equation that helps create an amp’s volume capability is its wattage. We all throw around the terminology: “That dude has a 100watt half stack!” “I bought a little 5watt combo for the house—my wife was complaining about my Rockerverb!” So what IS wattage? While decibels are a measurement of volume, watts are a measurement of energy or in this case, electrical power. Like decibels, watts are not linearly comparable from a volume perspective—a 100w Rockerverb has twice the power of a 50w Rockerverb, but not twice the volume. There’s only about a 3dB difference between the 50w and 100w amps (assuming the speakers are identical; more on that in a bit), which means you may notice a difference in their volume capability, but a ‘twice as powerful’ amp will not be heard/perceived as ‘twice as loud,’ and as we all know—perception is reality.


Speakers of the House

Your amp’s speaker (or speakers) is another crucial piece in how loud your amp will be heard/perceived. Speakers have a dB sensitivity specification, which is a measure of the combination of power input and sound output. Most manufacturers provide this spec in “dB at 1w/1m” – which is decibels produced per 1 watt measured at 1 meter from the speaker on its axis. For speakers, the required power level doubles for each 3dB difference, meaning to get a 97dB speaker as loud as a100dB speaker, the 97dB speaker will need double the power. Essentially, the higher the sensitivity rating, the more efficient the speaker is at converting power input to sound output. A higher efficiency speaker when used in a lower wattage amp can be a very, very powerful thing—and a higher wattage amp with a low-efficiency speaker can be, well, underwhelming.



Getting It Just Right

The most important question to ask in terms of finding the right amp is: what are you going to be using it for?! The amp market has been flooded lately with a ton of low wattage amps that are perfect for home use or small, intimate club gigs; in the right situations (and with the right mics), these amps could probably work for a slightly larger gig, but once there’s a drummer involved, you likely want to move into the 20-40w range, especially if you’re hoping to retain any clean headroom. For full-on club gigs or outdoor gigs, you’ll likely want to clear the 40w bar and have an amp or two that is in the 40-50w range, just to make sure you don’t lose any punch (everything sounds different outdoors, where there are fewer if any reflective surfaces like walls to retain/reflect the soundwaves). When you’re playing Coachella, go ahead and get that wall of 100w Rockerverbs. Remember to consider the amp’s wattage along with the speaker’s efficiency rating in terms of figuring out what is going to provide the proper volume to you in whatever application you’ll be running it in. We all want to be able to hear you, but not be overwhelmed with you (I’m talking to you over there on stage right—they guy who always sneaks over and bumps up your master volume after the sound engineer has everyone’s levels set…#youknowwhoyouare).

As always, happy hunting and sound off on your experiences in the comments!


  1. Michael says:

    When I read the title of this article I blew a gasket. I’m thinking I’ll have to write a letter to straighten
    these folks out.
    I am pleasantly surprised to find info on amps for the real world and not some headbangers wet-dream. That is,” I’m practicing in my parent’s house and I need a 300watt Marshall cause my parents can still hear the TV when I play with my 100watt.”
    Good Job.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 4:17 am
  2. Simon says:

    I’ve been a little underwhelmed, volume-wise with my 15-watt Traynor Darkhorse head through a 1x12 cab with a 25-watt Celestian. If I switched to say, a 2x12 cab with 75-watt speakers, would that make a big, and positive difference?

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 4:19 am
  3. ESE says:

    Mine goes up to 11.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 4:30 am
  4. Blueskiwi says:


    only if the speakers in the 2x12 cab are significantly more sensitive than the one you have now (eg 100db vs 97db as described in the article)

    the wattage of speakers is just how much power they can handle without dying (and you typically want a safety margin too, eg your 25w speaker for 15w amp)

    there’s something to be said for a bigger cab anyway though, it should have a bigger/tighter bottom end (within the limits of the amp)

    Bigger cabs also seem to spread the sound throughout the room more effectively (without necessarily being louder measured at 1m) and I find open-back cabs better in that regard too than closed-back, which seem more ‘directional’

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 4:31 am
  5. Dr Z says:

    I play through a VHT Special 6 head into an Eminence Legend V128 and it gets amazingly loud!  Normal “performance” volume is at 11:00 which will make your ears ring in just a few minutes in a small practice room.  And will easily compete with any drummer.  I play for a large church so it is mic’d on stage, as is everything, and covered with a baffle to keep the stage volume down.  Very happy with my bargain $ rig.  I’ll take tone over watts any day!

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 4:31 am
  6. Tom S says:

    So, If I have 100watt Marshall JCM2000 head and going into a 4x10 cabinet, what ohms and wattage do I want each of the speakers to be?  Is there some sort of math formula one can apply?

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 4:33 am
  7. Nuno says:

    Yeah.. I guess we just become reasonable with age. lol ...but some lost sheeps never get it!

    Nice tips PGS !

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 4:36 am
  8. Laurens says:

    I don’t agree with the section “Getting it just right”. With a good PA-system you can play any venue with a 1 watt amplifier, volume wise. A microphone in front of the amplifier and a monitor at your feet and you’re set. I know loads of people who play with old Fender Champs, because they sound great and are really portable.

    I also wish there had been something said about high wattage amplifiers not being too much for home use. You see loads of people online saying to people that they don’t want “that Brand X 100W amplifier” for home use, because it’s too loud. They have volume knobs for a reason.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 4:37 am
  9. Wayne says:

    @ Simon, ... you need to know a couple of things.  If the 1x12 cab is an 8-ohm cabinet and the 2x12 cabinet is also an 8-ohm cabinet, you won’t get any extra power out of the amp.  If you go from an 8-ohm to a 4-ohm cabinet, most amps will put out more power, but you have to be sure your amp is stable working into a 4-ohm load.  Some are not.  There is also the issue of efficiency.  If your 1x12 cabinet puts out 97dB with 1 watt and your 2x12 also puts out 97dB with 1 watt, then you won’t hear any difference in volume when using the same power input.  So, the wattage of the speakers won’t make the difference you are looking for, ... that only tells you how much power they can handle at their upper limit.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 4:40 am
  10. ben says:

    and lets not forget about frequency….........eq can do wonders for volume and being in the right spot for a mix

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 4:45 am
  11. BT says:

    For most, I think the “pot at the end of the rainbow” is finding something reliable that will provide some tube breakup & play reasonably well at bedroom levels, that won’t struggle too much at a gig and that you don’t need a fork lift to carry around! 

    After owning a Bugera V22, Blues JR Humboldt Hot Rod, a Hot Rod deluxe and finally a Peavey Classic 30, the Peavey is a GREAT compromise of clean tones, on board distortion, decent reverb and GOBS of power if you need it. 

    What a great all around amp that takes pedals VERY well.  Only mod was a speaker change to an Eminence Private Jack.  It came with JJ’s in it already!

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 4:54 am
  12. Kevin says:

    You’re right Laurens in regards to turning down higher wattage amps at home, but you won’t necessarily have that amp in it’s sweet spot where everything sounds magical like it should. The sweet spot on a higher wattage amp in most cases will be blowing out your windows if it doesn’t have a master volume!

    I have 3 amps - a Fender DRRI (22 watts) with an Electrovoice EVM-12L, A ‘69 Dual Showman Reverb (85 watts) with a ‘69 Bandmaster cabinet 9 (closed back) loaded with 2 X 12” Weber California with aluminum domes, and a 1966 Vox Buckingham (35 watts)  with the original cabinet (open back 2 X 12” Vox Gold Bulldog speakers). They all serve their purpose and all have different sweet spots where the amps sing. All of them are bloody loud too, but project in different ways on account of the type of cabinets and speakers. I usually play all of them around 2-3 at my home, and it’s LOUD!!

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 5:04 am
  13. Frederick says:

    Ask the sound man, I’m sure he’ll give you an honest answer…

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 5:04 am
  14. Jimbbo says:

    I just recieved the e-mail “Is Your Amp Loud Enough”...
    I just gotta know—what artist has the fake Marshall stacks in the photo?
    Thank you!

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 5:08 am
  15. Laurens says:

    @Kevin: Of course, but you’ll see people recommending 10W amplifiers to people who aspire to play in a band without PA, which is plain stupid. I’m talking MV-amps of course, which will still like to be turned up a bit.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 5:19 am
  16. Mike says:

    Great points… Blues Jr III Gold Rush is a great amp - more volume than I’d ever REALLY need, along with magnificent tone….....HOWEVER, my ‘59 Bassman LTD RI just oozes sexy tones at any level….......when I drop in a Fulltone Catalyst - the experience on EITHER amp is a religious experience…........I will take CLEAN wattage over three digit wattage anytime…......unclean wattage just means poor tone and louder hum….......

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 5:20 am
  17. Sim says:

    No mention of the Solid State watts vs Tube/Valve watts ‘loudness’ debate yet then ;)

    Joking aside, I love the sound of a good low, low wattage tube amp on the verge of explosion, Ideally run into an external 2x10 or 2x12 cab if it is a small combo.
    The VHT Special 6 into a bigger cab takes some lickin’ . 5 tube Watts can be unfathomably loud!

    I ended up selling mine. Way too loud for my (small gig) usage by the time it hit the sweet spot with the power tube glowing.
    Yes .. I got a modeller instead. Damn ..

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 5:22 am
  18. Wild William says:

    I played at The House Of Blues 3 nights in Myrtle Beach S.C. using a EVH 3 as my main amp and a Soldano 50 and a Jcm 800 50 as backups .The second night the EVH blew up and I switched to the Soldano, at loud volume it sounded bad , so on to the Marshall 800, it sounded great (not EVH3 great) but real nice . Neither had anywhere near enough volume, and the Soldano actually at volume sounded bad or not the sound I was looking for . I was using 2 of 4 Marshall 4-12 cabs with !977 celestion black cap 25 watt speakers . The gentleman who said about a 1 watt amp miked,that might be good for you but at a bigger venue you will need a real amp at least for rock. There are many different roads that take you to the same place , just look at a map ,try them and see what you like .

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 5:25 am
  19. Wayne says:

    A good compromise is an amp that has switchable wattage.  The Egnater head I use has the ability to go from 16w to 65w, and the tone is really quite good, although even at 16 watts, it’s still pretty loud for a bedroom amp!  In fact it’s loud enough for most gigs.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 5:29 am
  20. andrewt248 says:

    Very nice write up here. Another thing to consider with speakers is the number of speakers you use. An amp running a stack of 2 4x12 cabs is going to be perceived as WAY louder than the same amp running a 1x12 or 2x12 cab. Also, open and closed back cabs make a big difference as well. I’m always amazed how much the speaker(s) and cab make/model/configuration make in the tone of an amp.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 5:35 am
  21. Keefer says:

    I know that amps are important and all that but, Rush play directly through their sound boards and have an awesome sound. Now granted, they have incredible setups that send that sound to the board but they don’t use ANY on stage amplification. So how does that jive with needing a particular type or power of amp?

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 5:38 am
  22. ray says:

    I also gave up on hi-wattage amps… but when I started playing.back in the 70s there was only one way to go to get good sound 100(plus)  watts of solid state… or over 50 watts of valves.. (usually 100 watts or better too cuz they were easier to find) I’ve also gotten older and smarter.. I can get some very good and loud volume out of a 5-15 watt head pushing a 2or4x12.. I currently have a 40 and a 55 watt head that definitely rocks the house… I see the only problem with the low watt amps is actually buying one… when you buy a 100 watt amp you know its going to be loud. But go into ANY music store.. including GC and you will not be allowed to crank it up to see whats under the hood.. You basically have to find someone in real life that has one and will demonstrate it for you if not letting you demo it yourself.. also there aren’t any current loudspeakers that I know of that are low efficiency.. eveything I’ve come across has a high or very high sensitivity rating..

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 5:41 am
  23. Me says:

    @Wild William - There’s not way your rig was not loud enough if you were micing it up. That was Lauran’s point, it makes absolutely no difference what kind of power your amp puts out if you mic it up and level the monitor correctly so you can hear it.

    Joe Morgan started building 20 watt amps that are now world renowned because an AC30 was too loud for his band. Peter Stroud’s company 65 Amps starting putting a master voltage control on their amps because his 18 Watt London (65 Amps model) was too loud for gigging with Cheryl Crow. Last time I checked, she played rock. Elvis Costello used to use two 12 watt 65 Lil’ Elvis amps on stage.

    40 watts might be a decent quick and dirty rule, but it in no way applies to everyone. A LOT of people have way more power than they actually need in their rig.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 5:45 am
  24. Travis says:

    A good follow up article would be about the difference and perceived difference in sound using different speaker configurations.  The sound difference of a 1x12, 2x12, and a 4x12 cab through the same amp.  More speakers moving more air sounds different.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 5:46 am
  25. Big Lou says:

    I’ve got several amps from 15 watt to my 100 watt.  I usually have to run the High wattage ones through my attenuator to get the amp to hit that sweet spot w/o breaking the window glass. LOL I love when an amp Like Blackstar & my Splawn come with built in power regulators. Maybe somebody can answer this for me. I have noticed that many of the “Handwired” Boutique amps out there like Two Rock, DR-Z and others can produce a room full of LOUD sound at 5-20 watts. Is the money for the Boutique handwired stuff really worth the extra cash?  Will you hear a slight or BIG difference in the tone of let’s say a Marshall 100Watt vs a 18 watt DR-Z MAZ 18?
    Question #2. If your amp Head has 4,8,& 16 ohm outputs and your cab has 8 & 16ohm, is there a difference in plugging the 8ohm into the 8ohm vs plugging the 16ohm into the 16ohm in the speaker Cab?  Somebody please enlighten me on either question.  Thank’s in advance.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 5:49 am
  26. Lance Fowler says:

    Great article & discussion.

    On the whole ‘loudness’ thing - comparing overall speaker efficiency is technically correct, in terms of which speaker is better at converting electrical energy into sound - but I think a really important point is the human ear’s sensitivity to midrange. 

    Small differences in db in the midrange have big impacts on how loud the speaker seems. Technically, you could have a speaker that’s less efficient overall, but sounds ‘louder’ because of it’s efficiency in the midrange.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 6:01 am
  27. Lance Fowler says:

    @ Big Lou - on the effect of impedance on tone - I think what you start to hear is the ‘damping factor’ of the speakers, which changes depending on whether they’re working in series (16 ohm) or parallel (8 ohm). The word on the street is that series sounds looser/more wide open, and parallel sounds tighter and more focussed - can’t say I’ve verified this myself yet though.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 6:05 am
  28. Tom Scooter says:

    I like the article, very informative, but a little surface-y (I’d like to get more sound specific). Care to do a follow up in regards to picking an amp based on sound preference (i.e. dark, bright, clean, dirty, rhythm, lead, metal, blues, pop-rock etc.)? That’s be a very interesting article.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 6:07 am
  29. Theron Kaye says:

    Get THE amp with the RIGHT power (an open back combo or a Head/Cab so wiring an attenuator is not a problem) and then get an attenuator to play in your bedroom, record, & control volumes in different venues… Of course if your amp has a master volume, (basically a built in attenuator) what more control do you need? Just buy the right power and configuration for what you need at MAX and then make it work everywhere. Better to have power to spare than not enough to make it anywhere.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 6:09 am
  30. Donny Danger says:

    Good to finally see an article fessing up the true fact that you need at least 40 watts to play any decent size gig, but we still get the chorus of pansies in the comments section pontificating about their Fender Champs, 1 watt amps, 18Watt heads that all are “more than enough”... I guess they likely are “more than enough” for your bedroom wanking, coffee house folk gigs and church gigs, but if you ever decide to take off your sweater vests and play some real rock and roll you’ll find that 2 x 6L6 or EL34 are what it takes to deliver the goods over a drummer.  And PS:  I DID see you playing your 2 x EL84 amp down at the local bar, and sure it was “miked up”... but guess what… the sound man doesn’t give a shit and was outside smoking a joint and talking to a chick… so I couldn’t hear your guitar all night, (which could’ve been avoided if you would’ve manned up and brought a Fender Super Reverb at least).

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 6:13 am
  31. wild william says:

    me says there is no way the 50 watt amps weren’t loud enough , They weren’t and they were miked .A good moniter doesn’t sound like a great amp .I’m not saying it’s not good for you ,I’m saying different strokes for different folks. Small amps ( I practice through a 5 watt BlackStar) sound liked small amps . Like I said any town has many roads leading in to it and no one road is the only one ,try them all and pick the one you like best.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 6:15 am
  32. AD3 says:

    Can somebody please tell me why I play clubs that hold maybe 100 people and I can’t turn my Fender Blues Jr 15 watt amp up more than a third of the master volume settings???  Seriously if I play at half volume I’m asked to turn down.  We do mic but every video I’ve ever seen people are turning their Blues Jr amps practically wide open!

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 6:32 am
  33. Bob Noxious says:

    I enjoyed this article quite a bit. This is a topic that has a pretty significant mythology surrounding it, and it was nice seeing some of those myths addressed. However, there is one other significant roll wattage plays in amp design. Wattage isn’t strictly about volume.It is also about headroom. For those not familiar with what headroom is, headroom is the amount of available power before input signal is clipped. Clipping is the phenomena that is otherwise known as overdrive or distortion. If you’re looking for a clean sound at volume, you need to have enough power for the headroom required. Headroom is also frequency specific, as it requires more power to create low frequency signals than higher frequency signals,  Once again, speakers play a role in this equation as well. It’s a balancing act between speaker efficiency and power handling capacity. Speakers will add distortion to your signal the closer that they get to their maximum power handling capacity.  Many amps today provide multiple wattage capacity, sometimes even between channels (as is the case with the Mesa Mark V, for instance). Another aspect that affects the perception of volume is coverage, i.e., the area over which the sound field disperses. In that regard, a closed back 4x12 will have a greater area of coverage than an open back 1x12, especially considering that very little of the volume is dispersing to the rear of the room with a closed back cabinet.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 6:43 am
  34. Jake Strickland says:

    IMO. Having played since 1967, here’s the bottom line as I see it, take it or leave it. We as guitarists are personally responsible for EVERY portion of our musical endeavor. The amps/amp that does everything you want it to do, for the kind of music you play, and does it at a level that YOU, your band, the audience AND the sound guy can live with IS the RIGHT amp for you. Period. More often than not, that amp has less wattage than the particular amp your “rock idol” stated he plays in the last Guitar Player Magazine interview. Common sense and a firm grasp on reality is more important than a set in stone wattage, be it 20w, 40w, 50w or 100w. That being said, tone is way more important than volume. Trust your sound guy. He is perceived as great when YOU sound great. Chances are you can trust him if he knows what he’s doing.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 6:44 am
  35. Me says:

    @ Wild William - Well then the sound guy was incompetent. Of course the monitor doesn’t sound as good as an amp, it’s just so you can hear yourself on stage. The audience is hearing you through the PA, which should be pretty good quality at a House of Blues.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 6:59 am
  36. Me says:

    ...and LOL at Donny Danger the internet tough guy. Plenty of real rock stars have played live through small amps. Get over yourself, jackweed.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 7:02 am
  37. laurens says:

    100 watts is in no way practical. (I own a 100 w dumble clone with 2 G12-65’s). I’m grateful the guy who built it thought of putting in a post phase-inverter volume so I can use it at practical volumes, without losing tone. 50 Watts should be sufficient for all bandpractices and small gigs. Tube-amps like to be cranked!

    Larger gigs require you to turn the amp down for the PA (most mic’s don’t like too many db’s). Only when you want to piss off all soundguys (and most of us do) you should buy an amp with tonnes of headroom.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 7:20 am
  38. Steven Dallman says:

    Our three piece gigs with an 18 watt, 1965 Ampeg Reverb Rocket (12” alnico speaker) and I use a 500 watt Ampeg PF500 into two pretty compact 12” (with 6” midrange) cabinets. We rarely have to mic the amps. PA is voice and kick only usually.

    If your ears ring after practice or playing, you are damaging your hearing. It is cumulative and it is permanent. Soon you’ll get constant ringing (tinnitus) and later you’ll start losing your high end hearing and eventually, you’ll have trouble understanding what people are saying. Please, protect your hearing.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 7:40 am
  39. Bob Wood says:

    Someone should mention the importance of how clean or dirty you like your tone.  If you like to play clean you need a lot more power than someone who always plays dirty.

    And then there’s how much low end you like to produce; if you like a bassy sound that rattles your chest you’ll need a lot more power than someone who uses just enough low end to keep from sounding thin in the mix. 

    I run a hand wired JTM45 (KT66’s) through an open back solid pine 1x12 with a 50 Watt Weber Silver Bell and at ~35 Watts I’ve always had plenty.  It keeps up with the drummer in small rooms and mics up nicely in large rooms.  Of course, my amp is always breaking up a little, I like a lot of mids and I never turn the bass above 2.  I have a friend who uses a Fender Dual Showman (85 Watts) and 2 x 15 cab… He likes a LOT of low end and keeps it fairly clean and scooped. My rig drowns his out.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 7:49 am
  40. Steven Dallman says:

    With tube amps you need to match the impedance of the cabinet to the head. The head will say on the back what impedance it wants. You’ll get the most efficient transfer of power if you match the cabinet to the head.

    With a Solid State amp, there will be a minimum impedance noted on the back of the head…usually 4 ohms. You will get the most power out of the amp if you use the minimum the amp states. If you go below the minimum impedance, the amp will try to develop more power than the components can put out and failure will result.

    With a SS amp, you can go higher than the minimum impedance without damage to the amp, but you will get less power.

    With a tube amp, if you go outside the stated impedance, you might damage the amp. Most old Fenders (and some reissues) can handle a 100% mismatch. An Fender that says 8 ohms, can handle a 4 or 16 ohm load, with a loss of a couple watts. Many amps are too sensitive to the load and should be run at the stated or set impedance. Marshall amps do not like a mismatch. Mesa, not so much. Unless you’re running a blackface or silverface Fender, stick to the stated ohms with a tube amp. Many amps have an impedance selector. Set that to the speaker load you are using.

    Back in the day, PA’s only carried the vocals (and not that well) so the room had to be filled with the amps on stage. This required big amps, especially outdoors or on large concert stages. These days we have great PA’s and instrument amps are usually mic’d and the bass player usually runs direct into the PA. This means you can use a small amp, and keep stage volume at a reasonable level, and let the PA do the work of getting your sound to the audience.

    The average large club bar band has a bigger, more efficient PA than was used at Woodstock. (Woodstock used a bunch of 100 watt amps…one per 15” speaker or horn.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 7:51 am
  41. Steven Dallman says:

    Tom S, Your Marshall can use a 16, 8 or 4 ohm cabinet. Just plug the cabinet into the correct jack. If the cabinet is 8 ohms, plug it into the 4 & 8 ohm jack (either one, they are in parallel) and set the switch to 8 ohms. If 16 ohms, plug into the 15ohm jack. If 4 ohms plug into the 4 & 8 ohm jack, and set the selector switch to 4 ohms.

    If you have two 8 ohm cabinets, plug each into the 4 & 8 ohm jacks and set the selector to 8 ohm. If you have two 16 ohm cabinets, plug them into the 4 & 8 ohm jacks and set the switch to 8 ohms. If you daisy chain the 16 ohm cabinets plug into the 4 & 8 ohm jacks and set the switch to 8 ohms.


    posted on May 31, 2013 at 8:01 am
  42. Ken says:

    Wow, this is the most feedback I’ve seen yet! Here’s my question. My friend plays keyboards and he got me back into music a few years back. He told me that guitar players turn their volume up to be able to hear themselves over the rest of the band, which makes sense. Since we can mike our cabs at most venues, wouldn’t it make sense to use a smaller amp, point the speaker at ourselves and use the amp-speaker combination to generate the tone we want while letting the house handle the mix so that the audience doesn’t get their heads blown off?

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 8:04 am
  43. says:

    OK ... Now, how about an article titled ... Do you really need a $4,000.00 Custom Shop Guitar, or Will a properly set-up $800.00 (or less) off the self guitar do the same?

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 8:09 am
  44. Jason says:

    The discussion/debate over wattage is much akin to the discussion of horsepower and engine size.  “More” doesn’t always mean louder or faster.  There is one underlying usual truth, both in horsepower and wattage and that is ‘there is no replacement for displacement”.  Not a hard and fast rule, but more speakers, more volume….more cubic inches, more ooomph.  You aren’t going to get a full stack sound regardless of wattage out of one powerful 10” cone.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 8:13 am
  45. Yarik says:

    Mine has NO numbers At all,  IT’s like always louder than enough, like infinite Loud, Space Loud man… like even if you’re deaf you can hear it,,, all the time,,, like so loud it breeds your chicks, and makes insane babies,  like louder than speed of light, i can control the universe with it, man.  but that’s a secret, .  oh well, i’d like to write about it on and on but,  i’d rather make a novel out of it!

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 8:50 am
  46. foetusboy says:

    Is anyone rehearsing without their amp mic’d up, but gigging with a full mic up?

    I honestly think this the root cause of the wattage debate.  Guitarists get used to the band sounding a certain way in the rehearsal room, with nothing mic’d up, and everything cranked up to compete with the drummer. Your 100 watt stack sounds like a 100 watt stack.

    Then you show up for a gig, where there’s a PA and monitors and a soundman to help you hear eachother, and you fail to adapt. He wants you to turn down because of all the bleed, mic phasing issues and feedback you’re creating, and you won’t turn down because you lose all your rehearsal room tone, or it just sounds too different when fed through the monitors.

    Smarten up, people. If you can, practise using a format that supports how you intend to play live - mic yourself up, become familiar with the ways this changes your tone, compensate using gain/eq/whatever, or even better turn weaknesses into strengths. Volume becomes a non-issue. Or continue being your soundman’s most difficult band . Your call.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 8:53 am
  47. SteveDallman says:

    Ken, That is a great idea. For an example, the Doobie Brothers used to use Ampeg 4X12 stacks. Unworkable. They ended up with smaller combos and placed them tilted in stands, in front of them, letting the FOH put the guitars into the PA.

    Most who use smaller amps, elevate them and often tilt them as well, so the sound is aimed more at their ears.

    Consider a concert band, with stacks of cabinets. Then you’ll see one 12” speaker from one 4X12 mic’d and that is what the audience hears.

    Many recordings with HUGE guitar sounds are done with small amps, cranked and mic’d and yes, it can sound bigger and better than a double 4X12 stack.

    Look at ZZ Top. For years they had stacks and stacks of cabinets…but the feed to the PA is always a pair of Marshall single space rack preamps, one for Billy and one for Dusty. That’s what you hear.

    Kiss…Stacks upon stacks. At one time, behind the stacks was Ace’s Princeton, mic’d and that’s what came out the PA. For the last many years the PA guitar comes from the same Marshall preamps ZZ Top uses.

    Loud is stupid, but playing loud does cover up much sloppy technique. When moving from LOUD to reasonable, it took a while for me to get used to it, as I could hear everything we were playing, clearly and not covered in a mush of volume. It forced me and our guitar player to play better…cleaner with more accuracy. Today, our band can crank, but we keep it reasonable to not only save our hearing, but to make it a more pleasant experience for the patrons at the place we play. There is nothing positive about loud, ear damaging volumes other than it seems fun for a while.

    I used to use a couple of 4X10’s, a couple 18’s, a bank of tweeter horns, biamped and stupid power…often with a sub octave box.

    Today, my pair of 12/6 cabinets sound far better. I can get loud enough for any application, but I don’t have to to make the rig sound good.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 9:05 am
  48. Keith Johns says:

    I’m using a Egnater Renegade head at the mo….best amp I have….amazing cheep 65watt amp. For gigs I run it with a 5751 valve in the phase inverter position that reduces the wattage a little, Then at home I run it with a ECC82 valve in the phase position that reduces the wattage through the floor to around 15watts “I think ?”. It’s still “shit the bed” loud but you get awesome power tube distortion from the 82 at near home volumes….lol….15watts will still get you beaten to death with your telecaster at home, but it’s how we’d all want to go….rofl….

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 10:00 am
  49. Zach says:

    One (minor) error in your article: watts are not a measure of enegy, they are solely a measure of power, or energy per unit time. Sorry, the physicist in me needs to clarify that :D

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 10:54 am
  50. dba says:

    What a great aritcle and great explanation.  Certainly a topic that every player finds close to home.  I see allot of mention of amps and wattage and mic vs non-mic’d.  I’ve played for along time - maybe too long as my ears have not stopped ringing for the last 20 years.  That’s the damage 100 watt double stacks did to me. You learn to live with it and sleep with the ringing - but there’s never silence. I have to say - there’s no reason to own a 100 watt head.  No matter what the gig - a 40-50 watt amp can do it all - even outside the sound guys will mic it up.  For me - I’ll take a deluxe (2)6V6 combo for sutdio and small clubs and a 50 watt head for larger venues with 2(6L6s) or better yet (2) EL34s - through 2-12’s or 4-12 cab.  Anything else is just unhealthy.  If only I knew back then what I know now the ringing would be gone.  Please don’t damage your hearing its the one thing that can’t be fixed.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 11:10 am
  51. Woodsie says:

    I love that he uses Rockerverbs in he article. I have a Rockerverb 50 MKII and PPC412 cab with Celestion Vintage 30s. Based what I had learned and this article. I’m going to go with lower efficiency speakers. I play small bars to medium clubs and my rig is too loud. I can barely get the MV past 2. The V30s are 100db, I was thinking about going with Greenbacks at 25w and 96db. That should allow me to open up the Rockerverb a litte more… No???

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 11:27 am
  52. BingeDrinker says:

    Maybe all amps and heads should have to include a visible db meter as mandatory equipment… I use a snare drum as an audio cue. If I can rattle that snare 20 feet across the basement with either Bass or Guitar then I know that I am rattling the hell out of my ear “drums”. Hearing is a precious gift that I appreciate.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 11:30 am
  53. Jake Strickland says:

    Keep mandates out of musical equipment please. Government intervention and artists don’t mix, thank you.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 11:35 am
  54. Ken says:

    I have a Genz Benz El Diablo 100 with a GFlex 2X12 cab. I have the amp switched to 50 watts and I’m using the 16 ohm input on the cab instead of the 4 ohm input. How much does speaker impedance effect the SPL of the rig?

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 11:39 am
  55. Miguel Espinosa says:

    I love headroom and currently play in theater settings with a variety of styles . But for me the sound distribution of my tone is the key. I always point the cab towards me and trust that the PA is carrying the mix. But, it depends what direction works bests. With an open, non shielded, acoustic drum kit I point the cab from the kit towards me if they are loud and just mix my volume to theirs.  Drums should always determine the stage volume, other band members mix me in their monitors. I love 4x12 cabs if they don’t have to be moved…lol. When I travel it’s smaller and lighter that is the goal. The pre-amp/effects unit carries the load for tone when traveling.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 11:52 am
  56. Grec says:

    You lunchbox amp kids -don’t rely on a soundman to do magic. Get an amp that will compete with your drummer. That’s coming from a former soundman. I’ve seen too many guitarists get buried in ‘fabulous’ drum mixes by soundmen who don’t have a clue what the band is about.
    Unless you got your own soundguy.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 12:19 pm
  57. david nouis says:

    actually prolonged exposure to 80 db or even 75b will damage your ability to hear pitch thats when i play real loud i use in ears and cover my ears with top of the line peltor hearing protection being prior military i dont fuck around with my hearing and not only does your ability to hear low volume go down your ability to hear extended ranges goes down with loud sound pressure beware! trust me anything over about 18 watts of all tube is plenty for any gig

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 12:36 pm
  58. david nouis says:

    class a amps will also achieve more db than other tube amps of the same wattage. i have a very good db meter (fluke) the best in test equipment my mesa maverick 2x12 35 watt blows away my h&k 91 just kidding switchblade i have a 91 too at 50 watts by 9 db class a amps are ridiculous for there wattage pull in volume

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 12:45 pm
  59. david nouis says:

    keefer says rush dgoes striaght into the board bullshit geddy does alex doesnt he uses a line out into a speaker simulator(palmer) totally different

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 12:52 pm
  60. dba says:

    Sorry to jump back in again, but I agree with many comments about headroom - and I find tone lacking if the amps can;t get cranked a bit.  That said - I’m not much for 5 watt amps as they lack tone clarity.  So, I push the volume and just keep the combo’s at waiste height and always mic’d.  If its a bigger venue - I’ll use a 50 watt head and point the 4x12 cab back or side - be kind to the audience. I fight with sound shields - they just dampen too much. 
    Seriously keep the dbs away from the ear’s - recording becomes more of a task once you have ear damage - headphones are difficult and a bit painful - sorry to be a broken record - but its important.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 12:59 pm
  61. Keefer says:

    David, I said they use no onstage amplification. It’s NOT bullshit. They have no speakers onstage to make a difference in their “tone”. If you doubt me, you can find out for yourself on their web site. They are very open about it. There is even a You Tube video showing Alex’s setup from front to back and there is no speaker or even a fake cabinet onstage. I also said they have top of the line equipment SENDING that signal to the board, if that’s what you are talking about. Personally, I don’t think I could deal with not hearing my amp and my sound even though it is coming at me through the monitors but apparently, they have gotten past that.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 1:17 pm
  62. Jimbob says:

    I usually play through a Mesa MK I Hundred watt at church but I can dial in the sweet spot using various techniques like using the effects loop as an attenuator. I also have an eight watt combo that is far too loud for the stage because the sweet spot is half way up and is just too loud even for me. The funny part is that the small amp was built as a bedroom/house amp and I seldom get the chance to use it because of the inability to turn it down, and that’s with a single 6v6 too. I have worked stage and been on the receiving end of a friend’s 100 watt JCM 800 at about 4 on the master for an entire show and felt like I had been run over by a truck after that show. There are so many variables involved but most can be worked through except not enough power. Most mixing boards can only make up for a certain amount of volume loss. If your bass player and drummer are both over gunned and you show with that 1 watt amp the sound engineer may not be able to make up for that. I had a friend that played for a band back in the 80’s where that was a real problem. He had a stereo rig that used two 75 watt combos and a third 75 for his dry signal and even with the volume and masters dimed the sound engineer could not make up for his “under gunned” rig. Awesome tone, perfect chops, and very difficult to hear in the final recording. The real bottom line is do you sound good with the band? Some guys sound great alone but sound like junk with the band because they are not dialed in to play with the band.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 2:03 pm
  63. Ken says:

    How do you use the effects loop as an attenuater? Do you put an L- pad in the loop? Can you put an L- pad at the end of a pedal chain? Sounds like its time to play…

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 3:05 pm
  64. Timmy Spillane says:

    Ya know, I’ve done everything from a 15 watt Ampeg Jet-12T in the 90s, before playing small amps was cool, to an early 70s Sunn Concert Lead half stack putting out an honest gut wrenching 150 watts through 4 Sunn 12 inch Transducers…my main rig for most of the 80s after my 220 watt Peavey Austin 400 2x12 combo, the Peavey was a total killer but that Sunn was the loudest half stack in NJ at the time!  I still have the Sunn, but it’s been retired for many years…recently got another Austin 400 for nostalgia sake, it’s still waaaay too much amp for *any* situation lol!  I sold te Ampeg Jet about five years ago, dumbest move ever…it was a great amp, wish I had it back!  Closest thing I have to it is a 1967ish Guild Thunder Star 1x12 40 watt all tube combo, nice all original non master volume amp with tremolo and reverb, but it doesn’t beat my main rig (thinking about sell/trading it for anything interesting and of equal value, contact me at if you’d lke to discuss it!).  My current #1 is my 1998 Fender Hot Rod Deville 4x10, slightly modded to keep the “out of control volume surges” that thes amps are notorious for under control with an audio taper master volume pot…works wonders for an amp that was otherwise unusable for venues smaller than the Tower Theater in Philly!  To offset my new found “small room” usefullness, I’m considering running a 2x12 semi-closed back cabinet under it just to add that additional bottom end, low-mid range grunt that the 10s are lacking to my ears and in in my chest…so, what’s my point?  Dunno, maybe it’s just to use whatever rig truly moves you, makes you feel that rock and roll mojo coursing through your veins, and whatever amp you decide is “enough”, be sure to crank it to the point of hotter than hell, full tilt boogie 12AX7/6L6GT self destruction (in my glorious Fender powered case, that is), then ride that insanely overdriven, reverb drenched wave of feedback and badass grindage to rock and roll nirvana and full on musical glory!

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 3:18 pm
  65. telebert says:

    the 300 watts are for the drummer, not for the parents, my dear michael

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 5:25 pm
  66. laurens says:

    @ Ken: Anything that controls volume in the loop will work as an attenuator. I’ve seen people with OD pedals who have the gain set very low, and the volume knob down low. A volume pedal can be used, you can build something very cheap yourself. But since I use a dumble clone, I use a Klein-u-lator (SS dumbleator) which is a parallel effects looop, for an effectsloop. Very effective!

    (Yo dawg, I heard you like fx loops! So I put an fx-loop in your fx-loop so you can loop fx, while you’re looping fx! )

    @ guys using their phase-inverters as a way to control volume: watch out! Phase-inverters take the biggest beating, make sure you use a very stable tube, before your amp starts sizzling and the audience will start to hear your tone-deaf bass player. Been there, done that… I ONLY use 12AT7’s for my phase inverters nowadays

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 5:58 pm
  67. pat aumiller says:

    can anybody recommend a good lightweight tube combo amp with ample power for outdoor gigs.i play lead in a country band and currently have a peavey special 130.great amp but its too heavy..anybody?

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 8:34 pm
  68. Sericson says:

    Get a carvin v3 combo and nobody will ever say that they can’t hear you again. Switchable between 50 and 100W, and enough EQ to cut through pretty much any situation. It has wide sweet spots that you don’t need to crank to get to sound good too. I use pedals to get the distortion sounds that I want and clean sounds, and there’s still plenty of headroom. I don’t know, I love my amp.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 9:36 pm
  69. Jimbob says:

    @ Ken. I just put a patch cable in my effects loop and used the level control to dial it back. As Laurens stated you can use anything with a level control to do the same thing. Some of my rack gear has level controls built in that can do the same thing within reason on the amps without level controls in the loop. There are also some people on ebay that sell a device for just that purpose for around $15.00.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 9:40 pm
  70. jimbob says:

    @ pat aumiller. I use a Carvin V3M short stack but for country you could try the vintage series or the X series too.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 9:45 pm
  71. Sericson says:

    @Donny Danger, so true. It’s like the whole world suddenly agreed that nobody should really hear the guitar and the bass should be booming in your face all the time. Elvis Costello? Hello? I’m going to base my ideas about what a guitar should sound like at a gig on him? No thanks!

    J MASCIS, now there’s a guitar player who’s tone keeps the kids comming back for more. It’s not just the tone, when he strums his guitar, you can FEEL it, and that’s not a bad thing kids. Why is that ok for bass but the guitar is supposed to sound like bumble bee, gentle somewhere off in the background? I like the sound of the guitar so turn in up when you need it. 50W works for a ‘club gig’.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 9:51 pm
  72. Jack says:

    Fender Frontman 25r with Eminence Red Coat Ramrod 10” speaker will rattle the walls.  A very good rattle too.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 10:05 pm
  73. Big Lou says:

    Pat,  It’s not light weight but you can look at a Vox AC-30 or an AC-15.  The AC-30 is a pretty heavy amp. I think some of the DR-Z amps are not too heavy :-)

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 11:00 pm
  74. says:

    Wow! This topic sure is HOT BISCUIT!!!!

    It’s like anything else baby, whatever works. Whatever gets you through the night (or gig!). 

    I have both ends of the spectrum to the extreme! My practice at home amp is a lil’ Vox Mini 3 modeling amp.  This thing weighs maybe 5lbs., has an 5 in. speaker and sounds awesome at whisper low volume and cranked up a bit too.  It’s a great amp to write and practice on. Best $90 I’ve spent in a while, I’d get another if it tanked out.

    For gigs, I have a 100W Fryette 100CL head with matching 4X12 cab loaded with 50 Fryette/Eminence designed speakers.  The only impractical thing about this is the obvious: size and weight.  Other than that, I can pretty much get any tone at any volume with this.  I

    Here’s the point: if you’re going 30W and up, get a product that is designed well!  My Fryette has a Master Volume that actually works like one!  It also can notch down to 50W with a flick of the switch. That’s a more of a tone option than a volume killer.  I like 100W tone, the headroom and clarity are glorious!  I can play any size room with this head, it’s that flexible.  Sorry, you can’t do all that with a 5 watt amp.  Who wants to just come through the PA anyway? LAME! You wanna feel that vibe through your feet on the stage!  It’s not all about convenience sometimes!


    posted on May 31, 2013 at 11:30 pm
  75. Big Al says:

    I used to own a Fender Hot Rod 410 combo.  It was very loud and I could gig anywhere with it.  The downside was weight, playinig at low volume, and of course the onboard overdrive is terrible.  I could play it at low volume but I could barely tap the volume knob and it was either a whisper or way too loud to play in my house.  With that I decided to try to find an amp with comparable clean tone, half the weight, and a perfect low volume amp that could also keep up with a band.  Sticking with Fender I bought a NOS tweed Blues Jr and LOVE it.  I sacrificed nothing except a full bottom end but still, that little amp packs a mean punch when turned up and is a tone machine.

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 11:40 pm
  76. Jordan Grunow says:

    For Big stages, I use a Sovtek Midget through either a Marshall 4x10 or a ( GREAT) Avatar 2x12.
    I adore my Dr. Z Carman Ghia w/ Celestion Blue, but at 18 W, volume at noon, it eats drummers…The real point I want to make is that lower efficiency speakers are a real option. I have some friends that gig in impossibly small rooms with a Bassman and a Marshall MK II…! They purposefully use very inefficient speakers to get volume down and the tones are good….so there….

    posted on May 31, 2013 at 11:41 pm
  77. James Cashin says:

    The best part of this article is the photo of the cut-out Marshall Stacks.  All smoke & mirrors, that’s for sure.  Very funny photo!

    posted on June 1, 2013 at 1:02 am
  78. brad says:

    I use a 30 watt v 32 with just 2 of the 4 el84s it takes. I use a 16 ohm 1x12 1x10 cabnet…I have really hit on something the tone I get at any volume is just awesome o and my tele sound makes it that much better,i think people are different and what ever watts you like and think sounds good is what should work all firm pushy advice (not everybody) when u cant even hear a sample is just noise.

    posted on June 1, 2013 at 1:19 am
  79. Joe Foster says:

    With regards to comments by BT I also have a Peavey classic 30 but its the 30 watt head.I run it through a 2x12 open back carvin cab with 100 watt 8ohm british blues speakers and it sings.The head is only about 22 lbs and the cab is probably about the same. When I got the cab it was wired in paralell which made it a 4 ohm.The classic 30 head is 16ohms so I rewired it in series which brought the cab to 16 ohms.This is very important for a tube amp.You could damage the power supply if it doesn’t match up. Portable and plenty of power.

    posted on June 1, 2013 at 8:41 am
  80. Lixamps says:

    What I would suggest is whether you have a combo or head if it sounds good to you is simply have a change of speaker cabinets based on sensitivity like the article points out. One reason why the old Plexi stacks of the late 60’s distorted as well as they did was because the 25 watt speakers were low sensitivity. Fanes for HiWatt were higher sensitivity-thus cleaner with more headroom. In other words, if you have a say, a 30 watt amp, use a single low sensitivity 12” (96-97db) for lower volume small clubs and if you are playing larger gigs go with a larger cab with multiples of higher sensitivity speakers. I’ve noticed this phenomenon when building my amps and kudos to the article for putting this information out because the guitarist out there might not need a new amp just a selection of speakers to accomplish his/her goals.

    posted on June 1, 2013 at 9:25 am

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