When it comes to electric guitar amps, one of the most common questions any new guitarist will ask is: how many watts do I need for my amp? How many watts does a guitar amp need to gig, is my 20-watt guitar amp loud enough for live shows, and what’s the best wattage amp for home use?
Here’s the quick answer – read on if you want the details.
Disclaimer: I’m a guitarist that uses amps at home, in the studio and at live shows, so this is one guitarist’s opinion, with the addition of input from resident “Tone Wizard”, amp designer and Laney Brand Manager, Simon Fraser-Clark. So use this as a general guide. But of course, if you want to play a 100-watt amp fully cranked at home – that’s on you!
Amplifier watts refer to the amount of power that an amplifier can generate. The higher the wattage, the louder the sound. However, it’s important to note that amplifier watts don’t necessarily correlate to sound quality. A 100-watt amplifier isn’t necessarily going to sound better than a 50-watt amplifier. Besides, “better” is subjective… You might prefer the sound of your 1-watt distortion over a cranked 120-watt amplifier!
In addition, it’s important to note that wattage is not the only factor that determines the volume. The design of the amp also plays a role. For example, a 100-watt amp will be louder than a 50-watt amp, but a 100-watt tube amp will appear to be louder than a 100-watt solid-state amp – this is something we’ve covered in our tube vs solid-state amp article. So, if you’re looking for a loud amp, you’ll want to pay attention to both the wattage and the type of amplifier you’re using.
We’ve covered whether or not tube amps are louder than solid-state amps in our solid-state vs tube amps blog, and the answer is: no, they’re not. They just seem louder.
However, when it comes to a tube amp with 20 watts and a solid-state amp with 20 watts, the tube amp will feel louder thanks to the compression and natural harmonic distortion which tricks the brain into thinking it’s louder.
A tube amp will give the impression that it’s twice as loud as a solid-state amp, even if they have the same wattage and speaker size.
So if you’re aiming for live gigs and you want a solid-state amp – try and get a higher wattage if possible.
Tube amps around the 20-watt mark are ideal for gigging.
The general rule when it comes to amps is: you need to be able to hear them.
When playing live you’ll almost always have a microphone in front of the amp. If you just want to hear the amp through the fold-back speakers/monitors, then you can gig with anything from 3 watts to 100 watts as the sound engineer will mic up the amplifier and control the sound out front and feed it to your in-ears or monitor speakers.
If you want to hear it onstage against a drummer – go louder. If you want to hear your amp through monitor speakers, you don’t need a lot of power. If you’re practising at home or recording at home, you’re fine with a lower-wattage amp.
Another consideration when it comes to how many watts you need is the type or genre of music you’re playing.
If you’re playing very clean, non-distorted tones, like jazz, fusion or country, then you don’t need a particularly loud amp. Anywhere from 1W to 20W through a tube amp should suffice and 20W to 60W in a solid state will be fine for live shows.
However, when you’re starting to use distortion, you need volume to bring out the detail and keep up with the drummer’s crash cymbals. For metal and rock, you should aim for 20W+ in a tube amp and 60W+ with a solid-state amplifier.
An amp for around the home should be anywhere from 1W to 20W. If you’re using a solid-state amp, you can go louder as you can drive the gain yet turn the master volume down.
If you do want a tube amp for home use, try and get one with a master volume or power brake to reduce the output but retain the natural harmonic distortion that tube amps are known for. The reason for this is that tube amps break up and boost their natural harmonic distortion and sonic qualities when you turn the volume up – this is one of the main reasons people buy tube amps. This is not always possible at home, so a power brake or attenuator is needed as you can crank the gain at lower volumes.
Solid-state amps have a different kind of distortion built in, which means you can play the amp as low as you want, but the quality of distortion stays the same at all levels.
The Laney CUB-Super 12 is a great tube amp for home use
The Laney CUB-SUPER12 (pictured)is an all-tube combo and one of the best tube amps for home use complete with added w Boost and Reverb FX. With a wattage of 1W & 15W and 12 inch HH speaker, this is loud enough for practising at home and you can use the attenuator to drop the wattage to 1W so you can get the tube amp sound at lower volumes. It’s also a great gift for guitarists too!
This is a two-pronged answer. If you’re recording at home, you only need low wattage at around 1W to 20W watts tube amp and 1W to 60W solid-state. This depends on whether or not your neighbours can hear you and if you want to crank your amplifier to get the natural distortion!
If you’re recording in a studio, you can go as loud as you want but we recommend a 20W to 100W tube, and anything from 60-120+ solid-state. In a studio, you’re not worried about disturbing the neighbours as you can enjoy the benefit of studio isolation and the sonic quality of the sound of your amp in a recording environment specifically designed to record guitars at any volume. However, the reason why smaller amps and low-wattage amps are so popular is due to the fact they can get that cranked distortion and tube saturation at lower volumes.
The Laney LA-Studio is perfect for home recording as you have 3 watts of tube power that can be reduced to 0.1 watts and directly connected to your DAW for compromise-free recording. You also have access to the Two Notes Torpedo module and 6 different Laney Cab Sims! It’s like having a whole studio’s worth of cabinets with complete access to world-class recording studio environments in one portable amplifier head! We recommend checking out the amp’s benefits and which types of guitarists will love the LA-Studio!
The Laney LA-Studio fuses tube amp construction with the Two Notes Torpedo technology.
You could also choose to go ampless on guitar and use the Laney loudpedal pedalboard amp, if you have limited room but still need 60-watts of pure amplifier power! In addition, the Laney IRONHEART IRF-LEADTOP amp is a small, desktop amp with 60 watts of solid state power that can be reduced to <1 watt, so you can drive the amp hard, at lower volumes. Best of all, the LINE-OUT can connect to your DAW for recording.
For live shows, you’ll want an amplifier that is powerful enough to be heard over the drums and other instruments. A 20W to 100W tube amplifier or 60W to 120W+ solid-state amp should do the trick. If you’re playing larger venues and festivals, you can go as loud as you want, but a 20W to 100W tube amp or 120W solid-state will be fine. Again, it depends on whether you want to hear the amp behind you, or just listen through the monitor speakers.
The Laney LIONHEART L20T-212 Is a perfect amp for live gigs.
The Laney LIONHEART L20T-212 is a perfect tube amp for live gigs as it has 20 watts of pure power ready to be unleashed. More than enough for small to mid-size venues and large stages when mic’d up.
If you want a solid-state amp that will be able to withstand the loudest drummer and a versatile option for all environments, the Laney LX120RT (below) is a great amp with 120 watts of power – more than enough for any venue. The benefit of this solid-state amp is that you get a consistent sound at all volumes and you don’t have to crank it to get distortion as the “Crunch” effect can be dialled in at any volume making it perfect for playing the guitar at home, too!
The Laney IRONHEART Foundry IRF-DUALTOP and LEADTOP amps are also exceptional amps for live use, especially when you want to reduce the weight you’re carrying to gigs.
The Laney-LX120Rt is a perfect solid state amp for live gigs.
For practice, you’ll want an amplifier that is loud enough to be heard over the drums but not so loud that it will become muddy and drown out the vocals from the PA system. We recommend a 20-50 watt tube amp or a solid-state amp that is anything above 60 watts for rehearsal rooms.
The Laney LX65R is an ideal amp for rehearsal rooms and practising guitar at home
The Laney LX65R solid-state amplifier (above) is an ideal amp for rehearsal rooms and practising guitar at home with 65 watts of power which is loud enough to keep up with a drum kit and a headphone socket and MP3/Aux in for jamming at home.
In conclusion, there is no absolute answer to the question of how many watts you need in a guitar amp, but there is a general guide. It depends on factors like the size of the venue and the type of music you’re playing. That being said, most small venues will require an amplifier with at least 20 watts of power, while larger venues will need an amplifier with more power to be heard – anything above 20 watts. So if you plan on gigging, aim to get an amp with a higher wattage. If you’re just recording at home, then lower watts are fine.
Again, these are just general guidelines on how many watts you need. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide how much power you need based on your own personal preferences and where you’re going to be using the amp. So experiment with different amps until you find one that sounds good to you and meets your needs.
If you want professional quality sound at all volumes and want to hit the stage, studio or rehearsal room with a respected brand of a guitar amplifier backed by over 50 years of experience, check out the selection of Laney Amplifiers and find a dealer close to you in the UK/USA here.