Last Updated on January 5, 2024 by Justin Thomas
Author: David Slavkovic
David has been playing guitar since 1998, his main focus back then was hard rock and metal. With years, his music tastes evolved and he eventually started appreciating all musical styles. Although officially an agricultural engineer, David began writing for Ultimate Guitar in 2017 where he’s currently working as a senior editor.Hide The Rambling▲
Editing & Research: Teemu Suomala
I first grabbed the guitar in 2009. I started this website in January 2020 because I couldn’t do window installation anymore due to my health problems. I love guitars and have played dozens and dozens of different guitars through different amps and pedals over the years, and also, building a website interested me, so I decided to just go for it! I got lucky and managed to get awesome people to help me with my website.
I also got lucky because I have you visiting my website right now. Thank you. I do all this for you guys. If you have any recommendations, tips, or feedback, just leave a comment, I would love to chat with you. I have also been fortunate to produce content for several large guitar websites, such as Songsterr, Musicnotes, GuitarGuitar, and Ultimate Guitar.
I spend my spare time exercising and hanging out with my wife and crazy dog (I guess that went the right way…).Hide The Rambling▲
Do you want to make sure that you or people around don’t need a hearing device to hear your playing? That’s a wise thing to do for sure, but you might still wonder how many watts do you really need? And how does wattage affects your amps sound and volume?
‘’What wattage guitar amp do I need’’, of course, depends on what, how, and where you are going to play, but don’t worry, I cover a lot of different needs and situations in this guide. I’ll also give some specific amp recommendations for you!
Let’s get started!
How Wattage Affects The Guitar Amp?
It’s Not All About The Watts
Watt’s is used to measure power. And when we are talking about watts related to the guitar amps, the watt amount tells the output power of the amplifier, aka. how powerful the amplifier is. It’s counted by multiplying Volts(Pressure of Electricity) by Amps(Amount of electricity).
So, watts don’t measure the loudness of the sound. Decibel’s do that. But watt is used by amp manufacturers to give us some indication of the loudness because it’s the simplest way to do that, although it’s not the perfect way. The watt amount tells you what the specific amp is capable of doing power-wise. And that affects the loudness too.
But watts are not an accurate method to compare how loud different amps are. Why?
If you compare different amps with different speakers and power(watts), an accurate comparison could be hard. The reason for that is the impedance(how much objects (speakers) resistance the electricity) that varies between different speakers. And there are plenty of different speakers available, that’s why the comparison is hard and more watts doesn’t necessarily mean more loudness.
Also, speakers have differences in how they behave with certain frequencies and some are just more efficient with using power to provide a loud voice.
One way of checking how loud speakers can go is by checking the dB(decibel) rate. For example, 12 inch speaker can be rated as 94 dB to up to 100 dB. The decibel system uses units of ten, so for example, 110dB is twice as loud as 100 dB.
So how loud sound speakers can provide, can vary across different speakers. And the speaker has a big effect on how loud your amp can be. For example, 10W amp’s with different speakers can have a big difference in loudness.
How Watts Increase Loudness
Do more watts automatically give more loudness?
No. I used to think that if you double the watts, you double the loudness…but it’s not like that. If you add more power, it doesn’t go linearly with the loudness.
If you want to double the loudness of your amp, you need to make your amp around 10x more powerful to do that.
So, when you compare similar 50W and 100W amps together, there is actually not that much difference in loudness(there could be some though). A 100W amp is not twice as loud as a 50W amp. But a 100W amp is exactly twice as loud as a 10W amp if similar speakers are used.
And in a matter of fact, the tonal differences are bigger than the difference in loudness between differnet amps.
How Watts Affect The Tone
The biggest tonal difference between different wattage amps is the headroom. If the amp has more headroom it can handle sudden increases in loudness easier and cleaner.
Amp with a larger headroom won’t clip so easily. Amp is clipping when it’s trying to amplify a signal out of its capacity. If you want more info about amp clipping, this video tells you more(the guy is talking about car subwoofers amplifier but the same applies to guitar amplifiers too):
So when your amp has more output power, you can trust that your amp handles different situations well and you don’t have to worry about amp clipping so easily.
Also, if you compare under 10W amp to 40W amp, you can notice that you have fewer tonal options available. Dialing in those specific points when your amp starts to distort is harder.
Here is a great video that highlights how the wattage affects the tone:
Solid-State vs Tube Amp Wattages and Loudness
Blackstar Amplification has done research and their expert states on the Andertons Music Co’s Youtube-video: ‘’it is (you need) about the 2 and a half times the power of the solid-state amp to get a valve amp’’. So according to them, you need 2 and half times more power from your solid-state amp to reach the same loudness as with the tube amp. That surely gives you some idea about the difference in loudness between the two.
But to be honest, I’m not sure if this is correct because tube amps can sound louder when they actually are not. How is that?
Different sounds can sometimes trick the human ear. Tube amps, when pushed closer to the maximum limit, produce a distorted sound that produces harmonics. These harmonics trick our ears to think that the amp is getting louder, but actually, it’s just distorting more.
Also, tube amps have more compression. That makes the speaker work harder, and more air is moving because of that. This can make the tube amp sound louder, when actually the signal and sound only have more content in it because of compression.
But it’s true that tube amps perform better than solid states when they are driven to their limit.
Tube amp maintains great sound while the solid-state sound can turn into unusable when it’s at its maximum capacity.
This relates to the headroom.
- When the amp is turned really loud, solid-state can produce usable sound only for short bursts and sometimes they start to clip and sound bad pretty easily.
- But tube amps can maintain usable sound for a longer time when they are forced to the loudest.
To sum it up, a 50W tube amp can sound louder than a 50W solid-state amp. And if you want to reach the same loudness as a 50W tube amp, you probably need to get a solid-state amp with more output power. But I can’t give you the exact correct answer on how much more powerful a solid-state amp you need in order to reach the same loudness as a tube amp.
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RMS vs. Max vs. Peak Power on Amps
- RMS states for ‘’root mean square’’. This tells you how much consistent steady power the amp can handle.
- Max Power reveals what is the maximum amount of power that can be safely sustained by the amp. Max power amount can be produced for a short time.
- Peak Power tells you how much absolute maximum power the amplifier can handle in short bursts without blowing. This time is usually only a split second.
You always need to make sure that you are making decisions based on RMS. On how much consistent power the amp can handle. That gives you a real idea of what it’s capable of consistently.
Some amp manufacturers list the power based on peak power, and that doesn’t give the consumer the right idea about how powerful the amp will be.
But in most cases, amp wattages are based on the max power. This gives us the right idea, especially if the consumer knows what that means. Max power doesn’t mean that the amp can handle that amount of power consistently. It can do it only for short periods of time, but it can still do that safely.
When you want a powerful amp, make sure that you know which wattage amount is listed, is it RMS, Max Power, or Peak Power?
What Wattage Guitar Amp is the right one for you?
I will give recommendations on wattages and amps that will be enough for certain situations. But you can always buy an overpowered amp if you want to make sure that there’s enough power in the future too.
But in general, guitarists usually need less watts than they think…
Where Are You Going to Play
This has a huge effect on how powerful amp you need.
If you are a bedroom guitarist, solid-state amps with only 10-15W of power can sound really loud, because sound waves are not traveling long distances in your bedroom. Waves just bounce back and forth from the walls and other obstacles.
To be honest, for a bedroom guitarist, I don’t see any reason to get a tube-amp, it’s just overkill loudness-wise. But if you just love how the tube amp sounds, it would be wise to buy an amp with 10W (or less) of power, otherwise, you are just paying for something that you don’t need.
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If you are planning to play in larger places venues than your bedroom, for example in the garage, a little bit more powerful amp might be needed. I would look at a solid-state amp that has more than 15W power. On the other hand, a 15W tube amp will definitely be enough for you.
When the place you are going to play grows larger and larger, you need a more powerful amp. But for most people, any tube amp with more than 40W of power will be overkill. And a solid-state amp with 50W will be enough for almost everyone.
How Many Guitar Amp Wattages for Beginners
When I started guitar playing in 2010, I got a Solid-State 15W Ibanez ToneBlaster for me, and it offered more than enough noise for me. It served me well for over 7 years.
Based on my experience, anything around 10-20 watts(solid-state) is good for beginners. Sometimes even less can be enough.
And usually, you can even perform in small places with a 15-20W amp, and it’s definitely enough for home jamming and practice.
If you think that you should buy an amp that fits all your possible needs(performing) in the future too, you could consider getting a 30-50W solid-state amp. But for home use, that’s more than enough for a beginner.
Unless you plan to perform in bigger places or outdoors soon, I would look for an amp with 15-20 watts, and there is not much difference between these two volume-wise. And remember, wattage is not the only thing affecting the loudness.
For beginners, I would not recommend a tube amp. These are more expensive, harder to maintain and give you more than enough loudness. But if you just love tube amps and really want to get one, 15W tube amp will probably serve you for the rest of your life. But you could get a 5W Bugera Infinium* too, it’s a great bedroom tube amp.
*Consider all links in this post to be affiliate links. If you purchase, at no additional cost to you, we may earn a small commission. It helps us to keep the lights on, thanks! 🙂
Here is my favorite solid-state for beginners: 25W Fender Mustang LT25, it provides nice clean, crunch and, distorted sounds and it’s definitely loud enough for beginners. Plus, it’s super versatile.
How Many Wattages for Home Use?
I’m a typical intermediate home guitarist. No need for real loudness at all. I have even played outdoors a couple of times just for fun and my first 15W amp was definitely loud enough for that.
Nowadays my workhorse is BOSS Katana 50 MKii and it definitely gives more than enough noise for me. I could definitely perform with it in small to medium-sized venues too.
If you mostly play alone at home, 20-30W solid-state is definitely enough. In this situation, again, amp like Fender Mustang LT25 or BOSS Katana 50 MKii is a great choice. Both are loud enough and really versatile.
A 10-20W tube amp will be definitely enough for almost any home player.
If you are into heavier stuff, Orange Micro Terror 20W amp head is a great choice for you. It’s a hybrid tube amp, so it uses transistor technology too, but it still gives your great heavy distortion tube sounds.
How Many Wattages for Playing With A Drummer?
If there is a chance that you would play with drums or perform in the future, I would look for a solid-state amp with more than 30W of power. Especially when playing with a loud drummer, 50W with decent speakers might be needed.
The wattage you should choose in a situation like this depends on how loud you wanna play with the drummer and where you are planning to perform. It’s usually wise to buy a little bit overpowered solid-state amp to just make sure that it’s enough to compete with the drummer’s volume.
If you are going to play with a drummer, in this video, different amps are compared with a drummer:
How Many Wattages for Performers?
This is the group that is hardest to give recommendations to because the situations and environments where guitarists perform can vary so much. On the other hand, guitarists who perform in large venues are probably not going to read this post anyway.
How Many Watts for Gigging?
If you are performing without regular drums in a quiet and small place indoors, for example in the cafeteria, a 15-20W solid-state amp will do the job. A 1-10W tube amp will handle that situation well too.
If you want to gig regularly in relatively small places with quiet drums, you might need at least a 30W solid-state amp. A 15-20W tube amp should do the trick for you.
If playing with a loud drummer, aim for at least 50W solid-state and over 30W tube amp.
How Many Watts Do You Need for A Live Show?
When the performing venue grows bigger and the audience and other band members start to make more noise, you will need more power. You will need some serious power.
Remember that usually, when you are performing in large places, amps are miced and then sound is played through large PA-systems.
If you are going to gig outdoors or in really noisy bars where everyone is screaming, go to the music store and test amps. It’s the only way. No one can give you accurate wattage suggestions. Also, buy an amp that definitely gives you enough loudness. But I can give you some recommendations…50W tube-, or 100-120W solid-state amp should do the job and serve you well in live shows with a larger and louder audience.
As always, you should listen to how different amps with different speakers and output power sound to you, and then make a decision based on that. But hopefully, you got a basic-info and directions to go from this post
Note: When you test amps, with some amps the loudness increases the most with the first quarter of the volume knob. Some manufacturers do this to make the amp seem louder when they are tested in a guitar store.
You can check out our in-depth amp reviews here.
Is A 20-Watt Amp Loud Enough?
It depends on the situation. But, unless you are seriously performing, then yes, a 20W tube amp is usually loud enough. No question about it.
If you want a 20W solid-state amp, it’s loud enough for home guitarists and you can even perform with it in small places. My first amp was 15W, and I never had to play it on full volume. But if you are planning on playing with a loud drummer, 20W solid-state might not be enough.
Now you should have a basic understanding of what wattage means, does, and doesn’t do. Also, you know that tube amps usually sound louder than solid-states.
And I hope that this post helped you to decide what wattage guitar amp you need. If you have any questions or thoughts, leave a comment down below. Feel free to share this post with others too!
I wish you all the best and keep rocking!
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