What Wattage Guitar Amp Do I Need? – Complete Amplifier Wattage Guide

Guitar shows an guitar amplifier for readers

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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 wonder what wattage guitar amp do you really need? And how wattage effects to your tone?

‘’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 also give some specific amp recommendations for you!

Let’s get started!

Use the table of content to jump to the section you want:

How Wattage Affects The Guitar Amp?

It’s not all about the Watt’s

Watt’s is used to measure power.  And when we are talking about watt’s related the guitar amps, watt’s tells the output power of the amplifier, aka. how powerful the amplifier is. It’s counted by multiplying Volts(Pressure of Electricity) with Amps(Amount of electricity).

So, watt’s doesn’t measure sound loudness. Decibel’s do that. But watt’s 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. But watt’s tell’s you what the specific amp is capable of doing power-wise. And that affects the loudness too. 

But watt’s 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 object (speakers) resistance the electricity) that varies between different speakers.

And there is 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 checking the dB(decibel) rate. For example, 12 inch speaker can be rated as 94 to up to 100 dB. The decibel system uses units of ten, so for example, 110dB is twice as loud as 100dB. 

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 Watt’s Increase Loudness

Does more watt’s always equal more loudness?

No. I used to think that if you double the watt’s, 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 not much difference in loudness. 100W amp is not twice as loud as 50W amp. But 100W amp is exactly twice as loud as 10 W amp if similar speakers are used.

And in a matter of fact, the tonal difference is probably bigger than the difference in loudness.

 

How Watt’s 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 more cleaner. 

Amp with a bigger headroom won’t clip so easily. Amp is clipping when it’s trying to amplify 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 which highlights how the wattage affects the tone:

 

Solid-State vs Tube Amp Wattages and Loudness

Are tube amps louder than solid-state amps? 

Blackstar has done research and their expert states at 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 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 really 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 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 has only 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 the great sound while the solid-state sound can turn into un-usable when it’s at the maximum capacity.

This relates to the headroom. When the amp is turned really loud, solid-state can produce usable sound only for shorts burst 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, 50W tube amp can sound louder than 50W solid-state amp. And if you want to reach the same loudness than 50W tube amp, you probably need to get a solid-state amp with more output power. But I can’t give you the exactly correct answer on how much more powerful solid-state amp you need to reach the same loudness with the tube amp.

 

RMS vs. Max vs. Peak Power on Amps

Photo explains the difference between RMS, MAX, and Peak power.

  • 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 some idea of what it’s capable of.

Some amp manufactures tell 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 the wattage amount is, it is RMS, Max Power, or Peak Power.

 

What Wattage Guitar Amp Do I Need?

Photo shows readers different guitar amplifiers and cabinets

First, I will give recommendations on wattages and amps that will be enough for certain situations. But you can always buy an overpowered amp if want to make so that it’s enough in the future.

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 do 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 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. 

If you are planning to play in bigger places 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, 15W tube amp will definitely be enough for you.

When the place you are going to play grows bigger and bigger, 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 with more than 80W 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. It served me well for over 7 years.

Based on my experience, anything around 10-20 watts(solid-state) is good for beginners. But I would recommend 15 or 20-watt amp. That’s ideal for in my opinion. That will serve you for years to come.

And usually, you can even perform in small places with 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 30-40W 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 2 in volume-wise. And remember that 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.

Here is my favorite solid-state for beginners: Fender Champion 20, it provides nice clean, and low/mid distorted sounds and it’s definitely loud enough for beginners.

Fender Champion 20 - 20-Watt Electric Guitar Amplifier
  • Shape your sound with the EQ section (Bass + Treble) as...
  • Jam along with your favorite tracks by simply plugging...
  • With a turn of a knob, choose from clean to mean tones...
  • Store extra cables or other small accessories with the...
  • Enjoy the peace of mind that this amp is backed by...

For beginners, my tube amp recommendation is Bugera V5 Infinium. It’s powerful enough for a beginner and handles clean and crunchy tones well.

Sale
BUGERA V5 5-Watt Class Amplifier Combo with Infinium Tube Life...
  • Hand-built 5-Watt Class-A amplifier driven by 1 x EL84...
  • Revolutionary INFINIUM Tube Life Multiplier technology:
  • Way cool vintage look and feel
  • World-famous, British engineered 8'' TURBOSOUND speaker
  • Authentic preamp design from the '60s featuring 1 x...

How Many Guitar Amp 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.

Now I have Line6 Amplifi 75W Modeling(digital) amp and it definitely gives more than enough noise for me. Although it’s not the loudest 75W amp, I could definitely perform with it in bigger places too. But to be honest, for home use, there is no need for 75watts.

If you mostly play alone at home, 20-30W solid-state is definitely enough. In this situation, the Line6 Spider with 30watts is a great choice. It’s loud enough and really versatile. 

Line 6 Spider V 30 MKII
  • NEW Classic Speaker mode for organic sound and feel
  • NEW Artist, Iconic Song, and classic amp presets
  • 200+ amps, cabs, and effects
  • Tuner, metronome, and jam-along drum loops
  • USB interface and free Spider V Remote app (Mac, PC,...

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 is depending 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.

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.

Orange Micro Terror 20W Amplifier Head
  • Power: 20 watt (hybrid)
  • Tube: 1 12AX7 tube preamp with solid state power amp
  • Controls: Volume, tone and gain
  • Headphone output & Aux input for MP3

For lighter music, for example, blues, jazz, and classic rock, Fender Blues Junior 15 W Tube Combo is a great choice. It’s made for blues but handles jazz and rock well too. You can check it out on Amazon by clicking here.

If you are going to play with a drummer, in this video, different amps are compared with a drummer:

 

How Many Amp Wattages for Performers?

Photo shows reader an guitar player who is performing

This is the group that is hardest to give recommendations because the situations and environments where guitarists perform can vary so much. On the other hand, guitarists who perform in bigger places 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, 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 drums, you might need at least 50W solid-state amp. 15-20W tube amp should do the trick for you.

How many watts do you need for a live show?

When the performing place grows bigger and the audience and other band members start to make more noise, you will need more power. As I said before, anything more than 40W tube amp is overkill for most people. If you want a solid-state amp for live-shows, you need probably more than 60W of power.

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 huge live shows with a bigger and louder audience.

These were my recommendations for amp wattages. Of course, I can’t cover every possible situation, but you can definitely make some assumptions based on my recommendations. And leave a comment down below if you have any questions.

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.

This post might be helpful if you are looking for a tube amp that will serve you well in almost every situation: Best 30 Watt Tube Guitar Amp In 2020 – Complete Guide.

Is a 20-watt amp loud enough?

It depends on the situation. But, unless you are playing huge live shows where are hundreds of people screaming over your playing, then yes, 20W  tube-amp is absolutely 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 be not enough.

 

Conclusion

Now you should have a basic understanding of what wattage means, does, and what it 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 do 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!

Teemu Suomala

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