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Thread: Wattage question for the forum's tube amp experts...

  1. #1
    Senior Member Steph's Avatar
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    Wattage question for the forum's tube amp experts...

    Hey guys!

    I'm planning to purchase my first all-tubes amp probably this coming summer. But i'm struggling a bit to figure out what wattage should I aim for.
    I would like a versatile amp that can be used for home recording but still is powerful enough to keep up with a drummer.
    My music style is from jazz-blues to some classic rock. No real high gain metal stuff. And I'm not gonna be playing in any large venues, so 100W is way overkill for me, i'm pretty sure.
    I've been told that 30W is a bit tigh with drums (of course, i know it depends on the drummer).

    I'm really interested to hear what you guys think and knows about this issue. This will help me narrow down the insane choices there is out there, and concentrate on tone qualities to make my choice.

    Thanks!

  2. #2
    Plank Spanker justmund's Avatar
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    I think it's very amp dependent. I've played a 30w Egnater Rebel which has very little clean headroom and would have no chance keeping up with a drummer on the clean channel, and a 25w Mesa DC-2 which would deafen you before clean break up. Also if the amp just has a master volume and no gain control, you'll lose the ability to control gain and volumes (unless you run pedals).

    I'd say 50W would be the "safe" bet but as always, try before you buy, even better, take the amp home and into a band situation before you buy!

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    Happy Egads's Avatar
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    Our drummer is insanely loud. Ridiculously loud. 18 watts and 1x12 is iffy. 30 is more than enough. Of course it also depends on the speakers and cab. Adding another speaker with plenty. I really prefer lugging my 1x12 around, so I generally go that route.

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    Senior Member Steph's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by justmund View Post
    I think it's very amp dependent. I've played a 30w Egnater Rebel which has very little clean headroom and would have no chance keeping up with a drummer on the clean channel, and a 25w Mesa DC-2 which would deafen you before clean break up. Also if the amp just has a master volume and no gain control, you'll lose the ability to control gain and volumes (unless you run pedals).

    I'd say 50W would be the "safe" bet but as always, try before you buy, even better, take the amp home and into a band situation before you buy!
    That's what I'm afraid of... No black and white solution. I plan to rent a few different classic models (Marshall, VOX AC30, MESA, etc...) to get a real hands-on experience and feel.
    I guess a 50W with a good power soak would be the config I should consider.

    I'll check out that Mesa DC-2...

    Thanks for your inputs!

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    Hi Steph,

    I'll take a stab at it...I'm sure others will have a different take and can add their thoughts.

    For me, I find it useful to consider the rated maximum output power as an indication of clean overhead. That is, how loud can you turn the amp up before it starts to distort. It's not a set in stone thing though because depending on the amp design, two different amps with the same rated output power may start to break up at entirely different output sound pressure levels. A Fender Deluxe Reverb at 22 Watts will stay mainly clean even at very high volumes. It's pretty darn loud, and you'd be hard pressed for the style of music and environments that you describe to say that it wouldn't be loud enough to keep up. On the other hand, a Marshall 2061x is about the same rated power, but it starts to break up to a crunch at a much lower volume. If you wanted to play clean through it with a band, you might indeed feel that it's not loud enough. It runs both ways though. That Marshall might be more appropriate for you if you wanted to rely on the amp for distortion because you could get that distortion out of the Marshall at sound levels that are manageable, whereas if you wanted to get crunch out of the Fender, you'd likely find it too loud (given what you describe.)

    In general though, higher wattage means you can play louder without distorting. There are also amps with a master volume that allow you to control distortion in the pre-amp section of the amp, allowing you to get distortion at a lower sound level if you want. In general though, people tend to find that distortion sounds better if some of it is coming from the output section of the amp...which means that it has to be set so that it's producing close to its rated power (meaning LOUD typically for any amp over 20 watts.)

    Lots of people go with something like a Fender Deluxe, and use an overdrive pedal with it if they want a crunchy tone, and that works great in general. That setup, in my opinion, can keep up in most club type of situations, even if the drums are mic'd (to a reasonable level.) In that case, 22 Watts is enough in my opinion (again, for the situation you describe.)

    The only two PRS amps I have experience with are the HX/DA and the MDT. Both have a master volume, but with the master cranked, using the preamp volume control to control output level, both amps start to break up rather early...and these are 50W amps. I don't find that these are too loud, and I wouldn't actually want a lower wattage version, as they wouldn't have enough clean headroom for the live playing that I do. I find that I can set the 50W MDT up so that it's sort of like a Fender Bassman, at a reasonable stage volume (not too loud, not too soft) where it breaks up just right if I have my guitar volume cranked, but cleans up nice if I back up on the guitar volume.

    So, bottom line is that it depends on the amp... Any amps in particular that you're looking at?
    Last edited by aristotle; 02-19-2013 at 02:36 PM.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Steph's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Egads View Post
    Our drummer is insanely loud. Ridiculously loud. 18 watts and 1x12 is iffy. 30 is more than enough. Of course it also depends on the speakers and cab. Adding another speaker with plenty. I really prefer lugging my 1x12 around, so I generally go that route.
    Of course... the cabinet.... Just to make thing easier
    Is your 30W able to keep up with some clean headroom or is it already breaking up?

    Thanks, I appreciate this.

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    Senior Member Steph's Avatar
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    Hey Aristotle!

    Thanks for your insight. Great info. A good clean headroom would be important for me. But i think I would like something that breaks a bit earlier then the fenders. And I guess a master volume will be a must for me.

    In one word : versatility

    I was considering Egnater amps, on the cheaper side, for their high tweakability. And the Rebel/Renegade for their power tubes mix feature.
    For something more expensive, the PRSs is of big interest, of course. Something like the 2 ch. H maybe... The MDT seems pretty cool, too. The problem here will be to find one, where I live, to test it.
    Hughes & Kettner Tubemeister has some nice features on it too...

    Lots of testing and experimenting to come, I guess...

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    If you're looking for suggestions, given that you want a bit more flexibility, you might try these out also:

    Marshall 2466 Vintage Modern (I actually think that the 100W version of this is better even at low volume than the 50W version. Great master volume implementation. Love this amp.)
    Fender Super Sonic (2 channel, and comes in 22, 60 or 100W versions. Master volume, and the high gain side is gainier than most Fenders.)
    Orange AD30 (2 channels. Cleans aren't "Fender Clean", but great gain tone

    These are all in the $1K to $1.5K range. Still, for fun, you should try some of the PRS amps if you can. Not sure what's up in Montreal, but if you get to Toronto ever, TGS has a ton of selection on hand.

  9. #9
    Senior Member Steph's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by aristotle View Post
    If you're looking for suggestions, given that you want a bit more flexibility, you might try these out also:

    Marshall 2466 Vintage Modern (I actually think that the 100W version of this is better even at low volume than the 50W version. Great master volume implementation. Love this amp.)
    Fender Super Sonic (2 channel, and comes in 22, 60 or 100W versions. Master volume, and the high gain side is gainier than most Fenders.)
    Orange AD30 (2 channels. Cleans aren't "Fender Clean", but great gain tone

    These are all in the $1K to $1.5K range. Still, for fun, you should try some of the PRS amps if you can. Not sure what's up in Montreal, but if you get to Toronto ever, TGS has a ton of selection on hand.
    Hey thanks for the suggestions. The more the better for now. I'll check them out!

    Its hard to find high-end stuff in montreal as there doesn't seem to be a big market for it. (Even though the music scene is exploding here, in recent years!)
    I got my PRS CU24 from TGS, and for sure, when I pass through Toronto, I will go and check out their shop, even just to say hi. They're an awesome bunch and I wish they were closer to my place.

    Right now, I'm gathering criterias to help me filter through all the offerings.
    Here's my Must-have list:
    -Head/cabinet config (no combo). I want to easily play around with the speakers too.
    -2 channels. Versatility...
    -FX loop. Because I will be playing around with lots of pedals. I intend to keep the whole thing analog.
    -Power attenuator/varia/soak. Because I don't live in the forest...
    -Master volume. Did I mention the versatility? Oh yeah, I did...
    -3 band EQ. No comments...
    -Recording/Line OUT. Not sure I want to (need to) get into mics for now...

    Thanks again!

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Steph View Post
    Recording/Line OUT. Not sure I want to (need to) get into mics for now...
    Unlike transistor amps, tube amps rarely have these. I recall my Mesa Blue Angel had one, but a speaker also had to be plugged in to provide load resistance for the transformer. If it wasn't plugged in, you could blow the transformer. This is typical of tube amps.

    Mics are simple. You put an inexpensive dynamic like a Shure SM57 up against the grill and play. It's way easier than fooling around with a lot of the other contraptions out there.

    Finally, you don't need a power soak if your amp has a master volume that's good. In fact, I find that power soaks suck more tone than just using the master volume. Not only do they sound bad, but honestly, a lot of what you hear when an amp is cranked isn't just the power tubes distorting, it's the speaker distorting. You don't get that with a power soak anyway, so what's the point? Just use the MV control.

    Just my two cents. You won't be a tube newbie for long once you get the hang of things.

  11. #11
    Cream Crackered Mikegarveyblues's Avatar
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    I'm with Les on this. If you're after a high quality valve amp and want to keep things analogue then you may as well mic it up with a decent mic rather than potentially compromise it all with a line out.
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    Happy Egads's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steph View Post
    Of course... the cabinet.... Just to make thing easier
    Is your 30W able to keep up with some clean headroom or is it already breaking up?

    Thanks, I appreciate this.
    I'm using a THD BiValve and really love it. It has two inputs--low gain with one preamp tube, and high gain with two. In the low input, there is a ton of headroom--I run it around noon and it's sparkly and enough to easily keep up with the drummer. On the high gain input (with humbuckers), it breaks up at 9:00 and screams.

    Are you looking at combos or do have a speaker cab (in hand or in mind)?

    I've got a Mesa Lonestar 1x12 widebody, which is switchable from 10 to 50 to 100 watts. It's a great amp and sounds fantastic live. My problem with it is the weight. I got really tired of lugging the damn thing around and NEVER got to turn it up in 50 or 100 watt modes. That's the fine line between power, sound, flexibility, and portability (at least for me).

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    Senior Member Steph's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LSchefman View Post
    Unlike transistor amps, tube amps rarely have these. I recall my Mesa Blue Angel had one, but a speaker also had to be plugged in to provide load resistance for the transformer. If it wasn't plugged in, you could blow the transformer. This is typical of tube amps.

    Mics are simple. You put an inexpensive dynamic like a Shure SM57 up against the grill and play. It's way easier than fooling around with a lot of the other contraptions out there.

    Finally, you don't need a power soak if your amp has a master volume that's good. In fact, I find that power soaks suck more tone than just using the master volume. Not only do they sound bad, but honestly, a lot of what you hear when an amp is cranked isn't just the power tubes distorting, it's the speaker distorting. You don't get that with a power soak anyway, so what's the point? Just use the MV control.

    Just my two cents. You won't be a tube newbie for long once you get the hang of things.
    Thanks for the encouragement LSchefman... Seems the more I scratch the surface the more things pop out I didn't know. Not really surprised though.
    I intend to have fun with this research. How can it not be...

    I've seen a bunch of tube amps with line outs. Are they any good is another question...

    I always thought you had to take into account the room and bunch of other stuff with mics. Just the choice out there is overwhelming. And just the positionning of the mic in front of the amp, seem like rocket science. Of coure I'm exagerating but I got the feeling one can fool around a long time before having a good sound. Understand that where i'll be recording is no sound studio. Still, i'll carefully consider this topic.

    Thanks for all of this.
    I'll be back for more...

  14. #14
    Senior Member Steph's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Egads View Post
    I'm using a THD BiValve and really love it. It has two inputs--low gain with one preamp tube, and high gain with two. In the low input, there is a ton of headroom--I run it around noon and it's sparkly and enough to easily keep up with the drummer. On the high gain input (with humbuckers), it breaks up at 9:00 and screams.

    Are you looking at combos or do have a speaker cab (in hand or in mind)?

    I've got a Mesa Lonestar 1x12 widebody, which is switchable from 10 to 50 to 100 watts. It's a great amp and sounds fantastic live. My problem with it is the weight. I got really tired of lugging the damn thing around and NEVER got to turn it up in 50 or 100 watt modes. That's the fine line between power, sound, flexibility, and portability (at least for me).
    THD amps are new to me. Still adding to the choices... These are def great times to buy guitar gear... Lots have change since I started.

    Head and cabinet its gonna be for sure. And for the same reasons... weight. And I might end up with two cabinets in different places, having just to carry the head.

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    Senior Member Rango's Avatar
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    Cool

    Quote Originally Posted by aristotle View Post
    If you're looking for suggestions, given that you want a bit more flexibility, you might try these out also:

    Marshall 2466 Vintage Modern (I actually think that the 100W version of this is better even at low volume than the 50W version. Great master volume implementation. Love this amp.)
    Fender Super Sonic (2 channel, and comes in 22, 60 or 100W versions. Master volume, and the high gain side is gainier than most Fenders.)
    Orange AD30 (2 channels. Cleans aren't "Fender Clean", but great gain tone

    These are all in the $1K to $1.5K range. Still, for fun, you should try some of the PRS amps if you can. Not sure what's up in Montreal, but if you get to Toronto ever, TGS has a ton of selection on hand.
    I have a 60 watt Super Sonic, a Bassman RI and a Mesa TA-30. Steph I think we're trying to cover some of the same sonic ground....

    I'd second the Super Sonic - Clean head room? TONS - Fender clean too - the gold standard for cleans. With two voicings Bassman/Vibrolux. Vintage 30 single speaker can be directional - tilt back helps and an extension cab helps. You will not want for volume - Trust me. Great gigging amp, takes pedals well and has a second channel with lots of gain on tap, if needed. THE BEST THING - they can be had cheap on the used market. Mine was $630 used at GC in MINT condition. An acquaintance of mine that's the lead player for a band I've sat in with plays one - he's gigging it about 3 weekends a month - nothing but tubes and it's going strong after 3 years.

    I love my Bassman and the Mesa too but for "bang for buck" and flexibility the Super Sonic wins.

    That said - I'd really like to try the MDT and some of the other PRS amps!

    Good Hunting!

  16. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by Steph View Post
    I've seen a bunch of tube amps with line outs. Are they any good is another question....
    I didn't mean to imply they're all that rare, just that most traditional tube amps don't have them.

    And the ones that do, to the best of my knowledge, still need a speaker load while you're running the amp.

    Here's the problem in any case: you're still missing the sound provided by the speaker, a crucial part of the tone chain. While you can use an impulse response model to get around that, what's the point of using the amp? You're as well off with a modeling amp or software amp.

    And the speaker is still making noise, why not just put a mic in front of it and record the real thing? It's easy.

    Yes, you can make it complicated when you're doing certain things, but even the most basic setup will sound better than using a line out.

  17. #17
    Senior Member Steph's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rango View Post
    I have a 60 watt Super Sonic, a Bassman RI and a Mesa TA-30. Steph I think we're trying to cover some of the same sonic ground....

    I'd second the Super Sonic - Clean head room? TONS - Fender clean too - the gold standard for cleans. With two voicings Bassman/Vibrolux. Vintage 30 single speaker can be directional - tilt back helps and an extension cab helps. You will not want for volume - Trust me. Great gigging amp, takes pedals well and has a second channel with lots of gain on tap, if needed. THE BEST THING - they can be had cheap on the used market. Mine was $630 used at GC in MINT condition. An acquaintance of mine that's the lead player for a band I've sat in with plays one - he's gigging it about 3 weekends a month - nothing but tubes and it's going strong after 3 years.

    I love my Bassman and the Mesa too but for "bang for buck" and flexibility the Super Sonic wins.

    That said - I'd really like to try the MDT and some of the other PRS amps!

    Good Hunting!
    Thanks Rango

    I'll check out the Super Sonic, sounds really interesting (no pun).

    The TA-30 is of interest too because of its multiple voicings... I like the AC30 crunch so I'm curious to see if it can come close somehow...

    And yeah... those PRS amps....

  18. #18
    Senior Member Steph's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LSchefman View Post
    I didn't mean to imply they're all that rare, just that most traditional tube amps don't have them.

    And the ones that do, to the best of my knowledge, still need a speaker load while you're running the amp.

    Here's the problem in any case: you're still missing the sound provided by the speaker, a crucial part of the tone chain. While you can use an impulse response model to get around that, what's the point of using the amp? You're as well off with a modeling amp or software amp.

    And the speaker is still making noise, why not just put a mic in front of it and record the real thing? It's easy.

    Yes, you can make it complicated when you're doing certain things, but even the most basic setup will sound better than using a line out.
    Hey LSchefman

    Just FYI I'm pretty sure the Hughes & Kettner Tubemeister has an intergraded load.

    Anyways, I will keep all this in mind. I guess I'll come back with Mic questions the next time...

    I knew it was gonna be though. Hope I'm just not trying to cover to much ground with one amp... Which would'nt surprise me...

    Thanks, I appreciate....

  19. #19
    Senior Member Rango's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steph View Post
    Thanks Rango

    I'll check out the Super Sonic, sounds really interesting (no pun).

    The TA-30 is of interest too because of its multiple voicings... I like the AC30 crunch so I'm curious to see if it can come close somehow...

    And yeah... those PRS amps....
    I play the TA-30 almost all the time now. The only band I get to sit in with at the moment - the lead player is playing a SuperSonic - I want to stay out of his sonic space. He's a Strat Player so I always bring something else both amp and guitar wise - Multiple voices AND build in power control with 15/30/40 selections. It's master volume, power and voicings give it a lot of flexablity. The Top Boost voice is really great with my P22. The downside is they are pricey new - I would not have bought it but I tripped across a deal I couldn't pass up on it. I was actually looking for an AC30HW when I found it....

    Super Sonic's are available for so little on the used market - it's just a sleeper amp - if this one was lost - I'd buy another.

    Oh and I'd listen to LSchefman - Just Mic it - SM57's are cheap and effective! PLUS if you ever get somewhere that you need to run some guitar signal thought the PA - like outdoors - you're all set!

  20. #20
    One important thing to know about wattage is that doubling the power results in only a 3 db increase in the amp's output. Halving the power obviously results in a 3 db reduction in the amp's output level.

    A decibel is the smallest volume change the ear can perceive.

    However, the tone of amps does tend to change with various power capabilities for a number of reasons, among them:

    Different power supplies, transformers, numbers of tubes, and other components. These all have an effect on the sound. As an example, a 100 watt version of most 50 watt amps exhibits tighter, cleaner bass response. And of course, amps have different headroom with different power levels also.

    Speaker efficiency, cabinet design, and number of speakers will also heavily influence the sound of an amp, as well as load its power output differently.

    There are a lot of variables at work.

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