Fight Club: Big Amps vs. Little Amps

Mesa Boogie Transatlantic TA-15There seems to be an awful lot of interest these days in tube amps that put out lower amounts of power, especially in more boutique, cork-sniffing circles. Just about every amp company has some kind of lunchbox-sized head or ankle-biter combo that puts out five to fifteen watts of power, it appears, and many players are taking the bait and paying top bucks for these little guys. Devotees of these things claim that “five watts is plenty to gig with” and they are more than able to hang with a drummer. Personally, I have a hard time with that statement.

While all amps have their uses, my gigging experience tells me that a Champ or a Princeton Reverb, fine amps they may be, are just not going to pack the power needed to cover a stage. I know, mic it up, right? Wrong. I don’t want to hear my guitar in my monitor; I want it at my back where it belongs so that I can better hear the vocals in my wedge. Plus, I just like big amps. There, I said it. I know, I know, it’s not the correct PC, volume-police enforced attitude I am supposed to show at this stage in my life, where I am supposed to be all excited at playing at whisper volumes in wine bars, which I also do and enjoy, but there is something about a big, 100-watt amp that just gets my blood going.

Now, to be fair, smaller amps certainly have their place and on quieter gigs or in the studio can be the right tools for the job at hand, a matchup that is crucial to any sort of gigging success. Nothing, however, beats the visceral punch of four power tubes and a heap of big iron hot enough to fry an egg pushing your sound over, above, and through the band (at the correct moment, of course). Also, players like myself, who value clean headroom, need to carry more power to get that clean tone at realistic stage volumes.

For many of us, a Tiny Terror or similar amp will never be a good gigging companion, no matter how small the venue. Anybody feeling me out there? If so, come join me in the Big Amp Club For Men (and Women) and proudly show your true colors as the old school, knuckle dragging, loud playing, last John or Jane Wayne left in this town, or any other, that you truly are. We’re guitar players, right? Aren’t we supposed to be too loud? I don’t know about you, but that’s in my contract. Who wins in this Fight Club? Big amps, every time!

Big Amps vs. Little Amps


Originally published on: Jan 12, 2013 @ 18:07


  1. What about when your rhythm guitarist plays a 150 watt triple recto and the sound guy at the show has him lower his stage volume over and over again to protect his sm 57? Completely squashes his tone. I say the 50 watt head is king! I sweat that Egnater Renegade real hard too, switchable between 18 and 65 watts. mmmhmmm.

  2. I agree with Deacon ! Unless you are playing a coffee house solo, you’re going to want at least 50 Watts on stage. However, I love playing my little 5 Watt tube amp at home, its just right for my living room gigs : )

  3. I’ve had requests to turn down using a Tiny Terror through a Mesa 2×12.
    Not much good for clean but push that baby with a tube screamer and it blisters at full tilt.
    My Genz Benz Black Pearl sounds great at most volumes. I usually cut it to 15 watts.
    My old Mesa F-50 was often too much by the time you got it singing.
    Putting it all through the PA lets you hear how it sounds to the audience too.

  4. I’ve done everything from 100w heads and cabs to a 15w Blues Jr. I think each amp has it’s strong points. You gotta bring the right gear for the venue. I realize that most guys only have one amp. If that’s the case you just gotta live with the limitations. If you only have 100w head and you are asked to turn down, just turn down. I realize it may not be ideal for your tone but a gig is a gig and if your pissing off the venue then you may not get another gig there.

  5. that head room dies on 100w heads when the volume is at 2 for smaller gigs…… but for he more local bar gigs most of us are playing, the 15-50 watt heads are where we will get our full neede tone without sacrifice of headroom sound or tone, the monitor situating you make is silly, with decent sound guy you can have everyone through there with yourself turned down but still hearable, allowing you to even better keep up with every one on stage…….

    my main gigging gear are a 300 watt solid state head and a 100w 5150, and the 5150 only gets used when im playing atleast a 30×50 room for more than absolutely needed….
    I am even looking at buying a 15-12 watt head for those one room bar gigs because thats all i need…..
    it all depends on the situation this article besides the studio mention is bull

  6. I agree clean headroom might be a problem, BUT, low wattage can knock out the dB if coupled with the RIGHT speaker(s)!

    I have had a Blackstar HT5 for some years. Gigged that. Told to turn down!
    I now also have a H&K TM18 with a 15″ Sammi! It’s LOUD!

    I have also mixed 100s of bands in clubs etc, & when dudes roll in 50/100w Marshall stacks, I cringe! Those blokes HATE me cos I go, ‘ turn it down please’!

    Plus not all of us HAVE the physicality to LUG that big gear around. Some of us have disabilities, so we play with that we can CARRY!

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