Finding the Right Guitar Amplifier – Amp Wattage

Marshall Half Stack Hybrid

I have a Pignose Hog 20, and every time I jam with other players, the drummers drown me out. I’m 15 years old and don’t have a lot of money. I’m wondering what size amp I should by so that I can be heard above the drums without the amp distorting. Also, how are amplifier wattage ratings determined?


Let’s tackle your last question first Johnny, since this will help us answer your question about what size amp you should buy. Amplifier watt ratings are determined by a calculation called “root mean square,” or RMS. It simple terms, RMS is a measurement of the average, or “effective,” voltage your amp can produce continuously under normal playing conditions without clipping (what happens when you crank up your amp and it starts to distort). Some manufactures give their amps a power rating that’s closer to the peak output—that is, the highest wattage that the amp is capable of producing. This isn’t a very accurate way to measure wattage, because amps don’t operate (or shouldn’t be operated) at peak levels for an extended period of time. If you were to operate an amp at its peak output, I assure you, not only would your tone suffer but the amp itself, including its speaker, would burn out very quickly.

Let’s look at an example. If you have a 50-watt amp and it starts to distort, or “clip” as the output approaches 35-watts, is it a 50-watt amp or a 35-watt amp? To put it another way, if you want an amp that can produce 50-watts of continuous power, don’t buy an amp that has a peak power of 50-watts, because the amp will start to distort well before it reaches the 50-watt mark.

Without knowing you or what type of music you play, I’d recommend that you try a 1×12, 2×10 or even a 2×12 combo with a power rating no less than 30 watts RMS. You might even be safer with an amp rated at 40 or 50 watts RMS.

In addition, keep in mind that a solid-state amp and a tube amp of the same wattage will sound different due to the nature of their circuitry. To my ears, tube amps always sound louder and more powerful, but that doesn’t man solid-state amps aren’t cool. It’s just a matter of personal preference.

Fender, Peavey, Crate and Marshall all make reasonably priced, quality amplifiers in tube, solid-state and hybrid designs for players on a budget. You might also consider buying a used amp. Most trustworthy dealers will check out an amp and fix any defects before they sell it, as well as offer free repairs on the product for a limited period of time.

Whatever you do, be sure that you really like an amp before you buy it. Research and try a lot of different amps before you choose one. And since volume is so important to you, I’d suggest that you twist every knob just as far as it will go, to found out exactly how the amp is capable of performing. Best of luck.

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