What size amp do you need for gigs?

What size amp do you need for gigs?

We all know the cliche, the volume mad guitarist who is always trying to get more and more powerful amps in order to get ‘that’ sound. Back in the day the holy grail was the 100W stack, or better still several of them chained together. Now you can get 200W amps from more than one maker. Another company has perpetuated the arms race with 300W and 400W guitar amps. Do we really need all this power?

In a word, No. I’m going to explain why, and what size amp you actually need. Although I’m addressing this to guitarists, it applies to anyone who uses their own amplifier to get the sound out of their instrument.

Your amp is only for you to hear

In this post I’m going to be talking about gigs where the amplifier is mic’d. Its sound is going through the PA as well as coming out of their amp. I’m also assuming there is a sound engineer doing the front of house sound; the band aren’t doing it themselves from on stage. There are some on stage monitors, ideally one for each band member. So a relatively professional set up. This is normal these days in anything bigger than a venue of around 100 people capacity. It doesn’t mean you’re ‘big time’ necessarily. A lot of bands will achieve this level if they’re any good.

If you don’t know whether you’ll have this kind of set up at your next gig, you should. Start asking questions. It affects how you prepare and what gear you should bring.

With this kind of set up your amp only needs to be loud enough for you to hear it. This is critical. I’m going to say it again. Your amp only needs to be loud enough for you, and only you, to hear it.

Why? Because there’s a microphone right in front of your amp, picking up the sound and sending it through the PA. That’s what the audience should be hearing. You have a sound engineer who is carefully mixing the sound through the PA for maximum clarity. If you have a massive amp that’s deafening everyone in the first 5 rows and drowning out the PA your band is going to sound rubbish. The engineer can’t do anything about it.

If the rest of your band want to hear you they will ask the engineer to put some of your sound in to their monitors. That way they can control what they hear and can make sure they can hear themselves which is crucial for a good performance.

If you take nothing else from this post, please at least remember: as soon as there is a microphone in front of your amp, it only needs to be loud enough for you to hear it. Leave the rest to the engineer.

The world has moved on. Guitarists haven’t.

I know what you’re going to say. “But Hendrix / Gilmour / Townsend / Angus / Van Halen / etc. used a 100W stack. I want to sound like them so I neeeeeed one to get the right sound.” No you don’t. Let me give you a brief history lesson.

In the olden days (60’s / 70’s) amplification technology was a bit rubbish, both for guitars and for PA systems. You couldn’t put anything more than vocals, and maybe the drums, through the PA. They didn’t have enough channels. Even if they did the amps and speakers couldn’t reproduce lots of competing sounds accurately. If you tried to put all the instruments through the PA the sound turned to mush.

Because of this, the guitar amplifiers had to project the sound all the way to the back of the room. As ‘pop’ music became more and more of a phenomenon and bands played bigger and bigger venues they needed bigger and bigger amps. That’s why they used stacks of cabinets with 100w amps chained together. It was necessity more than artistic choice. Many of the greats from those days now suffer badly with tinnitus because they had to stand so close to these huge rigs blasting out noise to the back of the venue (Pete Townsend and Jeff Beck are well documented examples).

Nowadays, PA technology has come on leaps and bounds. It can faithfully project the sound of every instrument in your band, even if you’re a 35 piece world-music ensemble. All it needs is to get the signal from your amplifier and it will do the rest. Jam a microphone up against the front of the amp speaker and it can’t fail to pick it up, even if you’ve got a 1W amp. You don’t need an amp that can project to the back of the room any more. You just need one loud enough for you to hear.

Unfortunately guitarists haven’t caught on to this yet. They’re still looking at the technology used 40 years ago and thinking that’s what they need in order to sound good. It’s like using a wooden racket to play tennis. It’s just not appropriate given the technology in use today.

The only ones with speakers in are the two with microphones against them.

The only ones with speakers in are the two with microphones on them.

It’s all for show

Here’s one of the worst kept secrets in rock: You know those bands who have a ‘wall’ of amplifier cabinets at the back of the stage when they gig? AC/DC are a notable example. The cabinets are empty. They’re for show. They don’t have any speakers in them and they don’t make any noise.

Somewhere behind the wall of faux cabinets there will be one or at most two amps connected to one or two cabinets, with a microphone in front of them. That’s what’s coming out of the PA. That’s what you’re hearing. They are wearing in-ear monitors so they can hear what they’re doing. The cabinets do nothing. If you think they’ve got a ‘massive’ sound it’s not because they can afford bigger amps than you, it’s because their sound engineer knows how to work the sound from that one amp well.

The good news

The good news is that guitar amplifier technology has moved on as well. You can now get really good small amps to suit almost any budget. 20 years ago small amps were considered ‘practice amps’ and didn’t have to sound all that great. Now most manufacturers are producing performance quality ‘small’ amps (by which I mean less than around 30W).

There’s even better news, for those of you wanting the ‘classic’ rock tones of Hendrix, Clapton, Page, et al. Their sound was in a large part due to the fact they had to run the amps of the day on maximum to be heard in a large concert hall. It’s just not feasible for us mortals playing smaller rooms to turn a 100W amp up to 10 in order to get that authentic valve overdrive. But we can now buy a good 5W valve amp and turn that up full. That’s more likely to emulate your hero’s sound than trying to use the same amp they did half a century ago with the volume set to 2.

Enough history, what size amp do I need?

Given that only you need to hear your amp, the defining factor is stage size. How far will you be from your amp? How much competing noise will there be? First, get an amp stand which tilts your amp up towards you. It’s only for you to hear, so it needs to be pointing at your ears. Not at your knees and definitely not at the audience. Just doing that will dramatially improve your stage sound. It also significantly reduces the size of amp you need.

Once you’ve got it tilted towards your head, I’d say that for a stage in a room of up to 500 people you could manage with a 15W valve amp. If you have a very loud drummer or a big stage where you’re further from the amp you might want to go up towards 30W. You’d need to be playing to thousands before a 50W or 100W amp became necessary.

If you play with a very clean guitar sound you might want more powerful amp than if you play rock. That sounds like it’s the wrong way round, but it’s not. The reason is that valve amps can distort when you turn the volume very high even on their clean channel. That’s no problem if you’re playing overdriven rock or metal, but if you want sparkling clean sounds you may not be able to turn the amp up full to compensate.

A little bit of theory

If 15W sounds really small, then there are some facts about amplifier power that you really ought to know and will make you feel better. There’s a whole post coming on ‘loudness’ but just to get you started, here are the important points:

  • A 100W amp is not twice as loud as a 50W amp. In fact it’s only a little bit louder (approx. +3dB).
  • To make an amp twice as loud you have to increase the wattage by ten times! So to be twice as loud as a 50W amp you would need a 500W amp.
  • That means that a 10W amp is still around half as loud as a 100W amp. If you’ve ever been up close and personal with a 100W amp you’ll know that even half its volume is pretty loud!

So the 15-30W amp range I’m suggesting is still plenty of volume – more than half as loud as a 100W amp.

(There are some generalisations in the figures above because perceived loudness isn’t only determined by wattage, but it’s good enough to give you an idea)

Summary

I know you want a stack. We all do. They’re cool. But I’ve got one and I almost never use it, because I’m not playing gigs to 2000 or more people (yet!). You would be far better off spending your money on an amp stand and one or two amps in the 15-30W range. You’ll get more use out of them and if you know what you’re doing you’ll probably get a better sound out of them.

 

Update February 2016: The brilliant That Pedal Show on YouTube has just done an episode on amp sizes and how different sizes interact with pedals. Well worth a watch if this article has interested you.

33 Comments

  1. Really good post Matt, and very true. The smaller the amp, the more yuor sound engineer will love you! Its also worth a mention that while a 4×12 looks great on the stage, its harder for a sound engineer to get a good sound out of because whichever speaker they mic, there are 3 others in close proximity blasting off-axis and with a fair amount of phase cancellation into the same mic. The best sound I have ever had on stage was running 25W through a 1×12 which was angled so I could hear it. Its utterly pointless blasting 100w through a 4×12 into the back of your own legs!

  2. Thank you for the info, I just lost my Peavy 6505+112 Tube and all I have is a 38w Fender Frontman Reverb PR241, I have an outside event coming up in a week, would I be able to mic that little thing and get what I need? I also have a QSC 2 channel (350wper) that could pound into shreds our main speakers if I turned it to max, and a Yamaha XM300 12 Channel powered PA board. Need to know if I’ll be ok just with what I got. You can answer me directly on Facebook(Adam Stout from Indiana, red guitar in hand) which is where I would prefer, or email me at adamstout6666@gmail.com. Thank you Matt for your all your help and info. Much appreciated!

    Adam Stout – Rhetorik

    • For the benefit of anyone who stumbles across this, here is the response I sent Adam:

      Hi Adam, thanks for your question.

      The answer really depends what the PA system at the event is like. I’ll explain the options, the way I see them:

      On its own the Frontman won’t have enough power for you to hear yourself over the rest of the band. It’s a transistor amp and they are much quieter than valve amps. A 38W valve amp would be fine, but I don’t think a 38W transistor amp will be. So you have three options:

      Option 1) If the PA at the event has good on stage monitoring, you can use your Frontman, mic it, and get the engineer to put your sound into your stage monitor. That way you’ll be able to hear yourself and the engineer can make sure you’re heard out front.

      If you want to go down this route, try to get in touch with people from the event who know what kind of PA system they’ll be using and make sure they can do this for you. If you can get hold of the sound engineer who’s working on the night that would be the best thing. Basically explain to him / her that you only have a small amp and ask if they’ll be able to give you sound in the stage monitors.

      It will all depend on what their PA is capable of, so be friendly and go with whatever they say.

      Option 2) If you don’t want to leave your fate in the hands of the engineer, or their PA can’t handle it, you could bring your Frontman, QSC 2 and Mixing Desk and a Mic. Plug guitar into the Frontman, put a mic in front of it yourself and send that into the mixer and then the QS2. As you mentioned, you will have more than enough volume from the QS2 to hear yourself on stage. Going in to the Frontman first means you will still have the tonal benefits of going through a guitar amp.

      If you’re going to do this, make sure you test it out at home this week, before the gig. You won’t have time to troubleshoot it during soundcheck and the engineer really won’t thank you if they have to help you get it working. So test it ASAP so you know that it works and how to set it up on the day.

      Option 3) Borrow or hire a 30W or greater valve amp.

      I’ve given those in the order I would do them. If I was happy the engineer could give me what I needed in the stage monitors I would just turn up with the little amp. Nice and easy to carry, the engineer does the rest.

      If the engineer couldn’t guarantee me a good monitor sound, I’d use the QSC2. Much more hassle to carry and set up, but at least I’m in control of my sound and I haven’t spent any money.

      If I couldn’t get the QSC option to work (or it was too much hassle) I’d ring all my mates and try to borrow an amp.

      If you do use Option 1, try to put the amp at head height to give you the best chance of hearing it (on top of someone else’s amp or a flight case would be good). If you can’t do that, at least tilt it up so it’s pointing towards your head. That gives you a chance hearing it over everyone else. You will still need sound from the stage monitors though, unless you want to spend the whole gig standing within 1 metre of your amp!

      Also, with Option 1, make sure you test the Frontman at high volumes before the gig, even if only briefly (so the neighbours don’t complain).

      You want to check there’s no unwanted distortion when you turn the clean (normal) volume right up to 10. There shouldn’t be, but budget transistor amps can be temperamental. You don’t want to get to a nice sparkling clean part in one of your songs then realise that you’ve got nasty transistor crackle going on.

      If the amp is crackling with the clean volume at 10, back the volume off until it doesn’t crackle any more. Make a note of that setting. That’s the maximum clean volume you should run the amp at.

      I hope that helps, if you have any questions fire away.

      Good luck with the gig,
      Matt

  3. Arlo

    I have an ibanez TSA15H amp its max power is 15w… I just got it and have a big outdoor gig coming up, i’m nervous cos even though it sounds good at practice i am really doubtful as to what sound im gonna get at the actual gig. Is this 15w valve amp too small (i play cleans with occasional overdrive using a boss ME 80 effects pedal)

    • Hi Arlo,

      Good question. I’d recommend you check out my reply to Adam Stout above, which covers some of this ground, but I’ll go into some detail regarding your specific amp here.

      For me, a 15w amp is a little small on its own for a big outdoor gig. At outdoor gigs you don’t get reflected sound from the walls of the venue so you lose a lot of volume compared to indoor gigs. If you’re playing from a small stage to 50 people you might get away with it, but if it’s much bigger than that the people at the back won’t be able to hear you.

      Here are some options for you:

      #1 – Get Sound Engineers to put your sound through the PA, use amp for on-stage monitoring

      If it’s a big enough gig that the sound people will be putting a mic in front of your amp then you’re fine. They will put your sound through the PA and everyone at the back will hear you. Leave that to the sound engineers.

      All you have to worry about in this case is making sure you can hear yourself. Make sure the speaker is tilted to point at your head. You may have to run the amp pretty loud but 15w should be enough to hear yourself on stage. You might have to be careful not to move too far from your speaker, because you’ll lose your own sound. That can be a pain if you move about a lot on stage, but you can still be energetic while standing in one spot, so it should be fine.

      Be aware that if you have to turn your amp up really loud to hear yourself it may start to distort, even on the clean channel. This is something that Tube Amps do. If you can find a way to test it out before hand that would be a good idea. Otherwise your ‘cleans’ may not sound as clean as you want them to when you’re at gig volume. If you’re not too fussy about that it’ll be fine though.

      #2 – Put sound through PA, use amp and PA monitors for on-stage monitoring

      If there are onstage monitors that’s even better. You can ask the engineers to give you some of your own sound through the monitors. That means you probably won’t have to run your amp so loud and there will be better coverage of your sound on the stage so you can move around a bit more.

      This would be my preferred option. I’d say it’s much like Adam’s ‘Option 1’ above – I’ll repeat it here:

      “Option 1) If the PA at the event has good on stage monitoring, you can use your [Ibanez], mic it, and get the engineer to put your sound into your stage monitor. That way you’ll be able to hear yourself and the engineer can make sure you’re heard out front.

      If you want to go down this route, try to get in touch with people from the event who know what kind of PA system they’ll be using and make sure they can do this for you. If you can get hold of the sound engineer who’s working on the night that would be the best thing. Basically explain to him / her that you only have a small amp and ask if they’ll be able to give you sound in the stage monitors.

      It will all depend on what their PA is capable of, so be friendly and go with whatever they say.”

      Remember to still tilt your amp’s speaker toward your head. The more sound you can get from your amp’s speaker the less has to go through stage monitoring which keeps it clearer for the singer and other instruments who have to use monitoring. It’s there to help you hear yourself, but not to completely replace the sound coming from your amp.

      Also, keep in mind that the amp head does not have to sit on top of the cabinet. People seem to forget that and then claim they can’t tilt the cabinet because the head will fall off. It’s far more important to position the cabinet so you can hear the sound your making. The head can go anywhere as long as the speaker cable reaches the cabinet.

      #3 – No PA available for guitar – Use big speaker cabinets

      If you can’t put your sound through the PA then you need more volume from your amp. One way of doing this would be to use 1 or 2 4×12 cabinets, if you can get them. The Wattage of your amp is only one component of how loud it is. If you have 2 4×12 cabinets you will be moving a lot of air and that will be loud, even if the amp is small.

      You didn’t mention what size cab you use, but if you can borrow or hire some big ones that will help a lot.

      #4 – No PA available for guitar – Borrow / Hire a bigger amp

      This one is a last resort, but if you can’t get any of the other options to work, try to borrow or hire a bigger amp. For an outdoor gig with no PA for the guitar I’d want at least a 30w amp with minimum of 2 x 12 inch speakers.

      I know that’s not ideal because it’s always preferable to use our own equipment that we’re familiar with and has ‘our tone’, but it’s no good to you if no-one will hear you, so sometimes you have to compromise.

      I hope that helps, let me know what you decide to do.

      Matt

      • Thanx Matt the info has been most helpful…. I am currently planning to contact the sound people and yes i didnt mention the cab is a single 12 inch 80 watt… model TSA112C (its the recommended match for the TSA15H head)

  4. Hey, cool article. Does the same stuff hold true for bass guitar?

    • Hello, good question. I think it’s broadly true for Bass – you don’t need a wall of cabinets to get a good sound. However, there are some important differences between Bass and Guitar to keep in mind:

      1. Bass amps generally have to be much more powerful than guitar amps.

      A ‘small’ guitar amp would be in the 5-20W range, whereas small bass amps would be 30-80W. Likewise a ‘big’ guitar amp is 100W. The equivalent bass amp would be around 400W. So bear that in mind before you turn up to a gig with a 15W bass amp because I said that was OK!

      As a very crude rule of thumb, multiply any Guitar amp Watt values by 4 to get an equivalent Bass amp volume – I’m not a Bass expert though, so I could be a little wrong about this.

      Note that all the Watt values I’m giving are for valve amps. Transistor / solid-state amps tend to be much quieter than equivalent Wattage valve amps, so bear that in mind when choosing your amp.


      2. Bass can get away with being a bit louder, because it doesn’t mess up the overall sound of the band the way guitar does.

      Bass occupies the low frequencies of the band’s overall sound. There generally aren’t many other instruments playing in this range (unless you have something unusual like a baritone sax or tuba in your band). That means that even if the Bass is quite loud you’re not going to obscure the sound of other instruments.

      Guitar, on the other hand, occupies the same frequencies as keyboards and, crucially, the human voice. That means that if you have a really loud guitarist blasting away no one can hear the singer or any of the rest of the melody that’s meant to be going on. This is much more damaging to your overall sound.

      In fact, Bass should be reasonably loud because you, along with the drums, are what provide power and depth to the band’s sound (whatever us axe-men want to think!) So be careful of having the bass too quiet.


      3. Bass sounds are not as directional as Guitar sounds.

      The sound from a bass amp tends to spread out pretty well in all directions from the amp, no matter which way the speaker is pointing. So it’s pretty easy to hear the bass from anywhere on the stage (although you should still make sure your speaker is pointing towards your normal standing position on stage just to be sure you’re hearing yourself properly).

      Guitar amps are much more directional. If you’re standing in front of their speakers they can be deafening (and very treble-y). As soon as you move a little to the side, away from their ‘line of fire’, they become much quieter and less harsh.

      Because of this, guitarists tend to keep turning themselves up when they walk away from their speakers because it sounds quieter. Bass players don’t have this problem so much.

      4. The rest of the band need to hear the Bass (more than they need to hear the Guitar).

      I’m going to say something controversial here – Bass is more important for the rest of the people in the band than the Guitar is.

      The drummer needs to hear what the Bass is doing so the two of you can lock in together and form a tight rhythm section. The singer needs to hear you because you are the foundation of the harmony they are singing over. The rest of the band needs to hear you (and the drums) to keep with the time you are setting.

      On the flip-side, no one else needs to hear much Guitar except the guitarist. The singer may want a bit to help them pitch their notes. Other band members may want a little bit to get the feel of the music. But mostly the other band members want to hear their own instrument and the rhythm to keep time to.

      When I’ve done gigs where we’ve used personal monitors, I usually have drums and bass quite high in my own mix, but all the other instruments (except my own) pretty low – even the other guitars. That way I can concentrate on what I’m playing without distraction.

      What this means is that you need to make sure you have enough volume that if the rest of the band say “I need to hear more bass” you can turn yourself up – especially if the engineers can’t do this in the monitors for whatever reason (feedback or suchlike). So if I was choosing a bass amp I would go for a little more volume than I needed rather than a little less.

      Before the guitarists out there get on my back, let me clarify – the Guitar is really important for the front of house sound. The audience love it (usually!) and it’s a really important part of most band’s sound. But for the on-stage sound and best performance and monitoring for the band members themselves, the Bass is more important.

      I hope that helps. I’m really not an expert on Bass, so it might be worth finding a bassist you know and respect, pointing them at this article and asking their opinion. They will have years of experience to draw from which I don’t have. However, it should be enough to get you started.

      Cheers,
      Matt

      • Kelly

        Matt

        I have a Victoria (57′ Fender deluxe clone … I think about 18 watts, single 12″) and I like the tone I get when it is starting to break up (volume at 8-9 of 12 … which of course is louder then 11 ) with guitar volume maxed. I then dial back the guitar for my cleans. If I need some crunch I use a stompbox and try to have the ‘perceived’ volume outputs match. I then have the headroom as needed by dialing up my guitar volume which also gives more body and crunch as required. Eq stomp added for leads

        The issue I have found is this:
        1) If the amp is behind me on the floor, the volume all goes past my legs and audience gets blasted. Soundman does not have good control now for good mix.

        2) If the amp is in front of me and angled up so I hear it clearly, that’s all I can hear making it tough to hear vox in the monitors and other musicians. Sound man is able to control this way though

        3) The rest of the band needs to hear the guitar well enough for everyone to ‘lock up’. We play original music that tends to rely on a guitar riff/ grove feel.

        While a good sound check can help with this via monitors, the gigs we play often require quick setups in small venues (under 200 people) and sometimes, we’re lucky to get a sound check at all. Never mind a competent SM

        I have tried a Fender Vibrachamp but found it did not have enough volume to compete with drummer without turning up full and then the clean option is gone from the tone options.

        Any advice?

        Thanks

        • Hi Kelly,

          That’s a really good set of questions. Here are my thoughts.

          From what you say it sounds like this amp is exactly the right wattage for what you need, the trouble is just how to position it, so I wouldn’t tackle the problem by looking for a different amp.

          Let me deal with your first two issues together, then the last one separately.

          – Issues 1 & 2: Positioning the amp so you can hear it but aren’t deafened (and so the sound person can get a good mix)

          The first thing I would do is buy an amplifier stand. Something that allows me to lift it off the floor a bit and tilt the amp up towards the ceiling. It doesn’t need to be expensive, £15 / $20, maybe less if you get one second hand on eBay.

          My amp stand is one of the best purchases I ever made. It fixes that problem of having the sound go past my knees, but I can keep the amp behind me. As the sound is projecting upwards past your head to the ceiling, rather than directly towards the audience, the sound man has more control over Front of House sound too.

          If you still find the amp a bit loud, because it’s pointed at your ears rather than your knees now, set it up slightly to the side of where you’re going to stand. 1×12″ cabinets are very directional, so if you can just step a foot or two to the side of the sound coming directly out of the speaker then the volume will reduce a lot.

          It’s important to remember that when you use this technique (stepping out of the direct line of sound from your amp) you lose more of the treble sound than the bass and mid. This is because treble is more directional than lower frequencies.

          So set up your tone while you are standing in front of the amp, then move to the side while you’re playing to hear the rest of the band. But don’t be tempted to turn up the treble once you’ve stepped to the side because the high frequencies are still there, you just can’t hear them as well from your new position.

          Hopefully that helps a bit with your first two problems. The third is trickier.

          – Issue 3: The band need to hear your amp and sometimes they can’t

          This is a tricky one, especially when you don’t have time to sound check properly. Obviously the ideal situation is to have your sound in their monitors, but as you’ve mentioned this doesn’t always happen.

          Option 1: The first thing I thought of was whether you can run another cabinet from your amp. That way you could have the amp itself on your side of the stage and run another 1×12″ cabinet to the other side of the stage for the people in the band over there. There’s no rule that says amp cabinets have to be stacked on top of one another!

          However, if you have the Victoria 20112 I’m not sure there’s a socket to attach another cabinet, so that might not work (without mods to the amp or slaving one cabinet from another which I don’t have enough knowledge to advise on, I’m afraid). Check your model to find out whether you can do it.

          If you do this, remember to get a stand for the second cab too, otherwise you’ll have the same problem with it pointing at the audience.

          Alternatively you could put it at the side of the stage pointing across toward the centre of the stage, acting as what they call a ‘side-throw monitor’. That way it doesn’t point directly at the crowd, just at the band, which is really what you want it for.

          Option 2:
          If a second cab isn’t an option the next thing I’d do is to get a second amp for the band to hear. I’d split my signal coming out of my pedals so my guitar sound goes to the main amp and the ‘monitor’ amp.

          Most chorus, reverb and delay pedals allow you to output in stereo, which splits your signal even when they’re not switched on. Alternatively you can buy bespoke boxes specifically to do this.

          The best way to do this is to use an identical amp as your ‘monitor amp’, but I could understand if buying a second Victoria is a bit of a tall order!

          Really you just need an amp that roughly catches the flavour of your sound, enough for the rest of the band to play along to. You’re not going to mic this amp, so it won’t be heard too much Front of House, hopefully. If it is then turn it around to act as a side throw, or even to face backwards like a PA monitor.

          So hopefully you wouldn’t have to spend too much on a monitor amp.

          One advantage of this method over the cabinet one is that the monitor amp would have its own volume control. This means the rest of the band can control how loud it is themselves during the show. I’d recommend an amp with a master volume for this reason, so they’re not affecting the gain when they adjust the overall volume.

          (Just to cover everything, I should point out that if you use an effects pedal to split your signal and you use that pedal, make sure you are using a mono effect, otherwise no-one out front will hear the side of the effect going to your un-mic’d ‘monitor amp’)

          Option 3: You could set up your main amp as a ‘side throw’ – put it on the side of the stage facing across towards the centre of the stage. This might work if you stand at the far side of the stage so it will be close to you and then projecting across to the rest of the band.

          It’s a bit of a crude solution because your sound is then blasting across everyone else’s, which can really mess up the on-stage sound. However, I thought I’d mention it because you might find it works fine and saves you buying extra gear.

          I hope that helps. Let me know what you do and if you have any success with any of these options. It helps me out to know what has worked for people and what hasn’t.

          Also, post up the name of your band in the comments here. I have no problem with people dropping a plug in if they’ve taken the time to ask some intelligent questions too.

          Cheers,
          Matt

          • Kelly

            Thanks for all the info Matt. You confirmed a few thoughts I had considered and enlightened me to the frequency drop off when setting the amp off axis to where I am standing,. Makes sense.

            I’m going to start with an amp stand for our next gig on May 5th and see how that goes. The second amp is available (67′ Vibrachamp) as a side wash band monitor but because we are a 5 piece with keys, real estate becomes valuable on stage. I do have an a/b/y stomp box to split the output channel so that it is a possibility on a larger stage …

            Thanks again for your detailed insight and I’ll post on the comments.

            Cheers,
            Kelly

  5. Adam Randle

    Really good information available here. We are a band consisting of 2 guitarists, bass, drums and keyboards (5 piece). Me and the guitarist considering going for a 30w valve (I like my voxs as currently have a AD15VT that I practice with and love the sounds I get from it), our keyboardist has a Laney AH150. I was wondering what you could recommend for the bassist and what extra mikes, monitors etc. would you recommend. I realise because of the extra instrument we might not need a huge amp otherwise, sound mixing may be difficult. Any advice would be greatly recieved

    • Adam Randle

      Forgot to add, we are hard rock with blues metal and prog influences so not necessary focused on the guitars being too prominent unless the song required it. I want achieve a sound that is not too muddy or dominated by one aspect. Our drummer can be on the heavy hitting side but does show some restraint at times.

    • Hi Adam, apologies I’m taking so long to reply. I’m abroad working on a cruise ship so Wifi is a bit flaky. I’ve actually forwarded your question to a bassist friend because I’m not an expert on bass amp sizes. I want to give you a proper answer, not my best guess.

      While we wait for him to reply, I strongly recommend you read my reply to the comment from ‘toearlyretirement’ above (on 10/02/2015). That gives a lot of background that you should know about bass amps and how they differ from guitar amps.

      You also asked about what mics and monitors I would recommend. If the venue you are playing has its own PA then I would expect that they should provide all the mics and monitors. That’s really part of the PA system.

      If you have to provide your own PA for the gig that’s really a different field and I’m not an expert at it. I just googled a couple of articles which might get you started, but it’s a whole field in its own right and you’d be best talking to a proper sound engineer about it.

      Here are the articles I found:

      http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/jun12/articles/choosing-pa-systems.htm
      http://thehub.musiciansfriend.com/live-sound-buying-guides/how-to-choose-the-right-pa-system

      I hope that’s some help. I’ll be back in touch as soon as I hear from my friend. I apologise for sending you off to other sites, but I would rather you got proper advice than my opinion. I only like to give advice on things I have personal experience of. I know guitars well (the 30w Vox’s you are thinking of sound like an ideal choice) but in other areas I would rather point you toward specialists in that subject.

    • Hi Adam. Panos, the bassist from my band Red Sun Revival, has just sent me a very detailed email answering your question, so I’m going to copy and paste it below:

      —————————————————-

      I suspect that he wants a bass rig that ideally should be big enough to cover all circumstances, rehearsal and gigs. When it comes to bass, clarity and warmth of sound is important and usually this comes with high wattage amplifiers. It is better to have the power to support a good sound and just play with your volume, dependant on the room and the volume of the rest of the players, rather than playing with an amp that you will need to blast in terms of volume (cause there you lose some of the clarity sometimes).

      In terms of watts I would say that he should go for no less than 200watts. (In our RSR gig in Greece I was using a combo of 200w and I struggled a bit). It sounds a lot but it is really different than the guitar amps. Less than that it will be difficult to get a good sound with a drummer. My personal opinion is that from 250w to 350w he could cover most of the demands. I personally prefer for my sound a wattage of around 350-550watts, but that is another topic which we can discuss another time.

      More particularly now in terms of configuration. If he is expecting mid sized gigs, a bass combo would be sufficient. There are good bass combos that reach up to great wattage and really expensive price. The most common speaker configuration is either 1×15 inches, 2×10 or 2×12. I have played with all of those and I believe that 2×10 and 2×12 are closer to my personal taste. (They are quite punchier as a configuration, while 1×15 has more round sound). He should be able to find a good combo between 350 and 700 pounds. Lots of choices of wattage and speakers, most of those are solid state amps.

      If not going for a combo, the most reliable choice is to go for a solid state head. Class D amplifiers are getting really really good nowadays. The choices are from 250watts minimum to as much as you can afford. He will be able to sort a good amp out for around 350-500pounds. A good choice for the sound that they might be going are the hybrid amps that are solid state amps with built in tube preamps, which gives some old-school drive (like Orange).

      For cabinets, most common configuration would be 2×10, 2×12 and 4×10. More than that wouldn’t be needed. (unless they go on a world tour..hehe :P). For the Cab it would be good to go for the most expensive ones that can handle more watts. Most of the cabs are 8ohms and 4ohms, he has to make sure that the head is compatible with the cab in that perspective.

      This email is getting really long. I have many brands in mind but I think that this goes down to personal taste. Better avoid Marshall and Fender and go for more bass oriented brands like (in random order) Ashdown, Trace Elliot, Mark Bass, Vanderkley, Gallien-Krueger, Warwick, Aguilar, EBS, etc.

      —————————————————-

      I hope that helps. Give me a shout if you have any more questions. Thanks, Matt

  6. Oliver

    Hi Matt,

    I have a question for you – it would be great if you could give some advice.

    I’m due to play acoustically at a wedding – this won’t be a major gig maybe 100 – 150 people. I was planning on using a Marshall MG101FX 1×12″ Combo for the amp. However the DJ has asked that we don’t use his PA as he is worried about potential damage. Therefore i’m planning on using his PA for vocals and then just plugging into the amp.

    Do you think this would still do the job well?

    Any advice would be great.

    • Hi Oliver,

      I think you will be fine. A 100 watt transistor amp is plenty of power for that size gig. Try to angle it upwards if you can so that it’s not pointing at everyone’s knees. Other than that you should be fine.

      Have fun with it!

      Matt

  7. Oliverio

    Thanks very much!

  8. Faisal

    Hi matt,
    Very good info. I would like to ask is 50watt tube amp can match with band in stage. I want to buy old laney 50watt (80s) model aor series2 (el34). I read from your article, i know that i wouldnt need 50watt, but i really want more headroom. Need really clean guitar strum (funk, jazz, country style). I also play classic rock but i think it wont give me too much volume. Because i am using pedal for od and distortion. I just need clean channel for that laney amp.

    What i would like to know is, can i get enough volume and headroom with that amp. And if it can, can that volume from amp speaker (combo amp) be mic. Or is it too loud to mic.

    I really want sound that i like to be heard for me as monitor and for my band member to hear me too. And i want audience to hear the same too, but prefer miced to mixer and out to house speaker.

    Just want to make sure that i buy the right stuff.

    And want more thing, can my setup above can be heard for indoor small show too (unmic but can be heard by me, band member and audience) such as wedding occasion and club gig.

    Just to be clear, 50watt rlaney aor series2 is like 50watt jcm800. Not the same but can say nearly identical

    Thank you and hope to hear your opinion.

    • Hi Faisal,

      Yes, I think the 50 Watt Laney will be fine for what you need. You will have plenty of clean headroom with that. As you suggest, you can always mic it if you need extra volume from the PA for really big venues. There is no such thing as ‘too loud to mic’ – providing you have a good sound engineer who knows what he / she is doing.

      The amp will also be OK for small indoor shows, you’ll just have to be careful with the volume to keep in quiet enough!

      Have fun with it!

      Matt

      • Faisal

        Hi matt tq for your reply.
        Its been so helpful.
        Keep giving good info man. And thanks again

  9. Faisal

    Hi matt.

    Would like to ask u regarding in speaker for cabinet (4×12).

    For myself i prefer celestion creamback or g12t, but i want to have my sound to sound the same with 4×12 (backline).

    So, i probably will be using same speaker like speaker from the cabinet (backline). For your info i’m using laney combo. And my combo speaker will be act as monitor for me and my band.

    Whatvi need to know is, what speaker normally event management or sponsor usually give for backline. Cause sometime they give mesa cab, marshall cab, orange cab, vox, bugera, line6, etc. So i have no idea what soeaker in it.

    So i want to know your suggestion what speaker is good for me to use for my combo amp so i can have near identical sound and character with cabinet provided.

    Dont mind the sound that will affect my amp sound, i can tweak it from my amp for my preferred setting later.

    Hope u can give best suggestion as usual. Tq

  10. Hi Faisal,

    There isn’t really an industry standard for backline cabinets / speakers. You are at the mercy of whatever the venue / events company can hire, and that could be anything.

    I’m a little bit confused about how exactly you’re planning to set up for these gigs. Will the second speaker output from your Laney be driving the 4×12? Or will you have a whole separate amp and cabinet as backline and just use the combo for monitoring?

    If you can tell me that I might be able to advise you a little bit more accurately.

    Thanks,
    Matt

    • Faisal

      Hi matt, my laney combo 1×12 will be monitor for me and the band as well. For more outpu (volume) , i want to connect to 4×12 provided by event company. That will be extended monitor for me and my band. For crowd, mic from my combo to mixer.

      Just try to match my personal sound from my amp with 4×12 cab.

      Tq

      • Faisal

        I like to have sound from 4×12 same with speaker from my combo. That’s why i try to find info if there’s common speaker that normally event company provide such as v30, g12, etc. And i wouldnt mind to change my combo speaker to have same tone from 4×12.

        Currently my amp fitted with g12t, when i connect with cab that fitted with v30, sound from my amp different from that cab. Thats why i try to figure what kind of speaker normally event management provide so i can change my amp speaker. At least sound from my amp and from cab will be nearly identical.

        And sorry being so fussy… Just try to have personal sound signature. And dont like to bring own 4×12 cab.

        And i understand every event sponsor will not be the same. Just try to figure out if there is any speaker preference from sponsor normally supply for gig.

        And tq again for your kindness to reply such as fussy question.

        • Hi Faisal, thanks for clarifying your set up. Unfortunately, as I said before, there is no industry standard for a 4×12 cab.

          You could always try specifying to the events company exactly what you want. A Marshall 1960 is a fairly common 4×12 in the UK and usually comes loaded with G12Ts, so if you asked for one of those you might get something that matches your combo.

          However, there’s always a danger they’ll rent a cab that has had the speakers changed, or not be able to get one from whichever hire company they use.

          Also remember that the events person probably won’t understand the details and specifics of guitar tone, so to them one 4×12 cab is the same as another. They may just substitute something else even if you’ve asked for a particular cab.

          The only way to be sure you’ll get what you want is to bring your own. As you’re just using it as an extended monitor, maybe you could use a 2×12 instead? Then you could bring it yourself and you wouldn’t be dependent on the event company.

          Remember the crowd will be hearing the sound from the mic in front of your combo, so as far as having a ‘signature sound’ (for the audience) then the speaker from your combo is the most important and if the onstage monitor sounds a little different that shouldn’t affect it too much for the listener – although I realise it might affect how you feel when playing.

          Sorry I can’t be more help than that. It really comes down to the fact that if you want to craft your own very specific sound then you need to bring all the elements of it yourself, because you can’t rely on a third party events company to get the right components for your sound.

          Matt

          • Faisal

            Tq matt.

            Yes i truly understand the situation explained. Some event company wont border bout the equipment. So i just stick with what they provide. And if get good payment for show, probably will bring my own cab.

            One last thing i would like to ask you matt,
            What minimum amp wattage needed for acoustic with passive pickup (ust). Amp will be monitor for band.

            Actually its for my 2nd guitarist. He play acoustic for rhythm. And for me i’ll play electric and acoustic too. Need to know minimum amp wattage for him. We’ll be played with full band which is standard bass, drum or cajon, first guitar (me) electric amd acoustic, and vocal.

            Currently he connect direct to pa, but always been told by soundman his volume too low. Probably because of his passive transducer.

            Maybe you can give your suggestion which is better and money saver either buy low wattage amp and can be mic or balance out ( if got any) to pa, or using di box. But if using di box, band also need his sound to be heard for monitor. Or maybe using cheap keyboard amp, cheap bass amp or cheap stand alone pa amp with built in speaker.

            Or maybe using preamp pedal or upgrade pickup to active. But still need amp for monitor.

            Sorry matt for asking too many question. Just want to spend wise. Really appreciate your opinion and experience.

            Tq again

          • Hi Faisal,

            That’s a tricky question about acoustic amp Wattages, because the actual volume they produce varies a lot. For example the Marshall AD50 is 50 Watts but not really all that loud, whereas the AER Compact 60 is 60 Watts and can be very loud indeed!

            Acoustic amps tend to be solid state, so they are quieter than valve amps of the same Wattage. So you’ll need at least 50 Watts, probably more, especially as you have passive pickup.

            I think buying yourself an acoustic amp would be the best bet. That way you’re in control of the sound and monitoring. Make sure it has a DI out on the back (most of them do) so the sound engineer can take the signal from that if he wants to. That’s probably more reliable than putting a mic in front of it.

            I’ve heard good things about the Fishman Loudbox amp, and the AER range of amps are excellent, but expensive. I’ve also played a Trace Elliot acoustic amp which was very nice. I’m not an expert on acoustic amps though, so maybe have a google and find some reviews to see what fits your requirements and budget.

            Good luck with it!
            Matt

  11. Faisal

    Tq matt for your help and opinion..

    Yes, its better to use acoustic. Hope my current amp give enough volume for a full band. I’m using laney la65c and have di out. Need one more amp fpr my second guitarist.

    Tq again matt.

  12. S. Ranger

    All very well if you go through front of house but as a covers band playing in pubs you don’t want to be lugging around subs and unnecessary gear. Take an amp for backline and a cheap100w solid state wouldnt cut it with a heavy handed drummer in more than a 3 piece band. So whilst this guide is good for those using foh set up many bands simply have a backline. In addition you could just buy a kemper and DI it and come through monitors or own IEMs. Bass is different; it needs at least 500w for headroom and to feel it.

    • Faisal

      Tq for your opinion. My band setup was good now. All member can hear all instrument.

      Now would like opinion regarding drum amp.

      Our drummer want to use electric drum, so we need to know amp wattage that can suit for us. So everyone (musician) can hear drum sound. For big show we can just di out/line out from amp to mixer.

      Would your opinion for amp wattage that suit for us.

      Tq

      • Hi Faisal,

        For this you need kind of monitor speaker, not a guitar amp. You want an active monitor speaker so that it amplifies the signal from the drums itself and you don’t need a PA with a poweramp.

        As for what size, they tend to be solid state, don’t go for anything less than 100 watts. To be honest, active monitors rarely come in less than 250 watts, so anything you get will be fine.

        Just be aware that it might be hard for all of the band to hear it. People standing in front of it will, but if it’s angled towards the drummer then anyone behind or to the side of it won’t hear it as much. The sound is directional, whereas an acoustic drumkit fires out sound in all directions!

        If you do have a problem with that you might need two monitors, and angle them so everyone can hear.

        Cheers,
        Matt

        • Faisal

          Thank for your reply matt.

          Hurm… i thought itll be simple… just use pa amp with built in speaker for small gig show. And for big show use d.i out to mixer (output to house).

          If using to monitor (for drummer, and for band to hear) itll make extra work for band. I thought it’ll be easier to use electric drum hehehe. Too lazy to setup acoustic drum, and to miking for big show.

          Need to discuss back with band member. Hehehe. Tq again for you opinion matt

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