Are small tube amps better?
It depends, but in some cases they are more ideal because they tend to be cheaper.
Smaller amps tend to be cheaper - often based solely on size and wattage . While they aren't necessarily better than the larger amps, small tube amps are often a better deal just because of the reduced cost and features similar to that of the larger amps in the series.
Amps get larger for primarily three reasons:
- An increase in wattage
- Multiple speakers
- Extended control or i/o (more room required on the back and front control panels)
But does that mean they're better than the smaller options? Usually it doesn't. If you're talking about amps within the same series, it almost never means there's a difference in tone. There are certainly differences in volume and output capabilities, but the tone remains largely the same.
If we look at larger vs smaller amps brand-by-brand and series-by-series, we see this time and again.
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Amps within a series
Most amplifiers are part of an amp series. Here are a few examples:
- Boss Katana series
- Fender Deluxe Reverb series
- VOX AC Series
Now most of these amps have multiple variations in their lineup that are each a different size and wattage. They also might have different forms, like a head and combo version.
- Boss Katana: 50 (50 watts)
- Boss Katana: 100
- Boss Katana 100 MKII
The primary differences between these three amps would be size and wattage. Tone quality, control, and basic features are going to stay essentially the same. With a smaller amp and lower wattage, your amp won't be as loud. But unless you're on a stage or in a larger venue, or if you don't have your amp mic'd or going into a mixer, that doesn't really matter.
A question of expense
It comes down to this:
Larger amps with higher wattage are more expensive. But if that amp is part of a series, and you go down to a lower wattage option within the same series, you'll get a cheaper amp with the same tone quality and core functionality as you would get with the larger one.
For a lot of people, that's going to make the smaller amplifier a better option.
Particularly if the amp is solid state and has a line out, you really don't need to worry about size or volume. Because you can run a line level output directly into a mixer and turn it up as loud as you want.
Read more: Guitar amps with line out
Tube amps might be a little trickier because those tend to have less output options, but even a small tube amp is easy to mic.
Features you might lose in smaller amps
Sometimes smaller amps will have less controls, perhaps for the EQ or you might lose an onboard effect. You might also have less channels, which is something to watch out for, especially in tube amps.
But assuming you're comparing amps within a series, you'll have largely the same tone and the same control scheme available.
The i/o options might also differ, but that's just something you'll need to look at. I've found that a lot of the features omitted from the smaller amps aren't things that I would use anyway.
You'll have to decide for yourself, depending on your situation.
It's easier to transport
This one is pretty simple.
Small amps, tube or solid state, are just easier to transport and move. If you don't need a large amplifier, this is yet another reason to avoid it, especially if you have to move it around regularly (gigs, church, school, or whatever).
I'd much rather haul 15 pounds than 40 pounds.
There are situation where you might need a larger amp, or just want one. Pros tend to use 4 x 12 speaker cabs with multi-channel amp heads, though most casual players don't need that much power. If you have a larger venue or building to fill, the larger amp can work, but even in that instance, I don't think it's totally needed.
So are small guitar amps better?
It's not so much that they're better.
But, they're definitely simpler, more practical, and more affordable than the larger alternatives.
Disagree or have questions?
If so, drop it in the comments section below and we can fuss about it.