How much wattage do you need in a guitar amp?
Usually between 20 and 50 watts
The main reason for getting an amp with higher wattage is the increase in volume. As wattage increases, so does the level of output the amp is capable of. As a result, the bulk of casual guitar players, and even those who perform/record in some capacity should aim in the range of 20 to 25 watts.
One of the more interesting things I've noticed over years of watching the guitar amp market is that as wattage goes up, price does to. And to be perfectly honest, I don't totally understand why. In my view, wattage doesn't really matter than much, unless you're playing in larger venues.
Even then, you can always mic an amp or take advantage of a balance/direct output.
If you have a better read on that than I do, leave it in the comments section and let me know why that runs up the price.
But it never seems to fail. Even within the same series, from the same brand - as the wattage goes up, cost follows. As such, I often recommend that you go with lower wattage amps from a better brand and series.
For example, I'd much rather have a 25-watt Mesa Mark V than a 100-watt Boss Katana (no offense to the Katanas - they're great amps as well).
Again - in my humble opinion - wattage isn't the most important consideration.
So I'll do my best to answer the question: How much wattage do you actually need in a guitar amp?
I'd much rather have a 25-watt Mesa Mark V than a 100-watt Line 6.
As I always like to say, the content posted at Guitar Chalk is opinion and should be understood as such. In fact, just assume they are the ramblings of a lunatic and are probably wrong. If you need to clean something up or recommend a correction, we can hear it like adults in the comments section.
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For garden-variety practice and basic amp use
If you're a beginner or early intermediate guitar player, your wattage rating doesn't need to be that high. Because the primary function of wattage is to increase volume, which isn't necessary when playing indoors.
Even small amounts around 10 watts (even lower) can still be incredibly loud in indoor settings.
In fact, I've never had an amp that need to be significantly turned up indoors.
Here are the wattage ratings I'd go with:
- 20 watts
- 25 watts
- 30 watts
- 40 watts
Here are a few examples of amplifiers in this wattage range:
- Marshall SV20H (20/5 watts)
- Fender Mustang LT 25 (25 watts)
- Yamaha THR30 (30 watts)
- Roland JC-40 Jazz Chorus (40 watts)
Keep in mind you can usually go higher or lower in wattage within an amplifier series. Take the Roland JC series for example. You have the following wattage versions available:
- Roland JC-22 (22 watts)
- Roland JC-40 (40 watts)
- Roland JC-120 (120 watts)
Also note that as wattage goes up, the overall size of the amp increases as well. Higher wattage amps tend to be heavier and bulkier than their low-wattage counterparts.
Wattage in Tube Amps
If you browse around, you'll notice that tube amps are generally lower wattage than solid state amps. This means you can often get a nicer amp at lower wattage and a steep price reduction.
Here's roughly how it plays out:
- Low-wattage solid state amps: Cheapest
- Mid to high wattage solid state amps: Moderate pricing
- Low to mid wattage tube amps: Moderate pricing
- High-wattage tube amps: Most expensive
That's why we recommend amplifiers like the Mesa Boogie Mark V:25. It's a high-end tube amp that's affordable because the wattage is low.
Read the full review: Mesa Boogie Mark V:25
In my opinion, this happy medium of tube circuits and low wattage is where you get the most value.
Wattage in Solid State Amps
Wattage is often higher in solid state amps, regularly going up to 100, 120, or more. 200 and 300 watts are typical in solid state bass amps.
But do you need to go that high?
I would say no, unless you're performing in larger venues.
But solid state amps are generally cheaper than tube amps, which means the additional wattage is likely something you can afford, if it's something you want. Again, I wouldn't argue it's an issue of needing wattage that high, but you can always have it and not need it.
Bottom line: Buy solid state amps based on other factors.
Amps with variable wattage
You can also find amps with variable wattage, allowing you to select the wattage and output. This is very helpful for situations where you go from practicing in smaller spaces to playing on a stage where you need the added volume.
This feature is usually less advertised until you dig into the spec sheet, but here are a couple examples:
- Mesa Boogie Mark V (both the 25 and 35 versions)
- Boss Katana 50
You'll usually see this displayed as something like, (5W/15W/20W).
To conclude, I'd argue that the wattage of an amplifier is far less important than many people (primarily other gear writers) have made it out to be. You do not need high wattage to be loud, nor will you lack "power" if you go with a lower wattage amp.
Unless you're on really big stages, we'd recommend going with a lower wattage amplifier to make sure your money goes to other, more important features.
- Type of circuit (tubes/solid state)
- Number of channels
- Effects included
- Inputs and outputs (balanced, direct outs, etc.)
- EQ options and versatility
In my humble opinion, all of these features matter way more than wattage. At the end of the day I'd be fine with 20-50 watts in most scenarios. Take it for what it's worth and make your own call based on your situation.
If you have questions about how much wattage is necessary for a guitar amp, drop a line in the comments section below.
Disagreements with my lunacy are welcome there as well.
I'll jump in and help out (or argue) as much as possible.