As a gigging musician, I’ve often been asked: “Do I need to bring my own guitar amp to a gig?” Whether you’re a seasoned performer or getting set for your first gig, it’s a valid question that can significantly impact your performance.
Sorting out the logistics of gigging can be overwhelming, particularly regarding gear like guitar amps.
I always recommend bringing your amp to a gig. By doing so, you can control the sound you want to produce. Clarify what equipment is available at the venue beforehand so you can plan, but you will generally need your amp.
In this article, I’ll dive into whether you need your amp, what size amp is suitable for gigs, and if a small amp can do the job.
Do I Need To Bring My Guitar Amp To A Gig?
In most cases, the answer is yes; bringing your guitar amp to a gig is prudent. The primary reason is familiarity and the ability to control your sound.
If you use the venue’s PA system, a microphone will be placed before your amplifier to project the sound. As a result, you don’t need a big amplifier, just one you know well and like the tone of.
Using your amp ensures you achieve the sound quality and tone you’re accustomed to during your performance. While some venues might offer in-house amps, these can vary greatly in quality, brand, and sound characteristics. Hence, there’s a risk of facing unexpected acoustic outcomes.
I should point out, however, that although bringing your amp to a gig is always recommended, it’s not an absolute rule. The necessity of carrying an amp also depends on factors such as the nature of the gig, the venue’s facilities, and the performer’s preference.
Can I Plug My Electric Guitar Straight Into A PA System?
Plugging an electric guitar directly into a PA system isn’t typically recommended, primarily due to tonal issues. I have covered this question in greater detail in this article.
Electric guitars are designed to work harmoniously with amplifiers, with the amp shaping the guitar’s raw electronic signal into the rich, warm tones we associate with a well-played electric guitar.
When you bypass the amplifier and plug straight into a PA system, you lose that critical tone-shaping step, resulting in a sound that is often thin, raw, and lacking depth and character.
Additionally, we design PA systems to reproduce sound, not shape it, which can lead to a lack of control over your guitar’s tone during a performance.
How Can A Live Sound Engineer Help My Guitar Tone?
When mixing your electric guitar output, a live sound engineer plays a key role when live gigging as part of a band.
The engineer will use a mixing console to balance the sound of your guitar with the other instruments and vocals to create a harmonious overall sound.
They control various aspects, such as volume levels, frequencies, and effects, ensuring your guitar sound fits perfectly within the band’s mix.
The sound engineer will likely place a microphone in front of your guitar amp. This allows you to control the tone of the electric guitar. However, the live sound engineer can mix this tone with the full band. As a result, only you will be listening to your guitar amp directly. The audience will hear your guitar amp through the microphone and PA system.
A live sound engineer might use equalization (EQ) to adjust the tone of your guitar, removing any unwanted frequencies and emphasizing the desirable ones. They may use effects like reverb or delay to enhance the sound and blend better with the other instruments.
Lastly, the sound engineer will adjust your guitar’s volume in the overall mix, ensuring that it complements rather than overpowers the other elements.
Remember, communication is key. Always discuss your sound preferences with the sound engineer before the gig to ensure the output is precisely as you envision it.
What Size Amp Do You Need For Gigs If You Don’t Have A PA System?
If performing with a PA system, a small amplifier is perfectly fine. Only you will be hearing the amplifier directly. With a PA system, your amplifier will have a dedicated microphone, and the audience will hear your amplifier through the microphone and PA system.
If you’re gigging without a PA system, the size of the amp you’ll need can vary considerably depending on the size of the venue and the style of music you’ll be playing.
Generally, for smaller venues, coffee shops, or acoustic gigs, a 15-30-watt amp should be sufficient. For larger venues or for styles of music that require a more robust sound, like rock or blues, you might need an amp with a capacity of 50-100 watts.
However, it’s important to remember that wattage doesn’t directly equate to volume. The speakers’ efficiency and the amp’s design also play a significant role in determining how loud your amp will be. So, it’s always a good idea to test your amp in a similar space beforehand, if possible, to ensure it delivers the sound you want.
As mentioned, the size of the amp you need for gigs largely depends on the size of the venue and the type of music you’re playing. A lower-wattage amp (15-30 watts) can do the job perfectly for small venues, coffee shop gigs, or studio sessions. These amps are easier to carry and can achieve a great tone without being overly loud.
You might need a more powerful amp for larger venues or outdoor gigs. A tube amp of around 50 watts can be sufficient for most large venues, while for very large venues or outdoor concerts, a 100-watt amp might be required. These amps can deliver your sound clearly to every corner of a large space.
However, a PA system will most likely be used once you start playing large gigs. Therefore, the PA system amplifies your tone, not your guitar speaker, so that you can use a smaller amp.
As mentioned, keep in mind that more power doesn’t always mean better. A massive amp can become a burden to transport, and its sound might be too loud for smaller or medium-sized venues. It’s all about finding the right balance between volume and tone quality that suits your performance style and venue.
If in doubt, I find the 30W-50W range a nice area for a good tone and coverage. It is big enough to play in a medium room without a PA system but not too heavy to carry and transport if using a PA system.
Remember, every guitarist’s needs are unique. You should consider your personal sound preferences, your music style, and the typical size and acoustics of your gig venues when choosing an amp size.
Small Amps And PA Systems
The need for a large amp significantly decreases when using a microphone and a PA system for live gigs. The primary function of the amp in this setup is to shape your guitar’s tone, not to project the sound to your audience. That task falls to the PA system.
Even a small to medium-sized amp can deliver a great tone when miked correctly. The microphone picks up the sound from your amp, and the PA system amplifies it to reach the audience.
This approach offers a couple of advantages. First, it allows for better control over the volume and mix of the band’s overall sound, as the sound engineer can adjust levels directly from the PA system.
Second, it reduces the amount you need to transport to gigs, as smaller amps are lighter and more portable.
It’s important to remember, however, that the quality of your tone still depends on the quality of your amp, regardless of its size. So, always choose an amp that delivers a sound you love.
Can You Gig With A Small Amp?
Contrary to what some may believe, a smaller amp doesn’t necessarily mean a smaller sound.
With developments in amplification technology, many small, compact amps can deliver a powerful sound that’s more than sufficient for small to medium-sized gigs.
The key lies in how the amp is miked and mixed into the PA system.
When done correctly, the sound from a small amp can be captured and amplified to fill the performance space effectively.
Additionally, small amps are often favoured for their portability and ease of transport, making them a practical choice for gigging musicians.
However, it’s important to remember that tone quality should never be compromised. Always choose an amp that brings out the best in your instrument, regardless of its size.
Is A 100 Watt Guitar Amp Loud Enough For Gigs?
A 100-watt guitar amp is more than loud enough for most gigs. In fact, it’s potentially even too loud for certain venues.
Wattage measures an amp’s power output, and with 100 watts, you’re unlikely to run into issues of not having enough volume. Even in a large venue, a 100-watt amp, particularly a tube amp, should provide more than enough sound.
However, remember that a lot of an amp’s tone can come from driving the amp — in other words, turning it up. If you’re playing a 100-watt amp at very low volume levels because the venue is small, you might not be getting the best possible tone from your amp.
So, while a 100-watt amp will provide plenty of volume, it’s important to consider the style of music you’re playing, the venue size, and your personal tone preferences when choosing an amp.
The need for a large amp for live gigs is significantly reduced if you’re using a microphone and PA system.
You can gig with a small amp, and a 100-watt amp can be loud enough for most gigs, potentially even too loud for certain venues.
The most important factor is to find the right balance between volume and tone quality that suits your performance style, venue, and personal sound preferences.
Always remember that the quality of your amp’s tone, regardless of size, significantly influences your overall sound. Choose an amp that resonates with your style and helps you deliver a powerful performance. After all, it’s not just about how loud you play; it’s about how well you play.