Help Me Understand Wattage

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tune_link
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Help Me Understand Wattage

Post by tune_link » Tue Jun 16, 2020 7:24 am

I've had a ton if different amps over the years both solid state and tube. I know that SS wattage doesn't really equate to the same volume at the same wattage as a tube amp will. I know there are a staggering number of factors that play into it - wattage at RMS, speaker efficiency rating, whether you use a combo 2x12 vs a 4x12 cab, etc.

One thing I've heard a lot is that for tube amps that 50 watts is a barely audible difference to most people than a 100 watt amp - that you only really lose clean headroom. I feel like the thing I cannot find any info on with respect to this is at what volume level? For arguments sake let's say that both amps are running at the same volume level (both at 12 oclock ), is the db difference still the same or is it only with both of them at maxed out volume that there is a small audible difference in volume? When I run a 100 watt head at half volume is that like having a 50 watt head maxed out? I've never owned a 50 watt amp but am considering one. All the heads I've owned have either been 120 SS watts or 85 - 100 watt tube heads/combos (V4, JCM800, Twin). I was reading on an older Marshall amps forum that some of the members there had 50 watt heads that were just astoundingly louder than some of the 100 watt heads they had owned at different points and that it had to do with a multitude of the aforementioned factors coming together. At any rate, could I get some input from the OSG crowd on this? I'd love to hear from some of you that own 50 watt heads and swear by them and what you use them for, etc. I'm definitely looking for a lot more than bedroom volume and my drummer is monstrously loud.

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Re: Help Me Understand Wattage

Post by MechaBulletBill » Tue Jun 16, 2020 7:29 am

tune_link wrote:
Tue Jun 16, 2020 7:24 am
When I run a 100 watt head at half volume is that like having a 50 watt head maxed out?
no, if i remember correctly, you'd need a 500w head to get 2x the volume of a 50w.

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Re: Help Me Understand Wattage

Post by adamrobertt » Tue Jun 16, 2020 9:31 am

I've never had to turn my 22 watt Deluxe Reverb above 5 or 6 to be loud enough in a live setting, and that's in a 5 piece band with a loud drummer and 3 guitarists. I think you may be overestimating just how much volume you actually need.

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Re: Help Me Understand Wattage

Post by tune_link » Tue Jun 16, 2020 10:38 am

I will respond to that by saying every band we’ve ever played with comments on our drummer‘s volume. That’s just other bands. The times I’ve heard it from an audience member are numerous. I played a V4 when we started this band and it lasted a year before finally blowing up and literally catching on fire. I use a Twin now and it’s typically on 5 or 6 and that’s just to match his volume not be above it.

With all that said, I’ve really never played through a 20 watt tube head so maybe it’s louder than I expect? Our other guitarist uses a 60 watt Fender combo and it seems plenty loud enough - which is what got me considering a 50 watt head instead.

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Re: Help Me Understand Wattage

Post by nigel davenport » Tue Jun 16, 2020 9:35 pm

Re: old 50 watt Marshall’s being louder, I recently read something about Marshall used to rate the wattage at when the amp would start to clip. Not sure if that’s real or not but could be an explanation.

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Re: Help Me Understand Wattage

Post by nigel davenport » Tue Jun 16, 2020 9:39 pm

Btw I have a 50 watt head, VHT 50st running on el84s. I’ve read that four el84s couldn’t produce 50 watts but I’ve also read that It depends on the transformer. I run it into a 2x12 cab. My band has a loud drummer, loud bass player, and loud synth player that runs into tube head and 2x12 cab. I don’t have the cleanest headroom but my amp keeps up and cuts through.

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Re: Help Me Understand Wattage

Post by MT » Tue Jun 16, 2020 9:48 pm

Doubling the amp wattage will result in 3db increase in volume. So your 100w amp will be roughly 3db louder than the 50w version into the same cab and speakers. Doubling your speakers will also give you 3dbs increase (up to a certain number of speakers because this relates to speaker efficiency).

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Re: Help Me Understand Wattage

Post by tune_link » Wed Jun 17, 2020 3:54 am

The 3db increase from the double wattage is something I've seen every time I've gone down this rabbit hole. I didn't consider the speaker efficiency before now but I play through a 4x12 70s Ampeg closed back cab that has Celestion V30s in it so pretty much any head I've had has been run through it. I'm almost certain I would never need more than that as far as a cab goes. I wanna be loud but I def don't need to be Sleep or J Mascis or MBV (though I do LOVE all three).

As for that thing about old Marshalls I went back and looked at the models listed from the forum where I found it. One of the ones in question is a Marshall 1987xl 50 watt. I don't know what's different about that particular head but I found an old Premier Guitar demo of it with Andy (haha dude has been doing this for fucking EVER apparently). In the demo you can actually tell that the head is incredibly loud - something that I think almost never comes across in any demo by anyone. Then I went to the Reverb reviews of it and what do you know, each and every one quotes it as one of the loudest heads they've ever owned. I kind of wonder if there's something they did in that particular amp that was different for a 50 watter. The other 50 watt head that was on this list is the Marshall JMP 2204. At the top they placed a head I'm not familiar with at all called the 6100 but it's 100 watts.

Thank you all for the input by the way.

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Re: Help Me Understand Wattage

Post by MT » Wed Jun 17, 2020 4:56 am

The other thing would be whether the particular company measures its amp wattage as “clean” watts or total watts. A 50w amp measured using clean watts will be louder than an amp with 50w total.

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Re: Help Me Understand Wattage

Post by cestlamort » Wed Jun 17, 2020 5:52 am

Not the main issue here, but worth noting that there can be a huge difference between playing with normal, loud, and LOUD drummers, especially in the context of a practice space, where things can swirl and disappear at higher volumes.

With most drummers, I’ll play a Super Reverb or JC77, not pushing things, but both could barely keep up with our drummer years back. She was super duper loud. (PSA: remember to invest in and wear proper hearing protection, kids. It doesn’t come back once it’s gone).

At some point though, speakers end up being the weakest link in the chain and 50 or 100 watts won’t matter if the speakers can’t keep up. (Which is why I ended up with a Twin Reverb with huge EV12L speakers. It did keep up fine. I couldn’t lift it though).

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Re: Help Me Understand Wattage

Post by mbene085 » Wed Jun 17, 2020 6:05 am

There's no clear relationship between amp wattage, the number on the volume knob, sound pressure level, and perceived volume.

Some amps can handle multiple different speaker loads, and different speakers have different sensitivities, which is the efficiency with which they turn power from the amp into sound. Even the same two speakers wired differently will yield different results with the same amp - like two 8-ohm speakers in series (16 ohms) vs parallel (4 ohms).

You mentioned setting an amp at 5 on the volume knob and trying to figure out what wattage "equivalent" you'd be matching at 10, but that's also impossible, because amps behave differently as you turn them up. A solid state class D power amp and a tube class A power amp exhibit very different properties as you turn them up. As you turn up a tube amp, it compresses more and more as it overdrives - meaning the loudest notes and the softest notes played start getting closer together in terms of actual output.

This also blunts transients, the sharpest and highest-energy parts of notes. But on the other hand, way you perceive the loudness of a note is related less to transients and more to the average loudness, though, which is why highly-compressed audio tracks sound "louder" than uncompressed ones with sharper transients peaking at the same ceiling.

This all has a very complex relationship with the way we actually perceive sound, which also varies depending on loudness and which frequencies you're talking about, as illustrated by the Fletcher-Munson curves. It takes a lot more power to make a low frequency sound as loud as a higher one, and the perceived balance of frequencies changes with overall volume. Coming back to a guitar example, an amp or speaker that has a natural high-pass filter effect at, say, 100Hz could sound a lot louder if it's outputting an equal amount of energy, at equal efficiency, to an amp or speaker where a lot of that output is below 100Hz (where our hearing is very inefficient, and where you don't need guitar contributing to the mix anyway).

TLDR; it's all a big mess of interrelated factors, so you have to use your ears and not spec sheets to figure out how loud any amp actually sounds.

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Re: Help Me Understand Wattage

Post by mijmog » Wed Jun 17, 2020 7:19 am

I'm really into this subject as its something I've battled with for years and thought a lot about.

It is an inaccurate science when it comes to real world situations. And as someone else said, it is all about clean watts really.

Before any discussion of watts is involved though its more about the following in terms of "perceived" volume for me:
  • size of the stage, position of the amp
  • open or closed back speakers
  • efficiency of your speakers
  • how loud the other musicians are
  • how dynamic the other musicians are
  • health of amp
  • type of music
I've gigged loads of amps from Blues Juniors to a 100 watt Super Lead, and played across lots of different stages, all with the same guitar and a loud drummer banging away on an old Ludwig as a consistent standard.
  • I had a 22 watt SF Deluxe Reverb with a Celestion Greenback that was louder than a 40 watt SF Super Reverb with old Oxfords. The SF SR had the scooped thing and lacked presence in a loud band setting. The Greenback helped the DR and gave it more of a place to sit in the mix.
  • I used a Blues Junior through an efficient tall 2x12 cab that was just magical and could project at any volume.
  • I used an 80 watt late 70s SF Super Reverb with the UL transformers (plus stock speakers) that had slightly greater clean headroom and held together more at gig volume, and therefore was more aggressive and could be heard over the drums. It broke up later than the earlier model and actually sounded better in a band context. I would buy one again in heart beat, ignore what "they" say.
  • I had a 18 watt Cornell Plexi in a closed back cab with 10" speakers that no one could hear. No "oomph" and it would collapse on full volume and lose presence in a loud band. I took the back panel off and it totally changed, suddenly it was heard.
  • I used a 100 watt Super Lead through a solid 4x12" with old Greenbacks that was like a laser beam, no one could hear it on stage, but if you were unlucky enough to be in the way it was awful. On a small stage cranked you couldn't hear it when stood in front of it, but on a large stage, standing 10 feet away it was incredible. Felt like it needed all its power to push out the bass frequencies, you need to run the bass all off. I tried a THD attenuator and all this did was lower the headroom and soften the attack slightly.
  • I had a 30 watt JTM45 through the same cab that pushed out loads of mids, especially when boosted, could hear more of it and sounded wonderful, always in the "sweet spot".
  • I had a 40 watt Brown Concert with a solid state rectifier and super efficient Eminence 10"s that felt louder than most 50-100 watt amps, it was clean all the way up until 8-9, it would blow peoples ears off. The sound would spill out the back and drown the stage. The speakers didn't distort, the amp didn't squash, it was super aggressive and all the "transients" from the first attack of the note hit you in the face. All aggressive mids. I changed the speakers back to inefficient Jensens and it completely changed.
  • I never found Twins to be that loud, maybe all the rented ones are dead, I had an SF one with JBLs that sounded superb, but as I couldn't get it loud enough it felt strangled, a Super Reverb from the same era sounded huge compared to it.
I've found that its all about your EQ settings compared to everyone else, how you fit in the mix. A Tele through a healthy Deluxe Reverb with a mid-boost somewhere from either a pedal or speaker swap, or a pushed AC30, will get you heard on just about every stage, whereas a warmer sounding guitar into a bass heavy British style 50 watt head through a closed back cab, sat next to a bassist with an Ampeg 8x10 will be harder to "mix" in that setting and you'll wondering where the watts have gone. There's a reason that all the old guys ran their Marshalls with the bass off just to get them heard and stop the speakers flubbing out and blowing. There's a reason why the treble booster was invented too.

Just sticking the amp on a chair makes you feel like your amp has doubled in volume. I would also advocate using two 15watt amps over one 50 watt head all the time. The psycho-acoustic trick of two different speakers spread apart feels "bigger". Alan Sparhawk blows me away with his sound.

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Re: Help Me Understand Wattage

Post by panoramic » Wed Jun 17, 2020 7:27 am

i primarily play in 3 piece bands but when i did play with other guitarists I used a silverface twin or a peavey classic 50 4x10 for most of those scenarios.
Right now i have two blackface bandmasters and a hot rod deluxe (94 i think) at the house, the HRD is vastly more present in the mix than the bandmasters are but they have tone that destroys most other amps. I don't like to sacrifice tone for headroom.
I find that higher headroom = brittle sounds
Stand in front of Andy from Ride at a gig one time and you'll understand what i mean
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Re: Help Me Understand Wattage

Post by tune_link » Wed Jun 17, 2020 7:40 am

The last few comments are incredibly insightful. I feel like this is a topic that a LOT of musicians struggle with and yet trying to find info on it is difficult because there isn't a common denominator with respect to what causes it. I personally feel like I'm always finding the info I need after I already made a decision that I thought was good at the time but ends up being crucially bad in practice. Case in point - I went from playing through a JCM head where the dirt pedals sounded awesome through it to a Fender Twin because I thought my cleans sounded thin and weak. Now that I'm using the Twin my clean tone has never sounded better - full stop - and at at bedroom volume all my dirt pedals sound great but as soon as I turn up for band practice they sound like completely flubby boxy garbage while the clean continue to sound great. I read that Twins have a mid scoop and since I play with a lot of fuzz I now have to be extremely considerate of what the mids are like on the amp in relation to any dirt pedal at pretty much all times. Lately I've been wondering if an amp stand that sort of closes up the back of the Twin like one of those Sound Enhancer ones might be beneficial.

Love Ride btw. Nowhere is one hell of an LP and their reunion albums have been pretty decent!

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Re: Help Me Understand Wattage

Post by panoramic » Wed Jun 17, 2020 7:57 am

Yeahi love Ride, top 5 band for me but trust me, if you stand in front of Andy live it's the most brittle sounding thing coming off the stage but if you are in the audience back a bit from the stage it sounds great, that to me is a high wattage problem.
I've used jtm45 clones, ac 30's etc but once you get past 50 or so watts it can get ugly. Dual Showman and Twins can still sound good to my ears but not always
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