Don't want to spend a lot of money on a new guitar amp to play gigs? OK, check our guide to the best affordable gigging guitar amps! Find out how loud is "loud enough", how small is "too small" and everything else you need to know, to help you choosing your perfect combo amp for playing live gigs!
Let's start by making clear what this blog isn't about - it's not about the very best amps you can get to play live, so it's not for those guitarists who are thinking about getting a new Vox AC30, Marshall Bluesbreaker or Fender Twin Reverb.
Instead, we're aiming to help players who are perhaps making their transition from home practice / band rehearsals into playing their first ever gigs, and those who're simply on a tight budget and don't want to (or simply can't) spend a lot of money on a gigging amp.
The Top 6 Best Affordable Guitar Combo Amps for Playing Live (2016)
Here's our top picks of affordable (under £200*) guitar combo amps that you can use at home and for recording, but which are also good and loud enough for playing live, in most situations.
Marshall CODE25 only £179
Line 6 Spider IV 30 Guitar Combo Amp only £165
Fender Mustang II v2 only £148
Orange Crush 35 RT only £199
Roland Cube 40GX only £165
Vox Valvetronix VT40X only £220
*All prices correct as of August 2016. Subject to change.
Gigging Amp vs. Practice Amp vs. Recording Amp: What's the Difference?
In simplistic terms, any small (and often cheap) guitar amp is a suitable practice amp to use at home. And any expensive, big, loud guitar amp will for sure be a suitable amplifier for playing live. If you're looking for a good practice amp, a quick look at our Mini Amplification section will show you a few good options, for instance. And a quick glance at some of our best and most expensive amps will reveal a wide selection of great amps that are used today on stages all over the world.
As for recording - well, any kind of amp could be used! But in terms of versatility, tone and practicality, small valve amps are the best choice (a subject worth its own blog, for sure!)
How Loud Does a Gigging Guitar Amp Need To Be?
There is an awkward category of guitar amps, that leaves some guitarists puzzled - if you buy a 30-watt solid-state amp, for example, is it loud enough for gigging, or is it only suitable for home practice? Like in many cases when it comes to playing guitar, the answer is never straight-forward: it depends on the situation, and it depends on what musical style you play.
If you're a solo act, even a small 15-watt solid-state practice amp could be suitable in a small room, playing in front of less than 100 people. But if you're in a rock band, with a loud drummer, playing a small-to-mid-sized venue, unmiked, that very same amp would be a hopeless choice!
Generally speaking, you can safely buy a 30-watt solid-state amp, or a 15-watt valve amp, knowing it will be loud enough for playing most gigs. Professional guitarists as diverse as Noel Gallagher and Jeff Beck actually prefer 15-watt valve amps (a Fender Blues Junior and a Fender Pro Junior, respectively).
Venue size & P.A. Quality Play A Part
In most situations, you don't really need a big, loud amp... unless you're in a Hard Rock / Metal band, where louder is always better!
- If you're playing in a small venue: for instance, imagine a DIY gig at the back room of a pub, without a great P.A., and without miking your amp. A big amp wouldn't be necessary, or even desirable - it could be very cumbersome and take too much space, and also end up just being too loud.
- If you're playing at one of Britain's many "toilet-circuit" venues: this type of venue usually have decent P.A. and monitors, and your amp will be mic'ed up - so unless yo're using a tiny practice amp, you got nothing to worry about. Also, the sound engineer will nag you to turn yourself down if you use a bigger amp. Yes... it **always** happens!
- If we're playing bigger venues: at big, proper venues the wattage of your amp is even less of an issue, because they will always have a great P.A. and a competent sound engineer, so whether you use a small or a big amp, you'll have monitors to hear yourself as loud as you want.
In this day and age, very rarely you'd find yourself in a situation where you're playing at a venue that's: 1) too big and cavernous for a smaller amp and 2) which doesn't have the right gear to mic that amp.
In a nutshell: you can spend over £500+ on a loud amp and have it turned up to 1 or 2, or spend half the money and have your smaller amp turned up to 7 or so. The end result can be pretty similar, and your audience certainly wouldn't notice. So you can save yourself some money and get something that's also much easier to transport!
The Advantages of Using Bigger Guitar Amps
Having said all that, bigger & louder amps still have many advantages over smaller ones: for instance, you can get more bass response and more headroom when it comes to using clean sounds at louder volumes. Besides the fact that they look really cool and badass - they remain the main choice for pros playing the big stages worldwide, and this is unlikely to change anytime soon.
If money is not an issue, and transporting a big amp is not a problem, then by all means go for it. After all, amps such as the Vox AC30, Marshall Bluesbreaker or Fender Twin Reverb are part of the fabric of rock'n'roll, and have become as iconic as the artists who've played them over the years! But if money or transportation are an issue, buying a smaller amp should pose no problem at most gigs, and you can buy one without worries.
Ultimately, choosing an amp is always a very personal thing - and if you're still not sure what amp to get, come and visit one of our PMT Stores, to try a few for yourself!