Why Every Guitarist Should Own a Small Guitar Amp
By Brad Tolinski
Once upon a time it was every guitar player’s dream to own a giant 100-watt amp with a 4x12 speaker cabinet — and it was easy to see why. In the ‘70s PA systems were terrible, and players like Jimmy Page, Edward Van Halen and Yngwie Malmsteen needed the loudest amp they could find just to be heard in the back of a club or arena. Also, Master Volume controls had not been invented, so you needed to be LOUD to get those big power tubes to distort. There was no demand for a small guitar amp — it was go big or go home.
But over the last 30 years, sound reinforcement technology has radically improved, and now, in many cases, small amps rule the roost. The following are some of the main reasons we’ll take a good lightweight combo amp over a six-foot tall stack any day of the week.
Improved PA Systems Make Small Guitar Amps Easier to Use
If you plan to play at a club, chances are the venue will have a decent PA system run by (hopefully) a professional sound person. Because most sound systems are quite good these days, there’s no real need for a 100-watt amp. If the sound person is decent, they will make sure you are heard and that your sound is balanced with the rest of your band.
In fact, most sound pros hate extremely loud amps because it makes mixing more difficult. A lightweight 40-watt combo is usually more than enough to get you heard almost anywhere. So why carry around a huge 4x12 speaker cabinet when it isn’t wanted or appreciated? Travel light and travel smart with a compact guitar amp.
Small Guitar Amps are Great for Jamming at Home
For most of us, space at home is at a premium, which is why you should consider getting one of the best small amps for home use. Owning a great mini guitar amp means you can fit it in your bedroom when you want to practice, or easily carry it to your garage or basement when you want to jam with friends or rehearse with your band. Consider choosing an amp that looks as good as our Spark amp—not only does it look great as a decorative piece, but it’s totally functional, which makes it one of the best bedroom guitar amps.
When rehearsing with a band, keep in mind that you may need to lift a small amplifier off the ground and place it on some milk crates to get it a little closer to ear level so you can hear yourself better over a drum kit.
Recording is Easier with a Small Guitar Amplifier
If you have a home studio, and prefer to use a real amp over a software-based amp when recording, a portable small amplifier is also probably a better bet than a huge stack. They are easier to isolate if you want to crank the volume and easier to store when a session is done.
While some may think using a smaller amp is a compromise, it’s important to note that many of the greatest guitar sounds in classic rock history were recorded using small amplifiers, including all of Eric Clapton’s classic Layla album which was done with tiny 5-watt Fender Champ amps.
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Much of Led Zeppelin’s catalog was also recorded on a small amp or combo. To that point, Jimmy Page’s new custom Sundragon amp, based on the Supro he used on the first Led Zeppelin album, is only about 20 watts in total.
Small Amps are Portable
By now it should be obvious that one of great virtues of a small amp is that it is lightweight and portable. Back in the early days of rock and roll you needed to rent a van or own a station wagon to travel to gig, a jam or a practice. With a small amp you can use it in a small 1 bedroom apartment without taking up too much space, or you can just pop in the trunk of your Honda Fit and you’re on your way.
Small Amps Have Better Technology
But perhaps the most incredible aspect of many small amps is how packed they are with technology. These days, most small amps come with dozens of effects and are made by almost every major amplifier company. Many also come with headphone jacks so you don’t have to drive your roommates crazy while practicing “Ace of Spades” for your Motörhead tribute band.
Allow us to introduce you to Spark MINI - our battery-powered practice amp with smart app integration and big, beautiful multi-dimensional sound. With multi-dimensional rich and detailed sound, all-new Smart Jam, video creation, and 8-hours of battery life, it's the biggest smallest rig ever.
Spark MINI also doubles as an ultra-high-quality Bluetooth® speaker, allowing you to stream your favorite music from your computer or mobile device. Sit back and listen, or pick up your guitar and jam along. It's an unmatched, go-anywhere audio sweet spot. Now name a 100-watt amp that can do all of that!
Conclusion: Why You Should Own a Small Guitar Amp
While we would never begrudge any guitarist the unbridled joy of cranking a 100-watt amplifier to 10 and letting it rip until the neighbors call the cops—and, believe us, they will—we think many players at home will get more use and satisfaction out of something a bit more lightweight, travel-friendly and portable.
Looking to learn more about Spark MINI? Click here.
Brad Tolinski is perhaps best known for his work as the editor-in-chief of Guitar World Magazine for 25 years. He is also the author of Light and Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page (Crown); and Play It Loud: An Epic History of the Style, Sound and Revolution of the Electric Guitar (Doubleday), which was the basis for a 2019 guitar-focused exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Most recently he edited the 50th Anniversary Commemorative Issue of CREEM magazine, and his latest book Eruption: Conversations with Eddie Van Halen (Hachette) will be coming out in October 2021.