Small Guitar Amps: A Guide to Buying and Using for Maximum Tone

Small Guitar Amps

Are you a guitar player looking to get the maximum tone out of your instrument? Small guitar amplifiers are an affordable and great way to do just that. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll provide an overview of small guitar amps, discuss the different types available, and provide tips and tricks for getting the most out of them. Get ready to take your sound to the next level!

What is a small guitar amp?

In the last few years, there has been a sudden explosion in the popularity of small guitar amps. Big stacks and combos are no longer the default option for guitarists. Instead, musicians are increasingly favoring smaller, low-watt combos. In response to this surge in popularity, brands like Marshall and Fender have created a whole range of small amps. But what exactly are these small guitar amps, and what makes them so special?

Small Guitar Amps

Small guitar amps are compact-sized amps that are used for amplifying the sound of an electric guitar. They’re typically designed for practice sessions, personal use, and small gigs. Further, they are also the ideal option for beginner musicians and guitarists who want to practice in their apartments without disturbing others.

Generally, small guitar amps have a power output of less than 20W, which makes them ideal for low-volume playing. However, some guitarists might also consider amps with a power output of 30W to be small.

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Small guitar amps come in a wide range of shapes, sizes, and configurations. Some of them are designed as a single unit known as a combo amp, and it combines the speaker and amplifier in one package. Meanwhile, others come designed as separate pieces and are known as a head and cabinet, which consists of a speaker cabinet and an amp head. Small guitar amps also come with a basic set of controls such as volume, gain, and tone. Some amps may also come with built-in effects like delay, reverb, and distortion, which can be used for enhancing the sound of the guitar.

What does a great small guitar amp consist of?

As the guitar amp market evolved, the market for small guitar amps has changed tremendously thanks to the introduction of digital modeling technologies. When it comes to tube amps, the oldest amp technology on the market, small is and has always been beautiful.

While you can have a large, 100W digital modeling combo and make it sound amazing in a domestic setting (i.e. not pushing the air around the room and shaking the windows with loud volume), tube amps are slightly different. To hit the sweet spot, you need to be working the power tubes, as this is where the magic happens. After that, the natural compression and harmonic richness will bear fruit, and you’ll get what you paid for.

Whether you’re recording professionally or casually playing for fun, the volume can easily be exceeded, with 5W or fewer amps offering a much more manageable performance. At 5W, small gigs can still be performed. In fact, you can perform with a 1W amp, although you might have to throw a mic in front of it.

Solid-state amps helped with solving this conundrum. Using transistors instead of vacuum tubes, they can offer a similar overdriven profile at a low volume as they do when cranked up. While digital modeling technology has surpassed them in more ways than one, trapped between the worlds of tube purists and modern digital enthusiasts, a solid-state amp design still remains a wonderful amplifier.

What the tube amps and solid-state amps at the time lacked were options. Today’s musicians have many options and the likes of Boss, Line 6, Yamaha, or even the new kid on the block, Positive Grid, have been using powerful digital modeling techniques for increasing the functionality of the guitar amps. In fact, they can do so digitally means that they won’t have to take up as much space, and no more is it more dramatically observed than in the evolution of a desktop amp.

Often, these futuristic units take a leaf out of home audio designs. For instance, the Yamaha THR Series. From the front, these small guitar amps look like hi-fi equipment while not looking out of place in the front room. However, look at the control panel and you’ll get a familiar set of knobs and switches. Moreover, there will also be a few extra buttons for effects, presets, and various amp models.

However, with digital modeling amps, the accompanying apps could extend their functionality. This will allow for deep editing of the amp’s sounds and unlock new features like Bluetooth audio streaming and jam track creation.

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Benefits of a small guitar amp

Small guitar amps are an incredibly popular choice among guitarists and musicians for a wide variety of reasons. These compact-sized amps offer many benefits, which makes them an ideal option for beginners and experienced guitarists alike. Here are some of the benefits of a small guitar amp  –

#1. Better tone at a lower volume

One of the biggest benefits of a small guitar amp is its lower volume, and this has played a massive role in the surge in its popularity. Unless you’re consistently playing in big venues where you have to crank your amp, you’ll rarely be able to get the most out of a big amp like a Marshall Bluesbreaker or a Fender Quad Reverb. They’re simply too loud to be played at home or in a small studio. Meanwhile, with a small guitar amp, you’ll be able to get a better tone at a considerably lower volume.

Lower watt amps will be less powerful, which means you’ll be able to overload the tubes within them easily. As a result, you’ll be able to push a small guitar amp into the beautiful bluesy breakup at a much lower volume.

This is a massive benefit. Most blues guitarists are usually looking for slightly overdriven tones. However, most guitarists aren’t always playing in large venues. In fact, most non-professional musicians carry out much of their playing and recording at home, with a few small gigs occasionally. If you have to be conscious of the volume you’re playing at, but you still want to dial in that beautiful, slightly overdriven blues tone, then adding a small guitar amp to your set-up can be a great choice.

#2. Portability

Another significant benefit of small guitar amps is their portability. These amps are quite lightweight and very easy to carry around, which makes them the ideal option for musicians who are always on the go. You can easily transport them to gigs, rehearsals, and practice sessions. In fact, you can easily fit them in a van or car trunk, or even a backpack.

#3. Easily affordable

Small guitar amps tend to be much more affordable compared to their large counterparts. This makes them the ideal choice for beginner musicians who might be on a budget. They offer a wonderful way to get started without needing to spend the big bucks.

#4. Versatility

Small guitar amps are quite versatile and can be used for a wide variety of music styles. Not only are they capable of producing clean, crisp tones, but they can also deliver warm, overdrive tones, which makes them ideal for a variety of music genres. Some of the models also come with built-in effects like delay, reverb, and distortion, which makes them a versatile option for a wide range of music genres.

#5. Ease of use

Small guitar amps tend to be quite easy to use. They come with a simple set of controls, which will allow you to adjust the volume, gain, and tone. They’re perfect for beginners who are just beginning to learn to play the guitar. These amps offer a wonderful way of experimenting with different effects and tones.

Different types of small guitar amps

There are three basic types of small guitar amps available – tube amps, solid-state amps, and modeling amps. There are numerous appropriate amp models in each category for whatever application you might be interested in. Some of them are versatile enough that they can cover a variety of different situations. Here are the different types of small guitar amps available.

#1. Tube amps

Since the triode was invented in 1907, vacuum tubes have been used for audio amplification. Even until now, many tubes can trace their basic circuits to the RCA tube manuals of the 1930s. This ultimately results in a group of time-tested amps, descended from amps like Tweet Deluxe and Champ by Fender, the Gibson GA10, and the flood of amps that are made for Supro, Harmony, National, Gretsch, and others by the Valco company. They’re the basic designs that are capable of delivering the most iconic tones for electric guitar.

#2. Solid-state amps

Solid-state amps are the second category, and their use was started after tube amps. Back when they first appeared on the scene in the 50s and 60s, they were generally called transistor amps and were intended as practice amps. As the transistor technology further developed, they got renamed “solid-state” and individual transistors get replaced with integrated circuits. Meanwhile, higher outputs and more advanced designs help bring them into the world of performance-worthy amps that were treasured and in demand for their clean sounds. Amps such as the Roland JC Series, Polytone’s jazz amps, Kustom’s “tuck-and-roll” combos, and metal-capable Randall amps are some of the classic designs

#3. Digital Modeling amps

The third type of small guitar amp is the digital modeling amp. Since modeling amps were introduced in the mid-90s, digital modeling amps have been becoming more and more popular. Digital modeling amps like the Boss Katana and Line 6 Spider make use of powerful Digital Signal Processing hardware to arithmetically recreate the physical behavior of analog amps, not just tube and solid-state but classic pedal and rack effects too. Modeling can successfully combine virtual components in ways that cannot be done in the physical world for creating entirely new amps. As tools for musicians and guitarists who are looking for a wide variety of sounds available instantly, they’ve ended up being an amazingly flexible solution.

How to choose a small guitar amp?

Small guitar amps are quite popular among musicians and guitarists due to their portability, versatility, and affordability. They’re perfect for practicing alone at home, jamming with friends, or even performing small gigs. Choosing the perfect small guitar amp for your needs can be a somewhat daunting task, especially with the wide variety of options available in the market. However, by conserving a few key factors, you’ll be able to narrow down your choices and find the perfect small guitar amp that suits your needs. Here are the key considerations to make when choosing a small guitar amp – 

#1. Determine your needs

Before you begin your chase for a small new guitar amp, you’ll need to determine your needs first. What type of music do you play, what is your budget, where do you want to play, etc. Answering such questions will help you narrow down the choices and find a small guitar amp that is suitable for your needs.

Small guitar amps come in a wide range of sizes. You should consider where you’ll be using the amp and how loud you’ll need it to be. If you’re using the amp for practicing at home, a low-wattage amp will be ideal. If you intend to perform live or playing in a band, you’ll require a more powerful amp. Moreover, you should consider the size and weight of the amp, especially if you’ll be transporting it frequently.

#2. Type of amplifier

The next thing you should consider when choosing a small guitar amp will be the type of amplifier. There are different types of small guitar amps such as a tube, solid state, digital-modeling, hybrid, and mini amps. Each type of amp comes with its own unique features and characteristics.

Tube amps are known for delivering a warm and natural tone. They’re more expensive and require much more maintenance. However, guitars prefer this type of amp for its sound quality.

Solid-state amps are quite popular for their affordability and durability. They’re ideal for beginners and musicians on a tight budget

Digital modeling amps use digital technology for replicating the sound and effects of different amps. They offer a wide range of tones and effects, which makes them an ideal option for musicians looking for versatility.

Hybrid amps combine the best features of tube amps and solid-state amps. They’re popular for offering the warmth of tube amps and the durability of solid-state amps.

Generally, mini amps are small, portable, and battery-powered. They’re the perfect option for practicing on the go or for playing in small places.

#3. Power and wattage

The next thing that you should consider is the power and wattage of the amp. Small guitar amps usually range from 5W to 50W. If you intend to use the amp for practicing at home, a small guitar amp will suffice. However, if you intend to perform live or playing in a band, then you’ll likely require a more powerful amp.

#4. Speaker size

The speaker size will be another important factor that you should consider. Smaller speakers tend to be ideal for practicing at home or in small spaces, whereas larger speakers are much better for performing live or in a band. The most common speaker sizes when it comes to small guitar amps are 8 and 10 inches.

#5. Small guitar amp features

Small guitar amps come with a wide range of features, including built-in effects, auxiliary inputs, and headphone jacks. You should consider the features that are important to how and how they’ll be impacting your playing experience, and then choose the ideal small guitar amp.

#6. Price

Lastly, you must consider your budget. Small guitar amps tend to range in price from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars. You should consider how much you are willing to spend on the amp and what features are important to you. You must keep in mind that a higher price does not necessarily equate to a better quality small guitar amp.

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How to use a small guitar amp

Setting up a pedalboard

The way you set up the pedalboard can be just as important as any other process of playing music. The size, power supply, or even the wrong type of cable can ruin the chain. Here is how you can set up the pedalboard.

#1. Choose a versatile set of pedals

Tuner, distortion, overdrive, wah, reverb, delay, and more are great pedal effect options to begin with.

#2. Find the right-sized pedalboard

You should make sure to first find the right-sized pedalboard. It must have enough space that it can accommodate the effects that you are using.

#3. Purchase the pedal power supply

Keep the pedals powered quietly using a high-quality isolated pedal PSU. This will make a world of difference.

#4. Order and connect the pedals

You must route and position the pedals logically so that you can ensure that you are getting the most out of the pedals.

#5. Mount the stompboxes to your pedalboard

Once you have established your layout, you must apply velcro to the pedalboard/stompboxes and mount them.

Combining multiple pedals to create unique sounds

You will be combining multiple pedals like Tuner, Overdrive, Distortion, Delay, Reverb, Wah, and more for creating a unique sound. While many guitarists prefer placing pedals in a conventional way, there aren’t any set rules. The pedal arrangement will be something specific to you. If you have decided to purchase patch cables, you will not have a lot of flexibility on the layout of the pedals.

If you’re using a wah pedal, you need to mount it toward the side of the pedalboard that you feel most comfortable using with your feet. With the rest of the pedals, you must ask yourself about the ones that you’re most likely to use. For instance, overdrive and distortion pedals are likely to get regularly stamped on. Therefore, it’ll make sense to place these pedals toward the end of your pedalboard.

If you always use delay when you are playing solo, it’ll be smart to have it near enough to the overdrive and distortion pedals. This way, you can quickly engage/disengage them without having to tap-dance.


What size of amp should I get for my guitar?

The size of amp you should get for your guitar will depend on the type of sound you are trying to achieve. Smaller amps are best for practice and recording, as they provide a more focused sound with less power and volume. Larger amps are better for live performances, as they can provide more power and projection. It’s important to consider the type of sound you want when choosing the size of amp for your guitar.

What other features should I consider when buying a small guitar amp?

When buying a small guitar amp, it’s important to consider the type of sound you want, the wattage, the speaker size, tone and volume controls, as well as portability. Some amps may also come with additional features such as built-in effects, headphone jacks, and Bluetooth connectivity. It’s important to consider the features you need to get the most out of your amp.

How can I get the best tone out of my small guitar amp?

Getting the best tone out of your small guitar amp will depend on several factors, including the type of amp, the style of playing, the settings you use, and the type of guitar you are playing. Experimenting with different tone settings will lead you to the best tone for your style.

Read our Small Guitar Amp Guides