#1
Apologies for spelling mistakes here. I'm using my phone.

So we seem to be getting a lot of "What's the best small tube amp" threads right now
and I thought I might make a thread on this for some questions I have.

I've been using small amps for a while now, because of my bad back and because I've
just had major surgery and not wanting to carry anything of a weight to damage myself
or put me at risk. I also need portability, also I've found the tones I like for my band use
power amp distortion rather than preamp distortion.

So my questions are:

1) Why do amps of the smaller kind have a trend of using EL84's rather than 6V6's?
Is it because of the sonic characteristics or something to do about
the way they're designed or both?

2) Obviously for certain genres more headroom the better, but what about using
big amplifiers with over controlling sound guys? Do you see any reason unless you
like the amplifier to go smaller rather than bigger?


3) Has anyone had the experience where lower volume is better on stage?
How did you get around it with larger heads?
Bass Gear:

Mensinger: Speesy
Fender Precision 1989 (CIJ Rosewood)
Fender Steve Harris (CIJ)
Lakland J Sonic 5
Epiphone Explorer
Maruszczyk (custom) Jake

Ashdown CTM 100
#2
1. EL84s are cheaper, and the driver characteristics are different. The EL84 was actually designed to be used in cheap radios without any preamp tubes, so not only is it a cheaper valve but for guitar use it's perfect because it overloads beautifully at lower volumes than most other tubes. That's perfect for small amps where you want OD at low volumes and don't want to have to cascade 5 preamp tube gain stages to do it.

2. Not really, no. People are slowly figuring out (especially now that master volume and other volume management circuits are getting so good) that the wattage of the amp is not necessarily the most important thing to take into account. Big amps can sound fantastic at low volumes, small amps can be loud enough to gig with. As long as the headroom is ok, there's nothing at all wrong with using a big amp and keeping the volume low, or a small amp cranked way up.

3. Hard to answer - lower than what? Typically, guitarists want to be as loud as possible and bartenders and customers are...not quite as enthusiastic. I think there's still this misconception that if you have a 120 watt amp you are either "wasting" volume or that it will only be usable at ear-shattering volumes. This is essentially a non-issue with any amp with a master volume, so unless you do something silly like try to get your 100 watt plexi into power tube saturation at a 30 seat bar gig, there's no issue. Amps have volume controls, they work. Throw some pedals on top and you can sound fantastic at nearly any volume with nearly any amp. Again, the only real issue is if you run out of headroom. Too much power is fine, too little can be a problem.
#3
1) I have a Mercury Magnetics mod (transformers, choke, circuit mods) on my Epiphone Valve Jr (EL84) 5W. It happens to add an octet socket for the 6V6, so that you can use either the EL84, the 6V6 or both together. It's both a sound and a design issue (cheaper to use the EL84s), and I think it's also a popularity issue.

2) These days, sound guys really don't like to see big iron rolling in the door accompanied by newb bands. They have to anticipate a difficult educational process.

3) Lower volume on stage has been the trend for maybe 15 years.
  • Tinnitus is a thing, and you don't want it
  • Loud amps (and drums) contaminate vocal mikes and make it difficult or impossible to balance miked amps, vocals and PA output
  • There's a timing issue with loud amps onstage and miked amps coming through the PA.
  • There's a sound difference between a loud 4x12 beaming treble on axis and a miked single speaker and the sound of the 4x12 off-axis (as heard by the guitar player)
  • Loud amps onstage make it difficult to hear vocal monitors and the other musicians
  • Down-front audiences get brutalized and often don't hear vocals. Moreover, even with PA front fills, loud stage volume means that the sound is localized; there's no balance.


If you need power tube distortion to "get your sound," you'll be pointing your speaker cabinet toward the back of the stage, using an attenuator/load box (which will change "your sound") or using a Fluxtone speaker (Google it), which will preserve "your sound" but which will reduce the volume output in a huge way.
Last edited by dspellman at Mar 7, 2015,
#4
Quote by Roc8995
1. EL84s are cheaper, and the driver characteristics are different. The EL84 was actually designed to be used in cheap radios without any preamp tubes, so not only is it a cheaper valve but for guitar use it's perfect because it overloads beautifully at lower volumes than most other tubes. That's perfect for small amps where you want OD at low volumes and don't want to have to cascade 5 preamp tube gain stages to do it.


I knew they were cheaper. Didn't really realize that the OD was so much easier. I'm not seeing that with the modified Epi Valve Jr with one each of the EL84 and 6V6 tubes.

I'm using a Carvin Belair (rated at 50W with 4 EL84s), and the clean channel is *really* gorgeous...and loud. They're using a generous amount of negative feedback to accomplish that, and one of the mods I've had done includes a pot that will dial that amount from the stock quantity to zero. Without that negative feedback, you still have cleans, but you can develop a bit of "hair" when you really dig in.
#5
I have 2 small tube amps that end up at most of the gigs I play. One is a Fender 15w 1x10 and the other is a Mesa 30w 1x12. Both amps can run with most drummers but the Fender is "all in" while the Mesa has some headroom left in the bag. One is 6v6 and the other is EL84 and I don't notice a big difference in tone once they are dialed-in. They both sound very good for the music I play: 60s-70s Classic Rock, Blues, Jazz, R&B. I gig about 50% with just vocals through the PA and 50% with keys, guitar amps and drums in the PA. If we mic the drums we always mic the guitar amps so we never have ear splitting stage volume. Tinnitus is a bitch.

Most modern amps have quality master volume circuits and can run at any volume with great tone. My Mesa does and my older 64 Super Reverb does not. The reason to gig with small low wattage amps is portability which is more important to some than others. I always leave the big boys home these days cause there is simply no need. A mic and a 5kw PA system have all the headroom I will ever need.
"Your sound is in your hands as much as anything. It's the way you pick, and the way you hold the guitar, more than it is the amp or the guitar you use." -- Stevie Ray Vaughan

"Anybody can play. The note is only 20 percent. The attitude of the motherfucker who plays it is 80 percent." -- Miles Davis

Guthrie on tone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmohdG9lLqY
#6
1. Colin's answer is spot on.

2. on stage stuff has to be mic'd to sound good to the whole audience (if the audience is more than 20-30 people, that is), so since volume isn't a problem there you really, really, really don't care if your amp can produce clean tones at high volumes on stage, you just have to worry for it to sound good, and a small amp may sound better to you for that particular application.

3. when I'm the sound guy I usually end up arguing with guitarists they should turn their amp's volume down, my argument being that if they don't the audience will hear the dry sound of the amp instead of the mixed sound, and the result will end in a mess with the audience not hearing anything good, and their points being "but it's better this way", "it sounds better louder to me", and "if I hear my amp at a volume so low the audience will not hear anything".

I once again agree with Colin on bigger amps not being a problem in the vast majority of situations, while small amps may be in some situations.
For example when I play by myself in my house I'd love my amp's headroom to be more...
Name's Luca.

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