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Guitar Amps (selectable 50/100 watts) tone difference debate
Old 13th September 2011
  #1
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bryan k's Avatar
Guitar Amps (selectable 50/100 watts) tone difference debate

OK, heres a nice debate to get your noddle going.......

You have a Guitar Tube Amp with a 4x12 Cab. The amp head has a selectable 50/100 Watt switch. You have the amps volume set moderately (lets say between 4-6 on the amp volume dial)

We all know the VOLUME difference is only 3db between the 2 modes, thus taming volume difference in really not a factor. Although people say in 50watt mode you get earlier power tube saturation, which can be good.

Do you hear a noticeable tone difference when you play in 50watt versus 100watt mode?

If so, what DO YOU HEAR? and why do you prefer one mode over the other?
Old 13th September 2011
  #2
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wesarvin's Avatar
 

I think it's more of a feel thing. 50 watts feels spongier.
Old 13th September 2011
  #3
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bryan k's Avatar
ok, lets take it a step further then.

By "spongier", maybe because 50 watts has earlier power tube saturation, thus giving it that "pushed tube sag" sound maybe?
Old 13th September 2011
  #4
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Piedpiper's Avatar
You'll also hear it in a less dynamic rock solid bottom end. Of course, any differences will show up more the more you turn up the volume and start running into that headroom or lack thereof...
Old 13th September 2011
  #5
I own a mesa boogie Lonestar special that is switchable from 5/15/30 watts. The 5 and 15 watts mode using a rectifier tube. The manual say's it introduces the 2nd and 3rd harmonics in the distortion signal. Boy does it sound sweet in the 5 watts. It introduces this singing harmonic when playing leads. The effects depth is dependent on the guitar I use. It works great for recording, but most of the time I prefer pedals (Jetter GSR!)

It really depends on the amp and the design.
Old 13th September 2011
  #6
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bryan k's Avatar
Tube breakup:
If you have a 100Watt amp with the amp volume at 7, would it sound/tone be the same as the selecting that amp to 50watts and playing it at volume 4 (tube breakup wise)?

For some reason people say 100watts sound more open and dynamic than running it in 50watt mode.....but im assuming thats because they have the am volume at 6 and its not pushing the tubes all that hard.....and when you move that amp to 50watt mode, (same volume setting) your tubes are working alot harder, thus its not so dynamic anymore.

So if 50watt and 100watt isnt much of a VOLUME difference....

why not just everyone use 50watt heads and lower the master volume so its as dynamic and open sounding as a 100watt head?

or the other way around.....

if you like the open/dynamic sound of a 100watt'er......are you then afraid to turn it up to tube breakup, in fear it will compress and sound like a 50watter?
Old 13th September 2011
  #7
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There's one difference you're neglecting at this point: 100w amps have to have power supplies that can support 100w including bigger rectifier tubes (most are SS or dual GZ34s), more power supply capacitance and bigger PT/OTs. The result is that the attack of the note using a 100w amp at 50w is going to be harder hitting, and the clean overhead is still going to exceed that from a 50w amp. In fact, I notice little difference in tube breakup, feel or volume running at 1/2 power if the 1/2 power mode just drops 2 tubes. If it's a cathode biased or triode mode (some of the Marshall 1/2 power switches work this way), it definitely changes feel, harmonic content, attack and sustain. I use 50w more to protect my 25w speakers than to change the sound much.
Old 13th September 2011
  #8
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wesarvin's Avatar
 

Ever spoken, sung, or played into heavy compression? Your dynamics disappear. It's cool for some, not for others. Now, with the early power tube sag, you can manage that breakup in a tasteful way, but nonetheless, there's a lack of headroom that is to be dealt with. A low watter amp is just another tool in the arsenal.

I like low watt amps for lead stuff, high watt amps for rhythm. There's just more punch with the wattage.

However, there's a point at which low wattage has a breaking point in practicality. 15-50watts seems a good range for a stage and studio tube amp that can keep up with a drummer. Cabs also make a difference in tone and feel, so don't rule those out.
Old 13th September 2011
  #9
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bryan k's Avatar
im not trying to compare 2 different amps (one 100 watt amp versus a different 50 watt amp)

That in itself will bring out all the different reasons for a tone change/shift.

Im more referring to a single amp, either it having a 50/100 watt mode switch or simply pulling out 2 of the 4 power tubes.

So this single amp will rule out the transformer, power supply, rectifier differences. Cause it in fact just one amp.......just with the different wattage switch option.

With this being said......wouldnt i be about the same (tone wise) if you played this single amp at volume 7 (100watt mode) versus at volume 4 (50watt mode)?
Old 13th September 2011
  #10
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wesarvin's Avatar
 

Eh, basically. It's a feel thing. Instead of talking it to death, the quickest and easiest solution is to go to a music store and try 'em out. Shoot, borrowing a switchable amp for a gig is even better. I really think it's a feel thing more than tone. You get more sag, less attack, less punch, and more sustain with the lower wattage settings.

I used to have a Mesa Mark IV that sounded about the same at all wattages, but the feel changed. Look at the waveforms, and you can easily see the differing amounts of compression induced by the different settings.
Old 13th September 2011
  #11
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50 have more distortion. not sure why but atleast with marshalls (primarily 2205 2203) the 100 watt 2210 units are cleaner. Also Ive owne a bunch of hughes and kettner stuff like the duotone which is a great amp. I originally bought the 50 watt unit which is a combo but I didn't like the size of it. So I bought the head which is 100 watts. The 50 and the 100 were night and day in sound. I sold the head and bought the 50 combo back. Maybe I'm crazy?
but 50 always sounded more ballzy and crunchy to me.

This may be not what you want. 100s always sounded cleaner to me. Then again maybe you just have to turn them out louder to get the same speaker breakup as the 100?

not sure
Old 13th September 2011
  #12
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thepilgrimsdream's Avatar
 

Playing my 50 watt plexi next to a 100 watt plexi.

It seems that the 100 watt has a lot more headroom, and can have more distortion. Idk why more distortion? (more tubes to break up????) Almost more depth, but not in a way that would make me buy it. Its hard to explain

My 50w gets pushed to distortion way faster and the overdrive really does sound better low volume. Not as much headroom, or space for cleans in a live setting
Old 13th September 2011
  #13
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bryan k's Avatar
interesting.....

maybe sometime this week ill just have to bit the bullet, and do a recording test.

  • Record the amp at both 100 and 50 watts (at the same amp volume), record it. Hear the difference at the same AMP VOLUME LEVEL
  • Record the amp at both 100 and 50 watts and adjust the amp volume so both wattage's tubes are breaking up at about the same rate (obviously the 50watt setting will be lower amp volume).......and then level match them in a DAW so they have the same apparent volume.....Hear the difference at a different AMP VOLUME LEVEL, but level matched in a DAW
Old 13th September 2011
  #14
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wesarvin's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by bryan k View Post
interesting.....

maybe sometime this week ill just have to bit the bullet, and do a recording test.

  • Record the amp at both 100 and 50 watts (at the same amp volume), record it. Hear the difference at the same AMP VOLUME LEVEL
  • Record the amp at both 100 and 50 watts and adjust the amp volume so both wattage's tubes are breaking up at about the same rate (obviously the 50watt setting will be lower amp volume).......and then level match them in a DAW so they have the same apparent volume.....Hear the difference at a different AMP VOLUME LEVEL, but level matched in a DAW
Also try a take with the same dB level in the room. While the volume control may have to change, you'll be able to more accurately gauge the amount of breakup vs. loudness. I know peak and RMS values would be different, but it'd be interesting to see and hear.
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