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How many watts do I really need?

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by Nolrak, Jan 13, 2013.

  1. Nolrak


    Jan 13, 2013
    :help:So I've been doing research for a few hours but have yet to get a definite answer with definite facts.

    I play bass in a punk/pop rock band with a lead guitarist, a drummer and a keyboardist. Since most of our practices so far have been at my school, the keyboardist and I usually run our instruments through a PA system there.

    But I'm now looking to buy an amp to practice and play SMALL/MEDIUM sized gigs with. So I have a few questions:

    1. How many watts do I need to be heard on par with the other instruments?
    (I've been getting mixed responses all over the internet, some people telling me I need about 60W to be heard over drums and two to three times the wattage of the guitarist [who has a 100W] If so why?)

    2.If my plan is to run a line out to the main PA/speaker system at the venue, does the wattage of my amp really matter?

    3. Is there a possibility that my bass may not be able to push the peak power in high wattage amps?

    P.S. I use a Squier P-Bass w/ Dimarzio pickups (DP127)

    edit: I'm Jamaican so its cheaper if most of my gear is ordered online
    My budget caps at bout $600
  2. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    Here's the thing. The number of watts is not the only factor to look at when considering a new amp. Probably the most important factor as far as volume goes is SPEAKERS. How many? What size? How efficient? If you have the right speaker configuration, the right 100W amp will take your head off. If not, all the watts in the world won't help you to get louder or sound better. But let's knock out a couple of your questions anyway.

    Your Dimarzio pickup is plenty strong, as is the stock pickup that came on the bass to begin with. You don't need stronger pickups to "push" an amp.

    Whether or not you plan on running to the PA is less important than what you are competing with on stage. If you can't hear yourself, it's all pointless.

    Now, let's get down to the real questions.

    First off, where are you? I only need to know the country. That will help determine WHO best can help you here. I know nothing about Canadian or German bass gear markets.

    2nd, what's your budget? That will help us to advise you because you may only have a couple hundred bucks, or six thousand. And that will make a big difference in the advice you get as well.

    How loud are the drummer and guitar player? His rig being 100W doesn't really tell us anything. Does he play loud as heck or is his volume level less ridiculous?

    Answer those questions and you will get more good advice than you could possibly ever use. People here are good at helping out. Some answers might be a bit sarcastic, but that's true of any open forum.

    By the way, WELCOME to Talkbass!
  3. Nino D

    Nino D

    Oct 31, 2012
    I think you need at least 350 watts. Even if you go through the pa, you need to hear yourself on stage. The bass is fine. Those pickups are awsome.
  4. Marko 1

    Marko 1 Supporting Member

    Mar 9, 2009
    N.E. Ohio
    If your guitarist’s volume is reasonable, I’m gonna guess 350 watts would suffice with a 212 or 115 cab, so long as you’ve got it the cab positioned to hear it and your EQ is set right.

    If he’s stooped-loud, adding another *same* cab would probably do the trick.
  5. jmattbassplaya

    jmattbassplaya Supporting Member

    Jan 13, 2008
    Tampa, FL.
    It depends on a lot of factors, but, IME, a 300watt tube amp or 500watt solid state/hybrid amp with either a 4x10 or 2x12 tends to be the ticket for most loud rock gigs that I do. Of course, there are plenty of exceptions to this, but this is the rule of thumb that I go by and it hasn't let me down yet.
  6. Catbuster


    Aug 25, 2010
    Louisville, KY.
    I use a 320 watt head with 4 10s all the time. I use a 112 for most everything else, and 480 watts into 8 10s when I need to be stupid loud. Most old Ampeg SVTs were 300 watts. But they were paired with a big cabinet. If anything, 300 watts and a decent size cabinet should do just fine.
  7. Bassamatic

    Bassamatic keepin' the beat since the 60's Supporting Member

    The association of watts with loudness is poorly understood. As mentioned above, the speakers are much more important than the amp.

    Because of the laws of physics and acoustics, it takes TEN TIMES the audio watts (+10dB) to create twice the acoustic loudness (+3dB). It is much more effective to increase the number and efficiency of the speakers than to get a bigger amp.

    That being said - 350 Watts should get you as loud as you ever need to be and still have plenty of headroom.
  8. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    I did a gig today with my 7-pc oldies rock and roll band in a bar on a casino cruise ship with over 100 people attending using a 35w 110 practice combo. No instruments in the PA except sax, either. We weren't playing balls out like we usually do but we're never quiet. Totally rocked half the room and was plenty loud, though it got quieter the further you went out. But everyone else's volume dropped off too, and that's what they want so it's all good. Probably wouldn't use it for any other stage volume gigs, but it was great for in there.

    So I'd say you need at least 35w and a 110.


    Actually, it's good to have wattage to spare because you'll have it if you need it. But I'm much more a fan of using a bigger cab than bigger wattage. The results that way always are better than if you go big wattage into a smaller cab. I always tell people a good rig to start off with is 300w into a 410 because it won't break the bank and should handle most gigs unless the volume is really extreme.
  9. Marko 1

    Marko 1 Supporting Member

    Mar 9, 2009
    N.E. Ohio

    If 300 watts into a decent/good 410 doesn’t do the trick, the problem is elsewhere. The few times I brought more to overcome a problem (gui****), I ended up being just another problem.

    The least I ever gigged with was 500 watts into a 212- a lot of watts, but that’s what the amp pushed at 4-ohms, and it was a 4-ohm cab…

    or a 115 combo with (realistically) ~325 watts, but it was a loud combo.

    If I didn’t have a stooped-loud gui**** at the time, I could have breezed through it with either of those.
  10. Winfred


    Oct 21, 2011
    300-500 watts and a good pair of speakers will do ya just fine. 2x10s or 4x10s.

    Don't let your band get stupid loud. How loud is stupid loud? You'll know when you hear it.
  11. georgestrings

    georgestrings Banned

    Nov 5, 2005

    Solid advice right there...

    - georgestrings
  12. JHAz


    Jun 29, 2011
    Just to try to keep a couple of things straight

    Double the power (with no other changes and assuming the speakers can actually use the doubled power) adds 3 dB.

    3 dB is often described as sounding "one notch" louder

    Ten times the power (same caveats)yields 10 dB more output.

    10dB is the typical twice as loud" point (but the how loud does it sound to me is relatively personal and some would say 6 dB is twice as loud)

    How loud you get with power X depends on the speakers. If one speaker is rated at 97 dB sensitivity and another at 100 dB sensitivity, it takes twice the power to get the first speaker as loud as the secone.

    Except that perceived loudness has an awful lot to do with frequency as well, and so two speakers with the same sensitivity may sound quite different in loudness to you because they have different frequency response.

    TC Electronics has demonstrated for all of us that, at least leaving aside millisecond long leading edge transients, the real power we are using to get loud is not nearly as much as we think it is. That's why folks genuinely find TC's 240 watt amps that are sold to compete with 500 and 750 watt amps actually do compete. TC simply uses sophisticated multiband compression (which functions in some ways like EQ) to make their 240 watts sound just as loud as a two or three times more powerful amp. Putting it bluntly, chances are none of us are actually using more than 250 watts even for very loud playing, for the sustained portions of our notes.

    The last wrench to throw into the issue, besides that the amp's EQ personality affects perceived loudness just like the speakers' frequency response, is that speakers start compressing (louder parts don't get louder) long before they start distorting (farting) noticeably, and that compression can also affect how loud the speakers sound. That's part of why some guitarists feel they need ridiculous volume to get their tone. They are looking for speaker compression from more speakers than they need to use for the gig.
  13. In my opinion, anything under 300 watts is a waste of time. I used to run a 300 watt head through a single 4x10 cab at 8 ohms which ended up restricting my power output to a mere 170-ish watts. At this time I was playing in a power-trio (bass, guitar and drums). Hardly a sonically demanding project. I couldn't make myself heard either in prac or on stage no matter how hard I pushed the volume on the amp. I then decided to purchase another 4x10 cab to stack on the first 4x10 and, effectively, run the head at 4 ohms thus taking full advantage of the full 300 watts on the amp. What a difference that made! Not only could I hear myself AND be heard but my tone was much clearer and more defined. That could be in large part due to the additional speakers but I think the fact that there was more output also contributed greatly. In fact, I had to limit my volume to around 9 o'clock because it became too loud for the rest of the band to play along with :p
  14. Marko 1

    Marko 1 Supporting Member

    Mar 9, 2009
    N.E. Ohio
    YMMV, but personally, I wouldn’t start out with a 210 for rock or typically-louder music. If I add a cab, I must match them exactly, so then I’d end up with a max of only four 10s.

    Now starting with a 410 and adding another 410 if needed, that’s a different story.

    Again, for typically louder music, I’d start with either a 115 or 212, and if I needed more, another of the same has got me in pretty safe territory.

    imo :)
  15. klokker


    Jan 7, 2009
    Steele City, NE
    I'm not going to argue against a 410. But even for loud bands, a 212 should be more than enough in small/med size bars.

    Even less is probably all you need. I could do all my bar gigs with my old 250watt 1X15 easy. We're classic rock/country/blues dance band stuff. Ear splitting loud is a different story.
  16. GM60466


    May 20, 2006
    Land of Lakland
    100watt Phil Jones Amp.
  17. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    That all depends on the music, though. And PA enters into it as well if instruments go through it. And for most people, 175w can still run you a pretty good head of steam into a 410, especially if you have PA. But if not, add the second 410 and you're golden.
  18. Absolutely. Adding a PA into the equation will make things so much easier for anyone even if they're running a, say, 100 watt 1x15 combo. In my case, I never had the option of playing through a PA with my rig partly because practically none of the venues we played at had in-house PA and also because my head at the time didn't have a DI. Given those circumstances, I probably wouldn't have needed the extra cab. Nevertheless, I'm glad I did get it because the advantages greatly outweighed the disadvantages.

    The OP has it easy now. These days, most venues have decent in-house PA's to run instruments through. Even moreso, many budget heads have DI's to run straight into a PA which makes things much, much easier sonically and logistically.
  19. msaone


    May 13, 2012
    I'm playing with 350 watts right now. I like having the headroom. My last amp was 100 watts and I has to turn to 11 just to hear myself.
  20. Bassamatic

    Bassamatic keepin' the beat since the 60's Supporting Member

    Double the amp power, everything else the same, gives you less than ONE dB SPL (acoustic power) increase. Double the speakers and the power and you will get about +3dB SPL (acoustic) power. It will vary a little due to various coupling, loss and propagation issues. If you have an amp with a dB meter on it and a SPL app for your smartphone you can see this for yourself very easily.

    3 dB SPL is accepted as the minimal step that most people can hear. It is actually twice as loud according to the definition of the dB scale. However, in a subjective measurement, what many people would says is "twice as loud" to their ear may be closer to 10 dB - 10 times - louder.

    Also - FYI - Compressors increase perceived loudness by increasing the average level without increasing the peaks. The amp is the same, they are just making it work harder. It is just like the loudness of TV commercials - increased to near pain by using multi-band compression but without clipping the audio. . Loudness is not the same as volume although many people use the terms interchangeably.