We get a lot of great feedback from you Blog Of Tone readers, and one theme seems to be recurring a lot at the moment: namely, that we guitarists want smaller, lower powered tube amps that we can crank at home to get those amazing tones at manageable levels. This, as usual, got us wondering – are tube amps generally too loud for home use, and if so, what are the other options for us if we don’t want to sacrifice our precious tone too much?
What’s your number one amp of choice at the moment?
That’s a question that used to be way more relevant than it is today. In times past, most guitarists stuck with one main amp squeeze for gigs, practicing and studio time – if they were lucky enough to get the opportunity to record at all, that is.
These days, though, leaps in technology – coupled with the increased amount of disposable income we all have to spend on our hobbies – mean that we all have plenty more gear than we used to.
Back in the 60s, for example, a new Les Paul or Stratocaster could cost close to an average yearly salary for a working class player. These days, most of us can afford to wheel and deal a new piece of gear every few months, if we’re serious about it.
Plus, there’s way more choice than there was before. Amps (and guitars, and everything else!) now come in all shapes and sizes, from the dinky lunchbox generation to sturdy combos and imposing head and cab setups.
And lots of us own all three! Or at least a couple – one for home playing, and one for gigs. Oh, and we haven’t even started on digital options yet.
But the crux of today’s issue is that we’re seeing lots of players in a bit of a tonal bind.
They want those great tube tones – the ones they insist on using onstage to wow the crowds – at home volume levels, and they want them now, and with the minimum of fuss.
So, how to get them?
Well, the good news is that you have plenty of options here. And we don’t just mean turning the volume down.
Because we all know that doesn’t work.
The first option doesn’t even involve spending any money, which is nice. It might not be possible if your amp’s a total monster, but if it does do reasonable volumes, you can consider how, when and where you’re playing it at home.
There’s plenty of little things you can do to curb your noise pollution levels, from closing all the windows and doors before you plug in to some more serious stuff (danger: involves rearranging rooms around amps!). For more details on all that, check out this previous blog covering the topic right here.
But if your problem’s more serious – read louder – than that, there’s still plenty of solutions.
If you absolutely must continue with said earsplitting amp at home, then consider getting hold of a power attenuator. A device that sits between your amp’s output and the speaker, an attenuator reduces the sheer volume of your amp by either grounding – or converting into heat – some of your signal.
There’s plenty of attenuators out there on the market. Some are fantastic, some not so good – but almost every guitarist out there would agree that they affect your tone in some way.
In fact, perhaps their rather unfortunate nickname among some players – tone suckers – tells you more than this 1,000 word blog ever could!
If this rings alarm bells with you, then you may need to be more drastic and consider a new amp.
There are tube amps that come with built-in attenuators, or power soaks, which means (a) that you avoid having to fork out for an attenuator, and (b) that they probably have variable volume and/or power level settings, making them suitable for both the stage and the home.
One other advantage here is that these amps will have been designed and developed to sound great at these lower volumes as standard, so if the amp sounds good when you try it in the store, you can be sure it’s going to be the same when you get it home.
The other option is, of course, the lunchbox amp.
With lunchbox options available from 1 watt and upwards, there’s pretty much an amp to suit every set of circumstances, ability and neighbor hearing sensitivity level.
A word of warning on tube amps, though – even 1 tube-powered watt is loud!
And in some places, five watts can be too much. As crazy as that might sound, it’s definitely worth trying out the amp at full tilt before you decide to take it home and realize you’re actually going to be making enemies of everyone in the same apartment block. Trust us, we’ve been there.
To come back to our original question in this blog, though, there are plenty of other ways to enjoy guitar at home.
Many players simply go through their iPads or computers straight into DAWs. This can be a great option, especially if you’re one of those players who always likes to record your playing.
Others like to noodle on an acoustic when they’re at home, and only crack out the electric when they go to practice with the band or play live.
And many of us have a smaller solid state or modeling amp for playing at home.
As well as being lighter and cheaper than most tube amps, digital options also tend to come with a far greater variety of built-in FX, and you can set the volume levels as low – or as high – as you want without sacrificing the tone too much.
But, if you absolutely need to have tubes in your home life too, then all is quite clearly not lost.
So tell us: how do you play at home? Do you stick to tubes, turned up to 11, and to hell with what everyone else thinks? Or have you found another – maybe digital, maybe not – solution?
Either way, we’d love to know, so leave us your comments below!
First published: January 30 2015. Most recent update: February 27 2015.