There’s hardly a better feeling than being able to show the world your guitar playing skills on stage.
You’ve got all the songs down, and your band is ready for your first gig.
However, your practice amp just isn’t fit for the job!
What do you do? Do you go for a head and cabinet right away?
Here’s the kicker:
There are a lot of amazing small amps that don’t cost much, but do great for gigs.
Sure, choosing the right one isn’t easy, but after reading this article, you will have a clear image of what exactly you’re looking for.
Let’s dive right in!
Crucial Factors You Should Consider
First things first, let’s see what are the most important specs and features you should go for.
You’re looking for an amp that sounds good, has all the necessary controls and effects, and is able to push your sound through the mix of the rest of your band.
- Going With a Combo Amp is Much More Practical
Sure, being in front of your own wall of cabinets is a great feeling, but ask yourself: Is it worth the hassle?
First of all, you probably won’t need a head+cabinet for some time in the beginning. And transportation of a combo amp is much easier.
With so many great sounding, smaller combo amps out there, it’s a compromise worth making.
- How Much Power Do You Need? – A Step Above a Practice Amp
If you’ve read our article on the best guitar amps for home use, you know that around 20W of power is the top limit when it comes to practice amps.
It’s pretty clear that for a gig, you will need more juice.
But how much more?
Well, it depends. Numerous factors determine the actual amount of power.
The size of the venue, the number of people/instruments in your band, as well as the actual genre of music you’re playing all have an effect on this.
Chances are that you, as a beginner, won’t be playing larger venues anytime soon.
So, generally speaking, for a smaller venue, you’re going to be good around 60 or 80 Watts.
However, do have in mind that the actual type of amp you’re using is important as well!
Tube amps are generally “more powerful” than solid state and other types of amps.
Without getting into too much detail, let’s just say that you need fewer watts from a tube amp than from a solid state one.
The bottom line is: around 80 Watts for a solid state, and 30 – 40 Watts or more for a tube amp.
In terms of speakers, one or two 12” speakers are just fine for most occasions.
- Going Through a PA System – Is it a Good Idea?
An alternative to running just on your amp is going through a PA system as well as the speakers on your amp.
This allows you to push more sound off the stage with a slightly less powerful amp.
It’s also convenient as you will be able to hear yourself playing through the amp, and you’ll still be loud enough for the crowd, as they will hear you through the PA as well.
However, this means that you will have to carry around additional microphones for the best possible sound, or simply rely on the venue to provide you with this extra equipment.
This being said, it’s probably better just to go with an amp that’s got enough juice, and if you can go through a PA, even better!
- Solid State, Tube, or Digital?
If you’re thinking about a gig amp and planning a gig in general, you should already be familiar with the differences between various types of amps.
Tube amps offer a great sounding clean tone, with that sweet, natural overdrive at higher gain and volume settings.
Solid state amps are very versatile, practical, and generally good for all kinds of genres.
Digital amps, while offering numerous interesting and useful features, can sometimes sound too, well, “digital”.
So, depending on the genre of music you’re going to play the most, the features you find to be the most useful, and the overall tone and sonic characteristics that you, personally, find to be the most appealing, some types just feel better than others.
While choosing any kind of musical equipment as a beginner may seem like a daunting task, think of it this way:
There are just a couple of things that are actually going to make an important difference. All of the other factors will just help you understand the gear better and help you with developing your own taste and opinions!
With all that being said, let’s take a look at some of the best small guitar amps for gigs I’ve chosen for the reviews!
Reviews of the Best Small Guitar Amps for Gigs
- Line 6 Spider Jam
Line 6 Spider Jam is one of those amps guitarists either really love or really hate. Depending on what you’re actually looking for, this amp may just be the one!
So, you’re basically getting a digital modeling amp with 75 watts of power through a 12” speaker. There is also an additional tweeter for the backing tracks, so the two sources stay nice and separated.
You can choose from over 200 artist-created presets, as well as over 150 song-based ones. This is not only great for learning about what makes a certain tone setting unique, but it also gives you absolute versatility when on the stage!
Having around 12 amp presets, and room for 36 of your own ones adds to the already wide range of sounds and tones you can get from this bad boy.
But how do these presets sound?
For an amp that goes for around $400, you’ll be getting a more than decent performance. Sure, there are many modeling amps out there with better sounding presets, but at this price point, the Spider Jam is worth every cent.
- Compact yet effective
- Great selection of effects and amp simulations
- The ability to play alongside a backing track and to record your songs
- Easy to use interface
- The display could be a bit bigger
- Presets sound a bit too artificial for more advanced guitarists
The bottom line is: If you’re looking for an amp that can offer various different sounds, amp tones and effects, definitely go for the Spider Jam by Line 6.
- Peavey Bandit 112
Looking for that well-known tube amp sound but don’t really have that much money to spend? Peavey’s Bandit 112 has got you covered!
We’ve already mentioned this model when I talked about the best amps for country twang. The fact that it offers amazing clean tone, enough power, and all that in a convenient, combo form factor, makes it one of the best small guitar amps for gigs.
As you would expect from a standard tube amp, Peavey, with their Transtube technology, integrated that sweet overdrive at certain gain and volume levels. With vintage, classic, and warm clean tone presets, you’ve got a pretty wide range of different genres covered.
The lead channel also comes with 3 different presets, classic, modern, and high gain, covering anything from hard rock to even heavy metal. The way that the controls are configured makes adjusting your sound on stage a piece of cake.
Probably the only downside of the Bandit 112 is the lack of onboard effects. With only reverb, you will need a couple of pedals alongside this amp if that’s your style. At least the reverb sounds pretty good.
- Easy to carry around on stage, as well as to transport
- Great sounding clean tone presets
- Easily cuts through the mix on stage
- The reverb effect is quite good for an amp
- Lack of effects
Offering enough power, and a great overall tone, the Bandit 112 by Peavey is a great choice for anyone looking for a solid gig amp that’s not a hassle to carry around.
- Orange Crush CR60C
Similar to the previously mentioned Peavey Bandit 112, the Crush CR60C by Orange manages to bring forward to beginner guitarists that sweet amp tube experience.
Rocking that well-known, well, orange, look, the CR60C simply screams “vintage”. The actual design of this amp pretty accurately portrays the tonal characteristics of it.
The true nature of the CR60C is most easily noticed when you crank it up on stage. The clean tone is spot-on when compared to some of the most famous tube-amps in this price range. It simply has that unique Orange flavor, which, once again, you either love or hate.
The “dirty” channel, allows you to play anything from classic rock to high-gain blast-beat metal. For this, a guitar with humbucker pickups sounds simply amazing.
In terms of controls, the layout is nice and simple, without any bells and whistles. Besides the EQs for the separate channels, you can dial in the needed amount of reverb as well.
What really sets Orange amps from others is the sheer build quality. Covering anything from the actual body to the knobs and switches, you can count on the CR60C to last you a long time.
- Attractive vintage design
- Sounds pretty close to the original Orange tube amps
- Sturdy and durable build
- Covers a wide range of tone flavors and genres
- Amazing value
- Heavy, and kind of hard to move around
- Some musicians may not like the Orange “flavor” of the tone
If you’re into vintage sounds and looks, definitely consider getting the CR60C!
- Peavey Classic Series 30 II
At number 4, we have yet another great amp from Peavey. The Classic Series 3602930 II is probably one of the best tube amps you can get for around $600.
Sure, you may not be ready to spend this much money on an amp as a beginner, however, the value, durability, and reliability make this model a great long-term investment.
A good friend of mine recently bought this puppy, and I have to say that it sounds really really good.
Having 30W of power, this amp offers more than enough presence and strength to be played alongside a band. You’re, of course, getting that warm and balanced tube sound alongside an aggressive, yet easily shapable overdrive tone.
Having separate pre- and post- gain controls allows you to achieve that tube overdrive even at really low volumes. So, you can basically use it for practice sessions, as well as more “discreet” gigs while getting that dirty tone at the same time.
The spring reverb may be the only effect you get, but boy oh boy is it spot on.
Pair it up with a footswitch, and you can easily switch between channels, as well as toggle the reverb on/off.
- Pretty loud for a relatively compact amp
- Fender-ish clean tone, Marshall-ish drive channel
- Awesome sounding spring reverb
- Pretty versatile
- The tubes can rattle a bit at higher volume levels
- A bit on the heavier side
The Classic Series 30 II by Peavey is as good as it gets when it comes to tube amps at this price range. If you’re a fan of this kind of amps, this model is a great starting point.
- Blackstar HTCLUB40C
And finally, at number 5, we have the HTCLUB40C by Blackstar. This model was chosen by guitarists online as one of the best gig amps on the market, and here’s why.
The superb and surprisingly durable build quality is something that really sets the HTCLUB40C apart from other, competitor models. Being able to take quite a beating, and still not just look good, but perform reliably is something that you can’t say quite often.
The controls are separated into 3 groups. The clean and overdrive channels offer separate volume, tone, and voice controls, and the EQ has a nice, additional knob apart from the standard 3 bands.
The extra knob is labeled ISF, which stands for “Infinite shape feature” lets you blend in the exact amount of American or Brit flavor easily.
Using the voice switch on the clean channel gives you either a more shimmering, or a very clear, bass-rich tone.
The same switch on the overdrive channel offers either a crunchy or more dynamic tone, rich with mids. This obviously means that anything from hard rock to fast-paced metal is going to sound pretty good.
- Pretty tight and balanced sound
- Handy voice toggles on both channels
- ISF control adds to the versatility
- Overall good performance and presence
- The reverb on the Peavey Classic Series 30 II sounds way better than this one (they cost almost the same)
All things considered, the HTCLUB40C by Blackstar offers somewhat of a similar user experience as the Classic Series 30 by Peavey. However, I would recommend this model for those who seek a tube amp for heavier genres.
Wrapping Things Up! Let’s Pick a Winner
So, it’s pretty obvious that the models that we’ve mentioned offer very different specs and features. Which one should you get?
Well, personal preferences aside, I would recommend the Orange Crush CR60C as the best small guitar amp for gigs.
The fact that it offers the reliability of a solid state amp, and the sound of a good tube amp, make it pretty versatile. The tonal range it’s capable of delivering should be more than enough, no matter the genre in question. Just make sure you have someone to help you with moving it around, as it’s pretty heavy!
I sincerely hope that this article helped you with finding just the right gig amp for your needs.
As always, thank you for reading and I’ll see you in the next one!