First off, you might not need a more portable amplifier — with a dolly, your 42lb Deluxe Reverb may be just fine for your next gig.
If you still want a more portable amplification setup, you may want to sacrifice the convenience of combo amps (less cables and such to worry about) for a head and cabinet; there’s a bit more setup to think about, but, together, they’re usually lighter, and you can always swap out speakers anytime you need more volume.
The Orange Micro Terror is the recommended head from this article. It packs great power for its size, and has the durability for extended use outside the house. In case you need a bit more power, you can try their other lunchbox heads like the Dual Terror.
A portable guitar rig makes it much easier for you to play with friends, or play gigs, and both those activities will accelerate your development as a musician exponentially. Usually, as an electric guitar player, your amplifier will be your heaviest piece of gear, so finding something portable, which you can conveniently pack into your car or carry on transit, will make your life so much better in the long run.
A Couple Handy Tips for Portability
Before getting to a few amp recommendations for your on-the-go playing lifestyle, as a couple tips, you might find that using a dolly, and/or using a head + cabinet could be a couple extra lifehacks to further ease your travels.
a. Try Using a Dolly
With a simple, foldable dolly, you can stack your amplifier onto it, and roll it around like a piece of luggage. Plus, you can sling your bag full of cords and pedals on top of the rolling amplifier. I’ve found using a dolly so incredibly handy for gigs — especially ones downtown where you’ve got to park 4 blocks away and find the location.
With a collapsible dolly, you can more easily carry around an amp that supplies you with enough power to jam or perform with a drummer, or multiple other musicians. The beauty of something like this is that, with a dolly, a lot of “non-portable” amps suddenly become portable! Bringing a Vox AC30 or Fender Deluxe Reverb to your friend’s place for a 3 hour jam seems like overkill, but with a dolly – why not bring it?
Really, there are tons of these collapsible dollies on Amazon or even probably at your local hardware store. I chose this out because it collapses nicely, and has a built in bungee cord to ensure your gear stays secure. With this addition to your rig, you might not even have to buy a newer, portable amp.
So, that’s tip number 1 for portability – try getting a dolly, and like I said – maybe that’s what you really needed, and you actually don’t need to buy a new amp!
b. Consider Not Using a Combo Amp
Though, another tip you’ll hear for portability is that, with a head and cabinet, you might find it’s easier to keep your setup portable.
For one, with your amp controls (the head), and the speaker (the cabinet) separate, rather than combined in a combo amp, you can more easily pack the trunk of your car, since they’re separate pieces.
Though, also, your setup is more modular; you can buy one small head and different sized cabinets for different playing situations, and that way you can easily tailor your amp setup so it’s the smallest size necessary; for a quiet gig, you can bring a small cab, and for a louder gig, you can bring a larger cab.
That being said, combo amps are definitely also quite convenient, involving less cables, and less chances of forgetting pieces when you leave the house, so the product recommendations will involve both combos and heads and cabinets.
Below are some more ideas to help get you started for thinking about your portable setup portable, but first check out the products we’ll recommend here,
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 10W of power is the top limit when it comes to at-home 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 anywhere from 20-80 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 15 – 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 brilliant, crystalline sounding clean tone, with that sweet, natural overdrive break-up at higher gain and volume settings.
Solid state amps are highly practical, low maintenance, and affordable.
Digital amps, while offering numerous interesting and useful features, can sometimes sound too, well, “digital”; that is, they can sound “low resolution”, though you’ll more than likely be able to try all sorts of different sounds through modelling abilities.
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.
With all that being said, let’s take a look at some popular amps for portable use!
Starting with one of the best sounding vintage amps, we have the Micro Terror by Orange.
For just around $150 you can get this amp head (you still need a cabinet though!), which delivers amazing sounding clean as well as an aggressive distortion.
The Micro Terror is a hybrid amp, meaning it has a tube preamp and a solid state power amp. With 20W of power, it should be powerful enough for smaller gigs, and perfect for home practice sessions as well.
The rugged metal construction not only looks appealing but ensures that this amp will last you a long time.
As far as the controls go, you have volume, tone, and gain knobs. Sure, this may be a bit limiting or confusing for some, but once you’ve started playing around with them, you’ll find out that it’s more than enough for easily shaping out the tone you want.
Orange Amps are known for a unique and natural sounding clean tone, and the Micro Terror is no exception. With just the right amount of gain tuned in, you can utilize the crunchy and raw overdrive.
Very durable build quality
Headphone and aux I/O
Good balance between clean and distortion
Only an amp head, you need a cabinet
Could use EQ controls
All things considered, the Micro Terror is a great amp that’s really fun to play around with. The possibilities it offers span a wide range of great sounding tones.
Also packing lots of power for its smaller, portable size, the Joyo Zombie is a favorite among players these days. As a hybrid, it operates with a single 12AX7 tube in the preamp, and uses a solid state power amp.
With a clean channel which people typically say takes pedals quite well, and a crunchy gain switch, you’ll have a great foundation, with lots of volume, to focus on playing what you hear on the guitar.
Like most devices these days (whether it’s a fridge or a mirror) it connects to bluetooth as well, which can be handy for playing along to tracks.
Note: You’ll need a speaker for this head, and for that you can research light-weight cabs which pair well with this head. Even locally, you can probably pickup a cabinet for a good price, and then you’ll have a great, light-weight setup with a gnarly sound.
Although a tad pricier, which is why this lunchbox-style head is lower down the list, the MT15 head by PRS is just as portable as it is filled with juicy tone.
As Tremonti himself said, “We knew we wanted a low-wattage amp. The challenge was getting a lot of tone and features in a little box. We’re all blown away with how it turned out. It’s going to be great for someone to take it out of the box, set everything to noon, and have it sound great.”
The MT 15 is a commanding two channel amp with balanced aggression and articulation. Powered by 6L6 tubes, the MT 15 has a large, bold sound, so you can dig in heavy with rhythms but also get singing lead tones out of one amp. Whether recording, practicing, writing, or playing a small room, this amp has everything you need.
Note: As with the two heads above, you’ll need a speaker for this head, and for that you can research light-weight cabs which pair well with this head.
Amazingly playable and switchable from 15 Watts to 7, this amp is as much about ‘feel’ as it is great tone, encouraging players to reacquaint themselves with the classic art of ‘riding the volume’ control. Anytime the Gain control is set, the OR15H is always quite expressive, fit for intermediates to pros.
In terms of sound, however, this is fairly differen from the Tiny, listed above. The sound is more vintage, inspired by the British rock sounds which helped launch Orange in the 70s. Also, the 15 watts delivered by the head are more than enough to play in a group with a drummer.
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.
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 it’s quite good for the price tag.
Pair it up with a footswitch, and you can easily switch between channels, as well as toggle the reverb on/off.
Which One Should You get?
Each of the models that mentioned here offer very different specs and features. Which one should you get?
Well, probably the most reliable, affordable, and time-tested would be the Orange Micro Terror as the best small guitar amp for gigs.
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!