Can I Match my Low-Watt Amp with Higher Wattage Speakers?

Q: I have a 50-watt tube amp. Would pairing it with 100-watt speaker cabinet cause any damage?

To answer your question – no, this specific setup is great and will not cause damage but before you go and match any lower wattage amp with a higher wattage speaker, know that it highly depends on what type of amp and cabinet you’re trying to match. In fact, sometimes you’ll even want a higher wattage amp and lower wattage speakers.

Pairing Guitar Tube Amps to Speaker Cabinets

What a lot of new guitarists don’t realize is that distortion actually increases an amp’s rated wattage output. If a guitar amp is rated 100 watts, that’s 100 watts of clean power. When the amp is pushed to distortion, whether it be from pedals, power amp distortion or preamps, the output is increased up to a little over 40%. This means that while a 100 watt amp will output up to 100 watts clean, it will actually give up to a little over 140 watts distorted.

You always want to err on the side of caution to avoid costly damage, so we round that 40% increase to 50-100%, meaning you’ll want a speaker with about 1.5 to 2 times the rated power of your guitar amp. In your case, your 50 watt amp should be matched with at least a 75 watt cabinet, so you’re 100 watt speaker is actually a perfect pairing.

Pairing Solid State PA Amps to Speaker Cabinets

As far as PA amps go, the rule is actually the opposite: you’re going to want a power amplifier that’s rated for about twice the speaker’s wattage (at the same Ohms). The reason for this is actually pretty simple. Overdriving to create distortion, aka giving it “dirty” power, is an integral part of a guitar tube amp’s sound and used regularly so they are engineered thusly. There’s a tonal advantage to it: it sounds awesome. Solid state PA setups meanwhile are completely designed to work clean. In fact, you should never overdrive a solid state PA system.

Not only is there no advantage to setting a PA amp to 10 (since every volume level is the same as far as tone is concerned), clipping a solid state system sounds terrible and can easily cause damage. You want enough power to never have to set your PA power amp to its maximum level. If more volume is what you want, you need higher rated speakers.

In essence, guitar tube amps are made to be overdriven so the speakers need the extra wattage to handle it. Solid state PA systems are not made to be overdriven so the power amp needs the extra wattage to avoid it.

Pairing Solid State Guitar Amps to Speaker Cabinets

As far as solid state guitar amps go, they are designed to work like guitar tube amps, meaning they can be cranked to 10 regularly without causing damage from clipping. This means that the same rules for matching tube guitar amps to speakers applies.

There you have it – tube and solid state guitar amps need speaker cabinets rated for 1.5 to 2 times their wattage while PA power amps need speaker cabinets rated for half their wattage. Hopefully we answered your question and then some! Need a little more information on matching amps and speakers? Have questions about a specific paring? Don’t hesitate to contact one of our pros using the Contact Us button below!

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2 thoughts on “Can I Match my Low-Watt Amp with Higher Wattage Speakers?”

  • JohnnyCNote

    Why would someone choose a cabinet rated at 16 ohms rather than 8 ohms? I understand, in general, the technical aspects of using 2x8 ohm cabinets with a single amp head, but if I had a low power amp (eg 5 watts) and wanted to purchase an inexpensive cabinet that happens to be 16 ohms, would the actual loudness be very low?


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