Why so many watts? Doesn't your band have a PA?

I’ve always wondered why harp players want a high powered amp. The most common answer is that you need to compete with guitars and drums, but nobody expects the lead singer to do that. A singer sings into a microphone and the PA does all the work. Seems like guitar and harmonica players should do that, too. Bring a 5 watt amp to the gig, turn up the volume until you hear the tone you like, then put a microphone in front of it and run it through the PA.

The thing that really freaks me out is the amp attenuator. You gotta turn the amp way up to get good tone, and then you gotta sap the signal to keep the windows from breaking.


I know what you’re saying. I play a 5 watt tube amp that is plenty on it’s own for smaller venues (most bar rooms) and line out or mic it to the PA for the bigger stuff. I’ve never turned the volume more than half-way. My band & sound guys dig it. Sold my very nice 15w and still have the old heavy 35w solid state that’s gonna’ go.


When I played the jam scene in Kansas City 20 years ago there was a specific HarpKing amp that was banned from a particular bar. The owner of the bar told the guy with the amp “Don’t ever bring that thing in here again”.

I heard that story when I was new on the scene. Over the next couple of years I started to suspect that it might just be a frequently repeated tall tale. Then one night the guy brought the amp into that bar and I witnessed the moment when the bar owner spied the amp sitting next to the stage. He did a double-take, and then he scowled. The amp never even got plugged in that night. Good thing, too. I heard it at other bars, and I swear any bar that was subjected to that level of sound volume probably would qualify for federal disaster relief funds.


Hey @Rob3 but Guitar Players and Bass Players almost always would prefer to play thru an amp than just thru the PA, because playing through an amp gives those instruments more beef and attitude and helps the player to feel the vibrations of what they’re playing onstage. It feels better and sounds better.

Same thing when playing amplified harmonica. Now if you wanna play CLEAN, just use a mic into the PA like the singer, and hope the front of house sound guy puts you loud enough in the mix, just like the singer hopes, lol.

But I’ve done gigs on 5W amps, mic’d the amp - granted the clubs PA sucked, but several people complained that they wished I’d been a bit louder.

So the next amplified gig I had a stereo out on my Strymon reverb pedal - sent one to that same 5W amp and the other to a 20W Hog (which is not much louder than the 5W, btw.)

That night I got so many compliments on my tone.

Tone is everything. Having your sound emanate from more than one source will increase the richness and penetration of your sound without it necessarily having to be loud or deafening.


I know what you’re saying about the bass and guitar players who like to play through a big amp so they can feel it. Most guitar players I’ve met are in love with their 35 to 50 watt amps, probably because they are already deaf from playing too loud for 30 years. Most bands play in little clubs to an audience of no more than a couple dozen people at a time anyway, so big amps just seem crazy to me. Come to think of it, most bands use PA cabinets that are way too big, too. We are fortunate that the drummer in our band owns a really cool PA like this one: https://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/L1Pro16--bose-l1-pro16-portable-line-array-system I think his is a brand other than Bose, but it’s the same thing. It totally fills the room with sound, but you can still have a conversation without yelling. The other great thing is that it sits on the stage with us, and we don’t need monitors. Everyone can hear everything. The guitar and harp are both played through small amps which are boosted through the PA. Our bass player likes to use his bass amp, but he turns it up only high enough to match everything else coming out of the PA.

I just turned 55 and still have my hearing.


I very much dislike the sound of a harp mic straight into the PA. I gotta have my tubes.

Playing through multiple tube amps at the same time creates some really great tone. The amp I currently use is actually two separate amps in one cabinet. There’s a single power transformer, and a single input jack. After the input there are two entirely separate signal chains of preamp tubes, volume controls, power tubes, output transformers and speakers. It’s all housed in a single 2x10 cabinet. It would be nice to get some separation between the two channels, but then I’d have to have it in two separate cabinets, so this is what I’m going with for now.


Yeah for electric guitar I’ve been using my 1972 Marshall 20W PA head into a 2x12 cab, and I’ve NEVER had it not be loud enough for me to hear myself even on HUGE stages at outdoor festivals.

50 Watts is waaaaay more than anyone should need. Guitar players are the worst about being too loud. I love my ear plugs, lol. Gotta protect the ears!


I used to keep ear plugs handy when I played a lot of open jams. (I also had a lot of reeds go flat during those years, because I was always playing too hard.) Recently I saw a local band that plays rockabilly and 1950s rock and roll. They’re a lot of fun, but holy crap they are loud. The first thing they do at the beginning of every set is put their ear plugs in. I can’t imagine why anyone wants to play like this. When my band is playing, if it’s too loud for me I’ll stop the show. We always get compliments from the bar staff for our moderate volume.


@Rob3 even at “moderate” volume I still like to wear earplugs. But that’s just me being very careful since I do work as a mixing/mastering engineer, and I play live very frequently as well.