I've been thinking a lot about amps. I just sold the best amp i've ever owned with the lofty ambition of building something that suits my needs even better. More on that as I begin the build.
I think I'd like to break down some common misunderstandings that go along with needs, wants, and accepting the reality of your particular situation. Amps them selves are instruments. Some players utilize this fact more than others and I honestly envy the great players that could care less if they were plugged into a 6 foot tall pile of pignose amps so long as it was loud. I don't fall into that category and I suspect that if you are reading this, you don't either. I can name a dozen amps that I absolutely love the sound, response, and feel of when they are cranked but are completely useless to me because there isn't a drummer loud enough to warrant that kind of volume in a club or mid sized venue situation. Those amps were designed before the advent of decent PA systems in clubs and that meant that your amp was your PA system. This is No longer the case. PA's do a great job. Lower stage volumes mean that the rest of the band can actually hear what they're doing, and in turn, you can hear what they're doing (crazy right?). Lower stage volumes also mean that the sound guy/gal won't have to repeatedly ask you to turn down... which leads to them being less cranky and maybe even happy about working your gig, and that happiness often turns into something magical... like them listening to what you're doing and adjusting volumes as the songs change. Again, mind-blowing.
Find an amp that has the sound that you want, at the volume that you rehearse at.
There, that's the magic formula. If you can mix yourselves in the room that you rehearse in, you can mix yourselves on a stage. And that means that all the PA has to do is amplify that sound to fill a larger room. Now there are a lot of ins and outs to properly amplifying your band to fill the room, and that is why a good sound person is absolutely priceless, but having your own mess sorted out before you get on stage makes their job so much easier.
"So... we're a five piece band...how many Watts do i need?"
Here's where all of this simplicity gets annoying. The wattage rating of an amp means very very little. A 15 Watt Vox is as loud as a 22 Watt Fender which is as loud as a 40 Watt Roland... I'm not gonna get into the reasons why because they are irrelevant. It has to do with how they are rated, and companies wanting to boast better/louder specs in the 50's and 60's. It doesn't matter because it is an unchangeable truth but the short answer to the question is, "fewer than you think"
Think about how often a sound person has asked you to turn down. Now think about how many times you've been asked to turn up. It's a bummer when your sound is perfectly tweaked to overdrive the way you want it to and clean up when you roll your volume down and all of that goes out the window the second you turn your amp below that magic spot on the volume pot.
Set the amp you currently have to that magic spot and see how loud it is. Is it the volume that you practice at? When it is set to that volume, can you hear the vocals? the nuances of the drums?
If the answer is yes, then you have what you need in terms of volume. You are lucky.
If the answer is no, you have the wrong amp. My guess is that, unless you are totally belligerent, you turn your amp down to fit the music you are playing. That's a bummer when you've heard how good it sounds turned up and felt it respond in amazing dynamic ways based on how you pick when it's at that sweet spot. Don't blame the club, or the singer, or whoever... everybody is out to make the music as good as it can be, and part of that is them wanting to hear your guitar sounding as good as they know it should. Start trying smaller amps. If your amp is just a little bit too loud, try swapping out the tubes and speakers for less efficient models. I used to use a cabinet with an alnico speaker for smaller clubs and a ceramic speaker for larger ones.The difference in volume was perfect. Borrow stuff from friends, try stuff out in stores, do you have a cool old practice amp? get another one... nobody said you can't use two, rent time in a studio to try a bunch of things with your drummer playing the songs you actually play. It always blows my mind when people try out guitars or amps and play what they think should be played in a guitar shop instead of the music they actually play...but that's a totally different post all together.
Think about how nice it'd be if you could unload into a venue with your guitar case in one hand and your amp in the other.
Guitars Repaired. Recycled. Reborn.