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Speaker Cab Power Handling For Guitarists - Part 1

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How many watts does your cab need to be for your amp?

This is a common question that we get, and it isn't always a simple answer because it depends on several factors. However, I think there are some general rules that you can apply to be safe, regardless of the exceptions.

Impedance Matching

First, and most important, be sure that your amp is being connected to a load that matches its output. For instance, if your amp has an 8ohm output, it should be connected to a cab that has an 8ohm load. Most production cabs will have that info listed on the cab.

What type of amp do you have?

This matters. Tube amps are generally rated for their clean output, which is often somewhere around 2/3rds of it's total output power. Meaning, your 50W tube amp can likely push 75W (or more) if you're cranking it up (for most tube amps, that means setting the volume above half). We guitarists love to crank our tube amps because that's where they sound best, right? Nothing wrong with that! (unless you're the neighbor)

On the other hand, solid state amps are rated at full power. So, a 100W solid state amp will put out around 100W when dimed. Theoretically that makes things easy.  Unfortunately, life is never so simple.  When you crank a solid state amp you run the risk of clipping the amp's output.  That will not only sound terrible, but it is bad for your speakers.

My Recommendations

Tube Amp – To be safe, I'd say your cab should be at least 1.5 times the rated power of your amp. Some people like to keep things closer because they like the sound of “speaker breakup”. Well, after years of hearing guitarists throw this phrase around, I've become convinced that what most of them mean by “speaker breakup” is actually “power amp saturation” from turning the amp up. If you're actually going for “speaker breakup”, don't call it that. Call it what it is... “Speaker destruction”. Pushing your speaker to its physical limits is always a BAD thing.

Solid State Amp – I'd go for 1 to 1.5 times the rated power of your amp. Too little and you run the risk of damaging the speaker by overpowering it. In theory, too much shouldn't be a problem. But, if you have to crank your amp in order to get the volume you want out of the speaker, you risk speaker damage from the nasty clipping.  Some people even prefer to go the opposite way and use lower wattage speakers. You might get away with less since (hopefully) you're never actually cranking the amp. I just don't normally recommend it.

In Summary

Tube Amp = Cab should be minimum 1.5 times the amp's rated power output
Solid State Amp = Cab should be roughly 1-1.5 times the amp's rated power output

Of course, there are always exceptions, but these are some good basic guidelines to go by.

What about going even higher?

Whatever floats your boat.  Technically, there is no such thing as underpowering a speaker (within reason).  So, for tube amps you'll be fine.  But, if your solid state amp is clipping to get up to volume, you may want to consider lower powered speakers (with higher sensitivity) or a higher powered amp.

I'm building my own cab, how much power will it handle?

Stay tuned for our next article for those of you who are attempting to build your own cabs, or replace speakers in existing cabs.  It will cover combined speaker power handling, mismatching speaker wattages, mismatching speaker impedance, and all the other goodies you'll need to know.


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