Recording with Small Amps!


Back in the 1960’s when Rock music came into prominence, amplifiers made by companies such as Marshall, Fender, and Vox were big, loud amps! It was commonplace to see multiple, 100 watt Marshall stacks as they were designed to push a lot of air and create volumes loud enough to be heard at large concert venues. They were not, however, designed to be ideal in recording situations! Sure, if you had the luxury of being able to rent out a sound proofed recording studio, it wasn’t a problem.  Today, that’s just not a viable option since so many people are creating music from their home studios.

As you all probably know, amplifiers sound their best when played at higher volumes. In my opinion, an amp doesn’t start opening up until at least 4 on a volume knob where 10 is max. Try that with your 100 watt JMP Marshall and the cops will be taking you away in handcuffs due to pummeling your neighbors into sonic submission!

Thank goodness for the boutique amplifier movement! As more and more boutique amplifier companies have come into prominence, these companies have realized the popularity of the home recording segment, so much so, that it is commonplace to now find 1, 2, 8, and 10 watt tube amplifiers that sound really, really good! Additionally, many companies are now using power scaling and attenuation built right into larger amplifiers so as to reduce the wattage of the amplifier. Although I’m still not a big fan of using attenuation when recording, it at least allows for practicing with a good tube tone at lower volumes.


When recording I feel it’s essential to open up the amp to get the best tones. The higher the volume of the amp, the more the transformers are working in combination with the tubes to create that juicy, touch sensitive tone we all crave so much in a tube amplifier. Since J.Rockett Audio Designs is committed to creating pedals that help to give you the great tone you are looking for, it’s also important to note that using a higher wattage amp set to very low volumes, with an overdrive pedal in front of it for your tone, is not the ideal way to get a good recording. You will never be able to create an ideal tone for recording by trying to use the overdrive from your pedal in front of a Marshall Stack with the volume set to 1 or 2.

A great pedal will make a great amp sound even better. It will take the tones your amp gives you and simply accentuate them. If your amp is set to a volume that’s too low, you will never get the sounds from it that make for an ideal recording. The lows will be diminished and the highs will sound thin. So, invest in a small amp, nothing more than 20 watts. I happen to have a small tube amp that will scale between 2 watts and 8 watts. I also have a well made, 1 x 12 cabinet that I’ve fitted with a 1966 Celestion G12M 20 greenback. Needless to say, the combination of the amp dialed in at about 6 and that speaker amounts to tones from the Gods!! I put an Archer ikon and Boing reverb into the signal chain and my recordings end up huge!

Archer Ikon guitar pedalBoing Spring Reverb guitar pedal

My point is this; with the high quality, smaller tube amps being produce today, you don’t need a 100 watt monster amp to create a great recording. A smaller amp allows you to crank the volume enough to open the amp up for the best tones. Pedals will always sound better when adding their signatures to an already opened up amplifier. On that note, when you go to your local music store to demo a J.Rockett pedal, do it in front of an amp that’s opened up. That’s the only way you will truly understand what the pedal adds to the amp and you will also be on your way to creating killer recordings right from your bedroom!

Chris Van Tassel