In addition to playing with the Steve Miller Band for many years, I’ve also taken other gigs in small clubs, wineries, and showcase rooms when not touring. When I hit the road with The Joker years ago, I thought “Wow! European tour! U2 opening! Outdoor festivals! I need to get some stacks!” Wrong.
Instead, we went out with 1x12 tube combo amps. Steve figured out that big, loud amps went the way of the dodo light years ahead of most of us. He pioneered setting up fake stacks with empty 4x12 cabinets, placing a Princeton or some other small combo amp inside the cab, and miking it through the grill—just so the concert goers got their visual treat of seeing a wall of amps. He was able to control the sound on stage, feed his guitar tone back through the side-fills and wedges, and still rock a stadium without washing out the audio spectrum on stage. It allowed him to concentrate on his vocals and give the audience what they paid for—a balanced mix that sounded like the records.
I’m not saying you should get rid of your big amps, but you do need to use restraint when playing smaller places. On a cramped stage, a half-stack will shoot through the legs of the guitarist, and they won’t be able to hear how loud they really are. I went from a 55-watt tube combo about a decade ago to a 10-watt, 1x10 Fender Pro Junior—which sounds great, because I can use the output stage and get that smooth compression from the EL84 tubes. Now that my band is dialed-in with a great sound, I have to be respectful to the other musicians not to upset that balance. The point is, when playing to a room that only holds 100 people, get smart, downsize, use pedals, and stop killing your listeners. Chances are, your audience will grow, and so will your paycheck.