Best solid state amp or best tube amplifier?
“Solid state vs. Tube amp”
If you are looking to buy your first guitar amp, you will very quickly realize that there are a lot of different options to choose from. This means that a lot of decisions are going to need to be made. One of the most important is whether you should opt for a tube amp or a solid state amp. On this page, we are going to take a little look at what each of them brings to the table. This should, hopefully, give you a reasonable idea as to which one is going to be right for you.
The History of Guitar Amps
This is just going to be a very quick history. In the past, every type of amplifier out there utilized the tube design. All televisions, telephones, and radios had tubes to help to deliver their sound. It wasn’t until the 1950s and the invention of the transistor that solid state amplifiers became a thing. As transistors were a lot cheaper, most pieces of technology started to veer towards them. This came at the cost of sound, but with the benefit of a low price.
Guitar amps (and other amplifiers for instruments and music needs) didn’t change all that much, however. Sure, there was a small amount of diversion towards transistor amps (known as solid state amps), but tube amps remained in heavy use. They still are today.
In the past, solid state amps were not all that brilliant. However, companies have made huge strides towards ensuring that solid state amps are as close in sound quality to a tube amp as possible. This is certainly something which they seem to have accomplished. It isn’t quite perfect yet, but it does make a solid state amp a viable alternative for those who do not have much cash to spare.
Tube amps: How do tube amps work?
Tube amps make use of tubes to create their sound. Tubes will need to be replaced over time. However, good quality tubes should last a while.
Tube amps are perfect for those who want a very responsive sound. Almost every single professional guitar player will use tube amps. This is because it is one of the only ways in which they can craft a sound which is unique for them. Everything can have an impact on the way in which a tube amp sounds. This includes how hard the guitar player is picking, and the material that the guitar is made out of.
One of the main reasons as to why people opt for tube amps is the fact that they are very loud. This makes them perfect for performance situations as you will be able to be heard about the drummer without the sound being cranked all the way up or needing to have the amplifier paired with a microphone. The latter option is, of course, never ideal as it means the quality of your tone is going to be compromised.
The fact that tube amps offer more ‘loudness’ is a huge benefit for players who enjoy a cleaner tone coming from their guitar. This is because of solid state amps, when cranked all the way up, tend to have muddier sound. You do not want heavy distortion. It is never good when you are knocking out a beautifully crisp solo.
You can accomplish a lot more with a tube amp too. If you love the clean sounds, then they can deliver that. If you like your distortion, then they can offer that too.
The only downside is that tube amps are very expensive. In fact, some of the best tube amps on the market are the price of a small car. Sure you can get cheaper ones, but it is nice to know the huge range of prices that you are going to be dealing with.
Solid-state amp – What is the best solid state amp?
Solid state amp technology has improved in recent years. Sure, tube amps are still going to be better in just about every situation, but the solid state does come close. As a beginner player, you will actually be very hard-pressed to tell the difference between the two.
Solid state amps tend to be a whole lot more reliable. This means that they are perfect for those who do not wish to be diagnosing issues with their amp constantly. In addition to this, the cost of solid state amps tends to be considerably lower. A decent solid state amp can last you for decades before you even need to worry about it breaking on you.
Another major advantage of solid state amps is the fact that there are amps out there designed for ‘specific’ sounds. Many solid state amps have digital tone control built in nowadays, and it is actually pretty decent. This makes solid state amps perfect for those who are not quite sure what type of tone they wish to crank out at the moment.
Making the choice as a beginner: solid state vs. tube amp – which is the best?
The problem you are going to face as a beginner is that you do not have the ‘ear’ or skill to work out which amp is going to be the best option for you. Once you start to become more advanced with your guitar playing, you are going to find it easier and easier to work out the subtle nuances in sound difference between solid state guitar amps and tube guitar amps. For now, this little ‘cheat guide’ is going to help you out a lot.
Before you dive into this little ‘cheat guide,’ however, it is probably worth remembering that most of the sound that you crank out is going to come from you. It is going to originate from the way that you work your hands over the fret board. It is going to come from how well you pick the notes. It is going to come from the guitar that you are playing and, if you are using any pedals, from them. So, if you are just getting started in the world of guitars, you may not want to blow a whole wad of cash until you know for sure that you are going to continue playing guitar. You probably won’t see any significant difference between amps until you have been working on your technique for a while. That being said, if you are sure that you are going to be continuing to play guitar for a while, and you have the cash to splash, then it is probably best to opt for the best amp that money can buy. This will save you time and money in the long run.
You should opt for a tube guitar amp if you meet the following criteria:
- You have the money to spend. Remember, these amps are going to be a whole lot more expensive.
- You think that it is going to benefit your playing situation. For example, if you need a decent amount of crunch in your notes whilst, at the same time, offering clarity whenever required.
- You are more than willing to put in the effort to ensure that the quality of your amp is maintained. You will need to replace the tubes on your guitar amp from time to time. You may also need to take the amp in for maintenance.
- You want the loudest possible sound without compromising on the quality of your sound.
Go for a solid state amp if you meet the following criteria:
- It is unlikely that you will ever venture beyond your bedroom or basement with your guitar. If you are playing as a hobby rather than as a way to drive yourself towards performing on the stage, then always opt for a solid state amp.
- You don’t have much money to spend.
- If you are looking to gig from time to time, but you do not want an amp which is going to falter on you. As mentioned previously, with a tube amp you are going to need to replace your tubes. The last thing you want is for the sound quality to dwindle in the midst of a gig due to failing tubes. Obviously, top level guitarists will be able to get away with this as they have their own guitar technicians who will be able to deal with the issue quickly and efficiently. A starving musician, not so much.
Of course, that cheat guide is just a guide. There are plenty of people with massive solid state amps that are never going to perform. They just want something that sounds good to them. Perhaps the best option for you is to head to your local guitar store and ask the salespersons to play through a couple of the amps that are within your budget. Hopefully, you will see small nuances in the sound. You may not get the complete picture, but you will certainly be able to see the difference in sound that each amp is able to produce. This should, hopefully, make your buying decision a whole lot easier!