Which is better: A Solid State Amp, or a Tube/Valve Amp?
While the answer may be easy for you to decide, this debate has seems to be fairly equal in both camps.
There is an interesting article at epinions.com, where the author did a sound test and apparently they participants couldn’t tell the difference between a solid state amp and a tube amp.
Guitar amps have come a long way since the electric guitar was first conceived. However, the advances in technology has not had the impact on amplifiers that one would have predicted. Tube Amplifiers, for now, appear be the king of tone in the guitar world.
Tube amplifiers use a series of old fashioned tubes to provide power, distortion, and tone. Solid State amplifiers rely on transistors, and sometimes software, to provide the tone. They both have the same job, to amplify the sound of your guitar, however they both sound totally different, with good points and bad.
Solid State Amps
- Usually have clean sounds, crisp and accurate.
- Quick and responsive to your playing.
- Can take more abuse in moving since there are very few fragile parts.
- Require less maintenance.
- Can emulate many different amplifiers at the push of a button.
- Lacking “warmth” – Usually sounds cold and sterile.
- Distortion is usually sharp sounding “like razorblades”.
- Lacking Individual Tone. Most Solid State amps all sound very similar and will sound the same with almost any player.
Tube amps are best known for their warmth. They are pleasing to the ear, something you can not justify in a laboratory. Scientists have no way of measuring the warmth, which is probably the reason that they have not been able to duplicate it in a solid state amp.
- Each tube amp sounds different, each with its own unique tone. No two guitarists will sound the same through the same tube amp, as the amp will respond to the individuals playing technique in a totally different way. Tube amps have been described by many veteran guitarists as “Tone Monsters”.
- Tube amps sound fat and thick, and will sound even fatter as the volume is turned up, creating that famous wall of sound. Tube amps sound HUGE!
- Tubes, by their very nature of operation distort sound, and do so in the most pleasing way to the human ear, by Pushing and Pulling on each other. You can read more about how tubes work on wikipedia.
- Tubes compress your sound in several ways, usually when to much power is demanded from the output transformer. The transformer can not handle the signal peaks and softly rounds them off, causing even more distortion. Trust me, it’s a good thing.
- Unmatched in power and clarity (ie. 20W tubes can easily match the power of a 200W solid state)
- Dosen’t sound as good at low volumes. Sounds better when you play them loud.
- If you play every week, tubes will last a little over a year before they start to loose their tone. They need to be replaced and that will cost anywhere from $80 to $250.
- Tube amps cost a lot more than a solid state.
- You can’t instantly get access to different amps “emulated” sounds with the click of a button. Generally, if you use a tube amp, you would use guitar pedals to create different sounds. Here’s my list of the top 3 pedals you’ll need.
- Tube amps in general are very heavy.
In summary, every guitarist is searching for that the ultimate tone producing guitar, amp and pedal combination. As we grow as guitar players, we will no doubt make many different purchases, and every now and then hopefully we will come across something magical. When you play the perfect guitar and amp combination, it’s a feeling like no other!
What do you prefer playing through, solid state or tube?