Tube amplifiers are commonly believed to be the best choice for any guitar player. But it is not an axiom. What are the advantages of solid-state and modeling amps that you should consider?
When buying an amp you must know exactly what you want and need and what is available on the market.
Plus you must consider your needs, and your budget. You must know the difference between amps and their use and durability.
This information is very valuable for both experienced guitarists and beginners alike.
Being experienced in playing guitar doesn’t mean that you have a natural talent for buying valuable gear.
You certainly do not want to give too much money for something that is not perfect for you and your guitar needs.
On the other hand, even if this is the first amp that you are getting, why not buy something that will make a good long-term investment? We all want a smart investment.
This article will inform you about the different types of amplifiers, their pros and cons, and help you make your choice a total hit.
So, what options do you have with tube amp vs solid state?
Every era of the production of guitar amplifiers brings models that mark it with a unique system and sound.
Chronologically they are divided into three categories – Tube, Solid State, and Modeling amp.
Normally, each of them has its own pros and cons.
That’s why we need to take a closer look at each of them and see the differences.
Tube Amps (or Valve amps) got their name from the tube – a small piece of technology that amplifies the sound from the guitar pickups.
Vox AC30 is a good representative of Tube Amps
They produce sound and as a result, they heat up.
Because of their heat, they need more space so the amps are naturally bigger and heavier.
The tubes need time to warm up so you can’t play them right away after hitting the power button.
That’s why most tube amps have a standby switch.
This keeps them warm even when the amp is not active and with that, they are able to be used immediately after the break.
Which means you don’t need to wait for them to warm up and can play immediately after the break.
And I admit, this does sound pretty complicated and impractical. Which opens the question, why go through all this trouble?
What is it that still makes these amplifiers so desirable by most guitarists?
The answer is in the sound.
The tube amplifiers have a very warm and natural sound due to the technology they use.
The master knob controls the volume of this beautiful and rich sound that arises when the tubes are used the way they are supposed to until they reach their limit.
But what happens when they reach their limit?
A sound revolution!
Their overuse produces a natural distortion, a sound that has become an inspiration to many guitarists and the reason for the birth of rock’n’roll!
Despite technological progress through Solid-state and Modeling amps, this natural and unpredictable sound makes them more desirable by a lot of guitarists.
Due to the sensitivity of these amplifiers, they are not very practical if you have a touring band and you travel a lot.
But they are ideal for studio and concerts.
But despite all the “troubles” that come with these amplifiers, the “troubles” are worth it considering the sound you will be getting. And at the end of the day, the sound is what matters most.
+ Beautiful warm sound
+ Natural distortion
+ Ideal for concerts and recording
– Big and heavy
– Tubes can go bad
– Pretty fragile
Solid state amplifier
Despite the phenomenal tone produced by the tube amps, technically they are far from ideal. Plus not to mention their price and their weight.
Therefore, an alternative that would be easier to maintain, smaller, lighter and tougher was needed which would be good for constant transportation and constant carrying for gigs.
That alternative is the solid state amplifier such as Fender Frontman 10G
They broke into the market at the end of the 60’s and became a serious competitor to the tube amps.
What makes these amplifiers better than the tube amps are the solid state electronics that replace the tubes?
They have the same role – to amplify the sound.
But these parts are smaller, making the amps smaller, and thus lighter.
They are very durable and do not require constant maintenance and their toughness makes the amps tougher and more reliable.
Despite all these advantages of the solid-state amp, it is actually easier to manufacture and thus makes the amplifier cheaper and more accessible for beginners.
While the cheapest tube amps start at $400 and are of very low quality, the cheapest solid-state amplifier can be bought for under $100.
With this, for the same money, a moderately expensive solid-state amplifier sounds a lot better than the cheapest tube amp.
But even with such impressive features of the solid state amps compared to the tube amps, what makes them still less appreciated?
The answer is in the tone.
These amplifiers receive, transmit and amplify sound very precisely.
But this is not commendable.
The sound is very predictable and not very versatile compared to the natural, warm and rich sound that the tube amps have.
This does not mean that there are no solid state amplifiers that can match the tube amps.
For a good price, there are solid-state amps that can stand neck in neck with the best.
A great example of this is the Roland JC 40.
So if you are a beginner and you need a cheap amp or you travel a lot and you need more reliable gear, a solid state amp might be exactly what you need.
+ Compact and lightweight
+ Tough and durable
+ Good for traveling
– Not versatile
Modeling guitar amplifier
This is the third and arguably the most modern generation of guitar amplifiers.
BEST Budget-friendly option
The purpose of these amplifiers is simple, to have the perfect tube sound and compact solid-state construction.
To achieve this, they use digital technology.
The parts that move this device are ultra-lightweight which further reduces weight and size.
The entire operation is performed by a computer program that picks up the guitar signal and processes it.
The possibilities of these programs are endless.
They can recreate many different amp sounds and even vintage tube ones.
You can find all the guitar effects, imitations of famous guitarists and iconic songs.
With the rapid growth of technology, recreations are becoming more and more convincing that it wouldn’t be any surprise that in the near future, the modeling amps will take the top spot.
All of this sounds ideal, but at what cost?
Especially for more traditional musicians, the word digital and program can have a very negative impression.
I have met my share of guitarists that are obsessed with vintage and classic.
While this might sound a bit pretentious and overcomplicating things when in fact there is no need to do that, believe me, it is not.
There is actually some truth in these claims.
Ready-made music solutions, whether it’s for music creation or in this case sound, have a negative impact on creativity.
At the end of the day, beauty is in the art of crafting a pure and natural sound.
It’s safe to say that these amplifiers are designed for more modern guitarists.
+ Small and lightweight
+ Multiple effects
+ Relatively inexpensive
– No outstanding weakness (except not as good as the tube sound).
Conclusion – who won tube amp vs solid-state?
In these three types of amplifiers, there is something to be valued for everyone.
So if you want a real vintage sound no matter the price and convenience, there is no doubt that the tube amps are all you need.
As a beginner, you can’t go wrong with a solid state amp because of its convenience and price but also promising sound.
It can serve you well and you will get more value for your money compared to the tube amps.
But, let’s face the facts, ultimately the future is in the modeling amps because of their versatility.
So it’s good to include them in your search, even if it’s just for comparison.
And that’s the break down between the tube, solid state and modeling amp. Depending on your needs and budget, use this article and choose wisely.