Solid State amp or Tube amp?


Should you get a solid state amp or a tube amp? Well, that depends on what you are looking for, let's look at the differences.


The first thing to ask yourself when deciding between a solid state ('transistor') or a tube amp is: what kind of sound do I want from my amp?


Solid State Amps
Generally, solid state amps are used for clear, clean tones. The distortion on completely solid state amps is not favoured by most guitar players. Some solid state are hybrid, which means that they use tubes in the pre-amp stage. This way they can produce a nice overdrive/distortion without using a tube power-amp stage. Solid state amps can be bought at very low prices which makes them good starter amps. There are also a lot of high-end solid state amps like AER, Henriksen and Polytone available.

Tube Amps

Tube amps are used for overdriven tones as well as for clean tones. Tube amps use tubes in the pre-amp and power-amp stages of their amplification circuit. Overdriven sounds are usually achieved by overdriving the signal in the pre-amp, but when set at higher volume, the power-amp tubes will also produce overdrive and added compression. This is something that can not be achieved in a solid state amp. There are many tube amp brands, and some brands are synonymous for a certain kind of guitar tone. For instance, Fender tube amps are famous for their clean tones and Marshall amps are famous for their high-volume overdriven sounds.


Differences between solid state and tube amps

Let's look at some differences between the solid state and tube amp types:

- Volume. Tube amps are generally a bit louder when compared with a solid state amp of the same wattage. A rule-of-thumb is that a 50-watt tube amp produces roughly the same 'sound pressure' as a 100-watt solid state amp.

Hendrix plays a tube amp Marshall
Jimi Hendrix famously used Marshall tube amps.


- Reliability. Tube amps can be more tricky to maintain as the tubes themselves are fragile, especially when hot. This is why you should never handle a tube amp without first allowing it to cool down. Solid state amps are generally believed to be reliable but this seems to be highly depended of the brand and type of the amp. People are still using 20-35 year old amps like the Roland Super Cube-60 and Jazz Chorus 120 whereas Polytone amps, preferred by a lot of jazz players, are notorious for breaking down. Tube amps need to have the tubes replaced every 1 (power tubes) to 7 (pre-amp tubes) year(s), so if you're not happy about having to buy new tubes once in a while, consider playing a solid-state amp.


- Effects pedal compatibility. Solid state amps can have a very precise and clean sound. This makes this very good at accurately amplifying guitar tones that have a lot of modulation and time-based effects on. Tube amps are often combined with a seperate overdrive pedal or a signal boost pedal when set for overdriven tone. Modulation effects, reverb and delay are best used in the effects loop of a tube amp, however. This means that the effects are placed behind the pre-amp (overdrive stage) and before the power-amp in the signal chain. So, if you're looking for a tube amp and want to combine it with different effects, make sure it has an effects loop.


- Weight. Solid state amps are lighter in weight than tube amps, when you compare two amps - one solid state and the other tube - that have the same amount of watts. But, as said earlier, tube amps often produce more volume-per-watt. That said, those powerful tube amp combo's with 2 or more speakers built in are very heavy to lug around. Something to think about when you want to use it for gigs and rehearsals!


- Price. Although tube amps used to be a fair bit more expensive than solid state amps, these days there are so many models and types of amps available that both can be bought at relatively low prices up to wallet-wrecking prices. A wide range of starter amps (solid state) are available, often with built-in effects. There are also 5-watt tube amps with one channel in the same price range. If you have trouble deciding, test both amps in the shop (make sure to try all the settings, even full-volume!) and ask a guitar-playing friend for their opinion.


There we are; the differences between solid state amps and tube amps. Thanks, see you next time!


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