Tube VS Solid State

In the vintage days, all amplifiers used vacuum tubes to accomplish the actual amplification. Nowdays, many amps use transistors instead, sparking a long-standing debate about which is better. The concensus is that for almost all types of music, the sound of tubes is noticeably superior.

However, tubes have several drawbacks: Tubes can be expensive, depending the tubes used. Expect to replace them after four or more years of use, depending on their quality and how loud/often they are used.

Tubes are somewhat unreliable. They can, and do go out at random times, crippling the amp. This can be alleviated by using good quality tubes.

Tubes (and the associated design factors) add considerable weight to the amplifier. Back problems caused by skinny guitar players lugging around big 2×12 tube combos are an insurance company’s nightmare.

Tube amps are, generally speaking, more pricey than solid-state amps. You will almost certainly pay more for this vintage technology than you will pay for modern solid-state (transistor) electronics.

There are tube amps, however, like the Fender Blues Jr., that go for roughly $300; the Fender Hot Rod Deluxe (which is an extremely loud, 40 Watt, 1×12 amp), goes for about $550-$600. A Vox AC-30 2×12″ reissue, on the other hand, will set you back no less than $1200; and a Marshall head + half stack can be well over $2000.

If you can afford a tube amp, you should strongly consider buying one. In almost all cases, the sound is noticeably better. One possible exception to this is for heavy metal players. Many metal guitarists find that the harsher sound of transistors suits their style of music. Given the reliability, weight, and price advantages of solid-state amps, even the professional-level heavy metal guitarist may not require a tube amp. Pantera’s Darrell Abbott used solid-state amps, as do many other notable heavy metal musicians.

Your amp will have two different kinds of tubes — pre-amp tubes and power-amp tubes (a few combos and heads mix and match between tube and solid-state pre-amps and power amps).

Many modern guitarist’s have forgotten that the original rock ‘n’ roll “crunch” or distortion was created when guitarist’s like Pete Townsend turned their amps’ volume up to┬áseven or eight, causing the power tubes to overdrive.

A pre-amp parameter called “Gain” has been added to most amps to simulate that overdriven distortion. But unless you’re into the tinny thrash-metal sound, no artificial gain setting can compare to the sweet, distorted tone of overdriven power tubes turned up to 7.

The problem is, most guitarist’s, especially new ones, go whole hog for a 100 Watt amp, which cannot be turned up to┬áseven or eight in a small club without blowing the doors off. They turn their amps down to four or five, turn the gain up to ten, and never know what they are missing that they could get from a 50 Watt amp turned to seven with the gain down to five.

Angus Young of AC/DC plays live with both a 100 Watt tube head turned up to six for his rhythm parts, and a 50 Watt tube head cranked up to ten for comparable volume, but extra overdrive that he switched to for his solos.