August 01, 2019 3 Comments

Greetings friends! Welcome to the third and final chapter of our “Pedal Friendly” amp exploration. If you haven’t had the chance to read the first two parts of this series you may want to get caught up. Check out Part 1 on American-style amps HERE and Part 2 on British-style amps HERE.

Today, we’re going to dive into one of the guitar world’s greatest debates: tube vs. solid state. And to further the fun, we’ll ask the big question: is one more “pedal friendly” than the other?

Many of us guitarists probably started our playing careers using small solid state amplifiers. They were cheap and they got the job done. But just as we grow out of clothing as we get older so too do we grow out of these small amps. It’s often considered a rite of passage for every guitarist when they buy their first tube amp. A lot of that comes from a general assumption that tube amps are “better”. Why is that?

A lot of this could be chalked up to myth and hearsay. Tube amps have a mystique about them: legendary guitar tones were created with tube amps, all the “professionals” use tube amps, and many say that tube amps “just sound better”. Plenty of evidence exists to back up these claims and, let’s face it, tube amps DO sound awesome! But technology evolves and solid state has come a long way.

In terms of sound quality, older solid state amps were fairly “primitive”. The tone produced by these earlier amps can be considered lifeless and brittle...nothing like their tube counterparts. Nowadays, solid state guitar amps are not only affordable but their tones have improved drastically! Many newer solid state amps can replicate our favorite tube amp characteristics with ease and provide a very pleasant playing experience. Not to mention they don’t weigh as much and don’t suffer from the constant need for maintenance.

So we must ask the question: are tube or solid state amps better for pedals? If we judge amps currently available there really is no clear winner. Newer solid state amplifiers are being designed to perform well with pedals and tube amps haven’t stopped being good for pedals. If this is the case then why does the debate continue to rage on? Well, old habits die hard and many of the bad experiences with solid state continue to hold sway.

As in our previous entries on this subject having some deeper knowledge of your gear comes in handy. The key to tonal happiness with both tube AND solid state options lies in gain staging. Every effect pedal, whether overdrive or distortion or delay, introduces some level of added gain to your signal. Once you start stacking effects on top of each other that level can quickly cause issues. So how can we get the best tone? BY LISTENING!

Does your amp seem to get “tubby” with the volume cranked on your Screamer-style drive? Try turning down the volume. Do your fuzz and reverb create a thick wash that doesn’t cut through the mix? Maybe you need to adjust the Mix control on your reverb or add some midrange to your clean tone. Using effects pedals effectively is all about balance.

We all have different tastes and preferences and only by going and trying the gear in person can we truly find what we’re looking for. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to pinpoint where you should start your tonal journey:

- Who are some of my favorite guitarists and what amps did they play?

- Did those players use a lot of effects? If so, what types?

- Is it more important for me to have an amp with character or to get the character from my effects?

- If I want a good distorted tone how would I most want to get it: from the amp or from pedals?

Ultimately, your tonal destiny is in your hands and the journey is half the fun. The guitar world is full of options. We want you to go out and try everything that looks interesting and fun...and maybe even a few things that don’t. Don’t let preconceived notions stop you from getting what YOU want.

We hope that by reading these last few articles that you’ve had your horizons expanded. Every amplifier can be pedal just have to know how to be friendly back.

Until next time friends, wishing you all great tone!

3 Responses

Philip Peter Evans
Philip Peter Evans

April 16, 2020

Guitarist in a local blues band in the UK ENGLAND

Mark Mitchell
Mark Mitchell

August 09, 2019

I’ve spent several years-and dollars!-attempting to find my sounds. Yeah, I found an amp after listening to my favorite bands but discovered the pedals really suffered when my gain was cranked and overdrives did nothing. Only after using subtractive practices-turning down the gains and flattening eqs-did my favorite effects offer any punch. Besides, a dirty tone may sound cool by yourself but it rarely transfers to a performance/band setting. In short, less is more and be settled with your amp tone before your cram a bunch of drives and distortions in the front of your amp.

Doug Dickeson
Doug Dickeson

August 09, 2019

“Many of us guitarists probably started our playing careers using small solid state amplifiers.”

Oh my— I’m ageing out of this group rapidly! My first amp was a 1966 Airline from Montgomery Wards. And it was new. That’ll give you a hint of how old I am.

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