In the quest for perfect tone, many musicians have found all-tube amplifiers to be an ideal fit. After all, nothing compares to the heft, warmth, and richness of a good tube amp. However, there is one glaring drawback - weight. All those tubes and heavy transformers really add up to take a toll on your back. Spend a few months or even a few weeks moving a heavy tube amp up stairs or squeezing it into the back of a packed van and you’ll likely start to wonder if the tone is worth it, or if a similar tone is available in a more portable package.
Fortunately, if you’re hooked on tube tone but not so crazy about the weight, there are quite a few viable solutions available. Solid state amps are generally lighter than their tube counterparts, and with all the advances in tube emulation circuitry one may be hard-pressed to discern the difference, especially in a dense band mix.
Of course, iconic tube amps have a particular feel or mojo to them that can’t readily be recreated with solid state amps or pedals, and this is part of the reason why they are so timeless and sought after. So, what do you do if your back is killing you, your bandmates are complaining about having to help you move your rig, and you just can’t do without tubes (and hiring roadies is out of your budget)?
One option is to purchase a hybrid amplifier. These amps do away with heavy power tubes, opting instead for a solid state power section paired with preamp tubes. The result is an amplifier that is generally easier to transport and more reliable than comparable tube amps, and with a tone profile that’s somewhere in between solid state and tube. Of course, not all hybrid amplifiers sound the same, and hybrid technology has become fairly prominent over the years, so you’ll have to do some research and testing to find the hybrid amp that’s right for you.
There are also numerous overdrive pedals on the market that are intended to mimic the tonal qualities of a tube amp. These can be used in conjunction with- or in place of- a tube amp to add some dirt, drive, or warmth to one’s sound. There are literally thousands of overdrive pedals on the market, and many of them are either intended to or capable of emulating the sounds of classic tube amps.
For a best of both worlds option, an overdrive pedal that utilizes a real tube preamp such as the Carvin Amps X1 could be the ticket. This particular unit uses two real 12AX7 tubes and has the same tone circuits of the classic X100B tube amplifier. It can be used as a traditional stompbox, preamp unit, or even go direct to the PA if you want to simplify your setup. The X1 also includes a 1 watt power amp that allows you to connect the pedal directly to a guitar cab. Real tube tone in a portable, versatile package is possible today.
The X1 tube preamp pedal features tube amp-like layout and tone, including essentials like a five-band EQ, rhythm and lead channels, and familiar volume, drive, gain, and bright controls.
Tube tone doesn’t always have to come at a compromise. If lugging your tube amp is getting you down, explore the options listed here - and let us know how it goes!
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If you’re unhappy with your tone or simply want to try something different, your first instinct may be to reach for a different guitar or go amp shopping. If that’s the case, it’s totally understandable - those are the two most obvious components of your rig. However, next time you find yourself looking to make a change, consider adding some new pedals to your arsenal, or if you’ve already amassed a good number of pedals, try some new ones. There are a few reasons for this: