Tone vs. Portability: Is there a Middle Ground?

Tone vs. Portability: Is there a Middle Ground?

October 16, 2018 12 Comments

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.

Carvin X1 All Tube Preamp Pedal

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!



12 Responses

Mike Hundley
Mike Hundley

September 18, 2019

Just like every other job,different applications require different tools. In studio I can see tube amps being preferred. You are under a sonic microscope. However after playing a lot of different venues over the years, I can say that unless you’re in a pristine sonic environment, a lot of venues are not worth dragging the extra gear around. The tech has gotten very good and your average listener will not be able to dis-concern the difference. That being said, I can’t fault anyone for preferring tubes. My current amp is a clean pedal platform with no tubes. (I am using a tube preamp)

William Bush
William Bush

September 18, 2019

I was sold a Mustang 11 amp by a band mate. I took about a year to dial in the 59 Bassman tone, both by using the Mustang and a DigiTech RP unit, listening to the real Fender Bassman amp tones and adjusting tone and volume, plus gain settings. Have it now as i want and need it. The Hot Rod Deluxe still has the tube tone, but at about 50 pounds, doesn’t lend itself to easy carrying to different venues. Some are on the second floor of the location. The stage at one venue is about 4 feet plus, and you have to walk around the other instruments, amps and drums to get set up. The sound (tone) and power are very good, but the tube amp is the real deal.

Jerry M. Brezina
Jerry M. Brezina

September 18, 2019

At 63 years of age, i don’t think i will ever have the opportunity of playing a huge venue… my Ampeg Jet Reissue has worked quite well at every church building i have ever played in, and if it didn’t, my Fender Deluxe 2 would. And if i wanted something different but along the same lines, i’d try a Vox AC 15. I am sure Carvin has an equivalent to these 3 lower powered (15-22 watts RMS) EXCELLENT sounding but light enuf tube amps. The only thing i will ever use a solid-state amp for is acoustic guitar, and i’d STILL rather use a mic for that.

Sez JMB

Larry Denney
Larry Denney

September 18, 2019

In my much younger years it was awesome to schlep around those huge tube stacks!They were very impressive to look at as well. Volume wise it was always a battle not to overwhelm the stage with the blast from those monsters. A headache for sure the sound techs had to deal with nightly.
Fast forward 30+ Years and now tone is the only thing that matters. My current rig consists of a high quality multi effects plus amp modeling floor unit. I run one output directly to a channel on the mixer (Carvin of coarse),one output to a powered 1-12” speaker cabinet for stage monitoring.
The whole rig takes 5-7 minutes to set up, sounds absolutely amazing and with one acoustic and one electric guitar all fits in the backseat of a small sedan. No more backaches! Thanks to modern technology things are getting easier for us older guys to still hang around and sound awesome!

4suremann
4suremann

September 18, 2019

I went to small 3 to 5 watt tube amps years ago, they’re not only easy to haul but most rooms you can turn them up to get the power tubes doing their mojo.

Richard Glenn
Richard Glenn

September 18, 2019

Like some of your other readers, I am a fan of Carvin Bass Amps. I hope that Carvin will soon come out with a new Bass Amp in the 800 to 1000 watt RMS rating range. I own 2 Carvin BX500 Bass Amps that I work hard and they keep up…no problem!! Carry On Carvin!!

Jerry (Jerome) S. Faigin
Jerry (Jerome) S. Faigin

September 18, 2019

Rob Peter to pay Paul? Separate’s is also away not wrench your back. I know! I suffer from premature disk disease. I’m 62 years old and have a back of a 90 year old man and I’ve played string instruments since I was 7 years old. I separate everything. A 50 watt head is ok for me followed by wheel on everything else. If I need more power, my amp has a cabinet emulator for different types of cabinets. I also made a cabinet that separates (using a 3 way switch) to using different speakers. There is no reason to give up on playing gigs or settling for less sound because of weight!

Scott Lagenfelder
Scott Lagenfelder

September 18, 2019

Agree with Ed S – tubes or nothing – And bigger amps just sound better than the tiny tube amps. So what I do is I got a folding hand truck from Harbor Freight and I can take the 2-12 or 4-10 combo anywhere now – even up / down stairs.

stupid dooley
stupid dooley

September 18, 2019

Sorry, I am never giving up my tube amps! Have 3 blackface amps, tubes rock!

Sean Lewis
Sean Lewis

December 06, 2018

I’m running a tiny modeling multi-effects pedal into a tiny power amp, and I’ve had sound guys compliment me on my tone. If you’re willing to tweak a piece of gear, you can find your tone. As an added bonus, if someone else is supplying the cab, I can fit my entire rig into the saddlebags on my motorcycle. The X1 and Legacy pedals do look and sound fantastic though!

Greg
Greg

November 09, 2018

when is carvin going to release their new line of amps and cabs…..for guitar and bass. waiting patiently for the carvin audio comback.

Ed Sullivan
Ed Sullivan

November 09, 2018

The Middle Ground? Hire a roadie. No self-respecting musician would put up with anything less than a real tube amplifier, and even a small one can sound really good. Also, the tubes themselves weigh nothing. It’s all the metal in the amp, like transformers plus a larger, more rugged chassis to fit everything on. Even the cabinet has to be larger and stronger to support the weight, which is good because you can have a bigger speaker, too. But it’s a small price to pay for sound that really can’t be imitated or “modeled”.

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