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13 comments / Posted by Bruce Ohms

Tube Amp vs. Solid State Amp


If you were to buy a new guitar amplifier tomorrow, what would be your primary consideration? For many musicians, it would be what gives them the tone they want. It may also be based on what their musical heroes use. And it's completely understandable- we all want gear that speaks to us, our audience and helps to shape our signature sound.

But the choice of which gear is more than just what sounds good, because there are lots of great sounding amplifiers. It's about what is reliable and what fits your lifestyle. In fact, buying a new amp is a lot like buying a car- it's your responsibility to pick something that will fit your current needs and will stick with you for the long haul, especially if you gig a lot. Amps can really take a beating being loaded up and down stairs, onto stages, and into cars night after night. If the amp is going to sit pretty in the studio and never be moved, that's one thing. If it's going to be a touring workhorse, some additional considerations need to be made.

Tube amps often have a reputation as being less reliable than their solid state counterparts. While some guitarists have tales of all-tube amps that went for years without needing to be serviced, the fact remains that tube amps do require more maintenance. Preamp tubes go bad slowly with normal use losing their sharpness and tone. While power tubes need to need to be replaced before they break down and fail. It's all part of the job, and part of the bill of owning a tube amplifier. If you're a tube amp guru who knows how to maintain your amp, and may even enjoy working on your own amps, the inevitable maintenance that goes into owning a tube amp is probably a labor of love. For musicians who want to power on and plug in without having to think about much else, tube amps may not offer the best peace of mind.

Solid state amps are generally more dependable, since they utilize transistors in place of tubes. Back in the early days of solid state amps many musicians would say they lack the warm, responsive tones of tube amps, but with all the years of tube emulation circuits this is said much less and sometimes the tone is preferred creating new tones in new genres of music. Overdriving a solid state power amp will clip it in an instant, resulting in a fuzzy, harsh sound. A tube amp enters clipping more gradually, going into an overdrive compression mode, with a more natural sounding grit and increased harmonic content before it goes into harsh clipping. With today’s typically lower power guitar amp needs on stage and higher power solid state amplifiers available, this has also become less of an issue in solid state amplifiers.

SX300 3 Channel 100 Watt Solid State Combo Amp

SX300 3 Channel 100W Solid State Combo Amp

Of course, nothing beats plugging into an amp and firing it up to see if it’s right for you. You may, for instance, enjoy the sound of a Carvin Audio SX300 as much as the all tube Belair. Your choice of amp should definitely be based on what sounds good to you, but also how that amp accommodates your musical situation.


  • Posted On October 09, 2016 by Kenny

    Over the years I’ve played both tube and solid state amps. My experience has been that tube amps have to be babied and treated gently or you’ll have a problem. I’ve had (2) tube amps literally blow luckily at rehearsal. I know it was from the constant moving from gig to gig, being bounced and bumped around in the trunk of my car, etc. My solid states endured the same movement and never gave me a problem. As far as sound, I will say there is no sound sweeter than the warmth of a tube amp. I get that sweet warmth from my Carvin SX300 which is a solid state. Reliable, built like a tank, and durable. I also have a Fender solis state that doesn’t compare in sound. The Carvin SX series are awesome for all styles of music.

  • Posted On September 21, 2016 by Carey

    Honestly I think tube vs. solid state has less to do with an amplifier’s tone than the speaker. With a solidbody electric guitar I would argue that pickups and speakers each make more impact on tone than the tube/solid state thing. Quality cables, clean, solid iternal wiring, and minimizing cable length also make a positive difference. In the end this comes down to mechanical energy (string vibration) being converted to electrical energy via a magnetic transducer (the pickup) which determines the input bandwidth. The electrical energy after being amplified will then be converted back to mechanical energy via another transducer (the speaker) which determines the output bandwidth. The bandwidth in the middle can never be wider than the two ends of the chain allow.

  • Posted On September 18, 2016 by Jim balzarini

    I have owned a solid state Acoustic 470 amp since 1975. I toured
    With it for 7 yrs straight 6 nights a week, then sporadically since then.
    My son used it quite a bit in his rock band. Never had any trouble
    With it. It came with a 4×12 cab that I blew all the speakers . They
    Couldn’t handle the power of the head which has never been up
    Past 5. Have traveled with tube amps also and had to change
    Tubes in the middle of a road trip which wasn’t easy . If the amp
    Gets bumped around in travel it can damage tubes. If you use
    A good distortion pedal you can hardly tell the difference in a
    Live setting. Having said all that I just got a Carvin V3M tube
    Amp that I love paired with my Carvin CS6

  • Posted On September 18, 2016 by Charles Davis

    I’m surprised at the claim in this article that solid state amps are more reliable than tube amps. That has absolutely NOT been my experience.

    I currently have about ten amps, or so, both tube and ss, including two of Carvin’s solid state amps. EVERY solid state amp I own, current and past, have had to be repaired multiple times over the tubes.. The five ss amps I have now have been repaired a total of eight times and I rarely use them — a dozen times a year. The tube amps, have been repaired three times in the last 15 years and I use them over a hundred times a year. I’ve retubed one, replaced the reverb jacks on another, and rebiased one. Normal maintenance.

    The ss amps have malfunctioned in the middle of gig and started squealing, they have quit in the middle of the gig, but tube amps keep going. I’ve owned 4 Carvin amps in my life going back to the early 1970s with the Band Leader BL1250 and the Super Band Leader. The only one that needed no repair was the tube amp.

  • Posted On September 17, 2016 by Richard Ambrose

    This is a great article. Tells the needed facts about tube vs. s.s. Personally, I’m a tube amp guy, just my preference. I have heard some great modeling amps & some horrible ones. And yes, some tube amps are better sounding than others, do your homework, then plug in & LISTEN! I purchased a Nomad in 1996 that I still use. Its clean channel is GREAT! And yes, I’ve gone through lots of tubes during the years. At the time, I wanted a combo that was lighter than the 2 X 12 75lb combo I was lugging around. In larger venues, I just plugged in 2 X 12 cabinets to the Nomad. People were always surprised how great the amp sounded, thinking it was a Peavey or Fender. As time progressed, I bought the V3m! Great idea! 3 channels, all I needed for live gigs, very compact!. Never needed a distortion pedal, I could always dial it in. People commented on how good the sound was out of it too. And the few times I called tech support, they were friendly & gave me the answers I needed to know. And yes, the Bel Air with its 2 X 12’s, does sound richer than the 1 X 12 Nomad(DUH! more speakers is NEVER bad!), but I was looking for a smaller amp at the time. I love both of these amps!

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