Tube Amp vs. Solid State: Which Is The Best Guitar Amp For Beginner
If you are looking to buy your first guitar amp, you will quickly realize that many options exist. This means that a lot of decisions are going to need to be made. One of the most important is opting for a tube or a solid-state amp. This page will look at what each of them brings to the table.
This should give you a reasonable idea of which will be right for you.
Table of Contents
The History of Guitar Amps
This is just going to be a rapid history. In the past, every type of amplifier utilized the tube design. All televisions, telephones, and radios had tubes to help to deliver their sound. It wasn’t until the 1950s and the invention of the transistor that solid-state amplifiers became a thing. As transistors were cheaper, most pieces of technology started to veer toward them. This came at the cost of sound but with the benefit of a low price.
However, guitar amps (and other amplifiers for instruments and music needs) didn’t change that much. Sure, there was a small amount of diversion toward transistor amps (known as solid-state amps), but tube amps remained in heavy use. They still are today.
In the past, solid-state amps could have been more brilliant. However, companies have made huge strides toward ensuring that solid-state amps are as close in sound quality to a tube amp as possible. This is certainly something that they seem to have accomplished. It isn’t quite perfect yet, but it does make a solid-state amp a viable alternative for those who do not have much cash to spare.
Tube amps: How do tube amps work?
Tube amps make use of tubes to create their sound. Tubes will need to be replaced over time. However, good-quality tubes should last a while.
Tube amps are perfect for those who want a very responsive sound. Almost every single professional guitar player will use tube amps. This is because it is one of the only ways in which they can craft a sound that is unique for them. Everything can have an impact on how a tube amp sounds. This includes how hard the guitar player is picking and the material the guitar is made of.
One of the main reasons why people opt for tube amps is that they are very loud. This makes them perfect for performance situations, as you can hear about the drummer without the sound cranked up or needing to have the amplifier paired with a microphone. The latter option is, of course, never ideal, as it means the quality of your tone will be compromised.
The fact that tube amps offer more ‘loudness’ is a huge benefit for players who enjoy a cleaner tone from their guitar. This is because solid-state amps tend to have a muddier sound when cranked up. You do not want heavy distortion. It is never good when you are knocking out a beautifully crisp solo.
You can accomplish a lot more with a tube amp too. If you love clean sounds, then they can deliver that. If you love your distortion, they can offer that too. The only downside is that tube amps are costly. Some of the best tube amps on the market are the price of a small car. Sure, you can get cheaper ones, but it is nice to know the vast range of prices you will be dealing with.
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Solid-state amp – What is the best solid-state amp?
Solid-state amp technology has improved in recent years. Tube amps will still improve in just about every situation, but the solid-state does come close. As a beginner player, you will be very hard-pressed to tell the difference between the two.
Solid-state amps tend to be a whole lot more reliable. This means they are perfect for those who constantly want to avoid diagnosing issues with their amp. In addition to this, the cost of solid-state amps tends to be considerably lower. A decent solid-state amp can last for decades before you even worry about it breaking on you.
Another significant advantage of solid-state amps is the fact that there are amps out there designed for ‘specific’ sounds. Many solid-state amps have digital tone control built in nowadays, which is pretty decent. This makes solid-state amps perfect for those who are not quite sure what type of tone they wish to crank out at the moment.
You are choosing as a beginner: tube amp vs. solid state – which is the best?
As a beginner, you will not have the ‘ear’ or skill to determine which amp will be the best option for you. Once you become more advanced with your guitar playing, you will find it easier to work out the subtle nuances in the sound difference between solid-state guitar amps and tube guitar amps. For now, this little ‘cheat guide will help you a lot.
Before you dive into this little ‘cheat guide,’ it is probably worth remembering that most of the sound you crank out will come from you. It is going to come from the way that you work your hands over the fretboard. It is going to come from how well you pick the notes. It will come from the guitar you are playing and, if you are using any pedals, from them.
So, if you are just getting started in the world of guitars, you may only want to blow a whole wad of cash once you know for sure that you will continue playing guitar. You probably won’t see any significant difference between amps until you have worked on your technique for a while. That being said, if you are sure that you will continue to play guitar for a while and you have the cash to splash, then it is probably best to opt for the best amp that money can buy. This will save you time and money in the long run.
You should opt for a tube guitar amp if you meet the following criteria:
- You have the money to spend. Remember, these amps are going to be a whole lot more expensive.
- You think that it is going to benefit your playing situation. For example, if you need a decent amount of crunch in your notes while, at the same time, offering clarity whenever required.
- You are more than willing to put in the effort to ensure that the quality of your amp is maintained. You will need to replace the tubes on your guitar amp occasionally. You may also need to take the amp in for maintenance.
- You want the loudest possible sound without compromising on the quality of your sound.
Go for a solid-state amp if you meet the following criteria:
- It is unlikely that you will ever venture beyond your bedroom or basement with your guitar. If you are playing as a hobby rather than a way to drive yourself towards performing on the stage, then always opt for a solid-state amp.
- You don’t have much money to spend.
- If you are looking to gig from time to time but do not want an amp that will falter on you. As mentioned previously, with a tube amp, you will need to replace your tubes. The last thing you want is for the sound quality to dwindle amid a gig due to failing tubes. Top-level guitarists can get away with this as they have their guitar technicians who can deal with the issue quickly and easily. A starving musician, not so much.
Of course, that cheat guide is just a guide. There are plenty of people with powerful solid-state amps that are never going to perform. They want something that sounds good to them. The best option for you is to head to your local guitar store and ask the salespeople to play through a couple of the amps that are within your budget.
Hopefully, you will see small nuances in the sound. You may not get the complete picture, but you will undoubtedly be able to see the difference in sound each amp can produce. This should make your buying decision a whole lot easier!