Putting The Lie To Claims About Tube Amps

There are many dubious claims floating around about tube amps being somehow superior to solid-state amplifiers. This article attempts to clarify these claims as well other amplifier issues.

Ultimate Guitar

The purpose of an amplifier is to reproduce a signal as accurately as possible but with a higher "output" amplitude than "input." Thus, if an amplifier is well-designed, it should make no difference whether it uses tubes or transistors, so long as it is operating in it's linear range. In guitar parlance, this is referred to as a "clean" tone. The tubes and transistors serve essentially the same purpose in either case. It is only when the amplifier is operating outside it's linear range that tubes behave differently from transistors, that is when the amplifier is "over-driven." In most areas of music reproduction, this situation is avoided, as it means that the signal will be distorted. The distortion takes the form of "clipping" - the wave-form above a certain amplifier will be chopped off. Tubes do this clipping differently than transistors, producing a "softer," asymmetrical clipping and favouring even-order harmonics over odd-order. This "softer" clipping makes sense, as a tube operates using electrons in a glass tube - there is a lot of space for extra electrons to collect. The clipping produced by tubes is more pleasing to the human ear and at some point, electric guitarist decided that they liked this sound. By contrast, the clipping produced by transistors is "hard." Everything is chopped off equally.

Unfortunately, many guitarists will happily connect solid-state "distortion" pedals to their $4000 tube amplifier, while still claiming that tubes are better. If we are really to take advantage of the tube's superiority, the distortion part should be done by tubes and what happens after that isn't that important, so long as no other component is also over-driven. This suggests that a good set-up would be to use a tube distortion pedal to take advantage of the tube's more forgiving nonlinear behaviour, while using transistors for the power stage to take advantage of the obvious benefits of "solid-state": light-weight, reliability, efficiency and cost.

In addition, the electronics within an amplifier is probably one of the least important components, again, assuming that the amplifier remains within its linear mode. Far more important, it would seem, are the speakers and the speaker cabinet, yet nobody ever talks about these. These are the equivalent of the sound box on an acoustic guitar which of course is lacking in a solid body electric. The sound box is considered extremely important for an acoustic and guitarists will wax at great length about what types of wood are best, how the bracing will effect the sound etc. Quarter sawn solid woods are considered, almost without question, to be best. Yet speaker cabinets are rarely made from anything but plywood. There are other ways to improve the tone colouring of an electric guitar than just the electronics. It is the sound box that adds the majority of tone colouring on an acoustic. Shouldn't we use the speaker cabinet in the same way? These could potentially be built from a variety of solid tone-woods and made with thinner walls at typically over 1 cm thick, the cabinets of most amplifiers are far too stiff to add much tone colouring.

Finally, just about every electric guitar amp is lacking a tweeter. I pointed this out to a salesperson and he stated, somewhat quizzically, that the high range was important for an acoustic, but not so for an electric, which was mostly mids. Huh? They are basically the same instrument except, as I've pointed out, the acoustic is amplified acoustically with it's sound box, whereas the electric is amplified electronically. We should expect the exact same overtones to be coming off the strings. Moreover, most electrics, with their generous cutaways, have a higher high range.

71 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Kevin Saale
    Time to put the 'moronic statements' to your claims. First, if you wanna get super technical, the purpose of a basic amplifier is to amplify, thats it. There is no mention of preserving signal or anything. You realize an oscillator is a just an amplifier with positive feedback? There is no signal preservation there. So, that is one foolish claim down. 2nd, saying most bands in the past 50 don't or didn't use some distortion is just ludicrous. THE electric guitar sound everyone is familiar with is one through an overdriven tube amp. Next, your claim about running distortion pedals through expensive amps, lemme say, O NOES! Who could believe someone would actually enjoy having BOTH types (SS and tube) distortion at the same time? Ummm, a lot of people, no point in listing all the popular acts in the last 60 years who have used fuzz/distortion/overdrive pedals with overdriven tube amps. Insinuating that use of a distortion pedal implies one should not own a tube amp is just ludicrous. Next, tube distortion pedals; A. Generally don't use the tube(s) very much (if at all) B. are quite expensive, many instances near the cost of cheaper amplifiers. In many cases you could combine your amp and pedal budget and purchase an amp that would suit you better than any amp/pedal combo in that price range. OMG, we suggest people to do that all the time in GGnA, like totally crazy. Next, I won't go too in depth with all the acoustic stuff, but I do have a few points. First, we talk about speakers and cabs all the time. Its accepted that a shitty cab or the wrong combo of speakers can ruin the sound of an otherwise brilliant amp, you aren't dispelling any myths there. Also, I'd love to live in your world where a 1 cm thick cabinet would survive more than 1 hour with a gigging musician. Finally, a tweater?!? Are you ****ing serious? At first I thought you were just a butt hurt or dumb with this article, now I realize you're trolling. At least I hope you're trolling, because if you used a tweater with a guitar amp, jeez, it would drill icepicks straight through your brain and probably kill you. You do realize the sound from the strings of an electric guitar is being picking electromagnetically, not from an acoustic mic, yes? Please tell me you knew that. In closing, I think its obvious you have a very small amount of knowledge and though, hey, I see something I think is wrong with the guitar world, I should point it out. Problem is, you didn't do any research, at all, and this article proves it beyond a shadow of a doubt.
    Also, to address your point about buying a tube amplifier instead of the suggested tube distortion pedal/transistor amp combo--the tube amplifier will be heavier, less reliable, more delicate (tubes are made of glass, after all) use more power and generate more excess heat. For touring, at least, the pedal/transistor amp combo seems the clear winner... Unless of course WWIII hits or the next level 10 magnetic storm. Then you will be able to trade your (still fully functional) tube amp for food, or throw it at the angry mob that's now coming after you (assuming you can lift it...)
    I tour; I play an all-valve amp; I have had no problems with reliability of said amp, be it the valves or any other part of the amp, since I purchased it in 2008. It has been revalved twice. Yep, less reliable than SS amps...
    Kevin Saale
    Again, where are you getting this info? Obligatory :
    Thats a short video of a crate V50 (a pretty cheap tube amp) being tossed on the ground, plugged back in, and continuing to function. Tubes aren't expensive, if one breaks you replace it. What happens if one of the power transistors goes out in your SS amp during a show? You're ****ed, thats what. The only thing you're right about there is they're heavier, but hey, I've had heavy SS amps too.
    On the other hand, maybe the guy was just lucky. You forgot the point about using extra power and generating excess heat. Some of us actually give a damn about the environment (every little bit counts) but I guess that's too much to expect from rock 'n rollers...
    Dead Eye Dick
    If you really give a damn about the environment, why are you wasting so much electricity typing all this blabbery bullcrap?
    thank you Kevin, i was waiting for a good explanation here's my like, and i would givw a medal if I could.
    I don't see any explanation here. First of all, nowhere in the article did I write that bands in the past 50 years don't use distortion. I pointed out that guitarists decided that they liked the sound of distorted amplifiers--I didn't specify any time range. Perhaps my scholarship is faulty, but at least I can read. I am well aware that electric guitars use magnetic pick-ups. The operating principle is very similar to that of a dynamic microphone, many of which can pick up frequencies in excess of 17 000 Hz. I see no reason why a guitar pick-up should be any different. If the higher frequencies are produced by an acoustic, why should they not be produced by an electric? Show me a spec giving the frequency sensitivity of a guitar pick up. If the upper range is less than 2000 Hz (which I highly doubt) I will conceed your point. (Some clever person stated that a tweeter is for frequencies in excess of 20 000 Hz--maybe if you're playing music for chipmunks...) The 'E' note played on the twelfth fret of the high 'E' string has a root frequency of about 2624 Hz, while the fourth overtone has a frequency of 5248 Hz, both of which are well within the range of a tweeter, unless you're talking about the above fellow's "chipmunk" tweeter. I use an amplifier with a tweeter. It's a general-purpose musical amplifier and it works fine with an electric guitar.
    Kevin Saale
    Just because the guitar produces the frequency, doesn't mean you necessarily want it amplified equally. I've heard amps produce very piercing treble without a tweater, usually in combination with distortion. Here is the distortion quote: " In most areas of music reproduction, this situation is avoided, as it means that the signal will be distorted." Yes, most areas of ALL audio reproduction you avoid distortion, except in guitar amplifiers. Even a clean signal from most guitar amps is distorted to a degree, if only by the speaker, and thats how people like it. Play an MP3 player through a perfectly clean guitar amp with a guitar speaker, it won't sound right at all.
    On the other hand having it and not using it (i.e. by turning down the treble control) is better than not having it at all. Again, I don't see how the quoted statement implies that musicians haven't used distortion. I say MOST, not all and then in the sentence immediately following I concede that guitar amplification is at least one exception. Do you understand basic English syntax? You can go ahead and pay a premium for an obsolete technology with a lot of drawbacks just for an ephemeral supposed "good tone." Somebody's making a lot of money off of your defective psychology. I'm not convinced that tubes vs. transisters, at least for clean tones, make any difference and an amplifier that distorts is a bad amplifier, it's as simple as that. For "dirty" or distorted tones, you only need one tube and in any case, I think the tone colouring should be kept entirely separate from the amplification--same as the Unix philosophy: do one thing and do it well. This is how I'm doing it at the moment--my amp only has clean tones--and I think it's a good set-up.
    " (Some clever person stated that a tweeter is for frequencies in excess of 20 000 Hz" Where? You really need to look at the frequency response chart for a standard guitar speaker...no tweeter is necessary. Also, the 12th fret E, 1st string fundamental frequency in E Standard tuning is 659.61 Hz, not sure where you came up with 2624 Hz?
    That still give a fourth harmonic of 3295 Hz--well within tweeter territory...
    And well within the response range of standard guitar speakers, no tweeter necessary. You're grasping at straws and don't have enough integrity to admit your myriad errors. Have a nice day.
    That's one error, and a minor one at that. It still doesn't explain to me why a tweeter should be considered necessary for an acoustic, but not an electric. All you clever people still haven't pointed out the most glaring error in the article (which suggests to me that maybe you don't know as much what you're talking about as you think you do). Don't worry, I've written a follow-up to address that point. You can have fun trying to pick that one apart as well...
    So far I haven't seen a lot of rational, fact-based criticisms of my arguments. Most of it takes the form of, "oh, this guy is dumb" "oh, this guy doesn't know what he's talking about" even though I've given solid arguments to support most of my conclusions and see very little of the same in response. It seems to me that most of you just like to pick on people who don't happen to agree with your view of the world instead of trying to form rational, objective opinions. I will address one other comment about distortion in amplifiers: yes, amplifiers can distort, even with so-called clean tones. Wouldn't it be better, however, if this was done deliberately instead of haphazardly ("this brand of amp sounds warm and mellow, this one sound bright and clean")? Some amp manufactures have no doubt deliberately altered their designs to improve the tone colour, but I suspect that more often than not, a pleasant tone came about more by accident and was then copied by other makers. If the amplification stage is completely separated from the tone colouring stage, then we can go about this process of introducing pleasant tone colouring more deliberately and with more flexibility. Also, I am presenting solutions to guitarists who may not have a lot of money (such as myself) to get good "rock" tones. My tube distortion pedal cost $70 and my transistor amp $180. That's the best I can afford. I don't have $1000 to drop on an all-tube amp. The article was meant to stimulate discussion and offer up new ideas, not to offend the obviously tender sensibilities of tube-lovers.
    There are some solid state solutions that sound almost as good (and sometimes better) than tubes, but sadly they either don't work well in real time or they cost as much or more than some tube amps. I don't think you got the response from other UGers is their fault; it's how you came accross. Their sensibilities aren't tender, they (or at least I) intentionally responded to your abrasiveness in kind. But after reading all your posts here, I don't believe you meant to be abrasive on purpose; it appears to be a basic part of your personality. I think we all struggle with it at least a little at some point of our lives. I'd suggest you apply your affinity for science to studying EQ (and I'm not talkin' audio equalization). Here's a good starting place. "Emotional Intelligence 2.0" by Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves. If you've already looked into this stuff, then trust me, you're doing it wrong and need to re-attack. You might be able to find it at a library; If you buy it you can do a self-assessment over the web with a unique code, but IMHO, it's not an accurate test for those who read through the questions, so you might was well just get it at the library. If you get it right, it can turn your life around and then a $4,000 amp won't be out of reach. We got this book at work and I've seen people turn on a dime; which is good because otherwise they wouldn't be working with us anymore. I'm not trying to be mean; just trying to be a good friend for a fellow UG'er.
    Interesting. How about reading these quotes from other commentors and then tell me again how I'm the one who's abrasave? you don't really know what you're talking about but are desperate to fly in the face of convention to satisfy your aching hipster urges Most folks would have to be paid to be this wrong, you do it for free... So much stupid, so little time... so much fail in that piece, you should be ashamed. Time to put the 'moronic statements' to your claims. At first I thought you were just a butt hurt or dumb with this article, now I realize you're trolling. Problem is, you didn't do any research, at all, and this article proves it beyond a shadow of a doubt. If you really give a damn about the environment, why are you wasting so much electricity typing all this blabbery bullcrap? I dont know who wrote this article but he mustve been living in a cave for quite a few years. etc...
    That response just reinforces what I'm saying. I've read dozens of online debates on tube vs. SS, but never seen 9+ comments responding on a such personal level to the original author like the 9 you quoted. People are perceiving that you feel that you are superior to them and whether they're morons as you seem to imply, or whether they have higher IQs and/or degrees (or more of them) than you, they tend toward a similar highly personal counterattack. The fact you realize they're pissed is good; it means it's unlikely that you suffer from Asperger's Syndrome; they can't tell when other people are upset. You're just in denial about why they're responding like that. Only 2% of the population are sociopaths, so you probably fall in the category of those of us who would benefit from applying intellect to further develop emotional intelligence (i.e., EQ). Almost all of us would get some benefit; I'm not done with all the books on it in my reading list either. I've seen other bright people do this (i.e., put their minds to enhancing their EQ) to very beneficial effect for themselves and the people they share their lives with (at home and at work). Some of them wouldn't be working in my organization anymore if they hadn't been able to turn things around like they did after reading this book (and a couple more--PM me and I'll be happy to share the other titles). As for "Level 10 Geomagnetic Storms," I don't recall that nomenclature or ranking structure from my space-related classes. It has been over 10 years since I studied aerospace, maybe that's changed; yet a current survey of the internet points to fiction. Maybe Canada has different nomenclature. Suffice it to say, that I hope we don't have to party like it's 1859. Methane stills will only get you so far. Also, you'd have a hard time equipping yourself (without breaking the law) in Canada to defend any generator effectively for long in that type of situation. Anyway, I sincerely hope for your sake and those you share your life with that you choose to make positive use of something you get out of this experience.
    The stuff about level 10 magnetic storm was just a joke. I have no idea how the severity of magnetic storms are measured, but level 10 gets the idea through (you can always do a unit conversion!). Long guns are perfectly legal in Canada! Plus their more accurate than handguns... In fact, the conservative government recently scrapped a long-gun registry that ended up costing to the tune of $2 billion. I admit, I didn't spend as much time on this article as I do on my scientific papers. This is, after all, just a hobby. Partly this was because I wrote directly on the website interface--since there's no mechanism for saving a draft of a contribution, you can't write it in multiple sittings...
    Here's some more unsolicited advice: Stick to writing about science. Handguns have their place in tactical situations, otherwise police departments and military wouldn't bother with them. It doesn't take much shooting experience or tactical thinking to know that long-range accuracy doesn't apply much to home defense. It's unlikely that you would be legally justified to shoot someone at the ranges where it makes a difference. In close quarters, handguns can be more effective because you're more likely to fully acquire the target in the time allotted. They're also easier to retain. Most importantly, youre more able to have one on your person, available at the ready if you need it. Especially while youre playing a guitar You can debate me on this, but I wonder who has more breadth and depth regarding professional training and experience in these matters? But handguns vs. long guns is beside the point; if you're one of the few (or the only one) with a working generator and the means to keep it running, then you'd need a nearly unlimited supply of machine gun barrels and ammunition to defend it for long. Not that this extreme standard is possible in America. We do, however, have survivalists with tax stamps or Class III Federal Firearms Licenses who have legally procured stockpiles of machine guns and related supplies that could enable them to defend themselves like that for a couple of weeks. I get the sense it would be harder to do that in Canada. As for mechanisms for saving drafts and writing in multiple sittings, you can write it with a word processor and paste it into the website interface. But Im not convinced that would solve the real issue.
    Sorry, third overtone is 10496 Hz--definitely seems to demand a tweeter if you ask me... Some electric guitars go up to the 24th fret--that's twice as high! Even for chipmunk music you need a tweeter...
    steven seagull
    The purpose of an amplifier is to reproduce a signal as accurately as possible but with a higher "output" amplitude than "input." No it isn't, that's the purpose of a hi-fi amplifier. If you plug a guitar amplifier into a hi-fi amp and simply boost the existing signal with no colouration from the amp or speaker it's going to sound like shit. Guitar amps are built for the purpose of sound creation, you want them to alter the signal coming into them because if they didn't it'd sound like shit. tl;dr you don't really know what you're talking about but are desperate to fly in the face of convention to satisfy your aching hipster urges
    steven seagull
    oops typo, put "guitar amplifier" in the second paragraph instead of "guitar"
    Yes, the article is all good and all, but if you ask "why does one amp sound different from another amp?" well, the argument falls apart.
    Great example of knowing enough about a topic to be dangerous. This holds up fine with all the stated assumptions, but many of those assumptions aren't valid in the real world for the application of electric guitars, amps, and effects in a rock music context. It really misses the point. If you prefer clean solid state amplification and cabinets crafted from solid tonewoods, and using tweeters, then good for you. Why don't you add a subwoofer while you're at it? Whatever trips your trigger... ...but it ain't what I call rock'n'roll.
    alright i understand your point but i disagree on a few things. Tube amps in a musical sense are doing a little more than just amplifing. They color the tone (EL34 vs 6L6 for example) this "tone" is important to the players and songwriters. I agree 100% about the distortion pedals unless they are being used to boost the signal and not add it's own distortion. I also agree with your statement about cabinets. I was amazed by the sound difference in size, speakers, & shape. Anyone buying a cab with V30's just cause V30's are the best is blind. When you play through different speakers/cabs one will stand out. Thats what you buy. In my case i bought a cab with Jaguar 60's. they sounded the best with my amp and achived the sound i was looking for. As far as tweeters, no way my speakers are bright enough. They are not needed.
    Tone is extremely subjective so people try to attach certain objective 'markers' that make it easier to point to what they're going for. Tubes are just one of those objective markers that's easily identifiable. I've played through plenty of very bland sounding tube amps and many very good, responsive solid state amps. I agree completely about speakers and cabinet design being highly undervalued in the realm of electric guitar. You're wrong about needing a tweeter unless you're planning on using piezos or some other "alternative" pickup design. Standard electromagnetic guitar pickups don't have that wide of a frequency range and since that's the sound we associate with electric guitar there's no need for the extreme highs necessary to properly amplify vocals or acoustic instrumentation. While I understand you point about not using distortion pedals I also disagree whole-heartedly. You're reasoning is based on induction rather than experience and it shows. Tubes clip in a non-linear fashion ALWAYS; in the 'linear operating region' tubes are still behaving in a non-linear fashion, even though from a functional or electrical engineering standpoint it's significantly easier to treat them as "essentially linear". The important tonal result, when pertaining to distortion pedals, is that tube amps roll away 'harsh' harmonics in the signal that cause tone to sound 'brittle'. If anything I'd argue that if you're going to use distortion pedals you almost certainly MUST use a tube amp. Ever played even a basic distortion through a tube amp and a solid state amp back-to-back? The response is very, very different. Ever run a fuzz pedal into a solid state amp? >_
    Yes, it is a great comfort to me that during WW III, the majority of posters on this forum will still be able to get great tone, even as the bombs are dropping!
    Assuming by WW III you mean post electro-magnetic pulse? Yeah, 'cause most all-tube amplifiers don't have any solid state electronics outside of the amplication circuits [sarcasm]. And because they'd still be getting power at all after the EMP takes out the grid. [more sarcasm] If every little bit counts [against the environment], then you can do us all a favor by disabling all your internet-enabled devices so you don't waste that power either. But I guess that's too much to expect from a "scientist."
    There are such things as electric generator. I think I'm going to buy an all-tube amp, swap out the solid-state components, a still and a generator that runs on methanol. Even as the roaches are preparing to take over I'll still be rockin' on!
    Oh, never heard of generators before. Oh wait, I got one of those for hurricanes. Too bad it has solid state electronics too, so it wouldn't work either. And since gas stations won't have power either I wouldn't be able to play long even if it did work. But it doesn't run on methanol. Good luck with your methanol logistics.
    I think you're the only person on Earth who agrees with me that tube amps are NOT the last word in tone. I've played solid state amps exclusively for over 20 years, and build my own cabinets. When you pay attention to your ears and forget what a salesman tells you, your eyes just may be opened to a sound that I've found cleaner, brighter, and more consistent than the hassles of tube amps. JCM players are a dime a dozen. The same could be said of JCM tones.
    Most folks would have to be paid to be this wrong, you do it for free... The speaker box v. acoustic comparison....wow...just wow... A tweeter? Really? A device designed to reproduce frequencies above 2Khz is required for an instrument designed to generate frequencies of less than 1.5Khz? So much stupid, so little time...
    Tone isn't about appeasing the neighbors. It's about the studio and live performances. Nothing beats a cranked tube amp.
    Valves definitelty colour the tone even when clean. It is definitely noticeable. Any solid state amp these days uses electronic modelling to try and reproduce the sound of valves. Who else here has put an electric guitar through a good PA system and discovered how ugly the sound was? Very dead. The cabinets also make a substantial difference to the tone - I agree on that count.
    The tubes color the tone even when clean. Modern solid state amps have circuitry that tries to copy the same thing - some more and some less successfully. I absolutely agree that speakers and enclosures are super important but who cares if someone prefers tube or solid state? I personally prefer tube 90% of the time, but occasionally a solid state seems better because the tone is more CONSISTENT between different gain/drive/volume levels, while you have to open up a tube amp a little bit, etc. - it is a matter of taste and application.
    One last point: it is often tempting to rely only on our physical senses in making a decision on the merits of a particular piece of equipment. This "sounds" better, therefore it is better. Yet our physical senses, as well as our natural intuition, frequently deceive us. As a scientist, I am all too aware of the logical fallacies that human beings routinely commit. A common one: if something costs more we frequently perceive it as better, even if this is not the case. I can mention two instances where I found a cheaper guitar to be either better or comparable to a more expensive one. When I was shopping for my last acoustic guitar, I had a budget of $500 dollars. As a lefty, my options are limited so only tried out a few. Two of the guitars were Canadian made and had solid tops. The one I eventually chose was a thirty-year old Yamaha that cost only $200 and which I later learned has all-ply construction. To both my ears and fingers, it was far superior to any of the others. The second best, at a considerable interval, was a Chinese-made Fender, also all-ply. The second example was a $100 dollar First-Act guitar from Wal-Mart. I was so impressed with this guitar I bought it in the hopes of learning to play right-handed. After taking it home, changing the strings and adjusting the pick-ups, I decided it was easily comparable to my regular electric: a MIM Fender Telecaster costing six times as much brand new. To the best of my knowledge, the only objectively measurable difference between tubes and transistors occurs when each is respectively over-driven--past its linear response range. Because our senses frequently deceive us and our decision-making process hampered by un-perceived bias, we need objective methods of determining the merits of musical equipment.
    If your purpose is to make good sounding music, then the only thing that matters is the physical sense of hearing; what sounds better is better for guitar amps. It appears youre a victim of confirmation bias; that would explain why you won't internalize anything people are trying to tell you here. My $125 5w SS VOX amp sounds a lot better than my $200+ Marshall MG 30w SS amp. Not hard, though. Sorry, it doesn't sound as good as my $1,369 used 100w all tube Marshall Halfstack. Which would have cost a lot more than that if I purchased it new (but still way under $4,000). I prefer playing my $125 Squier Affinity Strat live more than any of my other guitars, including an MIA Strat and an Ibanez Prestige. But even with upgraded pickups, it just doesn't sound as good as the other guitars (don't know if it's the Duncan Designed pups or the multiple pieces of low-grade wood glued together). After $100 of luthier work, plus upgraded tuners and electronics, it now plays just as well as the MIA, but it still doesn't have 22 frets like the one that cost 8 times as much. You either really lucked out with that First Act or have very bad taste. I've seen so many of those in Pawn Shops and every one was a waste of raw materials. They were worse than the Starcasters. They usually went for $36 - $65 or so. The main point of tube amps is the wonderful things that happen when you overdrive them. The very thing you admit is measurable. So basically, you miss the point. I'd be curious what type of scientist you are and about your credentials. How can someone earn a degree if they can't comprehend that for evaluating music equipment it's going to be highly subjective and there is no way to escape perception equaling reality. If you prefer modern distortion, then you're going to appreciate an amp capable of high gain like an Engl. If you prefer clean tones, you're going to like something more pure like a high-end Fender (or maybe even a Roland SS). I work with a lot of scientists, so anecdotally, I have reason to believe that science-oriented education and common sense are not necessarily mutually exclusive. At least it's not for them.
    That's true, so much of music is entirely subjective, so it really is impossible to make any kind of final judgement on these matters. Considering that musicians like Jimmy Hendrix deliberately crafted music that was somewhat discordant and offensive to the ear, I'm surprise more people haven't taken up solid-state distortion as the ultimate in tone. I don't disagree that tubes sound different when overdriven. That was the main point of the article! Merely pointing out that the same effect can be achieved far more cheaply by adding only a single component to an otherwise solid-state device. There is the First Act guitar ("Fuel"): http://profile.ultimate-guitar.com/Guita... And here are my credentials: http://profile.ultimate-guitar.com/Guita...
    "Merely pointing out that the same effect can be achieved far more cheaply by adding only a single component to an otherwise solid-state device." No, it can't. A single-tube driver will not provide the same distortion effects as a multi-stage tube preamp and it certainly won't provide power amp distortion. Consider also that the simple fact that you don't differentiate between pre and power amp distortion is telling in itself. As an aside I've read several of your published articles and while I'm not competent to pass judgement on their validity I'm finding it hard to reconcile your reckless claims here with the approach you took in writing them? As for the level of response that you've gotten, what did you expect when you came here claiming to 'put the lie' to alleged myths, especially when you were wrong? It's clear you are not intellectually bereft, so quit acting like it. If you want an honest dialog, open with an honest dialog.
    I admit, I didn't spend as much time on this article as I do on my scientific papers. This is, after all, just a hobby. Partly this was because I wrote directly on the website interface--since there's no mechanism for saving a draft of a contribution, you can't write it in multiple sittings... There's no reason why you can't have multi-stage tube distortion pedals or a distortion pedal that uses a power-tube, although the power consumption for both would likely be unacceptably high. On a related note, power tube distortion is not really an option for the vast majority of us, most of whom do have neighbours. Maybe if you're playing in a relatively large venue with a fairly low-powered amp. A lot of tube fans also own these gigantic 4x12" 100-200 W amps--you'd need a very large hall or an outdoor venue to overdrive one of those without making yourself deaf! I realize you can always just stick a resistor between the output and the speaker, but I'm not a big fan of this idea since it is wasteful. Certainly the extra resistance will reduce power consumption somewhat (since P=V^2/R), but the large tubes being overdriven will likely consume a lot of power on their own. On a further related note, the distortion component need not be placed in the pre-amp stage, it could be always be placed between the amp and speakers, or for that matter, anywhere along the chain. I'm not convinced that musicians have explored even a fraction of the effects available to them. Consider that even the cheap netbook I'm writing this on has a dual core, 1.66 GHz processor. Good quality digital sound has a sampling rate of 40 KHz--that leaves 83000 clock cycles to play with for each sample! I've tried some of the free guitar effects processors and they can't keep up. The problem is not that they are not sophisticated enough, but maybe that they are too sophisticated, but you can only choose from a limited number of effects. Why not a simpler, but much more general algorithm? For the simplest effects (solid-state clipping could be crudely simulated very trivially) you take each sample and apply any mathematical function you wish. For more sophisticated effects, the processor stores each of the previous samples back to a certain time. Now we can apply any function to this vector. Band-pass filters (i.e. tone control) can be implemented with a linear combination of the samples. Feedback effects are also possible. On a totally unrelated note, I am fascinated by the lore that gets passed down in any field, much of which has very little basis in fact and is almost impossible to justify either empirically or deductively from a theoretical basis. I used to be heavily into competitive cycling and cross-country skiing. There is a ton of this lore and people just seem to follow it blindly without question even though a lot of it has been debunked. I'll give you three examples from cycling: 1. That non-suspended frames absorb shock. The triangular design of the modern safety bicycle is far too stiff to absorb a significant amount of shock. Total bollox. 2. Stiffer frames are more efficient than "softer" ones. Unless the frame bends enough to take a set, any flex in a frame, whether stiff or soft, is returned with almost 100% efficiency. More likely, there is an optimum flex that returns the energy at the right rate. 3. The idea of a round pedal stroke. This has been debunked in empirical studies. Even professional cyclists at the highest level push down on the upstroke. It is simply more efficient for the strong quadriceps pushing downward to assist the much weaker antagonist muscles in their work against gravity in the upstroke. In music, it takes on a whole new dimension since music is, by its very nature, highly subjective. I admit that I am not immune to some of these biases myself since I tend to believe that wood, or any type of natural material, is superior in musical instruments to synthetics, even though I'm pretty sure in a blind test I couldn't tell the difference between a wood guitar and a carbon fibre guitar. In one area, my bias actually goes against accepted wisdom--I definitely prefer wood combs to plastic ones in harmonicas, despite their obvious disadvantages and despite the fact that again, in a blind test I probably couldn't tell the difference. Unfortunately, the preference of many harmonica players for plastic makes wood combs both hard to find and expensive. There is always the venerable Marine Band, but I am always on the lookout for cheaper alternatives. The Seydel Blues Solist was a lovely harmonica which provided a slight savings, but sadly it wasn't offered for long. There are also the Chinese made tremolos and the two examples I have with wood combs have a lovely tone, but these too are becoming hard to find. The wood vs. plastic comb as well the one piece necks now common on electric guitars are two examples where the received wisdom seems to go against the normal trend that more traditiona=better and more expensive=better. Of course, an accomplished musician can overcome just about any limitation
    Of course, an accomplished musician can overcome just about any limitation in his instrument. Likely enough high-level musicians began to appreciate the benefits of these innovations to make them acceptable, despite the fact that I believe they both have a detrimental effect on tone, however small. In most other areas, however, I remain skeptical. There is no doubt in my mind, for instance, that the material used in the body of a solid body electric has no effect whatsoever on tone--it is simply too stiff a piece to make any difference, though again, I would prefer wood to any other material, even though plastic or composite or even aluminum could likely be substituted with no detriment. Here is a study that attempts to prove this: http://www.dawsons.co.uk/blog/tonewood-d... Here is another fellow who makes an even stronger claim--that the type of wood used in an acoustic makes little to no difference: http://www.dawsons.co.uk/blog/tonewood-d... For the most part, I agree with him. For instance, he states that acoustic guitars are very inefficient in converting the vibrations of the strings to audible sound and this squares with my own experience. I am the proud owner of a Washburn Rover travel guitar and it produces a surprisingly rich and full tone, despite the fact that the body has only a tiny fraction the volume of a full-sized guitar.
    I agree with most of this but especially the part about the speakers and cabinet. I recently picked up a Carvin V3M and tried to play it through my Legacy 4x12 with V30s. It sounded like crap. WAY too much mid range, and it a bad way. I built myself a new 2x12 cab and put WGS Retro 30's in it. NOW it sounds like it should. Night and day difference.
    “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side.” ― Hunter S. Thompson
    I cannot help but to chime in here. I am an electrical engineer, but I have built amplifiers and electric guitars and I play. It is incorrect to say that guitar amplifiers do not colour the tone ("distort") even when clean. Also, most of this colour is present in the transient response of the amp and is hard to measure in a controlled lab set up. I know from my own ears that this is different for different amplifiers and that tubes do have a different warmth even when 'clean'. Showing exactly what that difference is in a quantitative way would be a difficult project – I can only imagine that it would involve spectrum analyzers and somehow producing a VERY repeatable guitar plucked string tone so that comparisons could be made. Intermodulation distortion and nonlinear responses as a function of volume, including those from the speaker itself, entails a pretty well equipped laboratory and instrumentation to even have a hope of measuring this. It is much easier to trust your own ears and to detect the difference (or lack of difference) yourself. Another point: guitar signals are not terribly crisp straight from the guitar (inductive signal source, plus capacitive parasites everywhere including the amplifier cable) so a flat response amp like your stereo designed for accurate reproduction will not sound good. Guitar amps and their speakers boost the highs by design, and when distortion is added it gives even more energy to the high frequencies due to the clipping. This is why a tweeter is not really needed (I tried a horn tweeter on a guitar amp once - with a crossover of course - but it added far too much hiss and highs to sound good for my tastes). The guitar amplifier is as much part of the instrument as the guitar is. I have, interestingly, recorded my guitar direct into the mixer and it sounded okay but I needed to fiddle with the EQ quite a bit to get back the crispness that was missing. SS amps can sound good, but of the two types I have to say that I prefer the smokey warmth of the transient response of my tube amplifier even when playing clean. Please do not try to make broad statements that clearly do not stand up to the guitar players who do hear the difference. If I could enjoy the tone of my more energy-efficient SS amp as much as my tube amp (I have both types) then I would not have my old-fashioned tube amp at all, plain and simple. I have nothing to prove to anyone: "I play for my own amazement".
    My MV 962 can eat a JCM 800 for breakfast and spit out a Fender Supersonic just for giggles.
    some of you tube nuts dont know anymore about what youre talking about than the original poster. especially this last dweeb
    tweeters are cool. they are just like another speaker you can throw in there and whatever. it's not like you need a crossover. or like anything.
    Out of curiosity, have you ever played an electric guitar amp with a tweeter? particularly one with distortion? it really isn't any good at all- the tweeter overemphasizes high overtones instead of the fundamental note, resulting in a tone that is shrill and overly bright. ultimately, tone is totally subjective. however, I doubt most guitarists actually want an amp that operates exclusively within its linear range- it just isn't a good sound for guitars. too clean a sound- with linear range being totally clean- results in a flat and sterile sounding guitar. yes, there are occasions in which this is a good thing, but most guitarists would hardly find this to be useful or good whatsoever. anyways, hopefully I never need to hear your guitar tone. based on your logic, I suspect it's utterly dreadful.
    You said: The purpose of an amplifier is to reproduce a signal as accurately as possible but with a higher "output" amplitude than "input." Already, you've stated something that is only half true. It all depends on the amplifier, would be my answer. It could be argued that an audiophile's stereo amp might be designed to replicate the signal as accurately as possible, but to include guitar amps in this blanket statement is nothing but false. Guitar amps are just as much an instrument as the guitar is. Each and every guitar amp will color the sound - that's the beauty of their design and why I have so many to choose from. Best get your facts straight, before trying to clear the air on myths and incorrect facts.
    You randomly blabbered: "Finally, just about every electric guitar amp is lacking a tweeter. I pointed this out to a salesperson and he stated, somewhat quizzically, that the high range was important for an acoustic, but not so for an electric, which was mostly mids. Huh?" Yeah. Huh? Should've said that I'd be back with more. I am. Do you have a degree in audio from a box of Cheerios? I guess all the designers of cabs must be freakin' stupid, or something. FWIW, I own a Rivera Sedona ES. It's only a $1000 less than the $4000 amp you talked about in your fine story. It has a tweeter. It also has the capability to be used with electric or acoustic guitars. The one channel has higher gain, but does not use the tweeter. That channel is for electric. The other channel employs less gain and is designed for acoustic. Guess what? It uses a tweeter on that channel. Another thing, all of my acoustic guitars are electronically amplified - they all use active amps and have batteries. You're really lucky the horrible salesman didn't laugh you out of the store. I'm going to call Peavey and Mesa right now and demand my missing tweeters.
    Blind In 1 Ear
    wow. you're missing the point on pretty much everything you put in this article. the way you get a good classic rock, blues tone is to overdrive your WHOLE AMP, not just distorting the signal. there's a huge difference. and i know you missed the point because you said you should want solid state power section. that's terrible and it's why a lot of hybrid amps still sound like shit. digital overdrive and pre-amp tube overdrive are pretty similar and i doubt most can actually tell the difference. however power tube distortion is pretty different and adds a whole new character. so if anything, you'd want a solid state pre amp, and a tube driver and power sectiong. fender does this and the amps sound pretty decent. still not the same as a non master volume amp though. and i'm sorry but a tweeter is an absolutely terrible idea. most guitar amps are too bright already jeez what the hell do you want? acoustics probably use it because they can easily sound muddy when amplified. electrics however tend to sound bright and snappy. also, adding some pedal to a tube amp is fine. as long as it's still mostly the amp doing the work, those pedals can sound SO much better. my fuzz face sounds kinda lame at bedroom volume. crank it along with a cranked tube amp and holy hell it sounds so smooth, juicy, and on double stops it growls like a lion. most people just add pedals for a tone change or maybe to add a bit more gain. the amp only can do so much so sometimes you may want more. like the fuzz face example. i can't get that tone without the pedal.
    Like I said in the above reply, maybe you don't have neighbours, but I do!
    That can't even be considered an argument. I have neighbours and I almost never use my amp at home. I practice either with my acoustic or with my electric unplugged. What I suspect you don't have is a band. Dissing valve amps because they are louder is, in first place, wrong. There are solid state amps that can be louder than other valve amps. The valve/transistor makes no difference in that sense. And in second place, if you are going to play live, you need volume, my friend. It's just common sense. I appreciate that you tried to give an alternate view on many topics, but some of your points just don't stand. Of course guitar cabinets are too thick, but I wouldn't hang 4 12" speakers from a box with 1cm plywood walls. I agree with some other of your points, but you must know that, when you write something and publish it for the rest of the world to see it, you're going to get feedback. Maybe in this case most of the people who replied to you were too harsh, but nonetheless you should listen to them because most of them were right. Cheers!
    GuitarPetey, have you ever played live? I ask because back in my younger days, I had a "nice" SS amp. It sounded like HEAVEN in my bedroom, jamming to my favorite tunes. When I started playing in bands w others, I quickly and sadly realized how their tube amps would swallow my amp up. As soon a tube amp guitar player hit that first chord, my sound literally disappeared. I would crank my amp up, but to no avail. That's what sold me on tube amps. Granted it took a few years to save up enough. I think SS amps are great for hobbyists, but if you're a pro musician, you need a tube amp if you want to cut through the mix, at least in my own personal experience. Granted I have not played every SS amp out there, but for the most part I'm being truthful based on what I've seen and heard out in venues, clubs, jam spaces, etc.
    In my experience, people that try to come up with arguments against tube amps is because they can't afford them, they don't have a band and they don't play live. You may be using a solid state amp like a Marshall MG or amp modelling at home in your bedroom and think it sounds great, but as soon as you bring that stuff to a rehearsal room or a gig, you'll realize that it doesn't work, it sounds terrible at loud volumes. You don't have to be scientific, just use common sense, use your ears. Just look at gear that professionals are using now and have been using for a long time. Why don't you give Jeff Beck, Slash, Eric Clapton, David Gilmour, etc a call and tell them that if they buy a Marshall MG100 modified with a tweeter and a cabinet made of cardboard their sound will improve. They would tell you to go f**k yourself buddy. Get a band, start playing live professionally, then come back to me with this rubbish you wrote. It annoys me all these wannabes that play in their bedroom trying to teach us that are or have actually been on the road, have played hundreds of gigs, interacted with hundreds of guitar techs and engineers, that tube amps are not all that. In theory, anything can make sense, but life experience and ears will contradict "scientific" rubbish like the one you just spat out.
    Good point about cabs, too bad the rest is basically bollocks. This would be more pertenent and worthy of further submission were it not for how little you know about tube versus transistor production.
    we talk about speakers and speaker cabinets daily. so much fail in that piece, you should be ashamed.
    I would rather just plug in to an amp and mess around with settings as a judge of tone than discount one over the other because its solid state or tube driven, but never trying it out. I love the sound if the 5150, hate the sound of the 5150 II, and am pretty happy with my line 6 hd147. I would take my old 5150 over it in heartbeat, but versatility and the tones available are enough for me.
    Danjo's Guitar
    Super thin tonewood cabinets would probably just collapse if you put them in a stack. Though I definitely agree cabinets make a difference, people actually DO talk about them, just not as much, because theres a limited amount of variety. But for example, I own a Mesa Stiletto Ace Combo, and I bought a Randall Isolation cab, exact same speaker, but the cab shape makes a HUGE difference. This difference that the amps cab sounds great, and the isolation cab sounds pretty terrible.
    I landed on this article again, it sounds even more idiotic 2 years later Tweeter, lol.