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#1
Hi UG, I am currently studying Music Technology at college and I have have been asked to conduct an investigation into an area of personal interest that relates to Music Technology in some way. Being a guitarist, I've chosen to study the long standing debate between tube amps and solid-state amps.

I have been undertaking a large amount of research into my chosen area of study, including reading books, watching videos and interviewing other musicians on the topic. But I think getting the thoughts and opinions of the UG community would be great to put into my report as it would be ideal to include opinions and arguments by fellow guitarists who know what they are talking about.

My title and first paragraph is as follows;



"A collation and assimilation of research into a tube guitar amplifier and a solid-state guitar amplifier to compare the pros and cons of both.


In the field of electric guitar amplification there are a multitude of different amplifiers on the market and while they are all manufactured to perform the same function, to amplify the guitar's signal, many are constructed in vastly different ways, thus giving them hugely different sounds from one another. Two popular yet technically dissimilar types of guitar amplifiers are tube amplifiers and solid-state amplifiers.
Ever since the eve of electric guitar amplification there has been heated debate amongst guitarists regarding which type of amplifier, tube or solid-state, are the most desirable in terms of tone, durability, value for money and overall practicality."


So, what do we think? Is there really a consensus within the guitar playing world over which type of amplifier is the best? What are the pro's and con's of both? What would you recommend to a beginner guitarist looking to invest in their first amplifier? Or conversely, what would you choose yourself? Is it a matter of personal preference? Taking into account things such as tone, durability, value for money and overall practicality, which one of these type of amplifiers are the most desireable? Please, argue, discuss, and debate to your hearts content!

SP.
#3
It's a lot of preference. It's the way an amp feels, and that differs from person to person. However, sound like an interesting topic if you focus on the differences in how the amplification is achieved. I am interested in amplification but I am terrible at circuit analysis, so I don't really know a lot about how amps work. The difference between SS and valve has been described to be as a kind of warmth and responsiveness (for valve amps).
#4
I prefer tube amps, and that will most likely be the consensus among most experienced guitar players. I think it has something to do with the fact that it takes fewer tubes to amplify your guitar signal than it does transistors. The more shit your signal has to go through to increase the volume the more clipping there is. I know clipping is the origin of a distorted sound, but every guitarist eventually learns that too much gain just makes you sound like shit.

And I'm pretty sure vs. threads are banned, but this might be an exception seeing as you're using it for research.
#5
Is there really a consensus within the guitar playing world over which type of amplifier is the best?

One general opinion is that tube amps are warmer and more organic, but the Axe Fx is more practical and close enough for some.

What are the pro's and con's of both?

Tubes sound warmer and fatter, are easier to fix.
Solid state are easier to use, can change sounds easy with distortion pedals, sound quality often highly depends on the pedal quality.

What would you recommend to a beginner guitarist looking to invest in their first amplifier?

I would recommend a zt lunchbox with a 1x12 tonkerlite and a line 6 pod hd 500, or a two channel tube amp with two eqs, perhaps a Dual Terror for ease of tube change, or Night Train 50

Or conversely, what would you choose yourself?

I would choose the two channel tube amp with ease of tube change.

Is it a matter of personal preference?

Yes, some for tubes, some for Axe FX.

Taking into account things such as tone, durability, value for money and overall practicality, which one of these type of amplifiers are the most desireable?
I don't know how long a zt lunchbox will last, but the tube amp will most likely sound better, and be easier to fix.

Please, argue, discuss, and debate to your hearts content!
Mr. Zachary Vex on the fuzz probe: "Congratulations. You must be insane. Even I don't get how to use this pedal".
Last edited by Hunter44 at Nov 6, 2011,
#6
here's what i think:

tube tone is generally more desirable because it was established as an integral part of the electric guitar's sound before people even started building solid state amps for guitars.

also solid state is far more complex and expensive technology than tubes, yet a lot of companies are marketing solid states as a cheaper alternative to a tube amp with a "tube-like" sound. as a result there's a whole bunch of junky solid states with shitty components that are trying to sound like something they are not and sounding dreadful in the process. this is why people think solid states suck - because there are more shit solid state amps than there are good ones, and the good ones are quite pricey.

a good quality solid state, like a roland JC-120 (the most obvious example), that plays to the strengths of the technology used, should be a great sounding amplifier. it won't sound like a tube amp, though. but hey, it's not trying to sound like one, either.
Rig Winter 2017:

Fender Jazzmaster/Yamaha SG1000
Boss TU-3, DS-2, CS-3, EHX small stone, Danelectro delay
Laney VC30-112 with G12H30 speaker, or Session Rockette 30 for smaller gigs
Elixir Nanoweb 11-49 strings, Dunlop Jazz III XL picks
Shure SM57 mic in front of the amp
#7
well, a beginner is almost always gong to start with a smaller, cheaper amp. i dont really think i need to spell out why, its common sense. that being said, almost everyone ends up with a solid state.

now, there are tube amps being made smaller and smaller to accomodate, but most beginners really dont understand the advantages of a tube amp or see the benefit in spending slightly extra for one. they see numbers on paper. statistically, a line 6 spder hs more features than a 65 amps 4000 custom made amp. but in reality, that is not the case.

i believe as we progress, we require at least a few amps. for example most of us have options for slient playing, playing at home playing live, different tones, etc. its almost impossible to buy 1 amp that does it all. now there are companies trying to do it like carvin, egnater, H&K (tubemester) who crap a ton of stuff into an amp. HOWEVER, this does not change the fact that tone is king and features become secondary.

if it wre up to me, i would junk my solid states for home/silent use and buy a vox lil night train. jesus those sound good with amazing overdriven tones at lower volumes. its so low power, if you have humbuckers you literally have complete control over the amps breakup. its incredible.

downside is - for quiet use, solid states seem to reproduce artificial gain better (from pedals like boss). if i crank my distortion to the max on my solid state, i sound heavy metal. if i try the same thing on my tube amp, i get close but no cigar. it would be worse for a 2 watt tuber. you cant push gain like that into am amp that cant handle it or isnt voiced for it. worse - it will clip (almost like you are pumping in too much gain and its overloading).

if i wanted deathmetal - i would plug my board into my crappy solid state at low volumes, crank my distortion, and adjust my EQ pedal. done. if i try that with my tuber, it will have lots of gain, but will not have that deep chugging death metal sound. just wont. for that reason, i will probably always have a little solid state to f*ck around with at home.

***my tube amps are not high gain, and you could easily do what i am talking about with the right amp. most high gain amps are not low wattage however***

i also find most people go through 3-4 stages. you get your crappy one, then move to a mid grade ampand if you are really serious you begin considering boutique brands. with the way the market is going, you can easily get mid grade performance for cheaper and cheaper. thus, i would urge any guitarist who likes playing to jump right from a small starter amp to a entree level tube of a few hundred dollars value.

it is completely moronic to go from a 15 watt spider to a peavy bandit or whatever. i hear people doing it and it is just silly. they will end up upgrading from th bandit in a years time.

that being said, solid states can be made well, but the few that are arent common. best one i can throw out is a high end roland, even even then are only used for specific reasons. most cased, tubes produce the most natural sounding music with the most dynamics and response to the player. there is no question about it. like i said with the lil night train. i can completely control the amp with my guitar and playing style as if it was a part of me. it is like the amp is alive. that doesnt happen with solid state amps.

we forget music is natural no matter how much technology is thrown on it. vibration of strings. well, same for amplifiers. thats the same reason i will probably never be a player who plugs a multiFX into a PA and that the whole rig. there is nothing natural or musical there. 100% technology. all hat and no cattle.
#9
Quote by SargeantProphet

Ever since the eve of electric guitar amplification there has been heated debate amongst guitarists regarding which type of amplifier, tube or solid-state, are the most desirab terms of tone, durabi

Actually for most of the electric guitars existence vacuum tubes were the only available option for amplification. Solid state amps came into existence with the invention of the transistor in the 70'sworld I think.

For my opinion solid state amps sound fake. Transistors do a very good job of replicating the guitars sound. It just doesn't sound musical to me.
#10
Tubes sound good in their own right. The actual amplification element itself has a good tone and requires practically no trickery added on (just look how simple a Champ circuit is). This is especially true if you are pushing the amp into distortion. To make a SS amp sound decent when clipped requires all sorts of complications (even to the point of computer simulations) because the transistors themselves produce unpleasant harmonics. FETS are a great improvement over BJT's but they still aint a tube. A FET can do a good job of a clean sound but when you start clipping them they still gets all harsh and nasaly.

However, for me the great advantage of the tube amp is dynamics. They are far more touch sensitive. This isn't such an issue for chugga chugga metalheads but for blues being touch sensitive is extremely important to most bluesmen. The ability to get a different amount of distortion depending on how hard you hit the strings is something that top end modellers are only now starting to get close to but they've still got a long way to go to catch say an 18W Marshall or a JTM45.
Until they can get talkback (which just means touch sensitivity - the illusion that it's talking back to you) out of a SS amp to the same degree of finesse as a simple tube amp I don't really care how good they sound.
Gilchrist custom
Yamaha SBG500
Telecasters
Randall RM100 & RM20
Marshall JTM45 clone
Marshall JCM900 4102 (modded)
Marshall 18W clone
Fender 5F1 Champ clone
Atomic Amplifire
Marshall 1960A
Boss GT-100


Cathbard Amplification
My band
#13
I'll relinquish my tube amps when they pry them from my cold dead fingers.
Gilchrist custom
Yamaha SBG500
Telecasters
Randall RM100 & RM20
Marshall JTM45 clone
Marshall JCM900 4102 (modded)
Marshall 18W clone
Fender 5F1 Champ clone
Atomic Amplifire
Marshall 1960A
Boss GT-100


Cathbard Amplification
My band
#14
Quote by Zoot Allures
Wilko Johnson got a big sound. That is all.

i saw a discussion on one of the cork-sniffer forums a while back where people were talking about wilko johnson's tone, assuming he was using a tube amp, like a silverface fender or an ampeg or something

i wish i could find that thread, it was funny.. it would help if i could remember what forum it was, for a start...
Rig Winter 2017:

Fender Jazzmaster/Yamaha SG1000
Boss TU-3, DS-2, CS-3, EHX small stone, Danelectro delay
Laney VC30-112 with G12H30 speaker, or Session Rockette 30 for smaller gigs
Elixir Nanoweb 11-49 strings, Dunlop Jazz III XL picks
Shure SM57 mic in front of the amp
#15
Quote by Blompcube
i saw a discussion on one of the cork-sniffer forums a while back where people were talking about wilko johnson's tone, assuming he was using a tube amp, like a silverface fender or an ampeg or something

i wish i could find that thread, it was funny.. it would help if i could remember what forum it was, for a start...

That's the thing, i bet if they knew already that he was using a clipping SS amp they'd say they hated the tone, just due to knowing that.
#17
i really have no opinion on the matter.


oh except digital. digital sucks.
Jumping on dat gear sig train.
PRS Hollowbody II / BKP Warpigs
Strandberg OS6T / BKP Aftermath
Strandberg OS7 / Lace Poopsticks
Skervesen Raptor 7FF / BKP Warpigs
Skervesen Raptor 6 NTB / BKP Juggernauts
Hapas Sludge 7 FF / Hapas Leviathan
Anderson Baritom / Motorcity Nuke BKP Sinner Anderson H2+
Warmoth Baritone / BKP Piledriver
Ibanez Rg2120x / BKP Nailbomb

Blackstar ID:Core Beam
#18
Evans AH200 (and every other Evans) and Roland JC120 clean channel.

That is all.
#19
Well, solid state amps are cheaper. So those on a budget (most of us) end up starting on a solid state amps. There's nothing wrong with them as starting amps, but if you're serious about guitar, you'll probably want to get a tube amp. They are louder, and many people prefer the sound of a tube amp. But tube amps need the tubes replaced every now and then. So It costs money to keep yore tube amp running. But if you own a tube amp, money probably isn't an issue. Conclusion: solid state amps are better for beginners, but tube amps are better for people who are serious about guitar.
Quote by Diamond Dave

Things that restored my faith in humanity this year: 26
Things that removed all faith in humanity this year: 1,563,745,234 (estimated)

so that's a result of -1,563,745,208 faith points in humanity lost, which is actually up from last year!
#20
Didn't Malcolm Young use Amplitube (or whatever it is, the amp software) on the Black Ice album? Did anyone tell the difference?
#21
Quote by Spreadsheet
Didn't Malcolm Young use Amplitube (or whatever it is, the amp software) on the Black Ice album? Did anyone tell the difference?


no. did anyone listen to that album?
Jumping on dat gear sig train.
PRS Hollowbody II / BKP Warpigs
Strandberg OS6T / BKP Aftermath
Strandberg OS7 / Lace Poopsticks
Skervesen Raptor 7FF / BKP Warpigs
Skervesen Raptor 6 NTB / BKP Juggernauts
Hapas Sludge 7 FF / Hapas Leviathan
Anderson Baritom / Motorcity Nuke BKP Sinner Anderson H2+
Warmoth Baritone / BKP Piledriver
Ibanez Rg2120x / BKP Nailbomb

Blackstar ID:Core Beam
#23
Quote by Cathbard


However, for me the great advantage of the tube amp is dynamics. They are far more touch sensitive. This isn't such an issue for chugga chugga metalheads but for blues being touch sensitive is extremely important to most bluesmen. The ability to get a different amount of distortion depending on how hard you hit the strings is something that top end modellers are only now starting to get close to but they've still got a long way to go to catch say an 18W Marshall or a JTM45.
Until they can get talkback (which just means touch sensitivity - the illusion that it's talking back to you) out of a SS amp to the same degree of finesse as a simple tube amp I don't really care how good they sound.


I think SS still offers a lot in touch sensitivity. Even a little shitty Randall ss can play really clean until I pick the strings differently. From my personal experience with amps, it's the gain which players have greater control over with tube amps. You can clean an amp up way easier with a tube amp than an SS simply by turning back your volume. This could just be me though...
Gear:

Squier Strat
Epiphone Explorer
Agile AL-3100

No AMP
#24
I prefer tubes.
I'm an expert on all of them. Even the ones I made up.

Dirt and fertilizer. TS9DX. Fulltone 70's, Vox Brit boost, Mesa V-twin and a DLS. Everything grows better with lots of dirt.
#25
Quote by evmac
I think SS still offers a lot in touch sensitivity. Even a little shitty Randall ss can play really clean until I pick the strings differently. From my personal experience with amps, it's the gain which players have greater control over with tube amps. You can clean an amp up way easier with a tube amp than an SS simply by turning back your volume. This could just be me though...

You've never played one of my 18W'ers.
Gilchrist custom
Yamaha SBG500
Telecasters
Randall RM100 & RM20
Marshall JTM45 clone
Marshall JCM900 4102 (modded)
Marshall 18W clone
Fender 5F1 Champ clone
Atomic Amplifire
Marshall 1960A
Boss GT-100


Cathbard Amplification
My band
#27
Quote by Alexander Dumble
Well, the difference comes down to this. The more fragile harmonics can survive in a vacuum tube, where they seem to be eliminated, or squashed in a solid-state crystal lettuce. It just comes down to that. The physics of it -- electrons can survive in a free-space vacuum, where they have trouble in a crystal lettuce. I think that's the best and simple as I can put it.


/report
Fender Deluxe Player Strat
Fender Musicmaster
Takamine EAN10C
B-52 AT-100
Jet City JCA20H
MXR Phase 90
PolyTune Mini
Strymon El Capistan
Quote by thrashdeth
I love a Dimebag tone just as much as anyone else. I'm Definitely considering a spider.
#28
I'll toss my hat in the ring.

I'm all for tube and such, no doubt. I have a soft spot for appreciating solid state though, since it's often disregarded when compared to tube. But, for my approach to creating music I advocate using whatever technology to create the sounds I need/want. If that means using solid state, I'm going to go for it. When distorted, it does produce a unique sound that is usable in a musical setting. As far as cleans go, a well designed clean channel on a few SS amps can provide a rather consistent clean channel. Sometimes a warm, dynamic clean channel like that found on a tube amp isn't what I want at all. A SS amp with a good clean channel can theoretically provide a sold base for pedals as well.


In the end it is down to what you're looking for and your budget. I don't have technical knowledge, but from seeing dozens of DIY shows and trying out amps and shit, I've been able to hear what's good and what isn't, and the results are often that it's up to the person using the technology and not the technology itself that produces the sounds we love.
#30
All true. When it's cold where does my cat sit?
Gilchrist custom
Yamaha SBG500
Telecasters
Randall RM100 & RM20
Marshall JTM45 clone
Marshall JCM900 4102 (modded)
Marshall 18W clone
Fender 5F1 Champ clone
Atomic Amplifire
Marshall 1960A
Boss GT-100


Cathbard Amplification
My band
#31
If i had a choice between a Roland JC20 and some shitty nobrand tube amp i'd pick the Roland. That's probably the only case that would happen though.
My gear:
  • Fender American Standard Telecaster
  • Ibanez RG450
  • Laney VC15
  • Electro Harmonix HOG
  • Vox Satchurator
  • Blackout Effectors Musket fuzz
  • Electro Harmonix Pulsar
  • Earthquaker Devices Disaster Transport
  • Malekko Chicklett

#32
I'll share my opinion (I'm a tube amp vindicator).

Because my favourite music is rock, the natural overdrive from pushed tubes is just so much better than a solid state's emulation. I believe solid states can possibly be suited for higher gain genres, but I don't really venture into that range so I wouldn't really know.

For a beginner buying his first amp I would recommend solid state. Why? Because in the cheap price range regular tube amps are going to be no better than a solid state if not worse. Beginners usually haven't decided what genre they're going to definitely be looking into so a modelling amp would ultimately give them a good range of options to see for themselves which genre they enjoy playing. After that, when they decide they wish to invest in a better amp, I would definitely tell them to get a tube.

Solid states would also be better if somebody finds themselves having to moving their amp around a lot. Solid states are much more durable than tubes and will most likely cost you less in the long run (considering that you have to replace tubes every so often).

Really it is all down to an individual and their specific needs - do they want a true authentic tube crunch and don't mind having to pay for tube replacement? Or perhaps they want an amp that can take a beating and provide decent versatility? Overall I think tube amps are much better anyway.
West Ham United
Last edited by King Donkey at Nov 7, 2011,
#33
I have only once encountered a guitarist who preferred solid states. He was the guitarist in a post punk band that sounded kinda like Joy Division. He had this really sterile and metallic sounding guitar that almost sounded like someone was scratching metal, in the sound that the band was going for it really worked though, he had 6 different solid states that created a massive wall of trebly guitar, it was one of the coolest guitar sounds i have ever heard.
My gear:
  • Fender American Standard Telecaster
  • Ibanez RG450
  • Laney VC15
  • Electro Harmonix HOG
  • Vox Satchurator
  • Blackout Effectors Musket fuzz
  • Electro Harmonix Pulsar
  • Earthquaker Devices Disaster Transport
  • Malekko Chicklett

#34
Tube amps aren't less durable really. Reverb tanks and speakers are what get damaged most during transit and they are both totally independent of the amp technology.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-z_qNNcVz8
Gilchrist custom
Yamaha SBG500
Telecasters
Randall RM100 & RM20
Marshall JTM45 clone
Marshall JCM900 4102 (modded)
Marshall 18W clone
Fender 5F1 Champ clone
Atomic Amplifire
Marshall 1960A
Boss GT-100


Cathbard Amplification
My band
#35
Quote by Cathbard
Tube amps aren't less durable really. Reverb tanks and speakers are what get damaged most during transit and they are both totally independent of the amp technology.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-z_qNNcVz8

Hm that's quite interesting. I still don't think it's a great amp in the first place though, I mean it must have sacrificed tone for durability in some way. Better sounding tubes would probably be a bit more brittle.
West Ham United
#36
Quote by Cathbard
Tube amps aren't less durable really. Reverb tanks and speakers are what get damaged most during transit and they are both totally independent of the amp technology.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-z_qNNcVz8



Reverb tanks and speakers are really quite easy to fix though. On the way to a gig my band drove to fast over a speed bump and ****ed up my second guitarists verb tank, a quick resolder and spring fixing and it was back on track. If something goes wrong in a SS you're pretty ****ed.

Edit: Woops misunderstood your post, might as well keep mine though.
My gear:
  • Fender American Standard Telecaster
  • Ibanez RG450
  • Laney VC15
  • Electro Harmonix HOG
  • Vox Satchurator
  • Blackout Effectors Musket fuzz
  • Electro Harmonix Pulsar
  • Earthquaker Devices Disaster Transport
  • Malekko Chicklett

#37
Not at all. That is a middle of the range tube amp. A top end tube amp will generally be built even better. When cutting costs construction is one of the first things that suffers. Tone and durability are unrelated related really. With the tubes themselves the better sounding ones are generally built better.
Tubes look like they should be brittle and rather fragile but try to break one one day, I think you will be very surprised how hard you actually have to hit it.
Gilchrist custom
Yamaha SBG500
Telecasters
Randall RM100 & RM20
Marshall JTM45 clone
Marshall JCM900 4102 (modded)
Marshall 18W clone
Fender 5F1 Champ clone
Atomic Amplifire
Marshall 1960A
Boss GT-100


Cathbard Amplification
My band
#38
high end digital > tube > solid state honestly

i wouldn't consider it a 2-way comparison because of the rise in rack effects recently, particularly digital preamps (axe-fx and similar products). tubes sound great, but when a digital device can emulate tube tones and fit more into a smaller, lighter box, and not need to have the tubes switched out, biased, etc. there's an unmatched level of convenience.
modes are a social construct
#39
Quote by Hail
high end digital > tube > solid state honestly

i wouldn't consider it a 2-way comparison because of the rise in rack effects recently, particularly digital preamps (axe-fx and similar products). tubes sound great, but when a digital device can emulate tube tones and fit more into a smaller, lighter box, and not need to have the tubes switched out, biased, etc. there's an unmatched level of convenience.



You are treading on thin ice young man.
My gear:
  • Fender American Standard Telecaster
  • Ibanez RG450
  • Laney VC15
  • Electro Harmonix HOG
  • Vox Satchurator
  • Blackout Effectors Musket fuzz
  • Electro Harmonix Pulsar
  • Earthquaker Devices Disaster Transport
  • Malekko Chicklett

#40
And cold fusion is better than nuclear fission.
It's a shame we don't have a time machine to fast forward to the future and bring some back.
Gilchrist custom
Yamaha SBG500
Telecasters
Randall RM100 & RM20
Marshall JTM45 clone
Marshall JCM900 4102 (modded)
Marshall 18W clone
Fender 5F1 Champ clone
Atomic Amplifire
Marshall 1960A
Boss GT-100


Cathbard Amplification
My band
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