When trying to consider the best guitar amp for you, it’s easy to get confused with all the information on the Internet. If you’ve done your research, however, something you’ll come across is the debate: tube amps vs. solid state.
Guitar amps are all built using vacuum tubes (if you haven’t yet, check out our Tube Buyer’s Guide here), solid state technology, or a combo of the two. There are also amps that incorporate digital effects as well.
As you research guitar amps, vacuum tubes and solid state amps, you might also come across the term “valves” — adding to the confusion of the initial research. This is just another term for tubes. There is no difference other than that.
Here are a few differences between tube amps and solid state amps:
The overdrive on a tube amp sounds smoother. In general, a tube amp gives guitarists more control over their sound. The way a guitarists plays is often more precisely represented with a tube amp.
One of the main reasons pros and hobbyists alike choose tubes for the amps, is the warm sound. Even though solid state amps have come a long way, they just can’t fully replicate the warm tube sound.
One benefit of solid state amps, is that they do have a cleaner, less distorted (but not as warm) sound. This is a perk for jazz guitarists, who prefer to have the absolute cleanest sound possible for their guitar work.
If you’re searching for the difference between tube amps and solid state amps, chances are you’ve come across this debate as well. While there are some slightly differing opinions about this, the answer — especially among audiophiles — is no way.
The market ultimately drives manufacturer decisions, and as long as there are people out there who respect the warm tone of a vintage tube, they’ll never go out of style.
That being said, it can be hard to find good vintage tube amps for sale so it’s good to find trusted audio shops where you can always get the best tube amps for your guitar amp.
If you really, truly need the best tone possible and can’t settle for the watered-down, digitized version of a tube amp, then go with a real tube amp. Most pros use tube amps because they need that sound.
If you’re just staring out, it’s probably okay to test out a few solid state amps first before making up your mind. But once you’ve been playing guitar for a while and try out a tube amp, there’s really no going back.
Tube amps do require some maintenance, but if you can afford it and have the time to dedicate to honing your best guitar sound, it’s absolutely worth it.