There is always a lot of discussion in guitar amp circles about tube amps vs. solid state amps. Traditionalists and tone snobs always lean towards tube amps, as they are what produced the great tones of yester-year that inspired most of us to play guitar in the first place and the warm, natural sound that they produce have become what the electric guitar is all about to many people.
Tubes are fairly delicate, however, and are in shorter supply all the time, which makes tubes amps more costly to own and maintain than a solid state unit of comparable size. For some, though, there is just no substitute for tube distortion and the costs that come with owning this type of amp are just part of the game.
Solid state amps have made great strides since their introduction in the late 1960’s and are especially popular with players who need a lot of clean headroom for styles like funk and country. In the modern era, hybrid amps have come to market which feature a tone-generating tube preamp paired up with a solid state power amp.
When shopping for a new amp and trying to make the tube/SS decision, one must assess how attached to true vintage tone one is and contrast that with how many modern conveniences one needs. Tube amps are usually fairly simple affairs, although there are a number of complex four-channel models out there.
Typically, however, tube guys prefer less circuitry to more, as the simpler signal path is thought to sound better. On the other hand, many current solid state amps offer on-board multi-effects units, built-in tuners, and other features that can make the gigging life a bit more streamlined. If the guitar being amplified is an acoustic guitar, the choice is almost always solid state, as the amount of headroom, or distortion-free sound, that solid state provides is crucial to a good acoustic tone.
The best advice to shop with your ears and not your eyes; play a bunch of different amps and get the one that sounds the best to your ear, no matter what type of technology it uses. That way, you will always be happy with the amp you brought home. Which will you choose?
Are you looking for a head or combo guitar amp? Read Guitar Amps 101 – Head And Cabinet vs Combo Amp for more information.