Solid-State vs. Tube Amps – Which is Better to Start With?
Guitar amplifiers are often broken down into two broad categories, solid-state and tube. For anyone looking to make their first guitar amp purchase, choosing between these two is perhaps the most important decision you will make. The argument for which is a better “first amp” choice is one that has certainly caused plenty of tension within the guitar community. With that in mind, let's break down some of the details that you should keep in mind when picking out your first amp type. Hopefully, this article will provide some valuable insight before you empty your wallet.
What’s the Difference?
On a very basic level, a tube amp is using tubes to amplify the guitar's signal while a solid-state amp uses more modern electrical components like transistors. With many tube amplified devices, you can actually tell the difference simply by looking at the back or through the top vents, you can often spot the tubes sitting there yourself. Additionally, tube amps will commonly have some sort of visual or written identifier to let the buyer know. On the other hand, you will pretty much never see a solid-state amp boasting about its lack of tubes (kind of telling as to the market perception).
Pros of Solid-State
There are so many pros for starting out solid-state. Here are the three main ones that are going to matter most to a first-time amp buyer.
- Keep it Cheap.
- Solid-state amps are almost always going to run you a lot less than a tube option. They are so much cheaper to make because of the modern efficiencies that manufacturers are able to offer them for much less. This is obviously a pro for anyone!
- No upkeep.
- With tube amps, you are going to have to spend the time and money on replacing tubes once to twice a year. However, with a full solid-state amp, no real maintenance is ever required unless you break something… which would be rather hard seeing as they are quite durable too.
- Built-In Effects (Sometimes)
- Now, this is obviously not true for all solid-state amps, but it is a feature that is becoming more synonymous with the type. I wanted to be sure to include this because, for beginners, having some built-in effects is a wonderful thing.
Solid-state has a lot going for it in 2019. I say that because ten, even just five years ago you had to be very careful about going with a non-tube option. But today, nearly every brand has a fantastic line of affordable and great-sounding solid-state amps. You might be surprised at how great one can sound.
Pros of Tube
You may be wondering at this point… then why tube? Why would anyone be crazy enough to negate all the pros of modern solid-state technology and then pay a premium for doing so! Well, for one massive pro that comes with tubes, tone. Yes, that auspicious four-letter word that we all know and love. Tone is what has emptied the wallets of so many guitarists dating back to prehistoric times. It is in our blood to spend the most we can muster to get the best sound possible. While this might seem a little silly to someone outside of the guitar realm, getting the best sound possible is a massive part of playing for many people. Most guitarists are perfectionists, meaning for myself and many others, close is never good enough. Hence tube > solid-state, forever.
Now, with all that said and joking aside, tubes might not be for you. I would actually encourage most beginners on a budget to stick with solid-state just because you probably won’t feel a substantial difference over tubes (at least not in your first couple years of playing). Also, no one outside of you and less than 1% of people will care what your tone sounds like at all. Just keep your focus on how things sound to you and what makes you happy. Chasing amp/guitar tone is a lifelong pursuit, you’ve got time.