Solid state amps undeservingly get a lot of hate and backlash, especially when compared to their tubed counterparts. The truth is that by finding a decent one and a little bit of effort, anyone can make solid state guitar amp tone sound great, but how does it stack up against tubes? This article will run you through some of the pros and cons of adding a solid state to your rig.
Table of Contents
What To Expect With Solid State Guitar Amps
This segment will be a quick preview of what to expect in this overview of solid states. All of the pros and cons of using this kind of amp will be listed here; however, the rest of the article will explain why each aspect belongs in its respective section in detail.
Keep in mind, this is all my objective and unbiased opinion and commentary. I love tube amps as much as the next guy, but maybe it’s time to give solid states a chance and let them into your life. When looking for solid state guitar amps for sale consider the following:
- Much More Affordable
- Low-Maintenance/More Durable
- Portable/Lighter Weight (compared to a tube amp)
- Versatility (some have modeling options!)
- Consistent Sound
- Digital, “processed” tone
- Expiration (A solid state amp will die out eventually)
Now that I’ve laid out the outline of benefits and drawbacks of solid state guitar amps, we can dig in and talk about each of these more in-depth. Perhaps you have questions as to why I think a specific thing belongs where it does. Hopefully, the rest of this write-up clears things up for you.
The Pros of Using a Solid State Amp
Solid states have a lot of nice things to offer, which is why I don’t believe they should be panned as much as they do. Let’s take a look at our first benefit of purchasing one of these.
Compared to tube amps, a solid state is way more affordable and won’t leave a gaping hole in your wallet (or not as big!). Because of their lower cost, this makes them an amazing choice as a first amp for beginners or as a practice one for experienced players who don’t need something utterly massive for gigging.
Even if you did need something for playing small shows, a solid state guitar amp would be loud enough in most situations. A Line 6 amp like this Spider V on Amazon will get the job done and is way cheaper in comparison to tube gear like a Mesa Boogie, which can easily set you back a couple of grand in a lot of cases.
Despite their benefits, tube amps can be a real pain to deal with at times, and luckily, with a solid state, you won’t have to deal with changing the tubes on your equipment.
This actually adds to the affordability factor of a solid state guitar amp vs tube ones. Replacement tubes will cost you extra cash over time, and if you don’t fix them, it will compromise your sound. I’ve seen individual tubes run from 10 to 20 bucks each, and if you need to change them every 4 to 6 months, you may find yourself with an expense you didn’t adequately prepare for.
Because of solid states not having tubes, you also don’t run the risk of accidentally breaking one, which makes these quite durable. Tubes can be ruined by something as mundane as vibrations.
However, even if solid state guitar amp maintenance is minimal, this doesn’t mean you should try to test your amp’s fortitude by dropping it on purpose; it runs on reasonably complex circuitry and is computerized, which can be fragile in its own ways, but probably not as much as a glass tube.
As long as you’re comparing similar products, solid state amps for guitar weigh less than a tube one. This makes them easy to maneuver around the house, or even when transporting around to a venue.
There isn’t really much else to say about this benefit, other than it speaks for itself. You can save yourself from a lot of exertion by grabbing a light-weight solid state amplifier.
Not all solid states have them, but it’s very easy to find some that at least have a few effects on them like delay, chorus, and reverb. However, many modern solid-states run on state-of-the-art computer technology, which gives the user a lot of options to play with, as is the case with modeling amps.
These modelers can be amazing, and some even have the capability of connecting to the internet through a wi-fi signal, allowing you to customize and save your new tone creations through a phone app or other means.
One of the most apparent perks of using a solid state modeling amp is that you’ll definitely save money on effects pedals because you’ll have basically everything you need on the device.
5. Consistent Sound
Having consistency is the last characteristic that allows solid state guitar amps to shine. It’s a good feeling knowing that your equipment is going to produce the same sound every time, under normal circumstances.
There are quite a few technical and environmental circumstances that can impact a tube amp’s sound and performance negatively. For instance, if your vacuum tubes are getting burnt out (and it will happen at some point), you will be hurting your tone. Cold weather can also be harmful to the tubes, and it will take the device longer to warm up and sounding up to snuff.
These are all things that guitarists who enjoy solid state amps will never have to worry about. Just plug and play, and reap the benefits of having a smooth and even sound that you can achieve each time you power it up.
Even a cheap solid state guitar amp, like my very first one, sounded the same every time I used it. It didn’t resonate nearly as well as other solid states, but at least I didn’t have to bang my head against something while wondering why it sounds bad. It was a B.C. Rich practice amp that came with my starter set, in case you’re wondering what to avoid.
The Cons of Using A Solid State Amp
There are fewer cons than pros to using a solid state. Sadly to say though, even just one of these can be a dealbreaker to the average tone junky.
Solid states can be very loud, there’s no question about that, but if you need something that’s louder, a tube amp has this one beat.
Even at the same power in watts, a tube amp will always be able to produce a more booming sound than a solid state. On top of that, even at deafening levels, a tube one can preserve the quality and integrity of the tone. In fact, it’s encouraged to crank these up!
In contrast, a solid state’s tone may break up or become unruly if pushed beyond its means and this is why volume can be a downside. It’s true that a solid state will sound better at lower volumes. However, even if you’re using the best solid state guitar amp for home use, such as for fun or practicing, realistically, there’s no real need to bump your volume knob to 11.
You’ll probably be playing at a low-volume most of the time anyway, to avoid noise complaints.
2. Digital Sounding & Processed Tone
I for one never really minded the tone from a solid state, which I’ll admit, can sound a bit overly-processed and inorganic at times. I still thought it seemed quite decent though, despite being cheaper than a tube amplifier.
Tubes can produce a vivacious and warm sound, and its richness is highly appealing to guitar aficionados. However, nowadays great modern solid state amps have become pretty good at emulating the tube sound, so keep that in mind too. The technology has come a long way, and I think the gap has been narrowed, but people still carry their stigmas from decades ago.
Sure, I understand that there may be some nostalgia with tube amps, but the fact of the matter is that solid states are quite viable. I think there will always be that digital-sounding factor that turns some people off, though.
If you’re looking for solid state guitar amps that sound like tubes, you might want to check out the Orange Crush 35RT Combo Amp on Amazon. For being only 35W, you get a pretty sweet and full tone that has been associated with tube amps. It may not come with a bunch of effects, but it has a fantastic sound, and it also comes with an onboard tuner, which I think is an awesome little bonus feature.
If you find a solid state, be aware that it does have a life expectancy on it, as do many other electronics.
I don’t think you need to be alarmed by this though, because you should get many years out of your solid state. My uncle has this Crate combo amp that has been going strong for at least 15 years which is a testament to the resilience of these. Now that’s a pretty old solid state guitar amp!
You can take care of your gear by not exposing it to extreme temperatures and handle it responsibly. By doing so, you will increase the longevity of your equipment, especially its circuitry.
Unlike tube amps, where changing the vacuum tubes isn’t total rocket science, replacing the solid state components can be much more tedious and require repairs from a specialist.
If your solid state guitar amp won’t turn on, there’s probably something wrong with one or more parts inside it. It’s up to you decide if it’s worth repairing it, or if it’s wiser to go out and pick up a new amp. If it costs as much as the amp itself to repair it, I’d say just go get another one, unless you just can’t part ways with that particular amplifier.
If you want my honest, but unfiltered, opinion, I firmly believe that most people cannot tell the difference between a tube or solid state guitar amp. The most valid way to compare them would be side-by-side and in-person because a video won’t give you the most accurate sound.
As mentioned before, I think that people are averse to solid states for no real good reason, other than what they heard from someone else. Even if there is some truth to it, solid state technology has gotten pretty adept at replicating sounds, even tube ones.
I think digital is the becoming the go-to things these days, and there’s a lot of amazing equipment out there that models tube amps out there, such as the AxeFX, or the various VST plug-ins. While the developers used these amps to create those tone patches, the average consumer doesn’t need to have an actual tube amp anymore to sound amazing. It seems that software is quickly replacing amps in general when it comes to a lot of modern recordings and live performances.
However, I digress, and my intention with this article was to give you information about my thoughts and opinions on the pros and cons of solid state guitar amps. You may disagree with me on everything, and that is entirely okay. On the other hand, I hope that maybe I influenced some guitarists out there to give these a shot, or perhaps a second chance.
If you’re looking for your first amp, I have a guide to some of the best small practice ones that you might want to check out. These are all solid state amps, and most of them are in the $100 to 150 range. A couple of them are even cheaper!
You can get a lot of value out of a good solid state guitar amp, and save money at the same time. Don’t count these amps out just yet because I think there will always be a demand for small, affordable solid-state amps.