Any gigging musician has at some point asked and been asked, “What’s the difference between Tube and Solid State?” followed promptly by the discussion of which is “better”. This article is meant to break down a sample of the pros and cons for both types of amps. This article scratches the surface of a complicated opinionated question.
I have been a performing guitarist for a little over a decade and from the first time I played on stage and again this past week I am constantly asked the same questions. You know what they are: What kind of gear do you use? Really I have a… blah blah blah. So what do you think is better Solid State or Tube?
Ultimately, this (and essentially on some level everything musical) is a discussion of taste and preference. Country and blue grass lean towards the telecasters and steel guitars just as much as Metal and Deathcore enjoy seven string madness and blast beats. But in the end there are some facts that anyone amp shopping should keep in my mind.
I have played a lot of amps in both the Solid State and Tube realm. I won’t tell you what I currently use so that you won’t right me off as a waste of time based on brand name preferences.
Let’s start by breaking down the Pro’s and Con’s of Solid State and Tube amps.
Solid State PRO’s:
The price of Tube amps has been slightly exaggerated. If you’ve got a couple hundred bucks to spend on an amp you can get a new tube amp. In all cases musical the more expensive the better. A vintage or boutique tube combo can run you two to five grand. There isn’t much point to buying a twenty year old solid state amp. You can get a bigger solid state amp for cheaper but the adage ‘you get what you pay for’ is typical when looking at the price tag on a both tube and solid state amps. I bought an 80watt Marshall Combo for about $450 dollars in 1998. In 2001 I bought a Mesa Subway Rocket 15watt combo for about the same price. On a personal note, that was the changing point for me and I won’t go back to solid state. Some of you look at the wattage and are saying “Wow, that’s a step down!” That little Mesa combo drowned that Marshall two times over.