Cage Match: Tubes vs. Solid State & Modeling

Posted on by Dave Eichenberger

You had to know something like this was coming. This debate has gone on since solid state amps were marketed to unsuspecting guitarists in the 60’s. This article will consider the conventional wisdom is that tube amps are always better. Thirty years ago, I might agree, but now it isn’t so simple. Solid State (or transistor) devices have really improved and with the advent of cheap memory and processor prices. Digital amplification is valid too, and probably more common than tubes in current music these days. The roles of tubes and solid state are changing, and this article should question conventional wisdoms of both technologies. Before these two duke it out though, first we must start with a little history.

Tubes

50’s era Fender Champ, from Norman’s Rare Guitars.

The vacuum tube was developed in the early part of the 20th century before electricity had spread to much of the world. Essentially, a tube is used to control the flow of electrons from one component to another. Guitar amps use tubes to convert AC power to DC, and take a very low-level signal from a guitar pickup and amplify it much, much louder. Tubes were used in many devices in the past, from radios, to televisions, to mixing consoles and early effects.  Anywhere a signal of any type had to be amplified, there were tubes available to do the job. Thing is, tubes didn’t amplify things perfectly. They were not perfect, and always added some distortion to the signal. While this mattered a lot to the kids trying to see and hear what Howdy Doody was singing on their tube-powered TV, guitar players loved it. Tube amps didn’t have master volume controls then, so when you turned it up (loud!) it distorted. Tubes had a drawback, though. They dissipated the energy they created as heat. And with heat, things break down- most likely, the tubes themselves, not to mention other components near them. As a result, anything using tubes needs regular service to perform its best.

Solid State

The Fender Super Showman. Solid State, and designed by Seth Lover.

While solid state (literally meaning, using solid components) was invented in the early part of the 1900s, it wasn’t until the transistor radio came out in the early 1950s that the technology really took off. Now, you kids might not know this, but back then, a simple radio was a piece of furniture in your house. A transistor radio was small enough to fit in your pocket, and with it, you could listen to glorious mono AM stations broadcasting the new sounds of Rock & Roll anywhere you wanted without your parents yelling at you to turn it down. With solid state, heat isn’t an issue, so parts don’t have to be maintained or replaced. It is lighter, and smaller. Everything from car radios, TVs, and early computers switched to this new technology. It amplified signals without imparting any additional signals, so pictures were clearer, computing devices could be smaller and more accurate, and guitars plugged into solid state amps would have a more direct signal amplified because as guitarists, that must be what we want, right?

Modeling Amps

This models different amps, but uses all analog technology to do it.

Started in the last part of the 20th century, guitarists frustrated with the fiddly nature of recording an amp (a good studio,  good microphones, and a good engineer), turned to small devices to make this job easier. The first such device was the SansAmp, by Tech21. They delivered, through an all analog signal path, a small device which mimicked the response and sound of tube amps without tubes, weight, and need for an expensive studio bill. Thousands of recordings were released using this technology at the time. It sounded great, and it was easy to get a great sound. The Line6 POD did this as well, and suddenly, with the advent of good computer recording, it was possible to make an album of great guitar sounds for on the cheap. Modeling devices, either analog or digital, are made with solid state technology. This is why I grouped them together.

So What Happened All Those Years Ago To Make Guitarists Hate Solid State Amps?

This probably didn’t sound like Page or Hendrix.

Once tubes were being replaced by transistors in every electronic device, the same started happening to guitar amps. Tube amps were expensive to produce, so cheaper solid state amps were marketed to beginning guitarists at first. They were cheap, small and light. Perfect for under the Christmas tree. Problem was, when these wide-eyed kids turned them up, they sounded like a guitar plugged into their AM radio. Flat, lifeless, and nothing like Clapton, Beck or Harrison. The guitarists who stuck with it and became their generation’s rock stars eventually gave interviews in guitar magazines. They recalled how solid state amps were terrible. This influenced the kids that read the interviews, and it is a problem all manufacturers have to overcome. Even though this was before my time, I have tried solid state amps from the late 60s and throughout the 70s and 80s. Yeah, they were terrible. I mean, like really bad. I understand the bad reputation.

The Polytone is an expensive solid state amp favored by many jazz players. I hate it.

When Leo Fender sold the company to CBS, this wasn’t a loving group of tone freaks. This was a corporation that used the Fender name to move product, no matter how bad the product is. It also wasn’t the internet era of company engagement with their customers, either. Despite the bad reputation, Fender’s innovations were not met with unanimous praise. CBS eventually sold Fender to a handful of tone freaks that build amps that happily compete with those from its past.

Fender wasn’t alone here, though. Solid state is cheaper to produce, lighter to carry, didn’t break as often, and made more money in the end. Many companies jumped on the bandwagon, from Gibson to Peavey and Sunn. If people bought this stuff, it was successful, right? The stigma of solid state amps is still here, to this day. Not fair, I say.

Tube Amps Sound Best, Right?

The ADA MP1 was advertised as a tube preamp, but with presets.

Hold on, tiger. The reverse happened later on. By the 80s, the solid state stigma had guitarists looking for old tube amps. Since manufacturers didn’t make money off of used amps, they started cranking out anything with tubes. Cheaper tube amps with mostly solid state components were popular, and the buzzwords ‘tube-like’ tone and ‘real tube feel’ littered the marketing campaigns from all sorts of companies. Tube amps with a master volume knob (to get that distorted sound at lower volumes) ruled the day, and tight preamp distortion became more popular than the round, warm and sometimes flubby power amp distortion that older guitarist favored. Pure tube amps still sell well, but many combine the technologies. Tubes were stuck everywhere, and this blurred the lines a lot. Now it isn’t so clear. Talk to any guitarist who is up on current technology- there are great tube amps out there, and many, many bad ones. Sound familiar?

I’m Confused. Which is it?

Well, it gets worse. Nowadays many companies are in the modeling arena, from iOS software to rack devices costing thousands of dollars. The top-of-the line modeling devices can mimic an entire signal chain, from guitar types (even guitar tunings), amps, speakers, and microphones. They can store 1000s of sounds, and you can share them online. And get this, they sound and feel amazing. Yeah, this costs a lot, but like any technology, the price will go down as memory and processors get faster and cheaper. Digital modeling is probably used on more major album releases than old tube amps these days, and guitarists couldn’t be happier.

Modeling guitar, effects and amp from Line6.

This is because we are learning. If it sounds good, it is good. There will always be tube snobs who will hate anything new. There are young, terrifyingly good guitarists that never played a real 60s Deluxe. And what they play would be terrible on that amp, anyway. Music and technology is evolving, and as someone who loves tube amps and uses them as much as my modeling devices, great-sounding amps will never go out of style.

So, the verdict?

While a 1966 Deluxe is bound to sound amazing, it will only sound amazing for certain types of music.

It depends on the era. Tube amps win everything up till about 15 years ago, despite lots of bad tube amps that were produced. Nowadays, when I am comparing modern mass produced tube amps versus anything solid state, including software? Sorry, I gotta go with solid state. The technology is really good these days, and the options available in recording and performing tips the scales for me. The key words here are ‘for me’. I know every guitarist’s needs are different. As far as putting that old Deluxe up against my modeling rig? Different tools for different jobs. If I am doing a blues festival, give me the Deluxe. If I am recording ambient/freaky/doesn’t-even-sound-like-a-guitar music, give me the solid state. So I win, either way. I am not one of those people that dismisses anything non-tube right away. In the 70s, I could understand. Nowadays, it just sounds like old man ranting. Tubes are getting harder to find, and less people know how to maintain tube amps properly. Tubes aren’t done yet, but in 50 years? Probably. Or they will at least be really expensive.

Nice collection, huh? All from Peavey’s Revalver software.

So what is your current amp? What is the best and worst amp you have used?

Written on September 27, 2013, by Dave Eichenberger

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Comments (111)

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    I use a couple of different setups for different situations, for smaller gigs I use a Strauss SVC-30 (30 Watt tube amp), for larger gigs I use my Mesa Boogie 2×12 Roadster, and for bedroom I use a Digitech IPB-10 (and also for some very small gigs).
    My housemate has a Axe-FXII which sounds incredible but I personally would prefer to not use one not because of the sound (it sounds incredible) but its just overly complicated for me, its not something I can just turn on very quickly dial in my tone and go, whereas my tube amps do that very well and still sound great.

    • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

      The Axe certainly is incredible, although out of the price range of most working musicians. Thing is, that technology is getting cheaper by the month, and this is a wonderful time to be a guitarist. In the early 70s, there were a lot less choices 🙂

      • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

        I bought a Line 6 Pod 500HD because I needed the range of sounds and effects for a Pink Floyd tribute band. And I have to say as an effects modeller it is outstanding – but whenever I used the amp sims into a PA the effect was tinny and fizzy – whatever I did I could not get a convincing guitar sound direct to a PA. So I bought a modelling amp (just a cheap Behringer) 100 watt head which I connected to a 4 x 12 cab. It was better but in a gig when I was supporting 2 of the Stranglers – the amp blew on the first song. I had to borrow the guitarist’s valve amp. The amp was 4 months old. Oh and I had already had to send back the Line 6 due to the USB port falling to pieces.

        A couple of weeks later I bought a fender Hot Rod deluxe III – the sound is so much “more” than I can get out of anything modelling. It is more 3D, it has mode headroom and definition and it is several times louder despite being 40 watts. It fills the space in a really pleasing way with low end thump and sparkling highs that the modelling amps just don’t get.

        Even attempting to model the same amp settings gives me nothing like the High definition and reality of the Fender. Consequently I bought a load of analogue pedals too and especially like the way they interact with the amp.

        I will never go back to pure modelling. The Line 6 I will use as a send return effect only for those complicated Pink Floyd effects but mostly it stays at home collecting dust and the replaced Behringer is just for teaching now.

        • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

          I use an HD500 live sometimes direct to the PA (no amp) and it sounds (and feels) great. I use this with in-ear monitors, although I have done a lot of recording with it as well. I don’t really expect it to fill the stage like a tube amp, and it doesn’t- there is no sound except drums onstage. Of course, loud volume and lotsa pedals is a lot of fun, and sounds great- but I’d rather not expose myself to those volumes anymore. I also got tired on individual pedals and cables failing onstage, and not knowing which one it was! So, yeah, there are horror stories both ways.

          • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

            A couple of my favorite amps I’ve owned have been a Metro SLP clone with NOS XF2 EL34 tubes, my Vox 4watt with a Telefunken EL84 from the 50’s, a Marshal jcm900 and currently it’s BIAS Amp on my DAW and iPhone/iPad.

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    “While solid state (literally meaning, using solid components) was invented in the early part of the 1900s…”
    Please ramify in this. Introduction of the transistor is typically given around 1947.

    http://www.cedmagic.com/history/transistor-1947.html‎

    The transistor, which permitted the first wave of electronic miniaturization, was invented by William Shockley, John Bardeen, and Walter Brattain in 1947.

    • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

      Exactly, although I consider it a matter of semantics. It didn’t start showing up in consumer electronics to until the later part of the century (the 1960s).

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    Best amp – Marshall JVM 800, Current amps: Marshall MG100HCFX, Eden EC210, Fender GDEC 30, Worst Amp: Fender GDEC 30

    Cabinets/Speakers: I always favour the Celestions.

    Only a Marshall is a Marshall. – I’ve never seen an amp modeller that can touch it (I also use Protools – I usually use the SANSAMP modeller) although it’s a very easy way to duplicate just about anything out there. It can take a lot of work to really dial in a sound; but then you can save it forever. Tubes never fail, nothing ever blows up…no fun at all! I kinda miss the smell of frying wiring…;)

    I think though that the real problem with modelling is people then play them back through dinky little monitor speakers instead of big stacks of real guitar speakers. You don’t just hear a marshall – you FEEL a marshall (especially when it’s cranked up and you’re standing way too close for your own good).

    The GDEC was entertaining at first (it was nice to have those built in backing tracks); but most of the built in sounds sounded like a cat in the fanbelt and attempts to make your own tones rarely fared much better. Even when new you couldn’t take the volume past 4 without it sounding like crud and after 3 years it pretty much packed it in all round. It’s little more than a doorstop today…

    I love Marshall Amps; I will always love Marshall Amps. End of story there. The speaker cabs you use make more difference than anything though. If you’re on a limited budget that’s the place to invest the most (other than your guitar, of course) – My current favourite is a G&L “Bluesboy” (tele) made out of some of the heaviest wood I’ve ever seen. This beast is heavier than a Les Paul! Still, we’re talking amps here…MARSHALL!

    • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

      Yeah, I understand. I think, for me, I just don’t want that kind of stage volume. I also don’t want to have to haul 4x12s around. If I am working with in-ear monitors, I would need the stage volume to be quiet anyway. I love the sounds that old Marshalls make, although they don’t work for me live. BTW, I love light guitars! What a crazy world!

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    Thank you Dave. I’ve been playing for 35 years… My band requested that I dump my Mesa Boogie half stack with all analogue effects… for my Line 6 Spider II. I told them NO WAY! Then I discovered the Spider III Head… Now I have a Spider IV… still have the III and the II. I can’t freaking tell the difference!!! These amps sound amazing. But… everytime I talk to a guitarist playing a Marshall or a Boogie… they are totally snobbish about my Line 6. It’s kind of comical… So I really appreciate your blog and your take on it all. Thanks again for the true history of the amplifier. They all sound great to me!

    • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

      It is not unusual for people who have sunk serious cash into anything, to dismiss any cheaper alternative that can do the job equally well but with less costs. If it costs a lot of money, it’d better be really good…or so they say.

      • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

        Its just as common for people that buy lower costs options to violently defend their product as “just as good”, whether or not it is. Being that “tone” is highly subjective, there is plenty of room for argument here.

        For me, when I play guitar, I don’t want to feel like I’m playing “computer”, so the its the complicated “knobology” of the modeling amps and effects boxes that I’ve tried that puts me off more than the tone.

        • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

          The interfaces can use some work. That said, the new Yamaha THR100 an the Blackstar ID series have a set of knobs that is just as simple to use as any other amp’s.

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    My first 2 amps were cheap solid states, and last year I finally invested in a second hand Marshall JCM 2000 DSL 401 combo tube amp. It works for what I do and the tone I get is infinitely better than any cheap solid state amp. Also pretty sure that my model is a pure tube amp and not one of those hybrid solid state/tube amps 😉

    • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

      Oh cool! However, cheap tube amps can sound just as bad as cheap solid state. I use a Tech21 Trademark 60, which is solid state, and not cheap for a 1×12 combo, and it sounds great. I guess the point is, don’t let technology get in the way.

    • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

      I’ve recently dabbled in tube amps after being a modelling guy for at least ten years. I’m having a lot of fun trying different tubes to get different tones. The funny thing is I was playing recently and this guy comes up after and said I love your tone that’s exactly the sound I’ve be looking for. He asked how I got it. He saw my tube amp and asked is that how? I said yeah but I was lying. I ran my Pod XTlive into a DI and direct to the PA. I then split it at the DI and back to my amp which I use as a monitor just for me. I didn’t want to break it to him that a lot of my tone comes from my fingers and he wasn’t going to be able to buy those 🙂 I say what ever works for you. I’ve played so much different gear over the years both SS and tube. I can tell you one thing sound guys love the signal I send them for my Live 6 Pod XTlive. Even though I’m enjoying my tube amps and pedals right now I can’t see getting rid of my pod any time soon. It just sounds way to too good and is so easy to program and use.

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    Only thing i disagree with.”In 50 years tubes will be gone.” False false false. People who love the sound of tubes will always keep tubes in business. I’m not talking what sounds “better” I’m saying tubes will not simply go away. They have their own unique and wonderful tone. They won’t just go away.

    • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

      Well, the point is that these days, there are less and less guitarists using tubes (the majority of them are older) and more relying on modeling and solid state than ever before. In 50 years, if guitar music is even around as a popular music form (some would argue that it isn’t now!), even less people will be using tubes. The guitar playing/tube using population is but a tiny percent of the global market, and less and less things outside of ultra hi-fi home audio and guitar amps use tubes. I don’t know if, in 50 years, there will be enough users to keep tube companies in business. I know it won’t be easier or cheaper to get tubes in 50 years, though.

      • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

        I would have to agree with Luke I am 21 and I hate modeling and solid state I have a peavey vyper and it can’t hold a candle to my b52 at100 and a lot of my friends are the same way after owning modeling amps then trying tube amps each generation will find tube amps they like and it will continue i went to a show tonight with 4 metalcore bands playing and only one guitarist was using solid state

        • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

          Just how you and your friends can afford 2000 dollars tube amps? By breaking the bank?

      • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

        Good analysis Dave. I see today the guitarist who use tubes are mostly 45 years and older. Tube amps are expensive which many young people can’t afford and they have no idea why they have to use tube amps other than because their favorite guitarists use one.

        Sooner or later the cost of replacing the tubes in the tube amps will outrun the price of the tube amps themselves.

        Modelling amps, software solid state (the latter of which from tube amp companies) fill the price and knowledge gap. And to me, I am not aware of any use of tubes outside of guitar amps. Probably many of other people don’t know either.

        • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

          good point but, would you rather pay more for an amp that lasts 40+ years rather than play the cheap and have to replace it in 3 years time? There are many beginner tube amps avail for a reasonable price for young people..
          Tubes go for a low of $35 pair to hi of $95 pair (6l6 or el34) for the most 2 common output tube types.
          Tubes are still manufactured for hifi amps, also communist countries power their older military planes, tanks and other equipment using tubes.

          3 major countries manufacture tubes for commercial sale..Russia, Yugoslavia and China. Some are made in germany also but, very expensive.

          • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

            “Beginner tube amps for young people” is a turn off. We can make as strong of a case as we like, but that young person wants to make music, and for their playing and their songs to be what matters. They should be quite happy to get mentorship from players they admire – and in my experience (been playing 24 years), they are. They do not need to be condescended to by the music shop. Sure, Lennon’s first Rick was a student model, but that gets washed out of the history.

            Young people can make music with the computer they already have and some inexpensive software. If they’re going to drop $500, only to be patted on the head for their “beginner” amp and encouraged to “save up” money for a “real, pro model” that they might rather spend on college or dates or recording and distributing their music, well…more and more, they won’t drop that $500, never mind get an amp when they can make their music with their sounds by *not* spending tons of money to get what the gear-obsessed old guys tell them to get.

            Oh, and they don’t need any additional gear to record or play in any room with a PA when they use modeling amps or software. Getting a “sweet spot” sound with a tube amp involves all manner of gear and machinations (mics, mic placement, amp placement, amp volume control, possibly an attenuator and/or a direct box, and on and on). Getting that with a modeler is trivial. I have known guitarists play a bar one night and a 1000 seat venue a week later, and have amazingly consistent tone and a phenomenal mix with minimal pre-show work and no additional gear. Then they take the same amp into the studio and record a great track.

            I’ve owned and loved some truly great tube amps. A silverface DR, a Mesa Blue Angel. I’ve always loved old Hiwatts and Oranges. But they’re not the answer for everyone, and as the live music scene evolves, and as independent recording and distribution become more and more viable, the amps become less practical. And as for sound, musicians evolve and adapt and make great music with the tools they have.

            If old rock ‘n’ rollers were as orthodox as most modern gearheads, nobody every would have slashed their speakers or given a fuzz box a chance. What a tragedy that would have been.

      • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

        I think your comment ignores that “these days” vintage tube amps command HUGE prices and the Fender Champ I thought was crap as a kid, is now highly sought after.

        Pendulums swing, and current trends never continue. Its just as likely that in 50 years tube amps will be the coolest thing in music as it is that they will be extinct.

        • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

          This may be true- vintage technology always come back around. However, as time goes on, there will be less people who can repair it, and less parts available to maintain it. Even now, there are a lot less *good* amp techs than there were 15 years ago. Most have moved on to do something more profitable. Solid state vastly outsells tubes more year after year, and as much as I don’t want it to be true, it doesn’t change what is.

          • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

            I must say as an amp technician, I support a family on repairing tube and transistor amps. I own a shop in NY for over 12 years.
            For a majority all tube amp owners maintain their amps regularly. most ss amp owners do not because they are made so cheap these days that they are mostly filling our landflills.
            In my opinion there are more guitarists who prefer the warmth and sag of a tube amp to the brittle harshness of a solid state amp.
            As far as amp modelers like line 6 and so on, they are just computers with a car stereo amp pack used for output. Would you use your laptop onstage at cbgb’s during your show? I would guess not.

            Just my 2 cents…

          • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

            Fun Fact: I did use my SS/guitar synth/looping rig at CB’s Gallery, right next door. But I would have no problem using whatever rig is right for the job.

          • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

            cb gallery is hardly a rough venue that cbgb was..point was that line 6 and digitech units are made for home players and recorders. the line 6 pods bass pods pro pods ect are computers and will not last the test of time like a good tube amp.
            SS amps are good for certain applications but, as a player do you really want a computer chip take your analog guitar signal (from pickup), convert it to digital and give you back what IT thinks sounds good? Or, would you like your organic analog signal be processed by tubes and passiv3e components to keep it all anolog?

            Watch Dave Grohl’s new movie sound city. There is a reason he saved that beautiful board. True organic analog sound. No color from A chip.

          • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

            I think we have a different viewpoint of what sounds good. I appreciate and love the tube amps I have. I also know they are limited in getting that organic sound. Not everything I want is organic, and what tubes are so great at (getting organic, classic sounds) make them so bad at getting sounds that sound absolutely nothing like a guitar.. In order to get those sounds, I will use whatever works. If it has tubes in it, awesome, if not, that is awesome too. What I do know, is that it doesn’t matter how I get there. Funny thing is, these days, more studios use computers than tape and tubes. That trend is not likely to reverse anytime soon. In the end, use what works for your own sound.

          • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

            Dave I must say yes use whatever you like for your “tone” but, tube amps will never die.

          • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

            I’m cool with whatever people use to get a unique tone. But tube amps *will* die as time goes on. Just as less and less amps are made with them, and the cost of those amps goes higher. In an era where people get a new phone every year, and updates to their electronic devices come every quarter, I don’t think something as solid and dependable at the one thing it does great can survive the growing trend of technology, no matter if it is an improvement or not (yeah, some of it is terrible). It has happened with many industries- more pro keyboardists buy workstations for $4k instead of a $30k piano. It may not happen in our lifetime, but putting your head in the sand and ignoring what every trend says is happening doesn’t make it not true. I’d imagine tube amps will eventually end up sort of like audiophile’s hi-fi. Yes, there is no experience like hearing virgin vinyl from a high-end tube preamp, but most people are content with YouTube and iPods.

          • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

            Old thread but just found it. As a home guitar player who was absent nearly 40 years and has just come back into it, I have all 3 types of amps – a 35 year old Yamaha solid state, of the sort that back then was hyped as “sounds like tubes” and is now regarded as low-end vintage; a Roland modeling amp sold as a practice amp; and various digital modeling apps for the iPad. Of these, by far the best is still the Yamaha. The worst is the Roland – it sounds like crap. (Oh and I have a Pignose practice amp that also sounds like crap, never mind the Eric Clapton sales hype.) The virtual amps on the iPad (Flying Haggis, JamUp and the related Bias) are OK – better than the Roland – but outside of headphones don’t compare to the Yamaha. Why? Not sure. I just upgraded my pickups, they sound very nice, but only the virtual amps and the Yamaha can hear them. The Roland & Pignose are tone deaf. Personally I agree with Michael Rizzo’s comment above: “as a player do you really want a computer chip take your analog guitar signal (from pickup), convert it to digital and give you back what IT thinks sounds good?” For me that is the problem with the modeling – it mashes itself on top of whatever the raw, organic instrument is doing. I’d rather learn about the actual physical tangible tone of the pickups & what I consider a real amp with fewer choices, than have a million fake choices that are pasted on top. I find the modeling amps are just much less responsive and much less interesting to a simple spin of the parametric EQ dial on the Yamaha.

          • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

            Actually, to me, it doesn’t matter what device manipulates the signal. I don’t want a poorly-designed tube amp to spit out a terrible signal either. The main problem with modeling is option anxiety. As many ways as there are to make something sound good, there are 100s more ways to make it sound bad. BTW, my latest modeling device (analog) is the Tech21 Fly Rig 5.

          • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

            Which brings up an interesting question. If all this digital modeling is done to emulate an analog signal chain that is no longer really essential, and if the emulation is itself confusing, at what point will software developers cut the cord & create a different system for creating a sound? I mean it’s kind of silly to be restricting ourselves to concepts such as “sag” in a world where these concepts are actually constraints – and where as constraints, they are invented rather than real.

          • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

            I agree. It keeps software from innovating, and players chasing sounds from 40 years ago instead of creating their own. The promise of good emulation and innovation is there, as fewer and fewer people know how to repair tube amps, and dragging an amp around (and blasting at levels it sounds good) is getting less and less common. Funny thing is that all the great guitar sounds of the past was made with worse gear than most of us own. But they innovated. I think modern laziness might have something to do with it as well.

          • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

            Modern laziness and different priorities. Whatever fueled them, past guitarists were both sourcing from the past and breaking new ground. They were defining tones, and using whatever they could get their hands on to make music. People should use whatever they like. One player’s “harsh” is another player’s “cutting.” Queen used the “Deacy,” a home brew solid state amp that was a big part of their recoded mixes (look it up). B.B. King used his Lab solid state amps.

            Nowadays, too many guitarists (especially ones my age and older) seem to put more time, energy, and conversation into vintage gear than they do into creativity. It’s reducing the relevance of the instrument in music, and turning off a younger generation that doesn’t want to go seek out a set of matched, NOS Tung Sol EL-34s. They just want to make music.

          • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

            It takes a developer with the guts to go beyond what we were given 60 years ago, but it will happen at some point. I agree, new sounds will only come with new technology, and that is what we have been given in the current modeling world. I have little attachment to that past, but I am in the minority- not good if you want to make money from it.

          • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

            you lost all credibility mentioning dave grohl

            overrated would be a severe compliment

          • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

            Trends suggest that this is a “deck chairs on the Titanic” argument. Guitarists spend more time and column inches debating tubes/no tubes than they do trying to figure out how to keep the instrument vibrant and viable. Young musicians often see us as a bunch of cranky, past-obsessed gearheads instead of as interesting musical creators and collaborators. Then we call often their music “noise,” and the article’s mention of “old man ranting” is vindicated.

            Before rock, the most popular instrument in the U.S. was the accordion. Electric guitar will probably be marginalized in music at some point before the “are tubes forever?” debate is ever resolved.

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    why the hate of the polytone? archtop and polytone sound great imo. but it is a one trick pony.
    and no mention of the JC-120! late 70’s early 80’s solid state masterpiece that has not been changed.

    • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

      haha! I think it became famous because it was light and easy to carry on the subway. While it is an iconic sound, it’s popularity came from its portability, not its tone. I think an archtop playing traditional jazz sounds a lot better through a Twin, but those are a pain to carry around.

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    What the tube snobs need to understand is that tubes are not magic. It’s helpful to know about the technical and general electronic aspects of a valve, and why they were used in the first place. Of course they were used in the early days as thats all that was available. It wasn’t until many years later that tube amps were sought after for tone, probably after being compared to most solid state counterparts available at that time. Generally, what we love about tube amps is the odd/even harmonic structure largely created by the continuous “push-pull” nature of the voltage as it passes though the circuitry, and due to that fact that valve amps require a considerably higher voltage than solid state amps to run. In recent years JFET’s and other “solid state” circuitry have been successfully used in recreating the “tube” sound because that sound is nothing more than the voltage regulator (the tube or JFET) clipping, or distorting the signal as the voltage is moving through the amp, thus creating that push-pull harmonic structure that we love. It’s just that a JFET or the like will do this on a much smaller scale, and as a result require only a fraction of the voltage needed for a valve. When used correctly a solid state device like a JFET can produce EXACTLY the same sound as a tube, because on a smaller scale it is doing EXACTLY the same job.

    • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

      But does it have that tube feel? The slight lag between notes? That to me is a big difference. It isn’t just the warm tone and distortion dynamics, I really can tell a difference in the “feel” of my playing when using a tube amp versus a modeling amp. They might be able to perfectly simulate the sound, but can they emulate the feel?

      • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

        There’s no other feel than the sound. The amp, despite what tube freaks will probably say at some point, is not patting you on the back. You put the signal in, another signal comes out. Now it’s just a matter of more sophisticated modelling to get things right to the point where it’s indistinguishable.

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    First two amps were solid states, I started with a crappy 10″ Ibanez that came in one of those all-in-one packages. My next amp was a 2×12 Fender Stage 120 with some digital effects built in, and it wasn’t half bad. I could get most tones I wanted out of it, but of course, it wasn’t enough for me as I got more into playing. So I sold the Fender and I bought an original Peavey 5150 block letter head, and fell in love with it. I still have that head, but I decided to try the whole digital thing out and bought an Axe FX Ultra… that lasted about a month so I sold that recently and bought my buddy’s Egnater Renegade head. The way I see it, I’m set tone-wise. I’ve got a head for really heavy stuff and another head for literally everything else. In a couple years, I’ll probably end up selling the Egnater and upgrading to a Morgan, that’s the only improvement I can see on this side of things… I’ll probably keep my 5150 ’til I die because it doesn’t get better than that, no matter how many 6505 variations Peavey tries to come up with.

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    My current amp is a 1972 Traynor YGM3. They re-issue these but mine is the real deal. I also have, and use, a Traynor Iron Horse head on a home made 112 cab with a V30. Sounds great too.

    The worst amp I ever owned was a Fender Stage 1000 100watt solid state amp. Horrendous. The day I replaced it with a Hot Rod Deluxe my wife came upstairs and told me I sounded better.

    • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

      nice, are you a canadian? lol i have a 1969 YMG3-same amp different year, they are so awesome sounding. Put a V 30 in the cab for efficiencys sake, big difference when crankin’ that bad boy up.

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    I use and have everything from a Messa Boggie Triaxis,290,20/20 rig through these amps and pre-amps V-Twin Rack Mount, Transatlantic, Vox AC30H2L, Fender Custom Shop 62 Deluxe Reverb RI, a Fender CS VibroKing, a Fender Silver Face ProReverb, a Fender SF Twin Reverb, a Fender SR Four Ten Bassman and a Roland Micro Cube Two Roland Cube 60s, Kustom 200, Mossvalve 500, Alembic F2b Preamp, Furman PQ 3 ,and a Ashley SC 70(?). Early 60’s Gibson Falcon,

    All of them with or without such solid state devices as Roland CL 50 compressor, Origin effects Slide Rig, Ethos Overdrive, Analogman KOT and Beano Boost, Hermida Zen drive, Zen 2, Tiki Drive and Nu-vista, and a Mesa Boogie V Twin (hybrid SS/Tube) Pedal,

    I have recorded through a completely SS signal chain into Computer workstation Software.

    I’ve been able to get a usable sound out of every amp I have ever used weather Solid State or Vacuum Tube, Some more usable than others. I prefer an old fashion Tube Amp hands down, no excuses.

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    I predict a resurgence of purely Acoustic Guitar music.

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    I’m all about the tubes, man! I first started playing as a teen on a little Peavey Rage 115. Then when the Line 6 AxYs came out and everyone started raving about them, I just HAD to get one. Finally, when first plugged into my buddy’s Marshall, I saw the light. But that was a JMP 800, so I kinda had a distorted view of what tube amps were like because I assumed (in my youthful ignorance) that all tube amps rocked like that Marshall. It took a while to find the right balance of tube tone and affordability, because tube amps are soooooo much more expensive than SS ones. But as far as tone, volume, and the general feel of amps go, I’m just not happy with anything but tube amps. Plus, now there are some pretty affordable tube amps that are awesome. I got an Egnater Renegade and a Blackheart Little Giant that are perfect for me.

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    I am a small fry player with a Cort G210 H-S-S Strat copy, (black with white pickguard) going into a ZOOM G7.1ut multi-effect pedal (which I really enjoy) going out left and right to small Cort CM10G mini amps, (10W each) and via direct usb to my computer.

    I have never (yet) had access to a tube amp., but my ZOOM pedal can ‘model’ a whole load of different amps.

    That as good as it gets, and its all great fun.

    BTW: I enjoyed the article.

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    I love my Fender Blues Jr amp 🙂

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    I have an early 80’s Kustom solid state amp that sounds awesome. It has a master volume which allows me to get a great over-driven tone at an acceptable volume level.

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    I’ve played and owned both tubes just seem to sound better.i did have a fender bullet rever that sounded amazing 15 watt transistor.My peavey bandit transistor was god awful….I currently own a fender blues jr (tube) and a marshall dsl 30 (tube) and I’m very happy with their tone…Piece of advice get rid of the cheap ass stock tubes..

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    most tube amps are great but there are many that do sound bad in my opinion… line 6 has become the king but to be honest the non tube line 6 processors do not sound great to me. but when it comes to vox, peavey and even swr i cannot believe how good the solid state really is!

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    As a recording engineer and guitarist for over 10 years I can safely say that there are very few solid state technologies that sound as good as a nice boutique tube amp. What it comes down to is the “microscope”. When you put an EVH 5150 III for example into a studio and record it (under the microscope), and then do a side by side comparison with a Line 6 Spider IV or even a Spider Valve which has a tube power section, my parents who have no audio knowledge at all can tell me which one sounds better and say without question it’s “recording A” (the tubes, and they have no idea what the options are besides A or B).

    In a live situation solid state preamps such as the AXE FX by Fractal are becoming popular because the quality of solid state reproducing the dynamic response guitar pick strokes like tubes is getting better, and in some cases the Axe FX is used in studio combined with other tube amps, but it still can’t duplicate the multiple orders of harmonics that tubes can.

    I will freely admit that solid state amps are much more practical and have come a long way, and on a tour they are much easier to use, but after a nice microphone, a nice preamp, and playing back a recording, one of my tube amps (different ones for different sounds) will blow away anything solid state that it’s up against, and you’ll hear the difference.

    With that said, the biggest problems SS amps face compared to tube is cost. Typically manufacturers are only interested in SS amps as a budget option such as a Line 6 Spider series. Examples such as the Axe FX that cost as much as a boutique tube amp are beginning to sound much closer and that’s why many major artists are beginning to use them on tour. Examples: Alex Lifeson (Rush), DJ Ashba (Guns N Roses) use the Fractal Audio Axe FX 2

    I see the technology continuing to improve, but tube amps just have a magic about them and these artists still use them in studio.

    Here are 2 SS amps that give the technology hope:
    Kemper Profiling Amp
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZjdaZKpDwdU

    Axe FX II by Fractal Audio
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4eDgbAthiMc

    • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

      I agree Nick, however, most guitarists will never get to record in a pro studio with great microphones and expensive amps. I think these days, practicality, cost, weight, and diversity weigh in more than One Great Tone (however much that idea makes me uneasy). And yet, the single most important thing you can do? Improve your playing. A great player can make average amps sound amazing.

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    I’ve had two solid state amps, and four tube amps. I own two tube amps now. I’m a 17 year old metalhead (who many would think is using solid state crap) and I have a ’64 Sano tube amp and the offshores-made 6505+ combo. I prefer these two over 95% of all solid state amps out there, the exception being the Marshall Valvestate but that’s got a tube preamp. Tubes just sound better to my ear, to 90% of my friends ears, and to my non-guitar-playing parent’s ears. I have yet to find a fully solid state amp I enjoy playing.

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    Ive got a bugera 333 2×12 tube amp and it sounds very good, also have a ashton half stack solid state that also sounds good but has alot of bottom end and alot less clear crisp sound then the bugera. Im actually interested in this new yamaha thr i think its called. google it. gets really old school stevie ray sound, good cleans, small and punchy and cheap. Im actually thinking this will sound better then both amps at half the price. These days technology wins. Everything is getting better and cheaper.

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    Tube amps (good ones)…will always have the advantage of being “alive”..meaning they react to the input signal and amplify it in a varying, “organic” way…combine that with good effects, and an expressive player, you will have the best sound and tone you can find…solidstate, modelling, whatever, are all very sterile sounding, lifeless and processed…good for certain types of music, but overall no real tone development…get a good tube amp, use good tubes and take care of it and you will be very happy ! Technology will always be advancing, but there is a reason pro guitarist use very good tube amps…tone tone tone !!!

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    Does anyone know of any famous rock guitarists (with a heavier, overdriven tone) who use SS amps? Besides Dimebag Darrell, who IMHO had crappy tone. I know some use them for clean sounds, and I agree that SS amps are great for clean sounds ( especially Roland JCs), but for distortion, I don’t know any big names who are known for great tone that use SS amps.

    • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

      Adrian Belew, Robert Fripp, Allan Holdsworth, Alex Lifeson, & Guthrie Govan are all great players who use an overdriven tone (and more) who get great sounds with SS rigs- and are all better players than most people on the planet. In the end, it doesn’t matter what ‘big players’ use. Your tone is your own, right? Your path to your own sound is a wonderful thing, and in the end, it should be your own and not someone else’s.

      • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

        But the most common way for a person to find their own sound is by listening to others’ music, emulating it and later on tweaking that sound to find a tone that is truly their own. After Dave Davies cut his speaker cone and created distortion people heard it, copied it, fast forward 50 years later we’ve got the djent sounds of Meshuggah (who, ironically answering my own previous question–are one of the heavy bands who use SS amps). But my point was that the people who are considered the greatest electric guitar players in the world probably know better than anyone what amps sound the best…and they overwhelmingly use tube amps. Even though SS amps are much more durable, dependable, and lighter, making them more conducive to touring, the pros still mostly use tube amps. And although the argument can always be made that tone is subjective, the fact that the pros prefer tubes has to count for something, right?

        • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

          Oh yeah, I don’t doubt that. I think lots of gear is sold (not just amps) because someone else uses it. My beef is if someone takes that as ‘this is the only way it can be done’ or worse ‘it has always been done this way’. Then you eventually end up with everyone copying everyone else. But there are a lot of ways to the finish line, and just because there is a well-worn path, it doesn’t mean it is the only way. The trap is guitarists’ wholly dismissing a technology because famous people (who grew up in a different time) do. There is awesome gear out there, with sounds waiting to be discovered.

          • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

            I agree. I especially think that the modeling stuff like the Fractal Audio and Kemper stuff is amazing. And hopefully people aren’t so set in their ways that they wouldn’t consider new technology. I don’t think most are like that, because if they were I don’t think software like Pro Tools would have taken off with professionals like it has.

          • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

            Most of the people who strongly prefer tube amps are new amateur players from my experience. They blame their poor sound on lack of a tube amp because chances are their first amp was solid state, and they sounded terrible on it (go figure).

            Meanwhile many of the “famous guitar tones” they worship ranging from ZZ Top to Boston and Def Leppard and BB King — all solid state users. I can;t count how many times I’ve seen guys in forums ask which awesome tube amp to get to sound like _______ and the artist they named didn’t even use tubes… It’s just such a convenient thing to blame bad playing on.

        • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

          Those great players knew what sounds best *for them*. And BTW, Queen recorded in part with a home brew solid state amp called “the Deacy” in honor of its maker, bassist John Deacon.

          So to answer your last question – maybe. Maybe not. Orthodoxy is, IMO, directly opposed to the core ethos of rock and roll. Dave Davies had to cut the speaker. Jimi had to plug in the fuzz face. Believing that what other “pros” did was the way would have prevented those steps forward. Some people have to be the first. If we all listen to our own ears and make our own decisions, rock keeps moving forward. If we just groupthink our way to finding out what other pros use, it stagnates.

          You rightly pointed out that it is a mixture, but I don’t think it is just “tweaking,” but really rethinking that happens now and then and keeps electric guitar relevant (or doesn’t and doesn’t)

    • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

      As a matter of fact, i do. johnny winter used 4×10 Music Man, Pat Smear uses JC120 with a Distortion or Overdrive pedal. That was just to name a few.

    • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

      Ty Tabor. Absolutely awesome tones. Lab Series L5. Killer SS amp. Cleans are great, push the front end and you have everything from early yardbirds to 80’s ear grind. I’m more of a tube guy, but those Lab Series amps, and the early versions of Randall’s RG series amps do very well for a lot of “Tube amp” tones!

    • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

      John Cipollina used a stage set up that combined valve and solid state amps, as far as I know.

    • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

      The first Rage Against the Machine album was made with a solid state. The whole album.

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    I was 15 in 1973 and had just seen Bowie Live in London – I wanted to sound like Mick Ronson! So I got what I could afford and that was on the local music shop wall. An AVON SG copy and a Woolworths TEISCO Checkmate 21 trannie amp (branded Audition in UK). I still have that amp! Demo here on Youtube:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VZGlonmYizE

    It Sounded OK thrashing out rocky-type chords with my half cocked WAH for extra distortion – until I got a 73 Fender Strat and grew my hair!

    BUT I lived with my Teisco Germanium trannie amp until ’86 when got a superb solid state amp – a SESSION Rockette 30 – reason? Eric Clapton had just used 2x Rockettes to record the August Album… I still have it and it sounds superb! The company is still around and recently came back in market with their BLUESBABY – a solid state chassis you drop into a Blues Jr cab and, well, it sounds amazing!

    Here is one played live in Pub gig

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=JK8sMJnQXUg#t=12

    FBook:

    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Session-Amps-Cleartone-Custom-Cables/140525222690086?id=140525222690086&sk=photos_stream

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    I am 61 on disability nso I can’t afford a good amp. I have a Yamaha G100 and a #0 watt Behringer and I had a 250 digitech running the sound wich to me it never came close to players on line like youtube. Then my little brother loaned me a Digitech RP7 valve which has one 12AX7 tube in it. It made so much differents! Man if I could ever afford a tube amp it would be to good! Just the way that one tube made those 2 amps running together in that RP 7 valve I couldn’t believe the diferents.

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    I’m 66, an old tube amp guy that lived through the “solid state 70’s”. Albert Lee always made his Music Man (solid pre, tube out) sound pretty good, maybe it was him?

    My best sounding amp, Victoria Double Deluxe. Crazy simple electronics. You want to know the pure sound of your guitar, plug straight in, this is it. But I can’t make a Strat out of a Les Paul like the modeling amps can. You can plug anything that is at all musical into the front of it and it will sound wonderful.

    I don’t think tubes will go away, especially if the money will permit the quality to rise. High quality tubes do make a difference to tone freaks, and sooner or later, all players get a chance to stand in a room with a sweet old tube amp. They run their chops, the jaw drops, and the light goes on…………

    • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

      I had the exact moment in the opposite direction. I played tube amps for years, then heard and played a modeling rig that sounded great – loud or quiet, big room or small, direct or recorded without having to go buy a ton more gear (mics, attenuators, direct boxes) and *still* mess with everything.

      I like both. There is no one way. Every time we as electric guitarists are seen talking about the supposed secret sauce to “great” tone, the instrument dies a little bit.

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    Worst amp I have ever owned was a Gorilla amp back in the early 80’s. Best amp is my current Blackstar HT-5Rc

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    current: 1960 tube record player amp (same tube configuration as the 58-60 fender champ)
    worst: line 6 spider II – clean sounded fine, any effects (built in with 1000’s of possibilities) added sounded like absolute dog sheet!!!

    personally, tube amps are the best because if you aren’t just looking for that over driven tube sound all you have to do is push them until break up and then use effects to mold your sound!!! solid state amps often sound great at low volume but get brash and unnatural at higher volumes.

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    I’m curious why everyone thinks tube amps are mainly from the older “45+” generation? I’m 25 and most of my peers use tube amps, either high-end production or boutique handmade. The only people I know who use modeling amps use Axe-FX and generally play metal, and need that sort of crispness you only get from SS. Personally I want nothing to do with an SS amp. I just can’t see an algorithm recreating the sound of pure power tube overdrive.

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    Fashion and trends…
    Tube amps..? Useless at home… Nothing beats my VOX Valvetronix at 2AM…
    Recording..? It takes a lot of money, knowledge etc. getting a better sound than AMP FARM (or else) can give you in an instant…
    Small clubs… You know it all, setting your gear differently every time because of acoustics of the place, number of people, noise rules…
    Big stage..? Well, we all like a feeling of cranked up Marshall stacks, Fenders, Voxes… But how often do we have an opportunity for that…
    Same goes for guitars. If some of you remember the eighties… If it didn’t have a Floyd and a pointy headstock, well, nobody would come near that… Forward now…does anybody even look at these now..? Well, some of us 🙂
    I think it is all about that. What do you think, would Hendrix or Page have used all the technology, given the chance?

    Besides all that, I’ve run some “blind tests”, and recorded sounds with tube and modelling amps, and played various guitars, from cheap to boutique and vintage, to my friends (vintage experts and freaks)… You just can’t tell. Either like the sound or not!
    The subjective feeling of playing a vintage guitar through a vintage tube amp, is a personal choice, or joy…hell, you may play a whole lot better just because of that…

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    It’s a “no-win” argument. I’ve been playing since early 60’s. First amp-somebody already mentioned-was a Teisco Checkmate 20 watt (that came with a Teisco sorta-strat style guitar-I think the whole package was $39.99) that sounded like it was built completely from an old Transistor table radio. Enter the Sears Silvertone Twin Twelve and I was transformed into a semblance of Hendrix and Cream-era Clapton (also the addition of a Gibson sg at $279.-new). I currently have two tube amps-a Peavey 50 Classic and an Ibanez TSA15H (15/5 watt all tube head with built in TubeScreamer and 6dB boost) which I absolutely love and run thru a Marshall 4X12 cab (fully “giggable”) and three solid state amps an older Peavey Bandit “Solo” (Sheffield era), a Crate 120/212 Flexwave(yeah Iknow, but it actually sounds pretty good) and a Roland Cube 80XL. I also have 3 or 4 little practice amps that aren’t worth mentioning. I often think that I should sell off my SS amps and invest in an even better tube amp, but I can’t bring myself to do it. Each of these amps has their own sound/tone and each has it’s own “special” purpose.
    For those of you “sitting on the fence” try out a “hybrid” (combination of tube and solid state)-some are good and some not so good. Anyone tried out the Orange “Micro Terror”? 12AX7 pre and solid state power, at 20watts and sounds pretty good especially at $150 price point (head only).
    I’ve read all of the posts here and a lot of “good points” but it’s always going to be an unwinnable and unending debate.

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    Solid state pro’s: Cheaper, no upkeep, no noise (hiss and the like), overall almost %100 dependable, and very consistent sound (no variation between volume levels or how long you’ve been playing). If we were discussing pickup trucks I could see how these factors would make solid state my trusted ally. However, the touch responsive nature that a guitar has when plugged through a nice tube amp; the organic feel when my guitar sings like a woman scorned; I just cannot find these tones in a solid state amp. I played solid state amps for years (not by choice but by lack of money more than anything) and I always felt there was a missing component to my sound. The first time I cranked the clean channel on a tube combo and heard that natural tube break-up after banging an open E minor…How do you recreate that experience with solid state electronics? You can’t…I really enjoyed you’re article and on many of your points I agree completely, BUT (and it’s a big ass at that!) let’s face it, the voice of the electric guitar is the amplifier and the beautiful musicality of tubes cannot be reproduced satisfactorily by solid state modelling (in my opinion anyway:).

    • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

      I disagree with your “cheaper” statement. Times have changed. Noobs all blame their bad playing on their solid state amps so what did the gear companies do? Released a bunch of bad sounding tube beginner amps. Browse through the cheapest amp heads on guitarcenter and most of them are tube.

      It would be funny if years from now beginners all blame their poor sounding playing on those damn cheapo tube amps that now dominate the beginner market, and all worship the high end solid states/modellers most pros are switching to.

      • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

        find me a tube amp comparable to the line 6 spider IV 75w at a price that isn’t at least double or triple it….

    • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

      TVP – Blackstar. It FEELS like a tube amp.

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    I have owned tweed, and black face amps My favor was a mid 60’s super reverb.
    The very very sweet spot was at about 7 on the volume knob. The amp guitar (humbuckers) combination was incredable sounding. Singing will do to discribe the sound.
    The sheriff would arrive about 45 minute to an hour .8:(

    Now on the recommendation of Dweezil Zappa in a you tube interview he mentioned
    The Digitech GSP 1101 preamp and processor, he said that the unit was good at tube amp sounds and that he had to units in his rack.
    I bought a GSP 1101 with a 30 day return policy. I kept it. I am really happy that I found this 1 rack space wonder its about 75% percent cheaper than the latest Axe unit
    and it great for one living on the fifth floor with neighbors. It record very well.

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    Sorry, but line6 dt series are tube amp not SS..more tube amp like a old velvestate or other hybrids on market..tube power amp with modeling pre-amp..and new tehnol. call topology..and it sound amazing…like a tube amp must sound 😉

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    Rizzo states the obvious problem with tube amps in his first sentence; I support a family fixing tube amps. I’m 56 and have several tube amps. The amps aren’t the problem it’s the “TUBES”. In the 70’s my tubes lasted years. now they barely get by the 90 day warranty. For me tube amps have become a money pit! Do I love the sound of tube amps, of course, but the constant bite an my wallet is pissing me off. I’m in this site looking for a high wattage solid state problem free amp without on board effects as I have effects units up the ying yang. What’s out there at 400 watts or more in a Head as I also have cabinets up the ting yang.

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    Modeling amps are to guitarists what AutoTune & lip sync are to vocalists. You don’t even need a good sounding guitar, just fix it digitally. It’s like Photoshop for music. I’ll take analog and live music any day. Keepin’ it real.

    • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

      That’s not even an ill-informed opinion. It’s factually false. Modeling amps do not make anything for you. They can’t fix bad playing. They can’t play the guitar. They can’t change the pitch of the note. All they do is what any other amp does. It just uses DSPs on the signal instead of tubes or transistors. Seriously, that’s it. I’m not sure who told you that a modeling amp can make bad noodling turn into gold, but they sold you a bill of goods. You clearly don’t have first hand knowledge, or else your mind wouldn’t let your fingers type the above post.

      Oddly, I was much more likely to hear and read that a $4K tube amp makes mediocre playing sound great. 🙂

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    As a teenager I was a keyboardist in a rock band and only really discovered playing guitar in my twenties. What appealed to me as a songwriter was the expressive nature of a guitar. And when I eventually discovered amplification my whole world changed. I have worn many hats over the years (as far music is concerned) but the title of songwriter is the one I hold most dear. The older I get the more I realize that for me all these things (guitars, amps, pedals) are tools to create songs that move people. Guitarists in general, are close minded. Too much emphasis is put on what was used and too little attention goes to the thought / creative process. The amount of minutia that goes into analyzing tone is insane. I always maintain that today we have thousands of classical music students analyzing Mozart, Beethoven, Bach sometimes dedicating years and higher amounts of money to this. But how many of those students will ever write a symphony that is as moving as these artists. Same applies to Jimi Hendrix. I recently decided to look for a univibe type pedal and was overwhelmed at the amount of Hendrix wannabe clones out there. The amount of blogs and videos dedicated to trying to get Hendrix’s Shini univibe is unbelievable. I have heard lots of guys play Hendrix but to my mind none of them sound like Hendrix because Hendrix’s sound was more than just what he played but the intention behind it was maybe more critical. One player I do think that sounds like Hendrix is Eric Gales. And it has less to do with equipment than approach and attitude. To the authors point, too many people imitating and too few people creating. I am from a ghetto in Cape Town, South Africa. I have worked with many musicians. Both established and famous to the opposite. And as far as guitar tone is concerned one of the best recordings was a ghetto kid playing a Cort strat-copy (cheapie) into a Boss ME20. He was good and made that piece of junk sound good. I recently helped my sister-in-law buy my brother a guitar and amp for his birthday as a surprise. At that point I had just forked out a ton of money on a Fender Eric Johnson maple strat. I managed to find a second hand Squier David Gilmour imitation that to my ears sounded better than my strat on recordings. But it cost a twentieth of the price. I also recently went amp hunting dead set on getting great Valve tone I tried many Valve amps and preamp pedals (had honed in on getting an Effectrode Blackbird) both within and out of my price range. One day I stumbled into an old music shop tried out a whole lot of amps that sounded great but I was mesmerized by a 1965 Ace Tone solid state Amp with a great speaker in it. Needless to say I bought it. It has transformed my approach to writing and arranging my songs. The point should be creating new songs and sounds. Not being stuck in repeating what has already been.

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    I use a Fender Mustang III V2. First amp was a marshall solid state, and it did sound like I was plugged into a radio. Eventually I’ll buy a Vox AC-15 or 30 tube amp but my Fender Mustang is a GREAT amp. Was really surprised at how good it sounds. Not too expensive and gives u a wide range of effects and amp sounds. Now if I was in a band and I was playing live, Id strictly use a tube with pedals, but since I just mess around in my room, I don’t need a tube. But, there is nothing like the sound of a good tube amp. I’m partial to Vox, but there r a lot of good ones out there. Ampeg makes great amps too. If u wanna keep it simple and like a certain tone get a tube, but UR gonna be forkin out some cash. If u want all the effects built in, get a modeling…and Id strongly recommend the Fender Mustang over a Line6 of Vox modeling. The mustang is definitely the best modeling amp on the market

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    Solid State Amps are for lazy people. Sorry but it takes a seasoned musician who knows his trade to get a good old tube amp and then know how to tweek it and get the right sound. Just look at all the major artist and you see them using a Tube amp and then putting a Mic in the front. It’s like this, if you wana buy a fancy new modern car it’s all the rage, or you can pull up with a classic cherry bomb (ie: ZZ Top) and watch people go ..OH…. Ahhhhh… Sound City, Abby Road, FAME in mussel shoals and all the Artist used iconic Tube Amps. Whats next?? Just plug into the PA Board and play blues??? Come on man!!

    • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

      I hate to say this because you know we love tube amps too, but a huge number of the guitar tones achieved on the old Beatles records were recorded by plugging their guitars directly into the boards.

    • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

      Also, we should get off your lawn, right? 🙂

    • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

      There are a lot of word-class guitarists who use modeling or solid state these days. Blanket statements stop innovation and forward progress.

    • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

      I’d rather spend my time PLAYING instead of fiddle phuking around with my amp.

      • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

        It takes a true skilled musician to tweek and work a tube amp to get that vintage sound. Solid State amps are a short cut. Sure some use them, but we all know that if you ask 90% of the pro’s will say they use a tube amp on stage. True? ….Yes

        • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

          There is no question that tubes are better sounding. But with the new SS tech, they are not that far ahead. I heard some pretty shitty SS amps and some pretty shitty tube amps. The TVP on that Blackstar is proof of the new tech. You may notice the slight difference in sound and playing feel but I doubt the audience would. With that in mind, the SS is lighter, way less expensive, has many many more features and virtually no maintenance. Just a personal choice.

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    I disagree on the major and minor points of this review. Tubes can be made to sound very clean pure and lifeless, almost. Tubes almost went away and 3 guesses what saved them. Economics. Many folks in poorer areas of europe czechoslovakia for one country, couldnt afford gee whiz solid state radios, but they could afford to replace a tube in their old radios once in a while. thus tube manufacturing hung on till people rediscovered the beauty and warmth they add to music. What i could never understand instead of spending big wads of money teaching a transistor, or a program to sound like a tube, why didnt they just put their money into better tube amps, better tube manufacturing? As for the legions of bad tube amps, towhat about the The legions of crumby solid state amps? Tubes sweeten and remove brittleness from digital media and they do it by their physical nature. They filter odd order and dissonant harmonics, and enhance the sweet even order harmonics. No one had to research develope change or alter them to do this. Its the prize in the crackerjack box so to speak. As far as cost, if your heart is in your music youll spend what it takes to reach your soul. As far as tubes going extinct, not achance. Why? Economics. Folks who spend 0 to 7 figures on the sound they love are going to keep tubes around, not to mention, Mesa, Marshall, Fender, Hughs and Kettner, Bogner, Soldano, Rivera, Hiwatt, Orange, Ampeg, arent going to let tubes die. McIntosh tube gear is through the roof for price, there will be tubes for a long time to come. I havent even mentioned the explosion of tube studio gear worth thousands. The author should google tube amplifiers. There are dozens and dozens of stereo amps with the tubes not just in the circuit but proudly displayed on top of the chasis. There are now tube stereos that have bluetooth, and digital inputs. Tubes arent going away theyre booming!!! Price? There is a tube stereo amp with 12AX7 preamp and EL84 power tubes with bluetooth, lighted VU meter (the needle kind) rated at an honest 12 watts per channel. This amp is available for 149$ And has a long list of very positive reviews for its tone including a review in The Wall Street Journal. I use the word honest because you cannot lie about the output rating of a tube. A tube will only put out a certain range of power because of the design and if you try to tell someone youre getting 200 watts out of a 6L6 theyll laugh in your face. Solid state devices are generally black boxes with no way to detect what theyre rated at. This gave rise to ” liars watts”. makers started stating whatever power ratings they wanted. My dad was an electronics engineer and genius, and he wouldlaugh when i told him about the latest solid state wattage claims. Thats why a 20 watt tube amp sounds like 80 solid state watts. my nephew gave me a heathkit monobloc amp his grandfather made in the 50’s. Original mullard preamp tubes and GE 6L6’sx2 it also has a most glorious tube rectifier that sags allowing notes to sustain for days and i dont have to fuck around trying to get a solid state opto compressor to work. I play bass and this amp is probably 45-55 watts and it rearranges the furniture and sends subsonics through the house. its fun to hear people in the living room say “What was that!?” When i send a rumble through the structure. ( dont get me started on the amazing tone of lath and plaster, and true measure old growth pine framework of vintage houses lol) As far as suitability for different styles of music, theres nothing a tube cant do. These heathkit amps are on ebay for 100-250$. Practically free for the soul, dynamics, tone, and slam of tubes. If youve heard ANY electronically reproduced media today youve heard the sound of a tube. As for the majority of tubeamp users being older, wrong and wrong again. How are you not seeing the tube amps that define grunge, hair metal, aggro, hardcore, grindcore, goth, heavy metal, heavier metal, blues, pop, country that the younger generations are embracing?

    • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

      I can respect your opinion, I just don’t agree.

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    Just one more thing, there arent many many bad tube amps out there, or solid state ones, because they just dont sell, and you get what you pay for. One thing ive noticed, age makes solid state amps sound better. Component values drift over time. This loosness or inacuracy makes them warmer. I have a 46 year old acoustic tuck and roll surf amp that has those sweet little harmonics that tear away into higher notes and whale song. Lol sorry, words are a poor language to describe tone.

    • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

      There are plenty of bad sounding tube amps and solid state amps released every year. They might not last, but they are out there.

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    Ok one one more thing, lol, i paid 8.00$ For 6L6 power tubes at Radio Shack in 1975. Sovtek 6L6’s (probably made in the same factory) can be had for…..drumroll…..8.00$ 40 years later

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    Blackstar ID series. I had Mesa, vox, fender, traynor, marshall and peavey. I have an ID:60w head with 2×12 cab ( I hate combo amps) – it would blow past most of the tube amps on the planet. Unless of course you spend $2000-4000.

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    To me a tube amp is a one-trick pony. I like to liken it to film vs digital phtography. Originally there were staunch holdouts for film, and look at where we are now. Digital has overwhelmed. Even if there is some infinitesimal difference you can hear by doing a side-by-side modeling vs tube, I think you must be obsessive to spend the $, lug the weight and allocate the space, and give up the versatility of modeling for that difference. FOR ME, having all of the different sounds of different amps in one box, effects included, even recording included, is the kind of versatility that keeps me interested in playing (hobbyist, not a pro, so perspective indeed is important). I’d certainly love to go to a guitar store or a buddy’s house to play around with a tube amp, but not a good idea to bring one home.

    • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

      This is why it is great to live in an era with choices!

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    U have it most it wrong. Their isn’t a difference between solid state or tube amps because they all sound the same. The only difference is that the tube amp has more of an echo to its signal sounds but you can easily adjust the echo of your signal sounds using the amp equalizer. When u pluck a guitar string an electronic signal is sent to the amp which the amp boots the sounds and makes it louder using electricity. Now by default the solid state amp was made for the sound to end when you you release a string on the guitar whereas the tube amp signal on the tube amp lasts longer.

    • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

      Interesting theory. My ears hear and my hands tell me differently though.

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    Blah, blah, I thought this was supposed to be an intelligent overview – no discussion of feel, or the player’s perception of amplifier response when playing. Or the experience of using an ss amp with big headroom and an analog overdrive / distortion device – which pretty much solves 98% of the whole equation IMO. And for decades surely no-one has used an ss amp DRIVEN into distortion – ie, cranking the clean channel up to 10, or overdriving it with a booster. Dopey, and asking for trouble. The debate as regards the difference in sound – ‘tubelike tone’ – became largely redundant here in the UK in 1991 with the advent of the Award-Session JD10 Sessionmaster – in my experience this device has not been bettered by today’s ‘modeling’ which places the guitarist in a virtual, unreal environment. In any case, the average punter can’t tell the difference, good playing beats good tone any day – and, it’s all subjective. FWIW, I think that the difference is probably in the region of 1 per cent, so use a cranked valve amp for practice (where you can hear and feel the difference) and an ss amp for gigging (where you can’t, most of the time). Discuss …

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    I agree with a lot of things but not with your logical, people now a days are playing guitar less than before but It’s not mean that in 50 years won’t be guitar heroes (I hope not happen). But the history is correct and today is easy to find good little amps indeed good hibrid amps like new Fender’s Vibro Champ XD or Super Champ X2, they are tube and digital…

  • Dave Eichenberger • 5 years ago

    I think the way is increasingly we gonna have more hibrids amp and as digital sound today are more trustworthy in few years anybody can say the difference between legitimate tube and hibrids amps. Because of this tubes will never die…

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