What are the pros and cons of solid state amps?
In general, differences in tone, flexibility, and price.
Solid state amps are typically cheaper and more digitized than tube amps, offering things like headphone jacks, balanced outputs, and even onboard effects. Their main disadvantage against tube amps is pure tone quality, in terms of warmth, thickness, and natural appeal. Solid state amps can only replicate those sounds.
There are primarily two different types of guitar amp circuits:
- Solid state
Solid state amps are the newer technology and are usually more digitized than their tube amp counterparts, leading a lot of guitar players to prefer the more traditional approach of the vacuum tubes.
So if you're considering a solid state amp instead of a tube amp, what are the pros and cons you need to know about? We'll cover the major bullet points here so you can make an informed decision.
Pros of solid state amplifiers
There are several significant benefits of buying/using a solid state amp as opposed to a tube amp.
Adjustment flexibility (more knobs and stuff)
Solid state amps are much easier to manipulate, and often times come with built-in effects. This is because a digital circuit can be programmed and customized much easier than a physical tube circuit.
This usually means more of the following:
- Tone controls
- EQ options
Solid state amps are also far cheaper to produce than tube amps, which means they can be had for (usually) a much lower price tag. This depends, of course, on which two amplifiers you're comparing, but as a general rule you can save some money going with a solid state amp as opposed to a tube amp.
A lot of solid state amps have one or more of the following outputs:
- Balanced XLR
- Unbalanced TRS
- Record out
- Headphone out
Read more: Guitar amps with a line out
These are sometimes available in tube amps with a built-in attenuator, but those tend to be fairly expensive. The Mesa Boogie Badlander is one example, but it's not cheap.
Read more: Mesa Badlander 25 review
Again, the digitized nature of solid state amps allows for more flexibility and - in this case - more channels
Channels are one of the most significant pros of this type of amp, because they almost always have two channels, while many give you up to four. This makes life a lot easier when it comes to switching up sounds.
The more channels, the better.
Cons of solid state amps
Here are some of the cons of solid state amps, which account for some of the reasons they typically cost less than tube amps.
In my opinion, the tone quality issue is overblown, given how far digital technology has come, especially in the area of amp and cabinet modeling.
It's still fair to say that tube amps are usually warmer with more depth and tonal character. Solid state amps tend to be more sterile and artificial sounding, which makes sense given the digital nature of how they're built.
But in the past couple of decades, solid state amps have come a long way and are able to compete with the tube amp market, even among some of the pros like Nita Strauss.
Just "meh" resale value
Solid state amps usually have less prestige and originality than tube amps, especially since tube amps have a much longer history.
Also, there's typically a bigger supply of solid state amps on the market, which pushes down the resale price. Again, solid state amps are cheaper and easier to manufacture, which has brought a lot of them into the market.
Tube amps are almost always going to sell closer to their market/retail value.
Solid state amps might sell more, but don't buy them and expect them to hold their value as well as tube amps.
Very susceptible to cheap-o rip offs.
Any time you see a really cheap beginner amp, it's probably some kind of solid state amplifier. Just as an example, there's this amp floating around Amazon by a brand called "RockJam."
I'm not going to show a picture or link to it, but it's exactly what you'd expect.
Please, for the love of all things good, don't ever buy an amp made by a company called RockJam.
Are solid-state amps ok for all genres of music?
If I'm going to paint in really broad strokes, metal and hard/modern rock are a little more conducive to the solid state sound, particularly in regards to distortion. Jazz and blues guitar players might want the warmth and natural vibe of a tube amp, but this definitely depends on the particular player and the situation.
It's worth noting that most pro guitar players, across all genres, use a tube amp of some kind.
Can I get a tube amp sound from a solid-state amp?
These days, yes.
Like I said earlier, the digital models are getting so good that it's sometimes difficult to tell if what you're hearing is analog or not.
One caveat is that the more expensive tube amps, particularly from Mesa and Diezel, are much harder to replicate in a digital environment. However, there are a lot of solid state amps that can get close to the warmth and natural appeal of a tube amp.
What's your top solid state amp recommendation?
If you want a really high-value, budget-friendly option, we keep a couple Boss Katanas on hand most of the time.
Read the full review: Boss Katana 50
For something a little higher-end, you could look at the Roland JC series.
Read more: Best solid state amps
Solid state amps give you some great deals, flexibility, and a functionality that you don't get in tube amps without spending a lot more money. Weigh the pros and cons yourself to see which one is right for you.
If you have questions, feel free to chime in via the comments section below.
We answer every comment and will help out as much as possible.
We'll see you there.