It's not accurate to say that tube amps aren't good for metal. I also wouldn't concede that solid state amps are never good for blues, jazz or mellow rock.
There's too much overlap to paint in such broad strokes.
Plus, I've always thought solid state amps were unfairly stereotyped.
They're not all bad.
Solid state amps do lean modern and seem to fit more comfortably into the metal and hard rock genres. Moreover, they have a few notable advantages over their tube-driven counterparts.
- Less expensive
- Often more wattage for the price (100 watts is not unusual)
- More customization and modeling options (digital features)
- Often provide a more modern-sounding tone
The reason tube amps are more heavily sought after is because they're considered a more genuine and vintage form of amplification. There was a time when all guitar amps were run off a tube-driven circuit.
Digital and solid state technology didn't come until the '70s and didn't surge in popularity until the mid '90s.
Even then, their popularity was due more to their affordability and appeal to beginners who didn't want to break the budget on an amp.
At this point, the technology has come a long way.
Why are solid state amps (generally) cheaper?
In almost every comparison, where specs are reasonably well-matched, solid state amps will price cheaper than tube amps.
This is for primarily two reasons:
- A perceived difference in quality
- An actual difference in quality
Here's what I mean:
A perceived difference in quality comes from the idea that tube amps are more "legitimate" forms of amplification and that simply by having a tube amp you're getting a better product, regardless of other specs.
In other words, most guitar players just subjectively like tube amps better, whether or not they're actually a better option.
However, we can also have an actual difference in quality between tube and solid state amplifiers.
As much as it's true that guitar players tend to subjectively gravitate towards tube amps, it's also true that tube technology is more expensive to manufacture. And, in a lot of cases (though not all cases), tube amps do tend to meet a higher quality standard than their solid state counterparts.
We fall back to the old cliche that you get what you pay for.
And that's not to say that solid state amps are bad, it just means that in a head-to-head comparison with tube amps (again, assuming similar specs) the tube option is going to have more money put into it, meaning the end product is nicer.
Are the best solid state amps exclusively for metal and heavy rock?
As I previously mentioned, I do not ascribe to the idea that solid state and tube amps can be broadly sectioned off into exclusive stylistic categories.
The two do cross-pollinate quite a bit.
However, you cannot deny the appeal that solid state amps have to those in the metal and hard rock spaces, particularly for beginners or semi-professionals who want an amp that's not going to destroy their gear budget.
For this reason alone, those wanting to sink more money into their guitar will gravitate towards the solid state side of the fence.
Plus, many solid state amps do sound quite nice with modern distortion pedals and high-gain tones.
Thus, the amateur to semi-pro metal and hard rock crowd are great ownership candidates. Do keep in mind, however, that all the amps mentioned here can function well in nearly any stylistic setting.
They are not at all snobbish when it comes to musical genres.
Now, before you get all bent out of shape about this not being a "metal" amp, I would like to point out that Wes Borland played these for a long time during his successful, albeit bizarre, career as Limp Bizkit's guitarist and token Halloween costume enthusiast.
Take a look at this shot from the "My Way" music video.
Wes Borland with two Roland JC-120s. (View Larger Image)
You can see two JC-120s in the background.
I'm not sure if he still uses them, but this is the amp that shaped Borland's signature sound through the late '90s and early 2000s.
Bullet for My Valentine's Michael Padget was also a fan.
You'll notice in Padget's rig diagram that the JC-120 is labled for "clean sounds," which I think is also a big part of what draws Borland to this amp.
The JC-120 excels in the clean tone department, especially considering you have a three-band EQ devoted to both channels, allowing you to craft one clean tone for a dry signal and another to lay the foundation for a distorted channel.
You can see the two channel's controls conveniently separated on the front panel.
Channel-1 is to the left and Channel-2, the "dirty" channel, is to the right of it.
The front panel of the Roland JC-120. (View Larger Image)
What's so great about the JC-120 stereo chorus?
The JC-120's chorus effect accomplishes something that you cannot emulate with a pedal, namely, true stereo chorus.
What this means is that the two speakers in the JC-120 are outputting the dry signal on one side and the chorus effect on the other side, as in this diagram:
This is why they call it a Dimensional Space chorus effect. It's not just a cool, smoke-blowing title, but actually an apt description of what the effect does.
For fans of the chorus effect, this feature alone should push the JC-120 close to the top of your list.
Here's a demo video, with both speakers mic'd for a full stereo recording.
Who is the most ideal buyer?
Metal is not always just a distortion game, so I absolutely love the JC-120 (or any of the other JC series amps) for modern and heavy styles that spend any amount of time on the clean tone spectrum.
Particularly if you rely on a distortion pedal or another amp for your gain source, the JC-120 is a fantastic option for all styles and nearly any musical situation.
Buy with confidence.
The MG series is Marshall's economy amplifier line that is entirely solid state, and much more affordable than almost all their other products.
If you look at the entire series, there are a ton of different sizes and wattage variances to choose from, as evidenced by Marshall's banner photo on the product page.
I chose to focus on the 102CFX because I believe it gives you the best value, hovering around a $600 price tag while providing two speakers and 100 watts of power.
All amps in the series share most of the specs sheet, where the differences are mostly limited to size, wattage and number of channels.
The 102CFX has four different channels with built-in effects and an included footswitch that allows you to cycle between each one, making this amp a particularly good choice for practice rooms or small recording studio spaces. However, it's still big enough to be an effective mic'd combo and even provides a send/return effects loop.
One disappointment for performers is that it does not provide any kind of line or speaker out. Putting a mic on it is your only option if you want to play through a PA system, meaning it wouldn't be my first choice for gigging.
Is it too loud or "too much" for home practice?
Is it too loud? | Image via Freepik
Keep in mind that the presence of a headphone jack on the amp's front panel makes volume a non-issue.
Still, if you're worried about buying "more than you need" for indoor practice, that's not at all a problem with this amplifier. In fact, I'd say the 102CFX, and really all of the MG series, makes an ideal practice amp because of price, tone and a feature set that caters to indoor players who need an all-in-one solution.
At 100 watts it can definitely get loud, but lowering the volume doesn't hurt your tone, meaning it can sound full but also stay fairly quiet at lower volume settings.
A monitoring input is provided on the front of the amplifier.
Notice the headphone jack is sized for an eighth-inch input, so you'll need an adapter to go to the quarter-inch TRS jack.
You can also set "gain" and "volume" differently depending on whether you're using the clean or crunch channels, which can help control volume for smaller rooms and indoor venues.
Keep in mind, if you want something that's more exclusively a practice amp, you could go with one of the smaller models in the MG series.
The upside of going with the larger 102CFX is that it gives you some room to grow and it's going to be a little better in the metal and hard rock styles.
Is the onboard gain "metal" enough for heavier styles?
Like I mentioned, you get a clean/crunch channel option with the 102CFX.
For metal and hard rock, I would recommend adding your own distortion pedal into the effects loop instead of relying on the amp's onboard gain. It's not bad, but it's also not necessarily metal or distinctly heavy.
For light blues and soft rock stuff, it'll do, but for those who want a smoother, more low-end heavy saturation, a third-party stompbox is a good add-on to plan for.
Where the Marshall MG series excels for practice and indoor environments, the Fender Mustang III is particularly useful for small to medium gigging and semi-professional session or recording situations.
Basically you've got a 100-watt amp than can model a variety of popular Fender amplifiers, including some fantastic metal settings.
The amp also includes onboard effects, a USB connection port and two XLR outputs allowing you to go straight into a PA system in a live or recording situation with a balanced line-level output.
No need to mic up the speaker.
How many effects can I use simultaneously?
There are a total of four different effects categories, allowing use of one effect from each at a time.
Thus a total of four effects can be used at once.
This does mean, however, that no two effects within a single category can be used simultaneously, which is a major bummer. This is the same problem you run into with amps from the Line 6 Spider series.
For example, distortion and compression are part of the same category (FX Pedal) which means you can't use them both at the same time which is (in my view at least) a major oversight.
Four different effects categories in the Fender Mustang III. (View Larger Image)
Does it function well as a practice amp in low-volume environments?
Looking at the front control panel, you'll notice a GAIN and VOLUME control, which are the two left-most knobs on that panel.
These levels can be adjusted and saved as a preset at the preamp level, meaning you can then use the MASTER knob (the right-most knob on the panel) to adjust the overall output at the power amp level.
This gives you the ability to make nuanced volume adjustments at low-volume settings, which means this amp is a fantastic candidate for small rooms and even bedroom-style practice settings.
In that regard, it's actually quite versatile, functioning well as a mid-sized venue gigging companion or at the foot of your bed for respectfully quieted practice sessions.
How do I setup/use the Fender Fuse software?
The Fender Fuse page for the Mustang V.2. (View Larger Image)
The process of setting up the Fender Fuse software to work with the Mustang III V.2 is actually quite simple.
First, you'll want to go to the main download page.
Mac and Windows are both supported.
Download the Fender Muse software package on this page. (View Larger Image)
Simply download the software, plug in the amp with a USB chord then use the software to create and store presets. This opens up a wide range of additional sounds and tones, allowing you to design whatever metal and hard rock settings you might want to explore.
Moreover, these settings sound extremely good.
Checkout this demo video for some samples.
These are absolutely fantastic sounds for a solid state amp, many of which achieve a tone similar to Fender's higher-end tube circuits.
Just a totally impressive performance from this piece of gear, especially at such a reasonable price point.
What situations/buyers is the Mustang III most ideal for?
It's honestly quite difficult to think of a scenario where the Mustang III wouldn't be a good fit, regardless of genre, situation or skill level.
The price makes it a good gift or beginner amp, while the features, tone and size make it a good fit for most gigging and practice situations.
4. Fender Mustang GT100 (with Bluetooth)
The Mustang GT series is Fender's follow up to the Mustang III V.2.
I've included them because they're significantly different than the Mustang III V.2 and one of the most modernized solid state modeling amps, primarily because of their Bluetooth and Wi-Fi compatible technology.
Tones, settings, amps and effects can all be completely controlled from the Fender Tone app (free to download) which is sometimes called "The Amp Controller." You can even download new sounds and updates from within the app, which will populate to your amplifier whenever both devices are on the same wireless signal.
Fender puts a tremendous amount of emphasis on effects tinkering and digital amp modeling in these amps.
If you're into that, the GT series is worth a look.
Bluetooth and Wireless Connections
Every function of the amplifier can be controlled from your phone. (View Larger Image)
All your presets, amp models and tone settings can be controlled from within the Fender Tone app's interface, as seen in the photo below.
In total, you've got 68 different sounds to work with.
- 21 Amp Models
- 47 digital effects
Fender has digitally modeled their popular amplifiers to be stored in this system, allowing you to access a ton of different sounds and Fender amp templates at the press of a button.
If switching things up and using a lot of different sounds is your thing, the app/amp combo is potentially a lot of fun.
If you go to the Fender Tone app home page, you can browse all the different presets by genre.
For example, they've got entire sections, for rock, blues, heavy metal, country and more.
Browse presets by genre on the Fender Amp Controller app home page. (View Larger Image)
If you click on "SEE ALL" for any category you'll be taken to a page where you can browse all the available presets, both of the professional and user-submitted variety.
The heavy metal preset section for the Fender Amp Controller app. (View Larger Image)
The app is available from both the Apple store and Google Play, meaning it can work on both Apple mobile (iPhone & iPad) and any device running Android.
How do I set it all up?
This video from Fender takes you through all the getting started and how-to issues in less then 15 minutes.
Comparing the Three Models: GT40, GT100 and GT200
As I've already mentioned, the GT series comes in three different versions, the 40, 100 and 200.
Below is a handy chart I found that compares the specs and features of all three.
There are a few things that I should point out:
- No Middle or Reverb control on the GT40
- Effects and amp models are the same for all three versions
- 4-button footswitch only comes with the GT200
Also note that these amps are extremely light, thus easy to haul around. If that's something you'll do a lot of, the light weight is just the cherry on top.
I don't like the GT40 (the smallest one) because of the downgrade in tone control knobs. I'm not certain if that carries over to the digital interface or not.
The GT100 is a solid compromise, especially since it's still quite loud at 100 watts.
Who is the ideal buyer?
Once again, it's difficult to think of a situation where this amp wouldn't be useful or a "good fit."
One thing I would caution is that whoever buys an amp like this should like digital effects. Tube and analog purists won't be thrilled with how digitized everything is.
Even in that situation it could make a great sidekick or practice amp, just for trying out different sounds and amp models. Particularly for indoor jamming, recording and even professional session work, the GT series is a fantastic solid state option.
All styles and skill levels should feel free to apply.
The Orange Crush Pro CR120 has the most aggressive and metal-sounding on-board distortion of any amp on this list.
While it has all the versatility and headroom of a solid state amp, its tone is smooth and warm, giving it the slight flavor of a classic tube-driven circuit, but with a ton of sustain and saturation on its "dirty" channel.
Coupling this with the digital reverb and the high-gain preamp makes the CR120 a remarkably diverse amplifier, allowing you to jump back and forth between the extremes of both vintage and modern guitar tones.
On the metal end of the spectrum, the high-gain settings are extremely heavy.
Checkout this demo from Ryan Bruce.
It doesn't get much more metal than that.
Ryan goes on to explain (if you watch the entire video) that solid state amps are often not know for the greatness of their gain-driven channels. While I'm not sure I would totally agree with that, I will say that the CR120 does an unusually good job with their on-board distortion.
This makes it particularly applicable to hard rock and metal specialists.
A perfect metal fit?
A lot of the solid state amps you'll find (and some on this list) are most effective for metal styles when paired with a distortion pedal.
In terms of an on-board distortion source, the CR120 is one of the best I've heard.
This makes it uniquely adept at handling the high-gain tones demanded from metal and hard rock styles, which is why it's my favorite recommendation to guitarists in those styles looking for a heavier solid state amplifier.
Are their multiple "versions" of the CR120?
The CR120 is Orange Amp's first major venture into the solid state world, and was produced in both a head and combo version.
The combo version is what I highlighted and linked to, simply because it saves you from having to buy a speaker cab. However, the combo version is far more expensive than the head, partly because Orange Amp's custom speakers (which are included in the CR120 combo) are so good.
Orange Amps Voice of the World Speakers are a custom, in-house offering that we'd consider a major feature of the 120 combo.
So yes, the speakers are nice.
They're also expensive.
If you have a speaker cab you like, I'd recommend going with the head version of the CR120.
It'll save you a couple hundred bucks.
The head version of the CR 120. (View Larger Image)
What is the ideal situation for the CR120?
While you lose the effects and modeling capability of the Mustangs, the Orange CR120 gives you a much better-sounding amp, that will be more palatable for those who want to use their own analog effects and avoid being too heavily-digitized.
Since Orange has put so much work into the gain and speaker quality, those who aren't as concerned about the digital effects will likely be better served by the 120.
Other solid state amps that deserve a mention?
When I make these lists I focus on gear that I've had either first or second-hand experience with, second-hand meaning I've consulted people who have owned the gear in question.
Thus, there are a lot of solid state amps out there that might be worth a mention, that I just haven't gotten to.
If you know of one, drop it in the comments section below.
I'll check it out and possibly add the amp to this list down the road, if I can cobble together enough information on it.
If you do recommend something, make sure that you only recommend gear you've used personally or that's been used/owned by someone who has recommended it to you personally.
Banner image courtesy of Roland