When it comes to amplifiers, there are two main types – tube amps and solid-state amps.
Of course, there are other types of guitar amps such as hybrid or modeling amps but in this post, I cover only solid-state and tube amplifiers.
Both amps can be used for anything like recording, practice, or on stage but sometimes it’s better to use one over the other.
So, each has its own pros and cons and it’s important to know which one is right for you and your needs.
What’s The Difference Between Tube And Solid State Amps
In this blog post, we’ll be comparing tube amps and solid-state amps in four key categories: distortion, durability, power, and price.
It’s very important to know how these amp types handle heavy tones, how durable they are, and what kind of maintenance they require.
Also, I talk about how the output power works for both amps and of course, how and why they differ in price.
1. Tube Amps Have Natural Distortion
One of the biggest differences between tube amps and solid-state amps is the type of distortion they produce.
Tube amps have what’s known as “natural” distortion. This means that the sound produced by a tube amp will become increasingly distorted as the volume is increased.
Some musicians, like myself, prefer this type of distortion because it sounds “warmer” than the kind produced by solid-state amps. I love tube amps for creating heavy guitar tones because they have more harmonic information and sound better to my ears.
On the other hand, a solid-state won’t distort the tone when the volume is cranked up. Instead, they might have a separate channel which is mostly switched by a dedicated switch.
So, you can have a loud clean guitar tone as you wish and for the distorted tone, you need to use the second channel. Also, you can use a footswitch to make it more convenient to switch between clean and dirty tones.
Tube amps also offer multi-channeling and you can have a clean and dirty channel separated. There are even three-channel tube amps that have additional lead tones.
2. Solid State Amps Produce Less Power
Now let’s talk about the power and how wattage works in both types of amplifiers. It might be confusing because there are 1-watt tube amps and you might think how it can be useful.
Both types of guitar amplifiers come in various wattages and the more wattage the amp has, the more powerful and louder it is.
But in general, tube amplifiers produce more volume than solid-state amplifiers. For example, a 50-watt tube amp will be louder than a 50-watt solid-state amp.
I won’t dive into the technical reasons why this happens but this is how the guitar and bass amps work.
So, you might get a 5-watt tube amp and it will be great for recording or practicing in your bedroom.
However, a 10-watt solid-state amp will not give you a good or loud tone. Mostly this type of solid-state amp is for beginners and many times are included in beginner guitar packages.
3. Tube Amps Require Maintenance
Generally speaking, solid-state amps tend to be more durable than tube ones. They have fewer moving parts which mean that if something does break it can usually get fixed easier with a solid-state amp.
That doesn’t mean that tube amps will break easily. The main reason why solid-state amps are more durable is tubes.
Solid-state doesn’t use tubes to produce sound but tube amps do. And these amp tubes tend to lose their power and you need to change and install new tubes.
That requires some technical knowledge like knowing which tubes to install, how to remove old tubes, and so on.
It means that when you buy a tube amplifier, you will have to spend some money in the future to have them in a good shape.
Also, some bad connections or bad power sources can damage amp tubes where solid-state amps don’t have that problem.
A solid-state guitar or bass amplifier requires almost no maintenance. Just don’t smash it and it will work forever.
I’ve had many solid-state amplifiers and I have never done anything special but they worked like new.
So, if the maintenance is something that you don’t want to mess with, then get a solid-state amp. But tube amp maintenance is not something you can’t do.
4. Solid State Amps Are Cheaper
So, both amps are good and can be used for multiple things and we guitar and bass players love it.
But when it comes to buying an amp, then the price comes into place and we all want to spend as little as we can to get a great amp.
And when we compare these two types of guitar amplifiers by price, solid-state wins because they are much cheaper than tube guitar amps.
You can find a great solid-state amp with amazing sound and features for around $400. There are more expensive ones but for recording and home use, you won’t need more.
Of course, you will find tube amps in that price range but mostly affordable ones with low wattage and with simple features.
I know it all depends on the needs and you might be happy with a 5-watt tube amp that costs around $200-300 but in general, tube amps cost much more.
And that’s one of the reasons why you might consider buying a solid-state amp. Don’t forget that tube amps need maintenance from time to time which means more expenses.
So, this is my tube amp vs solid-state comparison, and hope you have a better understanding what are the main differences. When it comes to choosing one, the decision comes down to personal preference.
In a nutshell, if you need a durable amplifier that doesn’t require maintenance, a solid-state amp is probably the way to go. But if you’re looking for an amplifier that produces warm, natural distortion and plenty of power, a tube amp is probably a better fit.