Which is best, solid state or tube?
Here the traditional thinking is that solid state circuitry can produce superior clean power at a much more affordable price, while the scarcity of vacuum tube manufacturers today tends to make tube-based amps more expensive than a comparably powered solid-state amplifier. This has led to some interesting hybrids in which the basic tone is produced by a tube-driven preamp, while the power amp is solid state. Still, the majority of “serious” players will almost always lean towards a tube amp, though the attitude is changing as manufacturers turn out amazing new amps that are based on cutting-edge technology. In the end, choosing an amp with the tones you like, whether solid-state or tube, is the most important thing.
Vacum Tube Amplifiers
Vacuum tubes (valves) were by far the dominant active electronic components in most instrument amplifier applications until the 1970s, when semiconductors (transistors) started taking over for performance and economic reasons, including heat and weight reduction, and improved reliability. High-end tube instrument amplifiers have survived as one of few exceptions, because of the sound quality. Typically, one or more dual triodes are used in the preamplifier section in order to provide sufficient voltage gain to offset losses by tone controls and to drive the power amplifier section. While tube technology is in many ways outdated, they remain popular since many guitarists prefer the sound of tube amplifiers.
Solid State Amplifiers
Most inexpensive guitar amplifiers are based on semiconductor (solid-state) circuits, and some designs incorporate tubes in the preamp stage for their subjectively warmer overdrive sound. Solid-state amplifiers are much cheaper to produce and more reliable, and they are usually much lighter than tube amplifiers. High-end solid-state amplifiers are less common, since many professional guitarists tend to favor vacuum tubes. Some jazz guitarists, however, tend to favor the “cleaner” sound of solid-state amplifiers. Solid-state amplifiers vary in output power, functionality, size, price, and sound quality in a wide range, from practice amplifiers to professional models.
Modeling amps use digital processors to simulate the sound of old-fashioned tube technology. Using software that “models” the sound of tube amplifiers (and cabinets), these amps put the sound of numerous amps in one box. Modeling amps are programmable, and often have built-in digital effects such as delay, chorus, etc. Some include digital or analog outputs with speaker simulation for going direct into a recording interface or PA system.
Combining the best of each type of amp into one package, these amps use an actual tube in conjunction with the solid state power section of their amps. Many hybrid amps use a tube in the preamp section and solid state circuitry in the power section to create a tube tone without requiring the use of power tubes.