All guitar amplifiers come with valve/tube-based amplifiers technology or transistor (solid-state) technology. There are guitar amplifiers that are based on digital amplifiers that emulate the sound produced by other amplifiers.
Different guitar amplifiers are described with terms that might seem confusing, however, they are all either tube-based or transistor-based.
When it comes to picking out an amplifier for musical instruments and especially guitars, the question of tube vs transistor amps comes to mind.
For us to fully understand the difference between the tube and transistor amplifiers, let’s go into the history, design, function, and differences between both amplifiers.
What Are Tube/Valve Amplifiers?
A tube/valve amplifier is a variation of the electronic amplifier that utilizes vacuum tube technology to increase the strength of a signal.
The general usage of the valve amplifier goes beyond its presence in a guitar’s amplifier. They are used in high-quality stereos, satellite transponders, and for military applications.
For some people, the valve amplifier is the best way to achieve excellent sound quality. For them, the valve amplifier adds texture and a real feel to sound that surpasses that of other amplifiers.
The sound produced from this amplifier is generally described to be “warm and sweet”. They also produce sounds subtly different from each other based on the style of the guitar used and typically respond to the nuances of the player.
The tube amp works in a high voltage, significantly higher than those found in transistor amps. Since they run on voltages, they cannot power a speaker and that’s why tube amps mostly come with three huge objects that are located behind the amp.
Two of them are output transformers that convert the voltage produced from the valve amp to the speaker through the output tubes, while the third is a power transformer.
Advantages of the Tube Amp
Tube amps are majorly preferred due to the several advantages they offer and the ability to produce sounds based on the style of the guitar player contributes to this.
Other advantages include:
- They can withstand very high voltages without wear or damages
- They are suitable for heavy usage, industrial usage, and military use
- They operate at the level of low voltages applied to them and this way guarantees reliability and durability
- They produce high levels of distortion to generate warm music
- They are perfect for high-power requests and applications such as radio or TV transmission
- At the same number of wattage, a tube amplifier is significantly louder than that of a transistor amplifier.
Disadvantages of the Tube Amp
- Because tube amps are made out of glass, they are susceptible to damages
- They tend to be quite pricey and sometimes are the most expensive of all amplifiers.
What Is a Transistor/Solid-State Amplifier?
A transistor or solid-state amplifier utilizes transistor circuits to convert the electrical input signal received from the guitar into audio signals ready to be transmitted to a speaker.
Transistors run differently from tubes in such a way that they do not distort sounds when they are stretched. The sounds produced by a transistor amplifier largely depend on the circuitry of the amplifier.
The term “solid-state” became widespread at the start of the semiconductor period due to its ability to withstand wear and tear. The solid-state amplifier is mostly known for its distortion and power.
Unlike the tube amp, the transistor amp requires silicone semiconductors to convert electrical signals to current. They also run on single power transformers without an output transformer.
Solid-state amps unlike the tube amplifier are built to be more lasting and durable. They do not require a lot of money or time to work optimally. They can work for as long as 10 years without difficulties or maintenance issues. This amplifier is ahead in terms of amp design.
For some musicians, especially jazz musicians and jazz guitarists they prefer the clear and clean sound produced by the solid-state amplifier and also because it can withstand a lot of wear and tear associated with constant movement and transportation.
Most of the amplifiers we come across are transistor-based. They are useful for a variety of applications like amplifying sounds from microphones, TV, hearing aids, and many more.
Advantages of a Transistor/Solid State Amplifier
- Solid-state amps are generally cheaper than a tube amplifier, mostly because they contain fewer parts
- They require less maintenance and can function with their original parts for a long period
- Unlike the tube amplifier, they aren’t made out of glass and as such aren’t fragile
Disadvantages of a Transistor Amplifier
- Solid-state amps are not known for versatility. As opposed to the sound distortion produced by tube amplifiers, commonly known as warm, they produce pure crisp sounds
- They are harder to repair without a technician’s knowledge and are not as dynamic as a tube amp
- Recently produced versions of the transistor amplifier rely on the amplifier circuitry to add built-in effects
- Solid-state amps struggle to handle heavy amplifier distortion effects
Choosing Between Tube Vs Transistor Amps
When it comes to picking out what type of amp you need, the most important factor is you. You have to consider what and why you need the amplifier to make the best decision. However here are a few tips:
- Budget: Consider how much can afford to purchase an amplifier
- Reasons for buying one: Tube amps generally produce higher levels of sound, however, they are also fragile because the tubes are made out of glass and are not suitable for constant or frequent movements
- Your tone preference: Your choice depends on whether you prefer a warm sound or a clean tone and a clear sound
- Repair and maintenance: The number of times you may have to repair or maintain your amp could also influence your choice
Both tube amplifiers and transistor amplifiers possess standout features that make them worthwhile and worthy investments. However, they also have cons that would possibly make you have a rethink based on your primary need for an amplifier.
The better one between tube vs transistor amps depends heavily on you and your needs. You should list out all your amplifier expectations and environmental needs before making a choice. It is most helpful when you visit the store with your guitar and you make the best choice within your budget.
If you need easy to carry amplifier for your guitar gigs, check our list for the best mini amplifier.
Be sure to check out our other articles on amplifiers as well for more information.