Tube or Solid State?
Updated: May 28, 2021
I consider this to be an issue of personal taste. I've heard guys sound great using tube amps and I've heard guys sound great using solid state amps. The only consideration as far as I'm concerned is what I sound like - TO ME!
So I'll say right upfront that I'm a solid state guy. I'll talk about the reasons why but the bottom line is I sound better - to me - using solid state amps.
I've owned several tube amps over the years - Fenders and Marshalls - and I always reverted back to solid state because I didn't like my sound. Notice I said, "my sound" rather than, "the sound."
There is no "the sound." Have 10 different players play the same guitar through the same amp with the same settings and you'll get 10 different sounds. Why? Because there are a massive number of variables from player to player that mostly boil down to differences in technique. The sound comes from the player.
I probably sound better - to me - on solid state because that's what I learned on. My foundational technique evolved subconsciously as a result of doing what I had to do to get the sound I wanted with the amp I happened to have. That technique - my touch, my inflection, my tone - was developed using solid state and exists on such a subconscious level that I can't change it. And when it's applied to an amp on which it was not developed, like any kind of tube amp, it doesn't transfer well.
That's my theory anyway. Whether you prefer tubes or solid state is the result of random circumstances in place when you first started trying to get the sound you wanted.
My first amp was a Kustom 100. It was a 2-12 combo. I bought it new (with some parental help), in 1968 or 9. It lasted up until 1981 when it finally gave up the ghost. At that point I had been performing with it 6 nights a week in clubs for several years. That was 12 or 13 years of constant, and I mean constant, use. Hours and hours a day.
I had no problems with it - not even one. It never failed, never went into the shop - zero maintenance. Over 10 years of constant use without a single problem.
And that brings me to a major reason for solid state; maintenance-free durability.
I don't remember what killed it but I remember it crapped out - just up and quit one night on a gig. I can't recall what I did with it either. According to the photographic evidence I was using it in 1981. 1982 is the year of the first photos of what I replaced it with; a 100-watt Marshall combo. All tubes.
The Marshall wasn't the first tube amp I'd owned. At some point in the mid '70's I bought a Fender Princeton Reverb to use as a practice amp. I never used it on a gig that I can remember although a guitarist that I was in a band with from '79-'81 used it. He was a tube guy. He used it for an overdriven sound; it was small and when turned up had a crunch to it that he liked. He used it on top of his regular, larger Fender amp.
From the beginning, I had issues with the Marshall.
When I first took it into the recording studio, I noticed that there was a rattle somewhere in the chassis. Upon closer inspection I discovered that the power tubes, the big ones, were held in place with a bracket that had springs fastened to the chassis that ran up along the sides of the tube. Those springs would vibrate against the tube at certain frequencies and that's what caused the rattle. If you removed the bracket and springs, the tube would come loose.
To eliminate the rattle, I wrapped the springs with aluminum foil. As I was in the studio, rigging this work-around on my brand-new Marshall, I was disgusted. I thought, "This is a pretty major design flaw! Without this work-around I won't be able to record with it."
Within 2 or 3 years I had to replace a couple of tubes. One time the amp got knocked over on a gig; more tubes.