Under $500 - Regular Solid State
Orange Crush 20
While Orange amps do offer amp modelers, the company's line of streamlined solid state amps continue to rate significantly higher. One of which is the Orange Crush 20, a combo amp with 20W of power and a single 8" speaker packed in a combo package that's distinctively Orange.
But it's not just about looking the part, because this amp is well received for sounding like its premium counterparts, thanks to its solid state 4-stage preamp. With an optional footswitch, this compact amp lets you between clean and dirty.
It also comes with a 3-band EQ for basic tone shaping, along with a gain knob and dedicated volume knobs for each channel.
And it comes with Orange' CabSim circuit, which emulates a 4x12" cabinet when using the amp's line/headphone output.
- 20 Watts
- 8" Speaker
- 3-Band EQ
- 2 Foot-Switchable Channels
- Cabsim Output Line/Headphones Output
Response to this amp is overwhelmingly positive, with most users commenting on its ease of use and great tone as its best traits. Some also mention that for a small amp with basic controls, there are a lot of in-between tones that can be conjured. Many also appreciate its distinct Orange appeal, while others complement its overall build quality, especially when compared to other amps in the same price range.
Users have few complaints other than a small number who wished that it had more tone and effect options.
With its killer looks and tone, this wallet-friendly solid state amp will make a great addition to your gear.
Orange Crush 20RT
There's just no mistaking an Orange amp, especially those that follow their signature picture frame design. The Crush 20RT comes in this familiar form factor with built-in Reverb effect and Tuner - hence the label "RT".
This amp also features line-out emulation which replicates the response of a miked 4x12 cabinet when used with either headphones or a P.A. This means that the amp retains a lot of the character that other amps lose when you plug headphones into the them, making it worth serious consideration if you’re looking for a silent practicing amp.
- 20 Watts
- 8" Speaker
- 3-Band EQ
- Overdrive Channel, Reverb, Tuner
- 2 Foot-Switchable Channels
- Cabsim Output Line/Headphones Output
While aesthetics definitely gets a lot of thumbs up, the Orange Crush 20RT is well loved for its overdriven tone, thanks to its specially designed 4-stage preamp which reproduces the quintessential Orange sound in a compact and portable form factor. Many describe the amp as being fun and musical, while others just feel that the tone is more alive, compared to others in the same price range. According to reviewers, the amp's built-in reverb meshes well with its tone, while others appreciate the practicality of having a tuner on the guitar amp itself.
Some users are not as impressed with its clean tone, while others are not too happy with the amp's reverb feature.
With its killer looks and tone, along with its extra features, this wallet-friendly solid state amp will make a great addition to your gear.
Orange Crush 35RT
The no-frills Orange Crush 35RT is a 35W combo amp that continues to attract high ratings from guitarists.
It does away with the bells and whistles that other amps offer, but makes up for its lack of features with its 4-stage preamp. This results in tones that many people appreciate, especially when driven hard.
The preamp section has two channels, clean and dirty, with the dirty section being its strong suit. Tone shaping controls include basic EQ along with volume and gain knobs.
As the "RT" label implies, this one comes with Reverb and Tuner built-in.
Finally, this guitar amp is housed in the familiar picture frame like cabinet that's unmistakably Orange, along with its 10" speaker.
- 35 Watts
- 1 x 10" Speaker
- Band EQ
- Built-in Reverb
- Aux Input
- Headphones Output
Positive reviews continue to pour in for this amp, most of which credit its greatness to its overdriven tone. Guitar heavy music styles like rock and blues are what most owners use this amp for, be it for practice and even for small venue gigs. Chris Gill of Guitar World shares a similar sentiment in his review, concluding that "The Orange Crush 35RT is perfect for players who want an affordable classic-style amp for practice that can also hold its own during gigs".
Since this amp sounds best when driven hard, getting it to sound great at lower volumes can be a challenge. Some users recommend playing with the EQ knob to get it sounding better in settings where you can't crank it.
The Orange Crush 35RT is best if you're looking for an affordable and easy to use rock and roll friendly amplifier.
Roland JC-22 Jazz Chorus
Andy Summers, Jeff Buckley, Larry Coryell and Albert King are just a few of the many guitarists who have utilized a Roland Jazz Chorus (albeit the larger models). And their good opinion about the amp is shared by many users, making the Roland JC amps a popular clean tone choice for various styles of music, from rock to funk.
The JC-22 in particular is a more compact member of the Jazz Chorus family, a 30W combo amp with two 6.5" speakers.
The dual speakers allow for the amp's signature stereo features including stereo input, stereo reverb, stereo effects loop and of course it comes with Roland's Dimensional Space Chorus effect.
- 30 Watts
- 2 x 6.5" Speaker
- 3-Band EQ
- Stereo Chorus, Reverb Effects
- Foot-Switchable Chorus and Reverb, Stereo Effects Loop
- Stereo Input (2 x 1/4" - left/mono, right)
Being part of Roland's JC amp series, expectations are quite high for this relatively small amp. Thankfully, the Roland JC-22 exceeds the expectations of many users, as seen on many reviews. Many are happy with its overall voicing. In addition, many are surprised by how loud this amp can be, with some users reporting having gigged with the amp from small to big (with the amp miked) venues. Durability and reliability are also commended often.
While there aren't any complaints about existing features, there are a few who wish for aux input. There are also some reports of the amp does not working well with distortion pedals.
If you're looking for a lightweight, great sounding and reliable solid state amp for your clean tone needs, then check out the JC-22.
Under $500 - Solid State With Amp Modeling
Boss Katana-100/212 MkII
While Boss is primarily known for their stompbox pedals, they are growing in reputation when it comes to solid state amplifiers. The Katana-100/212 MkII it their top rated representative, with the main showcase being the inclusion of 60 digital Boss effects, the same ones found in their digital guitar processors.
It features 5 amp models that cover essential amp tones from clean to high gain, all of which can be tweaked to your preference via gain and EQ and effects controls, with software editing option for more precise adjustments.
Another noteworthy feature is its built-in power attenuator, which lets you go from 100 Watts (which is more than enough for even big stage / venue use) down to half a watt, so you can enjoy cranked tones at very low volume levels.
- 100 / 50 / 0.5 Watts
- 2 x 12" Speaker
- 5 x Amp Models
- 60 Boss Digital Effects
- Aux In, Line Out and Recording/Headphones Out
This amp is well loved for its great balance of functionality, tone quality and value for money, with owners commending it for being a great all-in-one workhorse amp with their own words. While its main strength is supposed to be its built-in effects, more reviewers end up commending its amp tones, especially its "brown" amp flavor and clean tone. The ability to turn down the power to 0.5W makes this as good a practice amp, as it is on stage.
If you won't be playing in big venues, or you're looking for a portable amp, then this 100W combo with 2x12" speaker maybe overkill.
With its versatility in terms of tone and volume, this is a workhorse amp that's well worth looking into.
Fender Mustang GTX 100
The Mustang GTX 100 is Fender's top rated solid state combo amp in the sub $500 market, and rightly so being one of the most feature packed amps in that price range with built-in Wi-Fi connectivity, over 70 effects, 40 amp models and 200 presets.
The amp models range from classic Fender clean, which they do a great job of emulating, to modern high-gain tones. While the built-in effects cover a lot of ground with 15 overdrive/distortion, 15 modulation,13 delay, 14 reverb, 7 comp/EQs and 9 pitch shift effects. It even comes with a built-in looper. And in line with all these features, the GTX 100 comes bundled with a multi-switch foot pedal that makes it easier to switch between effects, amp models and presets.
In addition to its powerful DSP, the GTX 100 has a 100-Watt amp paired with a 12" Celestion G12P-80 speaker, which should be enough for most of the stages and venues that guitarists play on.
- 100 Watt
- 1 x 12" Celestion G12P-80
- 40 Amp Models
- 70+ Effects
- 200 Presets
- Aux In, 2 x 1/4" Line Out
- USB, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi Compatibility
- Bundled with Footswitch
In terms of sonic flexibility, the GTX 100 is hard to beat, and this is reflected in reviews. Users are pleased with the many ways they can built up their tone, and many also expressed their satisfaction with the preset tones included, especially the presets that emulate Fender clean tones. Value for money, being a direct result of having many features, is another strong point of this amp, especially when considering that this is a 100-Watt amp and it comes with a footswitch controller. Many also report that it is relatively light for a 100-Watt combo amp.
Unfortunately, the Mustang GTX 100 does not come with power attenuation, so it will be too loud and too big for the average guitarist. There are also some users who aren't too impressed with some of the amp models.
When it comes to digital sound processing features, the Fender Mustang GTX 100 is hard to beat. Highly recommended if you're looking for a reasonably priced 100W all-in-one guitar amp.
Yamaha THR30II Wireless
Yamaha's THR series are combo amps that are meant to sit on a desk, to better fit into today's home recording setups. It saves more space and allows for more convenient positioning, unlike traditional combo amps that can be hard to position in a small home studio.
And since it can run on batteries, the THR30II is also a portable amp that can be played on anywhere.
The THR30II sports two 3.5" speakers that are driven by a 30-Watt amp, and is meant to be an all-in-one compact guitar rig, with 15 guitar amp models. Multi-instrumentalists will also appreciate the bass amp models, mic amp models and there's also a flat amp model with no tone shaping.
Other features include built-in delay, reverb, USB connectivity and Bluetooth compatibility.
- 2 x 3.5" Speakers
- 15 x Amp Models
- Built-in Effects including Reverb, Echo, Chorus, Tremolo, Flanger, Phaser, Compressor, Noise Gate
- 1 x 1/8" (Aux in) and 2 x 1/4" (Line out)
- USB and Bluetooth Compatibility
Guitarists with their own computer based home studios appreciate the convenient form factor and features of the Yamaha THR30II. For a small amp, many users are pleased with the tones it provides, including high gain ones. Build quality and reliability is also often praised, along with its portability.
Don't expect the sound of this amp to have good bottom end, given its smaller 3.5" speakers.
If you have a home studio and you're looking for a compact yet versatile guitar amp, then check out the Yamaha THR30II Wireless.
$500 to $1500 - Regular Solid State
Roland Blues Cube Hot
Roland is one of the biggest names in digital music for a reason: they have a level of understanding digital instruments and accessories that far eclipses its competition. They’re constantly pushing the boundaries of digital equipment, and there’s no better reflection of this than the Blues Cube Hot.
This amp features Roland's “Tube Logic” technology, which combines analog circuitry with digital technology to better reproduce a tube amp’s response.
Another noteworthy feature is its built-in power attenuator, which lets you lower the power rating from 30W, down to 0.5 W, so you can drive the preamp even at lower volumes.
Other features include EQ, reverb and a boost function that can be controlled via footswitch.
- 30 Watts
- 12” Speaker
- Three-Band EQ
- Foot-Switchable Boos
- USB Output for Recording
Sound quality is consistently complimented in reviews. Some even comment that the Roland Blues Cube Hot is the most tube amp sounding solid state amp that they have tried. Even experts like Nick Guppy of Music Radar have a similar sentiment, concluding that the amp "sounds and responds like a top boutique valve amp, with none of the valve drawbacks". Build quality and reliability also get a lot of positive mentions. The amp's built-in power attenuator is also well appreciated.
While it does come with reverb, there's not much else to play with. So this is not ideal for those who want sonic versatility.
Solid state technology has come a long way in terms of sound quality, and the Roland Blues Cube Hot is a great example.
Fender Tone Master Deluxe Reverb
At publication time this was the Highest Rated Solid State Guitar Amp Under $1500.
The Fender Tone Master Deluxe Reverb is a modern solid state recreation of its all tube name sake. It is meant to replicate the sound, look and overall vibe of the original Deluxe Reverb, sans the use of tubes and with modern enhancements that include power attenuation.
Contrasting Fender's Mustang line of amps, this one does away with multiple amp models and effects, and concentrates all its digital processing and gain stages into reproducing the original's voicing. And it seems to be doing it really well, based on the many high reviews that it's getting.
Rated at 100W with a 12" Jensen N12K neodymium speaker, this combo amp is designed to have the same SPL (sound pressure level) as a 22W Deluxe tube amp, but with its built in power attenuator, you can lower the output down to 0.2W.
Finally, it does all this without the usual weight associated with tube amps.
- 100 Watts
- 12” Jensen N12K Speaker
- Built-in Reverb and Tremolo
- Balanced XLR out with output control, selectable cab IRs, and ground lift
- Built-in Power Attenuator
- Bundled with 2-button footswitch for reverb and tremolo.
It seems that Fender's strategy of creating solid state alternatives to their popular tube amps is being warmly received. So much so that the Fender Tone Master Deluxe Reverb is currently the top rated solid state combo amp in the the price range that we covered in this guide. Users are impressed with how close it sounds to the actual tube amp, and how it does so while being way more reliable and portable. Charles Saufley of Premier Guitar is just as impressed, summarizing his review as follows: "Super-accurate emulation of blackface Deluxe Reverb performance characteristics. Effective attenuator. Super light. Fair price."
Pricing seem to be the most common concern, with some pointing out that you can buy a second hand tube deluxe with the money. Still, the convenience and reliability that this solid state amp brings are more than enough for most users to be more than satisfied with its value.
If you want nothing less than the best rated solid state combo amp, then definitely check out the Fender Tone Master Deluxe Reverb.
Roland Blues Cube Artist
Roland is doing well with their more focused use of digital amp modeling, as exemplified by the continued rave reviews that the Blues Cube Artist is getting.
Instead of the usual barrage of amp models, this amp focuses all its DSP power on just two channels: clean and crunch, with each one having boost switches for more grit.
Aside from being more reliable and consistent, thanks to its solid state components, another important advantage that this amp provides is its built-in power attenuator, which allows you to set the power rating to as low as 0.5W. This makes the Blues Cube Artist viable for stage, recording and even for practice.
Additionally, Roland equips this amp with sonic flexibility via swappable "tone capsules", which changes the overall flavor of the amp to reproduce signature tones from Eric Johnson and Robben Ford, along with other voicing options that lean towards classic tube amp tones.
- 80 Watts with Power Attenuation (80W/45W/15W/0.5W)
- 1 x 12" Speaker
- 2-Channel with Boost
- Built-in Reverb and Tremolo Effect
- Swappable Tone Capsules
- USB Recording, 2 x 1/4" Out, 1 x 1/4" (Headphones)
- Effects Loop
Unbelievable, triple A and excellent are just some of the many positive remarks that this amp gets for its tone. Users are pleased with how easy it is to get great tones with the amp, owing to its combination of intuitive controls and excellent voicing. The flexibility provided by its power attenuation is also well received, which in conjunction with its pedalboard friendly nature, makes switching from performance to practice volume levels a breeze - no more need to switch gear.
With its fewer tone options, some consider this amp a bit too expensive for what it can do. If having multiple tones right on the amp is important to you, then this will not fit the bill.
If you're looking for a solid state amp that behaves and sounds much like old tube amps - without the complication of tube maintenance and consistency - then do check out the Roland Blues Cube Artist.
Roland JC-120 Jazz Chorus
The Roland JC-120 is the flagship model of the Jazz Chorus amp line, and it continues to be in demand long after it was first released back in 1975. As such, this amp commands a premium price, but it is still something that many are happily and willingly paying for.
Rated at 120W, with a pair of 12" speakers in tow, this combo amp is loud enough to handle the volume requirements of most venues. And it does so while faithfully reproducing the amp's distinctly clear sounding clean tone.
Interestingly, this particular model comes with a dedicated channel with built-in distortion, although that's not what most users will buy or use this amp for.
Wrapping up its features are stereo inputs and 3-band EQ for each channel, built-in reverb and chorus, and dedicated footswitch ports for the reverb, distortion and chorus effects.
- 120 Watts
- Two 12” Speakers
- 3-Band EQ Per Channel
- Two Channels (Normal/Effect)
- Chorus, Vibrato, and Tremolo
- Headphone Out
- Line Out
Market response continues to be positive, with some users going as far as claiming that the Roland JC-120 is the best solid state amp for clean tone. Despite its lack of modern DSP features, there are many who commend the JC-120 for being versatile, in that it accepts different pedals well, and works with a variety of musical styles. Some even commend it for non-guitar instruments like keyboards and synthesizers. There amp's chorus effect is also praised often. Finally, as a testament to its road worthiness, there are reviewers who still give top scores even after decades of using their JC-120.
It goes without saying that this amp is heavy and is a bit too loud for many guitarists. It is also bit limited in features compared to modern amplifiers of the same price range.
If you want a tour ready solid state amp with great sounding cleans, then this should be high on your list.
Fender Tone Master Twin Reverb
The Fender Tone Master series gets another spot in this guide with the Tone Master Twin Reverb, a modern solid state reproduction of the iconic Fender Twin Reverb tube amp with built-in power attenuator.
This one is rated at 200-Watts, with two 12" Jensen N-12K neodymium speakers, configured to reproduce the SPL of the original 85-Watt tube rating, with digital modeling that emulates the tone and feel of its name sake.
It sports the same 2 channel (normal and vibrato), two inputs with bright switch and dedicated 3-band EQ per channel, and controls for reverb and tremolo speed and intensity.
The power attenuator feature lets you bring down the output level to 1-Watt, for cranking up the amp at lower volumes.
Finally, all these features are packed in a 33 lb. combo amp profile with tilt back action - that closely resembles the original.
- 200 Watts
- 2 x 12” Jensen N-12K Speaker
- Built-in Power Attenuator
- Balanced XLR out with Output Control, Selectable cab IRs, and Ground Lift
- Bundled with 2-button footswitch
Making a solid state amp that sounds close to a tube Blackface Twin Reverb is a mean feat, but even experienced guitarists who own and have played through them are impressed with this solid state alternative. So much so that many of them have switched to the Tone Master Twin Reverb entirely for gigging. This is especially true for older players who love the tone of the original Twin Reverb, but can no longer tolerate its weight.
There are a few who aren't too happy with the built-in reverb reproduction, but they are far outnumbered by those who are pleased with it. There are also some who wish that the price was more akin to other solid state amps.
If you are a fan of the original Twin Reverb, then this is one solid state amp that you don't want to miss. But you don't have to be a fan of the original to appreciate the overall top notch performance of this amp.
$500 to $1500 - Solid State With Amp Modeling
Line 6 Spider V 240 MkII
Line 6 continues to update their line of Spider amps, and the Spider V 240 MkII is one of their latest offerings, a 240-Watt amp packed with tons of amp modeling and effects, as expected from the company.
The amp's digital sound processing power allows for a wide variety of tone options, thanks to its over 100 built-in effects,78 amp models, 24 cab simulations and 4 mic models.
To make better use of the amp's sound processing, Line 6 added two HF drivers along with its 12" woofers, which expands the higher frequencies beyond what normal amps provide. Interestingly, this feature is not positively received by some guitarists, so for the MkII version, Line 6 added a way to switch off the HF drivers together with cab and mic modeling to give it more of a traditional amp tone.
Other features include having an onboard tuner, metronome, looper, and drum loops.
- 240 Watts
- 2 x 12” Woofers and 2 x Tweeters
- 78 amp models, 100 Effects, 24 Can Sim, 4 Mic Models
- Built-in Tuner, Metronome, 60-second Looper,
- Built-in Line 6 Relay Wireless Receiver
- 1 x XLR Out
- USB Connectivity
Fans of amp modeling appreciate this amp's hi-fi type speaker set, with two woofers and two tweeters that allow it to better reproduce the various amps, effects and cab models that it carries. Given its speaker configuration also makes it a viable multimedia speaker. As expected from Line 6, versatility is this amp's strong suit, and it receives a lot of thumbs up for having great student friendly features.
Not everyone was impressed with the Spider V's hi-fi speaker design, so for this MkII version, Line 6 added the option to turn off the HF drivers along with the cab and mic sims. This makes the amp operate more like a conventional guitar amp. While it does enjoy popularity and success in the market, the Spider amp series as a whole gets flak from experienced musicians who feel that it compromises sound quality for the extra amp models.
When it comes to convenience and tone versatility, the Spider V 240 MkII is hard to beat. It's a great amp to get for those with existing Line 6 gear, but you don't need to be a fan to appreciate its overall performance.
Quilter Labs MicroPro Mach 2 Combo 8
It's interesting how streamlined digital amps are doing well, alongside analog amps with multiple voicings - both of them going against the norm where digital amps should have more voicings while analog amps have only 1 or 2. The Quilter MicroPro Mach 2 Combo 8 is an excellent example of multi-voiced analog modeling amps, with 6 switchable voicings: Full Q, Lead, Smooth, Surf, Brown, Tweed - and each voicing is getting good reviews.
For an amp that weighs at just 19 lbs, this combo comes packed with a powerful 200W 2-channel solid state amplifier section. But to make it more compact and portable, it is paired with a smaller 8" Celestion TF0818 speaker.
Other features include built-in reverb and tremolo, dedicated EQ controls per channel, and for a small amp, it does come with effects loop.
- 200 Watts
- 1 x 8" Celestion TF0818 Speaker
- 6 Amp Models
- Built-in Reverb and Tremolo
- 1 x 1/4" (Instrument), 1 x XLR-1/4" Combo (Mic/Line)
- 1 x XLR (DI out), 2 x 1/4" (internal/external speakers)
Balance of great tone and portability seem to be the key factor why many rate this amp very highly. Most are pleased with the sounds they are getting from each of its six voicings, and there are also many who state that the controls are intuitive enough to get good tones quickly, while also having enough depth for handling various musical styles and pedals. Speaking of pedals, many report that the MicroPro Mach 2 Combo 8 works well with pedalboard rigs, regardless of the size and complexity.
It'll be unfair to expect much bottom end from its 8" speaker, so if you want a fuller sounding amp, then you can go for its bigger brother, the Mach 2 Combo 12. Pricing is also another issue, especially when considering the size of the speaker and limited amp models.
If you're looking for a compact yet great sounding amp, with fewer but good selection of amp voicings, then do check out the Quilter MicroPro Mach 2 Combo 8.
Quilter Labs MicroPro Mach 2 Combo 12
The man behind the Micro pro Mach 2 amp, Pat Quilter, is well known in pro audio circles for being part of the well reputed QSC brand of speakers. This amp brings the same level of pro audio quality tweaked to meet the demand of guitarists, using an all analog design.
The amp section sports two 100-watt channels with 1/4" and XLR combo inputs. It has a rotary switch knob that lets you choose between 6 voicings: Full Q, Lead, Smooth, Surf, Brown, Tweed - each one is said to be derived from sought after amps.
Other features include having a single Celestion Classic Lead 80 speaker, built-in reverb and tremolo, expanded EQ for channel 2 and effects loop.
- 200 Watts
- 1 x 12” Celestion Classic Lead 80 Speaker
- 6 Analog Amp Voicings
- Built-in Reverb and Tremolo
- FX loop
- 1 x XLR (DI Out), 1 x 1/4" (Internal Speaker), 1 x 1/4" (4/8 ohms)
For a 200 Watt amp, the Quilter Labs MicroPro Mach 2 balances good tone and portability nicely, and this weight per tone quality ratio is well received in reviews. Many commend the amp for how easy it is to get great tones, while others appreciate the warm sounding analog quality of the voicings. The compact profile of the amps is also often commended.
With its limited amp voicings and effects, this amp is not advisable for those who want an all-in-one amp package.
If you're familiar with the quality of QSC speakers, then choosing this amp is a no brainer. This amp is also ideal for those who want reasonable flexibility without going down the digital modeling route.
Things to Consider When Buying a Solid State Guitar Amp
Power Rating and Volume
Having an amp with just the right power rating for your use is important. You don't want a loud practice amp, nor do you want a quiet stage amp. Thankfully these days, there are now amps with built-in power attenuation which allows big and loud amps to go down to bedroom levels while still getting good cranked tones.
Most of the time, tube amps are louder than solid state amps given the same power rating. The main reason being is that tube amps can be driven harder and handle clipping better, while solid state amps can't. When solid state amps are heavily cranked, hard clipping occurs, which sounds like aggressive non-musical distortion. Tube amplifiers “soft clip” which is a bit more musical sounding.
There are also other factors which can influence volume, chief among them being the efficiency of the speakers. The majority of components in an amplifier have a part in changing the tone and volume you get. With that being said, as a rule solid state amplifiers are generally going to be quieter than their tube counterparts. Just keep in mind that the best solid state guitar amps are built with quality components, so the difference in volume between a high-end solid state amplifier and a high-end tube amp isn’t going to be overly dramatic.
With that being said, for gigging in medium to large stages/venues, you’re going to want to make sure you have at least 100 watts on hand. This will give you plenty of head room during a gig, so you won’t have to push your solid state amp too breaking point.
Because the technology of a solid state amplifier is more affordable, most cheaper amps are solid state. Because of this, solid state technology has gotten a reputation of sounding bad because its generally used in cheaper amplifiers. However, given the prevalence of solid state amplifiers in a variety of different musicians’ rigs they obviously can’t sound bad all the time.
Imagine a situation where you had two amplifiers that were essentially the same, with one being a solid state amplifier and one being a tube (obviously this isn’t really possible, so it’s just a hypothetical). The main difference you’d experience in this situation is that the solid state would have a quicker response. Notes would feel like they were literally leaping out of your amp. The tone you’d get would also be very articulate and clear. A tube amp wouldn’t have quite as much immediacy in its attack, but the notes would have a higher representation of overtones and a more organic flavor. This would of course be at the expense of some articulation.
Tube amps also tend to handle distortion better, but this is also more of a generality than a hard and fast rule. If you’re using pedals to get your distortion, odds are you’re going to get just as good of a tone out of a high-end solid state amplifier that you’d get from a tube amp.
Speaker size is a metric you can use to get an idea of the response an amp is going to have in different frequency ranges. A smaller speaker (6-10”) is going to have a clearer voice that emphasizes treble frequencies, while a larger speaker (15”) is going to be more bass heavy. Most amps are in the middle at 12”, because a 12” speaker is generally considered to have a pleasing response across the board.
However, the size of a speaker isn’t the sole factor that decides the frequency response of an amplifier. Frequency response, just like overtones and volume, is influenced by every component in your amp.
Do Built-In Effects Matter?
If you want an amp with a lot of built in effects you’re going to want to go with a modeling amplifier, otherwise all you really need is reverb. Most solid state amps don’t have the best distortion/overdrive circuits built in (with high-end solid state amplifiers being the exception), so they’re not really a must have. However, most solid state amps do come with distortion. The distortion you get from these amps generally isn’t going to knock your socks off, but it will be serviceable enough until you get a distortion or overdrive pedal.
And while modeling amps may be cool, they’re not really going to be necessary for most musicians. Their main appeal is their versatility, so if you only really need one core sound you’re not going to stand to benefit overly much from the different effects and amp sims a modeling amp has on hand.
Why Should I Get a Solid State Amp Instead of a Tube Amp?
The main selling point of a solid state amplifier is that they’re more reliable and easier to maintain than a tube amplifier. You can also play them at a quieter volume while retaining good tone. Tube amplifiers, due to the nature of how tubes function, generally need a larger amount of power (which produces more volume) in order to sound their best.
While reliability is definitely a plus, something that a lot of musician don’t know is that the best solid state amps can actually sound pretty good in their own right. If you use a lot of pedals the complex overtones and frequency response of a tube amp has the potential to make your tone muddy and unfocused. This isn’t a guarantee by any means, but it is a possibility.
Think of your tone like a sandwich. You have your bread, meat, cheese, and leafy greens. In this metaphor, your frequency response is like different sauces. A presence of overtones that works toward your desired tone is like putting a bit of mayo and/or mustard on your sandwich. Too many overtones for a given situation is like throwing on mustard, mayo, ketchup, soy sauce, and vinegar. All of those things are good on their own, but when combined they result in an unfocused mess.
Best Solid State Amp Selection Methodology
Solid state guitar amplifiers comprise a broad market segment when considering the many variations that are available. So we limited our scope to solid state combo amps that can be readily bought from major US music gear retailers with a maximum price of $1500.
Even with the said limitation, we ended up with a not so short list of 66 combo amps. We then analyzed relevant ratings, reviews and forum discussions, including the most recent up to August of 2020, summing up to over 16,100 rating sources. The Gearank Algorithm did the rest, giving us rating scores out of 100 that represent actual market sentiment, which we then used to narrow down the list to just the cream of the crop. Finally, we divided the list by price and segregated those with multiple amp melds, and those with a more classic single or two channel amp voicings. For more information about our methods see How Gearank Works.