We are all aware of the importance of a good amp to our tone, and most often, a high-quality performance can be expected from the good-old tube amps. But, in recent times, we have seen a rapid rise in the popularity of solid-state amps. Why?
Among the many advantages of solid-state amps, we can mention:
- Low consumption;
- Sources much smaller and with lower working voltages;
- Circuits that are more compact and mechanically resistant to daily use;
- Lighter and more portable final set.
Are solid-state amps better or worse than tube amps?
Solid-state amps do not have the "defect" in their output stage that gets that "timbre" that is much admired by guitarists. It is also known as the "overdrive effect” (generated in power). Therefore, it is this effect that characterizes and differentiates tube amplifiers from transistorized ones.
At this point, you may be wondering: what is the reason to have a solid-state if the important thing I look for in an amplifier is the infamous “timbre”?
Well, very few guitarists actually use the Power Overdriver of their tube amps. I can name just three or four that don't really use a pedal to add more gain (Brian Setzer, Keith Richards, Muddy Waters), rather than saturating their amps' output tubes.
A good solid-state amp and a set of cool Overdrives or even amp simulation pedals are much more worthwhile than investing in a hybrid or spending a fortune on a tube and plugging a bunch of drivers into the input and using it. I’m not saying solid-state amps are better than tubes, I’m just saying you can get similar tones for much less money.
Let’s take a look at five times when famous musicians totally rocked the stage with solid-states.
1. Roland JC-120 Jazz Chorus used by Metallica
As silly as it sounds, Metallica, arguably the best metal band ever, used a solid-state amplifier with the word "Jazz" in it. But, that shouldn't come as a big surprise. If we track the roots of metal music, it is obvious that it came from rock and roll, which came from blues and jazz.
Regardless of the genre, some artists want to have perfectly clean tones, especially when recording albums. Bearing that in mind, the duo from Metallica – James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett – have used Roland JC-120 Jazz Chorus solid-state amp to record many of their stuff, including the legendary ‘Black’ album. Their clean tones were achieved much easier than would be the case with tube amps.
2. Line 6 Spider V 120 used by Robert Smith
In these times when musicians got hit by a financial crisis, it is reasonable why the number of tour crew guys has been reduced to one car capacity. Seeing buses and big trucks full of equipment is rare nowadays, and musicians often go for compact and light gear.
Robert Smith of The Cure has been seen using the Line 6 Spider V 120 solid-state amps quite a lot recently. The amp has many positive features, some of which are over 200 voicings, fantastic effects, and a cool design. And, of course, great tone.
3. Randall Century 200 used by Dimebag Darrell
If you thought Dimebag Darrell from Pantera used tubes most of the time to get his fantastic tones, you were wrong. He admitted himself that solid-state amps, although not as great in distortion as tubes, were his go-to choices as they provided the sound that he wanted. In his words – in your face sound.
Dimebag used many different amps, but most notably the Randall Century 200. If you want to be precise and clean, this amp will do wonders. I highly suggest you go through Pantera’s greatest hits just to see what can be achieved by using solid-state amps.
4. Randall RG100 used by George Lynch
Another legendary guitarist, another Randall solid-state amp.
George Lynch, a guitar player famous for his tone, often used the Randall RG100 amp. To emphasize the greatness of this amp, I will notice that the aforementioned Dimebag used the same one on many occasions, especially towards the end of his life.
But back to Mr. Lynch. Why did he use solid-state Randall RG100?
While touring with Dokken, they have covered the globe, and, as mentioned above, having light and portable gear greatly relieves the pains of global touring. The RG100 is light to carry and doesn’t have a tube that can overheat and therefore change the sound mid-concert. And Lynch is all about the sound.
5. Roland JC-120 Jazz Chorus used by Andy Summers
Back to the Roland JC-120. Andy Summers from The Police was not as heavy as Kirk Hammett and James Hatfield, but he used this amp for different reasons. If you have listened to The Police, you may have noticed how Andy shapes his tones with various effects, which is easily achievable with the JC-120 Jazz Chorus. A clean sound with various modulations is ever-present in his playing, even when he played with Sting.
Andy Summers has used many solid-state amps during his career, mostly Roland ones, but the JC-120 Jazz Chorus might be the prime example of his sound.