Last week on TPS, Dan & Mick had a revelation: after years away from the solid state amp game, things have advanced significantly. No longer is the tube vs. transistor debate entrenched in positions with a gulf between them. These days, several solid states hold their own and are vying for a spot alongside what have become the staples of tube amp tones.
As Dan summed up in the episode, the challenge for many modern players who cut their teeth on solid states is kicking the stereotype. Back then, most solid state amps were essentially loud-boxes for keyboards. Today, however, amplifier infrastructure is designed with guitarists in mind from the ground up. This means the tones you get are exceptionally on point.
If you’re like me and haven’t viewed solid state amps as a viable gear option for years, here’s three reasons why it might be time to revisit the issue in view of Dan & Mick’s second installment of their transistor amp breakthrough.
Last week on TPS, Dan & Mick toured through the Boss Nextone. This week, however, their amps of choice were compact powerhouses from Quilter and BluGuitar. In addition to the exceptional sounds of these amplifiers, Dan underscored the advantage of their size. “That would literally fit into my gig bag.” While this doesn’t necessarily solve the problem of a speaker cab or questions about playing direct, the convenience and portability factor of many modern solid state amps can’t be beat. Even if you do go with a full combo version of a transistor amp, chances are it’s pounds lighter than a tube counterpart. So if you’re the headlining act, sound engineer, and roadie of your gig, thinking about economy of space could be a reason to go solid state.
Digital, Analog, or Both?
One of the misconceptions Dan & Mick flagged about solid state amps is that they are the same as digital modelling amplifiers. They can be, but this is not necessarily so. While a modelling amp will use digital technology to emulate the sound of other amplifiers, this is referring to the conversion of your signal in that effect process. It is true that many digital amps also integrate transistor technology. However, solid state amps can be, and in many cases are, analog through and through. Simply put, transistor technology is about the circuitry of the amplification. This tech existed long before digital emulation entered the equation. What’s under the hood varies from amp to amp, so if you’re concerned about how your tone is trafficked within any given amp, do your homework and find out.
If you’ve been following TPS for any amount of time, you’ll know Dan & Mick are fans of multiple amp setups, particularly of wet/dry rigs. (If that concept is either foreign or unfamiliar, check out our blog outlining the setup here.
Partly due to the mobility factor noted above, transistor amps are an ideal pick for a wet/dry amp. Chances are you already have an amp you know and love for your main tone. Part of that sound might be because it’s a tube amp with that warm, glowing voice. But what about outsourcing your wet effects sound to a solid state counterpart next door? This way, you keep your main tone and extend the range of your rig. With their generally higher headroom and threshold for caving in, transistor-based amps are ideal for handling a barrage of effects.
After giving this sort of setup a go with the Quilter, Mick noted “in a wet/dry situation, that amp sits absolutely great.” Dan echoed and added, “as far as a practical wet/dry rig, add something like that to what you’ve got and you’re good to go… magic!”
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TPS Rig Rundown:
Guitars: Fender American Vintage ’62 Stratocaster, Fender Custom Shop ’63 Telecaster, Nik Huber Krautster, Gibson Memphis 1958 ES-335.
Pedals: Boss TU-3S Tuner, Analogman Sun Face BC183 Fuzz, Fulltone Octafuzz, J Rocket The Dude, Analogman/Maxon OD9/808 Mod, Klon Centaur, Boss CD-2w Dimension C, Analogman ARDX 20 Dual Analog Delay & Amazeo, Catalinbread Belle Epoch Deluxe CB-3, Supro Tremolo, Neo Instruments Mini Vent II.
Amps: Boss Nextone Artist, Quilter 101 Reverb, BluGuitar Amp1, Fender Hot Rod Deluxe III.