Why Solid State Amps are Better Than Tube Amps for Metal



#softshred pioneer Hugh Myrone has been making waves with his MYRONE project for the past year, impressing the hell out of the Gear Gods staff with his unique take on late ’80s / early ’90s synthy shred. Based on that description it should not surprise you to learn that he’s an unabashed solid state amp apologist. And now he’s going to tell you why. 

Hey, what’s up? It’s Myrone. I have a huuuuuuuge soft spot in my heart for solid state amps. Me and my bud Sergeant D constantly talk about that magic “jun jun” solid state guitar tone. I’m currently hard at work composing #softshred bangers for Drift Stage but I’m taking a break to put some of you tube purists on blast.

Satriani Rockman

One of the things that baffles me about modern metal is how you people jerk off different kinds of boutique “unique” tube amps (more on why this is really silly later). “Just can’t beat that tube warmth” you say confidently to your local Guitar Center employee, hoping that he nods heartily in agreement lest your self esteem will be crushed. While “warmth” is something that can be an accurate descriptor of a tube amp, I’m not sure why people NEED this in the genre of metal.

A tube amp’s “warmth” in my experience usually describes two different qualities, namely a tube circuit’s tendency to produce more higher order harmonics than a solid state circuit, and/or the natural compression or sag from a tube amp’s power source. Solid State circuits have a tendency to produce square waves when pushed, giving them what could be described as a more harsh characteristic, as there is none of that higher order harmonic “sweetness.” However, in a solid state circuit you’ll get more clean headroom and output bang-for-your-buck wise. There’s a better ratio of transient response to saturation (no sag),  which creates a tighter, in your face guitar tone. Not to mention, solid state amps are more durable, you don’t have to wait for them to warm up, AND they are less susceptible to tonal changes caused by differences in temperature. (You also don’t have to get them re-tubed).

vivian campell randall

In metal, transient response is probably the most important aspect of any sound. When you home recording nerds slap a compressor on your kick drum, you probably set it up with a fast release time, making it snap back in time so that the next transient isn’t reduced in volume.

If you think of an amp as a type of compressor (which you should, because thats what an amp is doing besides saturating in the context of recording), it would make sense to pick one with a very fast release time, or rather one that doesn’t have any sag. If you don’t want any sag, then you will probably be relying on preamp distortion (with probably a little solid state distortion already before the amp via a Tube Screamer) for the meat and potatoes of your sound, and you’ll probably be using a high powered amp for plenty of clean headroom.

(Marshall-esque tube warmth right? JK it’s a lab series L5 that he borrowed from Allan Holdsworth)

Which amps fit this description? The 5150, The Dual/Triple Rec, The Mesa Mark series, and the Soldano SLO. Did you know that the Soldano SLO is a copy of the Mesa Mark II (which is basically a Fender Princeton with more gain stages), and that the 5150 and the Dual/Triple recs are copies of the SLO? They’re basically all just variations on the same flavor of ice cream. Power amp saturation has never really been important to metal guys so I’m not sure why the kind of power amp tubes a metal amp has gets scrutinized so much. And don’t tell me, “B-b-but my 5150 doesn’t sound good unless its on 3 or higher!!!” You’re not saturating the power amp at that level (if you were your tone would sound flubby and shitty), you’re basically just getting the amp loud enough to move the speakers so they in turn move some air. Also good luck achieving real power tube saturation at your local club without the soundguy banning you for life.

george lynch

(the “Tooth and Nail” record is all Randall. Some of Dokken’s biggest hits are on there and people gush over Lynch’s tone, I wonder why…)

“AHA!” you say,  “YOUVE ONLY BEEN TALKING ABOUT POWER AMPS, SURELY A TUBE PRE IS BETTER THAN A SOLID STATE ONE!!” Not so fast. Most of you guys push the front end of your amps with Tube Screamers, which basically clip your signals into square waves before they hit the amp. You are literally applying solid state style distortion to your signal to add TIGHTNESS (remember the sag I was talking about). Also the “Modern” Channel of the Dual Rec literally has solid state diodes for clipping that’s “tighter.”

alex lifeson

(The 250 ML is one of my favorite ebay saved searches)

More people than you think use solid state amps and get great tone. Here’s a short list of people off the top of my head who have used solid state amps at one point or another:

        • Dime (randall)
        • George Lynch (Randall RG’s on Tooth and Nail)
        • Chuck Shuldiner (Marshall Valvestate)
        • EVH (used a LAB series L5 on the beat it solo)
        • Ty Tabor (also a LAB series user)
        • Meshuggah ( POD, Line 6 Vetta )
        • Judas Priest (Rockman)
        • Iron Maiden (Galien Kruger 250ML on somewhere in time)
        • Alex Lifeson (another 250ML user)
        • Def Leppard (Rockmans on Hysteria, 12x platinum)
        • Allan Holdsworth (Quilter Labs, Rockman, Yamaha, Hughes and Kettner, ALL SOLID STATE)

The bottom line here is that great players will get their sound out of anything, no matter what. This whole tube amp snobbery in metal is silly because a) none of y’all are pushing the power section, b) most metal amps are literally the same thing in different chassis, and c) most of you cowards will probably plug your Tube Screamer into your 5150 anyways. IMO y’all should be more concerned with making sure your guitar is intonated and holds tune properly than if your 5150 is a block letter or signature (pro tip, they are LITERALLY the same save for the tubes that they originally shipped with). Honestly just GTFO with your solid state prejudice unless you are playing into a single ended class A amp (aka the only tube amps worth playing); they have the best transient response because there is no crossover distortion caused by different tubes handling different parts of the waveform like in a typical push-pull circuit.

(Some random Dime clinic where I’m sure he’s plugged straight into some RG100 or Century. Tight/brutal. Why would you need/want tubes for this?)

What do you think? What’s your fav solid state amp? Does your $4,000 Diezel really sound that much better than my Rockman Sustainor (as heard on the solo for “Exclusive Coupe”)?  Also, who has the plug for Randall amps? Ya boi is trying to get one of those RG13’s? (srs)