When it comes to guitar amps preference, I love the tonal versatility from my solid-state amp. In contrast, I love the smooth valve tone from a tube amp.
This got me thinking, can a solid-state guitar amp ever sound like a tube amp?
With my experience of using both types of guitar amps, my post will answer this question. Let’s dive right in!
Can a solid-state amp sound the same as a tube amp? Solid-state amps can not replicate the full tone, dynamics, and response of a tube amp even with advanced modeling technology. With that said, various solid-state amps adopt preamp tubes in the preamp distortion section producing realistic tube amp tones and dynamics.
Although the statement above is true, there are ways to achieve a more valve-like sound from a modeling amplifier.
How to Make a Solid-State Amp Sound Like a Tube Amp
1. Use a Tube Preamp Distortion Pedal
One way to get one step closer to the sound of a tube amp is a tube distortion pedal.
These pedals emulate the sound of a tube being overdriven. This, in turn, gives you that warm and dynamic tone you would get from cranking a tube amplifier.
Using a tube distortion pedal, you ensure your tone does not lack the character you might lose when using a solid-state or digital distortion.
These distortions are known to sound fizzy and, in some cases, lifeless. There has been a significant advancement in modeling amp technology, so this isn’t always the case.
Nevertheless, having a tube distortion pedal in your chain is an excellent addition.
It doesn’t matter whether you already have a tube amp or a solid-state amp, these tube distortion pedals can provide you with a desired tonal boost in search of that majestic, analog tone.
Thanks to the evolution of amp technology, solid-state amplifiers have improved dramatically.
This is particularly noticeable with modeling amps, which intend to replicate the tonal characteristics and overall response of tube amps.
Even though there are some pretty good sounding solid-state amplifiers out there, in reality, there is nothing like the sound of a tube amp.
In fact, most professional guitarists openly favor tube amps over solid-state or digital ones. But as time goes on, more guitar players are opting for the versatility and reliability of the solid-state amp.
Best Valve/Tube Distortion Pedals
Fender MTG Tube Distortion Effects Pedal
Unlike some tube distortion pedals out there that look to emulate a tube being overdriven, this pedal has a tube included.
The heart of this pedal is its genuine vacuum tube, the NOS 6205 preamp tube.
Adding to this, the Fender MTG has a 3-Band EQ with a Tight controller. The tight know allows you to compress the low end and get a higher output without making your tone muddy.
Finally, you have a Boost footswitch with two controllers, boost level and saturation.
You can use this section as an added volume output for solos or main melodies. One of the best tube distortion pedals out there.
Blackstar HT Dual Valve 2-Channel Distortion Pedal
Blackstar’s HT Dual is a very versatile tube distortion pedal with two channels. Channel 1 has clean or crunch modes that give you from bright, clean tones to warm overdrive sounds.
Channel 2 takes it up a notch and provides you distortion tones that range from super crunch to screaming lead.
This pedal also comes with its own tube, rather than just an emulator (the ECC83 Valve).
Added to this is its 3-Band EQ that helps you fine-tune your sound.
A great bonus to this pedal is its silent switching, which allows you to change from channel to channel without having that annoying click pedal switches make.
Behringer VT999 Vintage Tube Monster Overdrive
Designed and engineered in Germany, the Behringer VT999 is a classic tube overdrive pedal with a warm character.
Based on a hand-selected 12AX7 vacuum tube, this pedal can give you from a bluesy, low-overdrive sound to full heavy distortion.
The Behringer VT999 comes with a gain and master control, as well as a 3-Band EQ to shape your sound.
A great feature this pedal has is its switchable Noise Gate with an adjustable threshold to keep your sound noise-free.
2. Use a Solid-State Amp With Tube-like Tones
As I mentioned before, technological advancements have allowed solid-state amplifiers to get very close to the tonal qualities of a tube-amp.
These amplifiers will still be slightly short from achieving that warm-analog sound tubes give you but are still an excellent choice for you.
One of the upsides of owning a solid-state amp is its practicality.
For one, you don’t have to worry about replacing worn-out tubes, and you can play for hours without risking tube wear.
Also, you don’t need to crank up the amplifier to get that tube sound, making it possible to have a lower volume with a great tone.
Lastly, you have the advantage of modeling amps. These will allow you to have much greater versatility in terms of a tonal palate.
They are usually less expensive as well, so as you can see, owning a solid-state amp can be a great addition to your arsenal.
Here are some of the best solid-state amps with tube-like tones:
Boss Nextone Series is a combination of the classic tube sound with modern tonal versatility.
This series has four analog class AB amp types, the 6V6, the 6L6, the EL84, and the EL34.
These four amp types give you tonal versatility that ranges from American clean sounds to British rock-type sounds.
These amps come with built-in-effects, a line out for recording, and a power controller. For lowering your overall output without losing that cranked up sound.
Finally, you have the Nextone Editor software to do some fine-tuning on your tubes to adjust to your touch and feel. The Boss Nextone Series has a vintage feel with a lot of versatility.
Boss Katana Series
The Boss Katana series came out in 2016, taking inspiration from their previous model, the WAZA amp.
Pushing the boundaries with their Tube Logic technology, these amplifiers provide a great tone and feel very similar to that of a tube amp.
The great thing about this series is the amount of versatility you have between each model.
You can get from the Katana-Mini, the smallest, battery-powered amplifier, to the Katana-Head MkII and cabinet.
The Katana-Artist MkII is the ultimate experience with all types of parameters to shape your sound in any way you can think of.
The Blackstar Silverline Series is very similar to the Boss Nextone Series.
With a true boutique character, tone, and response, this series of amps can provide you with the most warm-sounding, versatile set of sounds.
The main difference with the Boss Nextone Series is the wide variety of six different amp types available to you – KT88, 6L6, KT66, EL34, 6V6, and EL84.
Paired with six different preamps that go from clean to OD2, you can have all sorts of combinations and tonal possibilities.
With the Blackstar Silverline Series, you also get the INSIDER software to adjust your tone even further and create several presets to define your sound.
The JC-120 is the oldest amplifier on this list. Roland created the Jazz Chorus-120 back in 1925 and is one of the best amps out there.
It is particularly well known for its clean sound, rich tone, and built-in chorus effect.
The JC-120 is a 120-watt stereo amp with 12-inch silver cone speakers. It is a high-output amplifier with a 3-Band EQ and a bright on/off controller for extra clarity.
It also includes a built-in vibrato, distortion, and spring reverb.
Do Tube Amps Sound Better Than Solid-State?
There are some key differences between tube amps and solid-state amps that can help you make a choice.
For starters, tube amps are known to have a warmer, more dynamic tone. Tube overdrive is more responsive than solid-state amplifiers, and little details in your touch and feel influence the tone.
On the other hand, solid-state amps are more reliable and need less attention. Tubes can be fragile and wear down over time, making it harder to maintain in an optimal state.
They are generally cheaper as well and usually, the price difference is not an accurate reflection of the tonal difference.
Some pretty good solid-state amps will not require you to break the bank.
Lastly, as mentioned before, solid-state amp technology’s evolution allows you to have all sorts of tones.
Ranging from distortions and effects in one amp. This is very convenient and can save you tons of money, even if quality slightly decreases.
Having said this, the sound you get from a tube amp is incomparable, and its specific feel is excellent. Ultimately, it boils down to what are your needs, preferences, and budget.
There is no denying there are plenty of options for you out there. There is an infinite myriad of choices from tube amps to solid-state amps to fully digital amps. But far from discouraging you, I’d encourage you to take your time, investigate these amps and find the right one for you.