When it comes to guitar amps, players have two options: tube or solid state. Tube amps have always been the industry standard. Over the years, the reputation of solid state amps has taken quite a beating. But, the truth is, there are a plethora of solid state amps that can stand toe to toe with the best tube amps on the market.

In fact, many of the world’s greatest guitar players rely on a solid state amp for at least part of their tone. Iconic bluesman BB King, Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield of Metallica, and Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead all rely on a solid state amp to deliver many of their famous sounds.

But, for every amazing sounding solid state amp on the market, there’s probably five more that aren’t really worth your time. How do you separate the top tier options from the lesser quality solid state amps that litter the market?

That’s where we come in.

Today, we’re going to take a deep dive into everything you need to know to select a great solid state amp, and we’ll also look at some of the best solid state amps on the market right now.

What is the Best Solid State Amp?

What exactly is a solid state amp and what does it do?

A solid state amp is an amplifier which uses a collection of diodes and transistors to amplify the sound of your guitar.

This is the cardinal difference between solid state and tube amps, as tube amps use vacuum tubes to amplify your guitar.

Solid state amps come with a few inherent benefits. For one, they’re more reliable and require virtually no maintenance to stay running in top shape. Solid state amps are also usually much more affordable than their tube counterparts.

But, there’s one major drawback with most solid state amps, and that’s their tone. The use of vacuum tubes lend tube amps a warmer, more musically, and lively tone than solid state circuitry allows. Even though tube amps require more care and maintenance than solid state, the tone of a quality tube amp has always been preferable to solid state.

Fortunately, new technology is being applied to solid state amplifiers all the time. With each year that passes, solid state amps get closer to replicating the characteristic warmth and musicality of tube amps.

One breakthrough for solid state amplifiers was the addition of a tube preamp stage. Tube amps get a lot of their character from the small tubes that are used in the preamp stage of the amp, and these days, virtually all of the quality solid state amps are hybrids, with a solid state power stage and a tube preamp stage.

Amp modeling represents another breakthrough for solid state amps. This technology employs complex circuitry to mimic the tone and character of famous tube amps. While some modeling amps are better than others, the best modeling amps are so good that it’s difficult to separate the modeling amp from the genuine article that it’s emulating.

What makes a great solid state amp?

In just a moment, we’re going to take a look at some of the best solid state amps on the market. Whether you opt for one of those great options or head out on your own to find the amp of your dreams, you’ll want to evaluate all the different amps you come across based on the criteria below.

  1. Plenty of headroom
  2. A tube preamp stage
  3. Quality speakers
  4. Designed for the style you play

Plenty of Headroom

Perhaps the most important consideration when buying a solid state amp is its wattage, which guitarists often refer to as headroom. An amp with lots of headroom has the power you’ll need to play in a variety of situations.

This factor is especially important if you play in a band, as you’ll need plenty of power to adapt to the different situations you’ll be playing in. The last thing you want to do is purchase an amp that doesn’t have enough power to cut through the mix when you’re rehearsing or playing a gig.

An amp’s power is measured in watts, and it’s important to note that solid state watts and tube watts are not the same things. For example, a 50-watt tube amp is considered to be extremely powerful, and it will have the headroom you need to tackle virtually any gig. Meanwhile, a 50-watt solid state amp isn’t nearly as powerful. In fact, most 50-watt solid state amps are considered practice amps.

One of the reasons for this discrepancy is how different types of amps behave when they’re cranked. Tube amps tend to sound their best at higher volumes because the signal clipping is smooth. This results in the characteristic warm and musical sound of a tube amp. With solid state amps, the clipping is much more aggressive when they’re driven, and the tone isn’t as pleasing.

Solid state amps that are 100 watts or more are best suited to gigging out, and they’ll provide the power you need to handle any gig that comes at you.

A Tube Preamp Stage

You’ll also want to make sure that the amp you’re looking at features a tube preamp stage. Almost all of the tone of a tube amp is derived from its preamp stage, so it’s a no brainer that you’d want a tube preamp in your solid state amp.

With a tube preamp, your solid state amp will be able to achieve a warmer and more musical tone than an amp that employs fully solid state circuitry. This is especially critical if you’re considering a modeling amp, which relies heavily on a tube preamp to mimic the sound of different popular amplifiers.

While a fully solid state amp is great for practice purposes, they tend to fall flat when it comes to live performance. Their tone is stiffer and more digital sounding than a tube amp or even a hybrid amp. Without a tube preamp, there’s a good chance you’ll never be able to achieve the tones you’re after with your new amp.

Quality Speakers

Whether you’re shopping for a combo amp, or an amplifier head and cabinet, the quality of the speakers, can make the difference between a mediocre sounding amp and an incredible sounding one.

Speakers are an expensive component, and it’s an area where companies will often cut corners to enter the market at a certain price point. This is a bit counterintuitive, and it often results in otherwise high-quality amps sounding less than their best because the cheap speakers loaded inside the cabinet can’t voice the subtlety and nuance of the amp.

When shopping for an amp, take a look into the cab and take note of the speakers it’s loaded with. You can usually count on brands like Celestion, Eminence, and Electro Voice to deliver high-quality speakers. If the speakers are branded by the company who makes the amp, or if they’re made by a brand you can’t find any information on, that’s usually a sign you’re dealing with poor quality speakers.

Designed for the Style You Play

Another critical concern you don’t want to overlook is whether or not the amp is designed for the style of music you play.

With modeling amps, this is less of a concern, since they typically include a broad range of amp models that cover virtually every style imaginable. But, with a regular solid state or hybrid amp, you’ll want to ensure that the amp delivers the tone and characteristics you need to make your music sound it’s best.

For example, the Roland Jazz Chorus has been revered for decades as one of the best solid state amps ever created. But, if you’re looking for an amp that specializes in high gain metal tones, you’re going to be incredibly disappointed by the amp’s performance just as you wouldn’t be happy playing jazz or blues through an amp designed for metal guitarists.

The best way to determine if an amp is up to snuff for the music you play is to give the amp a test drive. Keep in mind that manufacturers are in business to sell their products, so they have a vested interest in pumping up the marketing speak when they’re describing their amps.

Just because an amp claims to deliver incredible classic rock tones or the perfect sound for modern metal, it doesn’t mean it’s true. It’s up to you to decide whether or not an amp delivers the sound you need.

Solid State Amp Reviews – Our Top 5 Recommendations

Orange Crush CR60C

Best Overall

What Makes It Special?

The CR60C makes classic Orange tone affordable for the masses. Modeled off the iconic Rockerverb amp, the clean channel features two gain stages that provide a slight breakup when the amp is cranked, just like a real tube amp. Meanwhile, the dirty channel uses four gain stages to provide everything from slight overdrive to all-out distortion.

  • Two channels
  • Onboard reverb with three different reverb types
  • Built in effects loop
  • Rugged 18mm plywood cabinet

For years, Orange has produced some of the most sought after tube amps on the market, and they recently extended their expertise to solid-state amplifiers. The result of years of research and development, the Orange Crush line of amps has turned the solid state world on its head.

The clean channel features controls for volume, treble, and bass, and Orange makes use of two gain stages to deliver the signature break up of tube amps. Meanwhile, the dirty channel features controls for gain, bass, middle, treble, and volume. There are also master controls for the overall volume and reverb. A mini switch allows you to choose from three reverb types.

The CR60C is perfectly sized for intimate gigs, and it boasts 60 watts and a single 12” Orange speaker. This amp can easily tackle larger gigs provided the amp is miked. While it may be small, it provides the signature break up and drive that tube amps are known for, and it’s arguably the best sounding solid state amp on the market.

What Customers Like

  • Signature Orange tone
  • Three different reverb types
  • Impressively versatile dirty channel

What Customers Dislike

  • Much heavier than most 1×12 combos
  • Limited tone shaping capabilities on the clean channel

Fender Champion 100

Best For the Price

What Makes It Special?

Classic Fender styling is married with a selection of sought after extras that today’s modern guitarists are sure to love. The Champion 100 features multiple effects available on each channel, as well as multiple amp models that deliver everything from signature Fender clean to British style overdrive and over the top metal distortion.

  • Multiple onboard effects
  • Multiple amp voicings
  • Auxiliary and headphone jacks
  • Classic Fender styling

For years, guitarists have looked to the Champion series of amps to deliver reliable performance at a bargain price. The latest iteration of the Champion series offers onboard effects, two channels with multiple voicing modes on the dirty channel, and a built-in effects loop.

While Fender has always had a reputation for the clean channel of their amps, the dirty channel was another story. Fender’s dirty channels were thin and one-dimensional, and most guitarists who used Fender amps relied on pedals instead of the second channel for overdrive and distortion. The Champion 100 changes all that thanks to the inclusion of a five-position voicing selector.

The voicings accurately mimic the tones you could expect from classic Blackface and Tweed Fender amps, signature Marshall style overdrive, and an over the top metal voicing that delivers the high gain distortion modern metal guitarists demand.

What Customers Like

  • Onboard effects
  • Aux in and headphone jack
  • Much lighter than most 2×12 amplifiers

What Customers Dislike

  • Dirty channel still has room for improvement
  • Limited tone shaping ability on the clean channel

Marshall Code 50

What Makes It Special?

A true powerhouse with the modeling capability you need to accurately replicate the tones of dozens of sought after amplifiers, the Code 50 also features 24 digital effects, Bluetooth compatibility, and over 100 great sounding presets for you to draw inspiration from.

  • 24 onboard effects with up to 5 simultaneously
  • 14 different preamp models and four power amp models
  • Bluetooth compatibility
  • Auxiliary in and headphone jacks

Since the ‘60s, Marshall has been the preferred amp of many of the finest guitarists in the world. While their solid state amps were never looked at in the same light, the Code series of amps has the power to change all of that. This amp delivers a myriad of different tones ranging from classic Marshall overdrive to pristine clean tones or over the top distortion.

The Code 50 features over 100 different inspiring presets, 24 digital effects with up to five simultaneously, and well over a dozen different amp models that cover famous amps from all the leading manufacturers. Plus, the Code 50 boasts Bluetooth compatibility so that you can edit tones from your couch with the Marshall app.

What Customers Like

  • Quality onboard effects
  • Tons of great sounding amp models
  • Lightweight and easy to transport

What Customers Dislike

  • Doesn’t include a footswitch
  • Marshall app is unreliable at times

Line 6 Spider IV 150

Best for Beginners & Students

What Makes It Special?

With sixteen different amp models and twenty different onboard effects, the Spider IV is a modeling heavyweight that’s capable of tackling virtually any style of music. The Spider IV also features 300 different presets designed by more than 50 of today’s most iconic guitarists.

  • Sixteen different amp models
  • Twenty onboard effects with up to four simultaneously
  • Celestion speakers
  • Tons of presets designed by top guitar players

The perfect blend of quality and value, the Spider IV 150 delivers the versatility you need to sound like some of your favorite guitarists, and plenty of tone shaping ability to dial in your own signature tones. With 150 watts of power and two custom designed 12” Celestion speakers, there’s also more than enough headroom for young guitarists to grow into the amp.

Other impressive features like a built-in noise gate make it easy for young players to achieve the tones of their favorite players. With the launch of Line 6’s new Spider V series of amps, the Spider IV amps are available at an even better price than ever before, making this an ideal amp for players on a budget.

What Customers Like

  • Quality presets from over 50 famous guitarists
  • Great sounding onboard effects
  • Plenty of headroom

What Customers Dislike

  • Doesn’t include a footswitch, and the compatible footswitch is expensive
  • Doesn’t include an effects loop

Fender Mustang 20 V2

Best on a Budget

What Makes It Special?

Guitarists looking for a capable amp on a budget have long suffered from a lack of choice. Thankfully, the Mustang 20 changes all that. Featuring 18 amp models, 37 effects, and even a built-in tuner, the Mustang 20 is ideal for players on a budget who still need a great sounding amp.

  • Tons of amp models and effects
  • Includes specially designed Ableton recording software

This 20 watt Fender amp boasts an 8” speaker that delivers surprising responsiveness and volume despite its small size. The Mustang 20 features 18 different amp models that provide plenty of classic Fender tones, as well as some tones inspired by other leading manufacturers including Marshall and Mesa Boogie. There’s also an impressive 37 onboard effects.

Other intuitive features like a chromatic tuner and a USB out for recording make this tiny amp a great option for practice and studio use. Best of all, it’s one of the most affordable modeling amps on the market.

What Customers Like

  • Tons of amp models and onboard effects
  • Includes free recording software

What Customers Dislike

  • Too small for most gigs
  • Some of the amp models aren’t particularly good

6 More Really Good Solid State Amps

Roland Jazz Chorus JC-40

For forty years, the Roland Jazz Chorus has been the industry standard for solid state amps. Best known for their incredibly pure and glass-like clean tone, the Jazz Chorus has been favored by jazz players for years, as well as guitarists who rely on pedals for their overdrive or distortion sound.

The JC-40 features true stereo operation, twin 10” speakers, and onboard distortion, vibrato, and chorus effects. The chorus effect, in particular, is especially useful, and it trumps many popular chorus effects pedals. An optional footswitch allows you to toggle each effect on and off, so it’s certainly a recommended accessory.

Boss Katana 100

Best known for producing some of the best effects pedals on the market, Boss recently rolled out a line of solid-state amplifiers that don’t disappoint when it comes to tone or features. The Katana series of amps feature incredibly tube-like tone and onboard effects that are built to the same stringent standards as Boss stompboxes.

The Katana 100 features a custom-voiced Waza Craft 12” speaker, and it can run at .5, 50, or 100 watts. The amp features twin channels with five different amp voices and an incredible selection of 61 customizable effects. To truly unlock the potential of this amp, you’ll need the Boss GA-FC foot controller, which isn’t included.

VOX Valvetronix VT40X

Vox manufactures some of the most classic British style tube amps in the world, and their Valvetronix line injects a welcomed dose of Vox tone into the solid state market. The Valvetronix VT40X is an affordable 10” combo hybrid amp that delivers incredibly tube-like tone thanks to it’s all tube preamp stage.

The VT40X is also equipped with 11 different amp models, 13 onboard effects and a built-in chromatic tuner. A headphone jack allows for quiet practice, and a USB direct in for recording directly from the amp. The amp also includes Vox’s Tone Room software, which allows you to edit your settings straight from your smartphone.

Peavey Bandit Transtube 112

The Peavey Transtube series was one of the first solid state amps to employ a tube preamp stage, and to this day they’re still one of the finest solid state amps available.

The Bandit 112 is an 80-watt amplifier with a single 12” Blue Marvel speaker. This amp features two channels, each with three distinct voicings to provide different flavors of tone on each channel. The lead channel is unique in that it allows you to dial in your gain level for both the pre and post gain stages. This amp also has master controls for reverb and boost.

The Bandit 112 also features a three position damping switch, three position power switch for running the amp at 25, 50, or 100 watts, an effects loop, and a speaker simulated direct out with level control.

Line 6 AMPLIFi 75

Since they burst onto the scene about twenty years ago, Line 6 has pushed the envelope of what solid state amplifiers are capable of. Their new AMPLIFi line of amps is the latest breakthrough, and it’s specially designed for at home practice.

Not only is it one of the most beautiful looking amps around, but it’s also one of the most functional. The amp features some basic controls on the top panel, but much of the features of the amp are accessed through Line 6’s Android and iOS app.

This amp offers a seemingly endless library of different tones and presets, as well as dozens of different amp models. It’s Bluetooth compatible and features an innovative speaker array that allows you to jam along to your favorite songs or practice programs directly from the amp without losing any of the tonal character of your guitar, or the secondary audio source.

Line 6 Spider V 240

The latest from Line 6’s iconic Spider line of amplifiers, the Spider V features an even more impressive array of different amp models and effects than ever before.

This amp features over 100 presets designed by today’s top guitar players as well as Line 6 engineers. Everything from classic amp models to signature artist tones and more is at your fingertips with the Spider V.

A newly designed full range speaker system provides twin 12” speakers as well as a high-frequency driver, so this amp is just as at home with an electric guitar as it is with acoustic guitars. It’s also an incredible sounding speaker system for playing your favorite songs through the auxiliary jack.

There are also intuitive new features such as a metronome, pre-loaded drum loops, and a built-in wireless receiver, so you can go fully wireless if you choose to add a Line 6 Relay transmitter to your rig.

5 FAQ’s About Solid State Amps

What are the different types of amps?

When it comes to guitar amps, there are four types you’ll find on the market:

  • Tube
  • Solid state
  • Hybrid
  • Modeling

Tube amps are the original amplifiers. These amps use analog circuitry and shape your tone in a preamp section which usually features four or more small tubes. The amp derives its power from the power amp tubes, which amplify the sound of your instrument. These amps are considered the industry standard, and they offer warmth and liveliness that’s difficult to match.

Solid state amps use digital circuitry to shape and amplify your tone. Instead of relying on vacuum tubes, a complex arrangement of diodes and transistors deliver the tone of the amp. Most guitarists aren’t particularly fond of fully solid state amps as they don’t deliver the same life and warmth that tube amps are notorious for.

With that said, they require virtually no maintenance, and they’re a great choice for practice amplifiers, or as a backup amp.

Hybrid amps are solid state amplifiers that feature a tube preamp section. Since most of the tone and warmth of a tube amp is created in the preamp stage, hybrid amps have a warmer and more musical tone than their fully solid-state cousins.

Just like fully solid state amps, these amps require very little maintenance, and the best solid state amps can capture a lot of the tonal character that’s so sought after in tube amps.

The newest style of amplifier on the market is the modeling amp. Modeling amps have been around since the late ‘90s, and they’re typically hybrid amplifiers that feature some complex computer circuitry that allows them to replicate the characteristics of some of the most famous amps in the world.

While modeling amps are no substitute for the real thing, many of them offer impressive replications of top tube amps, and they’re a lot of fun to play around with. A modeling amp is a great tool to have when you’re practicing or jamming along to records at home, and the larger versions make a wise choice if you’re looking for an amp to play with your band.

Does the size of the speaker matter?

Yes, speaker size is an important thing to consider when shopping for an amp.

As you’d imagine, larger speakers can deliver more sound than smaller ones. If you’re buying an amp that you’ll be using to play live, you’ll want at least one 12” speaker, or two 10” speakers.

Depending on the style of music you play and the size of the rooms you’re playing in, you may find you need an amp with multiple 12” speakers, like a 2×12 combo, or an amplifier head with a 4×12 cabinet.

12” speakers are the preferred speaker for most guitar players, as they offer the size and power handling that most live guitarists demand. However, if you play in small rooms, like coffee shops or restaurants, this is usually unnecessary, and you may find that an amp with 8” or 10” speakers is a better fit for your style.

What are the top brands for solid state amps?

When it comes to guitar amps, the same cast of characters you’re used to seeing dominate the tube amp circuit also tend to have the best and widest variety of solid state amps.

Fender has been a pioneering brand for guitarists since the 1950s, and their tube amps are some of the most sought after in the world for rock, blues, and jazz guitarists. They produce a broad range of solid state amps that cater to virtually every type of guitarist.

Marshall is probably the first brand that pops into your head when you think about guitar amps. For over fifty years, Marshall has been an industry leader, and their amps have graced the biggest stages throughout the world. While best known for their tube amps, they also have tons of incredible sounding hybrid and modeling amps available, too.

Orange is another British amp manufacturer that’s built a sterling reputation as one of the greatest tube amp manufacturers in the world. More recently, they’ve launched a full line of amazing sounding and affordable solid state amps.

How many watts do I need on a solid state amp?

The amount of wattage you need at your disposal will differ depending on how and what you play. You’ll also need to keep in mind that solid state watts are less powerful than tube watts.

If you play in a rock band that regularly gigs in rooms of all different sizes, you’ll want as much wattage at your disposal as possible. Usually, 150 watts or more is sufficient. If you’re a solo guitarist that plays intimate gigs, you won’t need nearly as much wattage.

Also, keep in mind that you can always dial down your volume, but you can’t necessarily always dial it up. If you play in a variety of settings or if you play many different styles and types of gigs, you’ll probably want a high wattage amp that offers the headroom you need for bigger gigs. You can always dial it back for more intimate settings.

If you’re unsure of how many watts you need, it’s always better to overestimate. Otherwise, you may run into a situation where you’re stuck purchasing a new amp prematurely because your last amp didn’t have the power you needed.

Where can I learn more about solid state amps?

Sweetwater is an indispensable resource for all things guitar. While they’re primarily a retail store, they go above and beyond to provide guitarists with detailed info, videos, and other important information that’s critical to have when you’re making buying decisions. Plus, almost all their product pages feature demo videos to help you make your gear decisions.

Ultimate-Guitar is a website virtually every guitarist is intimately familiar with. From perfectly notated tablature to helpful articles, Ultimate-Guitar is a great resource for info on guitars and amps. They also have some of the best and biggest forums, so you can connect with other guitarists and pick their brain about gear.

Musician’s Friend is another online music store. They’ve recently taken inspiration from Sweetwater and rolled out The Hub, which has quickly become a go-to resource for info, tips, and tricks related to all things guitar. The link above has some great info on solid state and tube amps and the differences between the two.

Conclusion

While solid state amps were once considered the stuff of beginners and novices, major advancements in the category have led to the development of tons of different solid state amps that can go toe-to-toe with the best tube amps on the market.

Do you use a solid state or hybrid amp? What are your thoughts? Do you have any advice for our readers? Sound off in the comments section below!

When shopping for a solid state amp, many guitarists also consider the following gear:

  • Modeling amps
  • Tube amps
  • Speaker cabinets
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