In these modern times of cutting-edge valve technology we tend to scorn the humble, old-school transistors of yesteryear. So it was with my antiquated Carlsbro, gathering dust in the attic while I frolicked with newer models in all their sleek thermionic loveliness. And every time I had occasion to crawl into those dark spaces there it stood, a curly guitar cord still dangling in the socket. Like a geriatric dog with the lead in his mouth and big sad eyes staring in silent accusation. Well a little of that shit goes a long way, so I finally decided to get rid. Sell the bugger cheap: I'll have a few quid in my pocket and some lad will have a good loud amp to run his pedal board into. So I hauled it out of there for a clean-up and service and then I went for the sound check.
I'd forgotten what a decent amp this was. It's styled kind of like a blackface Fender Twin, and I guess the designers meant it to sound like one as well - in the Fender's clean range, at least. Clean tones are quite well rounded and can be tweaked extensively with the 4-band EQ (TMB and Presence), running the full range from over-bright to over-subdued, and with more than one sweet spot in between. There's a Fenderish tremolo and a pretty bloody fantastic Accutronics spring reverb. And most surprisingly of all, the built-in "Suzz" distortion is actually pretty good. It sounds quite a lot like triode preamp overdrive, it cleans up when you turn down the volume on the guitar, and it even responds to right-hand touch. Maybe it's just the fact of not having used reverb in ages, but I was so taken with it that I'm thinking of hanging onto it for a while.
But solid-state amps sound crap, right? Cold, brittle voice? Fizzy undertones? Well yes, DSP "valve emulation" effects can be guilty of all these sins, and I've not yet heard one I liked. But older amps are not quite the same as the robot-built MDF boxes that dominate the market today. For a start, the decent ones, like their valve-based contemporaries, were hand built. By real people, using parts that they could pick up and fit with their own fingers. And you couldn't get a full preamp with multi-effects all on one chip and build out around it, every amp pretty much indistinguishable from its competitors. Back in the 70s, designers had to decide what they wanted from the finished amp and specify the circuit, components and layout to get it done. And they didn't always build them on the cheap either. The fact is that many solid state amps were designed and constructed to the same quality standards as valve amps.
No doubt about it, valves rule for distorted, overdriven tone, but when you're looking for a clean sound with plenty of headroom, a [i:7ad1719bea]good[/i:7ad1719bea] solid-state circuit does it best. It doesn't have to be harsh or "inorganic". A solid-state circuit can be voiced just like a valve circuit can, and if it's well designed it will sound good within its operating parameters. Transistors clip more abruptly than valves (though not as badly as digital) so they're not going to sound as tasty when they hit the break-up point. But the answer is to design (or use) the amp so it doesn't break up. Give it enough headroom so it's always running clean and there won't be any problems. Then you can use designer distortions to get any grind you need. Alright, it won't be the same as a set of EL34s running full bore, but to be honest, most guitarists don't really give a shit, even if they think they do. Look how many players spend their time and money hunting down the perfect fuzz. If you really want valve distortion you just plug straight into the amp, maybe through a booster, and crank the bollix out of it: if distortion pedals are crucial to your rig, valves probably aren't. Save yourself a few hundred quid and get a decent solid-state amp instead.
Let's not forget, either, that plenty of big-name musicians in the 70s and 80s chose to use solid-state amps when they could have had anything they fancied. Andy Summers with his Roland JC for one, or Status Quo with their AC30SS. Rush used Sunn amps throughout the 80s. These guys didn't go solid-state to save money so they could buy more thunderflashes: they wanted the advantages that solid-state offered: transparent headroom that they could fill with their preferred effects; and a heck of a lot more road-hardiness than valve amps. The point I'm trying to make is that solid-state amps aren't necessarily inferior. They do the same job as valve amps, and they can do it equally well, but in a different way and with different priorities. And just because fashion has turned against them in the early 20th Century doesn't mean it will always stay that way. The worm might turn one day.
How many scruffy old solid-state amps have been discarded by their owners in favour of the glistening allure of shiny glass tubes? And in years to come, how many of those same owners will end up looking on regretfully as these classics change hands on eBay for megabucks?
Here's the thing - clean headroom. I don't actually like too much clean headroom - I like the squishiness that a valve front end on the point of breakup gives. I've had valve amps with too much clean headroom that I didn't like - Carvin BelAir 50 for one - I find too much clean headroom gives too much dynamic range and it just doesn't suit the way I play.
However, as far as distortion is concerned we all crow about how valves are better yet I love tubescreamers. No valves in those bad boys.
One of the guitarists in my band gigs with a 70s Fender solid-state combo. He has a DS-1 for distortion or boost when necessary (and just one other pedal, a delay) and still sounds better than the majority of guitarists I've heard. I think it's the fingers, not the hardware.
I think it's the player not the equipment, I am partial to the sounds of a deliciously dark AC30 or the spank of my Peavey Classic 30, but I've no issue in plugging into any manner of solid state amp. A good clean sound from the amp and I'm more than happy to let a Boss OD-3 do my overdrive.
i'm more with alien on this one. one of my tutors at MIT (don't hold that against me) taught us that very early on but picking up a mid-60's 335 worth £xxxx's and then straight after a pointy-headstocked plywood monstrosity and made them sound exactly the same. no doubt that valves and solid state sound different but not as much a difference as the player him/herself will. might you, i'm guilty of being a hardware snob too.
One of the nicest amps I ever heard was my old H&H 100 watt.
It really was a lovely amp with spring reverb and a gorgeous clean sound and excellent compressed overdrive with oodles of sustain.
I wish I hadnt sold it in about 1985
I don't want to break your heart even more but as I was walking past Derry's Dungloe Bar ,in the pissing rain, while they were heavily renovating, I spotted the familiar HH logo peering out at me from under some plaster board and heaps of rotten wood. Like a curious skip rat I moved the debris only to be presented with an amp bearing significant resemblance to that combo linked above. With the heavy downpour ongoing I ran to the shelter of Mason's bar and imbibed a pint of stout and told my fellow barflys what I had come across. We ran back following the pint when the rain had gone off to find that a dishwasher had been dropped on the amp in the skip and the truck was there to load up and leave. Alas, the next pint after was not so great.
Hi Guys. One of the things I have learnt after far too many years fixing amps and guitars, is the "Horses for Courses" or maybe - "Amps for Players" rule. Regularly people leave with their newly repaired amp, and are delighted, whilst I know that the amp really wouldn't suit me. This is not in any way a critism, but a realisation that we all have different styles of playing, different ears, are playing different music, have different budgets, and even have different physical strength and transport problems.
For the record, I prefer a valve amp which can be kept in the sweet spot around 70% - 80% of full volume. Most of us don't actually need a 100 watt stack with the master volume on 1 or 2. It's good to drive the output valves from which we get that nice dynamic, touch sensitive distortion. To my ears, two much preamp distortion is buzzy and causes aural fatigue. Might as well have a fuzz box...
I have got a really good clean sound from quite a few solid state amps over the years - they are good at that. Roland Jazz Chorus is a good example, and yes, the old HH100s. They always left me wanting more though as the set list got rockier. I did have a Fender Studio 85 solid state amp with an ECC83 in the preamp which was a very versatile amp for a hybrid. The Peavey Heritage (?) with the valve output stage and transistor pre-amp is surprisingly good, as an aside.
I love working on valve amps, preferably point to point wired - non printed circuit types. Which funnily, usually end up sounding the best to my ears. Many solid states are a pain to work on, often with problems getting parts. That doesn't mean they don't deserve respect. They have much to recommend them, but ultimately, they must suit the player. Fair enough.