How Was I Supposed To Know How To Use A Tube Amp?

Most musicians know that tube technology is superior to solid state/transistor, but very few, (myself included,) know exactly why.

You can check these reddit ELI5’s for some basic info on how it works:

But honestly, it doesn’t really matter.  You don’t need to know how it works – All you need to know is how the different amplification styles will affect your playing.

If you have a distinctive way of playing the guitar, (or would like to develop one,) tube technology is preferable. Analog amplification can pick up dynamic picking patterns, which means the speed and strength of each strum will be more pronounced.

The downside is if you’re not actively choosing the strength of each strum, but just trying to get through the song, it will be evident in your sound output and your music will sound choppy and amateurish.

Tube amps can be frightening, I know – the audience will be hearing what you are actually playing, amplified with 50 watts of power behind it.

Maybe you’re terrible, who cares? I’d still prefer to hear what you really sound like.

Tube amplification offers much more customization in tone as well. Different tube combinations can offer endless subtle variation. As well, your master volume vs. channel volume becomes infinitely more complex than simply how loud you want the guitar to be.

The master vs. channel question exists in solid state amps as well, but, let’s be honest, it’s just not same – the stakes are not as high! With a tube amp one millimeter of volume adjustment can be life or death for your tone!

Solid state is safe, which always means boring.

Tube amps also handle distortion much better than solid state – especially when you distort your signal before the amplification stage, (run your pedals directly into the amp input, rather than the effects loop).

Tubes create distorted sound, Transistors create distorted noise. A Fuzz pedal will sound decidedly more musical through the right amp. This is because solid state amps go into distortion at a sharp knee, where as tube amps become distorted in a gradual curve. It sounds more natural and is more pleasing to the ear.

That being said, there’s no wrong way to play the guitar. Use whatever amp you want.

Creating music requires constant decision making. How do you want to sound and why? You should try to have an answer for every question and when you feel you’ve answered them all, it’s time to ask more.

Music is tension. Build and release. You are responsible for how your playing makes the audience feel and you should take the responsibility seriously.

Or don’t, (as long as that’s a decision you’ve made as an artist).

Above is a sweeping opus by Car Seat Headrest where singer, Will Toledo muses on, among darker themes, the difficulty in learning to use a tube amp.


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