David Lamkins picked up his first guitar a long time ago. As best he can recall the year was 1967: the year of the Summer of Love. Four decades later David has conjured up an amalgam of folk, rock and jazz solo guitar music for the occasional intimate Portland audience.
location: Portland, OR USA

Facets: amplifiers, technology, comparison, @musings info

Tubes vs. transistors

What's the better amp - one with tubes, or one with transistors? I have and use both kinds. They both have assets and liabilities.

The Cyber-Deluxe is a solid state amp. Unlike modelling amps, it gets all of its distortion from analog circuitry. The digital signal processor is used for tone stack emulation and effects. The C-D can get a wide variety of sounds over a wide range of volumes, and it has all those built-in effects. To my ear, and for my playing style, it doesn't sound quite as complex nor does it respond as well to touch as my Vibro-King. However, it weighs 25 pounds less and can deliver its best sound at volumes that don't require hearing protection. I use the C-D for rehearsals, because we don't have a lot of space and high volumes don't work well. When I play live, I pick either the C-D or the V-K depending on what kind of stage volume I need for a venue.

Now for reliability: I've had the V-K for about a year, and I've had to do the normal maintenance things... replace a couple of microphonic tubes and a failed output tube. As far as I'm concerned, it's no big deal - that kind of work goes with the territory. But I do all my tech work myself. I can see how it would be annoying if you had to lug your amp to a shop and leave it for a week or two every time it hiccuped. The only advice I can give would be to learn to do simple maintenance items by yourself, and to have a second amp to use when the other has to go into the shop.

Solid state gear is generally thought of a more reliable, and - assuming that it's well-designed - it is. However, solid state gear isn't bulletproof, either. And the failure modes are different. Whereas a tube amp often starts sounding "a bit off" when it fails, a solid state amp will more often just stop working completely. Point is, you can often make it through a gig with a failing tube amp - especially if you carry spare tubes and fuses - but you're probably going to have to go begging if your solid-state (or digital) amp fails during a set.

April 05 2004 01:51:34 GMT