Best solid state amps: A killer selection for those who play, dirty, clean, or anything in between

Orange Super Crush combo amp against a grey background
(Image credit: Future)

If you were to be told that our list of the best solid state amps will tempt even the most ardent tube purist, you might think the Guitar World team have lost it… but you would be dead wrong! Solid state amplifiers have been the unsung hero of the amp world for too long and it’s easy to forget that the humble solid state has some pretty special qualities of its own – some that even most tube amps can’t match.

Often supremely dependable, built to last, and some with the added bonus of being as light as a feather, the solid state amp can be the gigging musician's greatest ally. Whilst useful features like cab simulated outputs, auxiliary inputs and options to plug in headphones can make them just as effective for bedroom players and those starting out.

Whatever you need, there is a solid state amplifier that would be a great addition to your collection, and with this buyer's guide, you can be sure to find the right amp for you.

If you'd like to read some more in-depth buying advice about the best solid state amps, then scroll to the bottom of the page. If you'd rather get straight to the product guide you can find that directly below.

Best solid state amps: Guitar World recommends

Whilst there are countless solid state modeling amps on the market, few come anywhere close to producing the truly authentic, tube-tones of Fender’s Tonemaster series, which is why our pick for the best solid state amp you can buy right now is the Fender Tonemaster Deluxe Reverb. An amp that gives you all the benefits of the tube original, with none of the drawbacks.

As a do it all amp for players of any level, the Boss Katana still stands above its rivals in terms of features and sound quality. It’s one of those amps that everybody should consider owning; and bang for your buck, it doesn’t get much better.

For fans of filth - something that solid states have famously struggled with - the Orange Super Crush 100 provides tube-like response, dynamics and volume in a solid state package - though you could be forgiven for being fooled that this monster has glass in it. For close-to-tube tone at much-cheaper-than-tube price, it’s a superb option.

A special mention has to be made for the Roland Jazz Chorus 120, because as well as being a solid state behemoth, it happens to have - in our opinion - the best chorus effect of all time built in.

Best solid state amps: Product guide

Best solid state amps: Fender Tone Master Deluxe Reverb

(Image credit: Fender)

1. Fender Tone Master Deluxe Reverb

The best tube alternative

Specifications

Type: Combo
Rating: 100W (simulates 22W tube amp)
Inputs: 2 x per channel
Outputs: XLR
USB: Yes
Number of channels: 2
Speaker(s): 1 x 12” Jensen N-12K
Additional features: Reverb, Tremolo, Cab Sim, footswitch included
Weight: 23lbs/10.4kg

Reasons to buy

+
Looks like the real thing
+
Sounds like the real thing
+
Attenuator and XLR out
+
Half the weight, half the price

Reasons to avoid

-
No effects loop (same as the original)
-
Can’t load own IRs for DI 

It’s a real dilemma isn’t it? You’ve just saved yourself a good chunk of change and can’t wait to invest in a classic Fender amp. You’ve always fancied a Deluxe Reverb, so which one do you go for? The ’65 reissue, with its 12AX7/12AT7 preamp tubes, 6V6 power amp tubes and a 12” Jensen speaker or the Tone Master solid state replica with its superb, modeled tones and a 12” Jensen speaker?

In our opinion, you can’t go wrong with either but let’s hear it for the Tone Master version. It’s pretty much identical in appearance and size to the original, if it weren’t for the giveaway Tone Master badge on the silver grille cloth, most people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Pick it up though and you’ll immediately notice that its weight is about half that of a ’65 Deluxe Reverb, which is a good thing.

The feature-set is almost the same too, but with two game-changing additions. Firstly, an attenuator dial enables you to lower the output power in five stages from 22-watts right down to 0.2-watts. Then there’s the XLR out, with a cab sim switch that lets you choose between flat or two mic IRs, an SM57 or a ribbon. 

Just like its namesake, this is an amp with so much headroom that it needs to be wound up in order to access those iconic saturated tones. Unlike its namesake though, the attenuator feature allows you to do this at home at sociable volume levels. Similarly, the XLR out is a very welcome recording feature that some will choose to use on stage too.

Does it sound identical? Yes, it’s incredibly close – even experts would be hard-pressed to tell the difference. What’s more, that sound will be consistent day in, day out, with no degrading valves to worry about.

Read our full Fender Tone Master Deluxe Reverb review

Best solid state amps: Boss Nextone Special

(Image credit: Boss)

2. Boss Nextone Special

The best non-tube amp for tube aficionados

Specifications

Type: Combo amp
Rating: 80W
Inputs: 1 x instrument
Outputs: Headphone out, 1 x XLR line out, 1 x ¼” line out
USB: Yes
Number of channels: 2
Speaker(s): 1 x 12”
Additional features: 4 x power amp circuits, boost, delay, reverb, effects loop, MIDI, optional footswitch, British/US EQ settings
Weight: 39lbs/18kg

Reasons to buy

+
Solid state ode to the tube amp
+
Hands-on control through extensive front panel
+
Vintage voiced speaker
+
Just like the real thing but with less maintenance

Reasons to avoid

-
Footswitch not included

This amp is so completely different to Roland’s Jazz Chorus-120, it’s hard to believe they’re from the same stable. Where the JC-120 is all about pristine, ice-pick tones, the Nextone Special lives and breathes vacuum tube warmth.

A little like the Blackstar Silverline Head that’s also in this guide, its party trick is its four power amp circuits that emulate 6V6, 6L6, EL34, EL84 vacuum tubes, not just in sound but in player dynamics too. It also looks just like a good two channel tube amp should and, although you can shape sounds with the Nextone Editor software, all the tone shaping tools you will ever really need are readily accessible on the extensive front panel and optional footswitch.

So obsessive is Boss about classic tube-like performance, where most modeling amps have a flat response speaker fitted, it has specified a characterful Waza Craft B12W for vintage ‘blue bell’ tones. Clearly, it’s a thinly disguised Celestion Alnico Blue ‘inspired-by’ replica but it’s great to have it onboard.

If all this sounds a little familiar, cast your mind back a few years to Yamaha’s ground-breaking THR100HD head and matching cab that was specifically developed to look, sound and behave just like a tube amp (two actually). Sadly, Yamaha hasn’t chosen to update this innovative product since its introduction seven years ago, but hats off to Boss for taking the original idea and running with it.

Read our full Boss Nextone Special review

Best solid state amps: Orange Super Crush 100

(Image credit: Orange)
The best high-gain solid state amp

Specifications

Type: Head or Combo
Rating: 100W at 8 Ohms, 70 W at 16 Ohms
Inputs: 1 instrument
Outputs: 2 x ¼” speaker out, XLR Out
USB: No
Speaker(s): N/A
Additional features: Reverb, Tremolo, Cab Sim, Effects Loop
Weight: 24.6 lbs/11.2KG

Reasons to buy

+
Tube-like response from solid-state
+
Excellent headroom
+
Wide range of tones
+
Classic Orange look and build quality

Reasons to avoid

-
Pics-only control panel may take some getting used to for newcomers

Based around a 2 channel, JFET preamp design and 100 W Class A/B power amp, the Super Crush 100 is designed to mimic Orange’s flagship Rockerverb guitar head and comes in both a head or combo format. Offering classic, high gain Orange tone, with a solid amount of headroom to get chimey clean tones too.

With cab-sim out the Super Crush definitely has features that make it useable as a home amplifier - which can’t really be said of its tube counterpart, the Rockerverb - but this is undoubtedly an amplifier for the live environment, providing a brilliant option for players searching for high gain tone and ample volumes, without having to rely on a temperamental tube amplifier across a string of tour dates.

This is about a quarter or the price of an equivalent Rockerverb head. Is it a quarter of an amp? Heck no! Whilst aficionados may notice the difference, the average gig-goer is just going to notice how huge this sounds.

Read our full Orange Super Crush 100 review

Best modeling amps: Yamaha THR10II Wireless

(Image credit: Yamaha)

4. Yamaha THR10II

The best amp for dapper looks

Specifications

Type: Desktop modeling amp
Rating: 20W
Inputs: 1 x instrument, 1 x 3.5mm aux
Outputs: 3.5mm headphone
USB: Yes
Number of channels: 1
Speaker(s): 2 x 3.1”
Additional features: 5 Guitar Amp Models (+10 via app), 1 Acoustic Model (+2 via app), 1 Bass Model (+2 via app), 1 Flat Voicing (+2 via app), 8 effects, MIDI, Bluetooth, tuner
Weight: 3kg

Reasons to buy

+
Incredible sound for such a small amp
+
Authentic sounding models
+
Unique sophisticated appearance
+
Easy to use top control panel
+
USB connectivity
+
Good value

Reasons to avoid

-
No line outs

Small practice amps have been around for longer than we care to remember, but until Yamaha completely reinvented this popular product group, few were worth listening to. Yamaha’s engineers questioned why guitarists would want to plug in to an ugly, scaled down version of a traditional stack or combo, fitted with an ill-sounding, cheap speaker, when they could be using something specifically designed to do the job better. The result was an amp that looks great, and thanks to modern audio entertainment tech, sounds simply stunning too.

Now on version two, the THR series has plenty of competitors (notably the Boss Katana-Air) but for many of us it still retains its crown as the best desktop amp line. Invariably, most of the love is aimed at the range-topping 30-watt THR30II Wireless, but with an RRP of $869 / £651 / €771, it’s simply out of reach for most guitarists. 

The THR10II is only slightly less powerful and boasts all of the magical tone shaping features for a lot less money. You still get 15 guitar amp models, three bass amp models, three mic models for acoustic-electrics and three flat voicings for keyboards, synths and vocals. There’s a suite of FX, Bluetooth for audio playback and USB for recording via your DAW

There are no line outs, but then most of us won’t be playing live with our THR anyway. On the face of it, the lack of built-in wireless capability is more of an issue, though you can always add a Line 6 Relay G10 later. Sadly, it’s the one amp in the THR range without a rechargeable battery, so you will have to plug it into the mains.

The THR10II looks smart enough to grace the most elegant home, its traditional control panel is a doddle to use, the models are superb and the extended stereo speaker system, which was designed by Yamaha’s Audio Visual Division, sounds sublime. 

Best solid state amp: Boss Katana 100 MKII

(Image credit: Boss)
The best modern-classic solid state amplifier

Specifications

Type: Combo
Rating: 100W
Inputs: 1 instrument, power amp in, aux in
Outputs: XLR, x ¼” speaker out, headphone/record out
USB: Yes
Number of channels: 2
Speaker(s): 1x12” Boss Katana Speaker
Additional features: reverb, built in multi effects, effects loop, footswitch in, expression pedal in, stereo expand switch
Weight: 32.11lbs/14.8kg

Reasons to buy

+
Huge range of sounds
+
Great value for money
+
Lots of high-quality effects

Reasons to avoid

-
Needs the software for deep editing

The Katana range ripped up the market when it was first unsheathed, and the MKII versions only improved on the already brilliant formula. Introducing 5 additional amp models, dual effect pots to allow for more on-board editing, upgraded effects and, perhaps best of all, stereo expansion – if you’re willing to buy two.

The 100 Watts of built in power is more than enough for most gigs - particularly with the helpful addition of a line out on the back to take straight to the PA - although if you’re looking to shift even more air, the 2x12” version is what you’ll want. As should be expected by the kings of stompboxes, the internal effects are superb and can be expanded further with the use of the Tone Studio Editor application and switched on the fly with the addition of a footswitch.

There’s not really a lot that the Katana can’t do - particularly in this 100W format - and it is no surprise that its arrival coincided with the entry-mid level solid state market to significantly up its game. The fact of the matter is that at this price point, not a lot else comes close.

Read our full Boss Katana 100 MkII review

Best solid state amps: Roland Jazz Chorus-120

(Image credit: Roland)

6. Roland Jazz Chorus-120 (JC-120)

The best epitome of solid state tone

Specifications

Type: Combo amp
Rating: 120W
Inputs: High & Low inputs for each channel
Outputs: Line out R L/Mono
USB: No
Number of channels: 2
Speaker(s): 2 x 12”
Additional features: Chorus, reverb and distortion on channel two. Effects loop, optional footswitch
Weight: 63.5lbs/28.7kg

Reasons to buy

+
Archetypal solid state cleans
+
Mesmerising chorus effect
+
Takes pedals and FX units exceptionally well
+
Huge headroom
+
Built like a tank

Reasons to avoid

-
Distortion is an acquired taste
-
Weighs slightly more than a tank

We just had to include this amp in this buyer’s guide. It’s the godfather of solid-state guitar cleans, an amp that’ll cut through any mix with laser-like precision. An absolute icon of late ’70s/early ’80s guitar tone.

Oddly enough, it does have a distortion setting but we suggest you leave it well alone – it sounds a bit harsh – and instead turn your attention to the legendary Dimensional Space Chorus effect with some reverb dialed in. Play some extended chords, stick your head between the 12” stereo speakers and lap up the gorgeously lush sonic textures. Then repeat.

If you do ever get tired of that sweet otherworldly sound you’ll be pleased to learn that the JC-120 takes pedals exceptionally well, including distortion. So, with the right pedalboard it can be the backbone of quite a versatile rig.  

The JC-120 is also known for being exceptionally loud and very heavy, so you may want to consider the smaller, yet gig-able JC-40, or even the JC-22. You’ll lose out on the stereo separation though, which would be a tragedy.

Mark Knopfler, Dimebag Darrell, Joe Satriani, Adrian Belew, Andy Summers, Robert Smith, Billy Duffy, Johnny Marr, James Hetfield, Ernest Ranglin – they can’t all be wrong…

Best solid state amps: Blackstar Silverline Deluxe 100-watt Head

(Image credit: Blackstar)

7. Blackstar Silverline Deluxe 100-watt Head

Best for tone shaping

Specifications

Type: Combo amp
Rating: 100W
Inputs: 1 x instrument, 1 x mp3/line
Outputs: 2 parallel speaker outputs, emulated output, headphone out
USB: Yes
Number of channels: 4
Speaker(s): n/a
Additional features: Multiple reverb, modulation and delay effects, effects loop, MIDI, optional footswitch
Weight: 38.4lbs/17.4kg

Reasons to buy

+
Endless tone shaping opportunities
+
Great value
+
Build quality

Reasons to avoid

-
Effects loop conflicts with emulated out

If the Silverline Deluxe Head looks for all the world like a classy tube head, rest assured that it plays and sounds just like one too. In many ways, it’s a superbly versatile head for stage or studio, one that’s incredibly intuitive to use yet has a real depth to its feature set.

Blackstar has given it six voices from its ID:Core modeled amp line, namely Clean Warm, Clean Bright, Crunch, Super Crunch, Overdrive 1 and Overdrive 2. As you’d expect, they become more driven as you work your way up through the six options. So far, so simple.

Things get interesting when you spin the ISF control from UK to USA, or anywhere in between. This control works in conjunction with the Bass, Middle and Treble settings to provide a typically American sound – tight bottom-end and aggressive mids – or a more open, less aggressive Brit sound. It’s not a case of choosing one or the other, you can dial in any tone between the two extremes.

There’s more. In addition, the Response control lets you choose between six different power amp valve emulations, from the bell-like tones of an EL84 to the strident, dynamic sound of a KT88.

These controls provide ample opportunity to experiment with an almost infinite number of tonal possibilities. Then there’s Blackstar’s free Architect software that enables you to dive even deeper…

In the studio, you’ll probably want to record via USB, or mic up the matching 2 x 12” Celestion V-Type equipped cab. For live performance, you could use the cab, but we’d opt for the emulated line-out plugged directly into the PA. You then have a reasonably lightweight rig capable of some seriously heavyweight quality tones. 

Read our full Blackstar Silverline Deluxe 100-watt Head review

Best solid state amp: Line 6 Catalyst 60

(Image credit: Line 6)

8. Line 6 Catalyst 60

Best for classic tones, with premium modern effects

Specifications

Type: Combo
Rating: 60W
USB: Yes
Inputs: 1x Instrument, Aux In, power amp in
Outputs: XLR out, headphones
Additional features: switchable wattage, tap tempo, reverb, changeable effects, footswitchable
Weight: 26lbs/11.8kgs

Reasons to buy

+
Premium HX effects
+
Multiple speaker emulations for DI out

Reasons to avoid

-
MIDI only available higher up the range
-
App needed for some features

The team behind Line 6’s Helix system are some of the best amp modelling engineers on the planet, and their expertise has been utilized on the Catalyst range to make six Original Amp Designs, which can take you from pristine clean to modern high gain, and everything in between.

Tastefully packed with tech, one particularly cool feature is the ability to use the effects loop as a ‘power amp input’, giving you the opportunity to put an external preamp through its power section, without the typical sag you might get from plugging into a traditional effects loop. There are also a bundle of effects you can run this amp with, all coming from Line 6’s prestigious Helix effects range – which to buy in pedal format would cost more than this entire amplifier!

Whilst many amps in this price bracket have tried (and failed) to take on the Boss Katana at packing a solid state combo with more gizmos and effects than any normal player would ever need, the Catalyst tries something a little different, keeping things simple and focused on sonic excellence, then garnishing with a selection of great effects. Suffice to say, it’s all the better for taking this route.

Best solid state amps: Kemper Profiler PowerHead

(Image credit: Kemper)

9. Kemper Profiler PowerHead

Premium profiling, now with added power

Specifications

Type: Amp head
Rating: 600W
Inputs: 1 x instrument, 1 x aux input,
Outputs: Analog main output (mono/stereo, balanced/unbalanced) with ground lift, analog monitor output (mono/stereo) with ground lift, headphone out, digital S/PDIF
USB: Yes, x 2
Number of channels: 2
Speaker(s): 1 x 12”
Additional features: Multi effects processor with 4x individual effect modules pre, 4x individual effect modules post amplifier and cabinet. MIDI, effects loop, optional pedal, Ethernet
Weight: 13.62lbs/6.18kg

Reasons to buy

+
It’s a Kemper
+
In-built 600-watt power amp
+
Versatility
+
Lightweight

Reasons to avoid

-
Eye watering price
-
Too much for causal players 

Unlike many of the modeling amps here, the Profiler PowerHead enables you to create your own profiles by recording (profiling) your existing collection of amps. Want to take your original Fender Blackface Twin away with you in a convenient, reliable package? No problem, you can profile it in minutes.

Don’t have any boutique or vintage tube amps to profile? No worries, all Kemper products ship with hundreds of top-drawer profiles already installed.

What makes the PowerHead (and its rack-based equivalent) unique is that, as the name suggests, this unit includes a 600-watt Class D power amp. Most Kemper profilers need to be hooked up to a powered speaker or PA system, but the PowerHead can be teamed up with pretty much any speaker cab provided that power and impedance guidelines are followed.

Why bother? Well, to get the best guitar tones possible by injecting some authenticity back into your modeled signal chain. Kemper has even developed its own Kemper Kabinet fitted with Kemper Kone speakers that it says renders guitar sounds in a far more distinctly guitar-cab way than any PA or monitor speaker ever can.

Of course, you can switch off the built-in power amp if you want to, making your PowerHead a line-level device that can be plugged directly into a PA, desk or other recording device.

Best solid state amps: Blackstar Debut 50R

(Image credit: Blackstar)

10. Blackstar Debut 50R

The best entry-level solid state amp

Specifications

Type: Combo
Rating: 50W
Inputs: 1x instrument, Aux in
Outputs: Line out/phones
USB: no
Number of channels: 2
Additional features: Reverb, effects loop, footswitchable, switchable wattage
Weight: 10kg

Reasons to buy

+
Super simple to use
+
Affordable
+
Good pedal platform amp

Reasons to avoid

-
Speaker could be better

Blackstar’s Debut 50R has ditched the bells, whistles and unnecessary complexities many of its rivals use on their amplifiers, instead offering a straight up 50 Watt, MOSFET-driven, totally analog beast. For purists who simply want to plug and play without the faff, this is the solution for you.

The MOSFET preamp section has been painstakingly tested to ensure it reacts and sounds as close to a tube amplifier as possible, even when the amp is switched to its 5W mode, giving great warm tones at bedroom-friendly volumes. Blackstar’s patented ‘ISF’ knob takes the tone from ‘American’ to ‘British’, making it impressively versatile.

The addition of a switchable plate/hall reverb is welcome, and the effects loop on the rear makes adding further time-based effects sleek and easy. An additional footswitch can be purchased to change either the channel or the reverb on/off which makes it a great option for smaller gigs, and given they come in a handsome range of different colors, you’ll be keen to show it off in front of people. All in all, this is a really smart little amp, that goes for tone over gimmicks, and sits at a price point that should appeal to all players.

Best solid state amps: Marshall Code 50

(Image credit: Marshall)

11. Marshall Code 50

The best for classic Marshall tones

Specifications

Type: Combo modeling amp
Rating: 50W
Inputs: 1 x instrument, 1 x 3.5mm aux
Outputs: 3.5mm headphone
USB: Yes
Number of channels: 1
Speaker(s): 1 x 12”
Additional features: 14 modeled preamps, 4 modeled power amps, 8 modeled speaker cabinets plus 24 effects. Bluetooth. PEDL-91010 or PEDL-91009 footswitches optional
Weight: 29lbs/13kg

Reasons to buy

+
A Marshall tone tour de force
+
Generous number of FX
+
Easy to use control panel
+
Just small enough for practice, just loud enough to gig

Reasons to avoid

-
Marshall tones only
-
No effects loop
-
No line outs

Marshall is one of just a few British amp brands that can truly claim to have revolutionized the sound of rock (Orange and Vox being the others). It has jealously guarded the authenticity of its heritage ‘stack’ tones, initially avoiding modeling amps altogether – possibly because early iterations often had a nasally, ‘angry wasp in a tin can’ quality to them.

That’s not a concern with the Code 50 or its smaller, less powerful sibling, the Code 25. Finally, in 2017, Marshall teamed up with ‘rock & roll scientists’ Softube to co-develop Marshall-Softube (MST) modeling. 

The outcome was this duo of amps that feature 14 MST preamps, four MST power amps, eight MST speaker cabinets plus 24 effects including compressor, delays, distortion, chorus, tremolo, flanger, reverb and so on. Essentially, this enables you to recreate tones from legendary amps such as the JTM45, 1962 Bluesbreaker, 1959 Plexi, JCM800 2203 and so on, or mix and match preamps, power amps and cabs to your heart’s content.

We love the fact that you can control much of the Core 50’s functionality with its intuitive control panel – it’s just like using a tube amp. Marshall’s Gateway app lets you dive much deeper and stream jam tracks over Bluetooth, but even that is still a cinch to use.

Why the Core 50 over the Core 25? Essentially, they boast the same features, but provided your drummer behaves you’ll be able to gig with the slightly larger, more powerful model.

Best Solid State Amps: Buyer’s advice

Marshall Code 50 control panel

(Image credit: Future)

Why should I choose a solid state amp?

Despite the association with some high gain tones, an excellent benefit of the solid state amp is their ability to offer spanky cleans at big volumes (wattage dependant); something that only the biggest loudest valve amplifiers can manage, with some even struggling to achieve that at the smallest gigs. For example, if you were looking to run a Vox AC15 with a clean tone in a medium sized venue, you will likely find yourself in crunch town due to the lack of clean headroom. Whereas the extra power of Boss Katana 100W - which sits at nearly half the price - at the same volume should be more than comfortable chiming away.

The Roland Jazz Chorus-120 is amongst the biggest examples of this. Offering super-clean, pristine and piercingly loud tones that was perfect for reggae, funk rhythms and the emerging jazz fusion scene, though, despite its name, not great for warmer, more traditional jazz sounds.

However, the amp’s sparkly tone and distinctive on-board chorus effect also struck a chord with ‘new wave’ guitarists such as Andy Summers, Robert Smith, Billy Duffy and Johnny Marr. Even James Hetfield was a fan, using it extensively on multiple early Metallica albums when cuttingly clean tones were required.

What’s the difference between tube and solid state amps?

For almost all guitarists, solid state amplifiers are probably where you started out, and whilst the trashy little 6”-loaded practice amp that first tried - and probably failed - to channel your sound may have left you wanting more, they are a brilliant place to start for a reason.

Almost always cheaper than their valve counterparts - particularly as there are usually low/no maintenance costs with solid state - and superbly dependable, the solid state amplifier is the trusty launchpad from which rock ‘n’ roll dreams emanate… but that wasn’t always the case.

The vacuum tube, aka valve in the UK, was invented at the turn of the last century as a key component in early amplifiers. It quickly found its way into radios, telephones and public address systems, before eventually finding a home in televisions, record players and guitar amps. Surprisingly, and despite its popularity, it wasn’t every engineer’s favorite bit of kit. Far from it.

You see, tube technology was terribly flawed. A tube needs an enormous amount of power to provide even a modest amount of amplification, it’s fragile, temperamental and comparatively expensive. So, when the transistor was invented in the 1940s there was a collective sigh of relief as engineers everywhere gradually started building a new breed of solid state amplifiers that overcame all their predecessor’s shortcomings. 

Funnily enough, the transistor predates both the Telecaster and rock’n’roll, yet we must remember that tube amps were still widespread well into the ’60s when Clapton, Hendrix and others were popularizing saturated driven tones. 

Everyone loved this more affordable transistor tech as it began to dominate all manner of amplifiers in the ’70s. Everyone that is except for, you’ve guessed it, guitarists and the odd audiophile. 

One reason for this is that tube amps color the guitar’s sound, enveloping it in thick, unctuous layers of warmth, whereas transistors sound more pristine, transparent and, some would argue, characterless. Worse still, a tube amp will exhibit smooth natural compression when driven into harmonic distortion, which is very pleasing to the ear and responsive to dynamic playing. 

Solid state guitar amps, on the other hand, have very high headroom, which makes it difficult to drive them into natural harmonic distortion. Even when they do get there, the lack of harmonics, compression and smoothness makes them not to everybody’s taste. That’s not to say the solid state didn’t have its place in the land of ‘dirt’, with clientele such as Pantera’s Dimebag Darrell famed for his Randall solid state stack, but it's fair to say, many turned their nose up… at least until the late 90s when amp modeling changed the entire amplifier industry irrevocably.

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Amp modeling has come a long way since emerging in the 90s! It wasn't that long ago that amp models were either only found on the most expensive products - Kempers for example - or were simply pretty ropey on just about every other product. Now, even in entry level products, amp modelling can make a solid state amp sound almost indistinguishable from their tube counterparts. 

When amplifiers such as the Fender ToneMaster series exist, it feels probable that we will come to a time in the not-too-distant future, where we may not need, or even want tube amplifiers anymore. That’s not to mention the fact that tube amplifiers are incredibly power hungry, guzzling energy down faster than most household appliances, whereas solid state amplifiers are far more efficient. In an age where legislation on certain inefficient electrical products is already starting to come into action, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that tube amplifiers and their use could come under strict regulations. Thankfully, the solid state amp will be there to save the day!

Close up of Line 6 Spider V

(Image credit: Future)

Keeping it clean

Without a doubt Nile Rodgers owns the guitar tone that defines ’70s disco. So clean was his sound back then, it’s said he would plug his Strat directly into a Neve console to get that crystalline tone. Nevertheless, a solid state ’70s amp got many funk players in the right ballpark, especially if the amp in question was the now legendary Roland Jazz Chorus-120.

The Roland Jazz Chorus-120 was super-clean, pristine and piercingly loud. It was perfect for reggae, funk rhythms and the emerging jazz fusion scene, though, despite its name, not great for warmer, more traditional jazz sounds.

However, the amp’s sparkly tone and distinctive on-board chorus effect also struck a chord with ‘new wave’ guitarists such as Andy Summers, Robert Smith, Billy Duffy and Johnny Marr. Even James Hetfield was a fan, using it extensively on multiple early Metallica albums when cuttingly clean tones were required.

Because solid state amps have such a broad, clean tonal range with zero muddiness, they’re the perfect platform for modulation, pitch, time and filter effects. 

The takeaway is that clean doesn’t necessarily mean dull, especially if juxtaposed with richer, more saturated sounds from a second guitar or laden with effects.

Small, light, easy to maintain

If you plan on regularly gigging with a large tube combo, it’s a good idea you get in the gym and start on the weights. They’re very heavy! Solid state amps, especially heads, can be remarkably light. Many can also be plugged directly into a PA, so you don’t even need to bring a cab with you. Moral of the story - cancel your gym membership, buy a solid state amp.

If you’re practicing at home, a small solid state desktop amp, like a Yamaha THR10II, can deliver expressive tones from a smart-looking device that’s no larger than a toaster. Your partner was right (aren’t they always?), there’s really no need to clutter up your house with a large, loud, ugly tube amp, when there are options that look and sound as good as the THR10II.

Another truly beautiful thing about solid state amps is that they’re reliable. If you’ve ever gigged with a tube amp you’ll recognize that queasy pre-gig feeling that’s brought on by never really knowing whether your amp will still work after being bounced around in the back of a van. Even if it does work, there’s a pretty good chance that at least one of the valves will be making a distressing, crackling, squealing noise. Many guitarists have a solid state amp as their backup, but with the advance in solid state technology, there’s no reason one couldn’t be your main amp!

Solid state amp features to look out for

Like anything in life, the best solid state amp for you is the one that fits your circumstances and intended use. There are so many great solid state amps available it’s hard to generalize, but here are some pointers:

  • If you’re looking for clean tones and clean tones only, then a simple yet pristine sounding amp such as the Roland JC-40 makes some sense. This is especially true if you already own a multi-effects unit, such as a Line 6 Helix. That said, any solid state amp with on-board modeling capabilities will also almost certainly have at least one clean setting.
  • Some modeling amps feature physical rotary dials and buttons that mimic the look and feel of a genuine tube amp, while others rely on smartphone apps for even the most basic controls. The latter are usually more sophisticated and versatile but may be overkill for many guitarists. After all, do you want to spend your time playing your guitar or fiddling with your phone?
  • Look for XLR or ¼” line outs if you want to use your amp on stage, because these will enable you to plug directly into the PA. This is especially useful for solid state heads because you’ll be able to sell the van and rock up with just your guitar and a small, lightweight package that’s not much larger than a shoebox.
  • Don’t get sucked into a class war. Many solid state amps will have Class D amplifiers but that doesn’t necessarily make them worse than Class A or Class AB (even though Class A is often erroneously marketed as superior). The fact is, Class D amps are lighter, smaller and more efficient, which are enviable characteristics for both practice and gigging amps.
  • Similarly, both solid state and tube amps continue to be marketed by wattage, which does tell us that a 30-watt tube amp is louder than a 15-watt amp but little more. However, a tube amp rated at the same wattage as a solid state amp will usually be significantly louder. For example, an AC30 at full chat is deafeningly loud, whereas a THR30II is loud but you’ll retain your sanity.

How we choose the best solid state amps for this guide

Here at Guitar World, we are experts in our field, with many years of playing, creating and product testing between us. We live and breathe everything guitar gear related, and we draw on this knowledge and experience of using products in live, recording and rehearsal scenarios when selecting the products for our guides.

When choosing what we believe to be the best solid state amps available right now, we combine our hands-on experience, user reviews and testimonies and engage in lengthy discussions with our editorial colleagues to reach a consensus about the top products in any given category.

First and foremost, we are guitarists, and we want other players to find the right product for them. So we take into careful consideration everything from budget to feature set, ease of use and durability to come up with a list of what we can safely say are the best solid state amps on the market right now.

Find out more about how we make our recommendations, how we test each of the products in our buyer's guides and our review policy.

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