Tube amps for certain... I have used a number of amps during the last 40 plus years. And although I am going to give an opinion that in no way is an attempt to denigrate any manufacturer. Each of the amps I have owned has served a purpose and suited my need at the time. I switched to Tube amps exclusively about 20 years ago. I discovered that the warmth and inherent compression of the tube amps gave me a tone reproduction closer to what I was "hearing" in my head. I became informed as a result of the research and experimentation with each acquisition bringing me closer to the "sound" I was searching for. Over the years I have owned a variety of Fender combo amps and a MKII B Mesa Boogie. I had lusted after the Boogie for years and finally found one that suited my budget. Alas, I was never able to dial it in to get the sound I wanted. Along with these amps I tried a number pedals and guitars in that seeming never ending quest for the ultimate tone. Now, while my own ignorance played a significant part in not being able to find the perfect rig those sometimes inferior guitars and the myriad of F/X pedals contributed to the problem rather than providing a solution. I not only had to learn how to dial in the instrument and the amp but each F/X pedal also contributed weight to the learning curve. I almost gave up hope that I would ever find the perfect "gear".
About 10 years ago I purchased what would be the first of three tube amplifiers that proved to be the first link in my diminishing list of clues toward perfect tone. I don't think I need to point out that this "tone" is subjective. I have received some rather uncomplimentary comments about my choices but they remain my choices because they suit me and work... for me. And whatever you find that works for you... do not be deterred or second guess yourself by the negative comments of others. Remember the lyric from an ancient song "you can't please everyone so you've got to...". I'd like to respectfully suggest that we all are "informed" and "conditioned" to some degree by branding and the opinion of others. This is not a completely pointless exercise in futility... this is how we learn... by trial and error. And try to remember "above all else to thine own self be true...".
After playing my ancient "american" made guitar through this new amp for a number of years I decided I was not satisfied with the tone and perhaps it was time to look for an alternative all the while still attempting to use my F/X pedals to "dial" in the tone. I started looking at other popular "american" built instruments. However, if you are like most "unknown" musicians you live in the real world and the cost of the most popular instruments are not typically within the budget of we starving masses. So I expanded my research to include instruments built in other parts of the world and considered the possibility of a "kit" guitar. But when I weighed the pros and cons of assembling a kit knowing what I know about tonewoods and guitar construction it began to look like I was going to have to bite the bullet and spend the big dollars for what would amount to another in a long line of, possibly, disappointing experiments.
Now, I know I started out addressing the topic of Tube vs Solid State amplifiers... However, I"m certain most of you have figured out that this topic is not complete (and this blog is certainly not the last word) without considering the combination of the guitar as well as the amp since while its possible to play an electric guitar without an amp it is not particularly effective. And... it's kinda' difficult to play an amp without a guitar.
Now before I go any further I would like to point out that I will probably instigate a number of negative comments because the products I am going to refer to are not the most popular or perhaps well known. And yes I know it's redundant to suggest that unless you have first hand experience, with the combination of gear I am going to indicate, your opinion carries very little weight.
That first amp I purchased about ten years ago... a small 15 watt tube amp made by a Canadian company. It was a Traynor, YCV 20, a beautiful little amp that absolutely blew me away. I have since purchased two other amps from the same manufacturer for reasons I'll get to in a moment.
The second link in this quest was answered by the acquisition of a guitar that, up until recently, I had not heard of. This instrument is also made by a Canadian company... Prestige. If you have not heard of this company I recommend you check them out.
Now try to stay with me here because the next events all happened quickly and rather serendipitously (in my opinion).
While I was looking for a new guitar I was also looking at upgrading my little 15 watt amp. It is a terrific amp, great tone but not really suited for gigging with unless I want to mic it and remember I was going for simplicity. During my research I decided that the Traynor YCV 40 would suit my needs and began to price and source one of these. About 5 months ago, I had managed to find a used Prestige "Heritage Standard QB" guitar and as soon as I plugged it into my little 15 watt amp I knew immediately I was on to something approaching what I was looking for tonally. Within a month of purchasing the new Prestige guitar I happened to go into my "local" music store and was immediately drawn to a used Traynor YCV 40 that was exactly what I was looking for and fit my budget.
I bought it on the spot! My research had also indicated I ought to consider a Traynor YCV 50. But more on that in a moment. I took the Traynor YCV 40 home and as soon as I plugged in my new guitar I was even more blown away! It could not have been two weeks later that I went, again, to my "local" music store and there on the floor was a used Traynor YCV 50... again fit the budget... sort of... because by this time I had spent near what I would have spent to purchase a new, high end, "american" made guitar. I have no way of knowing if I had purchased that guitar if it would have satisfied my ears (I would still have needed an amp and after all that's what we are discussing here).
But I do know this... I bought that Traynor YCV 50 on the spot and when I got it home home (do you feel the excitement)... and plugged in my new Prestige guitar... I knew my quest was over.
Finally, I had a guitar that I could plug straight into the amp... without any F/X of any sort and achieve (given the limits of my technique) the sonic brilliance I had been searching for!
Gentlemen, this combination of guitar and amp are (in my opinion) perfect. The palate of available tones are, unequivocally, mind blowing. The sustain, unimpeded by F/X pedals, is truly fantastic.
Certainly this rig is not for everyone... some guys have to have the stack and the effects and all the other paraphernalia in order to achieve that "perfect" tone. However, if you are looking for simplicity, convenience and incredible tone... not to mention without blowing your budget then folks this wonderful rig is remarkable.
I know I have not said much about solid state amps... but really what is there to say... they function. But I have never found one that has been able to provide the tone I was looking for... period. If you have found one that does good for you because after all is that not what we are after satisfaction... and the sheer joy of PLAYING.
But my vote has to remain with... Tube amplifiers...
Best wishes to everyone in the New Year...