Before the first stompboxes came along, there was just the guitar, the lead and the amplifier. Sometimes, keeping things simple is the best thing you can do.
To many guitarists, this one included, you just can’t beat the sound of a cranked tube amp. There’s something about the way a tube amp responds to your playing that is very difficult to replicate, although not impossible. When you think of some of your favourite guitarists and their iconic signature tones, nine times out of ten, you’re hearing a cranked tube amp. Be it Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen or Jimmy Page, those heavenly guitar tones we strive so hard to emulate are usually the result of a guitar plugged into a good old fashioned tube amplifier. Oh, and it can’t be understated how much of the tone is in the player’s fingers! Eddie Van Halen would like still sound an awful lot like Eddie Van Halen even if he plugged into a Fender Twin!
Tube amps are not without their issues, however. In order for a tube amp to work to its fullest potential, you need to get the tubes/valves nice and hot which usually means cranking the volume. This is all very well and good if you’re playing a gig or you’re in the studio, but if you’re playing in your one-bedroom flat, the chances are you won’t have the option of turning up to eleven without getting evicted! So, that 100-watt Marshall Super Lead you thought was a good idea is going to be pretty useless if you’re not able to get the volume knob above 1! Think of a tube amp like a Ferrari…If you live on a farm, you’re probably not going to get the most out of it!
One Trick Pony?
Another thing to consider when buying a tube amp is versatility. When you buy an expensive tube amp, you are essentially buying into the sound of that specific amp. What we mean by this is that when you buy a Fender Twin Reverb or a Vox AC30 for example, you are going to get a very sparkly, clean sounding amp with lots of headroom (meaning it won’t break up into overdrive/distortion very easily). By comparison, when you buy an EVH 5150III or a Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier, you’ll be getting an amp with tonnes of gain that produces a smooth, organic overdrive/distortion. With this in mind, you better be sure you like the way the amp sounds before you buy it as you’re “stuck” with that sound going forward.