About Tube Amps – High And Low Watt


When I think electric guitar, I think an amp. Not any amp, but a tube amp. Tube amps are simply the heart and soul of rock & roll. Nearly every rock record made has used a one!  Here’s an absolute classic song that uses a tube amp.  Get the Led out!!

What Is A Tube Amp?

A tube, or a valve as the Brits say, is a device to amplify electronic signals, just like your guitar. Both tubes and light-bulbs share similarities in appearance, both are circuits encased in a glass vacuum. Just like light bulbs tubes even produce some light and heat.

Glowing preamp tubes!
Glowing preamp tubes!

Tubes, in comparison to modern devices (transistors), function at much higher voltage. At one time tubes were common place in many consumer electronics including both televisions and radios. In most cases, tubes are now considered obsolete in favor to the modern equivalents – except in the case of professional studio gear and guitar amps!

Many audiophiles and fans of vintage rock music are crazy about tubes, but its not just irrational worship. And many tube amp fans plead a solid case in the same way that vinyl fans do when it comes to recorded audio.

Here’s a video where Anthony from Old Tone Zone talks about his preference for the revered tube amp.

Warm & Vintage Tones

Tube amps offer a warm and natural-sounding tone that you can only get from .. well, tube amps themselves. They certainly will color your sound a pleasing way, we think you will agree.  One classic tube amp is the Marshall DSL15C, as shown below.

marshall-dsl15c-dsl-series-15-watt-guitar-combo-amp

Another great feature of tube amps, is their ability to better handle overloads than transistors. When a tube amp is pushed hard in terms of signal, it will have a more pleasing over-drive, giving it a harsh sound that will appeal to any fan of rock music.  If you want to try resurrecting Bon Scott from the dead (with whiskey in hand and screaming bloody murder), just strum a power chord on a heavily distorted tube amp and who knows!

At the same time, tube amps clean up nicely and sound angelic when not chased by the hounds of distortion hell.  Simply put, tube amps give guitar players a lot more control over their tone!

Low Wattage Tube Amps

These amps are great for both practice and recording. The biggest advantage to low watt amps is that they can achieve a great over-drive and even distortion at a reasonable volume. That means you can get those killer tones without getting on the nerves of the noise police!

Fender 6 watt

Generally speaking these amps are more affordable than their high wattage counterparts. Yet that in no way means they’re cheap.  Jimmy Page used them to record Led Zeppelin’s first two albums, Zeppelin I and II. However if you want to compete with a drummer your going to be out of luck unless you want to use a PA.

Check out this dude, who has 3 Blackstars 1 watts.  That’s dedication…

High Wattage Tube Amps

If you want to be able to compete with a drummer during practice, want to play a gig in a space bigger than coffee shop you need an amp with both a larger speaker and higher wattage. Usually higher wattage amps will have at least one or more 12 inch speakers, where lower wattage amps usually have a 6 or 8 inch speaker.  

On top of more volume, you also get more headroom before you get into overdrive territory. If you like a clean lush sound this is tonne of it. Yet if you want to be able to push it into overdrive territory you will notice it get loud! So loud in fact if you live in environment where excessive noise is an issue the sound police won’t be far off (especially if you use a 100w stack.) Luckily many have both a clean and a high gain channel.

1 Comment


  1. So many classic albums were made with tube amps, it’s unlikely that they will ever completely go away. Your analogy to vinyl-lovers is apropos – there will always be a subset of musicians who prefer the quality and experience of a good tube amplifier. Thanks!

    Reply

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