Solid state amps often get trash-talked by tube lovers because they're cheaper, and to most people, cheaper means lower quality. That's not always true. Solid states actually have several benefits over tubes – they're known for being more reliable, easier to maintain, and having more consistent sound. However, like any amp (regardless of type), there are good choices and bad choices. To find the good ones, we compared over a dozen solid states (both heads and combos) by looking at their build quality, power output, tone, and more. We then narrowed down the list to the three best solid state amps in different categories, depending on your needs: best head, best combo, and best bang for your buck. Article Summary
Ever since they first appeared, solid state amps have been a cheap way for guitar players to get good amplification. A lot of people argue that they don’t offer the same level of quality as tube amps because they aren’t as classic or simply because they’re cheap compared to tubes, but the truth is that a solid state amp is more than capable of producing the same warm, musical tone – it just comes down to choosing the right brand and model.
In the old days, finding a good solid state was hit or miss, which is also part of the reason they’ve developed the bad reputation compared to tubes. But nowadays, technology has seriously improved, and there are a lot of great solid states to choose from – and like most equipment in the music industry, choosing the best solid state amp for you will more than likely depend on your personal taste. With that said, there are some clear models that are better than others in terms of quality, performance, and value – and those are the ones you want to choose from.
We took several days to compare over a dozen popular solid state contenders to bring you a narrowed-down list of what we consider to be the best choices. We started by comparing amps on both a material and technological level to figure out their quality and reliability, and we followed that by looking at available features (like tuning and effects) and price. We also listened to audio recordings of each amp being used, and checked out customer reviews to see what other people thought of each amp’s overall sound quality and tone. Finally, we talked to two professional guitarists (each with over 20 years of experience playing) to get their opinion on the matter. With all the research said and done, we highlighted the following three amps as the best solid states overall.
The best solid state amp head
Topping our list is the Marshall MG100HCFX. As you most likely know, Marshall is a brand that has been making some of the best amplifiers in the world for half a century now. Even though their best offering comes in the form of tube amplifiers, they sure know how to put together a good solid state. Their MG series comes in many shapes and forms, but we chose this particular head because we feel it delivers the best performance overall.
Alright, the first thing you should know about Marshall MG100HCFX is that it packs 100 Watts of power. That is more than enough for home use and it’s also plenty for stage use. Slap a 4×12 on this bad boy and you are good to go. Needless to say, with that kind of juice, you can easily gig in medium to large venues without feeling underpowered.
The design of the amp is unique but still reminiscent of the standard Marshall style. Instead of the black and gold exterior, MG series feature a carbon vinyl wrap on the cabinet as well as a brushed aluminum faceplate. The controls are laid out in a classic Marshall style, meaning that dialing in a good tone is very user-friendly even for those who have never worked with a Marshall amp before.
In terms of channels, you are looking at four different ones. There’s your Clean and Crunch in one cluster, followed by OD1 and OD2 in the other cluster. Clean requires no real explanation but Crunch is very interesting. It sounds like a raspy overdrive, so you don’t really hear it kick in until you hit a cord. Naturally, that also depends on how much gain you push into the signal. OD1 is what you would consider being your standard overdrive, while OD2 is where the brakes come off.
When it comes to actual controls, you have your three-band EQ that is applied to all four channels, a volume knob, and effects. Marshall MG100HCFX features a versatile Reverb with both Spring and Studio modes available. Then we have four different kinds of Delay as well as a versatile suite of modulation effects.
Just by weighing out price to performance, the Marshall MG100HCFX is very hard to beat. It packs enough power for just about any kind of application you could think of, gets you all the versatility you could ask for, and sounds just like you would expect a Marshall amp to sound (aka perfect). At the end of the day, you really can’t go wrong with this one.
The best solid state combo amp
For our next choice, we are still in the realm of the United Kingdom and that classic British tone – cue the Orange Crush CR60C. Unlike our first pick, this amp is a combo and packs a little bit less heat as well. Nonetheless, it is still among the best solid state amps out there when it comes to features, performance, and tone.
Orange’s Crush series has been around for a while. Ever since their initial release, these amps have been known for offering a good and affordable tone to those who needed more power. The one we’ve chosen, the CR60C, is a combo that packs some 60 Watts of power channeled through a single 12” speaker at the front. It is compact, loud and brings you that classic Orange distortion.
Those who are familiar with Orange amplifiers know that this brand doesn’t step away much from their established design patterns. The cab is, well, orange, but you can also snatch a black one if you like that aesthetic mode.
All of the controls are located at the top of that amp with knobs laid out in a standard fashion, and the cool thing about the CR60C is the fact that you get two separate EQs for each of the two channels. The Clean channel EQ comes with Bass and Treble controls, while the Dirty channel one features all three EQ bands. On top of that, both channels have their own volume control. What’s great about this is that you can dial in two different tones for each channel. Sometimes you may want to have a fat clean sound but a razor sharp overdrive. The Orange CR60C allows you to do that. Last but not least, we have the built in Reverb. There are three modes, including the Plate, Hall, and Spring Reverb effect.
In terms of pure performance, you can expect to hear a standard Orange tone – cleans are decent but not all that great, just as we are used to; however, that Dirty channel is what this amp is all about. It gives you a very refined type of Brit sound that makes riffs sound that much better. 60 Watts is obviously a great amount for playing at home, but whether or not you can gig with this amp will come down to the size of the venue. As it is, the Orange CR60C is an awesome practice and studio amplifier. If you have a gig coming up in a small venue somewhere, you should be more than fine. However, as the space of the venue grows bigger, your ability to cut through the mix will likely suffer.
We chose the Orange Crush CR60C as our second pick because we feel it’s the best solid state combo available. With a nice tone and capable performance, it offers everything you need to plug and play right out of the box whether you’re only playing at home or even traveling to small gigs, making it a killer value.
A great bang for your buck
Vox is by far one of the best brands in the world of guitar amplification. Their AC30 has crossed over to the realm of legends a long time ago and is still one of the most sought after amplifiers on the market. However, their legendary tubes are not the only thing Vox has to offer. They have a whole line of awesome solid state amplifiers in their offer as well. The Pathfinder 10 is one of the smaller ones, but we think it’s one of the best solid states around for practicing and home use.
The Pathfinder 10 was designed to be as affordable as possible. Of course, that is affordable by Vox standards. It is as 10 Watt combo with a built in 6.5 Inch speaker. In other words, you are looking at a compact practice amp that is lightweight and easy to transport. Once thing we noticed is that Vox didn’t use their classic exterior design for this one. Instead, they have wrapped the cabinet into dark denim while the grille is made of a khaki mesh.
In standard fashion, all of the controls are located at the top of the amp, right next to the carry handle. There aren’t as many controls as our previous picks, but the ones that are included are the necessary basics. You have a Gain knob and Channel Select button followed by Treble, Bass, and Volume knobs. There are no effects or built in tuners, as Vox is known for designing simple practice amps in general.
Once you plug everything where it needs to go and push that power button, chances are you will be surprised with what happens next. It’s no secret that 10 Watts is well within the minimal power limits for a guitar amp. However, Pathfinder’s 10 Watts are much louder than you’d expect. Cleans are sweet and refined, with plenty of definition across the range. Once that overdrive kicks in, you will get a great tone which is perfect for blues as well as rock music. If you are a fan of effects pedals, you will be happy to know that the Pathfinder 10 can handle any effects in your signal chain pretty nicely.
Overall, we’d recommend the Vox Pathfinder 10 for anyone who wants the best bang for their buck when it comes to solid states. In terms of application, it goes without saying that this amp isn’t really made for stage use, but it will work great as a practice and home recording amp.
How we picked our top three
Since solid state amplifiers are generally much cheaper than their tube-powered counterparts, there are many models on the market. This makes it harder to find amps that offer true quality, which is why we had to apply a few filters and standards in order to choose our top three. Below are a few of those standards with explanations on how they helped us choose.
Guitar amps come in two main forms: amp head or combo. Each has its own drawbacks and benefits. Heads are generally higher quality and more versatile, but they obviously require a speaker to get your sound out, which means additional cost to you. Combos, on the other hand, include everything you need to plug and play right out of the box, but they can sometimes offer lower quality (this depends on the brand, of course). We’ve included both types of amps in our top three to allow you to find the one that best fits your needs – and don’t worry, like we’ve reviewed above, each is pure quality.
With almost any amp purchase, power output is always one of the more important factors to look at. We wanted to give you a selection of amps with varying power levels so we could cover both home use and stage use. This was particularly important since many guitar players are looking for decent home setups. One cool thing about solid state amps is that you don’t have to worry about losing tone quality at lower volumes. In other words, you can play a 100 Watt head at ear-piercing volume or at a volume so low that someone in the other room can’t hear it – and in both cases, the tone and sound quality will be the same.
As always, price is one of the factors you have to keep in mind when dealing with music equipment. There’s plenty of gear out there that’s far outpriced for the performance it offers, and we wanted to make sure our three picks were worth every penny you pay for them. We also wanted to make sure they were within a reasonable price range, because again, a lot of players are looking for home use.
Things to consider before buying
Finding the best solid state amp for your needs requires a bit of planning and research if you’re a first time buyer. We are going to cover the main factors to keep in mind, without going into specific models.
How do you plan to use your new amp?
The very first place you should start is your intended application for the amplifier. Figuring this out will let you know exactly what power output you should look for, what shape and how much money you need to spend. For example, if you are looking for stage-worthy amps, you can start at the very top of the solid state segment and work your way down. On the other hand, if you just need a good practice amp to use at home, a small combo will do you the best.
Do you want a head or combo?
Deciding between a head and a combo is a tough one, especially if you are going after high power models. On one hand, heads are far more versatile than combos but require a speaker cab. On the other hand, a combo contains everything you need in order to get the sound out in the least amount of time.
If you gig often, chances are that the venues you’re playing at already have their own speaker cabinets. In this case, a head is a much better solution. On top of that, being able to choose the speaker cab will allow you to fine tune the tone of your guitar. Not all speakers sound the same – that is just a fact. Another cool thing about amp heads is that you can get one or even two speaker cabinets and hook them up. With most combos, you are pretty much limited to what is inside the box.
With all that said, if you only plan to be playing at home, getting a 100 Watt head might be a bit overkill. In this case, a combo is much more suitable.
Do you have the ability to test them in person?
The very best way to choose an amp is to physically play them for yourself and figure out which one you personally like best. We know that’s not always feasible, which may be why you’re reading this guide instead of down at your local Guitar Center, but if you have the ability, definitely go play some amps in person before buying. The feel of the amplifier, how it reacts to your guitar, and how the whole thing fits together are all very important case-by-case personal factors.
Go with a reputable brand
In the world of guitar amps, the brand you go with can dictate what kind of sound your amp gives you. For example, Vox is known for their Brit vibe while Marshall is the big daddy in the rock world. Going with a well-known brand is also a good way to reduce the risk of failures and things breaking. Of course, amplifiers are machines and can experience issues from time to time, but a big name brand will likely reduce the risk of that happening.
The difference between solid state amps and modeling amps
There is a lot of confusion going on when it comes to amplifier types. Some will tell you that modeling amps are not the same as solid state ones, while others will go as far as to say that latter are much better. The truth is very simple. The only real difference between the two is the fact that modeling amps have a built-in digital sound processor which is loaded up with a whole array of effects. Other than that, both use solid state technology for the core performance.
So why choose a classic solid state over a modeling amp? In essence, it all comes down to your needs and personal preference. Solid state amplifiers have the core channels along with a couple of effects depending on the brand and model. The sound quality of solid state amps varies, but ultimately you can say that these amps offer the raw sound. Modeling amps have effects processors which add layers of digital effects to the sound. Sometimes these effects sound decent, sometimes they don’t.
In most cases, built-in effects won’t sound better than dedicated effects pedals. The main purpose of modeling amplifiers is to give you the versatility of a full pedalboard in a single package. In all honesty, a good modeling setup is probably the best option for those who are just starting out. It will be some time before you start noticing the artificial vibe in those built in effects, plus you’ll want to gain some experience before experimenting with dedicated effects pedals.
Wrapping it up
Solid state amplifiers are more or less the best choice for budget-oriented players. A lot of people dismiss solid states altogether, thinking they aren’t worth the money, but we’ve shown you three models that absolutely prove that theory wrong. Our taste probably won’t align with everyone’s, but we feel that these models are fairly neutral among the crowd and offer tried and true performance. Figure out which model works better for your usage, whether low power or high power, head or combo, and get ready to experience the world of solid state amplification!