You are currently viewing Are You Using The Right One? – 5 Guitar Amp Types Explained

Last Updated on March 19, 2024 by Justin Thomas

Author: DL Shepherd

Darren has been playing guitar for over 23 years. He fronted the metal band Suddenly Silence in the early 2000’s, and also achieved recognition as an award-winning bluegrass guitarist.

A native of southwestern Virginia, and has shared the stage with many big-name acts from various genres. When he is not playing one of his many guitars, he can be found riding his Harley through the mountains of Virginia.

photo reveals owner of

Editing & Research: Teemu Suomala

I first grabbed the guitar in 2009. I started this website in January 2020 because I couldn’t do window installation anymore due to my health problems. I love guitars and have played dozens and dozens of different guitars through different amps and pedals over the years, and also, building a website interested me, so I decided to just go for it! I got lucky and managed to get awesome people to help me with my website.

I also got lucky because I have you visiting my website right now. Thank you. I do all this for you guys. If you have any recommendations, tips, or feedback, just leave a comment, I would love to chat with you. I have also been fortunate to produce content for several large guitar websites, such as SongsterrMusicnotesGuitarGuitar, and Ultimate Guitar.

I spend my spare time exercising and hanging out with my wife and crazy dog (I guess that went the right way…).

When it comes to developing your tone, no other factor matters more than the amplifier. Sure, your guitar’s tonewoods, pickups, and strings come into play as well, but the best guitar in the world will sound horrible through a bad amplifier.

I will preface this article by saying that tone is completely subjective. What sounds good to me may not sound good to you and vice versa. It is important to remember, however, that a guitar amp is what shapes your tone. 

Don’t believe me? Go to a guitar store and plug into their smallest, cheapest practice amp and listen to your tone. Take the same guitar over to a quality amplifier (not necessarily the most expensive) and play through it. You’ll see what I mean. 

Since the amp is such an important part of your tone, it is only natural that you’ll want to know a little bit about them before you go sinking mega bucks into one. Let’s take a look at the different types of guitar amps and break them down for you. 

I’ve been itching to write this article for a couple of years, so here goes! 

5 Guitar Amp Types – Full GUide

Tube Amplifiers (Valve Amps)

displays Marshall Tube Guitar Amp and it's valve tubes
Valve tubes inside Marshall guitar amplifier.

If you listen to a seasoned guitarist talk about amps, I’m sure you’ll hear them discuss tube amps. Tube amps, also known as “valve amps” in the UK, get their name because they use vacuum tubes in both the preamp and power amp sections of the amplifier circuit. 

Tube amps are often hailed as the “holy grail” of amplifiers because many (dare I say, “most”) guitarists believe that they have the best sound compared to other types of guitar amplifiers. 

Tube amps began before transistors were invented, meaning a long time ago. Vacuum tubes were invented in 1904 by John Ambrose Fleming. In the upcoming years, companies such as Electro String (Rickenbacker) and their workers such as George Beauchamp were pioneers in the world of tube guitar amplifiers. Even though they are considered “old technology”, guitarists around the world insist that they sound better than anything else. 

How Do Tube Amps Work?

Tube amps may be “old technology”, but there is a lot that goes on inside of them. Basically, your signal is sent through the amplifier at different rates depending upon the control (volume and gain) settings you choose. Inside of the tube is a vacuum. When electrons are in a vacuum, they behave differently than they do in open air. 

The tube has a metal filament inside (cathode) that heats up when electricity flows through it – like a light bulb. The electrons flowing through the cathode have a negative charge. Since opposites attract, the negatively charged electrons are drawn to a positively charged anode (also called a plate). The flow of electrons can be deflected with a magnetic field.

displays Valve Tubes
Different valve tubes.

Controlling that magnetic field is important, and that’s exactly what you’re doing with your guitar. Look at it like a magic wand, of sorts. You’re causing changes in current a voltage when you hit the strings. There is a lot more to it than just electrons flowing through tubes, but that’s what goes on inside of tubes. There are a lot of other components in a tube amp that are equally as important. That is an entirely different article, however. Books have been written about how tube amps work – that’s how complex they are. 

displays Valve Tubes of Guitar Amplifier
Valve tubes on an amplifier.

Different vacuum tubes have different tonal characteristics. For example, a set of 6L6 tubes sound different than EL34 tubes even if they are in the same amplifier. An amp that distorts easily has low headroom, while an amp that doesn’t distort easily has a lot of headroom. Headroom is determined by the amplifier’s electronic characteristics as well as the type of tubes it uses.

How Do Tube Amps Sound?

Tube amps have a warm, musical sound to them. They also sound more pleasant at high volumes than other types of amps. They also produce more volume per watt than other amps. For example, a 20 watt tube amp will sound as loud as a 50 watt solid state amp. 


  • Sound amazing at higher volumes
  • Warm, musical tone
  • Simple to use


  • Require some maintenance long term (replacing tubes)
  • Very heavy compared to other amp types
  • Limited to specific tones
  • Many do not sound good at low volumes

Check these tube amp guides:

5 Best Tube Amps for Blues

5 Best Small Tube Amps

5 Best 30W Tube Amps

Who Should Go With A Tube Amp?

You should get a tube amp if you know exactly what tone you are going for. In other words, if you like the sound of a Marshall Plexi, then you should get a Marshall Plexi or similar tube amp. Tube amps produce warm, musical tones that only get better as you crank them up, so plan to play at higher volumes if you get one. 

Who Should Not Buy A Tube Amp?

You should not buy a tube amp if you are planning on playing at very low volumes. They just don’t sound as good when played at lower volumes. You should also stay away from tube amps if you’re looking for a large variety of tones in one amplifier. 

Solid State Amplifiers

Solid state amps utilize transistor technology instead of tubes. Using transistor technology meant that amps could be made lighter weight and smaller since transistors are many times smaller than tubes. Additionally, they do not require maintenance like tube amps. There are no tubes to replace and rebiasing is not necessary. They should last a lifetime! 

Many feel that these benefits do not outweigh the sound of solid state amps. Compared to tube amps, many feel that they sound “cold” without the small inconsistencies that tubes provide. To put it simply, tubes seem to add more character to the sound. 

Solid state amps sound crystal clear. This means there is much less noise on the signal than with tube amps. This is desireable for guitarists who rely on clean tones such as jazz guitarists. 

How Do Solid State Amps Work?

Solid state amps work by using transistors in the preamp and power amp stages of the circuit instead of tubes. In other words, there are no mechanical parts like there are with tubes. Since there are no mechanical parts, this means that they are more reliable than tube amps and will last longer. They need no maintenance as well. 

displays Transistors

How Do Solid State Amps Sound?

Solid state amps do not respond the same way that tube amps do when it comes to distortion. They may seem “cold” without a lot of warmth. The cleans are crystal clear, but it may seem that they lack character compared to tube amps. 

Many players may love the clean tones. Playing them distorted is a bit different because they lack the warm feel that tubes provide. 


  • More reliable than tube amps
  • Lighter weight makes travel easier
  • Crystal clear clean sounds
  • Maintenance free (no tubes to go bad or change out)


  • Many guitarists feel that they sound bad distorted
  • Lack response that tube amps provide
  • Sound cold and brittle to many guitarists

Who Should Go With A Solid State Amp?

If you want an amp that requires no maintenance and is always reliable, then a solid state amp is for you. If you’re a player that insists on a noise-free clean tone, then a solid state amp is the way to go. They are also great beginner guitar amps.

Who Should Not Buy A Solid State Amp?

Players who want a warm, musical distorted sound should stay away from solid state amps. 

Hybrid Amplifiers

image displays VOX Valvetronix VT20X
VOX Valvetronix VT20X hybrid guitar amplifier.

Hybrid amps mix solid state technology with the old technology of tube amps. It is like getting the best of both worlds in a sense. While this may sound like the best type of amplifier to get, you need to realize that everything comes with a compromise. In other words – they can lack in certain areas.

Hybrid amplifiers were designed to overcome some of the pitfalls that standard solid state amplifiers tend to have. For example, solid state amps tend to sound sterile when distorted. Therefore, why not have the clarity of a solid state amp with the distortion of a tube amp?

It sounds good in theory, but is the difference in tone worth it?

That is up to you. However, many guitarists think that the difference in tone doesn’t necessarily justify the higher price tag that typically comes with hybrid amps. You could easily get an all tube amp for the price of some hybrid amps. 

Still yet, they offer guitarists access to a lot of different tones that they normally wouldn’t be able to get with a regular tube or solid state amp. They may be more versatile and offer some modeling (we’ll talk about that in a minute) or onboard effects.

How Do Hybrid Amps Work?

Hybrid amps can come in a number of different configurations. They may have a solid state clean channel and an all tube distortion channel. They can have a tube preamp section and a solid state power amp. They can have a solid state preamp and a tube power amp. 

image displays VOX Valvetronix VT20X 12AX7 Vacuum tube
Preamp valve tube inside VOX VT20X hybrid guitar amplifier.

Some hybrid amps can have modeling technology and built-in effects added to them. This allows guitarists to access a number of different tones that they wouldn’t be able to get with a standard tube amp or a standard solid state amp. 

Regardless, a hybrid amp will incorporate some type of tube technology along with solid state technology.

How Do Hybrid Amps Sound?

Some hybrid amps, such as the Joyo Zombie II and the Orange Micro Dark, can sound pretty amazing. How they sound depends on what type of circuit is used, what type of tubes are used, etc. In the example above, the Joyo Zombie II uses a solid state power amp and a single-tube preamp. 


  • Lower maintenance than all-tube amps
  • Gives you a warmer tube tone that an all solid state amp


  • Larger amps can be pricey
  • Tubes will need to be replaced eventually

Who Should buy A Hybrid Amp?

If you are looking for the reliability of a solid state amplifier with the warmth and feel of tubes, then you should go with a hybrid amp – especially one with a tube preamp and a solid state power amp. 

Who Should Not Buy A Hybrid Amp?

If you’re all about tube tone, then you’ll probably not like the sound of most hybrid amps. Tube purists should stay away from them. 

Modeling Amplifiers

photo displays line 6 spider V 60
Line6 Spider V 60 modeling amplifier.

What if I could have one amplifier that sounded like a dozen different amplifiers? In today’s world, it is possible. After all, there are DAW computer programs that can simulate everything from the type of amplifier you want to play to the way you mic the virtual speaker cab – all while adding effects. 

Modeling amps have been around for a while. I remember when I was starting out way back in 1998 or 1999, there were some amps on the market that could be set to sound like several different amps (the one I remember was the Line 6 Flextone which came out a couple of years before I started playing). 

This technology was awesome because it allowed guitarists to explore a plethora of different tones without having to invest money into a whole room full of expensive amps. They have the ability to mimic the voicings and tonal profiles of many different amplifiers which can be changed at the press of a button. 

Most of these amps use solid state technology or hyrid technology. This is because microprocessors are used to change the color of the tones in order to replicate the sound of different amps, speakers, and even mic positions. The results can be stunning, especially in a studio environment. 

How Do Modeling Amps Work?

Modeling amps use microprocessors to help shape the sound. These usually come in the form of “presets”. For example, if I wanted my amp to sound like a Vox AC30 on the clean channel and a Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier on the distorted channel, I could set them up to where I could switch between the two channels at the push of a button (or a footswitch). 

displays Microprocessor

In addition, I could adjust the parameters (bass, treble, mids, gain, etc.) within each channel to shape my tone with each one. I could even add some chorus or reverb to the clean channel. 

When I play through it in a live setting, my clean channel will sound like a Vox AC30 that has a touch of chorus and reverb to it, and my crunch channel will sound like a Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier. It is like having two amps in one. 

For studio engineers, modeling amps can save some major bucks (as well as a ton of space). Instead of investing in a bunch of different amplifiers, one amplifier can take care of most of the work. Amps such as the Kemper Profiler are a studio engineer’s dream. 

If you want a bunch of amps all packed into one easy-to-carry package, you should look at a modeling amp. 

How Do Modeling Amps Sound?

Modeling amps can sound like a bunch of different amps, so it’s hard to pinpoint one particular sound. The quality of the models can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, however. In other words, Marshall’s version of a Hiwatt tone may differ drastically from a Line 6’s Hiwatt tone. 


  • Packs lots of different tones in one amp
  • Lightweight and easy to transport
  • Cost much less than a room full of amps! 


  • Amp models may or may not sound natural
  • Some older modeling amps sound digital or processed

Who Should Go With A Modeling Amp?

If you are a studio engineer or a session musician, a modeling amp can make your life extremely easy because they are so versatile. Players who switch between different styles of music will also appreciate them. 

They are also great because you can get the sound of an expensive amplifier in an amp that costs much less. 

Who Should Not Buy A Modeling Amp?

If you are a tube purist, then modeling amps may not be for you because they may not sound natural to you. If you tend to stick to one tone all of the time, then you probably don’t need a modeling amp. 

Amplifier Heads and Cabinets

Photo helps readers to see how guitar amp heads and guitar cabinets look
Different-sized guitar amplifier heads and cabinets.

If you’ve ever been to a Slayer show, you’ll know that they played in front of huge stacks of amp cabinets. These cabinets deliver the massive wall of sound that they are so famous for. 

While we all can’t have a wall of amp cabs, we can have smaller versions. These can come in a number of configurations, but they are simply an amp head and a speaker cabinet. These are different than combo amps which have the amplifier and the speaker in the same cabinet. An amp head and cabinet setup is an essential item for many guitarists. 

These vary in size depending on the speakers. In other words, some cabinets are small and only hold a single 8-inch speaker. Other cabinets are larger and hold four 12-inch speakers. When you hear a guitarist refer to their “stack”, they are talking about their amp head and cabinet (or cabinets). 

A half-stack is a single cab with four 12-inch speakers while a full stack is two cabs with four 12-inch speakers. There are also smaller varieties of these that are sometimes called mini or micro stacks that have smaller speaker cabs and low-power amp heads. 

displays Guitar Amplifier Head and Cabinet

The amp head is the source of the sound and cannot function without the speaker cabinets. This means that you have the ability to switch cabs and amp heads at will. Speaker cabinets can affect the sound a lot depend on the type of speakers they contain and the overall construction of the cabinet. 

Stacks are great for studio use or live use. You can get some really great tones from a stack that has been cranked up. Sometimes the best tone is when it is played very loud. The more speakers you have, the more air you’ll move which means it will sound louder. 

Smaller stacks are great for practice and studio use. 

How Do Amp Heads and Cabinets Work?

The amp head can be a tube amp, solid state amp, modeling amp, or hybrid amp.
The amp head is what amplifies the sound of your guitar, and the cabinet is simply the speaker portion of the amplifier. You plug your guitar into the amp head and then run a cable from the speaker outputs on the amp head to your speaker cab. 

How Do Amp Heads and Cabinets Sound?

Big stacks have a huge, loud sound. They create a wall of sound. Smaller stacks are designed the for the same purpose but usually produce a lower volume sound overall. 

For those of you that have ever been to a metal show, you’ve definitely heard some kind of amp and cabinet setup. 


  • Allows you to mix and match heads and cabs to change tone
  • Loud – great for live performances


  • Some can be large and heavy
  • Some are too loud for small gigs

Who Should buy A Guitar Amp Head and Cabinet?

If you like the loudest guy on your block, a head, and a cab are for you. If you play in a band that does a lot of bigger shows, then you’ll probably need a head and a cab. 

If you own a studio, a head and cab setup are great because you can switch out different heads and cabs to dial in a specific tone. 

Who Should Not Buy A Guitar Amp Head and Cabinet?

If you live in an apartment or somewhere else where you’ll disturb others, a large stack isn’t for you. If you don’t like carrying a bunch of heavy gear everywhere, then you probably don’t need a head and cab. 

How to Choose The Right Guitar Amp Type

Choosing the right guitar amp can seem tricky, but it doesn’t have to be. You simply need to ask yourself what you want.

  • If you are wanting something to practice on in your bedroom, then you might look at a small solid-state amp or a small modeling amp. These will usually give you everything you need for jamming by yourself. 
  • If you want to play small shows, any type of smaller amp will do. If you need things like onboard effects or access to different tones, get a small modeling amp. 
  • Want to play with a band and play larger venues? You can look into getting an amp head and cab. The type of amp head you get depends on what you want. If you want a big, warm, loud sound, then you should get a tube amp or even a hybrid. 

The size and power depends on where you will use it and the type of amp depends on how you plan to use it. 

Distortion vs Overdrive – Choose the right one and nail your tone

What’s The Best Guitar Amplifier Type?

I personally think that they are all great depending on the use.

  • When I am writing songs, I prefer to use a small solid state practice amp. The amp gives me a nice clean tone, and I can use my effects processor to throw on distortion if I want. The low volume means that my ears won’t hurt after playing for an hour or two straight.
  • When I’m recording or playing live shows, I rely on bigger amps. For example, I use a Fender Princeton Chorus when recording clean parts. I will then switch to a Peavey XXX head and cab or a Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier for high gain sounds. 

My live setup consists of Peavey 4×12 cabinets with Mesa Dual Rectifier heads. This is a combination that I have played for many years, and it works perfectly for the tone that I like. 


What Amp Type Are Acoustic Guitar Amplifiers?

Acoustic guitar amplifiers are typically solid-state amps due to the increased need for clarity. Tubes will distort at higher volumes which is not desirable with amplified acoustic guitars. 

How To Choose The Right Wattage for Guitar Amp?

Tube amps will typically be louder than solid state amps. A tube amp with 15 watts may be as loud as a solid state amp at 50 watts. This is important to remember when choosing an amp. 

For bedroom practice, a solid state amp of 15 watts may be desirable. Tube amps running 1 watt can be great as well. 

A lot of guitarists like to use smaller amps in the studio. Therefore, an amplifier that runs 20 to 30 watts may be sufficient for recording. This all depends on what sound you are going for. 

Big amps sound best on the stage. If you play a lot of large venues (outdoors or indoors), you probably want to go with an amp that puts out 50 watts to 100 watts. 

Are Guitar Amps Mono or Stereo?

Guitar amps are mono. There are some stereo cabinets, however. There are also some modeling amplifiers like Line6 Amplifi that offer you stereo sound.

What Guitar Amp Type Is The Most Versatile?

A modeling amp will be the most versatile. You can have multiple amp models in one unit and switch between them as necessary. 

What Guitar Amp Type Is Best For Apartments?

A small modeling or solid state amp is great for apartments. A small tube amp pushing around 1 watt may also be suitable. Check our recommendations for the best guitar amps for small apartments here.

What Guitar Amp Type Is Best For Performing?

This depends on your situation. If you are performing smaller gigs, a modeling amp or a small tube amp will be sufficient. If you are playing larger venues, you’ll want to get a louder tube amp. 

What Guitar Amp Type Is Best For Busking?

A small modeling or solid state amp will serve you well. They are lighter and hold up better than a tube amp. 

What Guitar Amp Type Is Best For Playing With Drums?

Drums can be incredibly loud. I recommend using an amp head and cabinet. This will move more air and be louder than a smaller amp. 


Guitar amps have came a long way even since I started playing. My first big amplifier was a Peavey Transtube Supreme head (solid state 100 watts) and a Peavey 4×12 cabinet. I was playing in my first band and needed a large amplifier. While it worked fine for me at the time, I decided to work hard and get my dream amp: a Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier. 

Since then, I have played through countless amplifiers. I even dabbled with modeling amps even though I was a total tube snob. I still use modeling amps in the studio and during band practice. 

Now, modeling amps seem to be everywhere – and they sound awesome! 

Choosing the right guitar amp doesn’t have to be hard as long as you know how you are going to be using it and where you will be using it. Once you have that figured out, you’ll be good to go. 

Crank it up and have fun! 

DL Shepherd

Darren has been playing guitar for over 25 years and teaching guitar since High-School. He fronted the metal band Suddenly Silence in the early 2000’s, and also achieved recognition as an award-winning bluegrass guitarist. A native of southwestern Virginia, and has shared the stage with many big-name acts from various genres. When he is not playing one of his many guitars, he can be found riding his Harley through the mountains of Virginia. Expertise: teaching guitars, electric guitars, acoustic guitars, guitar amplifiers, guide pedals, flatpicking, bluegrass, metal, rock, and blues.
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