The Best Solid State Guitar Amplifiers for Gigging Musicians
A lot of guitarists are sceptical that there aren’t any decent solid-state amplifiers out there. A lot of musicians will generally opt for a valve/tube amplifier because it not only sounds great but it feels great to play as well. Believe it or not, there are a number of great solid-state amplifiers out there perfect for gigging musicians. Every amplifier on this list I have either used gigging in Australia or in the United States at one point or another.
Solid state amplifiers are not valve/tube amplifiers and therefore don’t suffer from the same issues tube amps can suffer with. For this reason, generally speaking, solid-state amplifiers are very reliable.
Digital Modelling Amplifiers vs Solid State
Don’t get it confused. This list is focused on solid-state/Transistor amplifiers and not digital modelling amplifiers. While both do not have tubes, I feel like they are two different technologies. One is analog and one has a CPU. There’s a lot of misleading articles online so I am going to keep this list focused on actual solid state amplifiers.
The Peavey Bandit 112 is an iconic amplifier for numerous reasons. These amplifiers have been used by the likes of touring and local artist alike. If you look closely, many live acts shot on TV shows in the ’80s most of the time had a Peavey bandit hanging out in back. The Peavey Bandit is an 80watt RMS amplifier into a 12″ speaker. The speakers have varied over the years and anything from the Red Stripe Bandit going back in time are usually the best speakers Peavey Made.
The Peavey Bandit 112 featured real spring reverbs up until recently (the newest ones). While the digital reverb on the amplifiers is good it’s hard to go past the spring reverb amplifiers. These amps are also loaded with an FX loop which is a great option for delay pedals and modulation pedals into.
I’ve used Peavey Bandits live since 2008 and I have been posting YouTube videos on them since then also. These amplifiers are fantastic for a number of reasons.
Why the Peavey Bandit is great
- The Clean Channel. If you love a good clean channel you’ll love the clean channel. One some models including the Red Stripe Peavey Bandit you get two clean channel voicing as well.
- Loud! This amplifier will peel the paint off the walls.
- No distortion pedals required. Thanks to the three channels, the bandit has all the popular distortion tones covered. The Peavey Bandit will go anywhere from clean, to blues overdrive, all the way to Metal tones.
- The Transtube technology is very close to mimicking the tone and feel of a tube amplifier.
Fender Deluxe Plus 112
The Fender Deluxe Plus is a bit of a lesser known solid-state amplifier because you don’t seem them around as often as some of the others on this list. A few years ago when I was in San Francisco play music the amp I had access to was a Fender Deluxe Plus 112. This particular Fender amp looks a lot like a Fender Princeton but it’s a lot different. The Deluxe Plus amplifier is LOUD. It’s easily as loud as the Peavey Bandit but it has the Fender clean channel of the gods.
The Fender Deluxe Plus is rated at watts and it’s loaded with a 12″ Special Design Speaker. One thing a lot of Fender amplifiers get wrong is the speaker selection. The Deluxe Plus special design speaker has one of the largest magnets I have ever seen and this is one of the reasons why this amp rocks. A lot of solid state amplifiers have sub-par speakers, but not the Deluxe Plus 112.
Some of the standout features of the Deluxe Plus
- Compact in Size. This amplifier is not as big as the Peavey Bandit and is a more portable option.
- Multiple channels and tones. The Fender Deluxe Plus 112 has one of the best clean channels ever and it is LOUD. In a pinch, you can also dial in some decent tones using the onboard overdrive.
- The Contour control will either scoop or add mid frequencies. This means you can dial in anything from Blues to Metal tones.
The official blurb about the Contour Control
CONTOUR- Adjusts the overall tone quality of the DRIVE channel. Low CONTOUR setting will emphasize mid frequencies. A higher setting will notch the midrange to produce the “crunch” sound characteristic in most heavy metal music.
OM_leg_gtramp_Deluxe_112_Plus (Fender Deluxe Plus 112 User Manual Download)
Tech 21 Trademark 60
I ended up with the Trademark 60 2×12 by accident. I went into a shop looking for a Fender Twin and I walked out with this guitar amplifier. The Tech 21 Trademark 60 also comes in a 1×12 configuration. This solid-state amplifier is made in NYC and is no longer in production. What I really liked about the Tech 21 Trademark 60 is:
- It was very light for a 2×12 guitar amplifier
- The range of tones outdoes everything on this list
- It comes with a footswitch that allows full control over the amplifier
- The ability to dial in anything from an off-clean tone to something like Santana would be proud of.
I had this amplifier for about 6 months. If you are doing pub gigs you should be fine. Any louder than that and I found this amplifier wasn’t loud enough to keep up. While it is rated at 60 watts it is in no way a “3D” sounding amplifier compared with the Bandit or Fender Deluxe Plus 112. The other two amps are much louder than the Trademark 60. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great sounding amplifier but it doesn’t cut it in a live mix as well as the prior two. For home studio recordings and lower key gigs, you’ll have a tone that matches your favourite tube amps.
Finding Tech 21 amplifiers used is pretty tough so if you find one, take a look and listen. You might be surprised about how versatile they are. I never did try swapping the speakers out on mine. You would definitely get more headroom using a much more efficient set of speakers in this amplifier.
Roland Jazz Chorus
Whether you find one of the new Roland Jazz Chorus amplifiers or one of the older versions there’s one consistent point – these are loud little suckers! I’ve not only had a chance to hear the new version in my studio (video below) I’ve also been able to use them in a live situation playing in San Francisco. One of my good friends Ed has a Roland Jazz Chorus 40 and the clean channel is loud and proud. Not only are they loud they also work extremely well with distortion pedals.
The Built-in Distortion
The built-in distortion will get you out of trouble as the last resort but it is by far the weakest of the drive channels out of all of the guitars on this list. How does this amp stack up in a live mix? It’s as punchy as the Deluxe Plus 112 but doesn’t quite go as loud. For a small amplifier loaded with 2×10″ speakers, the Jazz Chorus has a really focused sound that will no doubt cut any mix.
How does it compare with the other amps?
Comparing this with the Trademark 60, the Jazz Chorus seems to work better in a live mix while the Trademark sounds “better” on its own. This is all subjectivity of course but my ear is well trained on amps now. Some sound great isolated and suck in the mix and vice versa. The Roland Jazz Chorus also has some great onboard effects including Chorus, Vibe, and Reverb. This mixed with the fact it can take pedals really well this is a great option for someone wanting a small and 3D sounding amplifier. Much like the Peavey Bandit 112, the Jazz Chorus 40 amplifiers have stood the test of time. They will outlive us all!
If you feel like I missed something that fits into this Analog solid-state amplifier list please let me know. All of the included videos on this page are ones I produced on my YouTube channel. My list is a list based on experience with the products as well as having used them in a live mix.
The Peavey Studio Pro 112
This amplifier is the little sibling to the Peavey Bandit 112. I think of the comparison between the Bandit and Studio Pro like this: The Bandit is the Fender Hot Rod Deluxe and the Studio Pro is the Deluxe Reverb. The Studio Pro is not as loud as the bandit nor does it have the attitude in a live mix but it still sounds great. If you’re primarily doing lower volume gigs where the drummer doesn’t get too carried away it’s a perfect amplifier.
Which Studio Pro 112 is the best?
In terms of the different models, I feel like the Silver-Stripe Studio Pro 112 is probably the best tone wise. This is, of course, followed by the Red Stripe Studio pro. With the stock speaker, the Silver-Stripe doesn’t sound great, but if you put a speaker with a larger magnet in there it totally transforms the amp. I’ve heard the Silver-Stripe bandit with a Peavey Bandit speaker and it was so much louder and fuller sounding. The speaker upgrade is a great thing to do.
If you don’t plan on upgrading the speaker because you don’t need the amplifier any louder then it doesn’t matter which version you get. One of the benefits of the Studio Pro 112 is, you can run it with or without pedals much like the Bandit.
Unlike the Roland Jazz Chorus, the Peavey Studio Pro has 3 different drive channel gain stages that are all usable. If you play blues and classic rock you’ll no doubt love the vintage channel. For higher gain music you can choose between the High Gain and Modern settings.
Is it as good as the Bandit in a live mix?
In terms of the 3D projection with the stock speaker, this doesn’t fill a room like Bandit or Fender Deluxe Plus. This amplifier was my go-to for lower key gigs where the stage volume was under control. Like I said before if you change the speaker to something more efficient the amplifier really will fill a room.
Peavey did downsize the speaker in these amplifiers from the Bandits as well as the cabinet size. These amps are rated at 60 watts while the Bandit is rated at 80watts. The bottleneck is most definitely the stock speaker in the Peavey Studio Pro 112.
There are a few honourable mentions to add to this list.
I have never owned a Quilter amplifier before but I have used one of their combos at a blues jam. I felt like it was a very solid amplifier. Some of the benefits of a Quilter is they are light and loud but I don’t feel like they have the niceness of a Bandit 112 or Fender Deluxe Plus. For the sort of money you have to spend to get your hands on a new Quilter I would suggest looking at the other amps I’ve listed first to grab a bargain on the used market.
Roland Blues Cube
There are two reasons I didn’t add this amplifier to the list.
- Too expensive. The Roland Blues Cubes are way too overpriced for a solid state amp being made “offshore”. Roland have got to think people are stupid trying to charge this much for a solid state amplifier made in Asia. They keep costs down and keep prices up. Nice work ethic.
- Not as good as the Bandit. It’s true! While they sound good they aren’t as good as Peavey Bandit in terms of versatility. I would go so far to say they aren’t as versatile as the Tech 21 or Fender Deluxe Plus either.
I’ve been fortunate enough to do comparison videos and review videos of the Roland Blues Cube and they do sound good. To my ear, they just don’t have the same 3D projection that works well in a live mix and especially at louder volume gigs. Considering the huge price difference of these amplifiers, even new, I know what I would go for.
If you feel like I missed something that should have been on this list please let me know.