One notable demographic has retained its preference for a particular piece of vintage technology: electric guitarists and their beloved tube amplifiers.
It’s no secret that the last 20 years have seen a veritable explosion of music technology. A new generation of integrated circuits (“chips”) and digital processing power have resulted in significant advancements in the variety, quality and affordability of recording equipment, live sound, and electronic instruments. As musicians and sound engineers embrace their ever-improving digital tools for crafting, sharing and distributing sounds, one notable demographic has retained their preference for a particular piece of vintage technology: electric guitarists and their beloved tube amplifiers. Like many other appliances of their time, the very first guitar amplifiers were powered by vacuum tubes, small glass “bubbles” built to amplify electrical signal and create enough voltage to power a speaker. In the hands of rock and blues icons like Chuck Berry, B.B. King, Jimmy Page, and Jimi Hendrix, these tube-powered amps defined the sound of electric guitar for generations.
Following the advent and popularity of tube amps, many amps were then created using transistors and digital technology that replaced vacuum tubes in so many appliances. So why are so many electric guitarists still using century-old tube technology to craft their sound? Although tube amps are technologically obsolete and come with many issues not found in solid state or digital modeling amps, a huge number of guitarists swear by tubes and refuse to use newer alternatives. The debate surrounding tube amps vs. solid state/digital modeling amps is perhaps the defining question for the current generation of electric guitarists, and it all hinges on this question:
What’s so special about tube amps?
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