Outside of the world of guitar amplifiers, valves are seen as very ‘old hat’. Apart from some high-end Hi Fi audio amplifiers, valves have almost totally been replaced by semiconductors. So why is it that many (or even most) guitarists prefer the sound of a valve guitar amplifier?
Here are the top 5 reasons given by guitarists for preferring a valve amplifier.
1. Many cheaper transistor amplifiers sound ‘thin and clinical’. They love the ‘warmth’ and soft distortion which comes from a good valve guitar amplifier.
2. Even good quality transistor amps which attempt to model the valve amplifier sound don’t get it totally right.
3. The distortion and drive from a transistor amp is too harsh. Valves distort more gradually and this is the sound favoured by guitarists.
4. Most guitarists learned to play by listening to classic guitar solos on record. They associate these solos with the sound of the original amplifier (and guitar) used. Invariably a valve amplifier was used and they seek to emulate that sound in their own playing.
5. Many guitarists long to own a ‘classic’ amp from yesteryear and these are invariably valve amplifiers.
Even if a modern amp modelled a classic valve amplifier perfectly, most players would want the original.
It’s not all positive though as valve amplifiers do have some drawbacks. The two most frequently mentioned are the weight (particularly when gigging) and the ongoing maintenance costs of replacing the valves.