As an electric guitar player thinking about the gear that will be needed to get your sound, there are two pieces of gear that immediately should come to mind:
The guitar… and the amp.
Since the dawn of the electric guitar, tube amps have been the primary amp of choice amongst serious musicians for their organic, tube driven overdrives and natural reaction to the player’s touch.
I have always loved tube amps and I had the privilege of getting to write about some of my favorites in my article “5 Best Tube Amps to Take Your Playing to the Next Level”. Tube amps have continued to evolve over the years and are still fantastic options for guitarists.
However, their progress has been influenced and overshadowed by the evolution of their counterpart:
Solid State Guitar Amps.
In the last 5 years alone solid-state amplifiers and amp modeling technology have taken the guitar world by storm. Never before have these amps been so widely accepted by guitarists for their tone and practicality.
In this article I’ll be going through my top choices of solid-state amps and amp models (aka guitar processers) that are readily available for purchase on the internet.
Snapshot: Best Solid State Guitar Amplifiers
- Roland JC-120
- Boss Nextone Artist
- Line 6 Helix LT
- Fender Tone Master Deluxe Reverb
- Boss Katana 50 (mkII) – Cheapest
With So Many Amp Choices, How Did I Make My Selections?
Solid state amps are nothing new. They’ve been around since the 1970’s, which means there have been a lot of solid-state amps made over the years. There are a lot to choose from.
So how do I make my choices?
Starting with the obvious: no tubes allowed. These amps have to be 100% solid state. That means no hybrid amps are going to make it on this list.
While there are is lot of great amp modeling available in software and app form, I wanted to focus on hardware units for this list. Apps will only constitute as a bonus feature when they apply to a piece of hardware.
Though they are deserving of an article for themselves, I included amp modeling units, since they are solid state amplifiers (usually more than one in a single housing) that attempt to model tube amps. These terms are becoming more and more synonymous these days, as most solid-state amps utilize this technology anyway.
I was open to both combo and head units, however if a particular amp was available in both head and combo formats, I opted to present the combo amp. Floor units were also an option I took into consideration as many of the most popular amp modeling units are being made as pedalboard units. I’ve saved any compact/single pedal form amps for a future article, as there is a plethora of great pedal solid state amps out there as well.
I didn’t take price range into consideration. I focused just on the quality of sound and build. The good news is that solid state amps are almost always cheaper than tube amps, so even if you pay a lot of money for a product, what you get in return is more than you could ever hope for out of a tube amp.
Without further ado here are my top picks for solid state amplifiers:
The 5 Best Solid State Amps In 2020
1. Roland JC-120 Combo Solid State Amp Review
- Legendary flagship of the Roland Jazz Chorus series since 1975
- Historic “JC clean” tone and signature Dimensional Space Chorus effect
- Powerful 120-watt stereo amp with two 12-inch “silver cone” speakers
The JC-120 is a classic solid-state amplifier that is renowned for its crystal clear clean tones and lush built in chorus effect. This amp inspired the JC-40, which made it into our list of Best Amps Under $1,000. It just goes to show that this amp has had an impact on the guitar world despite being an early transistor amp design.
This is a 2×12” combo amplifier and it is a beast. It weighs in at nearly 60 pounds, but thankfully it comes with wheels, so you don’t have to lift it often. It packs 120-watts of solid-state stereo power, which is plenty loud for any local gig. The two 12” Silvercone speaker serve a crucial role in the amp’s design, as it allows for stereo chorus and vibrato effects. It has two input channels, with one being clean and the other including an overdrive circuit. The high/low inputs can even be used for vocals or keyboards, making it is a versatile tank of an amp.
The controls are split up between the two channels. Each feature high/low inputs, a bright switch, Volume, and 3-Band EQ highlighted in blue. Channel 2 has an additional control for Distortion, which allows you to blend in an overdrive tone with your clean signal. Next to it is a single control for Reverb. Highlighted in yellow on the far right is a knob for Vibrato/Chorus, as well as speed and depth controls for those effects.
Chorus/Vibrato, Reverb, and Distortion are all foot switchable as well, with inputs located in the back of the amp. The amp includes line out jacks for easy connections to other cabs or FOH monitors, as well as an effect loop for channel two for time-based effects units being used in conjunction with the overdrive sound.
The JC-120 clean tones are legendary and are known for their smooth, warm sound. It is a great option for clean guitars used in jazz, rock, or even country. The Dimensional Space chorus effect is one of the most identifiable and recreated chorus effects ever. The amp runs wet/dry with two separate power sections, like running two separate amps. This allows for a compact stereo effects setup if you use two microphones in sessions or on stage panned hard left/right. While the overdrive section isn’t for everyone, most people just focus on the clean tones.
- Type: Solid-State Combo
- Power: 120W
- Channels: 2 (input)
- Speakers: 2 x 12” Silvercone
- Features: Stereo Chorus, Vibrato, Reverb, FX Loop, DI Out
Final Thoughts on the Roland JC-120 Combo
The flagship model from Roland has withstood the test of time and is considered one of the best clean amps ever made. These new releases hold up to that standard quite well. It is one of the best pedal platform solid state amps available.
2. Boss Nextone Artist Combo Solid State Amplifier Review
- 1x12'' Custom Speaker
- Tubelike Tone
If you’re on the fence about solid stage amps and how they compare to tube amps, then I recommend that you look into the Boss Nextone Stage. It has a sound of its own that can be modified with four different analog power stages modeled after the big four power amps: 6V6, 6L6, EL84, and EL34.
The Boss Nextone Stage is a solid state 1×12 combo that has its own thing going for it. While most solid state amps are trying to cram a bunch of amp simulations based off famous, successful tube amps, the Boss Nextone Stage has its own voice.
Where it becomes more versatile than a traditional tube amp is that it uses Roland’s Tube Logic technology to emulate four different kinds of tube power amp sections. These are all analog, Class AB power amp circuits. The amp has two channels (Clean and Dirty) for you to pair tube types with, while also having features most tube amps don’t have like Phones/Recording Out, USB connectivity, and more.
As for the build quality, the name says it all. This amp is built to go out on a stage and to take on the wear and tear that comes with it. Weighing in at 34.5 pounds, the amp is sturdy but not too heavy to carry with one hand.
While I am a huge fan of the Boss Katana Line, I like the Boss Nextone series even more because I find the controls to be simpler and more like a traditional tube amp. The Clean and Lead channels have their own Volume controls, with the Lead channel having an additional Gain stage.
The rest of the controls effect both channels, from the 3 band EQ to the Presence and Master Volume controls. The Delay and Reverb mix controls are next in line, with a TAP tempo for the delay. These effects can be turned on via the buttons by their effect name, or by foot control jacks located in the back.
The immediate question surrounding this amp is: does it sound as good as a tube amp? To my ears it does. It has the squishy, slightly delayed attack that I find comforting in a tube amp. It reacts to the guitarists’ touch that tube amps achieve so well. It also behaves like a tube amp in that as you turn the volume up, the gain rises with it, and then at the turn of your guitar’s volume control it cleans back up.
I think this is actually a great place for people who are new to amps to start off with because it showcases how different power amp tubes have a massive impact on the character of your amp. Its honestly like have four different amps built into one.
The Nextone Stage is appropriately loud enough to take onto a stage, while also being quiet enough for home practice with its power control section. It can get you through a gig on its own with all its tonal variety and basic effects, or it can serve as an excellent pedal platform as well. This has got to be my favorite solid state amp when it comes to sound quality.
- Type: Solid-state Combo w/ 4 switchable analog power amps
- Power: .5w, 40W, or 80W
- Channels: Clean and Dirty
- Speakers: 1 x12” Custom Nextone G12-100
- Features: DI, Delay/Reverb, Nextone Editor Software
Final Thoughts on the Boss Nextone Artist Combo
My brother personally owns this amp. As a bassist with an interest in guitar playing, he loves having an amp that sounds like a tube amp but doesn’t require the maintenance. It also allows him to explore new sounds easily. This is a great middle ground for those who love tube amps but want some individuality and additional tonal flexibility. It’s easy to use and just sounds fantastic. You can’t go wrong with this one.
3. Line 6 Helix LT Review
- Offers the same award-winning HX Modeling as Helix Floor, Helix Rack and Helix Native Uncompromised Helix sound quality with 123 dB of dynamic range Greater DSP power than any other multi-effects...
- The Line 6 Helix LT guitar processor features the same advanced HX Modeling technology found in the Helix Floor and Helix Rack processors
- With a streamlined I/O complement and hardware configuration, the Helix LT guitar processor delivers the highest levels of performance, flexibility and control in its class
The Line 6 Helix LT is one of the most powerful and user-friendly guitar processors available on the market today. With dozens of amp models, effects units, and IR’s to choose from, the Line 6 Helix gives you just about every classic piece of gear you could possibly hope to own in one pedalboard.
The Helix LT is a stripped down, budget conscious version of the Helix Floor and Rack units. It features the same Dual DSP HX Modeling and the same amp models (62), cabs (37), microphones (16), and effects (104) as the original Helix. This makes it sonically the same as the Helix Floor, with some minor physical compromises to make it a budget conscious option.
The Helix LT is housed in a similar pedalboard housing as the Helix Floor, except with a Steel casing (instead of Aluminum). It has 8 snap switches for switching effects. Instead of Scribble Strips to identify your signal, the LT uses a Performance View on the main screen. It has 2 expression pedal inputs, two slots for FX loops, XLR and ¼” Out, Headphone Jack, Variax, Midi, and USB compatibility. It also features Digital Out for connecting to a powercab or other monitor for live use. At only 12 pounds, this is easily luggable for gigging.
Going through all the Helix LT controls could warrant its own writeup, so if you’re interested in all of the controls/features, check out this link here.
In short, the Helix LT utilizes a combination of foot switches and the LCD screen to control your guitar signal chain, effects levels, and much more. Utilizing the Performance view is extremely intuitive and user friendly. With my own Helix, I found that I could get the feeling for the interface in under an hour without having to crack open the manual. The board comes with a built-in expression pedal that can be programmed for volume, wah, and other expression pedal controls. For even easier controls/tweaking, the Helix LT is compatible with Line 6’s HX Effects software, so everything can be controlled from your computer.
Once again, going through all the sound this unit can make would be nearly impossible. Luckily, multiple videos have been created to show just how versatile this unit is. It sounds exactly the same as the original Helix units. The amps are really lifelike and vary from Fender style amps, to Marshall’s, and of course fabled Line 6 original amps. Literally any sound you need, the Helix can do it.
- Type: Floor Unit Guitar Processor (Dual DSP)
- Amps: 62
- Cabinets: 37
- Microphones: 16
- Features: Over 100 effects, 4 signal paths, I/O Routing, MIDI, and more
Final Thoughts on the Line 6 Helix LT
The Line 6 Helix LT is a streamline, stripped down guitar processor that makes the Helix more attainable for tighter budgets. As much as I LOVE tube amps, I used my own Helix for nearly 90% of my workflow these days. That’s in the studio and in live situations. It sounds amazing and is fun to use. I can’t say enough good things about it; it’s my favorite piece of gear.
4. Fender Tone Master Deluxe Reverb Amplifier
- Massive digital processing is used to faithfully Modeling the circuitry and 22-Watt power output of an original Deluxe tube amp
- Uses a high-performance 100-Watt digital power amp to achieve the headroom and dynamic range of a real vintage Deluxe tube amp
- Jensen n-12k neodymium speaker
It’s not your typical tube powered Deluxe Reverb as you know it. No, this is a solid-state, amp modeled version of the classic from Fender.
Skeptical? No need. This is a fantastic amp that has some guitar players wondering if it is the future of amplification as we know it.
The Tone Master Deluxe Reverb is a solid state, 1×12” combo amplifier that models after the Fender DR reissue design. Like that amp, this is a two channel, Silverface style amp with built in reverb and tremolo. From looking at the amp from the front, you probably wouldn’t even know it’s a Tone Master until you look at the back of the amplifier. On the back you see all the extra features you wouldn’t find on a typical Deluxe Reverb, including two cabinet IR’s, DI Out, and an attenuator. It’s also worth mentioning that this amp is light, making it easier to lug to gigs than the original DR.
Both the Normal and Vibrato channels have controls for Volume, Treble, and Bass. The Controls for Reverb and Tremolo (Speed & Intensity) are located on the far right of the amp. If you’re a gigging musician, you’ll be happy to find that the front panel of the amp is exactly the same as any other house Deluxe Reverb you’ve likely run into.
The back also features controls for the Attenuator, which allows you to scale down the power from the full 22W, to 12W, 5W, 1W, .5W, or .2W. This means that no matter what size room you are playing in you can control your stage volume with affecting your tone.
Tonally speaking, the Tone Master Deluxe Reverb is very close to its tube sibling, however it responds a bit quicker and sharper because it is solid state. It’s a bright amp, but this can be tamed with your channel selection or guitar tone knob. The special design speaker also contributes to this tonal difference, but overall, it’s a really enjoyable and convincing model of the classic Fender amp.
The built-in speaker IR’s are also really usable, whether you are working at a live gig and want to just go straight out to the house PA, or if you are new to recording and can’t sink money into third party IR’s. It’s a fantastic sounding amp that has great cleans and solid, compressed crunch tones.
- Type: Solid State Combo
- Power: .2W to full powered 22W
- Channels: Normal and Vibrato
- Speakers: 1 x 12” Jensen N12K and 2 Cabinet Sims
- Features: Attenuator, IR’s, Reverb, Tremolo
Final Thoughts on the Fender Tone Master Deluxe Reverb
I think that this is a truly awesome and forward-thinking amp design. To see it come from one of the companies that originated tube amp designs is even more exciting. If I were to buy a gigging amp, this would be my #1 choice.
5. Boss Katana 50 (MkII) Combo Review
- 50/525/0. 5W 1x12" Guitar Combo Amplifier with 5 Amp Voicings
- Cab-emulated Headphone/Recd Output
- 4 Tone Slots
If you can’t afford any of the amps on this list, don’t fret. The Boss Katana 50 is by far the best budget friendly solid-state amplifier. Whether you need an amp for practicing or a replaceable amp to take on the road, the Katana works for a myriad of genres and is a high-class amp.
At first glance that Katana looks like a typical, though admittedly sleek, little 1 x 12 combo amp. Once you dive deeper, you’ll realize that the Boss Katana is a secret weapon amplifier that punches above its weight class. While the first iteration of the Katana had 5 amps, the mk II series has a variation for each of the 5 amplifier models, giving you a whopping 10 amps to choose from in one housing.
The Katana also has 65 built in effects, of which 5 can be used at any one time. These can be accessed from the Boss Tone Studio Editor for extensive tone tweaking. Then, you can save up to 4 of your favorite presets for quick access.
The Katana is a great investment for beginners, because if you decide to one day buy a standalone head amplifier, the Katana can be used as an extension cabinet. This gives the Katana life after you’ve outgrown it, if that’s even possible.
The Boss Katana Mk II manages to have ample controllability without being overwhelming. You won’t find any screens on this amp, just knobs. This makes the Katana feel like a traditional amplifier thought it has innovating design concepts inside it. Even if you choose to ignore the included software and its expansive added parameters, the onboard controls give ample versatility and usability that is easy to digest.
Start by choosing your amp type on the left, of which there are two variations. Each amp is powered by Boss’ Tube Logic, making the amps sound like real tube amps. The 3 Way EQ is smooth and functions well so you can dial in the exact tone you’re hearing. The Effects section allows you to modify your modulation, delay, and reverb effects. Then the far right has your preset tone switches, as well as a master volume and a power control that lets you get high gain tones at low volumes. Leave it at the full 50W and this amp is ready to take on the stage.
As I mentioned before, this amp sounds like a quality tube amp. Each of the variations for the 5 amps give you just enough diversity to make it worth having. The Katana pulls of clean tones that have just the right amount of compressions. The lead tones sound rich with overtones. The fact that it can even be used with acoustic guitars in a pleasing way makes this thing worth buying on its own.
The effects are what you would expect from Boss. Just awesome. They have long been the standard of high-quality effects, and this amp gives you all of their best effects built in.
- Type: Solid State
- Power: .5W, 25W, or 50W
- Channels: Single
- Speaker: Custom 12”
- Features: Built in Boss Effects, Phones In/Rec Out, Cabinet Capability
Final Thoughts on the Boss Katana 50 Mk II (KTN50-2) Combo
When someone tries to uphold the argument that solid-state amps aren’t worth playing through, I show them the Boss Katana. While the Nextone series is still my personal amp series from Boss, I can’t help but be blown away at the value of the Katana series has to offer. They also come in a number of different shapes and sizes, and can be found for as low as under $100.
Solid State Guitar Amps – Better Than Ever
My hope for this list was to show that solid-state amps are seriously worth considering, no matter what your playing level is.
Not only are they sounding better than they ever have before, but they offer a great amount of value for your money.
Tube amps are still the standard, and perhaps they always will be, but what I find fascinating is that tube amp builders are now incorporating design concepts like IR’s and DI out that were revolutionized by solid state designs. The future is looking good for us guitarists.
Our options have never been better.
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Davis Wilton Bader is a professional guitarist/writer based out of St. Louis, MO. He plays in the bands Lumet and The Outskirts.