DV Wright Music

Jazz Guitar:Tube Amp vs Solid State Amp

It seems at some point in the recent past Jazz Guitar was defined by a certain sound, the classic, Gibson ES-175 through a Polytone Solid State amp.

This seems to be the default goto sound for Jazz Guitarists. Even if the types change, i.e. Fender Telescaster/Jazzmaster into a Fender Twin/Evans/Jazz cat, etc, the tone dials are set to get as close to possible to that dark thick clean ‘jazz tone’.

So, that’s all well and good, why mess with what works? don’t ruin a good thing and all that.

Well, recently, I ‘discovered’ two variables that really changed things up for me. P90 single coil pickups and Tube Amps! What a great combination! (think Grant Green type of tone).


P90 pickups have this very musical sound, to me, an ‘organic warmth’, I hear the same type of quality with tube amps. It’s a subtle but a noticeable difference. (OK, I’m not sure if casual listeners hear the difference) This combination is something I am very much ‘into’ at this time, so thought I would share.

I’m not going to get into bashing any gear, like, solid state amps, all gear is useful and has something for everybody. Solid state amps are dependable, affordable, powerful and sound fine, I still use one, depending on the situation.

Having said that, currently, I am really enjoying my foray into tube amp land.

I had a gig recently where I was able to play through a Epiphone Valve Standard (15 Watt Tube Amp) and I thought it sounded great, so much so, that I realized I wanted a tube amp. 15 Tube Watts had enough clean headroom and power for my gig. Four Piece, Acoustic Bass (with Amp), Drum set, Tenor Sax and guitar. (I did use the gain to get just a slight amount of dirt 🙂 less than Scofield, more than Hall)

So after some investigation, my desired target amp became:
15 Watt Tube amp
6v6 power tubes (suppose to have more clean headroom than the EL84’s)
12″ speaker
40 lbs or less
$250-$300 price range

Here is what I came up with as 6 finalists:

15 Watt (Tube) Combo amps
Ibanez TSA15 – $450
Blackheart BH15 – $450
Laney Cub 12R – $400
Fender Super Champ XD – $300
Epiphone Valve Standard (not in production)
not sure this works for gigs:
VHT Special 6 Ultra – $379

(also JetCity, Ampeg J12 reissue, Kustom Defender15)

mini specs:

Ibanez TSA15 Tube Screamer 15W 1×12
2 x 12AX7 tubes (Pre)
2 x 6V6 tubes (Power)
17 x 8 x 17
33 lbs
(Clean headroom, yes to gigs)

Fender Super-Champ XD 15W 1×10
Output: 15 watts (Class AB)
Speaker: One 10″, 8-ohm Special Design Speaker
Weight: 24 lbs
15″ x 17.5″ x 9″
1 x 12AX7A, 2 x 6V6
(Clean headroom, yes to gigs)

Laney Cub 12R Tube Guitar Combo Amplifier – 1×12 Inch, 15 Watts,
Preamp Valves: 3 x ECC83
Output Valves: 2 x EL84
Class: A/B
Speaker: 12 inch Celestion
9.2″ x 17″ x 16.8″
25.4 pounds
(I believe Clean headroom, yes to gigs)

VHT Special 6 Ultra 6W 1×12
One 6V6 output tube
Two 12AX7 preamp tubes
18″ x 19.5″ x 10.5″
37.5 lbs
(good sound, possible reliability issues, unsure of headroom/gigs)

Blackheart BH15-112 Handsome Devil Series 15W 1×12
15W, Push-Pull, Class A
Preamp Tubes: 2 x 12AX7 (ECC83)
Power Tubes: 2 x EL84 (6BQ5)
18.6″ x 18″ x 11″
47.3 lbs
(Clean headroom, yes to gigs)

Unfortunately, it is hard to try out any of these amps, for example guitar center does not have them in stores. You can order them online but generally you have to pay return shipping, which for an amp could be $40 or so, that is a lot to just try an amp. So I tried to find out as much online as possible. I found lots of positive reviews of my final 6 choices.

1. Fender Super Champ. I found tons of positive reviews of the Fender Super Champ, You can find these for $200 easily. Although, I was set on finding one with a 12″ (many folks have done this) or mod-ing it myself.

2. Laney Cub 12R
I found a very good youtube clip of someone (voxman) playing a Laney Cub 12R, that looked very promising.

3. VHT Special 6 Ultra
The VHT Special 6 Ultra seems very interesting to me but there were too many unknowns.

The Blackheart seemed a little too heavy/expensive didn’t find any used.

The Epiphone Valve Standard turns up used from time to time and ofter cheap! ($200 or so, I would act on this if I saw one, these are a little heavy though, ~ 45 lbs)

My choice? I found a Ibanez TSA15 combo for $350 new, so I acted on that. I found many clips online, they all sounded great, lot’s of warm rich sound with good bass response, so we will see if it works out.

2012-09-01 Update

For what it’s worth, I am very happy with the TSA15. Honestly, the stock sound was not as nice as I heard in the clips, but after some minor tweaks it’s just what I was looking for. (the weight/size of the amp and the power/volume is just right)
The changes made are standard for tube amps but really make a difference.
Keep in mind, these are the changes that make sense for me and the sound I am going for, a bluesy, slight gritty but smooth sound with a hint or potential of bite.

First off, I really dislike the stock speaker: Celestion Seventy 80 (I think these are nice for modern hard rock but nothing else). Unfortunately, I was low on cash so I could not get what I was really interested in but what I went with is working fine.:

upgraded the pre amp tubes:
V1 position 12AX7 pre-amp tube replaced with a Tung-Sol
V2 replaced with a JJ ECC83 S
Jensen MOD 12-35

The speaker recommendations were:
Weber DT-12
Celestion G12M Greenback
Eminence Cannabis Rex

Hopefully, at some point I will put one of these in.

You can check out as close to I came to chronicling a before/after.

Leave a Reply