Solid-state amplifiers have suffered more than their fair share of disrespect. These Rodney Dangerfields of the amp world are much maligned, roundly ridiculed, and generally regarded as children's toys or cheap practice implements by the guitar playing community at large. This, despite the fact that solid-state amps have played integral roles in many classic records, and have been the main amp of more than a few highly regarded players. The problem, I suspect, is that the inherent cheapness and reliability of transistor technology makes it a natural choice for manufacturers of cheap beginner or practice amps, and most players, not having had an opportunity to play through some of the high quality, well-designed, solid-state models, only associate the technology with its worst examples. Also, the earliest transistor-based amps were indeed rather awful (at least, any time distortion was introduced) and that first impression seems to have been a lasting one. Over the past 30 years, however, and especially in the last decade, solid-state designs have improved immeasurably. In order to refute the undeserved bad reputation transistor technology has been saddled with, I have compiled a short list of some of the solid-state amp world's finest examples. To be clear, I have left digital modeling amplifiers off of this list, as the tone of a modeling amp is generated mostly from the software, rather than from the amplifier itself. This list is all analog, son. Check it:
1) Roland JC-120: The Roland Jazz Chorus is probably the only bona fide classic of the solid-state world, used on stage and in the studio by Andy Summers, Hetfield and Hammett, Robert Smith, Robert Fripp, and many others. This stereo 2x12 combo houses two separate 60-watt amplifiers, a gorgeous on-board reverb, and a hypnotically lush stereo chorus/vibrato. It has a built-in distortion circuit as well, but any JC-120 user can testify to this amplifier's "appalling" (to quote Fripp) performance with any kind of fuzz or distortion. The Roland Jazz Chorus's strength is its lovely, loud clean tone and utterly mesmerizing stereo chorus, which remains unmatched by any existing pedal or rack unit. These features made the amp a hit with jazz players, such as Pat Metheny, as well as many 80's new wave bands, whose adoption of the JC-120 contributed much to its commercial success and lasting popularity as the guitarist's ultimate clean machine.
2) Sunn Beta Lead: The Sunn Beta Lead is a dual-channel, 100-watt, solid-state doomsday device. The polar opposite of the JC-120, the Beta Lead is prized for its bludgeoning, aggressive distorted tones. It was long regarded with disdain, mostly by mainstream tone snobs familiar with Sunn's earlier tube designs, but its reliability, affordability, and bone-rattling output made it a hit with punk and metal players operating on the fringe of the underground. The most important early Beta Lead user was undoubtedly Buzz Osborne of The Melvins, whose flagrant abuse of the amp inspired Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, Adam Jones of Tool, the bands Sunn O))) and Red Fang, and innumerable other modern doom and sludge guitarists to plug into this compact, unassuming head. As you might expect, Beta Lead prices on the used market have risen steadily along with its popularity.