The Best Tube Amps - Combo & Head - Up To $1000

The Highest Rated Tube Amps Under $1000

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I'm of the opinion that you sound like yourself regardless of the gear you use. But there are tools that can bring out better versions of yourself. Case in point are tube amps, they make you sound better while keeping your core sound intact. They don't mask or transform your sound to a particular model, rather they add harmonic content that sounds musical. This is the reason why tube amps are often preferred for being "natural" sounding.

While modeling tech is more convenient and is getting better at sounding organic - they still can't beat the real thing when it comes to tone and vibe. And this is why tube amps continue to be popular across price ranges.

To help you find a fitting tube amp, we analyzed ratings for the best tube amps at different price points under $1000. And this August 2022 edition expands our scope to present you with the best rated amps among the two main types: tube amp heads, and combo tube amps.

The Best Tube Amps

Author & Contributors

Raphael PulgarRaphael Pulgar

I've been an audio engineer for 20 years specializing in rock and metal recordings, and also I play guitar and produce original music for my band and other content creators.

The Best Tube Amp Head Under $500

Orange Micro Terror MT20

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 1550+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$159
Orange Micro Terror MT20
At publication time this was the Highest Rated Tube Amp Head Under $500

Cons

  • Limited functionality
  • No reverb
  • Not for those who want great sounding cleans

Pros

  • Great sounding tube overdrive tone
  • Lively and responsive
  • Can go loud and still sound good

The Micro Terror is an amp designed to reproduce genuine Orange dirt tones while maintaining a diminutive "Micro" profile.

It features a hybrid design, combining a single 12AX7 preamp tube with a solid state power amp, which is not that uncommon. But Orange did a good job at getting the tone just right, with good saturation and responsiveness that you don't normally expect from hybrid amps, let alone something as ridiculously small as this one.

And since it uses an actual preamp tube, the tone is organic and lively, even more so when you crank the gain. On the flipside, the cleans are neutral and quite stale, so if you're looking for sparkling clean tone, this is not for you.

Given its size, there's not much room for putting complex controls, so Orange opted for a simple 3-knob configuration that includes control for volume, tone and gain. The controls are intuitive and gets the job done, but its limiting. There is no way to fine tune the EQ, and there are no effects like reverb. Still, this amp is not meant for extensive tweaking, rather it is meant to produce great tone as quickly and as conveniently as possible.

Another praise worthy trait of the Micro Terror MT20 is its distinct looking metal lunchbox design. It doesn't look cheap, it feels solid and it's hard to mistake for something else.

The Orange Micro Terror MT20 is a great portable low to mid-gain amp, especially if you are into old school Orange voicings.

Specifications

  • Power Rating: 20-Watts
  • Speaker Out: 1/4"
  • Tubes: 12AX7 (Preamp)
  • Channels: 1
  • Controls: Volume, Tone, Gain
  • Effects: None
  • Amp Models: None
  • Inputs/Outputs: 1 x 1/4", 1 x 1/8" (Aux)
  • Dimensions: 5.3" x 6.49" x 3.6"
  • Weight: 1.87 lbs

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Premier Guitar Jordan Wagner 90/100
Equipboard the_patchman 100/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Demo

The Best Combo Tube Amp Under $500

Monoprice Stage Right 611815 - 15W 1x12"

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 1500+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$280
Monoprice 611815 - 15-Watt 112 Tube Combo Guitar Amp
At publication time this was the Highest Rated Combo Tube Amp Under $500.

Cons

  • Can get muddy when driven too hard
  • Not for those who prefer tight response

Pros

  • Hard to beat when it comes to value
  • Vintage clean and dirty voicings
  • Good volume for a 15W amp
  • Works well with pedals

Monoprice is a brand known for affordable tube amps, and the Stage Right 611815 is their 15-Watt all-tube combo amp with specs that normally command much higher pricing.

This tube combo amp comes in a 1 x 12" combo package, with three ECC83 preamp tubes and two EL84s in the power section. This is a popular tube combination found in vintage amps, and their modern recreations. More importantly, you get them without the premium price tag. Speaking of price, don't expect this amp to ship with premium quality tubes, but they do get the job done. For best results, you can swap out the tubes to ones from a reliable brand.

While most low-watt tube amps have very streamlined controls, Monoprice provided a bit more than what you'd expect. The amp section has controls for gain, volume, and tone, as well as 3-band EQ knobs. These controls allow for good versatility in terms of tone shaping, and how the amp is driven. It also comes with built-in spring reverb.

Adding to the already impressive value of this amp is its use of a 12" speaker from a popular brand - a Celestion Seventy 80. Given its size, it is quite capable of being driven hard. The volume is a bit limited, given its size, but it should be enough for home use, or even small venue jamming. Note that driving the amp too hard can cause it to sound muddy. This speaker is known for its bright tonality, but since it's 12", it is capable of reproducing the lows well.

At lower gain levels, the amp provides a good enough clean tone, but with a bit of grit. Raising the gain knob lets the amp go from clean to mid-gain dirty tone. The voicing for both clean and dirty tones are similar to vintage amps, open and not overly compressed. On the flipside, those who want modern tight response will not find this amp appealing.

The amp is very transparent, which can be an issue for those who want specific amp tones, but it's generic voicing makes it a great platform for effects pedals. Other features include having a cream-colored synthetic leather exterior and cloth speaker grill.

The value of this budget 1x12" tube amp is hard to beat, definitely worth considering if you're looking for a tube combo amp.

Specifications

  • Power Rating: 15W
  • Preamp Tube: 3 x ECC83 (12AX7)
  • Poweramp Tube: 2 x EL84
  • Speaker: 1 x "12 (Celestion Seventy 80)
  • Input: 1/4"
  • Output: 1 x 1/4" Speaker Out, Effects Loop
  • Cabinet: Rear Ported
  • Control Knobs: Gain, Volume, Tone, Bass, Middle, Treble, Reverb
  • Weight: 31.62 lbs

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Festival Peak Christian A. Pfeiffer 88/100
YouTube 60 Cycle Hum 97/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

The Best Tube Amps Head Under $1000

Orange Dark Terror DA15H

97
GEARANK

97 out of 100. Incorporating 300+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$649
Orange Amplifiers DA15H Dark Terror 15 15W Tube Guitar Amp Head
At publication time this was the Highest Rated Tube Amp Head Under $1000.

Cons

  • Single channel only
  • Shape control limits tonalities

Pros

  • Great heavy tones on stage and in the studio
  • Good clean tone
  • 15W loud enough to keep up with drummers
  • Very portable

A lot of modern musicians in the Metal genre prefer to use either modelers (in the case of modern prog) or ratty vintage tube amps (for stoner/doom guys). The Orange Dark Terror is meant to cater to the latter.

This compact 15W All-Tube amplifier is designed for heavier, saturated tones, with a few more gain stages in the preamp section. The preamp have 4 stages of gain like many modern high gain tube amps, paired with cleaner power amp section. This resulted in a more saturated type of gain compared to the vintage style voicings of the other Orange Terror amp series.

The extra gains stages on the preamp also allows the power section to be kept clean enough, allowing for better utilization of its buffered effects loop.

True to the Terror line, The Dark terror features a very minimal control setup. The shape knob takes the place of the typical 3 band eq. The Shape knob is a combination of a treble and bass control with a surprisingly wide range from really dark, Sleep-esque tones to scooped, old school metal and everything in between. The Volume and Gain control that interact with each other to achieve specific tones.

What really surprised me is how good the clean tones are. They aren't pristine Fender cleans but they do have a lot of vibe and it don't feel stiff like many high gain amps' clean channels. In conjunction with the effects loop, the Dark Terror is able to be used with reverb and delay pedals for atmospheric cleans.

All that being said, the Dark Terror is still just a single channel amplifier. That means to get to the clean tones, you either have to roll down the volume on your guitar or settle with one gain setting all throughout. While intuitive, the Shape control can be limiting in terms of very specific tonal settings. I would have loved to have even a 2 band EQ in place of the shape knob.

Orange Dark Terror Front
True to the Terror line, the Dark terror features a very minimal control setup. The shape knob takes the place of the typical 3 band EQ.

The Dark Terror is aggressive but can also be pristine at recording volumes. But for those that rely on a clean tone, the headroom of the 15W amplifier might be a bit limited at lower gain settings. This head was made to rock out so if you're looking for a clean pedal platform, look elsewhere. For live use however, it's all out or get drowned. It can easily keep up with heavy hitting drums on higher gain settings especially when pushing the power amp.

The best application, and where I personally use my Dark Terror is in the studio. The 7W mode is great in the studio for getting more power amp saturation without overloading more sensitive mics like condensers. For doomy, sludgy tracks, the Dark Terror is what I plug into the most. Where it really shines is getting that saturated chug in the studio at volumes that won't shake the walls. It's this controlled chaos that makes the Dark Terror a must-have in your amp arsenal.

Specifications

  • Power Rating: 7 to 15-Watts
  • Preamp Tube(s): 3 x 12AX7
  • Poweramp Tube(s): 2 x XEL84
  • Controls: Gain, Shape, Volume
  • Input(s): Normal
  • Output(s): 8ohm, 16ohm, 2x16ohm
  • Misc:Tube Buffered Effects Loop
  • Weight: 12.46 lbs
  • Suitable for: Modern Rock, Alternative, Punk, Metal

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Premier Guitar Jordan Wagner 90/100
Gearank Raphael Pulgar 96/100
YouTube Plague Scythe Studios 89/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

The Best Combo Tube Amps Under $1000

Vox AC15C1 - 15W 1x12"

96
GEARANK

96 out of 100. Incorporating 1250+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$800
Vox AC15C1 15W Tube Combo Amp
At publication time this was the Equal Highest Rated Combo Tube Amp Under $1000 along with the Vox AC30S1

Cons

  • Not for purists who prefer Jensen speakers
  • Not loud enough for use on stage or big venues

Pros

  • Harmonically rich Vox chime
  • Tighter bottom end courtesy of Greenback speaker
  • Good sounding reverb and tremolo
  • Pedal friendly

The Vox AC15 is arguably the most important amp in the rise of the Britpop sound of the '60s. And despite being 15 watts, the humble AC15 was loud enough to keep up with a drummer and was a staple in many bands of the time.

Today the AC15C1 continues this legacy with a modern twist, courtesy of the use of Celestion Greenback speaker - which is commonly associated with Marshall amps. This speaker gives the amp tighter low end response compared to old AC15s. This tighter response makes the amp better suited for today's indie and alternative rock styles. It also makes the amp pedal friendly, especially to overdrives.

This shift to a Greenback speaker won't fly with purists who prefer the sound of the original's Jensen speakers. But it helps expand the tones and use of the amp, which will appeal for guitarists who play multiple styles. It is quite loud for a 15W amp, but not enough to take the place of bigger stage amps.

Everything else is designed to reproduce the classic Vox chime, with chimey cleans and fat grit when pushed. Including its vintage style appearance, and amp section which is equipped with three 12AX7 preamp tubes and two x EL84 for the power tubes. It even comes with the iconic Top Boost channel and its dedicated control knobs. The built-in reverb and tremolo is also quite good, deserving of special mention.

Thanks to its modern voicing, you don't have to be a fan of the Beatles to appreciate the AC15C1's harmonically rich tone. Definitely check it out, if you are a fan of the Vox chime tone but want extra sonic legroom.

Specifications

  • Power Rating:15w
  • Preamp Tube: 3 x12AX7
  • Poweramp Tube: 2 x EL84
  • Speaker: 1 x 12” Celestion G12M Greenback
  • Input:2 x 1/4" (Normal, Top Boost)
  • Output: 1 x 1/4" (16 ohms), 2 x 1/4" (single 8 ohm, 2 x 16 ohm), 1 x XLR (DI out), USB
  • Cabinet: Open Back
  • Control Knobs: Master Volume, Master Tone, Tremolo Depth, Tremolo Speed, Reverb Level, Top Boost Bass, Top Boost Treble, Top Boost Volume, Normal Volume
  • Weight: 48.5 lbs

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
YouTube Jack Fossett 96/100
The Gear Page guitkrazy 98/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Vox AC30S1 - 30W 1x12"

96
GEARANK

96 out of 100. Incorporating 100+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$900
Vox AC30S1
At publication time this was the Equal Highest Rated Combo Tube Amp Under $1000 along with the Vox AC15C1

Cons

  • Not for AC30 purists
  • Limited features and volume

Pros

  • Lighter version of the iconic AC30
  • Higher headroom than the AC15
  • Genuine Vox chime and dirt tone
  • Streamlined controls

The AC30S1 hails from the prestigious Vox AC30 amp, but with a streamlined feature set to make it easier to use and carry around.

It is as straightforward as it gets with its single-channel format that puts the spotlight on the classic AC30 Top Boost tone, and nothing else. Controls are also kept to a minimum, so you can get from the familiar Chimey clean sound of old Vox amps, up to smooth overdrive, without the need for too much control fiddling. As expected, low gain clean tone is incredibly responsive and bright, but be warned that it can be too trebly for some applications.

At its core are dual 12AX7 preamp tubes and quad EL84 power tubes that give life to the touch-sensitive tone expected from a classic Vox tube amp. Raising the gain gradually adds harmonically rich overdrive while retaining the amp's bright flavor. Don't expect this amp to extend into high-gain territory, but what it can do, it does best - which is to provide quality dirty tone.

Instead of the traditional 2x12" configuration, the AC30S1 has a single 12" Celestion VX12 speaker, which is especially designed to reproduce the sound of the AC30 with just one speaker. This means that you get the same flavor and higher headroom of the AC30, while keeping the size and weight lighter, closer to the AC15. But compared to an AC15, the AC30S1 also has a bit more low-end, which helps balance out the brightness. On the flipside, this 1x12" configuration is not as loud as the original.

Another important difference is the lack of tremolo effect, but it does have built-in reverb. The AC30S1 also comes with an effects loop, which makes sense since this amp is designed for those who get their tone-shaping from pedals.

If you're looking for a classic Brit sounding plug-and-play tube amp that works well with pedals, then this should be at the top of your list. Given all these changes, fans of the original AC30 2x12 configuration may want to look elsewhere, but I still say that they should give the lighter AC30S1 a try.

Specifications

  • Power Rating: 30W
  • Preamp Tube: 2 x 12AX7
  • Poweramp Tube: 4 x EL34
  • Speaker: 1 x 12" Celestion VX12
  • Input: 1/4"
  • Output: 1/4" External
  • Cabinet: Rear Ported
  • Control Knobs: Volume, Reverb, Treble, Bass, Gain
  • Weight: 54 lbs

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
YouTube Jack Fossett 92/100
MusicRadar Nick Guppy 80/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Things to Consider when Buying a Combo Tube Amp

Sound Quality

Sound quality is the main factor to consider when it comes to buying tube amps. While opinions may differ on which particular amp model sounds better, most will agree that clarity, articulation, and dynamics are important. Because of its subjective nature, individual reviews on tone are not conclusive, but when combined with other reviews, they provide us with a reliable representation of how good an amp sounds.

Amp Tone or Voicing

Different amps have different voicings, and the differences range from subtle to obvious. Some experts (including manufacturers) divide tube amp voicings into flavors, usually labeled American (emphasizes the highs and lows) and British (emphasizes the mids and punch). While this may seem like a generalization, it does make the job of describing tonal differences easier. If you're not familiar with amp tones, the best course of action is to look at the amp used by your favorite guitarists and go for something similar sounding. Thankfully, some manufacturers (like Blackstar and Fender) produce tube amps with multiple voicings, they are ideal if you want sonic flexibility.

Combo Amps vs. Amp Heads

The two main amp types are Combo amps and Amp Heads. Combo amps combine the amplifier section with a speaker system, while amp heads have the amplifier component only, so they need to be paired with an external speaker to work.

Since everything you need is packed inside combo amps, they are the more convenient option. The downside to them is they are heavy and takes up more space. On the other hand, amp heads are lighter and gives you more freedom to use different speakers and cabinets. The freedom to choose is limited by the capability and compatibility of the amp itself. Also while the amp head is light by itself, you still have to factor in the weight and space taken by the speaker cab that you will be pairing it with.

Cabinet

Since combo amps come with speakers, the amp section is housed on the same cabinet as the speaker. Closed Back cabinets project the sound forward, they produce a punchier and clearer tone. They are often preferred by live sound engineers because of the front projection, which is easier to mic. Open Back cabinets project sound to the front and back, resulting in a more natural ambient sound. These are preferred by guitarists because they fill rooms and stages better. Back Ported cabinets let some of the sound leak through small ports at the back, and are usually designed for low-end emphasis.

Speaker

The general idea is that the bigger the speaker size, the better it can reproduce lower frequencies. But bigger is not always better, especially if you're not planning on using the amp on stage. 12" speakers are the most commonly used, because they provide good balance of highs and lows.

Power Rating and Attenuation

Power rating dictates the loudness of an amplifier, along with its sonic headroom. The idea is that low power amps are ideal for practice while playing big venues requires more power. Some tubes amps are equipped with power attenuators that allow you to lower the power rating in case you want to tame the amp's volume. Also, lowering the power output also lets you crank the gain at quieter volume levels, which many use to get good tones without disturbing the neighbors. Note that tube amps tend to be louder than solid state amps of the same power rating specification.

Equalizer

Having the ability to shape the sound of your guitar via EQ controls is important, but it doesn't always have to be the amp that does this job. There are now many pedals and rack effects that can accomplish the same Equalization with more accuracy.

Input/Output Options

While most tube amps in this price range have a single input, some have two inputs to accommodate different types of guitars, or for routing your signal to different channels. These multi-input amps provide added flexibility, and at times allow for two guitars to use the same amp, albeit with some limitations.

Multiple output options are usually reserved for amp heads, but there are some combo amps with headphones and extension speaker outs. Those looking for quiet practice will want a headphone output. Interestingly, some offer direct USB recording functionality, which makes tube amp recording even more convenient.

Extra Features

Extra features like reverb, tremolo, and even built-in multi-effects are welcome bonuses for practice amplifiers because they allow for straight to amp convenience. These extras won't get much use in stage settings when you use pedals to achieve the same effect.

Best Combo Tube Amp Selection Methodology

The first edition was published in 2017 and the current edition was published on August 25, 2022.

We began by looking at combo and head tube amps for electric guitar at major retailers in the USA and ended up putting 63 of them on our short-list for closer rating analysis. We then examined relevant reviews, ratings and forum discussions about each amp on our short-list - this came to a total of more than 19,100 sources (an increase of more than 56% over the previous edition partly due to expanding the scope from just combos to include heads). We processed that data with the Gearank Algorithm to produce the rating scores out of 100 which we used to select the highest rated amps to recommend above. For more information about our methods see How Gearank Works.

About the Author and Contributors

Here are the key people and sources involved in this guide's production - click on linked names for information about their music industry backgrounds.

Lead Author & Researcher

Raphael PulgarRaphael Pulgar

I've been an audio engineer for 20 years specializing in rock and metal recordings, and also I play guitar and produce original music for my band and other content creators.

These days I mainly play through my two Orange amp heads, however I've had the pleasure of playing through an old AC15 so I have the reference to understand the modern Vox combo amps and it's no surprise they are dominating this price range.

Contributors

Alexander Briones: Supplemental writing.
Jason Horton: Editing and Illustrating.

Media

Main/Top Image: Created by Gearank.com using photographs of the Monoprice Stage Right, Vox AC15C1 and Orange Dark Terror.

All the videos have been embedded in accordance with YouTube's Terms of Service.

The individual product images were sourced from their respective manufacturers' websites, promotional materials or supporting documentation except for the Dark Terror Shape Knob which was photographed by the Author.

Comments

We have removed the Vox

We have removed the Vox AC10C1 due to a price increase that put it above the $500 limit for the section it qualified for. You can still see our analysis of it here.

Pleased to tell you that

Pleased to tell you that monoprice amp now shipped with all JJ tubes and celestion seventy80 speaker

Hi Sam,

Hi Sam,

We have updated the specifications on the Monoprice. However since the tube brand is not directly specified by the manufacturer and retailers, (and most likely is subject to change without notice) we have chosen to omit the tube brand.

-Raphael

This section is for the high

This section is for the high school kids, nothing wrong with that but if you're a player on the prowl just skip these articles.

Our research strongly

Our research strongly suggests that the average guitarist using these amps are not high school kids, so can you elaborate and tell us what you think we should change in this guide?