The Best Tube Amps for Guitar - Combo $100 to $1000

Guitar Combo Tube Amps

Originally published on May 27, 2017 and last updated on Jun 5, 2018.

Guitar amplifiers don't just amplify sound, they also shape and color the sound. This is especially true for tube amps, and is the reason why they are considered as vital to tone as guitars themselves. Here we feature the best tube amps that fit the average guitarists' budget, updated for 2018, based on the most current user feedback and market sentiment.

Our recommended list starts off with affordable practice-friendly tube amps that are priced under $300. It also features recording and gig ready sub $500 tube amps. And ends with the best road-worthy amps that you can get for under $1000.

Contents

The Best Tube Amps

Gearank Sources Street Price
Under $300
Monoprice 611705 91 225+ $100
Blackstar HT-1 92 100+ $270
VHT Special 6 91 200+ $260
Under $500
Blackstar HT-1R 91 350+ $330
Fender Super Champ X2 90 500+ $400
Ibanez TSA15 Tube Screamer Combo 90 30+ $450
Vox AC10C1 90 175+ $450
Under $1000
Vox AC15C1X 93 100+ $800
Fender Blues Deluxe 92 600+ $800
Fender '57 Custom Champ 96 30+ $1000

The Best Tube Amps Under $300

Monoprice 611705 - 5W 1x8"

91
GEARANK

91 out of 100. Incorporating 225+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$100
Monoprice 611705 Tube Guitar Combo Amp 5W 1x8

The Monoprice 611705 is a tube combo amplifier with impressive specs at a very affordable price point. At its core is a 5-watt amplifier with a single 12AX7 preamp tube, and a 6V6GT poweramp tube - a combination that big name manufacturers, and even expensive boutique amp builders go for. While the amplifier section is generic, it is tasked to drive a branded 8" Celestion Super 8 GBA-15 speaker, which is quite special considering its price. It also comes with a standard input (High) and an attenuated input (Low) which can be used for handling active pickup equipped instruments, or for taming guitars with hot pickups. The manufacturer specified that it handles frequencies between 80Hz and 10kHz, with low hum and noise.

Specifications:

  • Power Rating: 5W
  • Preamp Tube: 1 x ECC83/12AX7
  • Poweramp Tube: 1 x 6V6GT
  • Speaker: 8" Celestion Super 8 GBA-15
  • Controls: Power Switch, Tone and Volume Chicken Head Knob
  • Input: Low (Attenuated) and High inputs.
  • Output: 1/4" External Speaker Jack
  • Cabinet: Rear Ported
  • Weight: 16.6 lbs

The response to the Monoprice 611705 tube amp continues to be overwhelmingly positive, with value for money being its standout attribute. Many guitarists love its warm tube tone and appreciate how it works well with pedals, making it a great sounding practice amp. Some even describe it as a good quality clone of the popular 5F1 Champ from Fender that you can get for cheap.

There are a few users who feel that it is too clean sounding for their taste, requiring too much volume get good overdriven tones. Some minor build quality issues come up in reviews, but even those who report them still rate the amp highly for its overall quality and value.

If you're looking for a plug-and-play tube amp, or you want an affordable way to get into the vintage tone hype, then the Monoprice 611705 is for you.

Blackstar HT-1 - 1W 1x8"

92
GEARANK

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

Street Price: 

$270
Blackstar HT-1 1W 1x8" Guitar Combo Amplifier

While there's no replacing big amps, low watt tube amps have a special place in many players hearts, because they provide good tone without causing trouble with the neighbors. And that is exactly what the Blackstar HT-1 offers, a straightforward all-tube amp rated at 1W with a single 8" speaker. It doesn't come with any effects, so there's nothing to be distracted on, just true to form clean to high-gain tones that you can tweak via Blackstar's Infinite Shape Feature (ISF) knob. Finally it comes with an emulated speaker out so it can be useful for recording.

Specifications:

  • Power Rating: 1W
  • Preamp Tube: 1 x ECC83
  • Poweramp Tube: 1 x ECC82
  • Speaker: 8" Speaker
  • Input: 1 x 1/4" (Instrument), 1 x 1/4" TRS (MP3 & Line)
  • Output: 1 x 1/4" TRS (Headphones), 1 x 1/4" (Speaker)
  • Cabinet: Close Back with Small Rear Ports
  • Controls: Power Switch, Overdrive Switch, Gain Knob, Volume Knob, ISF EQ
  • Weight: 13.2 lbs

The Blackstar HT-1 continues to impress players, so much so that many of them throw around the word "awesome" or something similar to it. Some even describe it as being the best sounding little amp that they've ever had, but note that they are mostly pointing to its overdrive sound. Portability and build quality are also well received.

Aside from a few who nitpick on its analog components, or its lack of features, there aren't any notable complaints about the amp. While its clean tone is not complemented, there aren't any complaints either, mostly due to focus on its overdriven tone.

If you're looking for a great sounding and straightforward practice amp that can also double as a recording amp, then check out the Blackstar HT-1.

VHT Special 6 Combo - 6W 1x10

91
GEARANK

91 out of 100. Incorporating 200+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$260
VHT Special 6 Tube Combo Guitar Amp 6W 1x10

The VHT Special 6 Combo's claim to fame is its hand-wired circuit, which quite special considering its price. The amplifier section features a 12AX7 preamp tube and 6V6 output tube, both of which work with the circuit and 10" speaker to produce vintage style clean and overdriven tones that emphasize the upper frequencies. But what sets it apart from other tube amps in this price range is its footswitchable gain boost, which gives you the flexibility of a 2-channel amp, albeit in a small and affordable package. Another interesting feature is its Hi-/Lo- power switch which lets you choose between loud and quieter volume levels, while keeping the voicing of the amp intact. Finally, because of its straightforward hand-wired design, the VHT Special 6's amp section is easy to customize for up and coming amp modders and builders.

Specifications:

  • Power Rating: 6W
  • Preamp Tube: 1 x 12AX7
  • Poweramp Tube: 1 x 6V6
  • Speaker: 10" VHT Speaker
  • Input: 2 x 1/4" (Hi-/Lo- Gain)
  • Output: 1 x 1/4" (4, 8,16 Ohm) Speaker Jacks, Footswitch
  • Cabinet: Open Back
  • Controls: Power Switch, Hi-/Lo- Switch, Volume, Tone
  • Weight: 26.75 lbs

Even without popular brand backing, the VHT Special 6 Combo is doing great in the entry level tube amp market. Most users commend its vintage style bright clean tones, but its not limited to just that, because there are those who find the overdriven tones to be of good quality. One guitarist described it as a "soulful" amp, so much so that even harmonica players took notice and have been playing through the amp.

There are some who notice tone changes after playing for a while, but thankfully most of them find the change to be better. This is why some users recommend playing the amp a bit longer before making any judgments. The tube quality is also questioned by users who experienced dramatic improvements after switching out the tubes with branded ones.

With its impressive positive feedback and high ratings, the VHT Special 6 Combo is the tube amplifier to beat in this price range.

The Best Tube Amps Under $500

Blackstar HT-1R - 1W 1x8

91
GEARANK

91 out of 100. Incorporating 350+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$330
Blackstar HT-1R

Rated at just 1W, the Blackstar HT-1R is among the smallest tube amps in this list. Still, its diminutive size did not stop it from scoring big in the ratings, thanks to its sound quality and sonic flexibility. The amp features an ECC83 preamp tube, which is essentially a 12AX7, just named differently by Europeans. The poweramp section houses an ECC82 tube (also called 12AU7), which is a departure from the usual tubes that other manufacturers use. They work together with Blackstar's patented ISF (Infinite Shape Feature) to give the amp a wide array of tones, resembling the sound of American and British amps, all by simply adjusting a single knob. Another notable feature of the HT-1R is its overdrive switch, which behaves like a second channel with more gain.

Specifications:

  • Power Rating: 1W
  • Preamp Tube: 1 x ECC83
  • Poweramp Tube: 1 x ECC82
  • Speaker: 8" Speaker
  • Input: 1 x 1/4" (Instrument), 1 x 1/4" TRS (MP3 & Line)
  • Output: 1 x 1/4" TRS (Headphones), 1 x 1/4" (Speaker)
  • Cabinet: Close Back with Small Rear Ports
  • Controls: Power Switch, Overdrive Switch, Gain Knob, Volume Knob, ISF EQ, Reverb
  • Weight: 13.2 lbs

Many users describe the Blackstar HT-1R as the best bedroom tube amplifier, and it shows in its ratings. Because of its 1W amplifier, many users are able to get inspiring overdriven tones without disturbing the neighbors. Even Al Santangelo from Premier Guitar is impressed and we quote, "the real wonder of this 1-watt Blackstar is that it pumps out the crunch and demonstrates the break-up characteristics of a much more powerful amp at levels that border on inaudible". Others find its versatility to be incredible, thanks to Blackstar's ISF technology, which makes it standout when compared to regular tube amps that have limited voicings.

While the ISF feature allows for basic tone shaping, some users who want more control find the lack of basic EQ to be annoying. Still, the default sound works well in most situations, but may not sit well with those who want to shape their sound.

The Blackstar HT-1R is the perfect bedroom tube amp, ideal for those who want good plug-and-play tones without disturbing others.

Fender Super Champ X2 - 15W 1x10

90
GEARANK

90 out of 100. Incorporating 500+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$400
Fender Super Champ X2 Tube Guitar Combo Amp 15W 1x10

Fender blends traditional tube amplification and modern digital processing together inside the Super Champ X2. At its core is a true 15-Watt tube amplifier section, with a 12AX7 and two 6V6 tubes that drive a 10" speaker, and as expected it reproduces Fender's signature clean tone nicely in channel 1. But what makes this tube amp special is found in the overdrive channel, where it is equipped with a Voice knob and digital effects. The Voice knob lets you choose between 16 voicings that cover classic Blackface and Tweed models, as well as other American and British style tones. In addition, the digital effects section features 15 essential effects that include modulation, reverb, tremolo, delay and more. Other features include in-depth control over the digital effects via USB, and built-in USB recording.

Specifications:

  • Power Rating: 15W (2 Channels)
  • Preamp Tube: 1 x 12AX7
  • Poweramp Tube: 2 x 6V6
  • Speaker: 10" Fender Special Design
  • Input: 1 x 1/4"
  • Output: 1 x 1/4" Line Out, Footswitch, USB
  • Cabinet: Open Back
  • Controls: Channel Select Switch, Volume Ch1, Volume Ch2, Gain, Voice, Treble, Bass, FX Adjust, FX Select, Tap Tempo Switch
  • Weight: 24 lbs

Many users consider the Fender Super Champ X2 as the best bang per buck tube amplifier in this price range, and with everything that it can do, its easy to agree. But its not just about having the most features, because it gets a lot of thumbs up for its basic overdrive and clean tones. Nick Guppy from Music Radar also commend its convenient USB recording capability, saying: "The recorded tones are authentic, overdrives respond well to picking dynamics and the reverbs are smooth and detailed."

There are a few users who find some of the high gain tones to be lackluster, but some are able to make better use of them with a bit of tweaking. Still, for most uses, the tones are good enough.

The Fender Super Champ X2 is a multifaceted tube amp that does well in practice, live performance and recording. Highly recommended for those who want an amp that can handle these three roles efficiently.

Ibanez TSA15 Tube Screamer Combo Guitar Amp 15W 1x12"

90
GEARANK

90 out of 100. Incorporating 30+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$450
Ibanez TSA15 Tube Screamer Combo Guitar Amp 15W 1x12

At first glance, the Ibanez TSA15 seems to look like an average tube amplifier, but it does come with a simple yet effective feature - it comes bundled with a boost / overdrive circuit that is based on the popular Tubescreamer pedal. As such it gives you access to the overdriven sound that iconic guitarists like Stevie Ray Vaughn, Carlos Santana, Eric Johnson and more use. The amp section is not bad by itself, with two 12AX7 preamp tubes and two 6V6GT poweramp tubes, but combining this with its built-in boost circuit makes it a nifty practice amp to have, giving you gritty tones at lower volume levels.

Specifications:

  • Power Rating: 15W (Built-in Power Attenuator - 5W)
  • Preamp Tube: 2 x 12AX7
  • Poweramp Tube: 2 x 6V6GT
  • Speaker: 1 x 12" Celestion Seventy80
  • Input: 1 x 1/4", 1 x 1/4" (Footswitch), 1 x 1/4" (FX Loop)
  • Output: 5 x 1/4", 1 x 1/4" (FX Loop)
  • Cabinet: Open Back
  • Control Knobs: Bass, Treble, Volume, Tubescreamer (Overdrive, Tone Level), Boost
  • Weight: 33.07 lbs

It's not surprising that the Ibanez TSA15's most commended feature is its overdriven sound, specifically when used in blues and rock styles. But on the flipside, it is quite surprising that there are those who find its clean tone to be just as good, especially when you add in a bit of grit. There are also reports of the amp behaving nicely with pedals, which makes it viable for rehearsing your live performance parts at lower volume levels without compromising the tube sound that you prefer.

If you're into the grit and overdriven tones of classic blues and rock songs, then you'll definitely like the Ibanez TSA15.

Vox AC10C1 - 10W 1x10

90
GEARANK

90 out of 100. Incorporating 175+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$450

The Vox AC10C1 is a 10W tube amp that's designed to be a portable grab-and-go alternative to the company's popular AC15 and AC30 models. It essentially houses the same Vox flavor tones in a streamlined and compact configuration. It has none of the bells and whistles found in other amps, but it does come with all the essentials, including two 12AX7 preamp tubes and two EL84 tubes, along with the company's popular Top Boost circuit. It also features a 10" Celestion VX10 speaker that's housed in a closed back cabinet, both of which are meant to complement the amp's voicing. All of these features add up to give you the same clean punchy tones that Vox is popular for, with just the 2-band EQ and built-in reverb for a bit of tone personalization.

Specifications:

  • Power Rating: 10W
  • Preamp Tube: 2 × 12AX7
  • Poweramp Tube: 2 × EL84
  • Speaker: 1 x 10-inch Celestion VX10
  • Input: 1/4"
  • Output: 1/4" External Speaker
  • Cabinet: Close Back
  • Controls: Power Switch, Gain, Bass, Treble, Reverb, Volume
  • Weight: 27.12 lbs

Many users are impressed with how easy it is to get the AC10C1 to sound great, even experts are convinced that it reproduces Vox's Top Boost Tone nicely. Case in point, a Guitar World editor made this comment, "What makes it impressive is how detailed and focused its Top Boost tone is no matter what guitar is plugged into its input.". For a 10W amplifier, many say that the AC10C1 is very loud, more than enough for professional gig use as attested to by many reviewers.

While many love it for its Vox tone, there are some users who find it too bright sounding. And since it is a single channel amp, there's no getting around that Vox shimmer, so look elsewhere if you're not into the classic Top Boost tone.

You can't get more Vox than this amp in this price range, so get the AC10C1 if you're looking for this particular tone.

The Best Tube Amps Under $1000

Vox AC15C1X - 15W 1x12

93
GEARANK

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

Street Price: 

$800
Vox AC15C1X Tube Guitar Combo Amp 15-watt 1x12"

Vox played an important role in shaping the sound of iconic bands and artists, like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, Brian May, Mark Knopfler and many more. As such, it is not surprising that an amp like the Vox AC15C1x is still the go to tube amp for many guitarists. This modern day iteration follows after the AC15 British tone tradition, with minor changes that improve its overall performance and add value to the amp. It offers a bit more flexibility, thanks to its two channel design that lets you choose between Top Boost and Normal. The obvious choice would be to go the Top Boost route with its bass and treble controls, but don't look down on the Normal channel because it is useful when you want less tone coloration. Other features include the addition of a tremolo with knobs for adjusting speed and depth, as well as a built-in reverb, which are great effects to have in an amp.

Specifications:

  • Power Rating: 15W
  • Preamp: 3 x 12AX7
  • Poweramp: 2 x EL84
  • Speaker: 1 x 12" Celestion Blue Bulldog Alnico
  • Input: 2 x 1/4" (Normal / Top Boost)
  • Output: 2 x 1/4" (8/16 ohms), Footswitch
  • Cabinet: Rear Ported
  • Controls: Power, Standby, Volume, Tone Cut, Treble, Bass, Tremolo Depth & Speed, Reverb Level
  • Weight: 48.5 lbs

Reviewers have mostly great things to say about the Vox AC15C1X, citing its dynamic tone and clarity as its top traits. Some describe the sound as magical, and which many agree, with reports of it working well in clean settings or when overdriven. Build quality and workmanship also impress a lot of users.

On the downside, a few users wish that the amp came with an included footswitch, and they justify this with the amp's price tag.

While amp modelers do come close, there's just no substitute for the feel and sound of a genuine Vox amp like the AC15C1X. With its iconic status, premium build quality and tone, this is an amp that's worth every penny.

Fender Blues Deluxe - 40W 1x12"

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 600+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$800
Fender Blues Deluxe Tube Combo Guitar Amp 40W 1x12

As the name implies, the Fender Blues Deluxe is meant to reproduce the midrange warmth of classic tube amps used by blues players back in the '50s. It is based on the Fender Deluxe amp of the same era, with modern elements like channel switching and reverb added to the mix. At 40W, this tube amp can get really loud, especially when considering its triple 12AX7 tube preamp and dual 6L6 power amps. More importantly, the Fender Blues Deluxe does all this while keeping the price tag relatively low, especially when considering that the footswitch is bundled with the amp.

Specifications:

  • Power Rating: 40W
  • Preamp: 3 x 12AX7
  • Poweramp: 2 x 6L6
  • Speaker: 12" Custom Speaker
  • Input: 2 x 1/4", 1 x 1/4" (Power Amp In)
  • Output: 1 x 1/4" (Preamp Out), 1 x 1/4" (Footswitch Included)
  • Cabinet: Rear Ported
  • Main Controls: Presence, Reverb, Master, 3-Band EQ, Drive, Volume, Normal/Bright, Channel Select, Standby, Power
  • Weight: 45 lbs

One user encapsulated how the market feels about the amp by saying that the Fender Blues Deluxe is a true "working man's amplifier", but more specifically it caters to those who prefer the gritty tone of classic rock and blues. Based on reviews, its best feature is its genuine Fender tube tone, which is often described as warm. Coming in close second is its value for money, because many feel that for its sound quality and volume, they are getting more than their money's worth. It also helps a lot that it comes bundled with a footswitch and it comes with Fender's spring reverb effect built in.

Since tone is somewhat subjective, there are a few who feel that the distortion channel is lacking the saturation that they prefer. And this is not surprising because this amp is not meant for modern high-gain guitar styles, but tones like that are possible by introducing pedals into the signal chain.

Fender '57 Custom Champ - 5W 1x8"

96
GEARANK

96 out of 100. Incorporating 30+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$1000
Fender '57 Custom Champ

In a time where amp modeling continues to be popular, its refreshing to see simple amps still doing well in the market - and it doesn't get any simpler than the one volume knob interface of the Fender '57 Custom Champ. What makes it special is its handwired circuitry, which complements its tube components to reproduce genuine Fender tube tones without any complications. Its a true plug and play amp with just a volume knob, making it ideal for those who get most of their tone coloration from pedals.

Specifications:

  • Power Rating: 5W Class A
  • Preamp: 1 x 12AY7
  • Poweramp: 1 x 6V6
  • Rectifier: 1 x 5Y3GT Rectifier Tube
  • Speaker: 8" Weber Special Design Alnico Speaker
  • Input: 2 x 1/4"
  • Output: None
  • Cabinet: Rear Ported
  • Main Controls:Power, Volume
  • Equalizer: None
  • Weight: 15 lbs.

For a compact and single voicing amp, its interesting how many love the Fender '57 Custom Champ for its tone, some even describing it as a true tone monster - especially at lower volumes. Obviously, those who are into the American clean tone love the amp, but there are also those who are not necessarily Fender fans who appreciate its sound. There are also a number of users who are happy with the way it works with overdrive pedals, which gives them more tone options.

There aren't any noteworthy complaints, but it is important to point out that you're not getting much from your money in terms of versatility and control. So if you're looking for something versatile, this is not the amp for you.

If you're looking for a great sounding compact tube amp that won't complicate your setup, we highly recommend Fender '57 Custom Champ.

Things to Consider when Buying a Tube Combo Guitar Amplifier

  • 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 numerical 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 amps volume. In addition, 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.

  • Speaker

    The general idea is that 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. Medium size speakers are good enough for practice, jamming, and even recording. They are preferred by many guitarists for their mid-range emphasis.

  • Input/Output Options

    While most tube amps in this price range have a single input, there are some that 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 headphone and extension speaker outs. Those looking for quiet practice will want a headphone output. Interestingly, there are some that offer direct USB recording functionality, which makes tube amp recording even more convenient.

  • Cabinet

    Since 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.

  • 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 Tube Amp Selection Methodology

We first looked at widely available and popular combo tube amps in the sub $1000 price range. For this update, we gathered the most recent and relevant reviews, ratings, videos, and forum discussions that point to them. We ended up adding 37 of these amps short-listed and included in our database, along with over 6,800 data sources, all of which were processed via the Gearank Algorithm. This process provided us with the scores that numerically represent current market sentiment, which we then used to further narrow down the list. Finally, we decided to divide the list into three price categories: sub $300, sub $500 and sub $1000, which should make it easier to find the right tube amp for your budget. For more information about this process see How Gearank Works.

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