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

The Highest Rated Tube Combo Amps

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Even if you have a great guitar, a less than stellar amplifier will hold you back on your tonal journey. To say that an amp makes or breaks your tone is an understatement. While many can argue where tone really is, the last thing in the signal chain is always what puts out the sound into the air and onto our ears, If that takes away from the tone, any effort put into investing in a great guitar or great effects will fall flat.

While modelling tech has gotten so advanced that the devices now have enough more processing power than computers years ago, nothing beats a guitar going into a roaring (or chiming) tube amp.

For this 2021 edition, we scouted the best tube amp combos at different price points to help you decide which is the best one for you. Need loud gigging amp? Or a small blues box for lazy afternoons at the porch? We've got you covered.

Our recommended list starts with affordable tube amps that are priced under $300. These are usually lower in wattage and are best suited for an enjoyable playing experience at home or in the studio. The $500-range tube amps bring on more wattage, better speakers, or more features and effects. The last price point shows the best tube amps at under $1000. These represent a nice balance between value and performance short of boutique and signature offerings.

The Best Tube Amps

Author & Contributors

Raphael PulgarRaphael Pulgar

An audio engineer of nearly 20 years who specializes in rock and metal recordings, he also plays guitar and produces original music for his band and other content creators.

The Best Tube Amps Under $300

Monoprice 611815 - 15W 1x12"

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 700+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$250
Monoprice 611815 - 15-Watt 112 Tube Combo Guitar Amp

This affordable tube combo amp comes in a 1 x 12" combo package, with three ECC83 preamp tubes and two EL84s in the power section.

And while the brand of the amp itself is not traditionally well-known, it does drive a nice 12" speaker from a popular brand - a Celestion Seventy 80.

It has controls for gain, volume, and tone, as well as 3-band EQ knobs. For the price, it also comes with built-in spring reverb.

Other features include having a cream-colored synthetic leather exterior and cloth speaker grill.

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

Pros
Value for money is the main selling point of this amp. Though it's not just about being budget-friendly for some users because they are impressed with its tone; especially its mid-gain tone. Even the amp's clean tone gets kudos, some users even write that with its tone, they would still buy this amp even if it was priced higher. The amp's spring reverb is another great addition according to many owners of the amp.

Cons
Some users weren't happy with the quality of the default tubes used in the amp. They recommend replacing the tubes, especially the preamp tubes to make the most of the Monoprice 611815. Ironically, this issue also hurts the overall value of the amp, because you'll have to spend a bit more to do that. Still, the overall expense is lower compared to amps with similar specs from some popular brands.

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

Bugera V5 Infinium - 5W 1x8"

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 650+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$259
Bugera V5 Infinium

At time of publication this was the Highest Rated Combo Tube Amp Under $300.

Bugera is a sub-brand of Behringer, tasked to make tube amplifiers more accessible. The V5 Infinium is one of their more popular Class A tube combo amp, rated at 5W with a single 8" speaker.

This particular model is meant to be a practice friendly amp with genuine tube tone with its built-in power attenuator that lets you switch between 5W, 1W, and 0.1W. This allows you to crank the amp's 12AX7 preamp and EL84 power amp at very low volumes.

Other features include digital reverb and Infinium technology, which extends the life of tubes by monitoring and maintaining their ideal operating level.

Specifications:

  • Power Rating: 5W (5W|1W|0.1W settings)
  • Preamp Tube: 1 x 12AX7
  • Poweramp Tube: 1 x EL84
  • Speaker: 8" TurboSound Speaker
  • Input: 1 x 1/4"
  • Output: 1 x 1/4" Internal Speaker, 1 x 1/4" Headphones
  • Cabinet: Open Back
  • Controls: Power Switch, Power Attenuator Switch, Gain, Tone, Volume, Reverb
  • Weight: 22.1 lbs

Pros
For something so small and cheap, many are impressed with how much tone they are getting, to be more specific, people love its overdriven tone. Paul White of Sound on Sound even commented commented "...it does deliver a raunchy crunch tone reminiscent of ZZ Top, as well as being a very nice blues amp with the warm and responsive sound that only valves seem to give". Also, there are plenty of positive responses that point to the amp's power attenuator.

Cons
As expected in this price range, some users recommend swapping out the default tubes to get the most out of this amp. Also note that while the overdriven tone is well-loved, the clean tone seems to be off the mark for some users.

Overall
The Bugera V5 Infinium is an affordable tube amp for those who want nothing less than genuine tube tone for their practice.

The Best Tube Amps Under $500

Supro Blues King 8 - 1w 1x8"

91
GEARANK

91 out of 100. Incorporating 40+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$399
Supro Blues King 8 1x8" 1-watt Tube Combo Amp

You don't need a loud, roaring amp for electric blues. A small, low-wattage amp like the Supro Blues King 8 is the perfect companion to lazy afternoons where you just feel like letting loose to some backing tracks in A minor to let off some steam.

Despite its 1 watt rating, it still puts out an impressive volume for home use especially when cranked.

Cranking the Blues King 8 rewards you with sweet saturation that is otherwise unattainable with higher wattage amps without disturbing the neighborhood.

It features a 12AX7 Preamp Tube and a 12AU7 Power Amp Tube.

The boost is switchable via external footswitch. An 8" Supro BK8 rounds out the little combo.

Specifications:

  • Power Rating: 1W
  • Preamp Tube: 1 x 12AX7
  • Poweramp Tube: 1 x 12AU7
  • Speaker: 8" Supro BK8
  • Input: 1 x 1/4"
  • Output: 1 x 1/4" Line Out,1 x 1/4" Footswitch
  • Cabinet: Open Back
  • Controls: Power Switch, Volume, Tone, Master, Boost Switch
  • Weight: 15 lbs

Pros
The Supro Blues King 8 gets a lot of love from blues veterans and newbies alike. The tone is described as "soulful" and a much better alternative to solid state equivalents in terms of feel and expression. Some studio engineers also found it a great recording amp. One user inspired by Billy Gibbons' use of a miked up Pignose practice amp, successfully used his Supro Blues King 8 for live use (miked up, that is).

Cons
People knew exactly what kind of amp they were getting and Supro does a great job of setting that expectation so we found very little in terms of complaints with the amp. One person wished there was at least reverb, but they admit that would be asking too much already.

Overall
The Supro Blues King 8 is an amazing little amp that could. At low to mid gain, you're given a nice clean and edge-of-breakup tone, perfect for the hits of yesteryear. At full volume, you get a howling blues tone that could delve into early punk if you want.

Marshall DSL1CR - 1W 1x8"

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 275+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$400
Marshall DSL1CR

Marshall's tube-driven crunch tone continues to be the go-to overdrive / distortion tone for many players.

The DSL1CR gives you that familiar crunch tone, albeit in a smaller and quieter profile, allowing you to conjure classic rock tube tones while keeping the peace at home and in your neighborhood.

This combo amp is rated at 1W, with two ECC83 preamp tubes, and a single ECC82 in the power amp section. At the rear of the amp is a power attenuator switch that reduces the wattage further down to 0.1W, if you want to crank the amp's gain levels while keeping the overall volume low.

Also, this amp has two channels, Classic Gain and Ultra Gain, and it comes packed with a single 8" Celestion Eight 15 speaker.

Specifications:

  • Power Rating: 1W / 0.1W (Via Low Power Button)
  • Preamp Tube: 2 x ECC83
  • Poweramp Tube: 1 x ECC82
  • Speaker: 1 x 8" Celestion Eight 15
  • Input: 1/4" Instrument, 1/8" Aux
  • Output: 1 x 1/8" (Softube Emulated out), 1 x 1/4" (Internal Speaker)
  • Cabinet: Rear Ported
  • Control Knobs: Classic Gain Channel: Volume, Ultra Gain Channel: Gain, Volume, Treble, Middle, Bass, Reverb
  • Weight: 17 lbs

Pros
One user aptly describes the Marshall DSL1CR as a little monster amp. And while most reviewers who are happy with its tone are referring to overdriven tones, some are pleased with this amp's clean tone as well. The ability to lower the power rating further down to 0.1W is also very well received, especially for those who are looking for killer tones for their practice sessions.

Cons
There are a few who are not that impressed with the DSL1CR's tone, especially in low gain settings. Thankfully they are far outnumbered by happy and satisfied owners of the amp.

Overall
The Mashall DSL1CR is quite a catch for those who are looking for a quiet practice amp that utilizes genuine tubes.

Vox AC10C1 - 10W 1x10"

91
GEARANK

91 out of 100. Incorporating 550+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$500
Vox AC10C1 Tube Guitar Combo Amp

The Vox AC10C1 is a modern day version of the original AC10.

While the current incarnation has very little in common with the 1959 original, it retains its place in the Vox lineup as a compact and versatile, low-wattage amp for small venues and studio use.

It features 2 12AX7 preamp tubes and 2 EL84 Power amp tubes with a 10" Celestion VX10 pushing air.

Despite the small size and wattage, the amp also features built-in reverb.

Specifications:

  • Power Rating: 10W RMS
  • Preamp Tube: 2 x 12AX7
  • Poweramp Tube: 2 x EL84
  • Speaker: 1 x 10" Celestion VX10 custom speaker
  • Input: 1 x 1/4"
  • Output: 1 x 1/4" External speaker out
  • Cabinet: Closed Back
  • Controls: Power Switch, Gain, Bass, Treble, Volume, Reverb
  • Weight: 27.12 lbs.

Pros
Many who bought the AC10C1 wanted a secondary amp to contrast their larger, higher volume rigs. They were surprised to find that the AC10C1 holds its own against larger amps in terms of feel and chime. Some were surprised at how loud it can actually get. A user with a vintage AC10 noted that while they share very little component-wise, the vibe and chime that is the Vox sound is there. When pushed, it has a rich sounding overdrive that brings you close to Brian May territory without getting noise complaints.

Cons
The same person who owned the vintage AC10 noted that the AC10C1 is not a reissue. Some people bought the amp thinking it is but it is more of a modern take on the same wattage.

Overall
If you're looking for a clean and chimey amp (and the occasional crunch) for the bedroom or the studio, the AC10C1 is a great choice.

Special Mention

The following amp was priced under $500 when we first published this edition, however we have decided to leave it here even though the price has since increased.

Fender Pro Junior IV - 15w 1x10"

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 125+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$550
Fender Pro Junior IV Tube Guitar Amp

At publication time this was the Highest Rated Combo Tube Amp Under $500 (the price went up after this edition was published).

Don't be fooled by its diminutive stature and minimal controls: The Fender Pro Junior IV lives up to the "pro" in its name.

It's a fully capable gigging amp putting out 15 tube watts of power.

15 watts is loud enough for small club gigs or getting the attention of your neighbors.

Specifications:

  • Power Rating: 15W
  • Preamp Tube: 2 x 12AX7
  • Poweramp Tube: 2 x EL84
  • Speaker: 1 x 10" Jensen P10R
  • Input: 1 x 1/4"
  • Cabinet: Open Back
  • Control Knobs:Volume, Tone
  • Weight: 22.85 lbs.

Pros
Many people who loved the amp were drawn by its simplicity. They were also surprised to find out how versatile it is with pedals. On its own, the basic tone of the Fender Pro Junior IV is a sparkling and warm sounding clean and crunch that's perfect for blues and jazz. This polite tonality morphs into a monster when you run overdrives, distortions, and fuzzes through it.

Cons
May be too bright for some people. The small speaker won't be flapping trousers anytime soon.

Overall
For a great pedal platform or standalone blues amp, the Pro Junior IV delivers straight-to-the-point tone.

The Best Tube Amps Under $1000

At publication time, the following amps were all tied for Equal Highest Rated Combo Tube Amp Under $1000: Vox AC15C1, Vox AC15C1X and Vox AC30S1.

Vox AC15C1 - 15W 1x12"

96
GEARANK

96 out of 100. Incorporating 1200+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$700
Vox AC15C1 15W Tube Combo Amp

The British Invasion starts here!

The Vox AC15 is arguably the most important amp in the rise of the Britpop sound of the '60s.

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 Vox AC15C1 continues this legacy with the same chimey cleans and fat grit when pushed; perfect for today's brand of indie and alternative rock.

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

Pros
Many users called this their dream amp, particularly fans of the Beatles. The unmistakable Vox chime is the holy grail for many users and most of them have been enamored by the sweet, harmonically rich tones from the AC15C1. The built-in reverb and tremolo were also praised to be good. The Celestion Greenback also modernizes the tone and for many users, this is a welcome tonality.

Cons
Purists who prefer the sound of the original Jensen speakers did not like the use of a Celestion Greenback: a speaker more commonly associated with Marshalls.

Overall
If you want a great, harmonically rich tone with a more modern voicing, the AC15C1 is the perfect companion for your strums.

Vox AC15C1X - 15w 1x12"

96
GEARANK

96 out of 100. Incorporating 150+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$900
Vox AC15C1X

The main difference between the AC15C1 and AC15C1X is the introduction of the Celestion Alnico Blue Speaker in the C1X version.

The Alnico Blue speaker is described by Celestion as having a dampened attack and warm low midrange.

Brian May used this tone to his advantage, with his signature lead tone being fat and harmonically rich.

This pairing results in an incarnation of the AC15 with great warm chime and thick overdrive tones.

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

Pros
Many users were impressed with the tone of the AC15C1X, citing the speakers to be the deciding factor for them choosing this versison. The tone is described as dynamic and warm with a lot of clarity thanks to the speaker's great pairing with the amplifier. Other descriptions include "3d sounding" and noting it to have "depth".

Cons
The lack of an included footswitch was a minor gripe with people given the price.

Overall
If you're looking for a version of the Vox classic with a warmer and thicker tone, check out the AC15C1X.

Vox AC30S1 - 30W 1x12"

96
GEARANK

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

Street Price: 

$900
Vox AC30S1

The Vox AC30S1 is as straightforward as it gets with its single-channel format coupled with a single 12" Celestion speaker.

It is designed to be that way, to put the spotlight on the classic AC30 Top Boost tone, and nothing else.

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.

Controls are also kept to a minimum, but enough to go from the familiar Chimey sound of old Vox amps, up to smooth overdrive.

Finally, this amp comes with reverb and an effects loop, which makes sense since this amp is designed for those who get their tone-shaping from pedals.

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

Pros
The tone is the most commended feature of this amp, to be more specific, owners love its clean chimey tone. Together with its effects loop, many find the amp's clean tone to be very pedal-friendly. There are also a good number of positive remarks on the amp's overdriven tone, which is described as smooth and responsive. Guitar Player Magazine's Dave Hunter concluded his review by saying: "All in all, the AC30S1 looks the part and delivers an admirable portion of the essence of this British classic in a compact and moderately priced package that’s much easier to schlep to gigs than a full-sized AC30."

Cons
Its lack of features can be a let down for those who want something more versatile.

Overall
If you're looking for a classic sounding plug-and-play tube amp that works well with pedals, then this should be at the top of your list.

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.

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 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.

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. 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, 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.

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 Combo Tube Amp Selection Methodology

The first edition was published in 2017 and the current edition was published on July 27, 2021.

We began by looking at combo tube amps for electric guitar at major retailers in the USA and ended up putting 46 of them on our short-list for closer examination. We then examined relevant reviews, ratings and forum discussions about each amp on our short-list - this came to a total of more than 12,200 sources. We used that information to report on the pros and cons of each amp we've recommended above and we also 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

An audio engineer of nearly 20 years who specializes in rock and metal recordings, he also plays guitar and produces original music for his band and other content creators.

Aside from endlessly window shopping and watching hours of gear reviews for leisure, he enjoys playing competitive FPS games, MMORPGs and caring for his 5 cats. He is primarily influenced by guitarists like Kurt Ballou and Paul Gilbert. His favorite pieces of gear are his Ibanez RG550RFR, Orange Brent Hinds Terror amplifier and EQD Acapulco Gold fuzz.

Contributors

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

Media

Main/Top Image: Created by Gearank.com using photographs of the Fender Pro Junior IV, Vox AC30S1 and Marshall DSL1CR.

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.

Comments

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?