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, based on actual 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.
|VHT Special 6 Combo||90||90+||$250|
|Fender Super Champ X2||89||250+||$380|
|Bugera V55 Infinium||90||80+||$450|
|Blackstar HT Club 40||96||225+||$600|
The Best Tube Amps Under $300
Monoprice 611705 - 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.
- 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 is overwhelmingly positive, with its incredible value for money being its standout attribute. Many guitarists loved its warm tube tone, while others reported that it works really 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 were a few users who found it to be too clean sounding, reporting that it required a bit more cranking to get good overdriven tones. Some minor build quality issues were also reported, but those that reported them still rated the amp highly for its overall quality.
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.
Bugera V5 Infinium - 5W 1x8
Bugera is one of Behringer's many sister companies, sharing the same impressive ability to balance price and quality. The Bugera V5 Infinium highlights this balance, offering traditional Class A tube amp specs and built-in power attenuation, while retaining a budget-friendly price. Its most notable feature is the switchable power attenuator, which you normally have to buy separately. The V5 Infinium lets you choose between 5W, 1W and 0.1W power, allowing you to drive the amplifier to good overdrive levels at lower volumes - which lets you better utilize the 12AX7 preamp and EL84 poweramp that it comes with. In addition, it also comes with digital reverb to make your tone more interesting. Finally, Bugera equipped this amp with their Infinium technology, which monitors and maintains the tubes at their ideal operating level, to extend their life.
- 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
Many reviewers point to the Bugera V5 Infinium's versatile power attenuator as its best asset, while other users are equally impressed with its tone. Sound on Sound's Paul White 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". Many users also have the same sentiment, commending the amp for its overdriven tone.
Those who prefer brighter sounding amps find the treble lacking, with some describing the sound to be a bit too dark for their taste. Some users reported getting better results by swapping out the amp's default tubes, and they recommend that others do the same.
The Bugera V5 Infinium is a versatile practice tube amp that stays within reasonable price range, highly recommended if you're into crunch and darker tones.
VHT Special 6 Combo - 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 in tact. 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.
- 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 continues to be popular 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 also users 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 started playing through the amp.
There are some who noticed that the amp's sound changed after playing for a while. Thankfully most of them found that the amp sounded better. This is why some users recommend playing the amp a bit longer before making any judgements. The quality of the default tubes were 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
Rated at just 1W, the Blackstar HT-1R is the smallest tube amp 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.
- 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 were able to get inspiring overdriven tones without disturbing the neighbors. Even Al Santangelo from Premier Guitar was 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, making it easily 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 over the sound found 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
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.
- 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, we tend to agree. But its not just about having the most features because many find the clean and overdriven channel to be great sounding. Nick Guppy from Music Radar also commended 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 were a few users who find some of the high gain tones to be lackluster, but some where able to make better use of them with a bit of tweaking. Still, for most uses, even experts agree that 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.
Bugera V55 Infinium - 55W 1x12
Bugera made it possible to own a feature packed 55W tube amp in the sub $500 price range with the V55 Infinium. This two channel amp features a multi-gain preamp stage with three 12AX7 tubes, while a pair of 6V6 tubes drive the output. And it doesn't end with just tubes, because this amp comes with essential gigging features that include having two independent channels, a complement of EQ knobs, a switchable reverb and a boost switch for even more gain. Bugera also equipped the V55 with a Pentode/Triode Mode switch that essentially lets you reduce the output power to half for driving the amp at lower volume levels. Thanks to its bigger 12" speaker, the lower frequencies are more defined, which is quite impressive for the price. Finally, the tubes are protected by Bugera's Infinium technology, which helps prolong tube life and features tube life monitoring via small LED lights at the back.
- Power Rating: 55W (2 Channel)
- Preamp Tube: 3 x 12AX7
- Poweramp Tube: 2 x 6L6
- Speaker: 12" Turbosound
- Input: 2 x 1/4" (Normal / Bright)
- Output: 2 x 1/4" Effects Loop, Footswitch
- Cabinet: Open Back
- Control Knobs: Clean, Gain, Volume, Bass, Mid, Treble, Master, Presence, Reverb
- Control Switches: Standby, Power, Channel, Boost, Mode (Triode / Pentode), Output Speaker Impedance
- Weight: 50.7 lbs
The overall market response to the Bugera V55 Infinium is largely positive, with most users pointing to its combination of gig-ready specs and affordable price tag as its strong points. One user aptly put saying that this amp screams, loud enough for most stage and gig settings. It also helps that the amp has an elegant vintage appearance, which many users approve of.
While the clean channel received a lot of praise, there were a few users who were not satisfied with the high-gain tones. And some recommend switching out the generic tubes to get the most out of the amp.
If power and extra headroom is important to you, then the Bugera V55 Infinium is highly recommended.
Vox AC10C1 - 10W 1x10
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 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.
- 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, quite a lot of users found the AC10C1 to be 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
Blackstar HT Club 40 - 40W 1x12
Thanks to ISF (Infinite Shape Feature) technology, Blackstar is able to expand the possible tones that you can get from an amp, and do so without stripping it of genuine tube elements. The HT Club 40 is a great example of what this technology can do, this gig-ready tube amplifier has all the traditional features, while having comparable versatility to a digital amp modeler. With 40 watts of power, two ECC83 and two EL34 tubes, and a 12" Celestion speaker, this amp has juice for professional gigging. The extra EQ controls and built-reverb adds a bit more tone shaping options, while the effects loop with level control makes the amp more compatible with complex pedalboard setups. All these features add up to make the HT Club 40 a gig-ready versatile tube amplifier that can cater to the needs of different musical styles.
- Power Rating: 40W (2 Channels)
- Preamp: 2 x ECC83
- Poweramp: 2 x EL34
- Speaker: 12" Celestion Speaker
- Input: 1 x 1/4"
- Output: 3 x 1/4" (Speaker), 1 x 1/4" (DI), Effects Loop, Footswitch
- Cabinet: Rear Ported
- Main Controls: Standby, Power, Channel, Master, Reverb, Reverb Type, Effects Loop Level
- Equalizer: Bass, Middle, Treble, ISF
- Clean Channel Controls: Volume, Tone, Voice Switch
- Overdrive Channel Controls: Gain, Volume, Voice Switch
- Weight: 53.8 lbs
With its impressively high ratings, its hard to deny that Blackstar hit all the right notes with the HT Club 40. Many are impressed with its tone and versatility, with some users even describing it as "Perfection". Peter Hodgson of I Heart Guitar puts it nicely, "There are many players who would dig this amp. Country spank, bluesy grit, rock crunch, shred scream and even fusion tactility are all in here".
There weren't really any notable complaints, other than some users who wish that the Blackstar HT Club 40 had three channels for easier switching between clean, crunch and lead.
If you want nothing less than the best guitar tube amplifier combo in the sub $1000 price range, then the Blackstar HT Club 40 is the one to get.
Vox AC15C1X - 15W 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.
- 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. One user even described the sound as magical, and many will agree because it has been reported to work well in clean settings or when overdriven. The amp's build quality and workmanship also impressed 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.
Things to Consider when Buying a Tube Combo Guitar Amplifier
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.
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 require 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 solidstate amps of the same power rating specification.
The general idea is that bigger the speaker size, the more lower frequencies it can reproduce, ideal for those who play with lots of low notes. 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.
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.
Since Closed Back cabinets project the sound forward, they produce a punchier and clearer tone. They are preferred by sound men 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 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.
We first looked at widely available and popular combo tube amps in the sub $1000 price range. We then gathered relevant reviews, ratings, videos, and forum discussions that point to them. We ended up adding 25 of them in our database, and processed the data we gathered via the Gearank Algorithm. This process provided us with the scores that numerically represent market sentiment and response, which we then used to further narrow down the list to just the best tube amps per price category. 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.