Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best Tube Amp for Musicians

Best Tube Amp

See which tube amps (amp heads and combo amps) are rated highly, and get tips on how to find the best tube amp that fits your playing style by comparing it with some of the best amps available in the market.

I’m of the opinion that you sound like yourself regardless of the guitar amp you use. But there are amps that can bring out better versions of yourself.

Tube amps make you sound better while keeping your core tone 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 the tube sound is often preferred for being “natural” sounding.

For example, the Princeton Reverb is a popular choice for its ability to produce a range of tones, including clean, overdriven, and warm sounds.

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

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

The Best Tube Amps 2024

Author & Contributors

The Best Tube Amp Head Under $500

Orange Micro Terror MT20

94 out of 100. Incorporating 1700+ ratings and reviews.
At publication time, this was the Highest Rated Tube Amp Head Under $500


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


  • 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 amplifier, which is not that uncommon. But Orange did a good job at getting the tone just right.

It has 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 flip side, 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 get the job done, but they are a bit 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 praiseworthy 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.


  • 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.


The Best Tube Amp Under $500 - Combo Amp

Marshall DSL1CR

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


  • Small, single speaker might not be adequate for some.
  • Limited clean headroom.


  • Excellent Marshall tone.
  • Surprisingly loud for a small amp.
  • Reverb and Effects Loop.
  • Compact, very portable, and with solid construction.

The Marshall DSL1CR is a compact, 1-watt, twin-channel, all-valve guitar combo amplifier designed for home practice and recording. It features two switchable channels (Classic and Ultra Gain) and offers genuine valve-driven tones powered by a preamp and power tubes. A digital reverb and power reduction control add depth to the sound and make it suitable for quiet practice.

This amp is perfect for blues, rock music, and classic metal fans, offering authentic Marshall tones even at low wattage. Its compact and portable design makes it great for home practice, recording, or even taking to jam sessions. Switching between 1 Watt and 0.1 Watt output provides versatility for different settings, and it is pedal-friendly, allowing users to shape their sound further.

However, due to its 1-watt power, it may not handle large venues or loud bands, and some players miss having an effects loop for time-based effects. Additionally, it features a single 8-inch speaker, which may not suit all preferences. Overall, the Marshall DSL1CR is a fantastic home-use choice, offering iconic Marshall tones in a compact package.


  • 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
  • Effects: Chorus, Flanger, Phaser, Tremolo, Delay, Reverb
  • Input/Output: 1/4" Instrument, 1/8" Aux, 1 x 1/8" (Softube Emulated out), 1 x 1/4" (Internal Speaker)
  • Controls: Classic Gain Channel: Volume, Ultra Gain Channel: Gain, Volume, Treble, Middle, Bass, Reverb
  • Extras: Power Attenuator (0.1W)
  • Weight: 17 lbs


The Best Tube Amp Head Under $1000

Egnater Tweaker 15W

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


  • Lacks built-in reverb.
  • Complex and tricky settings.


  • Genuine tube amp sound.
  • Flexible voicing options, with 3 band EQ.
  • Provides good clean headroom.
  • Solid Build

The Egnater Tweaker 15 is a compact and versatile tube amp that delivers 15 watts of power from a pair of 6V6 tubes. This tube head is suitable for home practice, recording, or smaller gigs. Despite its modest price, it offers an impressive array of features, including Vintage/Modern voicing, US/AC/Brit tonal options, Hot/Clean modes, and a three-band EQ for sound fine-tuning.

The amp has a simple layout with Power and Standby switches, a Master knob, and various toggles on the front panel. There's an effects loop, impedance switch, speaker jacks, and voltage selector on the back. The Egnater 112X cabinet, featuring a Celestion G12H-30 speaker and input/output jacks for daisy-chaining, is a recommended match for the Tweaker head.

Reviews praise the Tweaker's ability to cover classic guitar tones, offering switchable voicings, tonal options for exploring a wide range of guitar tones, and a budget-friendly tube-driven sound. However, it may struggle in larger venues due to limited headroom, and some players might miss having separate clean and overdrive channels and built-in reverb.

The Egnater Tweaker 15 offers switchable voicings, tonal options, and a budget-friendly tube-driven sound. It is overall a great value.


  • Power: 15W
  • Preamp Tubes: 3 x 12AX7
  • Power Tubes: 2 x 6V6
  • Input: 1 x 1/4"
  • Outputs: 2 x 1/4" (Speaker)
  • Weight: 16 lbs.


The Best Tube Guitar Amps Under $1000 - Combo Amps

Vox AC30S1 - 30W 1x12"

95 out of 100. Incorporating 125+ ratings and reviews.
At publication time, this was the Equal Highest Rated Combo Tube Amp Under $1000 along with the Vox AC15C1


  • Not for AC30 purists
  • Limited features and volume


  • 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 specially designed to reproduce the sound of the AC30 with just one speaker.

This means that you get the same flavor and higher headroom as 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 flip side, 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 amplifier for guitar 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.


  • 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.

Marshall Origin20C

95 out of 100. Incorporating 325+ ratings and reviews.
Marshall Origin20C 20-watt 1x10" Tube Combo Guitar Amp


  • No Built-in Reverb.
  • Initial tubes and speakers can be upgraded for improved sound quality.


  • Tone reminiscent of vintage Marshall models.
  • Handles effects well through both front and effects loop.
  • Offers power attenuation.
  • Effective tilt switch for blending Normal and Bright channels.
  • Comes with a footswitch for Effects Loop operation.

The Marshall Origin 20C is a 20-watt combo amp with a 1x10 Celestion G10 VT Jr speaker. It offers a balance between classic valve tones and modern features in a compact and portable design. The EL34 output valves contribute to a Plexi-style grind, delivering warm, natural tube-driven sound while providing tonal versatility from clean to crunch.

The amp features useful options like Pull Boost for extra punch, Tilt Control for tonal shaping, and Output Switch for choosing between 20-watt, 3-watt, and 0.5-watt modes. It also allows connecting external cabs for increased volume or a full stack setup.

The Origin 20C boasts a classic design with solid construction. It delivers warm and natural tube-driven tones that are versatile for different playing styles. The simple and intuitive control panel allows for easy tone adjustment, and at only 13.2 kg, it's highly portable for small gigs or rehearsals.

However, it has some limitations to consider: the 20-watt power might not be enough for larger gigs, it lacks built-in reverb or effects, it may not suit extreme styles such as heavy metal, and the footswitch needs to be purchased separately.

The Marshall Origin 20C is a versatile 20-watt combo amp with classic valve tones, modern features, and a portable design. Lacking built-in reverb may be a dealbreaker, but the tone makes it worth the purchase.


  • Power Rating: 20W / 3W / 0.5W Switchable
  • Preamp Tube: 3 x ECC83
  • Poweramp Tube: 2 x EL34
  • Speaker: 1 x 10" Celestion V-Type
  • Input: 1 x 1/4" (instrument)
  • Output: 2 x 1/4" (2 x 16 ohm / Single 8 ohm), 1 x 1/4" (DI OUT), 1 x 1/4" (Internal Speaker 16 ohm),
  • Cabinet: Rear Ported
  • Control Knobs: Gain with Pull Boost, Tilt, Bass, Middle, Treble, Master, Presence
  • Weight: 30.6 lbs


Things to Consider when Buying a Combo Tube Amp

What is a Tube Amp?

This is one of the most in-escapable questions for a serious guitarist - What is a Tube Amp? The quick answer is that it is an amp that utilizes vacuum tubes for both the preamp and power amp sections. These tubes are similar to old picture tube and radio tube from back in the day.

This use of tubes differentiates the tube amp from the more common solid state amp. When comparing Tube Amp vs Solid State from a neutral point of view, you'll notice that electric guitars sound more well-rounded and natural.

This is especially obvious when driven hard because tubes clip sound in a way that is pleasing to the ears. This results in preamp and power amp distortion that sound really good. And this sound quality is what endears tube amps to guitarists even to this day when vacuum tubes are considered old technology.

With the emergence of good digital sound processing and quality Class D amps, you can now get "tube amp" like sound via amp modeling. These digital emulations get really close to the real thing theses days, but there still is enough difference for many guitarists to still prefer tube amps, especially when recording.

Sound Quality

Sound quality is the main factor to consider when it comes to buying tube amplifiers. 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 utilizing the reviews of the people who actually used the amps, you can get a reliable picture of how good an amp sounds.

Tube amps are beloved for use with a Reamp box, improving the tone of an already recorded guitar track.

Amp Tone or Voicing

Different amps have different voicings, and the differences range from subtle to obvious. Some experts (including manufacturers) divide tube amp tones into flavors, usually labeled American tone (emphasizes the highs and lows) and British tone (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 Marshall Amps, Blackstar Amplification, and Fender Amps) produce tube amps with multiple voicings. They are ideal if you want sonic flexibility. Because of voicing variations, the best tube amps for guitar can be vastly different depending on the musical genre you play.

But don't be surprised if there are amps like the Fender Twin which sticks to the familiar formula of warm sounding tube tones without any extra voicings.

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, these amplifier boxes 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 give 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.


Since combo amps come with speakers, the amp section is housed in 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.

Another obvious function of the cabinet is to protect the amp's internal parts. It's visual look also gives the guitarist a visual image of how the amp sounds like.

Cabinets are where some cheap tube amp manufacturers cut corners, which can result in Amp Buzz, and other unwanted noise. Keep this in mind when you're considering affordable tube amps.


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. Also note that many amps can drive an external speaker for better projection.

Power Rating and Attenuation

The amp's 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 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. This also means that tube amps tend to have different ratings on its power supply.


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. Still, there are tube amplifiers that have expanded EQ controls like the Mesa Boogie Mark V.

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 a quiet practice amp will want one with a headphone output. Interestingly, some offer direct USB recording functionality, which makes tube amp recording even more convenient.

Extra Features

Solid state amps tend to have more extra features, but some tube amps do come with nice additions. Extra features like spring or digital 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. Other amps have extra features that relate to build quality, like being hand wired instead of using modern PCB boards.

Other Amp Types to consider:

Solid State Amps - Discover the differences between tube amplifiers and solid state amplifiers in terms of sound and performance.

Modeling Amps - Explore the best modelling amps that replicate the sound and look of classic amplifiers.

Best Combo Tube Amp Selection Methodology

The first edition was published in 2017. The current edition was published on June 27, 2024

We began by scouring the tube amp market for highly rated combo and head tube amps for electric guitar. We limited our scope to those that are readily available at major retailers in the USA. This filters out some hard to get boutique amp models. Still, we ended up putting 76 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 23,600 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

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.


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


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.

15 thoughts on “Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best Tube Amp for Musicians”

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

    1. 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.


  2. 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.

    1. 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?

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