12 Best Tube Amps in 2018
There’s something about that rich tube-amp tone that guitar players never tire of, and we want you to find the best tube amp so you can experience that sound for yourself. Anyone who can put tubes in an amp will try to get you to lay down your cash for their products, but we’ve done a bit of research that should de-mystify the whole tube-amp-shopping process.
Here in our guide, we’ll not only highlight the top 12 tube amps but also provide you with detailed reviews of our five favorite amps as well as provide you with useful shopping tips to help you sort through all the options.
If you were feeling a bit uneasy about the choices, you won’t be after you read our expert tube amp tips!
Top 12 Tube Amps Comparison Chart
|Design||Name||Watts||Pre-set Effects?||Rating (1-5)|
|1. Blackstar HT1R Series Guitar Combo Amplifier||1||Yes; Overdrive||4.7|
|2. BUGERA V5 INFINIUM||5||None||4.4|
|3. Fender Hot Rod 0213205700 Blues Junior III 15-W LTD Tube Guitar Combo Amplifier||180||Yes; Reverb and Overdrive||4.4|
|4. BUGERA BC15||30||Yes; Lead and Distortion||4.3|
|5. VOX AC4C1BL Custom Series Top Boost Tube Combo Amplifier||4||No||4.2|
|6. BUGERA V22 INFINIUM||22||No||4.2|
|7. Orange Micro Dark Terror Hybrid Amp||20||No||4.2|
|8. Fender Blues Deluxe Reissue 40-Watt 1×12-Inch Guitar Combo Amp||40||Yes; Overdrive||4.1|
|9. Fender 68 Custom Princeton Reverb Amplifier||45||No||4.1|
|10. Peavey 6505+ 112 Combo Guitar Electric Guitar Amplifier||60||Yes; Lead, Rhythm, and Crunch||4.0|
|11. Blackstar HT-5R 5-Watt 1×12-Inch Guitar Combo Amp||5||Yes; Clean and Overdrive||3.9|
|12. Vox AC4TV All-tube Practice Amplifier||4||No||3.6|
How to Choose Your New Tube Amp
There’s a sound that you’re trying to achieve, and finding the best tube amp for you is the shortest route to getting you there. We’ve got a few tips to help streamline your shopping and take some of the guesswork out of the process, so before you sit down in a guitar store and plug into your first tube amp, let’s talk about a few things.
- How Many Pedals, If Any, Do You Want to Use? – It’s pretty uncommon to play pedal-free these days. Even if you’re using a bit of reverb for a nice surfy echo or if you’ve got a whole lineup of pedals for every conceivable sound, your amp might be able to save you some time. Many tube amps will feature pre-set effects like reverb, overdrive, or compression. If you’re looking for a simple sound with the possibility of a few options, one of these amps can easily turn into your all-in-one system.
- Is This Amp Going to Stand Alone, or Will It Feed out to a Bigger System? – One of the features that come standard with a number of amps is the ability to feed it into a larger cabinet speaker. Some amps even have digital outs that let you send the signal to a computer for further processing or recording. These make excellent practice amps as well, but with a bit of forethought, you can take your amp into larger settings; this is helpful if you get to like the particular tone of an amp, as you can continue to get that tone while you’re connected to a larger PA or recording system.
Watt’s with the All the Noise?
Okay, talking about courtesy isn’t a very rock-n-roll thing to do, but if you want to keep playing, you’ve got to think about others. High-wattage amps are going to deliver a truckload of sound, but it can sometimes be difficult to keep them quiet if you’re playing late at night or in spaces with paper-thin walls. If noise is a concern, we recommend that you aim for low-watt amps. Until recently, low-watt tube amps were hard to find, but there’s a number of them on the market, and the small size and low-power output make them ideal for anyone who wants to play in a tight space.
Vintage Is in, and It’s So Easy
Back in the day, if you wanted the look of a vintage amp, you had to buy an amp that was older than your parents. Today, the vintage look is a key selling point in the tube-amp market. If you’re convinced that you have to get a vintage amp for a real vintage sound or appearance, you really need to check out what’s for sale before you put down vintage-level cash.
Orange, Fender, and Vox, for starters, are delivering vintage-style tube amps with modern reliability and features that you couldn’t dream of getting with a 50-year old amp. You can get the look of the 40’s, 50’s or 70’s in your amp while also getting USB ports, pre-set effects, and Bluetooth capability. So maybe not-so-vintage is the way to go?
Top 5 Best Tube Amp Reviews
The Blackstar HT1R might not impress you with only one watt of power, but what it does with one watt makes it our #1 pick. The high-quality tube gives you big amp sound on a desktop scale, making this perfect for kids, apartment dwellers, or beginners.
The infinite adjustment feature lets you find your perfect tone, from the US to the UK, and because everyone likes a bit of crunch, all you have to do for overdrive is push a button and begin shredding. The single-watt volume still has the modeled tone of a 100-watt speaker, and a headphone jack lets you practice in relative silence.
This amp has an MP3 input and an 8-ohm speaker out so you can easily connect it to a larger amp or a cabinet for full-volume playing or input into recording hardware.
The Bugera has the perfect tube-amp appearance that will have you sold before you ever plug in. Using a single tube and a 10-watt circuit, this versatile little amp can do anything from blues to metal.
The British-engineered turbo sound speaker isn’t going to let you down, from the desktop to the rehearsal space. The high-sensitivity tone, treble, and bass controls give you precise adjustments to your sound, and the added reverb feature is like having an extra pedal in your bag. Like other amps, this one also has an external jack so you can connect it to a larger cabinet for big-wattage gigs or jam sessions.
The V5 Infinium also incorporates a wattage reducing feature that lets you take it down to 5, 1, or 0.1 watts, so you can be sure to always keep the volume at the proper level for your environment.
When you think of a tube amp, a Fender amp is what comes to mind for most players, and nothing could look more vintage than the Fender Hot Rod Blues Junior III. It’s got all the touches, like the tweed exterior, the leather handle, and the distinctive grill cloth. However, on the inside, you get tube amp tone and a whole lot more.
You get the warm, classic tone that you expect from a tube amp, and the adjustable reverb lets you find that perfect spot for a bigger sound when you play. The overdrive switch is a nice touch, as it has the sound of a Fender legacy pedal with a simple, versatile voice that is great for a classic rock sound.
It’s quiet enough for home use, but the 15 watts is definitely enough for practices and smaller gigs like coffee shops, church gatherings, and house parties.
The eight-inch, vintage-tuned speaker of the Bugera BC15 produces exactly the kind of tone you’re looking for in a tube amp, but you’ll have to stop looking at it long enough to plug in and start playing. The vintage sound is there, and the white faux-leather exterior gives this pint-sized powerhouse a stunning, European-style appearance.
The two-channel preamp and wide gain produce the fattest sound possible, and you can really get to the top of that 30-watt output before the tone begins to break up. A pre-set distortion gives you more to play with, but this amp is so good with pedals that we think you should find your favorite distortion or overdrive pedal and make sure it’s always handy.
For the value, this is an amp that just can’t be beat. The only downside we found is that it doesn’t have an external jack, so you can’t connect it to a cabinet or larger amp.
This amp is one of the earliest offerings for a low-wattage tube amp. You might think that this look is retro, but the VOX AC4C1BL looks pretty much the way it did when it was introduced in the early 1960s.
At the center you have a 10-inch Celestion speaker with a two-tube pre-amp and simple controls for volume, treble, bass, and master volume. It’s the simple and effective tone of this amp that has made it so sought after and kept it in continual production for over 50 years. Blue vinyl and Tygon grill cloth really finish off the good looks.
It’s not the cheapest of our top-5 offerings, but we promise that this is a tube amp that doesn’t disappoint. It’s got an external output so you can connect it to a cabinet speaker, but we think you’ll be surprised how much voice you can get out of the four-watt design.
Personal preference is going to steer you towards the best tube amp for you, but as far as we’re concerned, it breaks down like this:
There are so many good things to say about the Blackstar HT1R that it’s just easier to say that this one deserved the top spot. It has an excellent sound, and the additional output functionality make it a solid choice for any semi-serious musician. It’s also excellent when paired with an acoustic guitar, which just gives it one more reason to get excited. The only downside is that it doesn’t have a vintage-style appearance.
If the vintage appearance is essential, but you also want a full-sized, full-throated tube amp, then our choice is the Fender Hot Rod Blues Junior III. It may have come in at #3, but the big sound and classic tweed exterior give it a look that perfectly matches the sound. When we think vintage amp, this is the one we see in our heads.
And if you’ve got a bit extra to spend, you won’t go wrong with the Vox AC4C1BL. A vintage sound and a look that would be right at place on a 1962 Pan Am flight keeps this model in production, and we think you’d have a good time if you plugged in and felt the difference for yourself.