best small tube amp

10 Best Small Tube Amp Top Picks – Low Watt Combo & Heads

Despite the presence of solid-state and digital power amps, many guitarists still prefer the more classic, natural-ish sound of the tube amps. However, the saturated brilliance of the white-hot tubes may sometimes be too loud especially if you are jamming away at your home or apartment.

If such is the case with you, a good trade-off is to settle for the best low watt small tube amps. That said, the difficult thing is to zero in on a quality small tube amp which is able to give you great cranked (or clean) tones in the front end even at lower volumes and that, too, at a reasonable price point for tube sound.

There are hordes of manufacturers making all sorts of claims, so it’s anything but easy to make up your mind. So, to make the task easier for you, we’ve done the research and prepared a list of most popular low watt small tube amps that guitarists of today from across various genres like best in a valve amplifier with small form factor.

Our Low Watt Small Tube Amp Recommendations

Best Small Tube Amps For The Money – VHT AV-SP1-6 Special 6

VHT AV-SP1-6 Special 6 When it comes to entry level small tube amps, VHT Special-6 seems to be a hot favorite with more than a few guitarists and it is our top pick for best small tube amp for the money. And that’s quite an achievement for a product that does not come with any popular brand backing (think Fender, Vox, Marshall!). From our research, we found a number of reasons that account for this popularity.

First of all, guitarists love the bright, crystal and somewhat vintage style clean tone of the amp that suits many different playing styles, so much so that even non-guitarists, for example harmonica players, favor this amp for its warm, clean tone. As for the overdrive, the channel produces decent quality overdriven tones that are especially suitable for blues and soft rock. And the overdrive will sound even more impressive if you pair up the amp with good pedals.

Also, as its name suggests, this is a hand-wired tube amp built applying the old point-to-point wiring technology. This is good news for aspiring modders and builders who would love to tweak with the setup to get more value out of the product.

This is a 6 watts valve amplifier (you have, however, the option to lower the wattage) that includes (for its category) a fairly regular 6V6 output tube and a 12Ax7 preamp tube. As for extras, you have a very ‘handy’ footswitch-able gain boost, not too common for tube amps of this price range.

When it comes to value proposition, the amp with its clean headroom and superb tones (not to mention its other convenient features), is an out-and-out winner. According to some guitarists, though, you can get even better value from the amp (albeit at some added costs) if you replace the built-in valve amplifier tubes with ones from more reputable manufacturers.

Best 5 Watt Tube Amp –  Blackstar HT5R MKII

Blackstar HT5R MKII The Blackstar amps are decidedly famous for their overdrives and this holds equally true for this smaller tube amp model and our pick for best 5 watt tube amp. Throughout its range, the amp’s GAIN knob on the front  panel helps you get some amazing tones. So, if distortion/gain is your thing and you are looking for some overdriven tones that will particularly fit metal and modern and classic rock sounds, this is the model for you.

As for features, you’ll love the model for its versatility. The amp comes with two separate channels for CLEAN and OVERDRIVE. The latter channel includes Volume and Gain adjustments, and despite the amp’s versatility vis-à-vis its many features, we believe it’s really the fine-grained control (the amp sounds great and retains tone clarity even at low volume levels) that makes the product so popular in its category. In addition, the front controls include a 3-band IQ and a unique ISF knob that makes you adjust your tone either to one with a recognizably British flavor or an American one. And then, you have the on-board REVERB knob which is not at all a staple item for low-watt small tube amps.

This is a 5-watt, 2-channel all-tube combo amp with on-board reverb and footswitch and the whole unit weighs around 27 lbs. The back of the unit includes a number of useful things as well, including an Effects Loop, Speaker Outputs, Headphones Output and an MP3/Line Input. And although there is no option to lower the power than 5 watts, the amp is still good enough to retain tone at low volumes.

The HT-5R is a bit on the pricey side, but you definitely get your money’s worth thanks to the sheer quality of the product as well as all its versatile features. Highly recommended.

Best 15 Watt Tube Amp – Orange Amplifiers Rocker 15

Orange Amplifiers Rocker 15 Just as Fender and Vox amps come with unique Fender and Vox tones, respectively, so Orange amps come with their signature classic ‘British Crunch’ sound. The amp (our choice for best 15 watt tube amp) features 2 channels-the clean and dirty. The clean channel gives you plenty of headroom and clarity and your clean licks will sound great no matter what guitar you are using. However, the Rokcer15 really stands out for its high-gain, ultra-modern pulverization produced through its dirty channel. You can crank up the gain to go from crunchy pop and classic rock power chord goodness category all the way up to the high-grain grind of slash and death metal.

Take note, Orange amps are normally not suitable for the death-metal type music, but this amp with its high-gain pulverization can well be considered an exception.

The all-tube design of this model includes a pair of EL84 power tubes combined with a 10″ speaker. The total power is 15 watts, but with the help of the attenuator toggle switch, you can bring it down to 7, 1 or 0.5 watt power rating. There is no on-board reverb or footswitch, but you’ll love the tube-driven buffered effects loop pedal of the model as well as its 3-band EQ. The unit weighs 30 lbs.

This model is especially recommended for guitarists looking to gain a broad range of voicings within a single tube combo amp.

Best 20 Watt Tube Amp – Orange Micro Terror

Orange Micro Terror You will get a better idea of the distinct Orange voicing we were speaking about just now from this Orange Micro Terror Head model – our choice for best 20 watt tube amp. If you’re new to electric guitar amplifiers, please take note that this model is a HEAD, and NOT a ‘Combo’. This means that you’ll need to buy a separate speaker cabinet along with the head.

Another thing we must mention is that the model is of a hybrid design and is not 100% tube. Rather, it is a mix of a solid state power amp (20-watts) and a 12AX7 JJ Tubes preamp tube. Still, the model is highly favored as a small tube amp largely due to its sound quality. It has a pretty decent clean tone, however the headroom is narrow and you’ll need to fix the GAIN knob at the right spot to get the clean.

But it is really when you crank the gain up and make the sound to break up that you start to realize the value of the unit and the reason why it is so highly appreciated. The head lets you hit the sweet spots for pretty much all common genres—country, rock, jazz, blues. Some believe that the sound is not suitable for metal. This is perhaps true if you are talking heavy metal, but for punk or soft metal, we believe the amp would play alright.

Some people may get discouraged by the fact that they need to spend extra bucks with this model for they need to buy a cab. However, given the high sound quality of the head, this can actually be an advantage: since you can start with a smaller 8″ speaker or so and then upgrade as you go along.

Best Fender Small Tube Amp – Fender Hot Rod Blues Junior III

Fender Hot Rod Blues Junior III Imagine a shrunk-up Hot Rod Deluxe and you have a Blues Junior III, so the name is pretty much on line, and deservedly so – this is our pick for best Fender small tube amp. For the model doesn’t only look like its bigger counterpart, but produces the same sparkling, shimmery cleans characteristic of Fender — what we call Fender Cleans. The 5-tube model comes with a 3-band equalizer, a preamp gain volume control, a Reverb knob and an overall Master output level.

This 15-watt amp with a 12″ speaker weighs around 30 lbs. This is a single-channel amp and with no attenuator switch (which means things can get pretty loud, so be on your guard while playing at home). There is a speaker output at the back and an on-board reverb that is simply awesome.

Tone-wise, this amp is hard to beat. Apart from the clean, the model also breaks up sweetly in terms of distortion/gain/fuzz. This means you can very well practice metal, hard rock, etc. with this amp, even though this is not its biggest strength. Also responds nicely to a variety of pedals and to different pickups. All in all, a bit on the pricey side, but more than worth it if you want a real pro sound.

Best Small Marshall Tube Amp – Marshall SV20C Studio Vintage

Marshall SV20C Studio Vintage Looking for the best small Marshall tube amp?  It won’t be an exaggeration to say that the Marshall’s Plexi tone revolutionized the way the blues were played in the 1960s with guitarists of the stature of Hendrix and Clapton favoring it over other tones. Now, with the Studio Vintage, we have a smaller 20-watt version of this iconic amplifier. Again, like the Micro Terror, this is an amp head and not a combo, so you’ll need to buy separate speaker cabinets.

The model includes loads of useful features (we’ll come to that in a minute), but if you decide to settle for this one, you’ll do so for the soaring, biting leads that you can play with ease thanks to the saturated blues tone of the head.

This 20 watt amp head includes three 12AX7 preamp tubes and two EL34tubes and weighs 20 lbs. There are 4 input jacks, a DI output for routing and recording purposes, a 3-band equalizer Presence control as well as an effects loop that helps you easily integrate your processors and effects pedals. There is also a power reduction option which lets you bring down the power performance to 5 watts for ‘apartment-friendly’ playing.

If you love the Plexi tone and want it in a low watt small tube amp, you’ll be hard put to find a better alternative than this Studio Vintage amp head. Mix in the additional features and you’ve a sure winner in your hand!

Best Small Tube Amps For Blues Guitar – Bugera V5

Bugera V5 If you want a great combination of tone, price, versatility and portability, the Bugera V5 Infinium, our choice for best small tube amps for blues guitar, is perhaps the best choice among the models included in this list. It is a low-profile product from Berhinger’s amp section and it is primarily aimed at providing guitarists the best value for money.

This 5-watt model with an 8″ speaker is powered by an EL84 power tube and a 12AX7 preamp tube and weighs around 22 lbs. The single-channel amp features four controls on the front- Gain, Tone, Volume and Reverb (yes, the model features a pretty neat on-board reverb which is awesome regarding its price). There is also a headphones output and a speaker output in case you want to attach a larger speaker cabinet. Additionally, you have a power attenuator switch that lets you bring down the power to 1-watt and 0.1-watt (keep in mind, however, that you’ll not be able to exploit the full tonal potentials of the amp at those lower power points).

Performance-wise, the amp provides decent distortions and cleans. According to many guitarists, the cleans, though somewhat darker, are reminiscent of Fender whereas the distortions will remind one of Vox tones. The Bugera 5 also takes very well to pedals and is especially good for recording purposes.

Gives more than your money’s worth. Highly recommended especially if you are working within a somewhat limited budget.

Best Small Tube Amps For Clean Tones – Vox AC30C2X

Vox AC30C2X No amp list would be quite complete without a Vox product. However, that is not the reason why we include it in the present list. The Vox AC30C2X is not a ‘small tube amp’ per se – even though it is our pick for best small tube amps for clean tones. (Vox offers a good many of them—Vox AC4TV, Vox AC15C1, Vox AC4HW1 and more. So, if you are a fan of Vox sound, make sure to check them out, too). But the present one is really a medium sized tube amp that packs enough power for live performances but one that you can also use for high quality home recordings, band practice or at small gigs. And all of this at an affordable price.

This 30-watt amp includes three preamp hookups and a built-in high-quality Celestion in the interior. Keep in mind, though, that the amp weighs almost 75 lbs. So, if you’ll be moving around a lot between performances, you’ll perhaps be better off with another product.

Performance-wise, you’ll have little to complain about this model. The built-in preamp hookups do a great job at keeping the signal of your instrument stay constant. And if you’ve a thing for the iconic ‘British Invasion’ sound typical of the Vox amps, you’ll surely love this product.

Great value for money for a mid-sized tube amp.

Best Small Tube Amps For Metal – EVH 5150 III LBXII

This one again is a bit on the pricey side. However, if you’re looking for a really versatile small tube amp head, this all-tube 15-watt head from the Van Halen team would be the one to beat – and it’s our pick for best small tube amps for metal. The amp emulates the popular blue-and-green channel design of the bigger and heavier EVH monsters. You get really stellar clean tones out of the green channel and the amp gives you a broader headroom than most in its category. On the other end of the spectrum, you can really crank it up with the blue channel and get enough crunch for all sorts of rough or hard metals.

Equipped with JJ ECC83S preamp tubes and JJ EL84 power tubes, this 15-watt high-gain amp head can conveniently plug into a 4×12″ cabinet without losing any clarity in its tones. In addition to the EQ Presence controls, the head also includes a Resonance control. There is also a power reduction option that lets you switch to quarter power (so, in this case- 3.75 watts). Built-in footswitch for both channels and effects loop included.

Perhaps the best truly versatile low tube amp out there right now. The overdrives are so strong that you may not even need pedals to get your desired effects.

Best Small Tube Amps For Pedals – Fender ’65 Princeton Reverb

Fender '65 Princeton Reverb Another Fender to round off our list and an awesome one at that! The amp is almost an exact replica of the original 1960 Fender Princeton, our choice for best small tube amp for pedals, that helped define the legendary Fender Clean and had since become the go-to studio amp for a generation of guitarists from a variety of genres. This small tube reissue seeks to preserve all the greatness of tone and dynamics of the original model in this somewhat smaller and more portable version.

This 15-watt single-channel amp is paired with a specially-designed 10″ Jensen C-10R speaker and is equipped with two 6V6, one 12AT7, three 12AX7 and one 5AR4 rectifier tube. Apart from volume, EQ and intensity controls, the amp also features top-notch reverb and vibrato effects (with footswitches to turn them on/off).

To get perfect fat Fender cleans with this amp, get your electric guitar volumes down and turn up the amp. As for crunches, fit in your favorite stompboxes and you can jam away at your heart’s content- play surf, swamp, metal—just about anything you want. The higher-end price may be a bit of a handicap, but considering that this is really in the line of a collector’s item, there is little reason why you should mind the price if you can afford it!

Be sure to check out our Deluxe Reverb vs Princeton Reverb article as well.

Good Small Tube Amplifier Conclusion

As you may have noticed, each item on our list comes with its own unique qualities—most importantly, in terms of sound, but also in regard to features and best prices. The sound quality is the most important valve amplifier factor since you need to choose an amp that fits your own playing style or styles. For example, no matter how good the Fenders on our list are, if you are a slash metal player, we would suggest that you settle for the Blackstar HT5R. Apart from this, make sure to take into account your personal requirements (do you want the best amp for live licks, studio recordings, home recordings, band practice, home practice, all of the above?). And finally, make sure that no matter what best amps you are buying, you are still getting your money’s worth.

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