best small tube amp

Top 10 Best Small Tube Amp – Low Watt Combos & Heads

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In my 30+ years of playing guitar, I have always struggled with finding a best small tube amp that is also powered by vacuum tubes (also called valves).  I’ve tried out a ton of them and they always seem to either not have enough punch or they have too much for what I want to use it for – small gigs and practicing.  Most were also very heavy to lug around and way above what I could afford.

I finally was determined to solve this problem!  I wanted something that could:

  • Still sound amazing at lower volumes.
  • Lightweight and easy to use at smaller gigs where not a lot of power was needed.
  • Affordable.
  • Sound great when paired with many different types of guitars – Strats, Les Pauls, Ibanez, etc.

I am happy to say that I found that amp and more!

Our Top Small Low Watt Tube Amp Choice

 

Our Top Choice!

VHT AV-SP1-6 Special 6

The VHT AV-SP1-6 Special 6 guitar amp is a dependable, budget-friendly guitar amp that will sound great at any gig. I love this amp!

 

More Best Small Tube Amp Recommendations

Why These Amps?  What To Consider

When I was diving into what amplifiers to choose for this guide, I needed to set specific criteria for this time:

  • It needed to be a tube combo amp (I actually broke this rule on two occasions here because you may notice that two options here are amp heads because they were too good not to include them – you’ll need a guitar cab as well if you choose one of the heads mentioned here)
  • Low-watt amp with Less than 20 watts of power.
  • Lightweight and small.
  • Easy to set up and use.
  • Still had good sound like all your guitar heroes and vintage tube tone even for being small.
  • Decent price for the amp.

It was with all this criteria that I did the research, played a bunch of options 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.

Related Reading:

I also have some other related small amp buyers guides available too.  Check these out:

Our Best Low Watt Small Tube Amp Reviews

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

VHT AV-SP1-6 Special 6

First of all, guitarists love the bright, crystal and somewhat vintage style clean tone of this tiny amp that suits many different playing styles, so much so that even non-guitarists, for example harmonica players, favor this amp for its warmer sound and 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 low wattage 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.

Features:

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

Pros:

  • When it comes to value proposition, the valve amps with its clean headroom and superb tones (not to mention its other convenient features), is an out-and-out winner.

Cons:

  • According to some guitarists, 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.
Final Verdict:  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.
Our Rating -
5/5

5 Watt –  Blackstar HT5R MKII

Blackstar HT5R MKIIThe 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 metal 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 compact amp comes with two separate channels for CLEAN and OVERDRIVE. The latter channel 2 includes Volume and Gain adjustments, and despite the amp’s versatile sound vis-à-vis its many features, we believe it’s really the fine-grained control (the amps sound 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 knobs 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 onboard 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 for silent practice 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.

Pros:

  • Top-notch build quality.
  • Excellent tone!
  • Simple control settings that are easy to understand.

Cons:

  • Doesn’t come with a footswitch.

Final Verdict: 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.

Our Rating -
4.5/5

15 Watt – Orange Amplifiers Rocker 15

Orange Amplifiers Rocker 15Just 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 1 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 mini 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.

Pros:

  • Very easy to operate.
  • Great tone, flexibility, quality and reliability for a compact guitar amp.

Cons:

  • For most people, the drawbacks of the Rocker 15 are a lack of low and high gain options and a lack of an effects loop.

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

Our Rating -
4.5/5

20 Watt – Orange Micro Terror

Orange Micro TerrorYou 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 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, modern 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 these amps would play alright.

Pros:

  • Relatively inexpensive (custom, classy looking orange faceplate)
  • Small size & weight (easy to carry)
  • Plenty of power for small gigs, rehearsals and jams if you need louder volumes.

Cons:

  • 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.
Our Rating -
4.5/5

Small Fender – Fender Hot Rod Blues Junior III

Fender Hot Rod Blues Junior IIIImagine 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 master volume control, a Reverb knob and an overall Master output level.

This 15-watt compact 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, these amps 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 out of a tube combo amp.

Pros:

  • It’s versatile.
  • It has good cleans as well as a great overdrive channel.
  • It’s easy to carry around.
  • It has lots of features like an effects loop and a headphone jack for quiet practice sessions.

Cons:

  • No master volume knob, only the clean channel has it’s own independent controlled volume. For me this makes for a big compromise in an amp that is made to be overdriven at times.
Our Rating -
4.5/5

Small Marshall – Marshall SV20H Studio Vintage

Marshall SV20H Studio VintageLooking 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!

Pros:

  • Great quality tone
  • Good looks
  • Long tube life

Cons:

  • Fairly expensive.

I also included this tube amp combo on my top Marshall amp article.

Our Rating -
4.5/5

For Blues Guitar – Bugera V5

Bugera V5If 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 tube amp combo 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.

Pros:

  • The reverb sounds amazing and is quite unique when compared to other tube amps in the same price range.
  • It has a very deep and spacious sound that works fantastic with single coils or humbuckers.

Cons:

  • Limited controls to dial in your tone.

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

Our Rating -
4.5/5

For Clean Tones – Vox AC30C2X

Vox AC30C2XNo 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 this tube amp combo 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.

Pros:

  • Dual channels (clean and overdrive).
  • Solid, classic tube amp sound.
  • Excellent collection of effects to play around with.

Cons:

  • Limited gain on the clean channel.
Our Rating -
4.5/5

For Metal – EVH 5150 III LBXII

EVH 5150 III LBXIIThis 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.

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • Controls are fairly limited.
Our Rating -
4.5/5

For Pedals – Fender ’65 Princeton Reverb

Fender '65 Princeton ReverbAnother Fender to round off our list and an awesome one at that! The tube amp combo is almost an exact replica of the original 1960 Fender Princeton, our choice for top 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!

Pros:

  • Very small and light weight.
  • Has all the features most guitarists need. Reverb, Tremolo, Equalizer with Bass and Treble controls.
  • Has an “Effects loop” that allows effects pedals to be added thru the amp’s preamp section.

Cons:

  • The small speaker does take away form the tone a bit.
Our Rating -
4.5/5

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

How To Choose The Right Small Tube Amp

Are you having trouble deciding which small tube amp is right for you? There are a few factors that can help you make a more informed decision. If you’re new to amps this might be a great starting point to find out what you want.

What’s Your Playing Style?

The first thing you want to do is figure out your playing style. Are you a heavy metal player, or a blues/rock player? Are you looking for the perfect amp in the studio or just something to get through practice at home?  Once you’ve figured out what style of music you like best, think about whether or not that style is going to fit with certain guitar types.

How Much Do You Want To Spend?

This is another very important factor. If you’ve got the money to spend, you can go ahead and get an amp with some extra options. If you’re on a budget, there are a few good amps that are more affordable.

How Much Power Do I Need?

Chances are, if you are here, you aren’t looking for something with a whole lot of wattage. With that being said, you need to decide how much power you need. The wattage on an amp determines the size of venue you can play in. If it’s a small gig in a small bar, you’ll want something with 10 watts or less. If it’s a big gig at a large club, I’d recommended skipping this and going for a bigger amp.

How Many Channels Do I Need?

Most amps nowadays have 2 channels. The first channel is typically clean, while the other channel has an overdrive effect. If you’re playing with a band and need a lot of different sounds, this is a great feature to look for. If you’re just practicing at home, this feature can be skipped if you want but I prefer having the option.

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 a tube amp combo 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.

Hopefully this helps you make some common sense decisions in your search for that best small tube amp!

More similar options are available here – 5 Best Tube Amp Under 300 Options For 2021

About The Author - Dan Harper
About The Author - Dan Harper

My name is Dan and I have been playing guitar for about 35 years. Over the years, I have taught guitar, played in a number of bands and owned and played a ton of gear.
When not playing guitar, I like to travel with my family, grill good food and go to concerts!

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