As it relates to choosing an amplifier for professional live performances, tube amplifiers are the more popular option, without a doubt.
Quick Links To My Top Tube Amp Recommendations
- Fender ’65 Twin Reverb – My top choice!
- Marshall JVM M-JVM205H-U – Looking for a top tube amp head? This is the one!
- Fender Hot Rod Blues Junior IV – My favorite tube combo amp.
- EVH 5150 III 50W EL34 – For the metal guitarists.
- Fender ’59 Bassman LTD – For guitarists that like to use a number of pedals.
- Orange Amplifiers Rocker 15 – Great choice for practicing and using at home.
- Blackstar HT-1R – Good beginner option.
- Vox AC4 – Need low volume but still have a great tone? Look at this one.
- Bugera V5 Infinium – Great little tube practice amp.
- Blackstar Sonnet 120 – For acoustic guitarists.
- VOX AC30C2 – Need excellent clean tones?
- Marshall DSL40CR – Looking for something versatile for recording?
- Peavey Backstage – For guitarists looking to spend less than $100
- Orange Micro Terror – For guitarists looking to spend less than $200
- Monoprice 611815 – For guitarists looking to spend less than $300
- Blackstar Studio 20 – For guitarists looking to spend less than $500
- Blackstar HT Venue Series Stage 60 – For guitarists looking to spend less than $1000
- Friedman Runt-20 – For guitarists looking to spend less than $1500
- Fender Bassbreaker 30R – For Fender fans!
- Marshall SV20C Studio Vintage – For Marshall fans!
They are designed to provide a deeper and richer tone that has real depth. Additionally, they provide an incomparably clean sound particularly where solid state amps are concerned; unfortunately, these amps typically have a bad rep among musicians. They are meant to color and shape the tone of the instrument, which is something that is vital to all guitarists. Below are our recommendations of the best tube amp in a number of different categories:
- Quick Links To My Top Tube Amp Recommendations
- My Best Tube Amplifier Reviews
- Best Tube Amp of All Time – Fender ’65 Twin Reverb
- Amp Head – Marshall JVM M-JVM205H-U
- Tube Amp Combo – Fender Hot Rod Blues Junior IV
- For Metal – EVH 5150 III 50W EL34
- For Pedals – Fender ’59 Bassman LTD
- For Home Use – Orange Amplifiers Rocker 15
- For Beginners – Blackstar HT-1R
- Low Volume for Apartment – Vox AC4
- For Practice – Bugera V5 Infinium
- For Acoustics – Blackstar Sonnet 120
- For Clean Tones – VOX AC30C2
- For Recording – Marshall DSL40CR
- Budget Under 100 – Peavey Backstage
- Under 200 – Orange Micro Terror
- Under 300 – Monoprice 611815
- Under 500 – Blackstar Studio 20
- Under 1000 – Blackstar HT Venue Series Stage 60
- Under 1500 – Friedman Runt-20
- Fender – Fender Bassbreaker 30R
- Marshall – Marshall SV20C Studio Vintage
My Best Tube Amplifier Reviews
Best Tube Amp of All Time – Fender ’65 Twin Reverb
The Fender ’65 Twin Reverb is viewed as being a standard model for musicians who are looking for a clean sound. In addition, it is particularly renowned for the excellence of its built-in spring reverb.
James Burton, is a famed Twin user, has stated that if your guitar can be plugged into an amp and be made to sound good, that is what it is all about. The Fender ’65 Twin Reverb is the amp that many guitarists really enjoy playing, particularly when traveling. It has a remarkable tone and everything that is needed for live playing. The amp just works and many players find it real trustworthy. When travelling, some players use a bit of digital delay and possibly a little chorus.
Without a doubt, Fender fans will remember that 1965 was the year that the company was acquired by CBS. Where the instruments are concerned, the acquisition is still viewed as a turning point and not necessarily in a good way. However, the acquisition did not seem to affect the amps made by the company. Actually, Fender makes a ‘65 Twin Reverb reissue currently.
Amp Head – Marshall JVM M-JVM205H-U
This tube amp head has a tone quality that is similar to the DSL100 but it is maximized. The Marshall JVM is quite a tech-based amp as it concerns tube amps and as such, it is nearly twice as costly as the DSL100. In essence, the amp is for the serious guitarist or for individuals with a lot of money to spend.
With that said, this amp head does not even come close to the intricacy of its predecessor, the JVM410H. In comparison to the 410 the JVM205H-U is a stripped-down edition that is ideal for a guitarist who prefers not to overcomplicate things. This two-channel amp has 3 drive options for each channel. Additionally, each channel has its own reverb so each channel can be dialed in precisely based on your preference. It is on the more costly side; however, it is definitely worth the price for the technology it is equipped with.
Tube Amp Combo – Fender Hot Rod Blues Junior IV
The distinctive and identifiable Fender tone is delivered by the Fender Hot Rod series amplifiers. These small tube amps are reliable, reasonably priced and remarkably loud with only a 10-inch speaker; they rival vintage Fender amps quite easily. When it comes to the Fender Blues Junior III, it is basically a 15-watt tone machine that has stripped back circuitry for a simplistic approach to amplification. While this tube amp is not equipped with all the extras of some of the costlier Fender models, it produces touch sensitive authentic tube sounds.
This tube amp is easy to use and you can simply dial in a tone. It is just a remarkable grab-and-go amplifier perfect for both seasoned electric guitarists and beginners. It has reverb and fat mid tones with the renowned slap-back which is noteworthy in products that contain spring reverb housing. This amp serves up a vibrant response that skilled players crave the most. Additional upgrades to this model include lower-noise shielding and shock absorbers designed for the EL-84 tubes to reduce rattle. It has remarkable aesthetics with ‘chicken-head’ knobs and a ‘dog-bond’ style handle.
For Metal – EVH 5150 III 50W EL34
Since the E5150 III EL34 100-watt head has been introduced, many requests have been made for something similar in a more reasonably-priced version. The manufacturer listened and heeded with the launch of the EVH 5150 III 50W EL34. It features similar flexibility and the same devastating tones. The latter has 3 channels with channel 1 responsible for the clean, and channel 2 producing the crunch. It features the same EQ; however, there are separate volume and gain controls on crafty dual concentric pots. Channel 3 is responsible for lead and has its own EQ.
On the front panel, there is a global presence control and the rear panel has a global resonance control designed to tune the high and low frequency of the amplifier based on preference. Other features include a separate preamp out, a headphone outlet and a grouping of effects loop that can be foot switched using the included four-button switch.
Additionally, this amp takes change commands from MIDI program; therefore, it can be synced to floor controllers and MIDI-compatible effects units. This version of the 5150 is essential as the revolutionary early work of Van Halen exclusively relied on heavily-modified heads, which utilized EL34s.
For Pedals – Fender ’59 Bassman LTD
The Fender Bassman vintage amps have an extended list of famous guitarists who are currently or have been in love with them. This is particularly true for the 4×10 tweed models created between 1957 and 1960. The list includes Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, Jimmie Vaughan, Mike Bloomfield and Mike Campbell.
A number of expert music industry analysts have touted 1950s 4×10 Bassman amps as being the ultimate amps. The Bassman was introduced in 1952 and it was intended for bassists, as the name suggests. Enterprising guitarists quickly realized the thrilling effect the amp had on their instruments. The brand noticed this and stopped its billing as a bass-only amp.
In describing the Fender ’59 Bassman LTD, Tom Wheeler was noted as saying that it is loud, powerful and sensitive to the touch of the player. It produces a remarkable sound, beautifully responding across the frequency range. Additionally, it showcases a harmonically rich and sparkling tone at moderate and low volumes.
When operating at louder volumes it solidifies with a delightful distortion that seems to get even creamier the more it is cranked. The amp is especially well matched to some popular guitars, particularly the Stratocaster.
For Home Use – Orange Amplifiers Rocker 15
The Orange brand is one of the cornerstones of remarkable guitar amps. They are well-known for producing some of the most superior amplifiers available and they are renowned for their tremendous tones. The Orange Amplifiers Rocker 15 is no exception.
It is best to pair the head with an Orange cabinet since they are also very really but fairly expensive as well. The controls are quite simple but provide a complex sound. An impressive feature of the Orange amp is that symbols are used to dictate the controls. Initially, it seems as if the controls are labelled in Windings font; however, it all makes sense as soon as you go through them.
The amp features two channels, one dedicated to producing an overdriven dirty tone and one for a clean tone. In addition, there is a switch for controlling the output wattage to 30, 50 and 75 Watt. It is quite useful for different venues so you can rest assured that you will get the desired sound. It also has exceptional tone quality and the controls are simultaneously simple and effective.
For Beginners – Blackstar HT-1R
At lower volumes, this compact tube amp is designed to provide genuine cranked tube tones. The Blackstar HT-1R is quite similar to the Blackstar HT-1, the only distinction is the fact that the former includes reverb and the latter does not. This is done via a ECC82 tube, also referred to as a 12AU7 and a 1-Watt amplifier circuit which has an ECC83 preamp tube that is basically a 12AX7 named otherwise by Europeans.
The ISF circuit complement the authentic tube components. It serves as a finely tuned filter and EQ to inject your sound with UK or US amp tone flavors. Many players describe the amp as the best tube amplifier for the bedroom and this shows in the ratings and reviews. Due to its 1W amplifier, lots of users are capable of getting rousing overdriven tones without upsetting their neighbors.
Even the most seasoned guitarists are impressed and some feel that the real wonder of the amp is that it produces the crunch and showcases the break-up traits of an amp that is way more powerful, operating at levels that are virtually inaudible. Others view it as having remarkable versatility because of the ISF technology. This makes it a standout among regular tube amps with limited voicing.
Low Volume for Apartment – Vox AC4
Reminiscent of the makings of the legendary Vox AC30, this limited-edition Vox AC4 amp is an all-tube miniature combo and it is hassle free. It produces the same impressive top boost tones which have captivated guitar players for the past five decades. It is a sound exclusive for a brand which finds itself among the most renowned tube amp manufacturers.
This amplifier comprises 1 EL84 power tube and 2 12AX7 pre-amp tubes. It features all the expected controls like the gain, treble and bass and it has a vigorous 12-inch Celestion speaker that is bigger than previous models by 2 inches. The Vox AC4 is a top-class tube amp with the capacity to produce huge crunches and pristine cleans. It also bears the classic vintage VOX identity with its basket-weave vinyl exterior and diamond grille cloth. It craftily produces the deep sounds of a tube-driven amp that is appropriate for home practice, recording and live performances.
For Practice – Bugera V5 Infinium
The Bugera V5 Infinium is a 5-watt combo amplifier that is ideal for players who would like a practice amp. It can fit snuggly in a small home studio, bedroom or dorm room. Following the success of their reasonably priced tube-powered amplifiers, Bugera have gained a strong reputation. The V5 amplifier is no different, delivering vintage tones.
The amp V5 packs several interesting features into its tiny, single-speaker enclosure. Better yet, it comes at a remarkably affordable cost. This little amplifier is equipped with an Infinium Tube Life Multiplier from which it gets its name.
This system enables the tubes to be more durable and an LED indicator is triggered to make you aware when they should be replaced. This is an indication that this tube practice amp is quite user friendly in comparison to others.
The volume is adequately quiet not to disrupt roommates or neighbors nearly as much as a full-size amp. Additionally, it features a built-in attenuator that enables higher gain tones at lower levels.
This adds up to to an exceptional practice amp. Whether you are a professional or a beginner, this amp will deliver. Additionally, the powered sound of the tube indicates that tone quality is not being sacrificed for this convenience.
For Acoustics – Blackstar Sonnet 120
The Black Sonnet 120 is the ultimate grab-and-go acoustic combo. It is compact, lightweight and full of features. Its 120-Watt tweeter combo is ideal for all the acoustic gigging needs of guitarists. It has instrument channels that have independent Reverb and EQ levels, a microphone and spectacular studio quality reverbs: Chamber, Plate Studio and Hall, Brilliance control, Bluetooth audio, High Pass Filter, XLR D.I. mix output, USB audio out, MP3/Line in, reverb on/off footswitch socket for audio mute and tilt-back stand for impressive sound projection.
This Sonnet amp is equipped with two independent channels one for a microphone and one for an instrument and each has its own reverb and EQ level settings. The extra inputs for Bluetooth playback and MP3/Line in indicate that the amp can simultaneously handle as many as four inputs, ideal for busking and practice sessions.
Players can use the Brilliance and High Pass Filter controls to fine-tune the higher frequencies of their guitars, while the cabinetry of the amp helps in improving its low-end response. There is an extra Shape switch that allows players to toggle between a mid-cut and a flat EQ response with a high and low frequency boost.
For Clean Tones – VOX AC30C2
Dick Denney, a Vox engineer, conceived and made the AC30 after Hank Marvin, the guitarist for the British band, Shadows, complained about the inability of his 15-watt Vox AC15 to be heard above the screams of excited fans when they were backing Cliff Richard, a pop sensation. It was in 1958 that Vox launched the 30-watt AC30, with the options of 1×12 and 2×12 configurations and it was offered with a single tone control.
Late in the 1960s, there was a redesign of the amp with three, as opposed to two, channels. Each of the three channels are equipped with two inputs and feature an optional Brilliance or Top Boost circuit, which was an introduction to an additional gain stage and separate controls for the bass and the treble.
The feature of the Top Boost proved sufficiently popular that it became a standard feature on the AC30/6, which was so named because of its six inputs. The high end of this instrument was a signature sound of the early recordings of the Beatles. In later years, it was favored by guitarists such as Peter Buck, Tom Petty, Brian May and The Edge, whose AC30/6, which was made in 1964, is featured on all of U2 albums.
For Recording – Marshall DSL40CR
The audio of the Marshall DSL40CR is quite versatile and this makes this amp an all-inclusive tribute to various tones. Its built-in power choices provide the capacity to produce a cranked tone without polluting the neighborhood with noise. The sound output is remarkable when in mic and when correctly set up, the amp shines in areas of sonic reliability and versatility. The option for overdrive has classic rock and metal tones. For modern high-gain and depth, opt for the Ultra-Gain channel option. But the overdrive and distortion pedals can be skipped.
Its shared channel EQ enables the control on the front panel, which is much needed. It enables you to use the knob to modify all the parameters of the EQ: bass, treble, middle, presence and resonance control. These additional knobs assist in cranking up to its maximum. Additionally, there are options available to keep the master volume low or engage half power but the distortion of an authentic tube amp is still there. The EQ is tremendously responsive and all modes from the 2 channels are remarkable.
The amplifier features built-in digital reverb rather than the usual reverb tank. Among its best effects is the built-in, studio-grade ultra-reverb. During studio recording, it provides the needed depth and tone. As such, it is intended for use as a versatile, everyday professional amplifier.
Budget Under 100 – Peavey Backstage
The Peavey Backstage amp may look just like any another small economic amplifier; however, there is a twist to it. Due to its overall reliability, remarkable performance and rather unusual nature, this amp has found its place among the most gratifying models in the market’s budget segment.
Its control panel is fairly basic; there is an overdrive knob, which essentially is the gain knob, a volume knob, a channel select button and a two-band EQ. These are all the controls it has but taking into consideration what this amp was meant to deliver, these controls are an ideal fit.
With some 10 Watts of power and a faux tube circuitry, the amp delivers quite a convincing experience. Additionally, its design simplicity also fits this narrative. As it relates to build quality, pretty much everything is on point; solid construction, durable materials, the works.
Even on a budget, Peavey delivers a true tube tone. On both humbucker guitars and single coil, the cleans are defined and quite crisp. Once that overdrive channel kicks in, you will be pleased with a very refined tone that surely seems like that of a tube amp.
Under 200 – Orange Micro Terror
Weighing in at just 1.87 pounds and at just 6.5 inches wide, it would be easy for people to believe that this is a novelty practice amp. Nevertheless, the unit is kept in the tough high-tensile steel case in which its larger version is housed. Additionally, it can crank out an impressive 20 watts into 4 ohms as a result of its solid-state Class D power amplifier.
The Micro Terror is provided with two stages of gain via a single ECC83/12AX7 preamp valve. This is loosely based on the voicing of the front end of the previous version of the Tiny Terror head. A 1/8 -inch jack auxiliary input and ¼-inch jack headphone output are beneficial additions for home practicing. Do not be fooled into believing that this diminutive Micro Terror could not be a serious choice for live performance.
For live performances, we would recommend using Velcro or tape to hold the Micro Terror in its place. Once it is in place, with the gain and volume controls working hard, you will be struck by how surprisingly loud it is. Classic rock guitar raunch fans will definitely be in their element as this littlest of Terrors pushes out a savage crunch with no scarcity of character.
Under 300 – Monoprice 611815
This 15-watt, all-tube, 112 combo Monoprice amp enables you to dial in a remarkable variety of delightful tube tone on a budget. It only has got one channel; however, it covers a variety of sounds, from a gnarly crunch when pressed to a decent clean sound when the guitar volume is rolled back. This amp responds well to pick attack, making it true to it tubes.
In spite of its simplistic design, the features included by Monoprice provide this unassuming combo with plenty of tonal alternatives. The controls on this minimalist design include a 3 band EQ, reverb, gain, tone and at the top of the amp are the volume knobs. Its 1-watt input allows you to attain overdriven tones at bedroom levels. Its 15-watt input can contend with an energetic drummer in a live or practice setting.
Its effects loop is remarkable and very convenient for time-based effects. At first, some players believed the tone was a bit blah; however, putting an EQ in the effects loop opened up lots of tonal possibility and changed many minds. With its minor gripes aside, this amp is great for what it is. It is a remarkable amp with crunchy, warm tube tone that can be enjoyed at home.
Under 500 – Blackstar Studio 20
This tube bare-bones amplifier is available in two versions: a 1 x 12 combo and a small form-factor head. There are two channels, OD and clean, with a small foot controller which is designed to switch between the channels. There is also a digital reverb and an effects loop.
Its clean channel only has volume and tone two controls; however, its OD channel has the complete range of 3-band EQ, volume, gain and the customary Infinite Shape Feature, which is a knob which revoices the EQ gradually from American to British tones. Tucked away on the back of the chassis or in between the knobs are no little buttons or switches. There are some who may feel underwhelmed by its single tone control; however, it is voiced quite well, with a minor American bias.
Looking for more options in this price range? We also have a full article on the best tube amplifier under 500.
Under 1000 – Blackstar HT Venue Series Stage 60
With throaty overdrives, shimmering cleans and 60 watts of power, this is surely among the best amps available under $1000. The Blackstar HT Venue Series Stage 60 oozes taste and style. It is available in an all-wood cabinet for optimal sound and showcases upscale and sleek vintage styling with a polished gray grill cloth.
Under its hood, the amp packs a custom Celestion 12-inch speaker and two each of EL34 and ECC83 tubes. These features combine to deliver an impressive 60 watts of power. Outside of all the distinct tonal choices built in, the HT 60 enables you to directly plug in a computer for recording by way of the USB output.
As it relates to the controls, the clean channel has a volume dial and treble and bass EQ knobs. It has a voice button that toggles the sound to a jazzier British sound from a warmer American-type voicing. There are two overdrive channels and each has its own volume and gain knobs and voice buttons designed to make the sound more robust. To the right of these knobs are the 3-band EQ board for its overdrive channels.
The clean channels has succeeded in simulating that of their inspirations – the brighter voice pulls off quite well the more vibrant chimey Vox sound and the warmer voice has all the character and body of Fender Blackface versions.
Under 1500 – Friedman Runt-20
This amp is an all-tube, 20-watt head that produces the versatility and legendary tone of Friedman in a tiny 2-channel amp. The power section of the amp is powered by two EL-84s, with the preamp having three 12AX7s. Its “simple” clean channel has a 3-position bright switch and volume knob that provides anything from a slightly broken-up tone to pristine cleans, which is remarkable for country and blues.
The overdrive channel is the essence of the Friedman Runt-20, which will take you from traditional rock to complete assault. The Gain knob and Boost switch can be used to dial in the ideal volume of overdrive. There is a global presence control that influences the high-frequency reaction of the power section.
The Runt produces the midrange and tight bottom end that is usually found only in amps with much higher wattage and this is done by using the cleanest signal route possible and custom transformers. The Runt is perfect for different styles of music from classic rock to heavy metal and blues by simply adjusting the master and gain controls.
You will immediately notice the harmonically powerful detailed chords and reverberating single note lines when plugged into the Runt. The amplifier cleans up exceptionally with the volume knob of the guitar, even with the amplifier on higher gain settings.
Fender – Fender Bassbreaker 30R
The Fender Bassbreaker 30R is a 30-watt amp stocked with a single 12-inch Celestion V-Type speaker. This amp could be the most versatile one launched by Fender in years. Tone is really what it comes down to; however, there are certain additions that turn this amp the best version by far. Its clean channel has the timeless Fender sparkle and chime and the top end has a little more bite due to the EL84 output tubes.
Its drive channel has very musical tones that have not been heard from a Fender amplifier in years. In comparison to the Super-Sonic 60, this drive channel sounds fatter, fuller and warmer, simply better to the ears.
The backside of the amp has a single XLR output; therefore, the guitar tone can almost effortlessly be sent to a mixer, sound card or PA system. These types of plugs are remarkable for preventing the need to lug a mic and cable to a gig. Some favor the sound of a microphone in front of a speaker; however, there are a number of players who favor a line out alternative like the Bassbreaker 30R has.
Love Fender? I also put together a full article on the top small Fender amps.
Marshall – Marshall SV20C Studio Vintage
The SV20C Studio Vintage is designed specifically to depict the 1959 tone in a compact 20-watt combo. It is available in a head-only SV20H version as well. The amp is almost as formidable as an 18-watt amp; however, it utilizes a pair of EL34s, which are the identical tubes utilized in the big plexis. The two-tube design indicates that the SV20C is less like the 4xEL34 100-watt plexis and more like the dual-EL34 50-watt plexis. Similarly, the single 10-inch speaker does not imitate the workings of a 4 x 12 cab.
Even so, this combo is made in the United Kingdom is nearer to the plexi sound compared to an 18-watt. The 18-watt Marshall distort, the EL84s, at pretty low levels produce crackling, Vox-like highs, while here the EL34s utilized have higher headroom and are more mid-focused. In comparison with an 18-watt, this amp has more prominent mids, beefier lows and darker/warmer treble response.
The Marshall SV20C Studio Vintage has both bright and normal channels, each with two input jacks and a gain control. Similar to the vintage plexis, no master volume is there; however, using a jumper wire to link the channels can summon additional gain.
Looking for more Marshall options? Look here at my full article on Marshall amplifiers.
Tube amps produce an incomparable, top-notch natural sound. They provide warmer, smoother and clearer sounds that affix harmonic distortion and are subtler. Most solid-state alternatives consistently promote themselves, highlighting their capacity to replicate tube amp tones to a large degree. However, choosing a flattering impersonation over the authentic thing when the prices are only marginally different makes no sense. If you are in search of a tube amp solely for its tone benefits, a number of remarkable products are available on the market. Ultimately, when looking for a good tube amp, what is best for a person differs from individual to individual, each favoring their respected brands or unique tones.