Buying tube amplifiers does not have to cost thousands of dollars. There are a number of premium models that are worth the cost; however, there is still a collection of reasonably-priced tube guitar amps that will not bust your budget.
Quick Links To Our Best Tube Amp Under $500 Recommendations
- Fender Pro Junior IV – OUR TOP CHOICE!
- VOX AC10C1
- Marshall M-DSL5CR-U
- Monoprice 611815
- BUGERA V22-INFINIUM
- Blackstar HT1R MKII
- Laney CUB-10
- Quick Links To Our Best Tube Amp Under $500 Recommendations
- Our Top Tube Amp Under $500 Reviews
- What To Expect With A Tube Amp Under $500
- Top Tube Amplifiers Under $500 Conclusion
Our Top Tube Amp Under $500 Reviews
Fender Pro Junior IV
The cosmetics of the Pro Junior LTD take on a more classic approach than its recently-issued stablemates: even though the cabinet is now MDF and covered in dark lacquered tweed, with a Jensen P10R Alnico loudspeaker and a chrome control panel.
At the back of the panels on the rear of the amp, the electronics are housed in sturdy open-ended steel tray chassis; substantial mushroom-head machine screws are used to secure them to the top and sides of the cabinet. The layout is pretty much the same: a big one-sided vertical PCB holding the majority of the small components like the switches and panel knobs, attached by ribbon cables to a sturdier through-plated board that is horizontally located in the underside of the chassis, which accommodates the valve bases. There is no doubt that the build standard will withstand long-term use.
The Pro Junior amp uses 12AX7 preamp valves and has a pair of EL84s for output power. Its back-to-basics panel has one input jack, feeding tone and volume controls. There is no channel switching or effects loop; it is a simple design that places emphasis on providing the most direct signal path between the loudspeaker and input jack.
- Fender is a top-notch brand
- The Pro Junior IV is designed specifically for beginners or players who only need a small amp.
- A little underpowered for a full sound.
This amp is inspired by the original Vox AC10. Its custom version has one channel with treble and bass controls that are based on the Top Boost circuit of the brand. There is no tremolo but instead, there is reverb and it has separate master volume and gain controls.
Additionally, the AC10 C1 has an automatic power-off function, which is installed in compliance with European regulation. It is designed to power down the amp if no audio signal is detected in two hours. Its tone controls interact and respond in a slightly unpredictable and peculiar way that is not unlike the arrangement of the old Vox top boost. About halfway up, the bass response seems to be relatively neutral so it can be rolled off or boosted. Increasing the treble control boosts high-frequency response as you might anticipate.
Furthermore, there also seems to be some amount of crossover between the controls that changes the midrange timber. Therefore, some degree of familiarization is necessary before you can begin to master the tone controls. This indicates that dialing in a sound could take a while longer than you would typically expect but this also opens up a greater range of tones than you would normally get from a standard two-band equalizer.
- Vox’s reputation for good tone
- Relatively low price considering the features.
- Headphone output only, no line out or other options.
The Marshall M-DSL5CR is valuated at 5W and by way of power attenuation, it can go as low as 1W. in order to reproduce the familiar overdriven tones Marshall is known for, the amp is outfitted with a ECC99/12BH7 power amp tube and two ECC83 tubes in the preamp section. Similar to its smaller stablemate, the reputable DSL1CR, the DSL5CR allows you switch between 2 channels, Ultra Gain and Classic Gain. The amp also comes with a marginally bigger 10-inch speaker from Celestion. Included among the other features are built-in reverb, rear-panel effects loop and a lineout that pays homage to a Marshall 1960 cabinet.
Users have expressed their happiness about the capacity of the DSL5CR to provide good Marshall tone at adaptable volume levels. The amp has received much kudos for the responsiveness of its equalizer and its crunch tone. It had been described as pedal friendly as well. Furthermore, the majority of owners are in agreement that it has a solid build and many players have reported that they have used the amp long term without any issues. Nonetheless, there are some experienced guitarists who are underwhelmed with its build-in reverb. Additionally, there are a few who have expressed that the tone is lacking in bottom end; however, the same thing has been said of the majority of compact amps.
- Price: For $500 this amp is an absolute steal
- Versatility of the different sounds you can achieve with the different settings
- Durable tubes that will last a long time if you treat your equipment as intended
- Noisy when running on high volumes.
For the tone-minded, the 15-watt Monoprice 611815 combo tube amplifier is designed with the musician who is tone-inclined and it is a powerfully serious firecracker of a guitar amplifier. Just by taking a single look at it, you will notice that it is meant to induce blaring bright guitar sounds as if they are emanating from a Rickenbacker in the mind. This is combo amp that is fueled by 5 vacuum tubes which include 2 EL84 tubes and it accommodates a 1×12 Celestion speaker.
In the 1960s, the EL84 tube was used to power the Mullard amps preferred by the British Invasion bands. It has the capacity to generate a full output from a fairly small signal and as such, it is easily overdriven to provide that distinct treble-heavy, chiming sound. This is particularly true in comparison to the 6L6 tubes that were used more commonly in American guitar amps in the 1960s.
The amp handles frequencies ranging between 80Hz and 10kHz. It includes a High input and a Low input, with the latter decreasing the signal by roughly 50 percent and the former is easier to be overdriven. The cabinet is at the back and has a cloth speaker grill, leather handle and a textured, cream-colored, synthetic leather exterior that features chrome corner guards.
- This amp was made to actually be affordable and powerful, which is one of the main reasons it was created.
- You can really take your tone in many different directions depending on how you want to play.
- This amp will not be as versatile as a more expensive amp would be. It’s still an improvement over other amps, but if you’re looking to spend way more than this amp costs, this might not be of much use.
The Bugera V22 is marketed as ’boutique style’ guitar amplifiers because of its vintage design. It is a fairly large combo that features a 12-inch Turbosound speaker. The amp is powered by two EL84s for the power amp stage and three 12AX7 preamp tubes. This combination is pretty much the standard nowadays and it has been a few decades since this configuration is being used.
This is an Infinium model and as such, it examines the circuitry of the tube and regulates the power to avoid drops that can damage the tubes or surges that would burn them out. Therefore, the tubes last roughly 20 times longer compared to the lifespan of the tubes in your Grandfather’s amp.
When combined, the valves have the capacity to produce 22 Watts of power, which places the unit somewhere in the mid range, which is pretty decent for a combo. Additionally, the control cluster provides a lot to work with. There is a bright input and a normal input; these separate inputs would have to be plugged and unplugged in order to go between them. There is also a clean channel and a dirty channel and switching between them is done by using the footswitch or pressing the control panel button.
- Great Tone!
- Price is an ok range for the quality.
- Lack of options for the amp.
Blackstar HT1R MKII
A 1-Watt amp might appear to be a tad under-powered; however, the Blackstar HT1R can play so loud to where you might want to turn the volume down. It is even more impressive that at lower levels, the amp has the capacity to still sound sweet; this makes it ideal for home recording. The majority of small amps feature a class‑A output; however, the HT1R power amp is based on a low‑powered ‘push‑pull’ stage, which uses a ECC82 (12AU7) dual triode. It assists its tonality in mirroring what might be expected from a powerful stage amp, albeit at a lower level.
The essential phase-inverter function is provided by a solid-state driver stage. An ECC83 dual triode acts as the preamp, in combination with a clipping stage and another solid-state gain. On the models on which it is featured, the reverb is a tremendously capable electronic simulation of a spring.
Its closed‑back cabinet is constructed like a ‘grown up’ amplifier, complete with a thick strap handle. its 8‑inch speaker produces a well‑balanced sound which, while having no really deep lows, mostly avoids the nasal, boxy sound that betrays a lot of smaller combos.
- Great, versatile sound
- Built in reverb and chorus effects
- Provide some of the most beautiful, classic sounds that you can get out of an amp under $500.
- The clean channel is average at best. It will work for recording purposes but it isn’t something that you would want to use with a live band.
This amp is tiny, pushes only 10 watts and has a 10-inch Celestion speaker. For a tube amp, it is quite inexpensive and an absolute bargain for the price. In essence, the Laney Cub-10 is a little streamlined amp that punches well above it weight and produces an impressive sound that defies both its cost and its size. It is modeled after the same format as the 1950s old Fender ‘Tweed’ amps and it uses 2 6V6 power tubes. This provides a remarkable low end ‘thump’ and a break-up that is raw, yet musical.
The amp mimics a standard amplifier design with its class A/B circuit which provides it with a vintage voicing that a number of individuals prefer. It is designed to be easy to use and portable; therefore, its controls are intentionally simplified and there are only three knobs meant to adjust tone, volume and gain.
- Laney’s CUB-10 series is a more powerful and robust amplifier than the popular CUB series.
- It’s also built with smoother tone to provide a better experience in listening to your music.
- This amp might not be powerful enough for bigger venues, so it may not be the best fit for bands or DJs working in that type of environment.
- The only major difference between this and its predecessor, the CUB Series, is its power and tone.
What To Expect With A Tube Amp Under $500
If you are looking for a tube amp in the $500 price range, you may want to know what features you can expect to get with that choice. I’ve compiled plenty of research to help you have a better idea of what to expect in tube amps under $500.
In short, if you want a tube amp for under $500, you will be sacrificing power for affordability and features. Tube amps in this price range typically max out at about 20 watts and have few additional features such as reverb or tremolo.
But even with these limitations, you can still get a nice, sounding tube amp with moderate features without breaking the bank. Here’s how to do it:
Here’s what to look for in a decent tube amp under $500:
Tube amps generally run 15-20 watts, but with the right speakers and headphones you can get a lot of power out of them. If you’re using 3 inch speakers, you can get 100 watts or more per channel. You can also hook up 8 ohm headphones for more power than a typical tube amp under $500 has.
As mentioned, tube amps have built-in reverb and tremolo effects. You can expect a clean boost in that area, as well. Some budget tube amps come with a powered speaker, but you don’t really need it for practice at home. But if you’re looking for some serious practice at home or onstage, this is an important feature to look out for.
Wattage is not the only way to measure power. You also have to look at what the amp is pushing, and that can be a little more complicated. You do need to consider the impedance of the speaker connected to the amp. A typical 50 watt tube amp should be able to drive most 8 ohm speakers. Out of all those 8 ohm speakers, if you are using a 4 or 8 ohm speaker, you can get more power from you tube amp than you will get from a 2 or 4 ohm speaker.
Tube amps tend to have lots of tube distortion, which can be good or bad, depending on what you’re looking for. If you want a lot of tube distortion for some classic rock or blues this is nice, but if you are looking for a clean tone, this can be a negative. Tube distortion tends to sound muddy at higher volumes.
With all tube amps under $500, if you want to use more than one speaker you need an external speaker cabinet. Few budget tube amps have any sort of speaker cabinet. If you want to put more than one speaker together in a cabinet, you need an amp with a speaker out jack.
Tube amps usually have a premium tone and can be really nice sounding. They can also produce some great overdrive tones if the sound is picked just right. In general, I would say that while tube distortion sounds great in the low to mid-power range, it can sound muddy under some higher volume conditions.
Here is what a tube amp under $500 can’t do:
As mentioned, tube amps have limited power. If you want to play the drums with your band, this may not be the best amp for you. But if you are fine with playing a guitar solo in a small room, this should be more than enough power for you. If you want to play at louder volumes, the speaker is one area worth paying attention to.
Top Tube Amplifiers Under $500 Conclusion
An amplifier is another thing that you have to buy that can be daunting, when all you truly want to do is to get to the joy of playing your guitar. The amps listed above provide a way to acquire or replace yours without having to spend thousands of dollars to buy the top tube amplifier under 500 and without ending up with a crappy amp. These will provide that warm, authentic tube tone for which the best guitar amps are renowned.