Want that creamy overdriven tube tone of classic Marshall crunch of a 100w stack without deafening yourself (or the neighbors)?
You want a small, low watt tube amp.
Bedroom tube amplifiers are great for practicing clean tones, and maybe a little overdrive. But what happens when you want to crank up the gain and really drive your amp hard?
Historically you would have needed to turn the volume up to 11 to get the kind of breakup for a hard rock or metal tone and then it’s just too loud for everyone around you.
On the one hand what you needed was an amplifier with enough headroom (but not Max headroom ) for the clean tone, but on the other hand you needed an amplifier that would break up well before you got to deafening levels. Low watt tube amps are the best of both worlds.
Why buy a low watt tube amp?
Like a true artist, tube amps need to be driven to reach their peak output. If you’re not driving your tubes (or valves) enough, you’ll never experience their full harmonic range. The problem is that to drive one to this point requires more volume than is usually comfortable in a home setting — especially if your family and neighbors don’t share your love of pure tube tone!
Let’s face it, a 30 watt (and higher) tube amp is all but useless in the home.
Tube amps with lower wattage reach their peak at lower volumes, which means that you can get that creamy breakup at a volume that won’t annoy everyone in a 3 mile radius.
Besides hitting peak harmonics sooner, a low watt tube amp has another benefit — they tend to be smaller. Small tube amps are lighter and more manageable. This is a bonus if your back, like mine, isn’t quite as young as it once was. But it’s also make the amplifier easier to take to and from practice.
Some are decidedly vintage style, while others are classic or modern style. Whatever your personal taste, you should be able to find an amplifier to your liking on this list of the best small tube amps available today.
The best low watt tube amps at a glance
|Fender Super Champ X2||15w||1×10||1x12AX7 preamp|
|Laney Cub 12r||15w||1×12||1xECC83 preamp|
|Epiphone “1939 Electar”||18w||1×12||2x12AX7 preamp|
|VOX AC10C1||10w||1×10||2x12AX7 preamp|
|Laney Cub 10||10w||1×10||2xECC83 preamp|
|Blackstar HT5R||5w||1×12||1xECC83 preamp|
|Blackstar HT1R||1w||1×8||1xECC83 preamp|
|VHT AV-SP1-6||6w||1×10||2x12AX7 Preamp|
|Bugera V5 Infinium||5w||1×8||1x12AX7 preamp|
Best Low Watt Tube Amps For Under $500
15w Tube Amps
Fender Super Champ X2
Past meets future in this hybrid amp
At first glance, the Fender Super Champ X2 appears to be a more traditional amplifier with its black vinyl covering and silver grille cloth front. Although it doesn’t look as boutique as other amplifiers, it’s not as traditional as it looks either.
The X2 is a 15w 1X10″ combo amp equipped with a 10 inch Fender special design speaker, dual channel, USB out for speaker emulated recording.
- 15 watt
- Fender Special 10 inch speaker
- Powered by a single 12AX7 valve in the preamp and a pair of 6V6 valves in the power section
The 15 watt hybrid tube amp
The Super Champ X2 is a modern modeling amplifier in a traditional package that gives you the warmth of an all tube amp with the flexibility of more modern solid state amplifiers.
What sets the Super Champ X2 apart is the way it blends the digital modeling with all tube tone. The amplifier “voicings” and effects found on Fender’s popular Mustang series of amplifiers is at the heart, but the Super Champ is all tube powered.
The X2 has a special “voicing” knob that lets you choose between 16 different amplifier types (Tweed, Blackface, British, Hot Rod, Metal and more). Also included are 15 effects with effects adjust control and a TAP tempo control for delay time/modulation rate adjustments.
Those who like even more control over their tone can get it with the Fender FUSE software. Plug the X2 into a computer via the USB port and you have full control over the voicing and effects defaults. You can go deep editing the parameters of the various effects, or switch the voicings to what suits you best.
Laney Cub 12r 15w tube amp
Lastly, we have the big brother: the Laney Cub 12r
- 15 watt all tube class A/B amplifier
- Three ECC83 valves in the preamp and two EL84s in the power stage
- Digital reverb
- Tone and volume (as with the Cubs 8 and 10) and bass, middle treble EQ and gain control
- FX loop
- 12″ Celestion speaker
A great 15 watt Amp with nice, full sound.
The valve configuration gives the Cub 12 a much bigger voice than the Cub 8 and 10. Also, if 12″ of Celestion isn’t enough for you, there’s also an external speaker out jack.
Instead of a Hi/LO input, the Laney Cub 12 has a 15w and <1w input. Jack into the 15w input and you get the full throated roar, jack into the <1w and you get a more manageable volume for practice, with substantially less headroom. This means that you can get those dreamy, creamy British overdrive tones that EL84s are known for at a much lower volume.
Looking for a classic, funky vibe?
The Epiphone “1939 Electar” Century Tube Amplifier
The Epiphone “1939 Electar” Century amplifier takes you back to the days when amplifiers were new. Its art Deco inspired look would be at home in Epiphone’s early days in Manhattan, but totally unique nearly 80 years later. You can rest assured that while the sound and look are vintage, the electronics are modern.
Not strictly a 15w amp, it’s close enough. The “1939 Electar” is an 18w all tube combo amp with a cool vintage style all its own. It owes a lot of its unique style to the fact that this vintage look goes back to 1939 – far further than most “vintage” amps.
The Electar is powered by two 6V6 output valves and two 12AX7 preamp valves, and has a 12″ speaker. Controls include a Master Volume with pull “boost” and a Master Tone. The boost is great for searing treble lead tones, and the Master volume lets you get better overdrive tones at lower volumes. It also has three inputs: Bright, Normal and Dark; which is unique. Also included is a output for a speaker extension to drive a larger configuration external cabinet.
The Epiphone Electar 1939 Century amplifier has the vibe of 1930’s Manhattan, with the modern Fender style tone all for only $372.
The Epiphone 1939 Century amplifier:
- 18w, all tube Class A/B combo amp
- Powered by two 12AX7 and two 6V6 valves
- 2″ Electar speaker
- Controls are simply a master volume and master tone, but the master volume has a pull mode for a “boost” effect.
A one of a kind low watt tube amplifier.
Where things get a bit more unique is with the inputs. There are three of them – bright, normal and dark. There is also an extension speaker out jack and internal bias adjustment for tweaking the response of the 6V6 power tubes.
Best Small Tube Amps Under $300
10w Tube Amps
Vox is the clear choice if you’re looking for a classic vibe in a vintage package.
Get high gain tone without cranking up!
- 10 watt combo amp
- Two 12AX7’s for the preamp and two EL84’s for the output
- Volume, Grain, Bass, Treble and Reverb controls
- 10 inch Celestion speaker
- Speaker out jack so you can run it to drive an external cab.
This 10 watt Amp Is All Vox.
It’s got the classic Vox look and British crunch and chime. It should be noted that the reverb is digital and very sensitive — great for classic rock to full out surf. Think of the AC10 as the stripped down little brother to the AC15 – great for small gigs, studio and home playing.
Laney offers a family of 3 low watt amplifiers, each a little larger than its sibling.
Laney Cub 10 10w tube amplifier
Next up from Laney Amplifiers is the middle child of the Cub series, the Laney Cub 10.
- 10 watt, class A/B amplifier
- 10″ Celestion speaker
- two ECC83’s in the preamp and two 6V6GT’s for output
- Controls and inputs are identical to the Cub 8.
A Real Class (A/B) tube amplifier.
Where the Cub 10 differs from its little brother is in the sound and power consumption. Being class A/B guitar amp, it’s a bit more efficient than the Cub 8 and doesn’t run quite as hot. The larger speaker and double tube compliment give the Cub 10 a bigger mid — range sound. Since the natural range of the guitar is the mid — range, this is perfect for guitarists who want to cut through the mix in a band or recording setting.
The Laney Cub 10 is a nice, low watt package for expressive mid — range clean tone to Zeppelin like gain and vintage tone.
5w Tube Amps
Looking for a high gain amp?
Check out these great offerings from Blackstar: the HT5R, HT1R and the HT1MC.
The Blackstar HT5R is a 5 Watt, all-tube amplifier (1x ECC83 (12AX7), and 1x 12BH7 ) with a single 12-Inch speaker.
- 2 channels (clean, and overdrive)
- 3-Band EQ and reverb
- Series effects loop
- Stereo MP3/Line input
- Headphone out
- Comes with a footswitch for switching channels.
Another really cool thing the Blackstar HT-5R brings to the party is the ability to model 1×12 or 4×12 in a line out, which is awesome for recording.
Blackstar HT5R — A 5w amp that delivers the goods.
The Blackstar HT5R delivers crunch and breakup tones that you’d expect from a 100 watt amp through the use of a 12BH7 dual triode valve in push-pull configuration. The result is a big sound, from a modest, 5-watt amp.
Here’s a great all-around demo
The Blackstar HT1R is the “mini-me” to the Blackstar HT-5R.
- 8″ speaker
- 1 watt, powered by a single ECC83 (12AX7), and single ECC82 (12AU7) power tubes.
- Line out for external cabinet
Make Your Blackstar HT1R a Driver.
The Blackstar HT1R can also be plugged into an external speaker cab, and can easily drive a 4×12 cabinet.
An excellent variation on the HT-5R
Here’s a Demo
Looking for an amp you can modify? The VHT is for you!
These VHT amplifiers are a modder’s dream…
VHT built the Special 6 Combo Amplifier with modders in mind. If you’re handy with a soldering iron, the sky is the limit!
The VHT Special 6 is also a great deal for anyone looking for an affordable, all tube amp with versatility and gain. It’s got the standard Overdrive and Clean inputs and the associated overdrive, tone and volume controls.
What makes the VHT Special 6 Ultra different is that the volume control has a pull boost which acts as a mid-range gain. The Depth control allows you to vary the low frequency roll off point. This helps you to sculpt your sound the way you want it for various pickup and cabinet pairings. Also unique to the Ultra is the “Ultra” control knob which controls the level added gain to the output for maximum overdrive.
Dial it in.
The VHT Special 6 Ultra also has a power-attenuating watts control. This lets you dial in the output wattage from 0.5w all the way to 6w. It’s an excellent feature for those looking for an all-tube practice amp that won’t shatter the windows in the bedroom.
Lastly, the VHT Special 6 Ultra features two speaker out lines and variable impedance for 4, 8 an 16 ohm speaker cabinets and an effects loop.
Like its big brother (the Special 12/20), the Special 6 Ultra ships with a 6V6 output tube. This gives the Special 6 sweet Fender-like clean and rich overdrive tones. The dual 12AX7 tubes in the preamp are stock, but it can accept a wide range of alternate output tubes as well.
The VHT Special 6 Ultra is quite an attractive all-tube amp and sells for only $399.99.
- 6 watt
- Single special high sensitivity 10″ VHT Special Design speaker.
- 2x 12AX7 Preamp
- 1x 6V6 output
- footswitchable boost mode
- 4, 8, and 16 Ohm speaker out jacks for driving larger cabs.
The VHT Special 6 also features a High/Low power switch that enhances low-volume tones with extra-smooth richness.
This amp is great for home or gigging! Here’s why…
In low power mode, you can get great distortion with a reasonable volume for home practice. In high-power mode, it’s loud enough to compete with a drummer for practice or small gigs.
The VHT Special 6 is a modders dream that excels at both clean and overdriven tones.
Looking for a tube amp that won’t blast a hole in your eardrums or your budget? Bugera is for you.
Bugera V5 Infinium
The Bugera V5 Infinium is a 5 watt all tube amp for less than $200.
Let that sink in for a moment.
For the price of a really good solid state amplifier, you can get an all tube amp. But that’s not all.
- Class-A amplifier driven by a single EL84 tube with a single 12AX7 tube in the preamp.
- Specially designed 8″ Turbosound speaker. (This is a classic combination for the British crunch and buttery blues tone)
- Power attenuator, which effectively lets you decrease the headroom even more and get killer overdrive or distortion at a lower volume
- Digital reverb capable of dialing in everything from subtle to downright cavernous.
An All Tube Guitar Amp for How much?!
Where the Bugera V5 Infinium really makes its mark is with its Tube Life Multiplier technology. According to Bugera, this tech ensures:
.. greater reliability and consistent tone over the lifespan of your valves by monitoring the performance of each of the amplifier’s output valve and maintaining them at their ideal operating point for an evenly distributed load.
There’s also an LED next to each tube that lets you know when it’s about to die.
All for under $200!
For fans of the Marshall tone who don’t need a full stack.
A lot of people don’t get the Marshall DSL5C, especially Marshall fans. They just don’t see the point in low watt amps, and frankly look down on anyone who doesn’t play a 100w Marshall stack. Well, the Marshall DSL5C just isn’t for them. It’s perfect for fans of the Marshall tube tone who just want a rock solid amplifier for practicing or playing the occasional small gig.
The Marshall DSL5C is a versatile amp that truly delivers on Marshall tone – everything from Plexi-style cleans to JCM800 snarl to modern day high gain.
- Powered by 3 ECC83’s in the preamp, and a single 12BH7/ECC99 in the power section.
- 2 channels: Classic and “ultra gain”. :)
- Series FX loop
- Headphone out
- Audio in (for mp3 players)
- Extension speaker for driving an external speaker cab
- Celestion Ten 30 10″ speaker
- Controls include: volume, gain, presence, bass, middle, treble, deep switch (increases low end frequency), and toneshift (which acts like a mid scoop)
One of the best 1 watt or 5 watt tube amps going.
What makes the Marshall DSL5C even better is the power switch. Like the Vox AC4TV, the Marshall DSL5C can run at full wattage (5w) or lower wattage (1w), which means you get all that sweet crunch and tube saturated distortion at volumes low enough to not piss off the neighbors.
A lot of people don’t get the Marshall DSL5C, especially Marshall fans. They just don’t see the point in low watt amps, and frankly look down on anyone who doesn’t play a 100w Marshall stack. Well, the Marshall DSL5C just isn’t for them. It’s perfect for fans of the Marshall tube tone who just want a rock solid tube amp for practicing or playing the occasional small gig.