The best tube amps may run into the thousands, but that doesn’t mean you can’t relish in those gorgeous tones on the cheap. These are our favourite affordable tube amps under $500 that are perfect for practice, small spaces and studio use.
1Supro Blues King 8
A modern iteration of the amps that started it all back in Chicago during the 50s, the Blues King 8 includes an all-tube signal path (12AX7 and 12AU7), vintage-style cabinetry and a custom eight-inch speaker. The Blues King’s front panel features volume, tone and master volume controls, alongside a footswitchable boost switch. This amp also features a line output, allowing it to double as an outboard tube distortion that’s able to feed an additional another amplifier or even a DAW.
Retails for $299. Read our full review here.
2Fender Bassbreaker 007
The smaller sibling to the Bassbreaker 15, this seven-watt combo is much like its namesake secret agent: good-looking, rugged, versatile and deceptively powerful. With the master and mids cranked and gain at 9 o’clock, it’s the kind of touch-sensitive experience you either have to push a Vox into the red or go well into four figures in the boutique market to get. Kick in the treble boost and you’ll want to roll back the mids to 12 o’clock to avoid fizz and eyeball-slicing high-end.
The Bassbreaker 007 has a 10-inch Celestion speaker, a line out, a pair of 12AX7s and a single EL84.
Retails for about $450. Read our full review here.
3Vox AC10 Custom
For Brit-flavoured chewy mids, jangly treble and classic valve grind at an affordable price, you couldn’t ask for much more than this 10-watter with a pair of 12AX7s and EL84s.
Built in China, this amp is more of a re-imagining of the original AC10 than a reissue. The Custom version has a single channel with bass and treble controls that are based on Vox’s Top Boost circuit. The tremolo is omitted but you get reverb instead. The originals were non-master volume amps, but the C1 has separate gain and master volume controls.
Retails for £430. Read our full review here.
What do you get when you cross a Tube Screamer with a pint-sized tube combo? The TSA15, for starters. Built by the people behind the iconic green pedal, this amp has a switchable, in-built TS circuit – with the standard three controls – alongside bass, treble and volume knobs as well as a boost switch to increase gain by 6dB. It can run as either a 15- or five-watter, sports a 12-inch Celestion speaker, and has a pair of 12AX7s and 6V6GTs.
Retails for about $450.
5Blackstar HT5R MkII
The HT5R MkII condenses all of Blackstar’s most renowned features into a compact five-watt combo with a 12-inch speaker. Two channels – clean and overdrive – inbuilt reverb, the brand’s patented ISF feature, three-band tone stack, a USB audio out, XLR DI out, and a power reduction switch to take you down to 0.5 watts are its standout features. Tube-wise, the HT5R MkII has a 12AX7 in the preamp and a 12BH7 in the power amp.
Retails for about $500.
6Egnater Tweaker 15 Head
As its name suggests, this 15-watt amp head, with its trio of 12AX7s and a pair of 6V6s, is designed for knob-fiddlers and switch-flickers. There are five toggle switches that let you fine-tune the amp’s character: Vintage/Modern, US/AC/Brit, Hot/Clean, Bright/Normal, and Tight/Deep. The latter takes the low and high end from smooth to assertive, while the Hot/Clean switch is linked to the gain circuitry for even more girth and power. Elsewhere, you’ll find the standard three-band EQ, master volume and gain knobs.
Retails for about $400.
It doesn’t get any more wallet-friendly than this. The Laney Cub10 is a 10-watt combo that’s stripped down and straightforward, with volume, gain and tone knobs giving you all you need to sculpt your sound. It’s loaded with two 12AX7s and two 6V6GTs (in a Class A/B power section), a 10-inch driver, and Hi/Lo inputs. It certainly isn’t as vibey as the Pro Junior, but then again, it’s half the price.
Retails for £222.
True to the British brand’s heritage, this five-watt combo is all about cranking up and rocking out. Its two footswitchable channels are called “Classic Gain” and “Ultra Gain” that are, respectively, for those requisite rock ’n’ roll tones and heavier, snarling distortion. Each channel has a gain and volume knob, while global three-band EQ knobs, a tone shift button and a Deep button for more bottom end give you a big enough palette for tone-tweaking. An in-built digital reverb and a power reduction button to take you to one watt complete this feature-laden amp.
Specs-wise, the DSL5CR has a 10-inch Celestion speaker, an effects loop, two 12AX7s and a single 12BH7.
Retails for about $500.
9Fender Pro Junior IV
Now in its fourth edition, this tweed stalwart of Fender’s amp range has an improved volume circuit that’s modified for a more gradual breakup, a 10-inch Jensen P10R speaker, better clarity, and a tighter bass response. Otherwise, it’s the same Pro Junior we’ve all come to know and love: just two knobs – volume and tone – as well as a pair of 12AX7s and EL84s.
Retails for about $500.
Check out our other buyer guides, too.