For many guitarists, tube amplifiers are the only way to go. They were what the deities of the guitar pantheon used back in the golden age of rock ’n’ roll, and they continue to be revered. Here are our picks of the 12 best tube amps – while mostly pricey, there are a few wallet-friendly options in here, too.
1Supro 1696RT Black Magick Reverb Combo
Based on a Supro that Jimmy Page used in the 70s, this 25-watt, 1×12 combo has a distinctive tone that can be summarised as ‘old-school heavy rock in a box’. Overdrive is smooth, yet thrillingly ferocious; it hangs on to single notes with Rottweiler-like tenacity and the defining tonal characteristic is a fat-and-forward midrange. At first, it may seem slightly lacking in treble and headroom, but if you’re looking for a clear and clean pedal platform, this isn’t it – and it isn’t designed to be. Check out our full review here.
Retails for $1,499/£1,529.
With really good amps, you can swap between guitars without needing to alter the controls in any significant way – if at all. The Antares is one such amp. Once you have it dialled in, it somehow gets on with the job of coaxing the tone of each instrument. Such is its inherent balance, if you do struggle when changing guitars, it might be that the guitars need adjustment rather than the amp.
So as you’d expect, the tone is full, detailed and balanced, with a natural spaciousness and a pleasing pop at the front of notes. This 18-watt combo may be our favourite Swart amp of them all. Check out our full review here.
Retails for $1,950/£2,099.
Carr’s amps are fêted for their genuine point-to-point wiring, mid-century modern styling and above all, fantastic tone quality. The Telstar ticks each of these boxes, but its unique selling points are thin-wall cabinet construction and mismatched power valves: a push-pull stage pairing an EL84 with a 6L6 to generate 17 watts.
This results in a tonal character that defies easy characterisation. Fundamentally, however, the Telstar provides an impressive range of clean and driven variations on a defining theme that is full, harmonically rich and sublimely touch-sensitive. Check out our full review here.
Retails for $2,390/£2,449.
4Bartel Amplifiers Roseland
This 45-watter is the Bugatti Veyron of guitar amps. The finish, build quality and tone are at the very top end of the boutique league, and it’s easily one of the most versatile and best-sounding amps we’ve ever reviewed.
There are only three preamp controls – but if you’re thinking there’ll be few surprises with just volume, treble and bass to play with, you couldn’t be more wrong. Beginning with all three set halfway, we’re met with a big, room-filling sound, with soft trebles and impressive low-end girth. And it only gets better from then on out. Check out our full review to find out how.
Retails for $4,795/£4,699.
5Black Volt Amplification Crazy Horse
We love the Crazy Horse’s complex clean tones and it’s smooth and refined breakup. It offers a resolutely rootsy and old-school tone that makes you feel so connected with the amp that you may feel compelled to palm the plectrum and start picking with fingers and thumbs. Granted, this 1×10 combo may not be as versatile as a similar tweed combo – but this thing gets loud. Any preconceptions you might have about what a 1×10 combo is capable of should be left at the door. Check out our full review here.
Retails for $2,300/£2,799.
6Two-Rock Bloomfield Drive Combo
If you like the idea of a Dumble-style amp with realistic power levels and a forgiving, player-friendly feel, this may be the Two-Rock for you. The 1×12 Bloomfield manages to do almost anything and everything in the most toneful and convincing manner. The cleans are shimmeringly transparent, overdrive tones are chewy and smooth while the lead tones sing with almost uncanny sustain and a total absence of fizz. Check out our full review here.
Retails for $4,650/£4,499.
7Rift Amplification Aynsley Lister Signature
Rift Amps’ Chris Fantana and blues maestro Aynsley Lister have created an amplifier that covers an awful lot of ground, from characterful cleans with a Californian twang, to a trip through late-60s London at the moment when pop got the blues and rock was born. The 35-watt, 1×12 combo is even excellent for rootsy Americana, too. The brief might well have been to deliver Aynsley’s sound in a box, but there’s plenty of scope here to find your own voice. Check out our full review here.
Retails for £2,799.
8Supro 1812R Blues King 12
The cheapest amp on this list is nothing to sniff at – this little 15-watter may be a Blues Junior Killer. Compared to the Fender, this is edgier, more sophisticated, and comes with sumptuous spring reverb and tremolo. At both stage- and home-friendly volume levels, the Blues King offers a rich palette of Americana tones from vintage cleans to frayed overdrive and explosive fuzz. When you factor its price into the equation, the Blues King is the no-brainer purchase of 2019 so far. Check out our full review here.
Retails for $/£599.
Although the 30-watt, 1×12 TremLord 30 has all the trappings of the other rockin’ amplifier designs to come from the mind of Orange, this is no Dual Dark or Thunderverb. It’s all about characterful cleans, inspiring reverb and tremolo, and providing a less spongy platform for modern pedal lovers. Overall, the vibe here is decidedly more vintage than we’ve become accustomed to from Orange in recent years. Check out our full review here.
Retails for $1,299/£999.
10Fender Hot Rod Deluxe IV
We’d be remiss not to include this workhorse that’s been a mainstay on stages for more than 20 years. In the 2018 update of the Hot Rod Deluxe, Fender tweaked the overdrive to be more defined and improved the onboard reverb to be smoother. The Deluxe and its larger sibling, the DeVille, have plenty in common – but if you need something more portable, the former has the edge. Check out our full review here.
Retails for $799.99/£849.
11Blackstar HT-20R MkII
Like the Supro Blues King, this 20-watt (switchable to two-watt), 1×12 combo opens up a wide palette of very usable tones that belie its modest price tag. Its hybrid tube/solid-state preamp and dual channels are much more tweakable than the other models mentioned here. For instance, each channel has two distinct voicings, and there’s Blackstar’s patented ISF feature to toy with.
The rear panel offers a similar level of versatility. After the mains input on the left, there’s a range of possibilities for connecting external speakers, as an alternative to the in-house-designed internal 12-inch unit. There are even USB audio and emulated XLR/headphone outputs. Check out our full review here.
Retails for $599.99/£649.
12Lazy J J10LC
In a boutique amp market that’s saturated with tweed clones, Jesse Hoff stands out because he has always sought to add his own twist to the classic recipe. Case in point: his Lazy J J10LC. The 10-watt, 1×12 combo is inclined towards a throaty midrange roar, and it’s a great way to get vintage 5E3-style tones and dynamics at sensible volume levels. Plus, with the scope to add some seriously delicious spring reverb and tremolo – albeit at additional cost – this package represents the pinnacle of boutique amps. Check out our full review here.
The J10LC starts at £1,599.
Check out our picks of the best solid-state amps here.