Best Tube Amp Under $500 For 2021 [Our Reviews and Comparisons]
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You might have seen guitarists plugging their instruments into a guitar amplifier. This is generally done to improve the tonal coloration. While there are many types of guitar amps, tube amps are the most favored. For many guitarists, a tube amp is the best product that was birthed by the amp technology.
Tube amps were used as guitar amplifiers even before transistors came into the picture. With time amps have evolved and now there are solid-state guitar amps, hybrid guitar amps, and many more. But many guitarists still prefer tube amps because of their warm tone. These amps use old technology which adds to their appeal. Those guitarists who prefer vintage gear including vintage guitars often use tube amps to color the tone of their guitar.
Tube amps are named after the vacuum tubes that are used to drive the amp. Vacuum tubes can produce different sounds based on the playing style of each guitar player which implies that the same amp can be used for separate musical styles. Tube amplifiers sound better because of the distortions they add to the music. These subtle distortions are easily noticed by professional musicians and guitarists. Hence, guitarists feel that tube amps produce the best tone.
These amps are so popular that they are used in professional studio microphones. Their outputs are fed to tube preamps before being converted into a digital signal for recording, mixing, and distribution. This is because tubes are known to make the music created sound better, smoother, warmer, and cleaner.
In case you are in search of a budget-friendly tube amp for your guitar, we have compiled a list of best tube amps under $500 that can help you choose the right amp.
|1. VOX AC10C1
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|2.Supro Blues King 8
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|3.Egnater Tweaker 15
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|4.Fender Pro Junior IV
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|5.Fender Bassbreaker 007
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|6.Marshall 2525C Mini Jubilee
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|7.Fender Blues Junior IV
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|8.Blackstar HT5R MkII
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|9.Marshall DSL20C Amp
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|10. Vox AC15C1
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Our Best Tube Amp Under $500 – Reviews and Comparisons
Resurrected from the ashes of Vox’s old amp AC10, the AC10 custom AC10 C1 accompanies Vox’s legendary top boost sound in a lower wattage amp. The AC10 C1 features the addition of an onboard studio-quality reverb for more versatility. Built-in China this tube amp sports a single channel with bass and treble controls that are based on Vox’s top boost circuit.
This Vox machine is adorned with black textured vinyl, gold piping, and diamond grill cloth in the front housed in a rectangle. These features give it a vintage look. The chassis and speaker are hidden from view by a closed-back cabinet. It is about 20 inches wide, 16 inches tall, and weighs around 25 pounds. This unit is compact enough to be carried around on your gigging missions.
- The controls for gain, bass, treble, reverb, and master volume lie on top of the unit. The top also houses an external speaker jack, two 12AX7 preamp tubes, and two EL84 tubes with 10 watts of output power.
- It is fitted with a single 1×10-inch Celestion VX10 speaker. Celestion’s blue alnico speaker provides a ringing tone at lower volumes and a crisp tone when the volume is cranked up. The speaker is placed in a closed-back cabinet with a small vent at the back of the unit.
- There is an external jack that can run an external 16-Ohm speaker cabinet. Connecting to the external speaker halts the internal one.
- The components of the unit are placed on printed circuit boards along with the valve sockets and control potentiometers.
- The AC10 C1 accompanies an automatic power-off function. This will shut the amp down if no audio signal is detected for two hours.
What We Like About Vox AC10 C1
This amp is loud enough for all your gigging sessions. The top boost tone is both detailed and loud regardless of the guitar plugged into its input.
What We Don’t Like About Vox AC10 C1
The digital reverb is thin. For guitarists that use more reverb, you will have to add a stompbox reverb for more effects.
|Digital reverb is thin|
The Blues King 8 is a modern version of the low-watt Supro amplifiers that were produced in Chicago during the mid-1950s. This mid-century style tube amp from Supro is a low-watt mini-valve guitar amp combo. This low-powered amp is perfect for practicing and recording.
“This little amp produces an enormous studio sound when placed in front of a microphone,” states Supra. This machine is a single-channel, all-valve combo fitted with an 8-inch speaker. Its power output is just 1 watt and you get only limited controls such as the volume control, single tone control, and a master output volume. This means that this amp is built for a house party and not for a large arena.
- This amp has two valves, a 12AX7 in the preamp and a 12AU7 power tube.
- The guitar signal is directed into a 12AX7 tube preamp, where the audio is gained up and sent to a 12AU7 triode power amp that delivers a 1 watt powered tone.
- The front panel of the Blues King 8 features volume, tone, and master volume controls. Additionally, there is a foot-switchable boost function that adjusts the gain of the tube preamp.
- The machine sports a line output that allows this combo amp to also function as an outboard tube distortion unit feeding another amplifier or DAW.
- A poplar wood cabinet houses a custom BK8 speaker.
- The overdrive is full and harmonically loaded. The master volume allows you to crank up the preamp gain.
What We Like About Supro Blues King 8
This device is budget-friendly and a beginner’s tube amp.
What We Don’t Like About Supro Blues King 8
The Blues King 8 isn’t suitable for gigging.
| Fitted with vintage field coil speakers
|Not for gigging|
Egnater might not be a well-known brand for many of you. But, Bruce Egnater is one of the most appreciated amp designers in the world. His amps enjoy a huge fan base. He has produced amps used by legends including Steve Vai and Dimebag Darrell. The Tweaker 15 from Egnater is one of the amps that was built in China.
It is a solidly built amp housed in a ply cabinet covered in thick-grained vinyl. This 15W tube amp’s sound doesn’t disappoint and can be used for recording sessions and smaller gigs. Egnater has used high standards of construction for this compact machine and has employed printed circuit boards rather than point to point wiring. The core of its circuitry hosts two pairs of tubes that produce 15 Watts of power.
- Tweaker is a single-channel amplifier that features bass, middle and treble tone controls on the front panel. There is also a gain knob that allows you to set how much preamp drive is used.
- Apart from these regular controls, there are five small switches on the front panel that gives you more options to tinker with your guitar tone.
- Each switch does something at a different stage in the circuit, according to Egnater. There is a tight and bright that will cut out some of the deep basses at the beginning of the preamp.
- The clean/hot switch widens the range of the gain circuit.
- The vintage/modern switch in the power amp gives your guitar tone a vintage and a modern touch. The vintage mode causes the power amp to sound flat while the modern switch boosts the low and high end to gain a clearer tone.
- There is also an American AC, and British high-gain voicing switch that helps you to reconfigure the Tweaker’s tubes to provide a wide range of amp sounds.
What We Like About Egnater Tweaker 15
There are numerous tonal possibilities and also a lot more gain to work with.
What We Don’t Like About Egnater Tweaker 15
It lacks a footswitch to bring extra gain.
| Superior control
|Lacks a footswitch for extra gain|
This is another great amp from music industry giant Fender that is good for gigging musicians. The Fender Pro Junior IV has been praised by the likes of legends including Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck. Fender has made a few changes to the model since its launch in 1993 and this tube amp is still an affordable option for many guitarists.
- The layout of the amp features a large vertical single-sided PCB housing most of the small components including the panel knobs and switches. These are connected by ribbon cables to a through-plated board that is located at bottom of the chassis. This board holds the valve bases.
- The Pro Junior IV sports a 15-watt tube circuit and a pair of EL-84 power tubes and two 12AX7 preamp tubes coupled with a solid-state rectifier.
- The company ships Groove Tubes EL-84 and 12AX7 tubes along with the amp so you needn’t worry about an immediate upgrade. The replacement of the tubes is easy as it is color-coded.
- The 15-watt Pro Junior IV hosts a modified volume circuit. The modified circuit delivers a tighter bass response and also makes the switch from clean to overdrive smooth, as the volume level is increased.
- To improve the bass response the unit is fitted with a Jensen P10R Alnico 10-inch speaker.
- The Pro Junior IV is a great machine that is notable for delivering balanced clean sound that can easily transition into rich, multi-layered overdrive tones as the volume is turned up.
- The volume control executes a more gradual change between clean and aggressive sounds.
What We Like About Fender Pro Junior IV
The Pro Junior IV’s simple circuit emits a well- balanced clean sound that gradually adds rich, multi-layered overdrive tones with an increase in volume.
What We Don’t Like About Fender Pro Junior IV
There tends to be a bit of tube rattle if you play it at bedroom levels.
| Good for beginners and pro guitarists
Superb for recording
Clean amp tones
| No effects loop
No channel switching
This is a tube amp from the music industry giant Fender. Fender’s Bassbreaker series was officially announced at the end of 2015 and launched at Winter NAMM 2016 in Anaheim. The amplifiers that belonged to this range was mainly for the rock genre of music to crank up the volume high and get loud tones.
The Bassbreaker 007 from Fender is also made for the rock genre. It is made to produce dirtier tones rather than clean tones when the volume is cranked up high. This machine is capable of delivering great tones powerful enough for a small venue or a house party.
- The Bassbreaker 007 Combo is a 7-watt tube amp equipped with two 12AX7 preamp tubes and one EL-84 power amp tube.
- It employs a 10 inch Celestion Ten 30 speaker.
- The front panel features one input jack, a treble boost button, bass/middle/treble controls, a preamp gain knob, and a master gain knob.
- There is a switchable vintage-style treble booster for increased overdrive and added harmonics.
- Fender has used an EL-84 for the power tube to give it a “British” distortion sound, according to the company.
- EL84 power tube drives 7 watts of power and delivers Class-A amplification.
- The EL-84 is brighter and getting distortion is also fairly easy on this device. The tubes help emit harmonically saturated distorted tones.
- The distortion works well with Fender Strats.
- The amp lets you get full tube warmth and overdrive even with the volume at a medium level.
What We Like About Fender Bassbreaker 007
The gain settings are remarkable complete with the presence of a switchable boost.
What We Don’t Like About Fender Bassbreaker 007
The machine finds it hard to stay clean at higher volumes
| Good sound
Excellent high gain tone
| No reverb
No effects loop
The Marshall Mini Jubilee amplifier is the sibling of the Silver Jubilee amplifiers that enjoyed prominence in the late 1980s. Back then, Silver Jubilee machines had a brand new EQ section and pentode/triode switching. The EQ section made it easier to drive the output stage and get the preamp drive complete with a smoother and more predictable EQ.
The Marshall 2525C Mini Jubilee is a revamped version of the Silver Jubilee. It was built at Marshall’s headquarters at Bletchley in the UK. It is available as a compact 1×12 combo or head, the 2525H. This amp is powered by three ECC83 preamp tubes and two EL34 power tubes.
- Adorned in signature silver, chrome, and grey vinyl, the Mini Jubilee boasts a high standard of construction.
- The 2525C is fitted with three 12AX7 preamp tubes, a pair of EL34 power amp tubes, and a single 12 inch Celestion G12M-25 Greenback speaker.
- It is capable of delivering 20 W of power
- This amp offers two channels; a clean channel as well as a dirtier channel at a higher volume. The dirty tones can be dished out via the pull rhythm clip on the gain control knob.
- The controls on the device feature input gain, a lead master volume, and output master volume. There are also three EQ controls for treble, middle, and bass, along with a presence knob.
- On the back panel, there is an effects loop along with five speaker-out options, a DI output, and footswitch input.
- Another interesting feature is the presence of a switch that is next to the power switch. This switch allows you to drop the power down to 5 watts, allowing you to practice at more comfortable volumes.
What We Like About Marshall 2525C Mini Jubilee
This machine works like a charm during recording and practice sessions
What We Don’t Like About Marshall 2525C Mini Jubilee
This is not enough for large gigs.
| Good overdrive
Great for recording and practice sessions
|Not suitable for large venues|
A Fender Blues Junior is a common sight at concerts. This is a favored device because it lets you manage volume with its low wattage, and its single speaker can be quickly connected to a mic. The Blues Junior IV is a solid amp featuring great value for money. The Blues Junior is one of the smaller tube amps from the popular Hot Rod series that has become a favorite for home use or for jamming with your band.
The Blues Junior is armed with a reworked preamp and new loudspeaker which expands the tonal possibilities for your guitar. It features a simplistic design and is a versatile machine that can be a great fit for your guitar rig.
- The Blues Junior is a single-channel, 15-watt tube amp with a Celestion’s excellent A-Type loudspeaker.
- It is fitted with some very basic but effective controls: volume, treble, bass, middle, master volume, and spring reverb. There is a fat switch to thicken the sound.
- The single volume and single tone knobs on the back panel make it a user-friendly device.
- The inside of the device hosts a large single-sided board holding most of the small components, including the top-panel controls.
- There is also a smaller through-plated board, which holds Junior’s five valves; three 12AX7s and a pair of EL84s.
- There is a reverb spring run by a dual op-amp.
- The Blue Juniors IV is well suited for beginners, professional gigging musicians, or home studio owners. This amp is considered great for rock, blues, and country.
What We Like About Fender Blues Junior IV
The Blues Junior IV is fitted with a modified volume circuit. This helps you to apply extremely precise gain adjustments to further expand tonal possibilities.
What We Don’t Like About Fender Blues Junior IV
The amp is only suited for rock, blues, and country playing styles.
| Great for blues and country musicians
Excellent sound quality
The HT 5 amplifiers got famous for their high-quality valve tones and affordability. The MKII was launched at NAMM 2019 in January and these new ‘MkII’ versions boasted a new look, revamped functionality, and sounds that have progressed with the evolution of music.
The HT5R’s cream chicken-head knobs, elephant hide textured Tolex covered with weave cloth gives it the look of a pricey gadget. This is more of a practice gadget made for beginners. Blackstar has equipped the MKII with a studio-quality reverb and USB speaker-emulated output.
- Blackstar HT-5R delivers 5 Watts of power distributed between 12AX7 in the preamp stage and one 12BH7 in the power stage.
- The machine is fitted with a 12 inch Blackbird 50 custom-voiced unit.
- Controls include clean channel volume and tone control. Next to these controls lies the channel select button followed by overdrive controls featuring gain and volume knobs.
- Blackstar has provided the MKII with full three-band EQ and the ISF. There is a built-in reverb level knob for further tone shaping.
- There is a standard effects loop as well as the 8/16 Ohm speaker outputs. There is also a line in for an MP3 device and a footswitch input.
What We Like About Blackstar HT5R MkII
It is a great home tube amp that has the perfect functionality with pedals.
What We Don’t Like About Blackstar HT5R MkII
This is a compact tube amp good for practice sessions and not for gigging musicians.
Reverb knob for tone shaping
Full three-band EQ section
|Not for larger venues|
Marshall DSL Series has several amps ranging from the monster 100-watt DSL100 head to the 5-watt DSL5C. If you are looking for an amp with quality sound that can fill up the space of your living room and can function as a great home amp consider the Marshall DSL20C. Complete with the typical Marshall tone, this tube amp is complete with two channels, each with its gain and volume control.
- The DSL20C has a semi-open back design with ports that keep bass frequencies tight and focused.
- It is a 20-watt valve combo accompanying a 12 inch Celestion speaker.
- It possesses an all-tube circuit sporting two EL34 power amp tubes and three ECC83 preamp tubes.
- The amp is fitted with two channels, classic gain, and ultra gain. The classic channel makes the sound clean and warm and can bring in a gritty overdrive. The ultra channel is well suited for hard rock musicians.
- The reverb controls and the EQ are shared between these two channels. EQ consists of treble, middle, bass, and presence.
- There is a tone shift button for lowering the mid frequencies, and a deep button to add a bottom end tone.
What We Like About Marshall DSL20C Amp
Each channel possesses a digital reverb and a level control setting to get the best tone suited for your playing style.
What We Don’t Like About Marshall DSL20C Amp
The amp is not built for aggressive playing styles.
| Perfect for classic-rock, hard-rock, and classic-metal playing styles
Standby switch to switch between power levels
|Not suited for aggressive playing styles like hard rock|
Vox amplifiers released the AC15 way back in 1958. Guitar enthusiasts took an immediate interest in the machine because of its sheer tone. Although its successor the AC30 holds prominence in the market, this tube amp is still a success. The AC15 was initially called Vox AC1 and is made in Britain.
Weighing 50 lbs, the amp packs classic looks but incorporates modern technology. Covered in leather-textured vinyl the amp features good aesthetics and possesses a great set of features useful for gigging guitarists. ‘’Vox AC15 Custom carries on the tradition that began in 1958 and offers guitarists the unmistakable sound of Vox,’’ boasts the company.
- AC15 is a 15 Watt amplifier featuring a single 12″ Celestion alnico blue speaker.
- It is a dual-channel amplifier consisting of a normal channel and a top boost channel, each with its volume control. These channels are foot-switchable.
- The top boost channel comes with independent treble and bass tone controls to help tailor the tone according to your needs.
- Both channels depend on the tone cut and volume controls located in the master section. The tone cut control helps shape your tone further.
- Balancing the volume of the channels with the master volume control makes the amp sound clean while at the same time makes it possible to get decent amounts of gain.
- This Vox is equipped with a built-in spring reverb that can be controlled by a Level control. The front panel also features speed and depth controls for the AC15C1’s tremolo circuit.
What We Like About Vox AC15C1
The onboard tremolo effect featuring both depth and rate controls help add a touch of rock n’ roll to your sound.
What We Don’t Like About Vox AC15C1
There is no footswitch to shift between channels.
Tone Cut control for an additional degree of tone-shaping
|No footswitch to change between channels|
We recommend the Fender Pro Junior IV for beginners and experienced players alike. Fitted with an upgraded circuit and Groove Tubes, the Pro Junior IV is truly a professional amp. The easily replaceable Groove tubes add to the life span of the device and also since extra groove tubes are shipped with the product, you wouldn’t be spending any extra money on the upgrade. This is a budget-friendly option that features an easy layout.
Try it before you buy it
When you go shopping for a guitar amp go to the store with your main guitar. Make sure your guitar is in tune and ask the store owner to set up the amp for you. Watch the set up closely so you find it easy when you haul it home. Try out a few tunes with your guitar and listen closely to how the amp colors the sound of your guitar.
Know the difference
There are guitar amps and bass amps. As the name suggests bass amps focus on boosting the low frequency tones, unlike guitar amps. Guitar amps are designed to make your mids and highs pronounced and give a clean low end. Guitar amps are not made to reproduce the low-frequency tone and bass amps can make your guitar sound flat and lifeless.
Size and portability
The size of the speaker and its portability should be considered while you choose a guitar amp. If you are a traveling musician then portability and lightweight would be factors to look at when you buy an amp.
There are only two configurations when it comes to guitar amps; combos and separates. The former features the preamp, power amp, and speaker cabinet all in a single box. The latter comes in separate parts which give you the flexibility to combine the parts you want to create a tailored amp that pertains to your specific needs.
There are also rackmount preamps and power amps, which extends the possibilities of combining amp components to create your guitar amplifier. Beginners are always recommended to use a combo amp until they are familiar with playing the guitar and its accessories.
Amps come with different wattage. Some of them are high powered and some are low powered. Depending on where you plan to use them you should choose the wattage for your device. If you are using it for home recording or home use in general, it is ideal to get a small powered one.
A 100 watt will be ideal for gigging musicians who perform on large venues because these high powered amps are loud. However, if you choose a 30-watt device it is only loud enough for a smaller space. Therefore, a 30 to a 50-watt amp is a great fit for home use and a high powered one is for small and large venues.
Types of amps
There are different types of amps including tube or valve amps, solid-state amps, digital and modeling amps, and hybrid amps. Tube amps have vacuum tubes in both the preamp and power amp stages that improve signals. These amps are more responsive and give a smoother sound.
A special feature that all guitarists love is the distortion sound a tube amp can produce. If you crank up the gain but keep the volume low you can force the tubes to produce distortion. This is favored by most rock and heavy metal musicians.
Solid-state amps employ transistors to amplify signals. Many guitarists believe that transistors don’t offer the responsiveness of tube amps. Cranking the volume up on these amps results in a thinner or harsher distortion.
Digital and modeling amps use digital technology in the preamp stage to get the tone produced by historical amps. Digital amps can mimic speakers and offers you a lot of combinations to choose from.
Hybrid amp, as the name suggests is a combination of the different amp technologies. A hybrid guitar amp might be a combination of a tube preamp section with a solid-state power amp section. Or, it could be a modeling preamp section and a tube power amp section.
Amps are most commonly fitted with 10 inches and 12-inch speakers. While amps with 10-inch speakers are less preferred 12-inch speaker amps are commonly used for gigs. When you choose an amp make sure the speakers are rated for the amount of power the amp will produce. Carefully consider the wattage of the amp and its impedance. Popular speaker configurations include one 12-inch speaker, two 12-inch speakers, and four 12-inch speakers. For most gigs, one 12-inch or two 12-inch speakers is deemed enough.
Purchase an amp depending on your purpose. If you are going to practice it at home or use it for a recording session in a studio a low-powered amp with one 12 inch speaker would be enough. However, if you are doing a gig on a larger venue you should choose a 100-watt amp which will be loud and can get you the distortion you want.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):
Why are tube amplifiers expensive?
Tube amps are expensive because they employ pre and power tubes as their primary source of amplification. Each tube costs roughly $50 and a single amp can house up to 4 of these tubes. These amps also host more expensive components, larger cases, and more complex circuitry compared to solid-state amps.
For instance, tube amplifiers have output transformers. They carry low voltage/high current power to the amp’s speakers. One output transformer can cost about $100. A tube amp is fitted with at least two of these transformers shooting up the prices of the amp.
Why do tube amps need time to warm up?
To maintain a good tone for your guitar you need to give the tube amp some time to warm up. If you do not allow the guitar’s tube amps to warm up before you use it, you will notice that the tone of your guitar becomes harder to control with time. Instead of the harsh crunchy tone, you are aiming for the guitar might sound clean and deep. To avoid this from happening it is better to give your tube amp some time before you begin playing.
The user manual that accompanies the tube amps will have warm-up specifications. These specifications will give you details on how long you need to spend warming up your amp before your guitar can be plugged into the amp.
What sounds better, tube or solid-state amps?
Tube amps are preferred by guitarists who like the distortion sounds with a roundness that the tube amps can produce. They have a full-bodied sound but needs the right speakers to get to their full potential. Plus they can get expensive.
Some prefer the transistor gear over tube amps. Solid-state amps are compact and easy to use, hence preferred by beginners. They are not expensive and can be matched with any speaker. Some guitarists tend to love the harsh sound they produce.
Do you need a 100-watt amplifier?
Unless you are going to rock a big stage with your guitar and you have a massive gathering listening to you play, there is no need for a 100-watt amplifier. If you use one of these at home it can invite the wrath of the neighbors. While a 30-watt amplifier is only 5 decibels less loud than a 100-watt amp, a 100-watt amp lends a full and beefy tone to your guitar.
What is the best beginner guitar amp?
Beginners can have a look at the Boss Katana 50 MKII. This is an easy to use an amp that features five different amp voicings, along with 60 different effects. This means that whatever playing style you follow the Katana 50 MKII has a tonal option for you. This has an output of 50 watts and features a 12-inch speaker that is plenty loud for your practice sessions. It can also be used for a small house party or a gigging event.
As mentioned earlier there are different kinds of guitar amps. Most beginners go for a solid-state amp as these are beginner-friendly and less expensive. Many guitarists have experimented with the modern guitar amp technology and have discarded tube amps. Other guitarists prefer vintage gear and therefore like to use tube amps to enhance their tone. You have to experiment with all kinds of amps until you find the right one that suits your taste.
Most guitarists don’t do this and often end up with an amp that doesn’t suit them. It is advisable to go to the local store with your guitar so you can experience the tonal possibilities of the amp beforehand.