8 Best Cheap Tube Amplifiers Reviewed [2020]

Best Cheap Tube Amps Reviewed

Tube amps (also known as a valve amps) give you that a rich, distorted analog sound that many guitarists look for.

The problem is – most tube amps are pricey.

Most, but not all.

If you shop around, you can still find cheap tube amps with a decent analog sound.

Fortunately, we’ve gone ahead and done the research for you.

For this article, we’ve found and reviewed the top 8 cheap tube amps that you can buy today.

Ready? Let’s get started…

8 Best Cheap Tube Amps Reviewed

1. Vox AC4 – Best Overall

Vox Bass Amplifier Head, Black (AC4C1-12) Check Price

When you think Vox, you think amplification. The AC4 is a cheap tube amp from a good brand and offers 4 watts of power. The volume level is good for just practicing, but if you want, you can also use the amp at bigger concerts by connecting a 16-Ohm speaker. Just connect it via the external speaker jack.

This 12-inch speaker is made by Celestion. The amp has both the “Clean Chime” and “Top Boost” settings that Vox is well known for, which gives you different sounds to work with..

The standard gain, bass, treble and volume are all here. These give you plenty of room to customize the sound.

The AC4 has the signature “tube” sound with its from 12AX7 preamp tubes and an EL84 power tube.

Budget tube amps from other famous brands often lose their audio characteristics – the AC4 doesn’t. T It keeps theVox sound even at a low price.

 Pros:

  •     Good size and power for practice and studio use.
  •     Signature Vox sounds included, such as “Top Boost”.
  •     Compact and easy to transport.

 Cons:

  •     Not powerful enough for larger gigs.
  •     The bass is less prominent and can go missing.

2. Monoprice 611815 – Best Cheap Tube Amp Combo

Monoprice 611815 15Watt, 1 x 12 Guitar Combo Tube Amplifier with Celestion Speaker & Spring Reverb Check Price

Monoprice offers affordable, powerful amps. In layman’s terms, this amp packs a punch, with 15 watts of power and an amp load range between 8 and 16 Ohms.

The Celestion speaker inside is so good that it’s even used in some more expensive amps. Like many other amps, it uses EL84 tubes for power.

There’s almost no unwanted hum or noise (-75dB below rated power). The clarity is impressive. You’ll only hear distortion when you put it in yourself

This amp includes a genuine spring reverb effect that keeps the lush and analog feel of the tube amp. It’s easy to control using a foot pedal. If you want to control your effects even more, you can insert between preamp and power amplification.

If you need to have quieter practice sessions sometimes, this is a good option for you – the 1-watt limited amplification mode will keep you from bothering the neighbors.

 Pros:

  •     Plenty of power for the price and size.
  •     Classic style and cloth and leather finish.
  •     Inbuilt spring reverb.
  •     Great power for the price.

 Cons:

  •     Some components feel cheap and flimsy, such as hex nuts.
  •     The inbuilt effects aren’t necessarily studio quality.

3. Blackstar HT1R – Best Small Cheap Tube Amp

Blackstar HT1R Series Guitar Combo Amplifier with Reverb Check Price

You might be shocked to hear that a 1-watt tube amp has made our list. The HT1R is small, but it has a surprisingly crisp tone.

This amp is the most portable one we’ve included here. It can afford to be so small because of its single, eight-inch speaker that drives the sound. 

You can switch between either clean or overdrive channels for a clearer or more distorted sound. Controls include gain, overdrive, input, volume and EQ. You also have built-in reverb.!

The line-in port gives you some handy options – you can plug in an MP3 or laptop for playing along to backing tracks.

A 4-16 Ohm speaker output at the back gives you the option to use this as part of a bigger sound system or in gigs.

 Pros:

  •     Small and compact.
  •     Comes with an inbuilt reverb.
  •     Overdrive settings and EQ allow for tone shaping.

 Cons:

  •     Not hugely loud due to 1-watt power rating.
  •     The sound is a bit “dark” for some tastes.

4. Marshall Amps DSL1CR Guitar Combo Amplifier – Cheapest Marshall Tube Amp

Marshall Amps DSL1CR Guitar Combo Amplifier w/Reverb Check Price

Most “best of” lists in the world of amps have at least one Marshall product. If you’re a fan of the brand, the cheapest option is the DSL1CR. It’s another 1-watt amp that has a surprising level of power and is great for playing at home.

This is a small and compact amp with an 8” Celestion speaker. You’ll notice that Celestion cones are extremely popular in tube amps. They’re clear and reliable.

Marshall’s tube amps are known for overdrive. The tone has a rich and warm distortion. The DSL1CR is no exception, but since it’s a 1-watt amp, it’s not as powerful as some of the others in this range.

The Tubes are ECC83 preamps and then ECC82 for power amplification.

For quiet play and practice needs, you can use the power attenuator. This reduces the wattage a further 90% so you don’t annoy the neighbors.

The tones from Marshall amps will always be popular and help make this amp a good option to consider. This amp gives a great feel for rock and metal. You can also control via two separate gain channels: “Classic Gain” and “Ultra Gain”. Other control knobs include treble, middle, bass, reverb. You can customize your sound a lot to get exactly the tone you want.

 Pros:

  •     Signature Marshall crunch and distortion.
  •     Impressive power for a 1W amp.
  •     Low-volume switch for quiet playing.
  •     Inbuilt reverb and EQ controls.

 Cons:

  •     The tone is a bit lacking if the drive is low.
  •     Not great for big concerts.

5. Bugera V5 Infinium – Best Cheap Tube Amp For Metal

BUGERA V5 5-Watt Class Amplifier Combo with Infinium Tube Life Multiplier Black, (V5INFINIUM) Check Price

Bugera is a budget brand in the world of audio, owned by Behringer. Their products are affordable, but they tend to be hit and miss in terms of quality. The V5 Infinium is more a “hit”.

The V5 Infinium is another combo amp. It’s rated at 5-watts and has an 8” cone. It’s more of a practice amp than a performance amp. The tube tone comes from a 12AX7 preamp and EL84 power amplifier. It can crank to high volumes and does provide a decent level of sound for a 5W amp.

Like some of the other options, it has an attenuator, this time with options from  0.1W to 1W and 5W. You can choose the level of power based on where you are playing and the volume you need.

The tubes will last you a long time due to the Infinium technology. By maintaining the volume levels they work best at, this tech extends their life.

This amp includes a digital reverb, but truthfully, it isn’t the best.

One great aspect of the sound is that it has a real fuzz to it. The overdrive function is fantastic. Some have described this as similar to a “ZZ Top” tone. It’s great for metal sounds.

 Pros:

  •     Very affordable.
  •     Attenuator to switch power levels.
  •     Fuzzy tone suited to rock and metal.
  •     Tubes last longer due to Infinium technology.

 Cons:

  •     Inbuilt reverb is not great.
  •     Clean tones are lacking in clarity.

6. Peavey ValveKing II Micro-head – Best Cheap Tube Amp Head

Peavey ValveKing II Micro-head 20W/5W/1W Tube Head Check Price

The Peavey brand is another that most guitarists will know. This is a tube amp head, and it’s compact and portable. Of course, it needs to be combined with a cab to hear results.

This amp head is good for practice, live or studio – you can switch between 1-, 5-, and 20-watt settings depending on what situation you’re in.

Tubes can die over time, but the included TSI indicator shows how healthy the tubes in your ValveKing are and when they need replacing.

Peavey products are known for being reliable and lasting a long time. The tone is steady, if not spectacular. This is overall a convenient amp.

The Peavey MSDI is another big plus point. It effectively works like a DI (direct input) so you can send the amplifier audio straight to a mixer, PA or other recorder.

 Pros:

  •     Directly output audio signal.
  •     TSI indicator shows the health of the valves.
  •     Switch between 1 and 20-watt settings.
  •     Small and portable.
  •     Incredible power for the size.

Cons:

  •     Footswitch input, but no footswitch included.
  •     Finding a ValveKey cab to pair with is not easy.

7. Ibanez TSA15 Tube Screamer Combo Guitar Amp

Ibanez TSA15 1 x 12 15-Watt All-Tube Combo Guitar Amplifier Check Price

The TSA15 is a tidy little amp from a brand that’s usually known more for its guitars. It packs 15-watts of power into a relatively compact combo amp.

The amp’s name comes from its built-in Ibanez “Tube Screamer” effect. If you like this sound, buying it in the amp can save you money., and you can always turn it off when you need to.

The clean tones on the TSA15 are okay, but it truly comes into its own when the Tube Screamer effect is on.

This is more than just a practice amp – it can handle live venues. It uses a Celestion cone like some others on our list and has a 15W rating.

The tone and overdrive controls give you more control of the tone modeling. There’s also a 6dB boost that you can use on the preamp valves for more fuzz.

Pros:

  •     Includes the Tube Screamer effect.
  •     Plenty of power with 15W rating.
  •     Good tone shaping controls.

Cons:

  •     Clean tones aren’t fantastic.
  •     Footswitch not included.

8. Orange Micro Terror 20W Amplifier Head

Orange Micro Terror 20W Amplifier Head Check Price

Orange amps are known for their fuzz and a “rock and roll” sound. The Micro Terror tube amp head packs a huge amount of power into a tiny package.

This option offers a 12AX7 preamp tube and is a hybrid amp, which gives you beautiful, natural distortion. It’s got plenty of power for use in the studio and on the stage.

The controls are very simple. You’ll probably use Gain and Tone the most to change the sound of your amp. You can output to speakers with a minimum 8 Ohm rating.

The Micro Terror is incredibly affordable too. It does need to be combined with a cab, but it’s an affordable addition to your equipment.

It’s a simple amp head, but the fuzzy sound it offers is signature Orange.

Pros:

  •     Incredibly affordable.
  •     Powerful sound from such a small amp head.
  •     Aux in and phones out connections.

Cons:

  •     Tone isn’t quite as good as some Orange combo amps.
  •     No inbuilt effects.

Cheap Tube Amps Buyer’s Guide

cheap tube amps buyers guide

Still undecided? Our buyer’s guide will answer many of the questions you have about buying a cheap tube amp.

Cheap Tube Amp vs. Solid State

Is a tube amp even right for you? Tube amps use vacuum tubes (also described as valves sometimes) to amplify. Solid State amps use a combination of transistors, which gives a different tone.

There are good amps in both categories – the main difference is that a Solid State model doesn’t tend to distort as nicely. There isn’t a warmth or fuzz to the sound. The distortion sounds more digital and buzzy, and it’s been compared to a “clipping” sound.

Tube amps are known for their beautiful fuzz and deep tone that are great for distorted and overdriven sounds. The downside is that tubes can need replacing from time to time, which is more money you have to pay.

Tones and Voice

Almost every piece of equipment for a guitarist is about building a certain tone. Amps play a big part in that. Controls like EQ, tone dials and overdrive all impact how the guitar sounds. The included videos are a good guide for this.

When talking about tube amps, people use the terms “British” and “American” a lot. British amps tend to have a higher mid-range and more punchy sound, while American amps tend to have a “V-shaped” EQ, boosting both lows and highs.

Power Rating

If you want to use your amp in live settings, you’ll need more power. You can see the power rating by looking for the number of watts – the more watts, the more power. The power ratings on our list range from 20W to 1W. That’s a big range.

Tube amps may seem like they have less power than other amps since the wattage ratings are lower. But, since the way they’re amplified is more efficient, they often actually have more power.

Think about the scenarios in which you’ll be using the amp. Those with lower ratings may be fine for the studio or practice, but they’ll struggle in live settings.

Attenuators

These are worth mentioning when talking about power rating. An attenuator can “cap” the power to prevent the sound from getting too overpowering. It’s great for keeping the volume low so you can play wherever you need to.

An attenuator often caps at 10% of the power rating for quieter practice.

Combo Or Head

For more power and tone control, you might want to buy a tube amp head and stack it with a cab. This can boost volume, but it’s not as convenient as buying a combo amp.

A combo amp packs the cone of the speaker and the tubes amplifying the sound into one device. It’s easier to transport to gigs, and it means you only have to pay for one piece of kit, not two.

Effects

A lot of the tube amps on this list include effects. It’s not essential, since you can always add effects via your pedalboard, but it can be a nice added extra.

Effects such as EQ and reverb are commonly included. They can add another dimension and more control. You’ll be able to experiment a lot if effects are included. The Ibanez TSA15 even includes their famous “Tube Screamer” effect.

Conclusion & Takeaway

Most top guitar brands offer decent affordable tube amps. It’s just a matter of matching up your own unique needs to the right model.

If you’re looking for a convenient yet versatile amp that can handle recording as well as live use, the Vox AC4 is a good option.

For a tube amp that’s mostly for practice, consider the Blackstar HT1R. If you want to stack your amp with a cab, the Orange Micro Terror 20W Amplifier Head could be a great, fuzzy, and analog-sounding option.