The 12 Best Small / Low Watt Tube Amps
Guitar accessories are almost endless. They’re also much easier to find that year’s past. Anyone with a guitar can quickly find the necessary tools needed to make rock, blues, or any other form of music. Tube amps are an essential item to achieve this. They can be hooked up to electric guitars and instruments as well, such as a harp. But due to the large number that is sold online, finding the right one for a particular playing style isn’t the easiest thing to do.
Having gone over recommendations on Amazon while scouring depths of Reddit, and extrapolating from the findings based on our own research, we have found 12 small tube amps that are perfect for anyone. If you’re an expert shredder or a beginning novice, there’s sure to be something that catches your attention in the reviews below. And once you’re done with that, look at the Comparison Table and Buyer’s Guide for even more time-saving tips and suggestions. In the end, we’ll wrap things up by announcing which tube amps rank highest among the rest.
12 Low Watt Amps That’ll Bring Out The Tone of Your Guitar
1. BUGERA V5 5-Watt Class Amplifier Combo with Infinium Tube Life Multiplier – Best Tube Amp For Power Switching (Editor’s Choice)
The Bugera V5 Amplifier is a 5-Watt powerhouse that’s modern and very powerful. It might be a little surprising at first glance, considering how small the tube amp actually is. You can pick it up with one hand and carry it with you easily. It’s small enough to fit inside the trunk of your car but doesn’t come with a carrying case. But seeing how much this thing can do, shuffling it around shouldn’t be too much of a hassle.
First, there’s the physical aspect. It’s painted black and gold, having found knobs on the front for gain, volume, tone, and reverb. Power is turned on with a switch that’s housed next to an illuminated light indicator. You won’t have to squint your eyes to see what you tuning; the fonts are large and easy enough for most to see without any issues. In the back, there’s an AC power outlet and audio in jacks for headphones or other speakers, so feel free to hook it up to additional sources if you need more sound than what it can offer. However, most small to medium-sized venues should suffice for the amp to be heard without any problems, depending on how loud drums are.
Interesting to know
As you plug it in and use it for the first time, you’ll quickly notice how you can change the power that’s fed into the speakers. If you don’t want to max out your volume, simply change the watts from 1 or 0.1. This is great for people that don’t want a lot of feedback in their sound or those who want to play cleanly without any distortion. It’s also a good way to play in situations where the noise level cannot be too loud, such as in the evening at home. Volume level remains well no matter how low the wattage is, so you’ll still get plenty of the sound you’re looking for regardless of the change.
If you’re going to be using headphones, make sure that you obtain a decent pair, unless you have some already. The sound quality is nowhere near as good as what comes through the speaker system, and only studio quality cans will play well with the amp. Microphones are okay, but it’s still recommended that you get something that isn’t below sub par. And if you like to play rhythmic music, a slight muffle may be heard, particularly if you have to volume and gain set high. Still, the Bugera remains a good tube amp for virtually anyone and sits among the top of all the other product to be reviewed in the list.
2. EVH 5150 III LBXII – Best Tube Amp For Gain (People’s Choice)
The EVH 5150 3 is one of the smallest amplifiers shown in the list, having a rectangular-shaped body that’s easy to carry around and store. The front end had six dials that control everything from gain and master volume. If you need something that’s tiny enough to fit inside a small bag but has the power to punch out all sorts of great tones, this is the right tube for you.
Looking at the body of the amp, you’ll see that the gain and volume controls are separate, whereby you can control either one apart or at the same time. This is a good way to tweak your music, especially if you like to play bluesy or hard, rough metal. In fact, chances are high that you won’t even need a pedal to do this. The cleans are also stellar, and in some ways are almost too clean. Nevertheless, isn’t a perfect way to get in practice sessions or jams being created on the fly. A good, resonating chime can also be heard when tuned correctly, and it won’t become muffed or distorted from a lack of headroom.
The biggest drawback to the 5150 3 is the fact that it’s lacking the number of preamp tubes that were available on previous editions of the tube amp. So if you were going for this alone, you may want to look into some of the other brands shown in the list below. There’s also no master volume dial shown in the front, a little surprising given as to how many other controls are featured on the amp. It’s easy to fix these things with the right combination of pedals and other accessories though, so don’t cross out the 5150 if you’re a heavy player that doesn’t own a large assortment of pedals.
3. Fender ’57 Custom Champ 5W 1×8″ – Best Tube Amp For Beginners
Do you own a Fender guitar? If so, you know how loyal their user base has become over the years. Fender has consistently put out lots of great sounding guitars and amplifiers, some of which are famous the world over. The Fender ’57 custom champ has the look of the classic amps were produced by the company during the mid 20th century, and the sound is one-of-a-kind but will match the music from the era flawlessly. If you like tremolo or rock and roll, this little machine will work wonders on your playing style.
Alternative guitars will also sound great on the amp. Gibsons and Epiphones are well suited for it, along with the Danelectro. You may have to do a bit of adjusting, but the overall sound quality should remain on point and free of distortion on most volume level outside of high. If you do want to crank up the volume, be prepared to hear a little clipping. Of course, it’s likely that you won’t need to do such a thing as the sound is almost perfect when the dial is set to a low setting.
Furthermore, get ready to boost your practice as you use the amp. Much of its tone and reliant on how the strings are plucked on the instrument and anything that’s off even slightly will be heard from the speakers. On a good note, this makes the tube amp a suggested product for studio recording sessions. the cleans are crisp and tight, and won’t lose their pitch as you play. In a nutshell, the Fender ’57 Custom Champ is suggested for serious players that plan on recording their music into digital format.
4. Fender Super Champ X2 15-Watt 1×10-Inch – Best Tube Amp For Durability
The Fender Super Champ X2 is an amp for those that need something that won’t get damaged easily. It’s rugged and tough, built to last, and looks the part at the same time. If you have ever had issues with your dials breaking off with other amps, it won’t occur with this brand. The amp’s controls are tight and should stay in great shape for a long time after the accessory has been bought. There’s even a USB stick in the rear of the amp, which can be plugged into a computer or laptop for recording and additional sound manipulation. The software is easy to find; just go to Fender’s website for more information.
If you get annoyed quickly over having to change and alter the setting of your tube amp, this one might make you a little frustrated, at least until you become adjusted to all the configurations. You should also update the firmware before you get started; the amp won’t sound very well if you don’t. Try to get everything out of the way as soon as it arrives at your home so that you don’t have anything to worry about in the future when you’re doing serious playing. If you can manage that, then the Fender Super Champ X2’s 15 watts of power will definitely keep you playing much longer than you were before.
5. Fender Blues Junior IV 15 Watt – Best Tube Amp For Pedals
The Fender Blues Junior IV is a 15 Watt amp that’s all black in color and outfitted with a Celestion 12-inch speaker. It’s recommended for people that love to use pedals with their amp. It’s easy to attach them, just reach over to the back of the amp and plug in and set. There are no configurations on the front, which gives it a classic but modern look. The volume dial on this model has been greatly improved over the last, and won’t clip or change easily. This was a common issue among users, but it appears that Fender listened and upgraded to avoid having players change the dial on their own.
One issue that might be a little annoying is the size. It’s pretty heavy to carry around. Be sure that you’re okay with this if you play in different locations very often. And the handle is pretty weak. Don’t leave it outside for very long when you’re not playing, or store in a bad area. The handle will likely erode and brittle over time. If you don’t mind this, along with the fact that there’s no carrying case with the amp, then the Blues Junior IV is good for both private and venue use.
6. Monoprice 15-Watt, 1×12 Guitar Combo Tube Amplifier – Best Low Wattage Tube Amp
The Monoprice 1×12 Guitar Combo Tube Amplifier has a classic design that will definitely stand out from the rest of your instruments, but not in a bad way. Its had 15 watts total but can be reduced to 1 if needed. There’s also a tone switch that can be used to up the reverb. You can get really good distortion effects this way, and the sound will not emit any clipping or audio disruptions. If you have other speakers that you plan to use with this one, setting everything up shouldn’t take too long. There is two audio in jacks just for this purpose.
Take note of the screws though, which are cheaply made and may break if handled poorly. And by poorly, that means using them as any normal person would do. A screwdriver will likely strip them and render the front useless, resulting in new screws being needed. Make sure you have some before you disassemble. Also, the build quality is questionable, at least regarding how long it will remain in good shape. It’s made from fiberboard and may crack or break if you drop it. Make sure you handle it with care!
7. Monoprice 5-Watt 1×8 – Best Tube Amp For Speaker Hookup
The Monoprice 5-Watt Tube Amp will connect you to other audio systems quickly. If you want to play music through an external source that takes 8 or 16 ohms, this amp will help you get things going fast. The sound is also refined in a way that makes it sound well for people that have trouble with ringing in the ears. Airflow is also good, and the no feedback or humming will come through the lines when everything’s plugged in but silent. But be prepared to change your volume via guitar; there’s no way to do from the amp. Recommended for people that want an amp for live music.
8. VOX AC15C1X – Best Tube Amp For Reverb
The Vox AC15C1X is a good way to test out alternative instruments if you have any. The reverb sounds heavenly and doesn’t take away from the overall sound of the object being played. Pairing it with a microphone should be easy and really brings out the cleans. There is a little clipping with the latter, so don’t turn up the volume too much. Effects are also lacking in this amp; you’ll need to connect a pedal if you want to distort things to a degree that’s more than what the AC15C1X is capable of doing.
9. Vox AC15C1 – Best Tube Amp For Tremolo
The Vox AC15C1 is almost identical to the previously reviewed model but is different in size. This one is better for those that use tremolo or spring. It had multiple channels including flat and boosting. As for chime, no clipping will come from your speakers, even when set to the max. This results in a good tune that’s borderline pristine. There is no headroom here, so using another source to increase the volume may negate the positives of the AC15C1.
10. Vox AC4HW1 4W 1×12″ – Best Tube Amp For Classic Rock
The Vox AC4HW1 is four watts and a decent amp for people that have a preference for classic tunes. Punk will also find a home here, mostly from the way pedals combine with the amp. You won’t have to tune too much when you do this. On top of that, you will hear notes and tones that other lower quality amp most certainly wouldn’t be able to pick up. There are no effects to be toned here though, and some switches probably won’t be used (the Hot Switch mostly). But overall, the AC4HW1 will be more than enough for the average guitar player.
11. Vox AC4TV – Best Tube Amp For Low Volume Play
The Vox AC4TV looks as if it was taken from a time machine. Everything about it is classic, included the tone. But the best feature is the amount of time you won’t have to spend waiting for the speaker to break in. Play it in one go and the sound will become balanced. At only 4 watts of power, this amp will really hit. Volume isn’t the highest that you’ve seen before, but it still a great tube to use for small gatherings or solo play. The AC4TV is suggested for beginners and players that don’t need anything more than what four watts can handle.
12. Vox AC30C2X – Best Tube Amp For Live Performances
Last but not least, the Vox AC30C2X is a medium-sized tube amp that’s big enough to be used for venues. It packs 30 watts of power and has a top-notch Celestion in the interior. You won’t likely need to switch out anything from the inside; you would be getting great parts straight from the factory. It also contains three preamp connections, which will make your guitar’s signal remain constant regardless of the number of hookups you have to the device. It’s pretty heavy though, so don’t settle on this one if you’re going to be moving around to play at a different location without any help. If this isn’t a problem, then consider the AC30C2X for the power that 30 watts will bring to your music.
Whether or not you’re a familiar with guitars and tube amps, you’ll still want to do your homework before settling on any low wattage tube amp. There are a few things to consider before you buy, and should reduce the likelihood of a return for something else. With this being said, it’s time to dive into the meat and potatoes with the Buyer’s Guide.
Most tube amps don’t have a set wattage. This means that you’ll be able to change the amount of power that’s fed into the amp itself. For example, if you were playing in a location where the volume level would need to be toned down, you could change the wattage to from 10W to 1W. Granted, the amps shown above will have more options for this, but it’s a basic attribute that you’ll find on just about any in the category. And if you don’t, take heed to know the amount of power you need before you buy. You don’t want to end up in a situation where you cannot use the amp at all, due to the waking up the neighbors!
And there’s also sound quality. Tube amps that have a low power setting can sometimes have better clarity in the sound. This is often due to fewer chances of clipping and other feedback that can make your notes appear more strained. Most consumers won’t need this to be a prime factor in the purchase of an amp though since the wattage doesn’t typically get lowered to a degree that changes the sound too greatly. It’s more a matter of personal preference, so be sure to look at online videos that show the changes in an amp’s power switches if you’re not sure.
As you look through the different amps that are available, you’ll find that each of them has its own unique sound quality. This is probably the most important thing to consider before getting a new tube. Some amps are better for such genres as classic rock, blues, or heavier sounds such as metal. Classic brands tend to be better for the genres that have been around longer, but not always. If you play music that’s heavy, make sure that you acquire an amp that has good connectivity to pedals and a dedicated gain and volume switch. For classic sounds, look for those with good chime and cleans that don’t take too much tinkering around to set. This is another tip that would be best for you to hear on your own just in case.
As mentioned, your tube amp sound can be magnified easily with pedals. You could put them on virtually any amp, whereby all sorts of distortion effects can be practiced. Still, pedals aren’t the only thing that some amps are compatible with. If you like to record a track or fine-tune your music from an external laptop or PC, check out those with USB ports. By plugging your amp into a computer, you could also change the quality of your music, depending on the type of software you have available. Some amp brands have their own software that’s compatible with the amp you’re using, so if you’re interested, be sure to check more information in the product description. It’s a great way to save all of your practice sessions quickly. Additionally, some amps may also hook up to select a smartphone device with a USB port. Just check with the manufacturer for more details.
A typical tube amp will come with at least one or two channels for controlling the gain and volume. To avoid confusion, the gain is not a way to control an amp’s volume. Instead, it’s used as a way to maintain the level of power that the volume produces. For instance, if you turn the gain all the way up to the max (which may be indicated on the knob as “drive”), you will notice a more rich and enveloping sound that comes through the guitar when the volume is higher. Neither of these will be the master volume though, but they can determine how much power will come through it, along with the level of headroom you have. Speaking of headroom, this is the amount on unused power that you have available to your amp, which can prevent poor, muffled, or clipped sounds from coming through the speakers.
Where the Amp will Be Used
Yes, your set and setting. Tube amps are generally well suited for either solo play at home, or small to medium-sized public locales. Don’t expect to use them in a place that’s loud and heavily populated though, such as a bar or club. But if you must use one for such a location, be sure that it’s built to take 8 to 16-ohm speakers. If it doesn’t you could always mic it if need be, so don’t put all of your bets on this alone if you are going to be using it in a residential area more often than not. And there’s also the street you stay on. If you don’t want something that’s going to wake up the community you live in, smaller is usually better. Still, most tube amps can be connected with headphones, so there are alternative ways to reduce noise pollution on even the loudest amp.
Tube amps can be a lot like buying a new pair of shoes. What are the things you look for when searching for a new pair? Size and quality are important factors but break-in time as well. The same applies to most amplifiers, most notably the speaker system itself. If you’ve ever opened up a tube amp before, the first thing you probably noticed where the speakers. Celestion is one of the largest producers of these, but may not always have the right amount of “depth” that you’re looking for when played for the first couple of times. Talk to an audiophile, and they will tell you that this is a normal process; the electricity that flows through the speakers will broaden the sound quality or the break-in. So if you buy a new tube but feel that the sound is a little bit different to what it seemed online, wait a few days to see if it changes a bit. Most of the time, it will improve quickly.
If you play music in multiple locations, having instruments that are easy to carry is always a plus. Heavier items are a pain to lug around from venue to venue, and the chances of damages occurring are much higher, especially if you’re going solo. If you appreciate mobility as much as quality, then you will want to acquire a tube amp that’s lightweight and has good carrying accessories. Unfortunately, getting one with both of these qualities isn’t always the easiest thing to do. Some amps may sell their carrying cases separately from the main product, forcing you to look for something to go along with it at the same time.
If you need to have a carrying case included with the amp, look and see if it’s included with the product before you finalize your purchasing choice. And if it doesn’t but you would like to get the amp anyway, look for a case that’s built specifically for your product. Amps have different shapes and sizes, and the wrong bag may not fit the speaker properly. It’s easy to tell what can though, at the handles will protrude out of the case when putting on, along with the brand informing you of the tubes that will actually fit it. And once you know which case you want, be sure that it secure all of the amps. Furthermore, check the quality of the handles themselves. Just because you have a good amp sound wise doesn’t mean that the body or carrying handles will be just as good. But on a good note, these things can usually be replaced or last for a couple of years without breaking.
Many players love to modify their amps by changing the interior components to accessories that improve the quality of their sound. This may also assist in creating a unique tone that’s simply not feasible with the factory gear. If you anticipate opening up your tube amp sometime in the future, be sure that you know what you’re doing. Most importantly, taking it apart may void the warranty of some brands. In short, know the product before you get it, and read the warranty if necessary. Still, as long as you’re comfortable with replacing the parts and re-assembling everything back together when finished, it’s perfectly fine for you to upgrade any of the tubes shown in the reviews. For many, the speakers are the main piece that is switched. American brands tend to be favored the most, so getting rid of some parts, such as Chinese Celestions, is a great way to boost your amp and increase the value of the product.
If you remember anything out of the tips that were provided, the great piece of advice is to always go with what you want, first and foremost. Much of the information given could be taken as subjective, and the tube amp or attribute that one would be recommended on a product could be pointless to another player. Keep your choices in mind first, then go over the guide to see if there’s anything more that can help assist in your final choice. If you haven’t done so already, take a peek at the comparison list if you did skip some of the reviews on the list. All twelve of the tube amps are great in one respect or another, but only you can tell which would accommodate your guitar and playing style.
Conclusion: Which One is the Best?
Now that you’re done, it’s time to announce which tube amps sit at the highest portion of the shelf. As stated, all of them are outstanding products in their own right and will bring out the sound in your guitar that you may have never noticed or heard before. But if you want great controls, compatibility, and ease of transport, the BUGERA V5 5-Watt, and EVH 5150 III LB XII are the best of all. But to be clear, that doesn’t take away from the rest of the amps in the lineup; it’s just a guarantee that both beginners and enthusiasts will have no problems working them into their practice and/or live music sessions. Stick with what you want, but try out the two mentioned if you’re not sold. Then wait for your amp to arrive to create great sounding music like never before.