Of all the images that symbolize music since the 50s, there is just one that says it all. Just one image speaks a thousand words and plays a million songs. An image either in full view or silhouette that says this is rock music. That image is the Marshall 100 watt stack. An icon then. An icon now. End of subject.
And all from a little drum shop in West London by a man with a vision and encouraged on by the likes of Pete Townshend.
At one time, it was all that was needed, but today there is a feeling that maybe low wattage amps can do a job. And they can.
What is the difference? Is there a reason to look for the Best Low Watt Tube Amps?
There is a misconception that small watt amps equal a tiny volume. And that big watt amps blow your brains out. This is not quite true.
So, how do we measure it?
A watt is basically a unit of energy and not an accurate measurement of sound. However, a decibel is a measurement of loudness. I have a 100-watt amp, and you have a 50-watt amp. Mine is not twice as loud as yours even though the watts say it could be. It is actually around 3 decibels louder, which is not much.
It is all about the circuits as well. It is possible to have an amp with a lower wattage that is louder than a high wattage amp.
Logarithmic not linear…
Watts are a logarithmic measurement, not a linear one, and are based on multiples of 10. Therefore to double the output volume of a 10 watt amp, you would need a 100 watt amp. Or to halve it, you would need a 1 watt amp. To double the output volume of a 100 watt amp, you would need a 1000 watt amp, and to double that a 10,000 watt amp.
So as you can see, the differences between low wattage amps and stacks in actual, not perceived loudness, is very small.
Small but mighty…
Needless to say, it is possible with today’s technology to have a sound as loud as most things. And you can carry it around yourself. Providing the speaker will handle it, of course. OK, it won’t sound, sound-wise, like a Marshall. But that’s unfair, nothing did or has since. But we are talking loudness, decibels.
Some of these smaller amps are going to surprise you. So, let’s take a look at some of the Best Low Watt Tube Amps currently available and find the perfect one for you…
Top 8 Best Low Watt Tube Amps You Should Buy Reviews
1 VOX, 2 electric-guitar-amplifier-combos, Vintage (AC15C1) – Best Classic Low Watt Tube Amp
If you are going to discuss amplifiers, there aren’t too many better places to start than with Vox. In many ways, the sound that inspired and started the British Invasion. The start of the sound that changed music forever. The AC15 preceded the famous and iconic AC30, which is still used around the world. This is a reincarnation of that spectacular amp.
Classic sounds at a manageable volume…
The 15-watt output giving you manageable volume. The 25 watt Celestion Greenback speaker giving you the sound. If you want a great little amp with a vintage look, then this is it. And remember, this is one of the most recorded amps of all time because of its unique sound. As some guitarists call it – ‘the Vox chime’.
The amp is driven by its EL84 valves. It is smaller and far more sensitive than the octal 6V6 that was driving a lot of amps in the 60s. But the sound is still there. The combination of the Class ‘A’ amp and the preamp, which adds some top boost, returns you to that iconic sound. That boosted high frequency, giving you the ‘chime’.
Can you drive it?
Oh yes, but make sure the neighbors are out when you try. Can you add on your effects pedals? Of course. The Vox AC circuits are well-known for saying hello and welcome to just about any effects pedal you bring to the party.
The original AC 15s and 30s used Goodmans speakers, and then on to Celestion G12 with Alnico magnets. This has a 12 inch Celestion Greenback speaker. Slightly different but more than capable. They do tend to take the very sharp top frequencies out. A problem experienced by some back in the day. In doing so, it creates a more mellow sound.
Ah, I hear you say, but what about that trademark Tremolo sound?
It is there, along with the spring reverb.
A sound that is legendary, and now you can walk into a gig or studio with it carried in one hand. Weighing just 56 pounds, it is quite portable.
We must mention that it has both normal and top boost jack inputs and an external loudspeaker jack. Controls are located for easy use on the top.
Quality comes at a cost…
One last thing, it is finished in a style you would expect. The front cloth, the logo, and the black body finish. It isn’t cheap, but quality this good never is. This makes it an obvious contender for the Best Premium Low Watt Tube Amps you can buy.
Get ready for some iconic looks and sounds…” She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah.”
- One of the great amps of all time.
- Classic sounding tremolo and reverb.
- Traditional sounds in a very well-made box.
- EL84 tubes.
- Sacrilege. None at all.
2 VOX electric-guitar-amplifier-combos (AC4HW1) – Best British Sounding Low Watt Tube Amp
Where is the black vinyl on the body? Not on these models. The fawn vinyl was a popular choice when it was used in the early 90s. And again, when it was used again on some special AC30s in the late 90s. It is not often seen but is a traditional Vox design.
The Vox sound is trademark British…
And it is a sound that has shaped many performers’ careers. It still does, in some cases. This is a much scaled-down version of what has gone before. But be warned. If you think at 4 watts this isn’t going to wake anybody up, we can just advise you to be careful. This is the loudest 4-watt amp you are ever likely to hear. It just comes in a manageable size.
At 21 by 15.7 by 23 inches and weighing just under 40 pounds, it is easily taken around with you. You may think that 40 pounds is quite heavy though for a 4-watt amp of such a size. You would be right. But then most 4 watt amps don’t carry a 12 inch Celestion Greenback in them, do they?
It is placed inside a cabinet made of birch plywood. This is covered with the fawn cloth that was designed especially for Vox. The speaker cloth though remains with ‘that’ diamond black design. The logo, of course, as proud as ever it was.
And why not?
This is a hand-wired edition of the AC4. No printed circuit boards here. The signal path is therefore made simpler, which allows a pure vintage sound to emerge.
Controls are placed on the top and couldn’t be much simpler to operate — just four of them, a preamp volume, bass and treble, and a master volume. The preamp volume acts very much like a gain control. It has two inputs and an extension jack socket for hooking up a larger speaker cabinet.
It could well be all you need…
Mic’d up; this is great for gigs. And for smaller venues, you might find that this is all you need. The tones are all there with the ‘chimey ‘trademark clean and sparkly Vox sound and some low-key overdrive.
It isn’t going to you the gain needed for metal and similar genres. You will need pedals for that. But it will say nice things when you plug them in.
Not that expensive for THE sound…
A great little amp that will bite you if you underestimate it. Again, as with most Vox amps, it isn’t cheap. But you are buying something a lot more than just a 4-watt amp.
- Historical look and a great sound.
- 12-inch speaker with plenty of pure vintage punch.
- Some may not like the fawn finish.
3 Fender ’57 Custom Champ 5W 1×8 Tube Guitar Amp – Best American Sounding Low Watt Tube Amp
When you’re talking Rock music and amps, there aren’t too many automatic names that come to mind. Marshall, of course, Vox we’ve just looked at. But you can’t forget Fender. Leo did more than his bit. In fact, the original Fender amps were used as a basic design concept for much of what came later.
This is a recreation of an amp that first came out in 1948. That was the year the Fender Champ 4 watt amp with its 8-inch speaker arrived. This is a replica of the 1957 model complete with its lacquered tweed cover. It is made of Pine, and with the tweed and the leather handle, it recreates a time long gone.
Sounds from a bygone age…
This tube amp aims to recreate one of the classic Fender ranges. It has 5 watts of power served up through an eight-inch Weber speaker specially designed for this amp. The speaker has an Alnico magnet to get a traditional feel to the sound.
The sound is certainly quality with plenty of bottom end. The top frequencies are also bright but without being shrill and overpowering. It does though, put out plenty of overdrive with fat, chunky tones. This is helped by the hand-wired construction, which gives it a close to the vintage sound.
It is compact and easy to carry around as well, measuring 12 by 16 by 17 inches and weighing just nineteen pounds.
Simple and basic…
They have retained an air of authenticity with the control panel, which couldn’t be made very much easier to use. There are just two inputs and a volume control beside an original looking off and on switch. Simple and basic it is, but there isn’t a lot of room for any in-house tone control.
Good look and good sounds, another flashback in time but a very expensive one.
- Good looking recreation of one of the original Fender amps.
- Well made with great sounds.
- Rather expensive for such a basic amp, but it does sound great.
- Lacks tone controls.
4 Fender Super Champ X2 15-Watt Guitar Amp Head – Best Low Watt Tube Amp with Effects
This amp head from Fender immediately strikes you as being the real deal. The look of it says, Fender. From its black vinyl covering to the cloth and even to the control knobs. We all remember the time we looked through the shop window and saw something similar.
We are talking about tube amps here, and there is a style and a feel about them. When musicians buy them, they partly want the sound, and partly the look. But many of them want to feel its authenticity as well. As soon as you start putting built-in digital effects and USB outputs in, it has lost that feeling.
The best of both worlds, or not?
This is a decent amp, but those inclusions will, for some, destroy the image. They might just as well buy a transistor amp. For many blending tube amps with digital technology just doesn’t work.
Some though, are going to love it. It looks right and has a bit of that valve sound but other tone-shaping options as well. It has 15 watts of power and an external ¼ inch line out for whatever speaker cabinet you attach. There is also a USB output for recording digitally if you choose.
Plenty of sonic options…
There are 16 different kinds of amp sounds. These range from traditional Fender sounds through to the metal of today.
There are also fifteen effects built-in with tap tempo controls. They offer the usual delays and reverbs, etc. but it also has tremolo and vibratos. It certainly does offer you a range of tone-shaping options. We could see this working well in a project studio where different sounds are sometimes required.
It is quite compact and lightweight, weighing just 17 pounds and measuring 14.75 by 8.75 by 17.5 inches.
A tube amp plus…
If you are looking for a tube amp that will offer a bit more, then this might be worth considering. It is set at a decent price point, but remember, you may need to buy a cabinet if you don’t already own one. If you need any advice, take a look at our reviews of the Best Guitar Speaker Cabinets.
Or to find out more about the combo version of this amplifier, check out our in-depth Fender Super Champ X2 Tube Amp review.
- Well-made with classic Fender design.
- For those that want extra, then it has some digital options.
- Mixing digital and analog technology doesn’t usually give you authentic sounds.
5 Orange Amplifiers OR Series OR15H 15W Compact Tube Guitar Amp Head – Most Versatile Low Watt Tube Amp
In the late 60s, when Orange first came on the scene, the market for amps was growing fast in the UK. The rich boys had Marshall, but those of us lesser minions used Sound City, later known as HiWatt.
But then one day round the corner in a blaze of light came Cliff Cooper and his Orange amps and cabinets. And good grief, they were loud. Louder than anything else. But they sounded great as well. Poor Cliff couldn’t keep up with demand. And it was thus that Orange entered our psyche.
The name lives on, and so does the quality, and this little amp is a good example.
It still keeps its design and looks, which is quite refreshing and reassuring. It has 15 watts of very Orange tone from this small amp, but it has a switch that will reduce that volume down if necessary to 7 watts. Fifteen watts of Orange is enough to give you a headache. It is a good idea for rehearsing at home or even recording in the studio.
The sounds this amp brings forth range from clean and bright to singe your hair overdrive. This amp shows a lot of so-called ‘boutique’ amps how it is done.
It is an all-tube amp with four levels of gain. There is an onboard EQ that allows you to get the tones just right. If you use the mid-gain settings, you will get those late 60s early 70s British sounds that so many amps try to recreate. The sound is powered by EL84 tubes, which are the same as you find in the Vox amps.
Made for the road…
And finally true to Orange standards, it is built like a truck. The same familiar styling. The white front plate, its distinctive logo, and orange and black control plate. It certainly takes you back. But it is not about nostalgia, well not all of it. It is about sound, and this has the lot.
And it is certainly going to be one of our choices of one of the Best Sounding Low Watt Tube Amps currently available.
At 19 pounds and measuring 7.87 by 7.87 by 15.75 inches, it is easy to carry around.
- Great Orange look and build.
- Plenty of great tonal options from classic to serious overdrive.
- None at all.
6 BUGERA V5 5-Watt Class Amplifier Combo – Best Budget Low Watt Tube Amp
In case Bugera is new to you, they’re part of the MG music group who also own Behringer. There is a link between Behringer and Bugera. Essentially German, most of their products are designed there and assembled in China. They have achieved some great credits for some of their amps. This one we are looking at is the V5, a 5-watt combo.
We are never quite sure if Bugera amps are deliberately trying to look vintage in their design. They have that look, or maybe ‘the’ look of an early Bugatti racing car about them. The 50s/60s design ideas have even extended down to the control knobs. These look like something off of a 50s radio.
We quite like it…
This is a no-frills simple tube amp with a very nice tone. It pushes out a decent 5 watts through an 8-inch, 4-ohm Turbosound speaker. The Turbosound speaker is designed in the UK and has a reputation for its performance. It certainly does the job when paired up with the amp in this combo.
The amp is hand-built and features our EL84 tube friend. It delivers a good sound with lows that are quite warm and powerful highs that are not too shrill. Also, it has a decent preamp that attempts to recreate an authentic 60s sound, it does it well and has a very nice basic Blues sound.
The controls are all situated on the front panel, which isn’t the most convenient place on a small amp. They are basic, but there is a Gain and a Volume, which is nice. There is also a tone control and a Reverb as well as the ¼ inch jack socket.
We have to say that for a very cost-effective amp, this is a good choice. It is well-made and at 22 pounds, and measuring 13.94 by 8.62 by 14.02 inches is very portable. The sounds are good, but it is a straightforward tube amp. As we said, it is a no-frills sound. At the price point, it represents great value for money.
- Nice retro design that is easily portable.
- Good basic tube amp sounds.
- Some may want a few more options.
7 EVH 5150 III LBXII 15W Tube Head – Best Low Watt Tube Amp for Rock
EVH 5150? It does ring a bell somewhere. This is an amp with an interesting design that resembles a cheese grater. Nor sure it is going to win too many design awards. But it will manage to keep the amp, and the tubes cool, though.
Want to sound like Eddie?
Most amps these days do try to appeal to a wide variety of potential buyers. They try to create a variety of sounds that will suit various genres and tastes. Not the case with this amp – it has one job and one job only – it wants to sound like ‘Dutch Eddie’. It is a very focused sound that you will either love or not.
Just like its older brother, the 100-watt version, it has two channels described by colors. The green will give you clean and bright, almost country type sounds. Clean, they might be, but they still pack a punch.
The Blue channel? Do we need to say more?
Darth Vader comes down to visit George McFly to melt his brain. On this amp, the EL84s are working overtime. If what you’re looking for is a smaller amp that will give you some serious sound, this could be worth looking at.
EVH has created an amp that will deliver those brain-melting sounds from their 5150 amps. And they have put them into a smaller package and included a power switch that reduces the volume when necessary.
A menacing look…
It also has a tough build, as is described by its design. Even the knobs and switches located on the front panel look somehow threatening.
This is an amp with a few varieties in its sound options. But it was really only built for one thing.
Anything that bears the Van Halen name is going to have to be good. If not, he will let the manufacturers know we’re sure. This produces some power and punch. But it isn’t particularly cheap.
Right, now where is George? Time to melt some brains.
- Packed with power and sound.
- Rugged build that will stand some traveling.
- Not everyone’s cup of tea.
8 Fender Blues Junior IV 15 Watt – Best Low Watt Tube Amp for Blues
Back to Fender for our final review of the Best Low Watt Tube Amps with their 15-watt Blues junior. This is a 15-watt combo with one twelve-inch Celestion speaker. It is not a new amp, but it has seen some upgraded features.
It has been given enhanced tone facilities courtesy of an upgraded preamp. The sound is now much fuller. And likewise, the speaker has had a facelift. Also, the reverb is now much smoother than on previous models.
As sometimes happens when you crank up the power, some of the frequencies are individually affected. But with this amp, the lows keep their place and do not crowd out the mids. The top frequencies will remain bright but not to the point of being shrill and uncomfortable in your ears.
It is a compact little amp, but not what you might call a lightweight. And measures a reasonable 20 by 19 by 12 inches and weighs a chunky 31 pounds. However, it is still what you might call portable.
Plenty of control…
The controls are placed on the top conveniently and feature a Volume, Bass, Middle, and Treble. There is also a master volume and reverb control plus a ¼ inch jack socket. For us, the downside are the awful control knobs. We have seen these on other Fender amps. Maybe they got a job lot cheap. Yuk.
Lacks the Fender looks…
The finish is vinyl, but it lacks the Fender look of the black diamond speaker cloth and the established logo. They have come up with an alternative that frankly is just as bad as the control knobs. A deal-breaker as far as we are concerned. Fender amps are not cheap, and the least we want is it to look like a Fender.
We are sure some will like it because it does produce a decent sound at a good volume. But it is quite expensive for what it is.
- Upgraded version with some improved features.
- Quite loud with some nice tones.
- How it looks.
- Overpriced for the quality.
Best Low Watt Tube Amps Buyers Guide
Who says size matters?
As we said in our introduction, size doesn’t necessarily mean a big difference in volume. Some of the amps we have looked at seriously pack a punch.
So what is it you want from your low watt combo?
If it is vintage looks, there are a few of those, and likewise, if you want vintage sounds. If you want some of the best of British, we have those as well.
Plus, if you are on a budget, we have a couple of very cost-effective amps. And if you are looking for some serious overdriven chaos, then there was also one of those included.
An amp for every taste really…
They are all well-made, some with big histories behind them and all of them much smaller than their bigger brothers. But unlike some of the larger elders, these are all portable. That is a big advantage. So, maybe size does matter?
Looking for more superb guitar amplifier options?
If so, check out our comprehensive reviews of the Best Tube Amps, the Best Portable Guitar Amplifiers, the Best Mini Amp, the Best Solid State Amps, the Best Modeling Amps, or the Best Guitar Amplifiers under 200 Dollars on the market in 2021.
So, what are the Best Low Watt Tube Amps?
If we are to be totally honest, there is only one choice for us. An amp with a real pedigree that has hardly changed in sixty years. An amp that is still used today by pros because it is that good.
Our choice, therefore, the…
An amp with everything we need, and as an added bonus, just look at it!