Finding the best tube amps is a journey that will be interspersed with flashes of reality. Sometimes we can become nostalgic. It is a human trait. ‘Things ain’t what they used to be.’ We are sure we all do it over something. But with music, it is real and especially with tube amps. It is so real because it is within a lot of people’s living memory.
We can remember it. But have we exaggerated the past? Are we simply imagining something that just wasn’t there?
We don’t think so, in the case of the Tube amplifier, especially so. Oh, the digital guys can go on about what they can create and what they can do. But they can’t recreate that sound. Digitally we doubt they ever will. We love tube amplifiers because they make music sound better. They are smooth and warm and a living and breathing thing. As against the digital robot, which is all contrived.
Don’t get us wrong; there is a real contribution made by digital amps and effects. No question. But put up against the Tube amp, the Digital amp cannot compare. It should stop trying to pretend it can and get on with what it does very, very well – Digital sounds.
There is something about the way a valve amp distorts when you take it to its limits. You can’t beat that. Digital distortion is not musical and sounds very artificial. But why do we and did we put up with them and wish ‘it was yesterday.’
The valves were fragile and expensive to replace. Amps were heavy to carry around and got very, very hot. They used up more power than it took to get to the moon, well not quite, but still, we loved them!
We remember a salesman coming to a rehearsal bringing with him an H and H 100-watt transistor amp. It had a ‘distortion on-demand’ button. “Try this,” he suggested. Our guitarist played with it for 30 minutes and then said thanks, but no thanks, and went back to his ’76 Marshall 2203.
Transistors just could not replace the Marshall punch and power, nor the brain-numbing thump of an Ampeg bass amp. They certainly couldn’t compete with the unadulterated volume of an Orange or a Sound City later to be HiWatt.
We were fortunate to be very close to the Sound City, HiWatt development, and used them. We used older versions still in their Sound City cabinets. At one time, there were six 4 x 12’s and the three 100 watt HiWatt amps. It was just exceptional. It was a tube at their best. They even forced ‘Father of Loud’ Jim Marshall to bring out newer versions of his JCM800, so he didn’t get left behind.
There was nothing like a tube, so let’s see what’s around these days as we look for the Best Tube Amps for you…
Top 10 Best Tube Amps In 2021 Reviews
1 Marshall 2525C Mini Silver Jubilee
Well, if you are looking for the best tube amp, there aren’t many better places to start than with the ‘guvnor.’ He’s been gone a while now, and we wouldn’t disagree too much if you said it wasn’t quite the same. It isn’t, but they come very close sometimes.
1997 was a special year. It was the year that Marshall celebrated their domination of the world of loud for 25 years – no mean achievement. They brought out a new amp to mark the occasion. Inside it was a JCM800 series 2003. Externally though different. It was called the Silver Jubilee. This amp we are looking at is a reincarnation of that staggering machine.
At the time, it was different because it broke with the all black and gold with a white logo look. The Silver Jubilee had a silver vinyl with chrome controls. The new ones the same look.
It isn’t the same 100-watt screamer that it was, and now it is 20 watts. A smaller, much more friendly unit that isn’t going to bite you if you open the door. It has much of the tone of the original and still has that great switching feature, because, on this amp, you can switch from 20 watts to 5 watts.
The predecessor is used by many in the 80s, and those originals highly sought after today. But this is the same, just in a more compact cabinet.
It has one 12-inch Greenback speaker that allows you to hit those high spots without having to go all the way to the big volumes. It will create ‘the sound’, however, it does it a bit quieter.
Everything is still ‘in the box.’ The effects loop, tones, DI output, and the controls are still so easy to work around and use. No, it is not cheap. In fact, it is quite expensive, but not for what you are getting. It is worth every penny. Could this be one of the Best 20 watt Tube Amp around? It certainly could be.
For those that are old enough to remember it the first time around, here it is again. For those who may not be, here it is. It’s ‘Yesterday Once More.’
- A great reincarnation of one of the great amps of the 80s.
- It still has all the great features, including the valve sound and switching.
- Nothing at all.
2 Peavey 6505 Metal Guitar Amp
Without wishing to be condescending, we always felt a little sorry for Peavey amps. They arrived on the scene in the mid to late 60s and not that many people took too much notice. It is not that they were bad amps. They weren’t, in fact, they were quite good. They were loud and punchy but did lack a bit of design style, if anything, but nothing else.
The problem was that Peavey was a new American brand, and they had to go up against Fender. And from a bass point of view, Ampeg. But even those two giants of the music world were in the shade to what was happening over the pond.
Marshall was the amp that everything was compared to. And frankly, nothing compared. Sound City/HiWatt was on the way, also Orange. Peavey was competing against the best there has ever been and, in most cases, ever would be. As was everyone else, including Fender and Ampeg, they couldn’t.
At any other time, the Peavey tube amps would have been highly thought of and used widely. And rightly so. But this was the age of Big Jim.
This all-tube 6505 is based on the Peavey 5150 amp, which was designed in association with guitar god Eddie Van Halen. He used it live and in the studio for years, and it is a very good amp. This new version knocks out 120 watts, and it is very Peavey. It is loud. Controls are well-placed on the front and well-marked and easy to use.
Three EQ dials allow you to change the basic sound, and there are high and low inputs. These are for matching up guitars with either a single-coil or humbucker pickups. Presence and Resonance controls let you tweak the sound a little more. They have also added extra switches for brightness and crunch. There is a footswitch included.
It is a good amp with plenty of power, but just looking at it just doesn’t have that charisma that others had. There is something missing from the layout even down to the radio-dial knobs that are used. It has the power and a great metal sound but just lacks that something that was missing in the 60s and 70s as well.
If metal or hard rock is your thing, then it’s a great choice, and it has been used by a number of top guitarists both live and in the studio, including Steve Stevens of Billy Idol, Reeves Gabrels of David Bowie and The Cure, as well as just about every death metal and thrash metal guitarist at some time or other.
They are, though, possibly a little expensive unless you want that ‘metal’ sound!
- Plenty of power.
- Based on the highly-regarded 5150 amp.
- A rather dull styling and quite expensive.
3 Fender ’65 Deluxe Reverb
Leo Fender actually started to manufacture guitar amps before he started making guitars. His first he issued in 1945-46. He went on to become quite good at it. The legendary Fender Bassman started life in ’52, and the iconic Fender Twin reverb came along in ’63, This model, the Fender Deluxe, in ’65. Will this be in amongst the choice for the Best Classic Tube Amps. Of course, it will.
With their amps, Fender was always in a bit of a quandary. And a difficult position it was. American imports had been banned in the UK. This ceased at the turn of the 50s. But as the skiffle and early rock n roll thing began to happen, UK musicians could not get guitars or amps.
On the guitar and amp front, others stepped in. The guitars didn’t happen, but the amps did, and the Vox AC15 and then the AC30 arrived. Add to this that Leo was building amps for the US, which was still dominated by Country and, to a lesser extent, Blues music.
As the 60s started and progressed, Leo was building amps for that market. Why shouldn’t he? But the market was changing. The Beach Boys were still clean-cut and smiling. But the new bands were getting louder. They wanted volume, and we all know where that came from.
Fender was left behind in the amp world and never quite caught up. However, they still made some great amps, one of which was the Deluxe Reverb, and here is the new tube version.
This is a 22-watt amp that just oozes that tube sound. One 12 inch Jensen speaker with a ceramic magnet carries the sound that is fat and punchy. Made even better because both the included reverb and vibrato were also tube-driven. It has two channels; one is for vibrato.
The front control plate is a typical Fender. Plenty there to adjust the sound with those circular knobs and the black panel we all admired. It is built from wood, and make no mistake this is a classic amp. Not loud by any means, but carrying that purist Fender tone. Play a Strat or a Telecaster through this, and you will hear what Country guitars are supposed to sound like.
It has the magic of the look as well. And to many people, that is the most iconic thing about the Fender amps – how they looked. The black vinyl, the grille, made from a silver cloth, has got the logo, but it doesn’t need one…
This is not an amp for power; it is for Country and Blues players who don’t need a stack of volume. The reason it was built in the first place.
It comes with a two-button footswitch, plenty of style, and an enormous history. And all this at a price that is competitive and worth every penny.
- Recreation of a classic amp that is incredibly close to the original.
- Great sounds from the 60s.
- Nothing at all.
4 Marshall DSL Series DSL100H
This Marshall top is, to a certain extent, a recreation of the original DSL100. It is an all-tube amplifier but has been given a few digital effects as well. So if you are expecting pure vintage design and sound, its time to move on. However, it still delivers a lot of sound with its tubes driving it, but it isn’t exactly what the DSL100 used to be. Some will appreciate that others will not.
They have added some extra by way of a Resonance, which replaces the original fixed deep control. They have also added a digital reverb and effects loop. There is a footswitch for 2-way channel switching.
With this amp, they are working again with Softube, who created some tones and sounds for their CODE series of amps. They have tried to emulate the sounds of those 60s speaker cabinets. Here is a little something, fellas. You can’t!
This is one of those situations where someone has tried to do a little too much. You have a great amp top that is going to give you 100 watts, but then they have applied a digital bent to it. In our book, it ceases to be a tube amp any more even though the biggest part is. As soon as a company start including the phrase, ‘capable of producing any Marshall sound’ it is probably time to move on.
If you are looking for authenticity in your tube amp, this probably isn’t it. It will suit some people who want a variety that is close to the original. But some will want the original. If you want the original authentic tube sound, this probably won’t suffice. However, on a plus, it is not an expensive option.
- Powerful amp delivering 100 watts at a decent price point.
- Well-built with the traditional Marshall look.
- The inclusion of digital effects won’t encourage those wanting a pure valve amp.
5 Fender Hot Rod Deluxe
The Fender Hot Rod Deluxe was first released in 1996, so it makes no claim to being the reincarnation of a previous amp. This was an amp where Fender appeared to try to do something different.
The build to start with didn’t help it to become a ‘go-to’ amp. Gone was the original iconic black Fender vinyl, replaced by a newer styling. And the original silver mesh grille cover looked different as well. The control knobs had changed. And we won’t even comment on the logo style change.
It is well-built and quite strong, and the pine cabinet houses a 12 inch ‘A’ Celestion speaker, and is a closed-back design. It has a power rating of 40 watts, which be Fender standards is every bit 40 watts. You are going to have no trouble being heard in a medium-sized venue.
It has three channels, normal, drive, and overdrive, and some solid-state options. And comes with a two-button footswitch and a cover.
But when you are looking for a tube amp, then what you are really looking for is a certain sound. Modern incarnations of tube amps don’t sound the same, And as soon as you start to add digital options, then for the purist tube lover, they are likely to turn away.
This amp does not lean on past glories and is a modern-style amp. If that is what you want, then you won’t go far wrong. Fender does still build good amps. Though what happened to the design, we cannot say. Someone must have had a headache that morning.
Good quality, nice sound but not an authentic 60s tube sound if that’s what you want. Set at a reasonable price point.
- Well made with good materials.
- Nice mid-range sound.
- Probably not for the 60s tube sound lover.
6 VOX AC15
Visions of a bespectacled, grinning Hank Marvin hover into view. When you see the iconic cabinet design of the Vox AC15, that is what you get. The Amp that the Shadows and others used because they couldn’t get any imports from the US, it became one of the sounds of the 60s.
But the brand became famous, not necessarily just because of them, but because the sound is uniquely spectacular. It was one of the first amps to have defined the sound of a nation’s music and is still used today.
It is not just the sound; of course, it is the look. A look that hasn’t been changed by ‘know-it-all’ marketing people. It doesn’t give you the mind-shattering volumes that were soon to follow. However, being a tube amp, the volume is enough for many venues.
The sound, as always, more than just volume. It had what some have described as a unique chime and brightness to it. And the look? It sits beside the most iconic amps like the Marshall stack and the Fender Twin for its style. You’d buy one of these just to look at it.
It has a Celestion Greenback speaker these days as opposed to the old blue bulldogs, but there is more than the speaker to delivering the sound. It is made today the same way as it was. All tube design and All tube operation. It still has its normal and Top Boost channels and that legendary tremolo and analog spring reverb.
And it is still as important to modern-day musicians as it was to those nearly sixty years ago. In recent years great musicians like Tom Petty and Brian May have had them up on stage for their live shows and used them in the studio. It just won’t go away. Thus, today’s model makes sure that there are adequate supplies around.
If you are looking for a tube amp with a great sound, that looks stunning and has a history; then this could be it? A contender for one of the Best Tube Amps? How could it not be? Set at an amazingly low price point for what it is.
- Great look, great sound, great history – an iconic amp.
- Maintains that authentic style and sound.
- Only that for some, it might be a little underpowered, but there is always the AC30?
7 BUGERA T50-INFINIUM
And now for something a little different. It is a unique thing today to see a new company making amps that are obsessed with valves. That is Bugera. They are a division of Behringer who knows a little bit about producing good gear for musicians at a cost-effective price.
The T50-INFINIUM has a great design. The perforated metal cage allowing you to see the internals at work. Valves glowing, this is the real deal. Full up with two power tubes and four preamp tubes, this beast of an amp delivers a stunning 50 watt sound. However, there is a potential problem with the design in that it won’t stop any fluids entering by accident.
There are some modern-day extras added, but they don’t impinge on that tube sound. The main inclusion has been a switchable function. This allows you to go between the classic warm sounds or a modern much tighter sound. They have also built-in a system they call Tube Life Multiplier. This will ensure a consistent tone for your valve’s natural lifespan.
It has a two-channel design that will allow you to generate authentic, clean sounds on one side and some much heavier distorted sounds on the other.
Controls are placed along the front at the bottom of the amp and cover what you need for both channels. There are also controls for the built-n Reverb and a Tone Cut. There are also Bass, Mid, and Treble control for each channel.
A new kid on the block producing valve amps with great sounds has got to be worth a look. The size is compact at 17.91 by 6.18 by 12.68 inches. That isn’t the only thing that is compact, so is the price. It is incredibly affordable for a super little amp.
- The tough metal build with a great design.
- Good sounds from a new manufacturer of valve amps.
- Some may not like the perforated open to view design as it could be vulnerable.
8 California Tone Research Set 5
If you are looking for an amp with a low power output but want a valve amp, this could be one to have a look at. This little amp from California Tone Research is great for practice at home, but also for live or studio work in the right setting. If you play in Jazz or Blues band in smaller venues, then this should be ideal. For practice at home, it is perfect.
It is a compact little amp measuring just 19 inches by 15 by 12 inches. And it has a high-quality eight-inch speaker that gives you a solid 5 watts of Class A sound.
It is well made and has a rugged look to it. It weighs a chunky twenty-three pounds, so it is no lightweight. Valve amps never are or were. The variety of tomes is good for such a small output, and it doesn’t take much to get it to give you that valve sound.
The design is nothing out of the ordinary and is simple. A classically styled black cabinet with a tough grille on the front. It is all very understated, which isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it has a nice aesthetic quality to its look.
The controls are quite basic, but it doesn’t have a gain control, only a volume. So if you are practicing, you won’t be able to get that valve-driven overdrive sound. When you are in a space big enough, it does the overdrive sound quite well. Though it is not suitable for heavy rock or metal, it produces a quite warm distortion that is more musical than pin your ears back.
It’s easy to use with some nice vintage-like tones. And it is a nice compact size and well put together, and the price point makes it great value. This is what we used to call a bare-bones amp. It does one thing with nothing fancy around the outside. We happen to think this is an absolute bargain at its price.
- A good little compact amp that has some nice sounds.
- Great for small venue work or practice at home at an affordable price.
- Some will want a bit more power.
9 BUGERA V5 5-Watt Class Amplifier Combo
Back to the ‘new kids on the block’ for another valve offering. Not all valve amps have to be deafening as some we have already looked at tell us. Here is another example of what might be described as a quieter valve amp.
This is a compact little amp that measures just 13.9 by 8.6 by 14 inches and weighs 22 pounds. Being a part of the Behringer group, this amp, as are all the Bugera range, is made in China. It is nothing fancy just a simple, clean sounding valve is driven amp with a very nice tone.
But if you want a valve amp for practice at home or maybe play in a Jazz or Blues combo, this is going to suit.
It might only be 5 watts, but we must say it seems quite a loud five watts to us. The sound doesn’t break up too early, So the brightness and warmth will stay with you until you reach the higher levels of its capability. That is when it will kick a little bit.
It is quite well made and solid with an 8-inch turbo sound 4-ohm speaker. There is a sturdy carrying handle on top. The control panel is conveniently placed and has just basic controls that include a jack socket input, Tone, and Reverb. But there are also separate gain and volume controls so you can get that valve kick at higher levels even when quiet.
It appears to us that Bugera has gone out of their way to try to recreate a very 50s or early 60s look in its design, and the aesthetics are nice.
This is a good little amp for those who want lower volumes but still want the valve sound. It is well made and is set at a very attractive price point — good value for money.
- Nice design and good build.
- Really nice sounds at an affordable price.
- Not going to be enough power for some.
10 Monoprice 611705 5-Watt 1×8 Guitar Combo Tube Amplifier
Monoprice have come up with a very simple and easy to use valve amp that is set at a very competitive price. However, it is not a pure valve amp as most will understand them, because it does have a solid-state rectifier. Nevertheless, there are valves, and the sound is closer to vintage than most.
It s a compact unit measuring only 12 by 12.2 by 8.3 inches and weighs 15 pounds.
It has a sturdy build with a quality carrying handle on top and metal corner protectors. Inside the box is an eight-inch Celestion speaker. This delivers a very bright and crisp sound is one of this little amps strong points. In fact, the sound can be best described as bright and clean. It only breaks up a bit right at the top end of its volume capacity.
In some ways, the sound resembles that of a Fender Champ if you are familiar with that. There is also a low or high input setting. It is only shown as five watts, but it sounds like a very loud five watts.
The controls are what you might call a bit basic. Just a volume and a tone and the high/low switch, and that’s it. This does mean that if you are using it at home for practice, you won’t get the full tube sound. Without a gain control, you won’t be able to achieve that without pushing the volume right up. And that might be too loud for home use.
It is a good little amp if you happen to play in a small combo in small venues where you don’t need a lot of volume.
It has a classic 50s open back style. And with its cream-colored synthetic leather-look body and darkened cloth speaker grille, it looks the vintage part. At a ridiculously low price point, this is a great little valve amp, and you could even get two and run in stereo at 10 watts?
- Well made with good size speaker and easy to use controls.
- Compact with a good sound at a very affordable price.
- It is not going to have enough power for some users.
Best Tube Amps Buyers Guide
There are two very simple decisions to be made about whether to buy a Tube amp. Firstly do you like the sound, and can you use it on stage or in the studio. Secondly, are you willing to accept a close digital copy? If it is the latter, then you may be in the wrong place.
We have been looking at Tube amps. Some of them had a little digital in their makeup, but they all have those big ugly, dirty valves throbbing away. If you want the valve sound, do you want a reincarnation of an original amp? They are more expensive, of course, but they have the sound and, in most cases, the look. They are usually exceptional.
There are others that newer designed valve models without that ‘name’ written all over them. They are a bit cheaper. Still good amps, though.
Do you want volume for loud live gigs? Or quieter volumes for home use or smaller venues. They are all there. The great valve amp. It’s what started it all off, after all.
More Great Amplifier Options
Not sure if a Tube amp is what you’re looking for? We can’t think why, but it takes all sorts. Anyway, here are the Best Solid State Amps, the Best Mini Amp, the Best Portable Guitar Amplifiers, and the Best Modeling Amps currently available, if you really don’t want the wonderful warm sound of tubes?
So, What Is The Best Tube Amps?
How do you pick an amp from a list that includes so many worthy contenders? Some of these valve amps produce a great sound and take us back in time. And when you have a list that includes Marshall, Fender, and Vox, it gets a lot harder. But the smaller amps were good as well. Nice to see valve amps being produced for a variety of uses and users.
We have though decided to buck the trend a little bit. Normally we would just sorry everyone. Marshall is the best, it always has been one of the top two, and it’s in here. That would normally be our choice. But this time we go elsewhere. Our choice is a real icon of the 60s.
For us, the best of the Best Tube Amps is the
An iconic look and sound and what valve amps were all about.