Otherwise known as valve amps, tube amps are said to be the must-have of every serious electric guitarist. Owning one is a rite of passage – a gateway to the higher rankings of electric musicians. For many, it is a highly coveted badge of audiophile authority, but are they really far more superior than the ill-famed solid-state amp?
Honestly, the solid-state amp vs tube amp contest is a misnomer. The only real technical difference between them is their power source. Solid-state amps are driven by current throughout the output, while a tube amp is driven by voltage.
And of course, we have to consider transistors vs tubes – a very important factor that may help you decide in choosing between tube or solid-state.
So many people say that the quality of solid state amps is subpar compared to the tubes but today, quality is no longer a problem. As we always say here on the blog, there are plenty of high-quality options out there no matter what instrument you’re in the market for.
As long as the device in question is well-made, the only factor that should influence your purchasing decision is your personal preference of sound.
The same rule applies for choosing the best tube amp. Tube amps receive a lot of high praises from musicians, not because they are particularly superior to the other. But rather, it is most likely because they like the roundness of sound that only a tube amp can offer.
So if you’re someone who loves the round and full-bodied sounds, then a tube amp is the obvious option. And as always, we’ve compiled a list below to guide you in choosing the best one for you.
Top 10 Best Tube Amps for Guitar 2021
- Fender Pro Junior IV
- Peavey Solo
- Fender Mustang
- Orange Micro Terror
- Monoprice 611705
- Archer TUBULARBK Tubular
- Orange Micro Dark Terror
- BUGERA V5 INFINIUM
- Ibanez TSA15 1 x 12
- Little Dot MKII
As one of the most long-standing electric instrument brands worldwide, Fender is easily one of the top brands of choice when it comes to tube amps.
The Fender Pro Junior IV in their Hot Rod series is a model that stands high above the rest. Although you’d find higher wattage on a different tube amp, the Fender Pro Junior IV packs a ton of stellar qualities in the sound quality department.
The revoiced overdrive circuit truly made a difference in giving a tighter bass response. Users can now enjoy more clarity and sound definition from this tube amp. Plus, the new volume circuit really does wonders in achieving precise tones.
But personally, I’m all for the beautiful design of the Fender Pro Junior IV. That unique vintage tweed has just the right amount of style and subtlety any vintage fan would love.
- Provides better clarity and sound definition with tighter bass response
- Has the ability to dial in precise tones with its new volume circuit system
- Sports a unique and eye-catching design
- Stock speaker quality needs more improvement in terms of sound quality
If there’s one brand name that’s considered to be the close competitor of the Fender, then it would have to be Peavey. The Peavey Solo Transtube Amp is a game changer. If you’re truly looking for the best of both amp worlds, then this is the amp to get.
This amp has a true tube amp tone and dynamic response, and yet, it also comes with the convenience and reliability of a solid state amp. Thanks to the Peavey exclusive patented transtube technology, it’s like having a solid state mechanism but with a tube amp sound quality.
Plus, that low damping factor really does help in emulating that tube power amp sound. I think this is a true winner if you’re looking for a comb amp-like option.
- A powerful and reliable amp with a very affordable price tag
- Has the best of both worlds
- Tube amp sound and solid state amp convenience
- Impressive tube amp sound quality for an amp in its price range
- Drive function can be improved
Here’s another attractive option from the Fender brand. In my opinion, the Mustang I makes the perfect practice amp not because it is particularly made to accommodate the needs of a beginner – this is by no means an entry-level amp. But what I like most about it is that users have the ability to play along with their favorite tunes.
Personally, I feel that playing my favorite songs motivates me during practice and makes learning a lot more fun. The Fender Mustang is great thanks to its MP3 plug in connectivity. You can play as if you are live on stage with your favorite band, or you can enjoy your music privately with the headphone jack.
Another great thing about this amp is the editing. Users get the on-board amp or the included Fender FUSE software to shape their sounds. You get effects such as reverb, delay/echo, tremolo, phaser, and many more – it’s basically the kind of thing that inspires creativity. Thus, making it a great source of motivation for practice and play.
- The perfect amp for practice
- Allows users to play along with their favorite tunes
- Comes with a wide set of effects via the Fender FUSE software
- Also includes the Ableton Lite Live 8 for professional-level sound recording
- Controls are a bit complicated
- A steep learning curve for those who are used to dialing in a tone
- Amp only has one live master volume knob
Don’t be fooled by its miniature appearance, at just under 1 kilo, the Orange Micro Terror packs a lot of power at 20W. This amp is the miniature embodiment of Orange’s original Tiny Terror. The Micro Terror puts together a tube amp to a solid state output section for unbelievably enormous tones.
But that’s not all that’s big and powerful about this tiny amp, with its high tensile casing, the Micro Terror is built with such high standards similar to the earlier models of the Orange Terror family.
The best thing about it is its depth of sound and its growl – not something you would expect from such a tiny body. And that’s exactly what I love about this amp – simple and small but indeed, a terror when it comes to power and quality.
- Super lightweight but carries the same high-performing qualities of the Orange brand
- Couples a tube amp with solid state output for powerful volume
- Can be used with any 8-16 Ohm speaker cabinet
- Tone quality is mediocre
- Could be improved to create a better experience
- Has issues in increasing gain control levels
The Monoprice 611705-5 owes its high quality sound to the Celestion Super 8 speaker. Couple the two components together and you get well balanced mids and highs, as well as a full-bodied bottom end – just about everything any musician would want from an amp.
Whats even more impressive is that the Celestion Super 8 sounds loud and powerful, especially coming from an amp with a humble size.
What I liked most about the Monoprice 611705-5 is the smooth and buttery sound it produces through 20 hours of playing time. It has a great Low input, making it easier to overdrive, and a High input for that full power and headroom. Also, the simplistic design of the Monoprice is a marvel to look at.
It features a cabinet with an open back and a leather handle, sports textured cream-colored synthetic leather exterior, chrome corner guards, and a cloth speaker grill.
- Beautiful design
- Well-built with high-quality components
- Offers great value at a very humble price tag great highs and lows
- Offers harmonic distortion
- Durability of the product needs some work
If you’re looking to achieve a real classic tone with an amp, then this Archer Tubular Tube Amp is your best choice. It has all the right things that could help you achieve the signature warmth of a tube amp and it comes at an affordable price as well.
The one thing Archer has done differently compared to most amps is its mesh grill. Thanks to its intelligent design and use of material, this amp’s grill dampens the speaker sound, achieving a better quality tone.
But that’s not all – this amp is also one of the smallest on this list, making it a highly portable option. So if you’re looking for an amp to take with you on the go, the Archer Tubular Tube Amp is the right one for you.
Archer’s Tubular Tube Amp gives you a great tone for making music at any venue! Play your heart out with the warmth of tubes and make music to move your audience. This combo amp features a tube preamp to get the classic tone. Plus, the fact that it is leather-bound maximizes its durability, prepping it for the road.
- Good quality components for an affordable price
- Considerably loud for a tiny entry-level amp
- Produces old fashioned tube amp sound
- Gets hotter than it should just after 15 minutes of use
Love the Orange Tiny Terror amp from a while ago? Here’s another option from the same brand but in a different series – the Orange Micro Dark hybrid electric guitar amplifier. This amp has the size of a regular old lunchbox, but make no mistake – it packs a lot more power and punch than most amps on this list.
The Micro Dark comes in with an impressive 20 watts. It has endless gain and tonal versatility like no other tube amp of its size. If you’re looking for a portable amp, then this is the solution for you.
And if you’re worried about a lack in the range of tones, you’d be happy to know that the Micro Dark will work with most guitar speaker cabinets.
But if you ask me, I would definitely recommend this amp for all the heavy metal guitarists out there. The amps in Orange’s Dark series are built for high gain heavy metal, and if that’s exactly the kind of thing you’re looking for, there’s no need to think twice.
- Durable and highly portable
- Perfect for gigging and practice
- Works with most guitar speaker cabinets to fine tune your tone
- Comes with an easy 3-knob control panel with pots for volume
- Gain and shape
- Not a lot of gain on the adjustment knob
There’s a lot to love about the Bugera Infinum V5. First, this hand-built 5-watt amp has a built-in power attenuator, allowing users to hit the sweet spot at any volume – something a lot of other amps have trouble achieving.
It also has a high-definition reverb and an impressive Turbosound speaker. And to be honest, this amp is one of the only few that can truly deliver that buttery tube-like tone everybody keeps raving about.
But that’s not all – Bugera’s revolutionary Infinum Tube Life Multiplier Technology allows easy tube replacement as well. So you know that this amp will stay longer with you for more years to come. If you’re looking for an amp that’s all about longevity and consistency of quality, then the Bugera Infinum V5 is the amp for you.
- Comes with top-notch quality components
- Features a built-in 2-way Power Attenuator that allows users to get the best sound quality at any volume
- Comes with 2 instrument cables and the Zorro Sounds amplifier cloth
- Noticeable buzz can be heard according to some users
The Ibanez TSA15 is a rare one. It is one of the few distortion stompboxes you’ll find in front of a tube amp played by professional guitarists. Now, you may be wondering why on earth would you put a tube-style distortion effect in a real tube amp?
The answer is simple: the sound is amazing and it pushes the tube amp past its breakup point.
This amp from Ibanez also has a built-in 6dB boos switch, allowing users to instantly launch the Fender TSA15’S Tube Screamer tone for an exceptional classic overdrive experience. And thanks to the dual-mode power switch, users can play at a volume to their heart’s content without compromising tonal quality.
- Offers way more headroom than other amps on this list
- Its Tube Screamer and gain is crunchy
- Warm and yet not coming off as too distorted
- Tiny footprint
- Makes a great practice amp
- Comes with no reverb
The Little Dot MKII maybe tiny and compact but make no mistake, this little tube amp combo packs a lot of powerful features. This tiny box increases sound quality, dynamic range, output impedance, and harmonic distortion.
It’s sturdy and well-built, sporting a beautiful black metallic frame. It also feels heavy and durable without being too cumbersome for travel.
This tube amp combo comes with a single volume knob on the front, a blue LED, and a 6.33mm port. And on the back, you’ll find the input and output RCA pots and the power button. It’s a simple structure but wait until you hear what it can do for your sound.
The Little DOT MKII gains the driver tube-rolling options similar to the other amps in the Little Dot MK series. It has the ability to roll 6JI, WE403A/B, GE 5654, M8100, CV4010, EF96, and more.
- Not lightweight but also not heavy enough to be considered cumbersome
- Nicely built
- Excellent quality of materials used
- Makes a great investment for beginners looking for their first tube combo
- Does not have gain switches
- Must use a different method for gain control Creates a bit of a buzz
How To Choose The Best Tube Amp
There are a lot of good quality tube amps out there in the market today and purchasing one as a newbie is pretty overwhelming. Luckily, there are only top three things you need to consider when buying your tube amp: the wattage, the tubes, and the preamp.
It’s important to choose an amp according to its wattage for very obvious reasons. You need enough power to get you through your music playing goals. If you have plenty of gigs and live performances, then a 5-watt amp obviously won’t make the cut.
You also need to choose between a high headroom or a power tube breakup at lower volumes. Although tube amps sound best when pushed to a certain degree, your neighbors might not agree once your sound reaches through the walls.
Another important factor to consider are the tubes. Different types of power tubes produce a particular sound – they all have their unique characteristics. It can range anywhere from being round and full-bodied, to clear or punchy. It all depends on your personal taste.
Along with this, you also need to think about preamp as it is responsible for the tonal shaping of the amp. You might want to check out its circuit type and what features they possess.
If you want specific effects like reverb, effects loops, or multiple channels, then it is so important that you factor them in when choosing your tube amp.
Choosing the best tube amp is not a joke. It’s a difficult process but after much consideration, we’ve selected the Fender Junior IV to be the best among the rest.
If you are reading this article, then we assume that you might be new to the world of tube amps. Owning a tube amp like the Fender Junior IV gives you a lot more power than the usual 5-watt entry-level options.
Its tight bass response and volume circuit for precise tones can also help you achieve the type of sound you like to produce – it’s an easy solution for beginners, and a reliable amp for those with a bit of experience. Plus, its design is so unique, you may as well choose an amp that has a lot of style.