The new year is here and perhaps you’ve made a resolution to not torment your neighbors with hot-rod distortion. The time is ripe to contemplate the goodness of downsizing your rig with a low-watt tube amp for practice sessions.
In the past decade, there has been a keen demand for amps with great tones but more manageable volume. The response has been overwhelming. Everyone from Orange to EVX to Marshall has entered the race to dominate the market with a scaled-back version of their flagship ‘face-smelters’.
I’ve put together a list of my favorite models to help you stay current and make the best purchase. Fear not, even the smallest of ‘lunchbox amps’ can pack a solid punch. And, the more powerful ones deliver gritty drive and a high-gain sonic signature in a bedroom friendly volume.
While I understand that amp design is important, it will add to the manufacturing costs without truly improving the output or the sound. So, my selection is based on function rather than form. After all, tube amps need to be great at what they do to give you the right value for money.
Moreover, amps take a lot of beating over the years of (ab)use we put them through. For that reason, reliability, construction, and durability also play an important role in the selection criteria. On that note, let’s get straight to the best options for low watt tube amps in 2021.
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Best Small & Low Watt Tubes Amps 2021 Roundup:
We will kick start our roundup with the Bugera V5, a tube amp that excels at performance without breaking the bank. The V5 is a combo amp with a rich, classy exterior that houses an 8” speaker and one Class-A powdered EL84.
Bugera has designed it with their proprietary Infinium tube technology to improve the life of the tubes and protect them from power surges. The manufacturers boast of a 20x lifespan thanks to this engineering feat. While time will tell if that holds up, the amp is very well built for its size.
It has a power attenuator switch to drop the output all the way to 0.1 Watts, which makes it ideal for a late-night ‘quiet practice’ session in your room. The control panel hosts knobs for Gain, Tone, Volume, and Reverb. At full power, it screams with warm Brit tones with an ever-so-gentle breakup.
The amps overdrive pairs well with Fender Strats or guitars with single-coil pickups. You can expect equally pleasing fat tones with humbucking pickups or Les Paul style guitars. The clean tones are great too, and the reverb, even though it is digital, does a decent job for the price.
For under $200, there isn’t much to complain about the Bugera V5 combo. It offers a lot of features and sounds fantastic at all output settings. The mellow grit may not appease metal or rock guitarists, nor will this be sufficient for gigging. Other than that, the V5 is an affordable but highly desirable amp for guitar players on a tight budget.
- 8-inch Turbosound speaker
- Versatile tone + Headphone jack
- Attenuator switch & digital reverb
- Best Budget Option
#2 Monoprice 15W 1×12 Tube Combo Amp
Monoprice is a relatively unknown brand that is gaining favor after some raving online reviews. We approached it skeptically but it surprised us with its performance (for the price). Although this isn’t a premium unit, it does have a classic tube sound with the requisite flexibility for tone sculpting.
The portable all-tube amp is built with textured synthetic leather panels in a vintage-shade of beige. It houses a 12-inch Celestion speaker with two EL84 tubes for the power amp and 2 12AX7/ECC83 tubes for the preamp and spring reverb.
It delivers a solid tube tone that is in line with the Brit rock sounds from the 60s. The attenuator does a great job of dropping from 15W to 1 watt of power when needed. Conversely, you can also hook it up to an additional speaker or amp using the extra audio-in jack.
One can’t help but appreciate the tone and power that Monoprice 15W is capable of. In many ways, this amp reminds us of the Laney CUB-12R but with a lower asking price.
The construction is palpably inferior to other amps. For example, the cab panels are made from fiber and the screws seem rather flimsy. Not to say that it is badly made, but the materials and components are merely ‘good for the price’ – they aren’t going to satiate anyone who intends to gig or record with their tube amp.
Based on the above, this amp is best suited for students, hobbyists, or tone enthusiasts who want something that is a step up from the cheap solid-state combo amps. For under $200 (delivered), it is a solid bargain. There is more to rave about it than to complain.
- 12-inch Celestion Red Truvox Speaker
- Limited Application + Fully power mode
- Tubes: EL84 + 12AX7 + ECC83
- Spring Reverb included
- The best option for quiet practice
While I was tempted to include Blackstar’s 1 Watt tube amp in this roundup, I eventually selected the decidedly better HT-5R. It is a feature-laden combo amp that packs an incredible amount of punch for its size and price tag! A big and worthwhile upgrade over the HT1R.
The HT5R features two channels and dedicated volume and gain for both. The clean does an excellent job at shimmering tones. The overdrive is versatile and well-suited for a tight-bottomed bark. Tone-wise, this amp can square up to the sounds from amps twice the cost.
The control panel features Bass, Mid, and Treble for both channels and you also have the option to dial in some digital reverb. While digital reverb does not satiate spring reverb enthusiasts, it should be noted that this one can do a much better job than most other amps that offer it.
The overdrive in particular has a full-bodied feel to die for. It is downright gnarly and roaring to be employed for some riffage. But that is not it. The amp is versatile enough to carry off anything from Brit Invasion tones to chunky hard rock riffs.
The list of specs combined with the build quality and tone really makes this a stellar offering. It is compact but capable and can be paired with a footswitch to toggle channels. It can handle most studio, stage, and practice applications. If you are a bargain hunter, you will be hard-pressed to get a better bang for your buck than this one.
- 2 channels – Clean & Overdrive
- ECC83 tube & 12” Blackbird 50 speaker
- Responsive EQ and fantastic tone
- Infinium Shape for Tone Sculpting
- Excellent cost-to-value ratio
For those of you who are new to guitar amplification, Supro is one of America’s oldest amp makers. They are an absolute juggernaut in the blues scene, unrivaled in their fame and performance. The Blues King 12 is one of their superb combos that is affordable yet outstanding.
Blues King 12 features a vintage-looking polar cab that houses a 12-inch speaker and a 6L6 tube at the power stage. With 15W in the boot, it derives its dirt from a FET overdrive in the circuit that can be used via an independent footswitch.
The control panel features knobs for Bass, Mid, Treble, Reverb, and Master Volume. It also has switches for boost and gain. Unboosted, it sounds like everything you’d want a blue lick to sound like, and once boosted it can assert itself with fat and punchy tones.
It really shines at vintage tones, especially when you throw in some spring reverb. Yet, it lends equally well to modern sounds and fiery rock solos. Overall, it is responsive, articulate, and has all the sonic hallmarks of what a great amp should sound like.
The only reason the Blues King 12 isn’t leading the best-selling charts is that they may have faded from public memory after the rough patch they resurfaced from in the past decade. The Blues King 12 proves that can still deliver fantastic tone in a compact and affordable package.
If the price is too daunting for your budget, you can explore the Supro Blues King 8 that is equally impressive in the 1W power rating segment.
- Best Option for Rock, Blues, and Jazz
- Class-A 6L6 tubes and 12-inch low noise levels
- Spring reverb and effects loop included
- Most budget-friendly option in this category
After a couple of ‘nays’ for Hard Rock and Metal players, we’re finally on to something that does a fantastic job at heavier sounds – The Orange Rocker 15! This all-tube amp, at heart, is a mini-version of the Orange Rocker 30. It has a two-channel design – dirty and natural – that is powered by EL84 tubes and attenuator switches.
It also delivers some exceptional features like the full / half-power mode. The dirty channel includes a 3-band EQ and knobs for gain and master volume. The clean (natural) channel, on the other hand, only has a volume knob designated to it. That is a clear statement that this amp is designed for heavy distortion and dirt.
The Orange Rocker 15 has no shortage of punch or power as it can sound sufficiently loud for rehearsals, jams, and recording in the studio. You can play it in full power mode or drop the power to 1W with the half-power + attenuator switch.
The overdrive and distortion are ideal for metal guitarists. The clean tone is also modern, pristine, and highly useable for a wide variety of genres. It sounds drastically different from the other amps that we’ve viewed so far. The only downside is that it doesn’t have any onboard effects.
Overall, this is a great tube amp with low-noise and lots of features. The attenuators and full/half power options make it adaptable and the low-weight makes it a portable and high-performance companion for studio recordings.
For those who want something cheaper, the Orange Micro Terror is a good one-channel tube amp to consider.
- 2-channel design – Dirty and Natural
- Full/half-power mode w/ attenuator switches
- Low self-noise and EL84 Tubes
- Excellent for dirt tones: overdrive and distortion
- No reverb of effects included
VOX is known for extraordinary amplification solutions that guitarists covet across the continents. For all-tube enthusiasts, they deliver exemplary options with the AC15C1X and its EL84 tubes. The 15W tube amp features a Celestion Alnico Blue speaker and is one of the most portable/light options on this list (48lbs).
Yet, it has all the versatility and firepower you need. The bulk of its design is based on the two channels – normal & top boost – that can do gorgeous cleans and dirty tones well. It is incredibly loud, although it does lack a dedicated high and bass knob for the normal channel.
Tone-wise, the amp sounds natural and responsive with excellent treble and focused lows. It can go from clean to gritty to ambient with a few tweaks of the knobs. The overdrive, which is predominantly warm and the selling point of the VOX AC15C1X.
However, it doesn’t have the gnarly grit that hard rock and metal players may need. Instead, it is suited for more mellow rock tones or tasty blues licks. As for effects, you have access to spring reverb and tremolo, which you can shape using the rate and depth dials. The quality of these effects is nothing short of boutique stompboxes.
Overall, the AC15C1 is a 15-watt workhorse that gives you the Brit-tone that is a slice of rock history. If you love the Brit-invasion tones from bands like The Kinks, Rolling Stones, and the Yardbirds, this one is bound to strike you as the best amp in this category.
If you are low on budget, you can take a look at the VOX AC4TV as a cheaper option.
- Loud, lightweight and ultra-portable
- Versatile tone on both channels
- Spring reverb and tremolo included
- A modest price tag for the volume and tone on offer
True to the original flagship mode, the classy design of this 15-watt Fender ’65 Princeton Reverb features two instrument inputs with a 6-knob control panel. The panel allows you access to volume, bass, treble, vibrato (speed/intensity), and reverb pulse.
A Jensen C-10R 10-inch speaker sits beneath the familiar design of the cabinet. As for the components, this amp is loaded with two 6v6, three 12Ax&, one 12AT7, and an AR4 rectifier tube to warm it to high point voltage.
The ’65 Princeton Reverb is the top choice for anyone who appreciates pristine clean tones and deep/warm overdrive. The clean tones are among the best in the category. They have a peculiar shimmer in the high-end that pairs exceptionally well with a Fender Stratocaster or Tele.
The full bass adds to the fat overdrive and the deep sustain makes it ideal for lead playing. The amp is perfect for studio use. Don’t overestimate its power by the 15-watt amp stamp. It is built to play clean and play loud. It can handle a live performance at a small-venue easily.
Overall, I recommend the ’65 Princeton for guitarists who play metal, blues, and rock. At this price, it scores full marks for performance and value. It produces some of the most celestial clean tones in the category. The shimmering reverb and atmospheric vibrato are an added bonus.
- Classic Fender design & iconic sound
- Jensen C-10R 10-inch speaker
- Creamy overdrive and pristine clean tone
- Excellent Reverb and Tremolo
- Best Tube Amp under $1000
Low Watt Tube Amps: A Brief Buying Guide
Tube amps are selling like hot cakes thanks to the improvement in technology and reduction in price. But many guitarists, especially beginners, are unfamiliar with this realm of amplification. I’ve jotted down some important points to help you identify the key features to look for.
Start with identifying your budget and needs. That will narrow down the choices and make it less confusing to zero-in on the best option. Secondly, you should read up on tube breakup, if you are unfamiliar with the ins and out of it. Watch and listen to some videos of the amp in action to ensure that its sound will fit into your genre/style.
Additionally, keep the following points in mind to avoid any buyer’s remorse.
Tone: Based on the tubes and circuits, each amp has a distinct tone color that makes it better suited to certain genres. The Supro Blues King, for instance, completely outclasses other amps if you want a Chicago Blues-style tone. The Orange Rocker 15 will decimate every other amp in heavy metal applications.
Power: Your needs will dictate the power and not vice versa. For instance, you don’t need a 15 or 20W tube amp if you only wish to use it at home. On the other hand, a 1W amp won’t cut it for medium-sized venues or serious studio recordings. It may seem alluring to ‘future-proof’ with extra wattage, but you can always mod or upgrade when the actual need arises.
Features: Some tube amps go great with pedals and others don’t. Similarly, some can be hooked up to an additional speaker for more volume. Ensure that the amp you select is compatible with your overall rig and your needs. Features add to the cost, but they don’t give you value if you never use them. Remember, the spring reverb in your amp isn’t worth much if you already own an analog pedal.
Mods & Upgrades: One of the reasons we love tube amps is that we can mod them by swapping components to improve the sound. It, however, only applies to more advanced guitarists who know how to dismantle and reassemble the amp. Don’t try any repairs or replacements if you aren’t sure as it could void the warranty. You don’t want to end up with a hunk of deadweight.
For those of us who love tube amps, we know their creamy tones are beyond the capabilities of solid-state amps. Unfortunately, their cost can be a deterrent. Keeping that in mind, I’ve provided a diverse list of options that range several brands, genres, and budget ranges.
If you only want a bedroom amp for quiet practice, you can select something with modest wattage like the Bugera V5 5 Watt Combo. However, I recommend a respectable 15W amp if you intend to gig, rehearse, or record using the amplifier.
At the end of the day, a good amp is one that gives you the best tone in the budget you can afford. I hope this article has helped you figure out the right amp for your style and needs. Good luck and happy hunting!