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User Recommended Cheap Tube Amps


Many guitarists are reluctant to buy cheap tube amps because they assume, based on wattage alone, they don't have enough power for the stage.

However, because of the way in which tube amps handle distortion caused by clipping, much of that distortion is simply heard as extra volume and "warmth".

In other words, tube amps use watts more "economically" than solid state amps. So even as little as 15 watts goes a long way in the right context.

So rest assured the below highly rated tube combos are fit for small-mid size gigging. Even better if you can mic up. For under $500 you can get that irresistable tube tone for the stage, studio and home practice.



15 Watt Cheap Tube Amp

Keeping it simple. If you prefer to shape your tone through external effects and/or you just need a great vintage clean tube amp with some optional crunch, this lil' Hot Rod will give you that perfect retro voice for the small stage and studio.

Fender Pro Junior III Tube Amp

Fender Pro Junior III Tube Amp

Pro Junior III control panel
Overall Rating

/ 10

Reviews

Harmony Central - Ultimate Guitar
ZzoundsMusicians Friend

Best Deal

  Est. $420

Key Features

Simple, minimalistic operation. Warm, complex Fender tube tones on a budget. 10 inch Fender Special Design speaker with vintage cone.



Specs

120V / 15 Watts / 10" Fender Special Design Speaker / 2 x 12AX7 Pre Amp Tubes / 2 x EL84 Power Tubes / Single Channel / Master Volume, Master Tone / Chrome Hardware / "Dog Bone" Handle / Black Front Panel / Black Textured Vinyl Covering with Blackface Style Grille Cloth / Vintage Pointer Knobs

What users say

Part of the legendary Hot Rod series and as simple as guitar amps get - single channel with one volume and one tone knob. This is the ultimate in no nonsense, lightweight amplification, for those who like to grab and go and perhaps have enough shape to dial in on their effects board so don't need the onboard features.

15 all tube watts drive a 10 inch Special Design speaker with vintage cone. Enough volume for the small stage. You won't need to crank it past 5 before your drummer and bass player complain. Even better if you're micing up.

As expected, the Junior is vintage vibe through and through, delivering multidimensional tube tones and those distinctively sparkling Fender cleans for well under $500, although not with as much headroom as many of their other models.

The Junior adds a husky warmth to those naturally twangy single coils, but retains that high end crispness and strong midrange presense. The result is a kind of crystal clarity that you won't typically find on other cheap tube amps.

Very responsive to the guitar's volume pot - pull it back for some fat, middy cleans, push it along with the amp's volume to breakup the tubes for some organic, bluesy grit.

It also delivers warm, thick jazz tones through the neck position, smoothing out that breakup crunch. Just don't expect any crushing, modern rock/metal tones unless you have the right pedals. On that note, the Junior takes external effects especially well, without interfering with any EQ you dial in on your pedals.

Overall, it brings out, rather than saturates the natural tone of your guitar, so to truly do it justice you should be playing a decent quality axe through it (i.e. any of the guitars featured on this site!).

It's worth noting that many users did swap out the stock tubes and even the speaker. Only personal preference can dictate whether you do the same, but out of the box you can expect "that Fender sound" in spadefuls - bright, pure and pristine cleans... and LOUD.

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22 Watt Budget Tube Amp

You may want more onboard control over your vintage tone. If so, take a look at this Bugera tube amp offering, complete with a buttery drive channel and more rounded cleans. If the Fenders sound a bit too glassy and sharp for your ears, but you want to retain that vintage boutique vibe, here's as good a compromise as you'll find under $400...

Bugera V22 Tube Amp - $380

Bugera V22 Tube Amp

Overall Rating

/ 10

Reviews

Harmony Central - Ultimate Guitar
Amazon - ZzoundsMusicians Friend

Best Deal

  Est. $380

Key Features

Boutique style 22 watt tube amp. 2 channels. Triode / pentode mode switch. Normal and bright inputs. Connectors for a range of external speakers.



Specs

22 Watts / 12" vintage speaker / 2-channel preamp with 3 x 12AX7 valves / 2 x EL84 power valves / Integrated reverb with dedicated Reverb control / Bass, Mid, Treble and Presence controls / Boost switch / Normal and Bright inputs / Multi-gain stage Lead channel with Pre, Post gain and Master controls / Mode switch - Triode or Pentode operation / 4, 8 and 16 Ohms impedance connectors

User Review Summary

Another vintage harker but with far more generous features than the Pro Junior and most other cheap tube amps.

A dual channel (clean and lead) tri-valved preamp feed a Bugera 12 inch speaker. Bright and normal inputs, rear pentode and triode selector, 3 band EQ with presence knob and mid boost switch give you ample control over your sound. The impedence switch features 4, 8 and 16 ohms allowing you to extend to virtually any speaker cabinet available.

Another feature which the V22 out boasts the Junior is the integrated (albeit digital, subtle) reverb.

You'll also find a channel/reverb footswitch included which is always a bonus!

So it's less of a "one trick pony", less reliant on external effects than the Junior.

Switched to pentode, the tubes fire up at full power and give your cleans a saturated, dynamic presence that will breath life into your stage playing. For late night bedroom recordings, the triode switch will help pull everything back intelligently.

The cleans may not shine as brightly as a Fender, but what it lacks in sparkle it makes up for in full bodied warmth and spank, mellowed out through the normal input. Spankier and darker than the Junior, but with a meatier overdrive channel (remember, the Junior only has 1 channel). It's also $40 or so cheaper, which will tip the balance for many.

Although ultimately reserved in that graceful old school way, it has enough tonal range to extend a decade or so beyond the Junior into classic rock and proto-thrash on the dirty channel. Less about dry breakup crunch or edgy distortion, more about supple, smooth and blended overdrive, enhanced, of course, with humbuckers.

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Compare the Tube Amps on This Page

Fender Pro Jr III Bugera V22
Best For Guitarists who just want a simple, no nonsense tube amp with those distinctive Fender cleans. Guitarists who want a more rounded, powerful, feature rich tube amp with 2 channels & meatier overdrive.
Defining Features Very basic operation, no bells & whistles. Pure vintage Fender tube tone. 2 channels, triode/pentode switch, normal/bright inputs, external speaker connection.
Output 15 Watts 22 Watts
Speaker
10 inch 12 inch
Channels 1 2
EQ 1 tone knob 3 band + presence + gain + clean
Reverb No Yes
Additional Inputs/Outputs None External speaker, FX loop send/return, footswitch
Est. Price $420 $380
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