5 Low Power Tube Amps for Low Cost

Fender 1954 Tweed Deluxe (2647-1)I’ve written about inexpensive guitar amplifiers that would be suitable for beginners. Those were almost all small, solid state, modeling amps that could be purchased for less than about $150 (as of December 2010). What’s the next step up? Tube amps!

Tube amps hold a special place in guitarists hearts. One reason they are special is because of the wonderful sound you can get by overdriving the amp. A rich, creamy breakup of the sound is a big part of classic rock and electric blues.

Low power tube amps were once the only type made. The Fender Deluxe from about 1950 was only about 10 to 14 watts and the Fender Champion 600 from the same period was about 4 watts. Early amp makers initially increased the wattage of their amps in order to keep the sound clean. But the guitarists that experimented and pushed their amps liked the distortion they could coax from the amps.

Low power amps have gone by a number of names. Practice amps, studio amps, recording amps and more recently, bedroom amps. They are desirable because the early and simpler amp designs are easier to overdrive at a level which is acceptable in your bedroom (or studio). Be warned, even a 5 watt amp can be plenty loud in a small room.

The reason low watt amps are still relatively loud has to do to physics and how we perceive sound. If we compare the volume of two amps and perceive one of them as being twice as loud as the other, then the watts of the louder one is approximately the square of the quieter amp. An example is easier to understand. A 100 watt amp is only about twice as loud as a 10 watt amp. A 25 watt amp is only about twice as loud as a 5 watt amp.

The low power amps discussed here are generally simple amps. An on/off switch, a jack to plug in your guitar and a volume control. Anything else is getting fancy. However, the rear of the amp might have output jacks to let you use a larger speaker than the 6 to 10 inch speakers that are typical. Internally, the amps may have as few as two tubes – one for the preamp stage and one for power.

5 Low Power Tube Combo Amps for less than $250.

Maker & Model Spkr & Watts Tubes Controls Price $
Fender Champion 600 1×6, 5 watts 12AX7A; 6V6 Instr., Mic input; Vol. $149.99
Bugera V5 1×8, 5 watts 12AX7; EL84 Gain, Tone, Vol., Reverb, (5, 1 or 0.1 watts) $196.99
Gretsch Electromatic G5222 1×6, 5 watts 12AX7; 6V6 2 inputs, Vol. $195.00
Vox AC4TVmini 1×6.5, 4 watts 12AX7; EL84 Tone, Volume, (4,1,1/10 watt) $199.00
Vox AC4TV 1×10; 4 watts 12AX7; EL84 Tone, Volume, (4,1,1/10 watt) $249.95

Table Notes: Speaker are abbreviated as number of speakers x diameter in inches. Thus, a 1×6 indicates one speaker that is 6 inches in diameter. Tubes are shown preamp tube first and then power tube. The 6V6 power tube was popular in US amps, particularly smaller Fender amps. Larger amps used the 6L6 tube. Note that tubes are often referred to as valves. The EL84 was a popular tube in British amps. To my ears, most 6V6 amps have a different quality to their sound than those amps with EL84 tubes. I have owned amps with 6V6, 6L6 and EL84 tubes. My personal preference is for the 6V6/6L6 sound – or the American sound. But you should listen and make your own choice.

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