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There’s something magical about the sound of an electric guitar being played through a tube amplifier. Despite all the advances in digital technology, tube amps continue to be a popular choice with each new generation of guitarists.
One common issue with most tube amps is their size and weight. Low-watt tube amps provide the perfect solution by reducing power consumption to a minimum and saving space.
If you’re searching for that warm, authentic tube sound in a conveniently sized amp, check out our list of the 6 best low-watt tube amps below.
What are the Best Low Watt Tube Amps?
Low Watt Tube Amps Reviews
The affordable V5 Infinium allows guitarists to enjoy the classic tube tone in a compact, portable unit. This amplifier has several features which improve its sound and functionality.
One thing that caught my attention about this low-watt tube amp is the innovative “Infinium Tube Life Multiplier”. This technology works by constantly analyzing the way the tubes perform, and ensuring that they work at an optimal level to improve longevity.
The preamp and power tubes installed by Bugera consist of a tried and tested combination of a 12AX7 and an EL84. This ensures a classic tube-driven tone with plenty of power and warmth.
Due to the onboard power attenuator, I’d recommend this amp to guitarists who need to practice at low volumes without compromising on tone.
Finally, the amp has an onboard reverb unit that isn’t limited to one variety. You can adjust the reverb controls to add different flavors of space and ambiance to your guitar.
- Easy to push into breakups and saturation
- Sounds equally as good at low and higher volumes
- Tone control allows you to shape the frequency output
- Doesn’t achieve a particularly high volume output
The AC10C1 by Vox produces the energetic tone associated with British guitarists in the 1960s and 70s. This mini tube guitar amp may be fairly small in size, but it certainly packs a punch.
Featuring an all-tube, 10-watt combo design, the AC10C1 is a great choice for live performances, practicing, and recording. With a pair of 12AX7s in the preamp section and two EL84s in the power section, it sounds authentically vintage.
To customize the sound of the amp, you can use the selection of onboard parameters. Firstly, the two-band EQ alters the prominent frequencies in the output. Then there’s the master volume and gain which impact tone and dynamics.
Vox’s tube amplifiers commonly include high-quality reverbs, so it’s no surprise that they have installed a smooth-sounding effect on this compact combo device.
The 10” Celestion VX10 custom speaker ensures brightness and clarity, even when the amp is used at relatively low volumes.
- Produces a classic, British-invasion style tube amp tone
- Capable of pristine clean sounds or crunchy distortion
- 2-band EQ makes tonal adjustments quick and easy
- The four tubes will likely need to be replaced periodically if used often
Based on the revered 1956 edition of Fender’s Princeton tube amplifier, this reissue combines vintage qualities with modern improvements.
The classic lacquered tweed design is almost identical to the early editions of the Princeton amp, but the inner circuitry is more resemblant of the equally popular Blackface.
Offering 12 watts of tube-driven power, this small Fender tube amp sounds huge for a compact amp. It can easily be pushed into overdrive, especially if you combine it with high-output single-gain pickups.
I believe that a large contributor to the powerful, crisp tone of this Fender amp is the 12” Eminence speaker. This is slightly larger than the speaker used in the original Princeton Reverb amps, resulting in a more substantial low end.
A Fender tube amp wouldn’t be complete without the addition of their reverb and tremolo effects. The spring adds character to your guitar playing, and a tremolo is a great tool for making chord sequences and melodies stand out.
- Powerful and loud enough to be used in small or medium-sized venues
- A clear and refined tone is ideal for recordings
- Includes spring reverb and tremolo effects with adjustable controls
- Sounds best when used at medium or high volumes
There’s a reason that British amplifier manufacturers Orange have such a loyal following of guitarists – they constantly produce high-quality tones.
The Rocker 15 contains all of the qualities associated with this iconic brand in a relatively compact unit. With switchable clean and dirty channels, you can instantly ramp up the heat when playing through this amp.
A large portion of this small tube guitar amp’s distinctive sound comes from Orange’s commitment to keeping one-hundred percent tube driven. They’ve even carried this over into the effects loop which is powered by 12AT7s.
The default wattage of the Rocker 15 is 15 watts, which is perfect for playing gigs and recording guitar. However, if you’re rehearsing at home, you can switch the wattage to 7, 1, or even 0.5 watts to suit your environment.
This amplifier has two distinctive sounds which range from clean and chimey, to gritty and distorted. It’s therefore a great choice for guitarists who like to switch up their style often.
- All-tube design leads to a powerful, warm tone across the frequency spectrum
- Includes a tube-driven effects loop for integrating your pedals
- Wattage can be tailored to suit the environment you’re playing in
- No onboard reverb or tremolo included
I’ve always been a huge admirer of the tone Blackstar amps produce. Typically, they sound slightly darker than most tube amps, and when pushed into overdrive they’re hard to beat.
The HT5R MKII is one of the best 5-watt amps on the market. It can blast out British-style aggression but also has compressed American tones in its arsenal.
When designing this 5-watt tube amp, Blackstar drew inspiration from its previous creations in addition to other popular devices. This led to an amplifier that sounds balanced and powerful in the low, mid, and treble frequencies with no weak spots.
Another feature that caught my attention when checkout out the HT5R MKII was its “Infinite Shape Feature”. Patented by Blackstar, this feature modifies the EQ settings to provide quick access to classic tube amp tones.
If the power and volume of this Blackstar amp are too much for your home practice space, you can simply reduce the settings down to 0.5 watts to avoid disturbing anyone nearby.
- Produces classic British style and high-gain American tones
- Wattage can be reduced to suit your practice space
- Line input makes it easy to jam along to a backing track or metronome
- Lacks the power or volume required for moderately sized live venues
The Marshall SV20C is one of the more expensive best small tube amp combos on our list, but its tonal qualities justify the price tag.
This amplifier is ideal for guitarists who need enough power to play in medium and larger venues, but also require appropriate volumes for rehearsing and perfecting their skills.
The onboard power reduction circuit allows you to switch the wattage from 20 watts to a more manageable 5 watts. Even on the lower setting, the amp still produces a warm, powerful tube-driven tone.
Sonically, the SC20C sounds like it has time-traveled from the British Invasion era. This is largely down to the inclusion of a 10” Celestion V-Types speaker, with sparkles with vintage character and clarity.
I found the inclusion of four inputs intriguing, as this is quite rare for small tube amps. This feature allows you to blend different aspects of your sound and increases the connectivity options you have at your disposal.
- Loud and powerful enough to be used in large spaces
- Includes several tone and dynamic altering controls for customization
- Sounds great when used for lead guitar parts and overdriven solos
- Slightly larger and heavier than most low-watt tube amps
Low Watt Tube Amps – Buyer’s Guide
Digital modeling amps are undeniably useful, especially if you’re just starting on the guitar. However, there comes a time when most guitarists want to experience the unique sound of a tube amplifier.
Low-watt tube amps like the Bugera V5 Infinuim 1×8” 5-Watt Tube Combo Amp, Vox AC10C1 1×10” 10-watt Tube Combo Amp, and the Fender ’65 Princeton Reverb 1×12” 12-watt Tube Combo Amp are ideal for guitarists who frequently perform, record, and rehearse. Here’s a breakdown of the key qualities and features to look out for.
What is a Combo Tube Amp?
Large tube amplifiers that are used for playing festivals or arenas are often split into two parts – the cabinet, and the head.
The best small tube amps usually come in the form of a combo, which simply means these two components are secured in a single unit. This makes amps like the Blackstar HT5R MKII 1×12” 5-watt Tube Combo Amp with Reverb and the Marshall SV20C Studio Vintage 1×10” 20/5-watt Tube Combo Amp more practical, and easier to transport.
The Importance of Speakers
While the tubes that drive a low-watt amplifier are certainly integral to its performance, the speaker that is included also plays a significant role in shaping the sound.
In general, larger speakers will produce higher volumes and fuller-sounding low-end frequencies. Most low-watt tube amps use 10” speakers, but some go up to 12”.
It’s worth researching the speaker brand and type that is included in a low-watt amplifier to determine whether it will produce the type of sound that you want to achieve.
Preamp and Power Tubes
Tubes, or valves, have been used in guitar amplifiers for over half a century. While music technology has moved on tremendously in that time, tube amplifiers remain unchanged.
Preamp tubes are responsible for preparing the signal from the guitar by amplifying it to a certain level and increasing its voltage. The 12AX7 is by far the most popularly used for this purpose.
Power tubes then take over and amplify the signal further, driving the speakers in the amp. The 12AX7 is often used in guitar amplifiers, as it produces a warm, saturated tone. 12AT7s are also sometimes used in low-watt amplifiers.