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Tube amps are often held as the holy grail of all amplifiers. There is nothing quite like the way tube amps are able to push sound through a room. Digital and solid-state amps have come close to emulating this characterization but do not necessarily beat them out.
If you’ve been looking for a tube amp, you’ve likely seen that they can be quite expensive. Fortunately, some inexpensive options are available.
Blackstar HT1R Mk II – Best Overall
The Blackstar HT1R MkII is an excellent option if you’re looking for an inexpensive combo tube amp. This 1-watt amplifier has clean and dirty tones on tap. In fact, this amp sounds just as good as expensive tube amps.
The HT1R MkII has both a clean and overdrive channel. For further tonal options, you can take advantage of the amp’s Infinite Shape Feature. This allows you to dial in tones from classic British amp tones to American amp tones, and everything in between.
This amp has a 12AX7 preamp tube and a 12AU7 power tube. At 1-watt, you can get some tasty overdriven tones, perfect for a smaller room. The HT1R MkII even has built-in reverb for extra tonal tastiness.
An 8” speaker is built into the amp so you can use it anywhere. However, this amp will likely sound better when plugged into a cabinet with 12” speakers.
Furthering this amp’s utility, Blackstar has provided a USB output for easy recording purposes. A headphone jack is also provided for silent practice sessions.
Overall, the HT1R MkII is a great amp that can likely handle any type of music you wish to play. Many people have found this amplifier to be the answer to their cheap tube amp needs.
Item Weight: 14.55 pounds
Package Dimensions: 12.13 x 12.01 x 6.77 inches
JOYO Zombie – Best For Metal
If you’re a metal guitarist looking for a cheap tube amp, look no further than the JOYO Zombie. This little amp is going to be able to serve up the distortion you’re looking for.
JOYO’s Bantamp series of amps is an excellent line of budget tube amplifiers, which are modeled after famous tube amps. The Zombie is modeled after Mesa/Boogie’s famed Dual Rectifier amp.
This little amp has 20-watts of power and is stocked with a 12AX7 preamp tube. The Zombie can provide some magical distortion, especially when pushed with an overdrive or distortion pedal.
The Zombie is technically a hybrid tube amp, as it does have a solid-state transistor power amp section. However, this delivers the best of both worlds and provides plenty of iconic tube amp sound.
The Zombie has a clean channel and an overdrive channel for tonal variance. You might consider using this amp in a live setting as it does have an effects loop.
This amp also has some special features built into the unit. For instance, it supports Bluetooth connections so you can feed and play along with a backing track. A headphone out is also provided which features cabinet simulation for custom tones during quiet practice.
Overall, you really cannot go wrong with the JOYO Zombie. The only downfall is that you will need a speaker cabinet to play audibly. But at this price, a cabinet is easily affordable.
Item Weight: 4.07 pounds
Package Dimensions: 6.42 x 5.51 x 4.33 inches
JOYO Bluejay – Best For Home Use
Another excellent cheap tube amp from JOYO’s Bantamp series is the Bluejay. This model is designed after the famous Fender Blues Junior.
The Fender Blues Junior has historically been a great amplifier for those looking for a workhorse amp. These types of amps are suitable for a large variety of different musical styles but can be expensive.
The JOYO Bluejay does an excellent job emulating the Blues Junior while packing in some extra features. Because of this, it is perhaps one of the best cheap tube amps you can buy for home use.
Like the aforementioned Zombie, the Bluejay packs a lot of punch for a small lunchbox-sized amp. The Bluejay is a hybrid tube amp. It has a solid-state transistor in the power amp section and a 12AX7 tube in the preamp section.
Despite its hybrid build, it can deliver that tube tone that you are looking for. The Bluejay has 20-watts of power, which can be plenty loud enough for band rehearsals and small gigs. An effects loop is also provided so you can use all of your guitar pedals without issue.
The Bluejay has 2 channels, one is a clean channel, and the other is for a brighter tone. You can pair it with a Bluetooth device and play with your favorite songs and backing tracks through the amp.
A good amp for home use would be incomplete without headphone capabilities. The Bluejay has headphone connectivity with speaker cabinet simulation built-in.
Overall, you’re likely going to enjoy the Bluejay, especially if you play jazz, blues, or anything in between. You’ll need to have a speaker cabinet to emit sound, but its affordability saves you money for a dedicated cabinet.
Item Weight: 4.03 pounds
Package Dimensions: 6.42 x 5.51 x 4.33 inches
Orange MD20 – Best For Headphones
Orange amplifiers are well-known for their unique tones. I can remember the first time I heard an Orange amp. I was blown away by how loud they were as well as the steep cost.
The Orange MD20 is an excellent budget tube amp that delivers iconic Orange sound at a fraction of the price. Like other amps on this list, the MD20 is a hybrid amp, consisting of both solid-state and tube technologies. The built-in 12AX7 tube can deliver that signature Orange crunch.
The MD20 has a single channel that can provide both excellent clean tones and distorted tones (via the gain knob). It has a power output of 20-watts, which is plenty loud enough for many playing situations.
This small amp is also perfect if you wish you practice guitar using headphones. Its straightforward no-frills build and use is what makes this one of the best for headphones. The MD20 has built-in cabinet simulation so you can sound great when using the amp in this manner.
Overall, the Orange MD20 is an excellent choice if you’ve ever wished to have an Orange amp of your own. This has both the classic look and the sound of its pricier siblings. Owners of this lunchbox-sized amp absolutely love its versatility and capability.
Its affordability provides an access point suitable for all guitarists. You will need a cabinet to play audibly, but again, its price can allow for this.
Item Weight: 3.34 pounds
Package Dimensions: 11 x 5 x 8 inches
Monoprice Stage Right 15W
If an extremely affordable all-tube combo amp is what you’re after, consider the Monoprice Stage Right 15W. This is an amplifier built very similarly to amplifiers that you will find in a higher price range.
The Stage Right 15W has 3 x 12AX7 preamp tubes and 2 x EL84 tubes in the power section. This is sure to be able to deliver all of those classic tube amplifier tones you know and love.
This amplifier is extremely versatile and can be used in a number of different musical settings. An attenuator is built into the amp, allowing you to switch between 15-watts and 1-watt of power output.
Looking to use an amp for gigs and rehearsals? The Stage Right 15W will have you covered. A 12” Celestion Seventy 80 speaker is built into the amp, which delivers a balanced tone. I’ve had these speakers in several cabinets and can attest to their well-rounded response.
It gets even better with this amp. A spring reverb tank is provided in the back of the amp. This allows you to add in that classic amp reverb tone often found with Fender-style tube amps.
The Stage Right 15W also has an effects loop so you can use your pedals without any issue.
Overall, the Stage Right 15W is a no-brainer if you’re looking for a workhorse tube amp on a budget. It may be fairly basic, but this is exactly what you’d want for gigs. If I’m to be honest, its build reminds me of the Fender Blues Junior, without the price tag.
Item Weight: 31.6 pounds
Package Dimensions: 17.1 x 16.8 x 9.25 inches
Bugera T5 Infinium
Bugera is known for its line of well-made boutique-style amplifiers. Like many boutique amps, they tend to cost a fortune. If you’ve been longing for an affordable Bugera tube amp, this is your chance.
The Bugera T5 Infinium is a handmade lunchbox-sized all-tube amp head that can deliver exquisite tones. You’ll be able to dial in your favorite tones regardless of the size of the room you are playing.
The T5 Infinium is built with a 12AX7 in the preamp section and an EL84 in the power section. Bugera has built their Infinium Tube Life Multiplier into this unit, which helps to lengthen the life of your tubes. This ensures that you get a consistent tone every time you play with the amp.
You won’t have to guess when your tubes are starting to go bad with this amp. An LED light is provided to indicate when your tubes need to be changed. You won’t have to change them often, as this amp can extend tube life up to 20x.
If you love the overdriven tube sound of vintage amps, you’ll appreciate the T5 Infinium. It can handle clean and overdriven tones quite nicely. This amp also has built-in reverb, which can propel your tones into heavenly territory.
As its name would suggest, the T5 Infinium has 5-watts of output power. An attenuator is built into the unit, allowing you to choose the output power the amp uses. This ultimately allows you to play in nearly any musical situation.
As the T5 Infinium is an amp head, you will need to have a dedicated speaker cabinet. However, this is a small inconvenience for an amp that provides an extreme amount of value and convenience.
Item Weight: 9.04 pounds
Package Dimensions: 8.74 x 6.5 x 6.1 inches
Orange has another excellent budget offering for those looking for an affordable tube amplifier. This amp is the MT20, which is very similar to the aforementioned MD20.
Like the MD20, the MT20 is a hybrid tube amp, with the build featuring both solid-state and tube technologies. This amp head has a 12AX7 tube in the preamp to deliver that golden tube tone.
The MT20 has 20-watts of output power, which should be plenty loud enough for any situation. In fact, its volume can be quite surprising considering how small this amp head looks in person.
This amp is fairly straightforward, with controls for volume, tone, and gain. You can plug in headphones for silent playing sessions. The MT20 also has support for an auxiliary cable so you can play along with your favorite songs.
Overall, you really can’t go wrong with the MT20. Its simple design allows for anyone to be able to plug in and play, making it great for beginners. The MT20’s clean and sleek design is sure to look great on any speaker cabinet.
Item Weight: 2 pounds
Package Dimensions: 11 x 7 x 6 inches
Are Cheap Tube Amps Worth It?
Cheap tube amps have definitely improved over the years. In fact, such an option never really existed until recently.
Quite often, you do get what you pay for with regard to your gear. A cheap tube amp probably can’t provide the quality of tone and volume that a more expensive amp can offer. So in this sense, a cheap tube amp is probably best suited for home use and for band rehearsals.
However, expensive tube amps are likely unusable at home as their tonal sweet spot tends to be at higher volumes. This is where cheap tube amps shine. They often have just enough power that you can get a great overdriven tone at lower volumes.
Some cheap tube amps do have quite a bit of volume capacity. These will probably be able to annoy your neighbors if you desire to do so.
What To Look For In A Cheap Tube Amp
There are a number of things that you should look for if you’re in the market for a cheap tube amp. Keeping these following points in mind will help you find the right amp for you.
Many cheap tube amps tend to come with many extra features included with their build. This is will be a selling point, as many high-end tube amps do not offer these kinds of features.
Some of the features you may want to consider include:
- Headphone capabilities
- Auxiliary cable/Bluetooth connectivity
- Power wattage attenuation
Many of these features provide usability for small-room settings. They can also provide aid to your guitar practices.
Much of what you will want in an amp is going to depend on how you wish to use it. If you desire to use the amp in live performance settings, you will need to make sure it can accommodate.
You can get away with a smaller powered amp by using a microphone to add it into the main mix. However, it likely won’t be able to push the sound to the back of a loud room without a microphone.
Cheap tube amps tend to be built as amplifier heads rather than combos. So, while you might be able to get a decent amp, you’ll still need a speaker cabinet. This can take the convenience out of having a small amp head.
As you’ve seen on this list, there are some inexpensive tube combos available. You will need to weigh your options for which is best for your needs.
Similarly, many cheaper amps tend to be a hybrid of solid-state and tube technologies. If you’re a purist looking for a tube-only amp, you’ll need to search these out. They do exist but are not as common.
Best Brands For Cheap Tube Amps
The market for guitar gear has become flooded with all sorts of products from many different manufacturers. This can make it difficult to discern what is worth your time. However, there are some companies that are known for making cheap amps with worthwhile qualities.
JOYO is a Chinese company that specializes in providing budget-level music gear with extreme value. The company has grown a reputation in recent years, especially with its line of guitar pedals. The amplifiers offered by JOYO have been receiving rave reviews.
Orange is a British amplifier company originally founded by Cliff Cooper in 1968. The company is responsible for helping to define the British rock tones of the late 1960s and 1970s. These amps are well-known for their iconic sound, which are unique from nearly any other amp company.
Top Cheap Tube Amps, Final Thoughts
As you’ve seen in this lineup of amps, there are a number of different amplifiers available that are quite inexpensive. This is a huge relief to anyone who has been dying for tube tone, without having the necessary funds.
These cheap tube amps are a great starting point on your never-ending quest for the perfect guitar tone. Fortunately, they are priced at a point that nearly anyone can justify.
Last Updated on February 3, 2022.
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