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Best Overall: Fender Blues Junior IV at Amazon
"Blues Juniors are a perfect middle ground for someone who likes that vintage Fender sound but doesn’t want the price tag."
Runner-Up, Best Overall: Marshall DSL40CR at Guitar Center
"The Marshall DSL40CR is newest iteration of the DSL line and they’ve put in some pretty amazing modern features to boot."
Best Budget: Monoprice 5W Tube Amp at Amazon
"Monoprice managed to cram a Celestion-licensed speaker inside this budget buy and packs impressive volume for only having two tubes."
Best Tube: Vox Custom AC15C1 at Amazon
"The classic British tube sound of the Vox hearkens back to the sounds of classic Beatles-era tunes."
Best Solid-State/Modeling: Boss Katana KTN-100 at Amazon
"The Boss Katana series is the true follow-up to the critically acclaimed Roland Cube models with 100W of solid-state power."
Best for Jazz: Peavey Classic 30 at Amazon
"The Peavy Classic 30 offers a nice, clean jazz tone for an affordable price."
Best for Metal: Blackstar HT-5R at Guitar Center
"The 12-inch custom-designed Blackbird speaker seriously snarls, thanks in part to the one ECC83 and the one 12BH7 tubes."
Best Acoustic: Fishman Loudbox Mini Charge at Guitar Center
"The Loudbox Mini Charge brings with it some welcome upgrades, including battery-power and separate channels for your guitar and mic."
Ask any serious guitarist what they'd recommend as an entry-level tube amp, and most will tell you to look at Blues Juniors. They’re a perfect middle ground for someone who likes that vintage Fender sound (a la the Deluxe Twins or the Vibro-Champs) but doesn’t necessarily want the price tag or the volume. The Blues Junior is now on its fourth iteration, and this thing really cooks. It has a 12-inch Celestion A-type speaker powered by three 12AX7 tubes in the preamp slot and two EL84s in the power amp. That gives you a rich, warm tone at 15W of tube power, meaning you can run this thing in a pretty sizeable club or in a studio. The fourth iteration of the line introduces modified circuity to try to bring a bit more of a modern edge to the sound, as well as to mellow out some of the higher-end hiss. The aesthetics have also improved, with your choice of tweed or black along with ivory pointer knobs. It’s a great amp that fits a ton of situations for the budget-conscious player.
On the other side of the vintage-brand aisle is Marshall. And you really can't go wrong with this brand, especially if you want that loud, dirty, metal-facing sound (though the cleans aren't bad either). This year, Marshall dropped the newest — and much-anticipated — iteration of the DSL line, and they’ve put in some pretty amazing modern features. This amp is driven by four 12AX7 tubes in the preamp slot and two EL34 power amp tubes, giving you 40 watts of monster tube tone, which is plenty for most applications. There’s a single 12-inch Celestion V-type speaker to handle all that power with the classic Marshall edge, plus a built-in reverb, two separate input channels, and a pretty nice EQ setup. The best part: Marshall has partnered with Softube to give you "Emulated Output," meaning that both the output to the 12-inch speaker and the headphone out are designed to sound like they’re pumping it through a 1960 Marshall classic cab.
Monoprice may be known for making consumer-direct A/V cables, but they've also managed to bring an amazing pair of tube amps to the table. A few years back, the company launched a line of guitars and musical instruments at NAMM and, while the guitars themselves have earned middle-of-the-road reviews, the amps are actually really well-received. The smaller of the two, this 5W 1x8 amp, packs impressive volumes and pleasantly warm, crisp sound quality (it’s almost creamy). There are only two tubes in this thing — a single 12AX7 as the preamp and a 6V6GT power tube — but Monoprice has somehow also managed to cram a Celestion-licensed speaker inside this budget buy. In terms of style, it's a tweed-looking amp faux-leather touches and only a few controls. But if you can get past the lack of a brand name on this thing, it’s a great little studio or bedroom amp for the money.
If we had to pick a brand that shines strictly for historic tube-based glory, Vox is an easy choice. The classic British tube sound (referred to as Valve overseas) hearkens back to the sounds of classic Beatles-era tunes. The AC15C1 brings that into the modern world with an absolutely epic combo amp. It pumps out 15 tube watts at 16 ohms, powered by three 12AX7 preamp tubes and two EL84 power amp tubes. But, while this is a similar makeup to Fender’s tube amps, the difference in sound comes from the speaker and circuity — specifically, the G12M Greenback Celestion speaker. This amp also includes a smooth on-board tremolo effect and built-in Spring reverb, making it your go-to club machine as well as a studio standby.
When solid-state amps were first introduced, the hope was that they would revolutionize amp technology into something lighter and easier to transport. But the sterile, less-responsive feel and tone have made them less of a professional amp and more of an option for those looking for features and budget-friendly models. The Boss Katana series is the true follow-up to the critically acclaimed Roland Cube models, and they really are some of the best examples of solid-state amplification from a features standpoint. This thing can push 100W of solid-state power through the 12-inch speaker, but it also has a built-in power attenuation so you can play through a lower wattage circuit for quieter settings. They’ve also loaded in the Katana’s insanely intuitive digital effects section that gives you 55 effects to choose from, and the ability to store fifteen setups and four amp modes. And, based on critic reviews, the effects actually hold their own. Overall, it’s a great amp with a great set of built-in effects.
It’s easy to overlook brands like Peavey in your search for warm tube tone. But Peavey has been offering amazing, affordable sound for years, and if a nice, clean jazz tone is what you’re after, the Classic 30 may be just what you need. The preamp section is bolstered by three 12AX7 tubes and the power amp is made up of four EL84s, giving you warmth and power. There are two channels of EQ settings, clean and boosted volume control, and even built-in reverb. But what really gives this amp great versatility for jazz is the “speaker out” option on the back, which allow you to play through 8 or 16-ohm setups. Allowing ohm adjustment and the ability to extend some headroom by playing through a larger external speaker will allow you to play louder without as much dirt.
When it comes to metal, Blackstar has made a serious name for itself in the past few years. And this 12-inch custom-designed Blackbird speaker seriously snarls, thanks in part to the one ECC83 and the one 12BH7 tubes. While it isn’t a ton of power (though you can get higher wattage in this series), you can push it well into overdrive territory without having to crank the volume extremely high. That means this is a great bedroom amp for overdriven sounds. But, there are a few other cool, innovative features like an enhanced tone control, Infinite Shape Features, digital stereo reverb, a unique push-pull design, and even speaker emulators that mimic 1x12 and 4x12 voicing. It offers features found normally in modeling amps alongside the sound and feel of a tube rig.
To be honest, almost any Fishman Loudbox would fit well in the "best acoustic" slot on this list. The Loudbox Mini Charge was just launched in 2018, and it brings with it some welcome upgrades to the brand's already-effective line of acoustic guitar amps. It offers two separate channels, one for your guitar and one for a microphone, so it almost acts like a mini PA. Each channel offers gain, volume, reverb, and EQ (though it’s worth noting that the guitar channel has an extra band of EQ capability). There's also a chorus effect on the guitar channel so you can add a little extra color to your tone. But the flagship feature here is that it’s battery powered, meaning it can act as a wireless PA if you’re busking or playing somewhere remote. And, because it’s 60W, it should be powerful enough for many different kinds of situations. Add on the ability to connect your phone to use this as a wireless speaker, and the Fishman Loudbox Mini Charge makes one versatile little amp.