Tube amplifiers are the crème de la crème of amplifiers and probably all the guitar equipment you can find. They have a history and development, tone and quality that is incomparable to anything else. So if you plan on buying a tube amplifier there are several things you need to know beforehand. First of all, tube amps are expensive. While cost is relative and there is quite a good range of more “affordable” tube amps, they are still much more expensive than an average solid-state amplifier. Then again there is a good reason for that. Tube amps bring better tone and quality. While I do love myself a solid-state amplifier and you can read up on some of our favorite and best solid-state amps in out another article, a tube amp is something I would go to for a better, more subtle and nuanced sound (if I got the money, of course). So you are reading this article for one of the two reasons, you got that money and want a tube amp or you are doing your research to one day achieve your dream of owning a tube amp. In either case, enjoy the list of the best tube guitar amplifiers that we think are worth your money.
Table of Contents
- 1 Top 10 Best Tube Guitar Amps
- 1.1 VOX AC30HW2 Hand-Wired VOX Combo Amplifier, 30W, 12″
- 1.2 Fender ’65 Princeton Reverb Tube Combo Amp 15-Watt
- 1.3 Marshall DSL Series DSL100H 100-Watt All-Tube Guitar Amplifier Head
- 1.4 Line 6 99-021-0716 DT25 25W/10W Guitar Amplifier Head
- 1.5 Orange Dual Terror 30/15/7W 2-Channel Tube Head
- 1.6 EVH 5150 III 50-watt Tube Head
- 1.7 Blackstar HT Club 50 50-Watt Guitar Amp Head
- 1.8 Randall RD100H Diavlo Series Amplifier
- 1.9 Peavey 03608820 ValveKing II 100W Guitar Amplifier
- 1.10 BUGERA 333XL INFINIUM
- 2 Conclusion
Top 10 Best Tube Guitar Amps
|VOX AC30HW2 Hand-Wired||(4.9 / 5)||Check on Amazon|
|Fender '65 Princeton Reverb Tube Combo Amp 15-Watt||(4.9 / 5)||Check on Amazon|
|Marshall DSL Series DSL100H||(4.9 / 5)||Check on Amazon|
|Line 6 DT25||(4.8 / 5)||Check on Amazon|
|Orange Dual Terror||(4.8 / 5)||Check on Amazon|
|EVH 5150 III||(4.8 / 5)||Check on Amazon|
|Blackstar HT Club 50||(4.8 / 5)||Check on Amazon|
|Randall RD100H Diavlo Series||(4.8 / 5)||Check on Amazon|
|Peavey 03608820 ValveKing II||(4.8 / 5)||Check on Amazon|
|BUGERA 333XL INFINIUM||(4.8 / 5)||Check on Amazon|
The Argument for Superiority
So why is it that so many people claim the superiority of vacuum tube amplifiers over its cousin and rival, solid-state amplifier? The honest ones among the musicians you know and the reviewers you read will tell you that both sides have a reason to feel superior to the other. If you have ever flipped a coin, then you know there are two sides to them, just like to anything else. The story of the vacuum tube amplifiers has two sides as well, the side of the pretty, glamorous and warm and the side of the ugly, annoying and expensive. So it is unfair to say that one type of amplifier is better than the other, without first considering what suits you best. Every amplifier has their time and place, so why wouldn’t the more general two different types of amplifiers have their time and place as well? The thing is, everyone determines when the time and place a vacuum tube amplifier is on their own. The best I can do is give you some general pointers and maybe you give you the general idea of how each type of the amplifier is different from the other. So let me get into talking about some of the outstanding things, both good and bad, about vacuum tube amplifiers while you patiently wait for me to stop talking too much.
The tube sound, the vacuum tube sound, or the sound otherwise known to be the favorite of guitar, bass guitar, and otherwise instrumental purists, has not been a concept for a whole long time, relatively speaking. The idea of the tube sound began a long time ago when people started working with amplifiers that were designed without the vacuum tube installed, also known as solid state or transistor amplifiers. Until then the tube sound did not exist because it was the only sound any amplifier would or could make. Then somebody went ahead and created the android to the vacuum tube’s iPhone and as is the case with the two sides of anything, humans decided to argue about it. Now have two camps arguing about the sound of one or the other is superior. I don’t think either is superior, but I do think that each is unique in its own way.
The tube sound is one of the most popular arguments for the superiority of the tube amp. It is known to be a little rounded and a little fuller than the sound of the solid-state amplifier. The reason will be explained in the more technical “how it works” section of this article. The difference between the vacuum tube and the solid state sound is hard to describe in words, but I shall attempt it nevertheless. A lot of players like to say that the sound is fuller and feels alive in the vacuum tube amplifier. It is not something I am going to disagree with, but I will add onto: the vacuum tube amplifier feels a little more alive, with the distortion on the vacuum tube feeling a lot more powerful. This one time I heard the difference between the sounds described as between analog and digital sounds, with the analog being the vacuum tube. I don’t fully agree with it, but I can appreciate the sentiment since the vacuum tube does have a more natural feeling sound. Though some of the best solid-state amplifiers in the modern day don’t suffer from the problem of an artificial feeling as some of the older models did.
One more thing about the sound of the vacuum tube: to really feel the power and brightness of the tone of the amplifier, you need to turn the volume up high. Not extremely high but above the number three on the knob, because otherwise, the sound of the amplifier will not feel up to par. This means that all of the practice that you have been wanting to do with your tube amp either needs to be done in a soundproofed room, or at the expense of your parents’, roommate’s and neighbors’ eardrums. And I will tell you right now, in the modern world, that will not always (read: never) fly for longer than a week. It would not fly with me and I am usually pretty understanding of musical noise, since I was one of the people who was incredibly casual about causing it, once upon a time.
The thing with vacuum tube amplifiers having a more “natural” sound is that they are also more vintage in their design. And as with all things more or less vintage, the vacuum tube amplifiers are also extremely heavy. Well, maybe not extremely heavy, but they are heavy enough to cause a whole lot of people not to want to buy them, because nobody wants to break their back carrying it from one place to the other. This is a maker or a breaker to so many people that I had to include it as a separate point of the amplifier, which is unfortunate since there is not much to write other than the fact that most tube amps are heavy. Maybe the best tube amps are a little less heavy than the others, but they still tend to be heavier than their alternative. That is why we have included some lightweight options in this list. I mean the tone and quality of the sound are why you get the amp but you do not have to break your back trying to drag it around the town.
Price and Upkeep
Here is another hard truth about tube amps: they are expensive when you first buy them and they stay expensive for as long as you own them, way more so than the other type of amplifiers. Why is that so? Well, vacuum tube amplifiers are a little on the more complicated side to make, with the vacuum tubes requiring to be designed around. These tubes are hard to keep in shape for a long time, which is why designers have to come up with ways to keep them in shape, which adds a little on to the price. Consider the fact that the vacuum tubes themselves are not easy to make, as well as the vintage nature of the designs and the idea that vacuum tubes are in higher demand than any other type of amp and bam, all of a sudden you have a higher price than you thought you did. So it is sort of a testament to the quality of the tube amplifiers that people get it no matter the price and the upkeep. It is definitely worth it but nevertheless still weigh out your options. Make sure that a tube amplifier is something you can keep for a long period of time. You would not get an expensive car knowing that it takes thousands and thousands to maintain it while you have $30 left in your savings account.
So Is It Really Worth It?
Well, that is a question you have to answer on your own. I can only offer my personal opinion. Solid-state amplifiers and combos have become more developed and much better through years. Their tone and overall quality have improved. They are easier to maintain and usually cheaper. You do not have to worry about the tubes breaking on you during travels. BUT that still definitely does not mean that they are better in tone and quality than tubes. I wish I could say that a $1000 solid-state will give you as many nuances tone and sweetness as a tube amplifier but that is simply not true. So if you are dedicated to the art of music (a.k.a. Obsessed with amps like me) you will, at one point or another, want to own a tube amplifier because it takes your performance, experience, and understanding of the sound to a totally new level. The price, maintenance, upkeep and many other annoying things aside, tube amps are and will stay for a while the best option for the best tone and quality.
Out of the two types of amplifiers in the world, there is one that is thought of as the “superior” one. Whether it is truly so is arguable. There are a lot of cons to solid-state as well as tube amplifiers (if you want to know a bit more about it check out our blog about Tube Vs. Solid-State Amp). I have owned a number of amplifiers throughout my life and the only thing I can say with certainty is that I have favorites in both categories. I have a few solid-state that were pretty cheap but served me loyally for years and I have had expensive tube amps that I could swear by my life. What really mattered in both cases was the application and use of the amps. I mean, if I had the most expensive tube amp just when I started out I probably would not have appreciated it as much as I do now. At the same time if I had my first amp now… boy that would not have been fun. In either way, I hope that this list of the best tune guitar amplifiers was somewhat helpful. If not you can check out our lists of the best solid-state amps as well as best amps under $1000.