In this buyer’s guide, we explore the six best tube amps under $500, ensuring you find the perfect match for your musical journey.
For many, many guitar players, few things compare to the warm, rich tones that only a tube amp can deliver. These amplifiers are renowned for their ability to add a touch of vintage magic to your music, elevating the listening experience to new heights. The good news is you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy the mesmerizing sound of a tube amp. These gems combine quality, affordability, and soul-stirring tone.
Over the past year, price increases and tube scarcity have led to an increase in the bottom end of the tube amp market. So, bear in mind, some of these could be a bit higher now – but we edit often to ensure they stay within 20% of $500 or find a used option.
Here are our top picks for the best tube amps under $500 on the market today:
- Vox AC4 4W 1×12-inch Combo: Great for its simplicity
- Blackstar HT-1R MKII: Great for rock and blues
- Marshall Origin 20 – Best for Vintage British Tone
- Laney CUB12R: Great for blues and jazz
- Bugera V5 Infinium: Great for small jams
- Harley Benton TUBE15 / Monoprice Stage Right: Great for versatility
READ MORE: Best Guitar Overdrive Pedals 2023
Vox AC4 4W 1×12-inch Combo Amp: Great for its Simplicity
Why it was worth including: The Vox AC4 is a compact tube amp that delivers the iconic Vox tone, known for its chime and clarity. It’s a versatile amp suitable for various genres, from rock to blues to pop. Its 4W power rating makes it perfect for bedroom practice, recording, and even small gigs. The 1×12-inch speaker configuration ensures a full and rich sound.
Who is it right for? This amp is ideal for players who want the classic Vox tone in a compact and portable format. It’s also suitable for those who need a versatile amp for both practice and performance.
Who is it wrong for? Guitarists who need a louder amp for larger venues or those who prefer a different tonal characteristic might want to explore other options.
Blackstar HT-1R MKII: Great for Rock and Blues
Speakers: 1 x 8” Blackstar Designed
Why it was worth including: The Blackstar HT-1R MKII offers a wide range of tube amp tones, from beautiful cleans to all-out distortion. It has two voices per channel and onboard reverb, providing a lot of scope to achieve the desired sound. It’s compact but delivers a big sound.
Who is it right for? This amp is perfect for blues and rock players who want a variety of tones from clean to overdrive. It’s also suitable for those who need a compact amp without compromising on the tube tone.
Who is it wrong for? Players who prefer larger amps with more power might find the 1W output limiting.
Marshall Origin 20H – Best for Vintage British Tone
Speakers: Not specified (it’s an amp head)
Why it was worth including: So, it’s breaks our budget above, but it’s a legit Marshall at what is now their entry level and for just a few extra dollars, you might find it to be worth the money. I did. The Marshall Origin is a no-frills, single-channel tube amp that delivers the beloved vintage Marshall tone at an affordable price. It’s packed with 3 preamp and two power tubes, offering a warm, all-tube, versatile sound. The separate gain and master controls, presence knob, and 3-band EQ provide ample scope to craft your sound. The Tilt control blends normal and bright tones, and the adjustable power ensures you can maintain your tone at various volumes. It’s a straightforward amp that focuses on delivering quality sound without unnecessary bells and whistles.
Who is it right for? Those who appreciate vintage tube sounds and prefer simplicity in their gear. It’s perfect for players who want to focus on their playing without getting bogged down by too many features.
Who is it wrong for? Players who want built-in effects or multiple channels might find the Marshall Origin limiting.
Laney CUB12R: Great for Blues and Jazz
Speakers: 12” HH Custom Driver
Why it was worth including: Laney is known for producing quality amps, and the CUB12R is no exception. This tube amp offers a warm and rich tone, characteristic of Laney’s signature sound. It’s versatile enough for both practice sessions and small gigs. The amp’s simplicity and focus on pure tone make it a favorite among many guitarists.
Who is it right for? Guitarists looking for a straightforward tube amp with a warm and rich tone. It’s suitable for blues, rock, and even jazz players.
Who is it wrong for? Those who need a lot of built-in effects or advanced features might want to explore other options.
Bugera V5 Infinium: Great for Small Jams
Speakers: 1 x 8″ Turbosound speaker
Why it was worth including: The Bugera V5 Infinium is a compact tube amp that delivers a classic tube sound. It’s designed for those who want a pure and authentic tube tone without breaking the bank. The Infinium technology extends the life of the tubes, ensuring that the amp remains consistent in its performance over time. Its lower wattage makes it perfect for bedroom practice while still being loud enough for jam sessions.
This model has since been discontinued, but we included a link to numerous used models on Reverb below. They can be picked up any day for just north of $200, so don’t let a used amp scare you away. Quite often, shopping used is the best way to get the most bang for your buck.
Who is it right for? Ideal for bedroom guitarists and those who want a pure tube sound for practice and small jam sessions.
Who is it wrong for? Not suitable for those who need a louder amp for gigs or those who want multiple channels and effects.
Harley Benton TUBE15 / Monoprice Stage Right: Great for Versatility
Wattage: 15W (switchable to 1W)
Speakers: 1 x 12” Celestion 8 Ohm
Why it was worth including: This amp offers a good amount of gain and delivers quality tones through a 12” Celestion speaker. It’s straightforward, with a single channel that you can dial gain into, and offers a lot of versatility in terms of tones.
This is another amp you might have to pick up used, but its hard to beat for a first tube amp. See our Reverb link below.
Who is it right for? It’s suitable for players who want a no-nonsense amp with a good range of tones, from clean to heavy. The ability to switch from 15W to 1W makes it versatile for both home use and louder settings.
Who is it wrong for? Those who prefer multi-channel amps or need additional features like foot-switchable channels might want to look elsewhere.
Understanding Tube Configuration
Tube amps use vacuum tubes to amplify your guitar’s signal. The type and number of tubes can significantly affect an amp’s tone and characteristics. The Fender Super Champ X2, for instance, employs a 12AX7 tube in the preamp stage for its smooth and harmonically rich tone, and a pair of 6V6 power tubes known for their sweet, crisp sound.
Combo vs. Head and Cabinet
Combo amps like the Fender Super Champ X2 and the Vox AC4C1-12 have the amplifier and speaker housed in one unit. These are typically more portable and convenient, but they can be limiting in terms of versatility. On the other hand, an amp head like the Blackstar HT-1R MkII paired with a separate cabinet offers more flexibility – you can switch out different cabinets to change your sound.
Wattage and Volume
Don’t be fooled into thinking that a higher wattage amp will significantly outperform a lower wattage one in terms of volume. An amp’s wattage mainly affects its headroom – the level at which it can operate before breaking up into distortion. Lower wattage amps like the Vox AC4C1-12 or the Blackstar HT-1R MkII break up at lower volumes, making them ideal for achieving great distorted tones without excessive volume.
Specific Tonal Characteristics
Each brand and model will bring its own unique tonal characteristics. For example, the Vox AC4C1-12 brings the iconic chime and jangle associated with the British Invasion sounds of the 60s. Meanwhile, the Fender Super Champ X2 leans more towards the American tone, known for its clear, bell-like cleans and smooth overdriven tones.
Budget and Value
With the Monoprice 611815 and Bugera V5 Infinium on our list, it’s clear that you don’t have to break the bank to get a good quality tube amp. However, it’s essential to understand your specific requirements and how much you’re willing to spend to meet them. Often, spending a little more can get you additional features and a better overall sound.
While purists might favor the simplicity of single-channel, few-knob amps like the Bugera V5 Infinium, others might prefer the versatility of amps with multiple channels and built-in effects like the Fender Super Champ X2. The right amp for you will depend on your playing style and needs.
Choosing the right tube amp can have a profound effect on your guitar playing, shaping your sound and inspiring your musical journey. So while the specs and price tags are significant, remember to trust your ears. Listen to these amps if you can, and let your own sense of tone guide you towards the best tube amp under 500 for your needs. Happy playing!
Choosing the Right Tube Amp Under $500 for You
Choosing the best tube amps under $500 can be a daunting task, given the variety of options available. But whether you’re a gigging musician, a bedroom player, or somewhere in between, there’s an affordable tube amp on this list that can cater to your needs. And remember, the best amp for you is one that inspires you to pick up your guitar and play.