Small tube amps are louder than a larger solid-state amp and you’ll find that a small low-wattage tube amp may be at par with a solid-state amp with 5x the wattage.
Quality small tubes of 5 or 10 watts have distinct signal quality and power that matches or surpasses what you can get with a 50-watt solid-state amp. They also tend to produce more distortion at lower volumes making them great for home practicing. When you increase the volume on a tube amp, the sound becomes more compressed and less distorted. This is in contrast to solid-state amps which tend to get progressively more distorted as you turn up the volume.
Most brands are now utilizing attenuators and power reduction switches to be able to manage volume output in small amps. This is a great option to have if you want to be able to use the full potential of your amp without disturbing the peace.
What is considered a small tube amp?
A small amp is typically any combo amplifier that is under 30 watts or a head amplifier that is under 50 watts. They are best suited for those who play at home, in an apartment, or in small venues.
Some of my top picks below allow you to switch from higher wattage to lower wattage depending on your needs. This is a great feature to have if you find yourself playing in larger venues from time to time and need the extra power.
What is a tube amp?
A tube amp is an amplifier that uses vacuum tubes to increase the amplitude or power of a signal. Tubes produce a natural distortion that is sought after by many guitar players. They tend to have a smoother overdrive and sound warmer than their solid-state counterparts.
What is the difference between tube and solid-state amps?
Solid-state amplifiers use transistors instead of vacuum tubes. They are typically more rugged and less fragile than tube amps. They don’t require as much maintenance and are less expensive to produce.
Tube amps tend to have a warmer sound with more natural distortion. They require more maintenance and are more expensive to produce.
What are the benefits of a small tube amp?
There are many benefits to using a small tube amp.
- As we mentioned before, they tend to be louder than solid-state amps and can produce great distortion at lower volumes. This makes them ideal for home practicing.
- They also tend to have a more compressed sound when turned up loud and this can be a great benefit for those who play in small venues.
- Another great benefit of using a small tube amp is that they are typically very lightweight and easy to transport. This makes them ideal for gigging musicians who have to lug their gear around from gig to gig.
Drawbacks of small tube amps;
Small tube amps can have a few drawbacks as well.
- One is that they tend to be more expensive than solid-state amps. This is because they use higher-quality components and materials.
- Another drawback is that they require more maintenance than solid-state amps. This is because the tubes need to be replaced every so often and they can be delicate.
- Finally, small tube amps can be more difficult to find than solid-state amps. This is because they are not as popular and there are not as many manufacturers making them.
Factors to consider when choosing the best small amp;
- Wattage: Pick an amp that matches with the amount of power you’ll need your speaker to produce. If you want a super-small, low-wattage amp for home use, you can get away with a 5-watt combo. If you need something more powerful for gigging, look for an amp with at least 15 watts.
- Tubes: Be sure to check how many tubes your amp uses. The more tubes, the more power and distortion your amp will be able to produce.
- Quality of the tubes: Not all tubes are created equal. Be sure to check out reviews of the tubes that your amp uses to see how they perform. A quality small amp tube will be able to produce a lot of power and distortion without breaking up.
- Power reduction: Many small amps now come with power reduction switches or attenuators. This is a great feature to have if you need to be able to control your volume without affecting the quality of your sound.
- Attenuators and power reduction switch: These features allow you to control the volume of your amp without sacrificing tone or quality. This is great if you need to be able to practice at home without disturbing the
- Effects: If you want to be able to use effects with your amp, make sure it has an effects loop. Small-amp effects loops are typically located on the back of the amp.
- Price: Small tube amps can range in price from around $100 to $2000. Be sure to set a budget before you start shopping so you know what you’re willing to spend.
- Footswitchable channels: If you want to be able to switch between clean and dirty sounds on the fly, look for an amp that has footswitchable channels.
Our top picks for the best small amps in 2022
- Friedman Runt 20 – Overall best
- Vox AC15C1 – Get the best value
- Marshall SV20H Studio Vintage – My personal pick
- Fender ’65 Princeton Reverb
- Fender ’57 Custom Champ- The Best Small Tube Amp Combo)
- Mesa Boogie Mark Five 25
- EVH 5150III LBXII
- Supro Blues King 12
Reviews of the Best small tube amps 2022
In the next section, I have reviewed each of our picks;
#1. Friedman Runt 20
Our overall best small tube amp in this 2022 list is the Friedman Runt 20. This low-wattage amp is a great all-arounder that meets all our key requirements when picking a small amp that will be able to handle any style of music you throw at it.
It’s got 20 watts of power, making it perfect for gigging and rehearsals.
It’s got two channels, so you can switch between clean and dirty sounds on the fly. The clean channel use a single volume knob and a 3-way bright switch to give you a great range of tones to work with. The clean channel will give you vintage crunch sounds and smoky jazz sounds with ease. The dirty channel has two gain controls, so you can dial in the perfect amount of distortion for your needs.
The dirty channel uses a gain and volume knob, as well as a 3-way EQ switch to give you even more control over your sound.
This amp also has an effects loop, so you can use your favorite pedals with it.
It’s got a power reduction switch, so you can lower the volume without affecting the quality of your sound.
It’s got an effects loop, so you can use your favorite pedals with it.
And finally, it’s got foot-switchable channels, so you can easily switch between clean and dirty sounds without taking your hands off your guitar.
The only drawback of this amp is that it’s a bit pricey. But if you’re looking for the best small tube amp on the market, this is the one you want.
You can get it from Sweetwater for about $1500.
- It’s small -Only 20 watts of power
- – Two channels
- – Clean channel has a 3-way bright switch
- – Dirty channel has two gain controls and a 3-way EQ switch
- – Power reduction switch
- – Effects loop
- – Footswitchable channels
- – A bit pricey
#2. Vox AC15C1
The Vox AC15C1 is our pick for the best value small tube amp and has been offering value to musicians since 1958! This 15-watt combo gives you a stunning range of authentic tones in a conveniently portable package without breaking the bank.
This tube amplifier has the classic VOX Top Boost tone. It offers EL84 power tubes and 12AX7 preamp tubes as well as a custom 10″ VX10 speaker made by Celestion. It also has simple but effective Gain, Bass, Treble, Reverb, and Master Volume controls. The output power is 10W RMS and it has an extension and external speaker outputs; By-passable Effect Loop.
As of this posting, it has been rated highly on Amazon, 4.6/5 and 4.9/5 on Reverb.
- – EL84 power tubes
- – 12AX7 preamp tubes
- – Custom 10″ VX10 speaker made by Celestion
- – Simple but effective Gain, Bass, Treble, Reverb, and Master Volume controls.
- – Output power is 10W RMS
- – Has an extension and external speaker outputs
- – Some people might find it too simple
#3. Marshall SV20H Studio Vintage
The third best small tube amp is Marshall SV20H which allows you to switch between higher-wattage of 20W and smaller 5W at the flick of a switch.
Marshall’s Studio Vintage SV20H amplifier gives you the iconic sound of 1959 SLP in your home or studio. With three ECC83 preamp valves and two EL34 power amp valves, this amp accurately recreates the vintage tone that’s been heard on thousands of influential tracks over the years.
Plus, it has a new portable style that’s perfect for taking to gigs. It’s got the same vintage tones you know and love, just redesigned for the modern player.
This all-valve amp accurately recreates the iconic sound heard on thousands of influential tracks from across the years.
With a classic Marshall look and sound, the Marshall SV20H is an amplifier for guitarists who want to play loud but still sound clear. The three-band EQ and presence control give you plenty of tone-shaping options.
And with a choice of 16-, 8-, or 4-ohm outputs, you can make sure your amp works well with any speaker cabinet. The power mode switch lets you go from clean to full on overdrive, while the DI output allows direct connection to recording equipment or PA systems.
- – All valve
- – Three ECC83 preamp valves and two EL34 power amp valves
- – New portable style
- – Classic Marshall look and sound
- – Three-band EQ and presence control
- – Choice of 16-, 8-, or 4-ohm outputs
- – Power mode switch lets you go from clean to full on overdrive
- – DI output allows direct connection to recording equipment or PA systems
- – Some people might find it too expensive
#4. Fender ’65 Princeton Reverb
Our fourth best small amp that is tube-based is the Fender ‘65 Princeton Reverb. For small stage-gigs, you’ll really like this 15-watt all-tube amp with a 1-10″ Jensen C-10R, 8 Ohm, 40 Watt Speaker with Ceramic Magnet.
This Fender ’65 Princeton Reverb is a reissue of the original Princeton Reverb that was introduced in the late 1950s. The Princeton Reverb has long been one of the most popular amps for guitarists and it’s easy to see why! It’s small size makes it ideal for stage use while its clean tone and lush spring reverb are great for studio work as well.
The Fender 65′ offers a stellar tone for small stages and studios.
- – 1-10″ Jensen C-10R, 8 Ohm, 40 Watt Speaker with Ceramic Magnet
- – Small size makes it ideal for stage use
- – Lush spring reverb are great for studio work as well
- – Some people might find it too expensive, as it cost about $1300
- Reverb too much at small amounts on the dail
#5. Fender ’57 Custom Champ
Our fifth best tube amp that meets our criteria as a small amp is a combo amp called the Fender ’57 custom champ. It has been rated very highly indifferent guitar amp retail outlets such as Amazon, Sweetwater, Reverb, and others.
The Fender ’57 Custom Champ amplifier is perfect for guitarists who want the classic Fender sound in a small, portable package. This 5W tube amp has one 12AY7, one 12AX7 (preamp), and one 6V6 (power amp) tube, giving you the power and tone you need to rock out anywhere.
The single-channel design and two inputs (normal, bright) make it easy to find your sound, while the 8″ Weber Special Design speaker with Alnico magnet provides great tone. The cabinet is made of finger-jointed solid pine and is lacquered tweed for a vintage look.
The Fender ‘57 Custom Champ is a hand-wired performer with a wide variety of playable tones from crisp, classic cleans to naturally compressed overdrive that responds remarkably to guitar volume and picking dynamic changes.
A 12AX7 preamp tube matched to a classic 6V6 power amp tube generates this in-demand overdrive. The 5F1 circuit used in the 57 Custom Champ has become legendary for its heightened dynamic response and sweet-sounding tube overdrive when pushed.
- – Perfect for guitarists who want the classic Fender sound in a small, portable package
- – 5W tube amp with one 12AY7, one 12AX7 (preamp), and one 6V6 (power amp) tube
- – Single-channel design and two inputs (normal, bright)
- – 8″ Weber Special Design speaker with Alnico magnet
- – Cabinet is made of finger-jointed solid pine and is lacquered tweed for a vintage look
- – Some people might find it too expensive, as it cost about $1200
Hi there! I am Jack Musau, the founder of this Best Guitar Amp Review site. I am an avid musician with several years using both traditional and electric guitars and created this site to assist others looking to find the best guitar amplifiers in the market today. I also offer private coaching and training on how to use guitars and guitars amps of all kinds. You can reach out to me using my email, firstname.lastname@example.org.