When I am asked to recommend a small great sounding tube amp for a budget price, I always recommend the Epiphone Valve Junior. It sounds great right out of the box, has a very active user community for support, and can be modified easily to get precisely the sound want.
This amp is a unicorn of sorts in the world of music amplification. It sounds great, has minimal controls, and is easily modifiable. There is a huge aftermarket community for the Valve Junior. There are literally hundreds of articles on the web with free tutorials as well as kits that can be purchased to dial in your Valve Jr tube micro amp sound even better. After these mods the tone will rival that of boutique amps costing many times more.
But, it also sounds great right out of the box. This is the best budget tube amp for a novice player that wants to play now, but maybe learn the ins and outs of circuitry and amplification in the future. As a player grows, this amp is one you might always keep around in your studio or bedroom to play on, long after you’ve upgraded to a better amp. It’s THAT good.
Music Radar offers some tips on how to play the Epiphone Valve Junior in this article from 2007:
The way to get the best from this amp is simply to play it wide open and control the tone with the guitar’s volume knob. With a medium output humbucker you get everything from a warm, touch-sensitive clean voice to a juicy classic rock drive sound with all the inherent fireworks of a small amplifier pushed hard.
I’ve played electric guitar since I was in grade school, in multiple bands and as a singer-songwriter. My first amp was a solid state Peavey Stereo Chorus 400. I’ve performed and worked on amps by Fender, Marshall, and Laney. I have a certificate degree in electronics and am intimately familiar with circuitry and sound analysis.
Why would you want a tiny tube amp in the first place? Guitar Player Magazine explains:
A tiny tube amp pushed into saturation typically delivers warm, beautifully compressed distortion, minus the deafening roar that a larger amp produces. And in a recording studio or a practice session— or even on a gig where low levels are mandatory—amps that use one 6V6 or EL84, or even just a 12AX7 dual triode for power, may be the perfect thing to plug into.
There are generally two types of guitar amps:
These are just the amplification circuitry, controls, and jack. They look like this:
And you add a speaker cabinet to them like this:
You can use any cabinet (with a few caveats).
We won’t be reviewing heads and cabinets in this guide. For those, check out our picks for best budget amp head.
Combo amps have the amplification circuitry and the speaker all in one unit. For this guide we’re sticking with combo amps for simplicity, as well as aiming for 5W of power for all our guitar amplifier contenders. There are some smaller (as low as 1W) and higher (as high as 15W), but 5 watts is a good level, because just enough to crank in the studio, and powerful enough that you could put a microphone in front of it club performances in a pinch.
A great tube micro amp will also be reliable, not a maintenance headache. You can usually find this out by asking experts (which I did) as well as perusing reviews, like these on Amazon (which I also did).
The amp should also come stock with a decent sounding tube and circuitry.
We aren’t too worried about how they “look”. Reliability and sound quality are our cardinal attributes we’ll be looking for. Great sound, and low maintenance will keep you playing and recording for years.
I am a big fan of the Epiphone Valve Jr. – it is under $150 new, has simple, easily modifiable circuitry, and still has a massive community of users. If you feel like hunting around, you can sometimes find the Valve Junior on eBay for a reasonable price.
Next, I asked around to some of my guitar playing friends for some recommendations. Some of the top sounding amps were:
There are plenty of micro tube amps that may fit different playing styles.
For years Ibanez has made one of the most important overdrive pedals, the Tube Screamer. Now, Ibanez has integrated the circuitry into this sweet looking home studio amp – the . They call it a “desktop amp”, but it has a surprisingly loud 8” speaker and, of course, great sound. You could play this in a small venue and it would sound fine.
This was a fun guide to write as these micro tube amps are available in various funky shapes, sizes and colors. Interestingly, many of the off-brands in this category are as good or better than some of the well known brands.
If you (or the person for which you’re buying) has slightly different needs, start with our recommendations and adjust from there. For instance, one of our picks, the Blackstar, has a metal version of the amp. So if you are planning on this amp playing a lot of metal, maybe you want to go with that pick.
Regardless, the best way to get great sound from your amp is to experiment, tweak, and play often.
So get your amp and start playing!
|Speaker||8 in. Eminence|
|Dimensions||8.5" W x 14.25" D x 14.75" H|
If I had to recommend a small great sounding tube amp for a budget price, I would choose the Epiphone Valve Junior. It sounds great right out of the box, has a very active user community for support, and can be modified easily to get precisely the sound want.