7 Best Budget Tube Amps (2024) – Some Under $500!

Author: Liam Plowman | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

Despite the recent increase in popularity when it comes to digital modeling and VST plugins, there is a special kind of magic that only comes with using a tube amplifier.

The dynamic response, warm tones, and harmonically rich distortion still make them the amplifiers of choice for both guitar enthusiasts and recording professionals alike.

While traditionally tube amps carried with them a pretty hefty price tag, as technology has progressed and the competition with digital amps grew more fierce, companies have taken to producing more stripped-down tube amps designed to accommodate those on smaller budgets.

So if you’ve always wanted to own an authentic tube amp but couldn’t justify spending thousands of dollars and have it be unusably loud at home, you’re in the right place.

I’ve tested every affordable tube amp I could get my hands on and have put together a list of my very best picks. All of which offer fantastic and authentic tube tones, while still remaining affordable to those on a budget.

Best Budget Tube Amps - 7 Affordable Options

1. Bugera V22 Infinium

While Bugera has never quite been able to achieve the same levels of popularity that brands such as Peavey or Marshall have, they have stuck around with their own niche cult following. For the select few who take the time to delve into what Bugera amps have to offer, they’re always left with a positive impression.

While Bugera does have a selection of dedicated high-gain heads, the Bugera V22 Infinium is geared toward those looking for more classic clean and crunch tones. It’s supremely warm and rich, dripping with pleasant-sounding harmonics as you’d expect from the 12AX7 preamp tubes. Tonally it’s extremely pleasant and serves as a great tonal base for you to run your favorite pedals into.

This classic design and tone are very much reflected in its aesthetic. It has a cloth grill and cream front panel that uses those awesome old-school chicken head knobs. This thing looks like it was plucked straight from the ’50s.

But with that being said, there are a few more modern features here that make it more than just a plain combo tube amp.

The Bugera v22 Infinium has a unique technology that Bugera call their “Infinium Tube Life Multiplier Technology”. This is basically a fancy way of saying it will automatically optimize current levels based on whatever tubes you stick in it.

Usually, when replacing tubes you need to think about matching and optimizing them. But with this, you can just stick whatever you want in there and it’s going to handle it for you, you can even mix different tube types! 

They say it will extend the life of the tubes by up to 20 times! While I can’t confirm this during my limited time with the amp, the theory is that it will save you money in the long run as you’ll need to replace the tubes less frequently.

It also has a dual input with a regular and bright mode to give you a little more top end should you need it, and there’s even included footswitch to control the in-built reverb effect and channel.

Oh, and it’s also available in 5W and 55W versions. And the 55W version is only slightly more expensive compared to the 22W, so if the bigger size isn’t an issue, you might as well go for the largest version!


2. Monoprice 611815 15 Watt

While it’s no secret that Monoprice primarily makes gear designed for complete beginners, this little 15-watt combo amp has a special kind of utility that can give you an easy way to integrate a full preamp and power amp into your setup.

But let’s start with the amp itself first, it’s tiny and lightweight making it ideal for travel and practice scenarios. I really like the cream textured tolex, it gives off this premium boutique vibe despite its very fair price tag.

The Monoprice 611815 has all the main features you’d expect from a simple combo amp, there’s a regular 3-band EQ, plus independent gain and volume which I found very helpful as you’d be surprised how loud this little 15-watt amp can go. Now you can drive it hard without it being too loud.

Then there’s a tone knob which to my ears sounded like a low to high mid sweep, you can’t get too granular with it but for what it is there’s no harm in having an additional sculpting tool.

But what’s really cool is that there’s a real spring reverb built into the cabinet which is an incredible addition at this price point.

The main downside of this amp is that it’s pretty plain, being single channel with limited tonal options means it doesn’t have a great deal of utility as your main amplifier.

However, pairing this with your favorite distortion pedal and a nice EQ that allows you to get a bit more surgical with shaping your tone.

The catch is that the speaker rolls off above 10khz, so while it still produces rich and warm tube tones, if you like a lot of top-end presence in your sound, this amp will not be able to facilitate it.


3. Vox AC10C1

Vox has long been the king of that boosted clean British-style sound. With the original AC30 still being every bit as relevant as it was back when it was first released in 1958.

So with this amp Vox has taken the fundamental spirit of the AC30 and shrunk it down into a no-nonsense, small-format monster that’s ideally suited for home practice or recording.

But don’t let its diminutive stature fool you, the British crunch this thing delivers is every bit as moorish as its bigger brothers. From my testing, I believe this would be perfectly adequate for small bar gigs too!

The main thing to note about the Vox AC10C1 is that what you are purchasing is the fundamental tube tone it offers. Modulation effects and other bells and whistles need to come from external gear.

It’s a single-channel amp with a gain, 3-band EQ,  volume control, and a little digital reverb that tries to emulate a spring reverb. The reverb didn’t sound that great and ended up harming the analog sound, I recommend ignoring it and using your favorite reverb pedal with it instead.

Something I noticed about the 3 band EQ controls is that the treble and bass knobs were very responsive. While you might think tonal variation on a single-channel amp with a universal drive knob might be limited, I had zero issues going from a completely glassy clean tone with no noticeable breakup to a really gritted-up rock tone. 

You will not run into issues achieving the sound you want from this amp, but because it’s single channel and all the controls are linked, you have to get there in a very manual way which may become tiring if you use a lot of different tones as you’ll need to set the knobs by hand each time you want a different tone.


4. Blackstar HT Club 40 MkII

While many of the other amps listed here provide a more minimal approach, focusing primarily on delivering the best tube tone with as few bells and whistles as possible to keep the price down. The Blackstar HT Club 40 aims to have a few more features in its arsenal for those who require more diversity and options when dialing in their tone.

At 40 watts the singular 1x12inch Celestion Seventy 80 speaker is monstrously loud and I had no trouble keeping up with an acoustic drum kit.

There are separate clean and overdrive channels so you won't need to mess around changing knobs as much, and on the distortion channel, there’s enough gain to take you from a broken clean all the way to full-on distortion.

One of the most interesting features of the Blackstar HT Club 40 MkII, however, is the ISD (Infinite Shape Feature) which is essentially a multiband EQ that’s controlled at the twist of a single knob with the intention of slowly morphing your sound from more of that mid-heavy British tone to a more scooped and saturated American-style tone as you turn it clockwise.

I found this feature to be very authentic which is great to see as usually tube amps at this price point are locked to a particular kind of voicing.

Then on top of that, you also have a switchable overdrive each of which has 4 individual voices making this one of the most tonally diverse amps on this list.

If that wasn’t enough, there’s also an inbuilt reverb, an emulated line out, and even a USB audio output which is great if you like to record at home but don’t necessarily want to mic up the speaker cabinet.

This amp is ideally suited to those who require more compatibility features and tonal diversity.


5. Fender Pro Junior IV 1x10”

As nice as it is having a bunch of features and toys to play with, certain players just don’t want to deal with it. All they want is to plug in, turn the amp on and have it sound good with minimal fuss.

This is where the Fender Pro Junior IV comes in. It’s a tiny thing weighing just under 23 lbs with a smaller 10” speaker. This does mean that it’s quiet, you won't be able to gig with it and it’s best suited for home playing and practice environments.

If the low volume isn’t a problem for you, then I can say the raw tone that’s output from the 2 x 12AX7 preamp tubes and the 2 x EL84 power amp tubes is fantastic. 

It’s also as simple as an amp can come when it comes to controls. It only has two knobs, a volume control, and a broad tone sweep allowing youtube just plug in and get going in a matter of seconds.

Aesthetically it has a very classy traditional 19560’s tweed look which includes the cloth finish and grille. It’s pretty and blends in with the decor well enough that you should be able to leave this in your living room with minimal backlash from your significant other.

While tonally it’s very simple, like many other single channel amps it does take pedals very well, but it’s worth noting that there is no effects loop so drive and modulation effects can only be run in front of the amp.

This amplifier executes its intended design perfectly, my only criticism would be its price when factoring in the lack of a second channel or individual EQ controls.

If you really love that Fender sound, it’s worth considering, otherwise you can get more bang for your buck elsewhere.


6. Supro Delta King 12

The vintage Supro amplifiers from the 1960s provided a classic British driven sound and were used by a plethora of guitar legends including the likes of Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, and Jimmy Page.

These amplifiers are still highly sought after today, but you’re in for a fierce battle on the used market if you want an original.

The good news is Supro has developed an all-tube 15-watt miniature version that can give you all the grunt and attitude of the original, without the high volume thanks to its small 1x12 Supro speaker.

The core philosophy behind the Supro Delta King 12 is to provide an uncompromising true analog sound. With its authentic real analog spring reverb and additional FET-driven boost and Pigtronix FAT distortions, every tone you get from this thing is going to be as real and authentic as they come.

While the distortions definitely lean towards more of a fuzzy sound that someone looking for a cutting-edge modern distortion might have trouble contending with, if you know and understand the character of the distortion from that era you can rest assured this will leave you satisfied.

But one aspect that surely deserves mentioning is the aesthetics. It has that classic Supro cabinet that looks like it could have come straight from a 60’s live house, the thing looks amazing.

Despite this being an all-analog machine, they’ve still been able to squeeze in a few modern conveniences and quality of life improvements that make it integrate just fine into a modern setup.

They have a line out that allows you to record without needing to mic the speaker up, this is a very welcome addition as the amp is so quiet you will struggle to record the speaker with a microphone without introducing a lot of outside noise.


7. Fender Bassbreaker 007 1x10

If you take any kind of interest in iconic tube amps you probably know all about the Fender Bassbreaker already. But the Bassbreaker 007 puts a unique spin on the traditional formula by giving it a very specific British edge that the original did not have.

This comes in the form of the British EL84 tube which powers a single 10 inch Celestion TEN30 speaker. This gives the overall tonal character of the amp a specific midrange that we commonly associate with all those classic British amps such as Marshall.

The 007, ignoring the obvious homage to a particular British spy, means that this little amp pushes out just 7 watts of power. This might not seem like much if you’ve had previous experience with high-headroom 100w amp heads, but the main benefit of the low wattage comes from the fact you can really crank and saturate the tubes without reaching unbearable noise volume levels.

It’s really satisfying to be able to milk a tube amplifier for everything it's got and really feel the saturation of the tubes while still sitting comfortably in the living room playing at reasonable volume levels.

I love the more contemporary black and sleek look of the amplifier, it still looks classy but the cloth cabinet material in lieu of tolex also gives it a warm homely feel too.

Features wise it’s all pretty standard, you have a 3-band EQ and a separate gain and master control. There’s also a foot-switchable treble boost which is a lot of fun to kick on when you need a little extra juice for lead sections.

Finally, there’s also a convenient line out so you can record this at home without a microphone.


Fleshing Out Your Sound with Pedals

A commonality you will notice among budget-friendly tube amps is a lack of bells and whistles. Tube amps aren’t expensive for the sake of it, if you want 4 channels, effects loops, and independent EQs, it all requires extra components and manufacturing processes to integrate.

So by stripping off all of that extra fat, they can produce an amp that has a fantastic raw tube tone but is perhaps less versatile as the lack of extra channels means you can’t have dedicated rhythm and lead tones.

So how can we get around this limitation and turn your great-sounding, but limited little tube amp into a full-blown guitar rig?

The answer lies in outboard gear, whether it be pedals, rack hardware, or even live post processing thanks to the abundance of line-outs that are available on these amps.

Distortions, Boosts, and Overdrives, Oh My!

When thinking about common applications of muti-channel amps, seldom are people looking to have 2 clean tones or two rhythm tones. Generally, they’re split up into clean, crunch, and distortion.

One of the easiest ways to simulate a multi-channel setup is by using a distortion or boost pedal to increase the gain of the tone. Now this method is purely additive, you can only add additional distortion to the pre-existing amp tone, you can’t take it away. 

This means if you have your raw amp tone set as a light rock crunch, you can kick in an extra distortion pedal to make it a high-gain rhythm, or a lead tone. But what you can’t do is bring it back from a distorted tone to a clean one.

My personal top recommendations for distortion pedals are the legendary MXR Duke of Tone Overdrive will really compliment that analog sound of your tube amp, and it’s both tiny and inexpensive to boot!

If you want something to just add a little extra hair and spice to your sound you cannot go wrong with the iconic Ibanez TS9 Tubescreamer. A tube screamer is, as the name might suggest, designed to make your tubes saturate a little bit more and add some new harmonic qualities to them.

Modulation Effects

Adding distortion effects to a tube amp is a very easy process as you just stick them in front of the amp and press a button when you want to engage them.

Modulation effects such as reverbs, delays, phasers, and such become a little more complicated as depending on whether they are put in front of the amplifier or through the effects loop will produce radically different sounds.

The problem is that the majority of budget tube amps do not have dedicated effects loop. So you may struggle to get the sound you want by putting your favorite reverb into the front input.

As a general rule, time based effects such as delays, chorus, flangers, and reverbs sound less desirable when placed in front of the amp. This is because even if you put them as the very last effect in the chain, they will still pass through your amplifier's preamp and be subject to all the distortion that it would normally add to the tone.

This does have some application for very specific sounds such as post-rock ambient effects, but for general guitar playing it can sound very nasty. So if you’re a big fan of your juicy ambient sounds, it’s best to ensure your amplifier has an effects loop!

Do I REALLY Need Tubes?

An often hotly debated topic is how tubes sound against digital modeling technology. For the longest time, there was no question about it, tubes sounded significantly better than digital emulations which often lacked dynamic response and had a harsh digital top-end fizziness that sounded very unpleasant.

However over the last decade or so with things like Kemper’s modeling technology or more recently Neural DPS’s top-level software engineering being able to so accurately replicate the sound of a tube amplifier, this debate no longer has a clear answer.

From a pure tonal perspective, the answer is no, at this point high-end modeling technology can accurately replicate the sound of a tube amplifier and you will see them commonly used by professional musicians these days.

What tube amps do bring to the table is a different user experience. Digital modelers utilize computer software, which means you’re dealing with menus, screens, and computer code to generate your sound.

Tube amplifiers are much simpler in nature, you’re dealing with real analog equipment that will feel different to use when compared to a digital modeler. This experience of using real analog equipment, plugging in your pedals by hand instead of choosing them through a computer screen can mean a lot to some players.

Ultimately there is no right or wrong choice, it comes down to your preferences as a player and what’s getting you excited about the prospect of picking up your instrument.

Tube Tone without the Price Tag

As companies clamber to stay competitive against the rising tide of VST plugins, we’ve seen more and more budget-friendly pure-tube amplifiers hit the market.

Each one has its own unique quirks and features sp no matter your preference there’s sure to be something out there for you.

I hope you have found the information shared today helpful and best of luck in finding your next amplifier purchase!

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About Liam Plowman

Liam is a British musician who specializes in all things guitar, audio, and gear. He was trained as a guitar technician at the Oxford Guitar Gallery and currently teaches at multiple music schools across the UK. Key skillset includes purchasing unnecessary guitar equipment and accumulating far too many plugins.

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