Skip to main content

Best Tube Amps 2022: Top Choices from Fender, Marshall, MESA/Boogie and More

Best Tube Amps 2022: Top Choices from Fender, Marshall, MESA/Boogie and More
(Image credit: Future)

In this guide, we’ll be taking a look at some of the best tube amps you can buy today. Tube amps (sometimes referred to as valve amps) have been around for a long time, with early models dating right back to the 1930s. Though transistor amps eventually arrived on the scene, replacing the need for tube technology, many players still preferred the tone and feel of tube amps. The iconic guitar sounds brought to us by the likes of Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Cream, The Rolling Stones and Queen all came courtesy of the tube amplifier. 

In recent years, transistor and digital modeling amps have improved dramatically. However, tube amps offer a particular sound and responsiveness that’s incredibly hard to mimic. They add natural, harmonic distortion that’s very musical, and compress in a way that enables you to play with more dynamics and expression. 

There’s a wide range on the market right now, all with different features and tonal characteristics – so, what are the best tube amps?

Best tube amps: Guitar Player's choice

Choosing the very best tube amp is a really tough decision. The world of tube amps, although all based around the same technology, is truly diverse - so saying something is specifically 'the best' will always be a case of personal taste. Still - we'd like to help you pinpoint the coolest and 'best' tube amps available on the market right now.

In our opinion, the best tube amp for those who're happy to spend some serious cash is the Fender '64 Custom Princeton Reverb. It's a fully hand-wired recreation of a mid-'60s Princeton - and will provide you with one of the most pleasing clean tones you'll ever hear. The drive tones are killer too - and ooze vintage Fender vibes.

If you're operating on a small budget but all-tube tone is a must, then the Blackstar HT-1R MKII is an amp we'd insist you pick up. For the price of a fancy pedal, you can get two channels of warm tube glow, with switchable voices and a USB recording output. It's feature-heavy, but won't lighten your pockets too much.

The best mid-level option for us is the PRS MT 15 Mark Tremonti signature amp. It kicks out a pretty giggable 15 watts of delightful cleans and filthy drive tones, comes in a neat, compact 'lunchbox' form and possesses the capability of switching down to 7 watts for those times when you don't need the volume. It also lights up, too - blue for clean, and red for gain.

Best tube amps: Product guide

Best tube amps: Fender ’64 Custom Princeton Reverb

(Image credit: Fender)

1. Fender ’64 Custom Princeton Reverb

The best tube amp for full-bodied cleans and classic American drive

Specifications

Price: $2,299/£1,855
Output: 12W
Preamp tubes: 1 x 12AT7, 3 x 12AX7
Power amp tubes: 2 x 6V6, 1 x 5AR4 rectifier
Number of channels: 1
Speaker: 1 x 10” Jensen Vintage Alnico P10R
Weight: 32lbs/14.5kg

Reasons to buy

+
Classic Fender cleans
+
Lush tremolo and tube-driven reverb
+
Great mid-level overdrive 

Reasons to avoid

-
You have to really push the volume for breakup 

The hand-wired ’64 Custom Princeton Reverb delivers all the dynamics and nuances that mid-’60s Princetons were famed for. Incredibly responsive, it offers full-bodied, chimey cleans and, when pushed, classic American drive. It’s warm with a smooth mid-range and clear, sparkling highs, all of which are delivered by a 10” Jensen Vintage Alnico P10R. The tube-driven spring reverb and on-board tremolo are both foot-switchable and add a layer of versatility to an already incredible amp.

Two 6V6 tubes in the power amp section help to deliver an output of 12W, which will be loud enough for small gigs but not so loud that you won’t be able to gain incredible tones at home. There’s a good amount of clean headroom, though when playing live you’ll likely mic it up. Once you crank the volume to around halfway, you’ll start noticing some really sweet and musical breakup; keep going and you’ll get some really nice natural compression, too. The ’64 Custom Princeton Reverb is one of the most usable tube amps out there, and works really well as a pedal platform.

Best tube amps: Blackstar HT-1R MKII combo

(Image credit: Blackstar)

2. Blackstar HT-1R MKII Combo

The best tube amp for home practice

Specifications

Launch price: $319/£269
Output: 1W
Pre-amp tubes: 1x 12AX7
Power amp tubes: 1x 12AU7
Number of channels: 2
Speaker: 1x 8” (head and cab configuration available)
Weight: 12.34 lbs / 5.5kg

Reasons to buy

+
Lightweight and very portable
+
USB output allows for silent recording
+
1 watt is the perfect practice level 

Reasons to avoid

-
8” speaker can sound boxy 

Blackstar’s small all-tube ‘HT’ series of amps put the company on the map soon after their release. We’re now on the MKII series of these amps - and they’ve got even better.

The HT-1R MKII adds a satisfying digital reverb into the mix, and along with the introduction of ‘voice’ switches on both channels - offering you a tasteful switch between UK and US tones - the versatility of the HT-1R has been improved which can only mean good things for us guitarists. With the HT-1R MKII being a small 1 watt, 1x8” combo for just a dash over 300 bucks, you’d expect to compromise on features - but that’s not the case here. This is potentially the best home practice amp for those who want tubes on a budget - and the level of compromise here is, like the amp itself, very small. 

The only downside we can see with this amp is that the 8” speaker can sometimes lack the low-end presence we’d like to hear. To be honest though, it’s a small, all-tube practice amp for the price of a good overdrive pedal, so realistically there are no complaints here. It’s even got a USB output to enable silent home recording, as does the head version. 

Best tube amps: PRS MT 15 head

(Image credit: PRS)

3. PRS MT 15 Mark Tremonti

Take it to the (Alter) bridge

Specifications

Launch price: $749/£539
Output: 15W
Pre-amp tubes: 6x JJ EC83S
Power amp tubes: 2x JJ 6L6GCMS
Number of channels: 2
Speaker: N/A (matching cab available)
Weight: 17.8lbs / 8.1kg

Reasons to buy

+
Looks stunning
+
Sounds huge for such a little amp
+
Durable padded cover included 

Reasons to avoid

-
A 30 or 50 watt version would be amazing 

PRS, while being mostly well-known for their electric guitars, has produced some impressive amplifiers over the years. Their Archon, Sonzera and J-Mod amps have graced stages all over the world, so it’s no surprise that Mark Tremonti - one of PRS’ longest-standing artists - has entrusted his tone with them in the form of the MT 15. 

As you’ve probably guessed, the MT 15 is the 15 watt Mark Tremonti signature amp, and as such, it produces some huge tones despite its small lunchbox-style design. With two channels - one clean, and one overdrive - the MT 15 offers the versatility of amps considerably more expensive than itself, while still remaining simple, fun and easy to operate. 

Now, 15 all-tube watts is a lot of power, and in most practice situations it can be a bit too much. Thankfully, PRS has introduced a low power circuit, producing 7W to make your practice sessions that little bit more manageable. This also allows you to drive the tubes to breakup, without driving your landlord to eviction or your neighbors to noise complaints. 

Best tube amps: MESA/Boogie Mark Five 35

(Image credit: MESA/Boogie)

4. MESA/Boogie Mark Five 35

One of the best modern tube amps, with incredible clean and high-gain tones

Specifications

Price: $2,049/£1,899
Output: 35W, switchable down to 10W
Preamp tubes: 6 x 12AX7
Power amp tubes: 4 x EL84
Number of channels: 2
Speaker: 1 x 12” Celestion Custom 90
Weight: 44lbs/20kg

Reasons to buy

+
Wide range of incredible tones
+
Power reduction
+
Three voicings per channel 

Reasons to avoid

-
It’s pricey 

Seeking a premium, high-end, hand-wired tube amp? The MESA/Boogie Mark Five 35 ticks all the right boxes. Built to celebrate 35 years of the company’s flagship range, it takes some of the most popular features from previous models and repurposes them into an impressive new package. 

It’s a 35W combo, with four EL84 power tubes, a 12” Celestion Custom 90 speaker and the ability to switch down to 25W or 10W, should you require a different feel and quicker breakup. This adjustable output means that the amp is just as well suited to home use as it is to stage or studio work. With two channels, each offering independent preamp stages and three modes, you can mine an almost unlimited array of sounds. Navigate from sweet clean tones, to a classic rock mid-range bite, to smooth saturation, all via an intuitive and well-thought-out control panel. 

Add in the classic MESA five-band EQ panel, tube-driven reverb and a cabinet-simulated DI output, and you have one of the best tube amps for anyone seeking world-class tones.

Best tube amps: Milkman Sound Dairy Air

(Image credit: Milkman Sound)

5. Milkman Sound Dairy Air

The amp equivalent of a glass of warm milk

Specifications

Launch price: $1,999/£1,999
Output: 30W
Power amp tubes: 2 x 6V6 or 6L6
Number of channels: 1 (two inputs)
Speaker: N/A (matching cab available)
Weight: 15lbs / 6.8kg

Reasons to buy

+
You’ll shed a tear over the clean tone
+
Handwired with the highest quality components 
+
30 watts is a perfect amount of power

Reasons to avoid

-
No reverb or tremolo 

Milkman Sound is all about getting you the best sounding, high headroom clean amps money can buy. Famous initially for its ‘Half and Half’ amps - combining solid state and tube technology while keeping the milk puns alive - the Dairy Air takes a slightly different tack. 

The all-tube setup in the Dairy Air delivers a warm, smooth tone, exceptional both on its own and with a pedalboard in tow - thanks to the 30W of power the Dairy Air kicks out. You’ve got the choice of 6L6 or 6V6 power tubes, the former upping the wattage to nearly 40W and the latter knocking it down to roughly 20W. Obviously, the amp’s characteristics will change as a result, but we found this to be a fairly pleasant ‘human’ touch.

Milkman amplifiers are all handmade with incredibly high quality all-American components - a welcome offering in a time where everyone seems to be cutting costs. The amp chassis itself is aluminum, and custom designed to fit those top-end components in the Dairy Air perfectly. As a result of the small footprint, you do miss out on in-built Tremolo and Reverb, but the portability and weight of the Dairy Air make up for this easily. 

Best tube amps: Orange Rockerverb 50 MkIII Head

(Image credit: Orange )

6. Orange Rockerverb 50 MkIII Head

One of the most versatile tube amps on the market

Specifications

Price: $1,999/£1,499
Output: 50W, switchable down to 25W
Preamp tubes: 4 x 12AX7, 2 x 12AT7
Power amp tubes: 2 x EL34
Number of channels: 2
Speaker: N/A
Weight: 46lbs/20.75kg

Reasons to buy

+
Incredibly versatile
+
Perfect for the studio and the stage
+
Foot-switchable attenuator   

Reasons to avoid

-
You won’t get the most out of it at home 

The Orange Rockerverb is considerably more versatile than its name suggests. The MkIII update saw chief designer Ade Emsley add more chime to the clean channel, while retaining all the vintage warmth that helped make the older Rockerverbs so popular with a range of players. 

If you’re looking for a giggable tube amp that offers quality clean and distorted tones in equal measure, then this could well be the solution. The dirty channel offers everything from bluesy crunch to outright high-gain metal tones. 

Paired with a nice cab, this 50W head will absolutely sing. Plus, its foot-switchable attenuator and 25W half-power mode mean that you can really drive the EL34s in the power section at a more manageable volume, making this a great all-rounder for shows, rehearsals and studio sessions. 

Best tube amps: Marshall SV20C

(Image credit: Marshall )

7. Marshall SV20C

The best tube amp for dishing out classic rock crunch

Specifications

Price: $1,599/£759
Output: 20W, switchable down to 5W
Preamp tubes: 2 x 12AX7, 1 x 12AX7 phase splitter
Power amp tubes: 2 x EL34
Number of channels: 2
Speaker: 1 x 10” Celestion V-type
Weight: 35lbs/15.9kg

Reasons to buy

+
Classic tones at lower levels
+
That overdrive is hard to beat
+
True to the originals  

Reasons to avoid

-
Even 5W is pretty loud 

The Marshall Plexis of the 1960s shaped the sound of rock music as we know it. The likes of Pete Townshend, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton all relied on Marshall amps for their genre-defining tone, so why shouldn’t you? 

The Marshall SV20C is a scaled-down, all-in-one combo version of the manufacturer’s iconic 100W Super Lead Model 1959, reducing the output to a more manageable 20W. This is perfect for gigs and band rehearsals; however, you’ll also have the option to run it at 5W, meaning you can crank it up at home too – it’ll still be loud, but your neighbors are more likely to forgive you!

It’s laid out in the same way as the originals, with two inputs for each channel, and delivers the same classic, mid-range bite that helped shape the Marshall sound. Whether you’re looking for old-school clean tones or want to crank up the volume for that definitive classic rock crunch, this tube amp will deliver the goods.

Best tube amps: Vox AC30C2X

(Image credit: Vox )

8. Vox AC30C2X

A rock ’n’ roll mainstay, serving up chimey cleans and classic overdriven tones

Specifications

Price: $1,399/£1,223
Output: 30W
Preamp tubes: 3 x 12AX7
Power amp tubes: 4 x EL84
Number of channels: 2
Speaker: 2 x 12” Celestion Blue
Weight: 73lbs/33kg

Reasons to buy

+
Chimey cleans and smooth overdrive
+
On-board reverb and tremolo 

Reasons to avoid

-
It’s heavy! 

A legendary amp, the AC-30 has been the go-to choice for many iconic artists – including Brian May, Rory Gallagher and The Beatles. It’s equipped with four EL84 power amp tubes that offer a beautiful, chimey top end, as well as a nice, bitey mid-range when pushed. The Celestion Blue speakers are fairly true to the original ’60s models and give you an open and present sound. 

Two channels serve up a variety of tonal options (with the Top Boost channel giving you control over the treble and bass frequencies). Whether you want to play jangly, British-invasion-style tunes, or driving classic rock, this tube amp can cover it.

The on-board tremolo and reverb also sound incredible, and if you need to move some more air at a show, you can hook up an external speaker. Alternatively, if you want something a little more suited to playing at home, check out the AC-15.

Best tube amps: Fender Blues Junior Lacquered Tweed

(Image credit: Fender)

9. Fender Blues Junior Lacquered Tweed

A versatile, sweet-sounding, practical tube amp – what’s not to love?

Specifications

Price: $699/£669
Output: 15W
Preamp tubes: 3 x 12AX7
Power amp tubes: 2 x EL84
Number of channels: 1 (with Fat switch)
Speaker: 1 x 12" Jensen C12N
Weight: 31lbs/14kg

Reasons to buy

+
Versatile
+
Sounds good at low volumes, too
+
Lovely reverb 

Reasons to avoid

-
Not enough headroom for some players

For years now, the Fender Blues Junior series has given guitarists quality tube amp tones at a great price point. With 15W of output at your disposal, you’ll probably get away with performing smaller shows with it, but it’s the perfect amp for playing at home. 

It delivers lush and warm cleans with a sparkling top end, as well as some classic-sounding overdriven tones. Stick a boost in front of it to really work the preamp section, or, for heavier tones, run it clean and use your favorite distortion pedal. 

Whatever you choose to do with it, the amp’s 12” Jensen C12N speaker boasts the necessary quality to make your guitar work sing.

Best tube amps: Marshall SC20H

(Image credit: Marshall )

10. Marshall SC20H

The legendary rock and old-school metal icon gets a 20W makeover

Specifications

Price: $1,399/£699
Output: 20W, switchable down to 5W
Preamp tubes: 3 x 12AX7
Power amp tubes: 2 x EL34
Number of channels: 1
Speaker: N/A
Weight: 21lbs/9.4kg

Reasons to buy

+
Legendary rock tones 
+
Power reduction helps drive the tubes 

Reasons to avoid

-
Not the most versatile amp 

A few years ago, the Marshall JCM800 – one of the most pivotal amps in rock history – was reimagined as part of the Studio series. The SC20H is a 20W version of that classic tube head, which was used by nearly every rock and metal guitarist of the ’80s and early ’90s. 

You can run it clean, add a touch of drive and push the preamp with pedals, or dial up both the master and pre-amp volumes to get all the tubes singing. As with all the models in the Marshall Studio series, the SC20H benefits from a power reduction option that enables you to run it at 5W and get the most out of it at more sensible volumes. Plus it’s got a DI output.

More often than not, the classics are classic for a reason, and this 20W take on the JCM800 is one of the best tube amps for rock and metal that you can get. 

Best tube amps: Blackstar JJN-20R MkII

(Image credit: Blackstar)

11. Blackstar JJN-20R MkII

Unleash your inner blues power with a signature amp from one of the world’s hottest players

Specifications

Price: $729/£699
Output: 20W, switchable down to 2W
Preamp tubes: 3 x 12AX7
Power amp tubes: 2 x EL84
Number of channels: 2
Speaker: 1 x 12” Celestion G12T-75
Weight: 35lbs/15.9kg

Reasons to buy

+
Covers a lot of ground
+
Giggable, but will sound great at home too
+
Impressive feature set  

Reasons to avoid

-
Green finish not for everyone 

This artist-signature tube amp comes courtesy of Blackstar and chicken-pickin’ bluesman Jared James Nichols. It’s an incredibly versatile and feature-laden amp – fitted with EL84 power amp tubes – that will cover you for a wide range of applications and playing styles.

It’s a two-channel amp; however, each channel has two voices – a British one and an American-style offering. You can use the first channel to dial in everything from warm, rounded cleans to on-the-edge breakup sounds, while your dirty channel offers everything from subtle blues crunch to higher-gain saturation. 

Not only does it sound great, it’s highly practical too. You can switch it from a giggable 20W to 2W, which will enable you to really work those tubes while retaining sensible at-home volumes. There’s also a USB output for recording directly, and a speaker-emulated DI that’ll come in handy for gigging and recording.

Best tube amps: Buying advice

Close-up of tubes in an Orange amp

(Image credit: Future)

How to choose the best tube amp for you 

Before buying yourself a tube amp, it's worth asking yourself a few questions. You'll need to know where you're going to be using your tube amp, first of all. The criteria you need to meet for a gigging amp is different to that of a practice amp - and very few amps will do both to the same level of quality.

Next you'll need to think about the amount of sounds you use. If you only ever play clean, then an amp with a great gain channel is probably wasted on you, and vice versa. Do you rely on effects pedals for your overdrive and distorted tones? If so, then you'll need to know which amps meet your needs.

You'll then want to figure out the type of amp sound you want, and which type of amp will suit your tone. USA-made amp brands like Fender and Mesa/Boogie will produce a different type of tone than a Marshall or Vox. 

It sounds like a complex bunch of questions, but it's important to make sure your tube amp is perfect for you. A good amp can make any guitar sound amazing and boost your playing confidence through the roof.

What makes a tube amp good for gigging?

If you're going to be using your tube amp onstage, then you'll want to look for something with a good amount of power. That way, you’ll have no problems being heard. 

Tube heads can be good if you play regular shows, as many venues will already have a cab, meaning you can turn up with just your guitar and your head - but the inconsistency of some venues' gear means that sometimes a tube combo can be the preferred option. Having your own amp and speaker in the same box means that your tone has the potential to be more consistent - and this can be a life-saver for us guitarists.

What makes a tube amp good for practice?

If you want a tube amp to use solely at home, then it’s best to get something with a lower wattage so that you can drive the tubes while keeping the volume at a steady level. Many modern tube amps now feature power reduction, which will enable you to run them at a higher wattage when you need the volume, then switch them down for home practice. 

It's worth thinking about the physical space you want your practice amp to take up. Something like the Fender '64 Custom Princeton Reverb or the Blackstar HT-1R MKII is perfect for those with not much space - and as a rule, the smaller the wattage of a tube amp is the smaller the amp itself will be.

Fender Princeton amp on pink background

(Image credit: Future)

How much power does my tube amp need?

This is one of the most important things to think about when buying a tube amp. It all depends on how loud you need to be, and how big the gigs you're playing are. If you're just using your tube amp for home practice, then you really don't need any more than 15 watts - and if your 15 watt amp has a reduced power mode, then that's even better. 

For those who play gigs, you should be looking at amps with between 15 and 50 watts. 15 watts will start to get distorted at lower volume than the 50 watt alternative, but that volume will still likely be enough for most smaller shows. 50 watt tube amps are brilliant for people who want a lot of clean headroom (which means the tone stays clean at higher volumes) or get all of their sounds from pedals. 

If you're in the 50+ watt world then you'll likely be playing huge venues - most of which you'll never be able to turn your amp up properly in. At this power level, it's unlikely you'll get the most from your tube amp, so make sure to do some serious research before buying that hundred watt beast you've been dreaming of.

How do tubes affect the tone of my tube amp?

Of course, the tone of a tube amp is important. If you want a similar sound to some of your favorite players, check out what sort of amps they use. Tube amps can sound quite different depending on the brand; for example, many Marshalls have an aggressive, mid-heavy sound that’s commonly associated with British artists, whereas Fender amps are often more present in the lows and highs, and represent more of an American sound.