Top 6 Tube Amplifiers – The Sound That Never Gets Old


Back in the day when guitar amplification was still a new thing, tube amps were the only type you could get. Many have thought that with the evolution of technology, this kind would fade into obscurity. It turns out the complete opposite has happened. Tubessare still considered the best guitar amps out there.

Today we are going to show you our top picks. We have selected some of the most legendary models out there, which definitely deserve your attention. Without further ado, let us get right to it.

6 Best Tube Amplifiers

ImageGuitar Amplifier / RatingSummaryCheck Price
+ - Peavey 6505 Peavey 6505

Total of 4.85/5   4.85 Stars

By far one of the most legendary tube guitar amps ever made.

+ - EVH 5150III 50W EVH 5150III 50W

Total of 4.88/5   4.88 Stars

Eddie Van Halens brain child that packs enormous amounts of pure heat.

+ - Bugera Trirec Bugera Trirec

Total of 4.80/5   4.80 Stars

One of the most surprising tube models to hit the market recently.

+ - Egnater Tweaker Egnater Tweaker

Total of 4.85/5   4.85 Stars

Boutique sound delivered in a package that pretty much has it all.

+ - Peavey 6505 MH Micro Peavey 6505 MH Micro

Total of 4.90/5   4.90 Stars

Smaller version of the legendary 6505 with that same face melting performance.

+ - Blackstar HT-5R Blackstar HT-5R

Total of 4.88/5   4.88 Stars

A very capable compact tube combo for home practice and studio recording.

Peavey 6505

Peavey 6505

Controls:4.8 Stars
Features:4.7 Stars
Performance:5 Stars
Value:4.9 Stars

One in a while we are presented with an amplifier that makes a huge impact on the music industry. In terms of metal, Peavey's 6505 series heads achieved exactly that. Known for a brutal tone that is both powerful and flexible, it didn't take long for this amp to become the very definition of metal sound. What makes it so special isn't just its unique tone, but the amount of control and versatility you get. The one we're looking at here is among the latest iterations of this epic badge. As such, it brings the same performance we all fell in love with, only better. This head is one of those things that keep you coming back to your guitar.

EVH 5150III 50W

EVH 5150III 50W

Controls:4.9 Stars
Features:4.8 Stars
Performance:5 Stars
Value:4.8 Stars

If you have noticed some similarities between the EVH 5150III and Peavey's 6505 series, it's because they are based on the very same design created by Peavey and Eddie Van Halen. EVH series is the branch of the family produced by Eddie. The whole thing is dialed in to match Van Halen's personal preferences, which is essentially what brought the popularity to both models mentioned above. EVH 5150III packs a mean punch with a great selection of tube. You are presented with complete control over your guitar's sound in ways that aren't seen that often. While some might say that EVH series are too niche due to Van Halen's tweaks, that has been proven wrong on many occasions by now.

Bugera Trirec

Bugera Trirec

Controls:4.8 Stars
Features:4.7 Stars
Performance:4.8 Stars
Value:4.9 Stars

To address the elephant in the room, it is no secret that Bugera has had their fair share of issues in the past. Bugera Trirec is a proof of just how fare they have come in rebuilding their reputation. This amplifier is nothing short of impressive as it offers that classic Trirec sound in a package that won't nuke your bank account into oblivion. The performance, build quality and finish is on the level of amps that are in a class higher, which says a lot about Trirec. This is one of those amps that you simply need to try out in order to fully appreciate. The difference in sound between this thing and a Dual Recto is so minute.

Egnater Tweaker

Egnater Tweaker

Controls:4.8 Stars
Features:4.9 Stars
Performance:4.9 Stars
Value:4.8 Stars

Egnater's track record has been full of amplifiers that provide a unique angle on various popular sound profiles. Their Egnater Tweaker is another such amp, but this time we are getting a bit more tamed package. Their aim was to build a classic vintage tube box with plenty of heat where it matters the most. So far, it's fair to say that they achieved that goal. Even though it is a 15 Watt unit, Egnater Tweaker brings a lot of potential both in a studio setting or on stage. The tone, especially the cleans, are something that really stands out. Seeing how hard it is to find a proper vintage tube amplifier these days, Egnater nailed it with this one.

Peavey 6505 MH Micro

Peavey 6505 MH Micro

Controls:4.8 Stars
Features:4.9 Stars
Performance:5 Stars
Value:4.9 Stars

Following the success of Peavey 6505 series and seeing how smaller tube amps have become the next big thing, it was only a matter of time before a smaller version of this legendary amp hit the market. Peavey 6505 MH Micro is exactly what its name says. It brings the very same sound the entire metal community is crazy about, in a package that costs only a fraction of the price of full sized 6505. On top of that, this amp is a perfect choice for studio use, recording or home practice. When they announced 6505 MH Micro, no one really expected to get the exact same thing, only smaller. Needless to say, this thing lives up to the hype.

Blackstar HT-5R

Blackstar HT-5R

Controls:4.9 Stars
Features:4.8 Stars
Performance:4.9 Stars
Value:4.9 Stars

Blackstar was arguably one of the first brands to take the full advantage of the new small tube amp craze that is still going on. Their HT-5R is one of the models which they have created for the occasion. Back when tube amps where still synonymous with large, expensive heads, it took some convincing to show people that a small combo can be every bit as good. Blackstar HT-5R packs a mean tone with great cleans and a nasty overdrive. Even though it only offers some 5 Watts of power, the amount of volume you get makes it good enough for smaller venues and casual gigging. Highly flexible and reliable, this amp is really lives up to its massive reputation.

What Are Tube Amps?

Everyone who has just started getting into guitars starts hearing about them pretty soon. It is usually the more experienced crew that insists how tube amplifiers are the only way to get great guitar sound, and how everyone should have at least one in their collection. What most of them don’t explain is what valve amplifiers are.

To answer this question we have to dig into the nature of amplification in general. The most basic signal chain consists of a guitar, an amplifier and a speaker or set of speakers. The signal coming from the guitar can’t be fed directly into the speakers as it is too weak. An amplifier is a device designed to boost the signal from an instrument level to a speaker level, which is something those massive transducers can read and use to render sound.

Tube amplifiers are called that because they use a set of vacuum tubes to boost the signal and bring it onto speaker level. While this is probably the most simplified and butchered explanation, it is gets the point across. Today, we have other means of boosting the signal, namely by using solid state models. If you are interested in learning more about these, you can check out our guide dedicated to this type..

What Makes Them So Popular?

The whole ‘valve amps are better than solid state’ argument was started back when solid state technology was in its infancy. Back then, tube amps were the golden standard. Truth be told, solid state amps of the day weren’t really all that great. Just like it is the case with every new piece of tech, it usually starts rough and gets better with time. Things are much different today, although that stigma is still present in modern guitar community.

Tube have withstood the test of time and retained their level of popularity for a number of reasons. The most important one being the organic tone. Cleans sound more natural, responsive and imperfect which is what many are looking for. However, it is the overdrive that really puts them in a whole different category.

The phenomenon of overdrive occurs when you push vacuum tubes outside of their normal operating capacity. Cranking power forces them to distort the sound, which is actually how overdrive and distortion came to be in the first place. Replicating that with digital technologies is possible, but you will never get that exact warmth that only a valve amp can provide.

Until recently, having access to all of what we have mentioned above, meant that you had to spend a lot of money. These models are not cheap, or at least that used to be the case. Nowadays, you can get a great small box and enjoy that organic tone.

Things To Consider Before Buying One

As usual, everything has its good and bad sides. With valve amps, it is mostly maintenance but there are few other things that need to be considered as well. Unlike solid state amps which use transistors, vacuum tubes have a life span. Push them too hard and you can damage them beyond repair. Swapping tubes is pretty much an integral part of owning one of these.

What this all leads to is the fact that you need to take care of your gear and it will take care of you. Another issue has a lot to do with how they work. In order to get the best tone, vacuum tubes need to be pushed. This sweet spot is usually around 50% to 60% percent power depending on the exact model and tubes that come with it.

The problem is that sometimes pushing to 50% power means you have to deal with extremely high volumes. The only way to properly deal with this is to get an attenuation device. Fortunately for us, most modern models have built in features that allow you to cut down the power necessary to reach the sweet spot.

What To Look For?

Shopping for a tube amp is a bit different than shopping for more modern types of guitar amplification. It requires a lot of research and is more or less dependent on your budget. The first thing you want to define is what kind of music you plan on playing. Unlike the modern solid state and modeling options, valve amps are capable of only so much. In other words, you get one sound profile and that’s it.

Some of them have awesome cleans while their overdrive channel isn’t that great. Some are the complete opposite while some don’t even have a dirty channel. For example, if you are into metal, chances are you’d want to get that Peavey 6505 we were talking about earlier.

Power is also an important factor. Guitar players who gig often in all kinds of venues, will basically require high wattage. On the other hand, if practicing at home with a studio session here and there is your main intention, a smaller and less powerful option is definitely the way to go. This is why choosing a tube amp can really be hard. What if you want to do all of the things mentioned above? There is definitely some decision making involved when making a decision.

Modding Capabilities

One of the cool things about tube based amplifiers is that you can mod them in a number of ways. Sure, this often times requires some technical expertise, but it is also another way you can bring the tone closer to that ideal sound signature you are looking for. One of the easiest ways to mod a tube amplifier is to swap tubes.

Vacuum tubes are divided into a number of classes and are produced by multiple manufacturers around the world. This is where things get even better. If you were to take two valves of the same class and power rating from two different brands, chances are they wouldn’t sound the same. The only issue here is that swapping out tubes can get real expensive real fast. Remember, an average model has a number of vacuum tubes both in the power stage and the preamp stage. Depending on which model you have, you might have to swap out more than 5-10 tubes.

Taking modding further than this brings us into circuitry and other more technical stuff. If you are interested in that, there is a number of resources online that will give you a great insight.

How To Find A Great Tone

Finding a good tone on a tube amplifier requires a lot of experimentation and depends on the genre of music you are playing. If you are into rock and blues, cranking the volume up and controlling it with the volume knob on your guitar is a great way to start. What you achieve by doing this is that you have access to that sweet spot band at almost any volume. If you were to max out the volume on your guitar and attenuate it on the amplifier, there would be a significant difference in tone when you lowered the volume on the guitar compared to max level.

Playing around with different pickups on the guitar can yield different results. For example, if you prefer to play using your bridge pickup, chances are that adding some additional treble to the sound might prove to be beneficial. At the end of the day, it is all about trying out different things and seeing how your guitar and your amp react to each other.

Conclusion

Valve amps are the still one of the best tools you can have as a guitar player. We live in a time where you no longer have to spend a small fortune to own one, making them even more versatile and practical than ever before. Models listed above are in our opinion great when it comes to value per dollar spent ratio. Each one has a character of its own, and offers a unique sound. No matter which one you choose, it’s almost guaranteed that you won’t be disappointed. It’s still very much worth it to get into tube amplification.


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