No longer the preserve of the well-heeled, valve guitar amps can be surprisingly affordable these days…
There’s no denying that many consider valve guitar amps – or tube if you’re from across the pond – to offer the ‘holy grail of tone’. Their renown is legendary with most pro-level guitar players using valves of some form, the intrinsically dynamic performance of the tubes within make it close to impossible to recreate their performance digitally. Their analog warmth, response and breakup when you crank the gain/volume is desired by guitarists the world over and has been utilised to great effect by all the great guitarists, classic and modern.
It used to be the case that a valve amp would require some serious financial commitment, indebting yourself for years, remortgaging the house, or if you were lucky enough to have one, dipping into that trust fund. But thanks to increased demand for this type of amplifier and modern building techniques, you can now find plenty of options for valve warmth that won’t break the bank.
Here are four great examples for you…
1. Laney CUB10 10-Watt Combo Guitar Amplifier
The Laney CUB10 is a 10-watt, all valve amplifier with a 10-inch speaker. Small enough to take anywhere without but powerful enough to give you valve tone in rehearsal or recording, this amp even has enough grunt to work in a live scenario, though we’d recommend mic-ing it up.
Inside it has 2x6V6GT power amps and 2xECC83s in the preamp stage, giving it plenty of gain headroom that lets you push and push, delivering outstanding power and punch for such a small amplifier. The rear of the amp is constructed from a metal mesh that allows the cone to breath, delivering extra bass-reflex energy into your performances.
2. Blackstar HT-1R MKII Combo Guitar Amplifier
The Blackstar HT-1R MKII is a 1-Watt, all valve beast from Blackstar. Don’t let the diminutive wattage put you off, this amp has some serious punch. There are two clean voices, covering the ‘American’ sound that emphasises low-mids and warmth, paired with the more ‘British’ Class-A amps that has a strong midrange and more aggressive tone.
Paired with these you get a ‘Classic’ drive tone, the well-known British Blackstar overdrive that cleans up really well. Alongside this you get a ‘High Gain’ option that really growls with a tight low end and plenty of punch in the highs. It also features Blackstar’s patented Infinite Shape Feature, allowing you to shape your tone using the full tonal spectrum, rather than being limited by a particular manufacturer’s preference.
3. Orange Micro Terror 20-Watt Guitar Amplifier Head
The Orange Micro Terror takes world renowned sound and places it in a tiny unit, giving oodles of power in an amp head that will fit in your backpack! Forget flight cases in the back of a van, weighing in at less than a kilo you can take this one on the train with you, making it great for guitarists that need great tone but crave portability.
Inside is an ECC/12AX7 in the preamp stage to give that sought-after valve warmth and dynamic response. Great for recording as well, the Micro Terror has enough bark and bite to power an 8 or 16-ohm 4×12 cab and all at an incredible price point.
4. Marshall DSL20CR 20-Watt Combo Guitar Amplifier
Marshall amps are legendary the world over and now you can get the coveted Dual Super Lead tones in a compact and transportable unit. The Marshall DSL20CR is a small yet powerful amplifier does everything from crisp clean to heavy overdrive, all delivered through a Celestion Seventy 80 speaker that accommodates extended frequency ranges giving you control with your chaos.
In the preamp stage you get three ECC83 valves whilst the power amp section has a single ECC83 matched with a pair of EL34 valves. This combination delivers a raucous output that will serve you well in venues and in the recording phase, delivering plenty of powerful punch and all the dynamic range you could ask for.
All of these amplifiers will work well in a variety of scenarios, so whether you’re just getting on the gigging circuit or you’re a seasoned player looking for something to accompany you on tour these amps will deliver pristine tube amp tone without the back breaking weight, nor the bank breaking cost.
Get the Gear
You can shop our full range of valve amplifiers on our website.
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Matt is a multi-instrumentalist, music geek and current Content Creator at Dawsons Music. He composes, records and produces out of his home studio in Manchester as well as playing in two bands, China Moon and Sawbones.