Valves are no longer the preserve of the well-heeled – here are three great tube practice amps to prove it
Once upon a time all guitar amps were valve amps. Then, as electronics advanced, components became smaller, lighter and more reliable, so guitarists were happier, right? Well, not quite… The problem was that the amp tone just wasn’t the same. It didn’t have the same warmth, the richness of valve overdrive was gone, and the dynamic ‘break-up’ of tone just didn’t happen.
As a result, for most pro guitarists, a tube amp is still the first choice for tone and performance. The slightly archaic nature of the technology involved means that tube amps have been an expensive option for years.
However, the demand for valve tone has meant that manufacturers have found ways and means of producing amps at lower prices, but still with that magical tube tone. Nowadays, there are a huge array of tube practice amps with classic valve tone, and affordable prices.
Here are three great examples.
Though Blackstar is one of the ‘youngest’ amp manufacturers around, the UK brand has already made a huge splash. This is no small part due to excellent products like the HT-1R.
The diminutive 1-watt combo is based around a single ECC83 and a single ECC82 valve. The 8-speaker provides a surprisingly throaty roar, and a two-channel design means great clean tones and overdriven tones, and if you need a bigger sound, there’s an 8-ohm output for an additional cabinet.
Fender Champ X2
The Fender Champ x2 is a great ‘best of both worlds’ amp. At its heart is a valve amp, which powers the clean channel. This is backed by Fender’s FUSE modelling technology. This provides 16 different amp model types and 16 effects, which can be tweaked by connecting to a host Mac or PC via FUSE software.
In addition, the USB connection allows the amp to be used as a recording interface. This affordable 15-watt amp packs a mighty punch, and plenty of classic Fender tone.
The Orange Micro Terror isn’t a valve amp in the same sense as those above. It employs a valve pre-amp channel (1 x 12AX7) matched to a 20W solid-state power amp, all crammed into a ludicrously small Orange head. The result is an amp with Orange character and tone, but in a portable box with a tiny price.
You’ll need a cab to go with it (it has an 8-ohm output), but thankfully Orange makes one specifically for the amp. It sound’s incredibly good through something bigger, though… Conveniently it has a headphone output, too.
There’s no substitute for real valve tone, and the amps above are testament to that. At these prices, though, it’s no longer just the pros that get to enjoy the advantages of glowing tubes.
You can find a full range of tube amps in our online store here.
Joe is a contributor for the Dawsons Music blog. Specialising in product reviews and crafting content to help and inspire musicians of all musical backgrounds.