Finding the best budget tube amps was difficult, but we managed to get a list together. Let’s take a look at just how far you can stretch your dollar for killer tone!
The Best Budget Tube Amps: What Makes Tube Amps So Special?
Buying your first tube amp can be a confusing journey. If you have been using a practice amp for a long time, and you’re ready to take the next step, then you have quite a few options. Some people take a modern route with amp modelers like the Helix hooked up to an FRFR speaker. Some people prefer solid state amps over tube amps because of the price difference. But if you want a tube amp to start playing gigs, sticker shock is going to hit you hard.
Finding the best budget tube amps for this year was no small feat. For starters, prices went up across the board for guitar gear in 2022. But at the same time, there have been some real contenders when it comes to budget amps and these have given tube amps a run for their money…literally! Some of these cheap amps, like the BOSS Katana, can go head-to-head with a tube amp in my opinion.
So why use a tube amp these days if digital modeling has come so far? Well, there are quite a few reasons when it comes to the argument for using tube amps. Even though new technology is great, there is a reason people still prefer tube amps over modelers. Just a few examples to mention…
- More Responsive To Dynamics
- Use Of Pedals
- Warmer Tone
- Clearer Sound
- Easy To Customize
- Tradition/Classic Sounds
- Lots Of Options For Tones
- They Are Fun!
When it comes to dynamic response, tube amps do something really cool. If you turn up the gain on a tube amp and strum really hard, the sound will be distorted. Conversely, if you play with a lighter touch the sound will be less distorted. Before guitar pedals were popular, this is exactly how guitarists changed dynamics during a song. Along with using the guitar’s volume control, this is how guitarists controlled their volume back in the day. Eddie Van Halen was notorious for using this technique.
Along with having excellent dynamic response, tube amps generally have a “warmer” tone. Even the best budget tube amps that we will be talking about on this list will have a “warmer” tone. Tube amps definitely have an unmistakable “bloom” and fullness, and this is the main feature that modeling amps try to replicate. They tend to have a very clean and clear sound, which is another thing that amp sims and modelers try to recreate.
Some people also really like pedals and building pedalboards. Pedals are a great way to really fine tune your tone, and make it unique. Guitarists like to find vintage pedals and try to recreate some classic tones. Hell, some guitar players even collect guitar pedals of all kinds. But some people just like to have physical knobs to turn while tweaking their tones, something digital stuff doesn’t offer. Pedals sometimes feature sounds that the best effects units can’t offer, especially high-end boutique pedals.
You can also customize your tube amp in a bunch of different ways. You can change out the speaker and get a totally different sound out of your amp. You can also switch out the preamp tubes to modify the gain stages of your amp. While changing out the tubes, you can bias the tubes to run harder/softer, and this changes the gain stages of your amp also! If you run the bias high, your amp will be louder and it will “break up” quicker.
All in all, tube amps are the traditional choice for a lot of guitarists. The whole world of guitars is based on legacy. What do I mean by that? What does history and legacy have to do with guitar amps? Modern amps aren’t automatically “better” than old tube amps?
What I am trying to say is that we all still play instruments/amps that were designed decades ago. Something like a Fender or a Gibson are both guitar companies that still make guitars to historical specs. You can buy a Fender that is built exactly the same as they were built in the 1950’s. Guitar is about heritage for a lot of players, and tried and true methods are sometimes the best! As the old saying goes: “If it’s not broke, why fix it?”
The Best Budget Amps: Our List Parameters
Like all of our “Best Of” lists, we have to set some rules for the list. Especially when it comes to “budget” guitar gear. We want to make sure that these choices all make sense being together as a group. This can be challenging, because there are tons of companies out there that make guitar amps. I also only wanted to test amplifiers that are readily available to everyone, that way these will always be available no matter when you stumble upon this list. Each of the best budget tube amps must be:
- Under $1200
- A Combo Amp (We will do stacks next time)
- Loud Enough For Gigs
- A Good Amp For Recording
- Have An FX Loop (For Pedals)
- Takes Pedals Well (No Frequency Disturbance)
- At least 2 Channels
- Beginner Friendly
- Can Cover Any Genre
Basically, I want this to be the perfect “first tube amp” for most players, even beginners.
I know that you’re probably thinking that $1200 is a lot of money for an amp, especially if you’re a beginner. But tube amps are much more expensive than their solid state cousins, and anything under $2000 is going to be in “budget” territory. But you have to think about it as an investment that you will have for a long time. There are tube amps from 50 years ago that still work as well as the day they were made! Tube amps are made to last.
I decided to choose combo amps for the “best budget tube amps” so you will have everything you need to get playing. There is also the budget factor involved. Buying a head and a cabinet separately is sometimes much more expensive than buying a combo amp. We will do a big article one day about stacks, amp heads, and speaker cabs. But that article will not have a budget!
I also wanted the choices to be portable and easy to take to the studio, or a gig. I think a combo amp is going to be much easier to take to the show, or to the studio. But this in itself is part of the parameters. The amp has to be great for the studio and the stage!
Having an FX loop is really important if you’re going to use pedals to craft your tone. Some pedals sound fine going straight into the front of the amp into the input jack. But other pedals like delay, chorus, phase, and reverb sound better through the FX loop. So I feel like having the FX loop is an absolute must for the best budget tube amps.
Finally, having two channels is going to be optimal for most guitar players. This way you can have a dedicated clean channel, as well as a dirty/distorted tone. This is important if you’re going to be gigging with the amp. Single channel tube amps definitely exist, but it takes experience to get them to work well. I want these amps to be friendly to the first time buyer or beginner.
Out of these parameters, I found six different amps that fit the bill. These are loosely in order, as the list gets closer to the #1 choice, the amps get better and better. All six amps will be the exact right fit for different types of guitarists. Technically, these could all be used for any type of music but some are a better fit than others. The devil is in the details with these choices!
Since this may be your first tube amp, I also wanted these amps to be able to cover a lot of sonic territory. You never know what kind of gig you might land, and your amp needs to be able to play multiple genres of music. In fact, some guitarists are in more than one band at a time! These amps will all have a myriad of tones for you to choose from, no matter what style you need for the gig. With all that said…
Let’s take a look at the best budget tube amps!
#6 Bugera V22 Infinium 1X12
Bugera is an interesting company, and it makes some of the best budget tube amps on the planet. These amps may look a little familiar to you, and if they do, that is no mistake. Bugera likes to “take inspiration” from other amp designs without totally copying them. Sometimes these amps can be really close in specs and features, as we saw when we compared Bugera to Peavey.
The Bugera V22 may have a classic styling aesthetically, but it can roar if you want it to. Both channels have some killer tones, and dialing it all in has never been easier. This is going to be the most affordable amp on the list. But just because it’s affordable doesn’t mean it’s lacking in features:
- Power: 22W (tube)
- Tubes: three 12AX7 (preamp); two EL84 (power amp)
- Two channels
- Two inputs: Normal, Bright
- Speaker: 1×12″
- Controls: 3-band EQ, presence, volume, gain, reverb, master, Amazing Mode triode/pentode switch
- Built-in reverb
- Impedance: 4, 8, 16 ohms
- Infinium technology, which extends the life of power tubes up to 20 times
- Heavy-duty footswitch included
You may be worried about it being 22 watts if you are used to digital amps or solid state. But 22 watts will be plenty loud enough for you to gig with when it comes to tube amps. This thing can get super loud if you need it to, and it sounds great cranked up!
The 12AX7 tubes in the preamp section lends itself to a ton of versatility when it comes to tone. You can get some really sweet clean tones with this amp, and at high volumes the Bugera V22 has enough headroom to stay clean with minimal break up. That being said, the second channel also has a good bit of high gain and it sounds amazing.
The high gain channel has quite a mid-scooped sound that is perfect for Metal. You would never expect a budget tube amp to chug like the Bugera does, but this is why it’s one of the best budget tube amps. I tried throwing an overdrive in front of the amp on the high gain channel, and this added some midrange and highs to the second channel. If you dial back the gain, you have an excellent AC/DC style crunch.
The built in reverb is pretty good, and it is on the bright side to my ears. The speaker is a “Turbo Sound”, which is a company that has been around for a long time, but it’s not as well know as a company like Celestion. If there is a weak point in this amp, it’s the speaker. But this can be replaced later down the road if you don’t like the speaker.
The included footswitch does what it’s supposed to, so no complaints there. Bugera uses something called the Infinium System that is supposed to save the life of your tubes. I have never had a Bugera long enough to test this feature, but the claim is pretty big:
“Years in the making, our Infinium Tube Life Multiplier Technology can extend the usable lifespan of your amplifier’ expensive power tubes by up to 20 times, saving you huge money and ensuring the integrity of your tone. How? This revolutionary circuit automatically and continuously monitors the performance of each output tube, and dynamically drives it towards the target operating point, for an evenly distributed load.“Bugera.com
To address the elephant in the room, Bugera has had it’s share of QC issues over the years. But for the last few years, I haven’t heard anything negative about these amps. It seems like the quality has been stepped up significantly lately. If you go back to 2012 or so, you might see some horror stories. But these days, Bugera is doing just fine. So do not fear, dearest reader, Bugera has cleaned up it’s act and the quality is better than ever. Otherwise, I would not include it in the best budget tube amps.
All in all, the Bugera V22 is one of the best budget tube amps because of the price, and how easy it is to dial in a great tone. I think the best way to describe it would be “A Hot-Rodded VOX AC30”. It has a lot of the qualities of a VOX amplifier, but it has way more gain on tap. It takes pedals really well, and is an amazing bargain all around.
Dont let the classic look fool you! The Bugera V22 can be as pretty, or downright dirty as you want it to be. With 3 12AX7 tubes in the preamp section, and 2 EL34's in the power section, this thing can shake the walls! The V22 takes pedals really well, and comes with a footswitch for channel hopping.
#5 Marshall DSL20CR
Marshall Is pretty much synonymous with Rock N’ Roll music. Everyone from Slash to Jimi Hendrix have been known to use Marshall amps exclusively. When it comes to the best budget tube amps, the Marshall DSL Series checks all of the boxes. This is going to be a moderately priced amp on our list, but that doesn’t mean that this amp is wimpy by any means. The Marshall DSL20 will tear the paint off your walls, and melt the faces of your audience!
- Power: 20W (tube)
- Tubes: three 12AX7 (preamp); two EL34 (power amp)
- Two Channels
- Single input
- Speaker: 1×12 Celestion Seventy-80
- Built-in reverb
- Emulated output for recording
- Resonance and Master Volume controls
If you have always wanted some solid Marshall tones, without having to lug around a giant stack, then this is the amp for you! Marshall must have taken a look at it’s amplifier range and noticed that an “in between” range of amplifiers was missing, and the older DSL amps had there problems. The DSL20 is a solid little beast that is full of tones, making it one of the best budget tube amps on the market.
The clean channel is nice and crispy, and while Marshall isn’t really known for it’s clean channels, it sounds really great with reverb. I really wanted to turn on the dirty channel and crank it up, but I actually found myself enjoying the clean channel a lot. The DSL20 is ready for pedals, and with a little delay added to the built-in reverb, it was heavenly!
The Ultra Gain channel is a very familiar Marshall sound. It’s not quite as sweet as a JCM Series amp, but this distortion really sings. I used my Schecter Hellraiser to test this amp, with the EMG Pickups 57/66 Set. Let me tell you, with the tone rolled off on the guitar you get a smooth, almost vocal tone. This makes your solos really sound incredible, and just adds oodles of sustain. If you add pedals into the mix, the sound only gets better!
The original DSL Series amps were great, but this 2015 redesign by Marshall made these amps very bass heavy while also dialing out the fizz. These sound so much more full than the original DSL Series. You have more EQ options, and these new versions have built in power attenuation. But the power modes don’t just cut off the tubes, they lower the output. So even in the bedroom, you can get great tone.
The emulated output is really useful if you plan on doing any home recording. Usually you get some really terrible fizzy tones out of these outputs, but Marshall worked out some wizardry with the emulated output jack. The DSL20 sounds fantastic through a recording interface. It sounds very good in a mix, and sounds good with headphones as well. The cabinet emulation is based on a Marshall 1960 cabinet, and it shows.
If you play Rock or Metal, this is one of the best budget tube amps you can buy. If you plan on playing gigs with this little terror, you have so many tonal options. You also get a legit Celestion speaker that can handle anything you throw at it. You can crank this thing up and absolutely shine on stage.
The next generation of the Marshall DSL series has arrived! These DSL amps are laden with Marshall tone, features and functionality for the novice, as well as pros performing on the world’s biggest stages. The redesigned DSL Series has smoother tones and loads of high gain on tap. ready for the stage and the studio!
#4 Blackstar HT40 1X12
If the other two amps seemed to be lacking in power and features, then the Blackstar HT40 is going to be right up your alley. This is one of the best budget tube amps money can buy. While I have spent a couple days testing all of the amps on this list, I have years of experience with this one. The Blackstar HT40 was my main gigging amp for years, and it was so versatile that it made it through three different bands that I played in!
Blackstar is a company that was formed by former Marshall employees, so the HT40 can certainly do those kinds of sounds. Blackstar gear is always featured as “one of the best budget tube amps”. What may come as a surprise though, is the amount of other sounds it can pull off. The HT40 is a real chameleon when it comes to tone, and it’s packed with features:
- 40-watt all-tube 1 x 12″ guitar combo amplifier
- 6L6 power tubes supply higher headroom and a flatter, stiffer midrange character
- 12″ Celestion Seventy-80 speaker delivers classic punch, warmth, and bite
- 2 channels with voicing switches deliver tonal flexibility
- Coax sparkling highs and lucid lows from the boutique-style clean channel
- Overdrive channel supplies enough gain for Blues, Classic Rock, and Hard Rock
- Infinite Shape Feature (ISF) dials in everything from American to British high-gain tones
- Speaker-emulated output for recording or running straight to a PA
- Digital reverb with Dark/Bright switch gives you access to the reverb style you crave
- Effects loop with Loop Level switch makes integrating your pedalboard and other effects easy
- USB audio output
The Blackstar HT40 was originally my #1 choice for the best budget tube amp. I used this amp for years, and I fell in love with the tones that it produces. I even gigged this amp without a pedalboard, and only used the two channels on the amp. So this would have been the best of the best, if I had not tried three other amps yesterday.
The clean channel has two different voices to choose from. One has tons of headroom and feels a lot like a Fender amp, while the other voicing is more like a Marshall or VOX that breaks up with volume. I prefer both channels for different reasons, but the ultra-clean voicing is probably my favorite.
The distortion channel works the same way: with two different voicings. The first voicing is more like a overdriven tone than distortion, and this works great for Blues and Classic Rock tones. The second voice is all out METAL. I used the second voice to record a good bit, and it works great with boosted midrange. On the other hand, the scooped midrange sounds are great too. It depends on how you like your Metal!
The ISF knob that is on every Blackstar amp, does some subtle tone shifting between British and American sounds. Personally, I like mine all the way to the British side. But this tone shaping feature can totally change the way the tubes and amplifier reacts. You really have to play with it to decide which tone you prefer. Or you can set it in the middle and call it a day.
Again we have lots of features on the back of the amp. You have an emulated output for recording, a dedicated FX loop, a dark/bright switch for reverb, loop level, and even a USB output. The reverb switch was something I messed with a lot, since the bright reverb hangs on to solos better, while the dark setting sounds better for big chords.
For players that need a plethora of different sounds for their band, the Blackstar HT40 is the amp for you. It can cover so much ground sonically that you can play with a Blues band one night, and a Progressive Metal band the next night. With the voicing switches, you technically have 4 totally different channels. The Celestion speaker is excellent, and I wish this was the #1 choice for the best budget tube amps.
But then I played three more amps on “Demo day”. Believe me, I love the Blackstar, and it will always hold a special place in my cold, black heart. It belongs with the best budget tube amps of all time. But these next amps are even better than the HT40!
Since the launch in 2010, HT Venue has become one of the world’s best-selling valve amp lines.
HT Venue MkII takes this award-winning line and elevates it to a new level of professional performance, and adds every major enhancement that the market has requested.
Blackstar’s engineering team started by benchmarking the finest vintage and new valve amps on the planet (including our own), some of which cost five times the price of HT Venue. The mission was then “simple”: improve on these sonic references in the way Blackstar is renowned for, and combine the sounds into a cohesive, creative product. The Cleans are more flexible, and the two overdrives do every sound imaginable!
#3 Orange Amplifiers Rocker 32
I have never been a big fan of Orange amps for whatever reason. It always seemed like they just couldn’t get the tone I was looking for with Orange. So when I took the Orange Rocker into the demo room, I was not thinking that it would make the list of best budget tube amps for me. But I can admit when I am wrong…and boy was I wrong.
Orange has a rich history around the world when it comes to premium Rock/Metal amplifiers. Tons of famous people use Orange amps, and they are mostly see these days being used by Doom Metal bands. The Rocker 32 is special in a lot of ways when it comes to features, and we have a lot to talk about:
- 30W (tube)
- Attenuation: 30W, 15W, 7.5W
- Four 12AX7, two 12AT7 (preamp); four EL84 (power amp)
- Two channels
- Single input
- Speaker: 2×10 Voice of the World Gold Label
- Controls: volume (channel 1); 3-band EQ, gain, bass, volume (channel 2); power switch
- Built-in tube-buffered mono/stereo FX loop
Let’s talk about how weird this amp is, and break down what makes it so cool. Orange has made one of the best budget tube amps, but in a unique way. Orange designed the Rocker 32 to be a great platform for your pedalboard. It has two channels that are fully usable by themselves, and the dirty channel sounds really great. But that is not at all that Orange had in mind when this amp was on the creation workbench.
Getting over the basics really quick, this amp is plenty loud to gig with. It has two channels: Natural and Dirty. Both channels have a shared EQ section, which works out perfectly for what this amp does. Both channels also sound better the louder you crank the amp. With the basics out of the way, this amp is going to be for a very specific type of guitarist. Let me explain:
When I was taking this amp into the demo room, I was advised to take a stereo delay, reverb, fuzz, and overdrive into the demo room with me. With every amp I tried, I took a couple of pedals with me, so it was weird that these specific pedals were suggested. Once I got the amp in the room, I could tell why this advice was given to me. This amp is great by itself, but it is a pedal lover’s dream.
You may have noticed up there on the list of features that this amp has two 10” speakers, which is a little weird. But as I sat there in the demo room setting up all of my pedals, it all made sense when I saw the tube buffered stereo FX loop. Now I know exactly why I was advised to take the stereo delay pedal with me!
The dual 10” speakers will work in stereo, and this sounds absolutely amazing when I was dialing in a high gain lead tone: fuzz/delay/reverb. I had the master volume cranked about halfway in full power mode, and it filled the demo room with sound. It really caught me off guard with how neat the stereo effect sounds, but I knew this was going on the best budget tube amps list. So I went back out and grabbed a stereo chorus pedal too. Same results…it sounded totally insane!
The stereo effect sounds amazing when you are sitting in front of it, but if you were to use this amp for a gig…the audience would be in trouble due to face melting risk. If you mic up this amp with two microphones, one for each speaker, you should then tell the sound guy to pan the mics left and right. The result would be a huge “ping pong” stereo sound from each side of the stage!
While the Orange Rocker 32 is definitely one of the best budget tube amps, I think this amp is really for the guitarist that loves to play with pedals. If you have never heard what stereo speakers on a guitar amp sounds like, then you are in for a real treat. It will blow your damn socks off.
The Rocker 32 can be run just like a "normal" combo—straight in or with standard mono effects loop connections. Even before you start experimenting, you’ll soon realize that this is not just another bland, soulless pedal platform, but a serious amplifier in its own right. The Orange mojo abundance and its 2×10 configuration means a full and fat delivery whilst keeping the footprint small. There’s even some clever circuitry under the hood to give the amp a wider spread of stereo sound.
#2 EVH 5150III Iconic Series
Note: This amp has not been released yet, but I got to try out an affiliate demo model. You can preorder one today!
So the 5150 Iconic has not been released yet, so I was hesitant to put it on the list. Luckily, it is shipping soon, in February 2022. So by the time you read this article, it might even been available! With that out of the way, let’s talk about how amazing this amp is, and the legacy that Eddie Van Halen left us.
The 5150 is absolutely one of the industry standards when it comes to Heavy Metal amps, and usually makes the best budget tube amps lists. The 5150 is known for being the pinnacle of high gain amps, and any Metal album you have heard in the last 30 years has probably featured this amp on the recording. It has an unmistakable sound, and this new Iconic Series is supposed to encapsulate everything that made this amp a legend.
The 5150 Iconic is designed to nail EVH’s famous “Brown Sound”. It does this very well, but it actually has some tricks up it’s sleeve that I was not expecting at all. This 40 watt combo shook the demo room, and I honestly thought that this would be the #1 pick for the best budget tube amps. It has every feature a Metal guitarist could possibly want:
- 40-watt 1×12 combo
- Cabinet is constructed from MDF with a plywood baffle
- Two channels: Green and Red; Green channel has overdrive button to go from clean to increased gain, while the Red channel has a burn button to go from lead to burn
- Dual Gain, Noise Gate (Ch 2), Shared Low, Mid, High EQ, Dual Volume, Shared Boost and Global Reverb, Resonance and Presence controls
- Power level switch, standby switch, power switch and ground lift located on rear panel
- Selectable impedance (4, 8 or 16 ohms)
- Two JJ ECC83S preamp tubes and two JJ 6L6 power tubes
- One 12″ EVH Celestion Custom speaker
- Dual parallel speaker output jacks
- Effects loop
- XLR DI out with speaker simulation
- Two-button footswitch included
- Available in Black or Ivory with black cloth front grille and silver and black 5150 and EVH logo badges
This amp was made as a tribute to EVH, and all of the innovation that he provided us with as guitarists. It can be easy to just write this amp off as “another version of the 5150”. But there have been a few changes when it comes to the tones that this amp provides, and I mean this in a good way! This 5150 has some tones you would never expect, even in the best budget tube amps.
Let’s start with the Green channel, which can either be clean or dirty. This is not a new feature, but EVH (The Company) has done something new to the clean channel. I’m not 100% sure what the designers did to make this clean channel so full and bright, but it sounds great. This was always a problem with the 5150 for me. The original Peavey versions had a very dry and sterile clean tone. This one sounds improved ten fold, and it totally caught me off-guard.
The Red channel is where you find the classic distortion sound that we all know and love. This is the sound that has always landed the 5150 on the list of best budget tube amps, and for good reason. Both of the channel voices are familiar, but it seems like they are more midrange focused than before. It’s like EVH took everything great about the 5150, and just made it high def. They took one of the most copied sounds in guitar, and made it even better.
You still have the built in noise gate, which will come in handy and let you remove that pedal from your rig. There is control for the boost, which is also standard for this amp. But you also have a global resonance, reverb, and presence controls that affect all channels. These are “set it and forget it” knobs for most people, I would imagine.
There is now a great XLR out jack that has speaker emulated output for recording, or going straight into the PA at a gig. The speaker itself is a Celestion custom, and this speaker pushes some serious air. It handles bass response in a really tight manner. So much so, that I don’t think you need an overdrive in front of this amp to tighten up the sound. The improvements are huge, and very noticeable.
If you play Hard Rock and Metal, then this might be the only amp you will ever need. This is not only one of the best budget tube amps, it’s the legacy of a musical genius. Eddie will always be remembered for his out of this world playing, and his distinctly remarkable tone. But let’s not forget, he was also a pioneer in amp technology.
The new 5150 Iconic was all set to be my #1 pick for the best budget tube amps list. But there was another amp lurking in the corner of our affiliate store, that I had never tried before, and actually never even considered it…
*If you want this amp, preorder it NOW. There will be a limited first batch, and we may not see more before late spring.*
The EVH 5150 Iconic 40-watt 1x12 combo amplifier captures classic Eddie Van Halen tone like never before. A must-have for any Van Halen aficionado, this 40-watt, two-channel amp features a 1x12" custom-voiced Celestion EVH speaker designed to Eddie’s specifications. Powered by two 6L6 output tubes and two 12AX7 JJ preamp tubes, the closed-back EVH Iconic combo amp is built to deliver unmistakable Van Halen sound. Boost control over both Clean and Gain channels, along with Overdrive and Burn switches, help to shape the EVH tube tone into something entirely original.
#1 PRS Archon 50
This is it, we made it to the #1 pick for the best budget tube amps. When you think of PRS, you never think of “budget”. While PRS SE Guitars definitely have some great offerings when it comes to budget gear, PRS is mostly know for it’s high-end guitars. PRS amplifiers are usually pretty expensive as well. Take a look at the price of the John Mayer amp! You may faint from seeing that many digits in a price number, but that’s where the Archon fills a gap.
The PRS Archon is an outlier, though. This amp absolutely blew me away with the versatile tones that you can dial in. But something else about this amp is also impressive, and it’s something I usually never talk about when it comes to amps…this amplifier is sexy. I never much cared for the aesthetics of an amp, but the Archon looks amazing. However it also looks deceptively spartan when it comes to features. But there are lots of features to talk about when it comes to the winner of the best budget tube amps.
- 50 Watts
- All-tube design
- 3-band EQ and dedicated bright switches
- Master volume for each channel
- Celestion V-Type 12-inch Speaker
- Dedicated FX Loop
- Global Presence and Depth Controls
- Uses ECC83s preamp tubes and 6CA7 power tubes
- Adjustable Bias
- Footswitch Included
I honestly have no idea where to start with this amp. I really want to say “This is the best of the best budget tube amps” and leave it at that. I guess we can start with how clean and modern this amp looks. It is just beautiful to look at, mesmerizing even. The front panel looks really clean, and almost sparse. But don’t let that lack of knobs and lights scare you, this thing is a monster in a tuxedo.
When I said in the parameters that I wanted the best budget tube amps to be able to cover all genres, I think it’s obvious that some on this list will be better suited to one genre than others. But the PRS Archon can honestly do any genre you can think of. It can cover so much sonic territory, and I had to spend a lot of time with this amp to really understand it. I used my Schecter Nick Johnston, and my Schecter Hellraiser for all of these amps, including this one. I also used a Private Stock PRS Custom 22.
I used these guitars because they are all polar opposites, and between the three I could really tell how versatile an amp can be. The PRS Archon did not let me down with any of these guitars, and the dynamic response this amp has to using your volume control on the guitar is uncanny. The same can be said for playing dynamics like touch, and attack.
The really odd thing about the PRS Archon is the tubes involved: ECC83 for the preamp and then 6CA7 power tubes. These are tubes I have never used before, and I am completely unfamiliar. This gives it a totally unique tone on both channels, and I have never heard anything like it. Well, that’s not entirely true… I have heard these tones on lots of different amps, but never on just one single amp. I will try to explain this inexplicable phenomenon the best I can!
The clean channel combines the best Fender tones with the best VOX sounds in a way that sounds familiar, yet still fresh and different. Without the bright switch, the clean channel has a deep Fender quality, and it is just beautiful. If you hit the bright switch, you suddenly get a VOX-like chime-like tone. If the amp just did these sounds, it would still be one of the best budget tube amps. But…
The distortion channel is really something to behold. It also blends sounds of the best amps and to my ears it sounds like a mix of a 5150, and a Marshall. But that explanation isn’t really fair, either. It somehow sounds like both, and neither. The distortion channel has it’s own dedicated bright switch, that gives the channel two distinct flavors. Without the bright switch engaged, it chugs with the best of them.
The distortion channel really opens up with the bright switch. With lower gain crunch sounds, it has a smooth overdriven tone that begs for single coil Blues riffs. But then you crank up the gain with a humbucker, and it’s a totally different animal that pushes serious air through the speakers. You have tight bass response, while retaining midrange punch that allows every string to be heard clearly, even with complex chords.
The dynamic response is what really makes this amp intriguing when it comes to the distortion channel. You can turn down the volume on your guitar, and have an almost clean tone without loss of volume. When you crank the volume back up, even with a high gain setting, the amp still retains dynamic response to how hard or soft you play. It’s like the amp… breathes.
When it comes to the best budget tube amps, the FX loop was an important parameter. The Archon takes pedals so well, and my reverbs and delays have never sounded more clean. The sound is just so pristine that I was taken aback. I tried a high gain tone with an overdrive in front of the amp to tighten it up, but it honestly doesn’t need it. That’s right kids, you can ditch the Tube Screamer in front of the amp with the Archon. It just doesn’t need it, at all.
I can sit here and gush about this amp all day, but the best advice I can give you is to either buy it, or go out and try it. Some things, you just can’t describe. I hate to say something cliché like “This amp is a magical unicorn”. But to be perfectly honest with you, it is kind of is magical. This is the leader of the best budget tube amps for a reason. It really is amazing, and if I were gigging professionally again, this would be my amp. All day.
I might buy one anyway.
PRS is always ahead of the game when it comes to design, so I shouldn’t be surprised. But I would have never thought I would be talking about the best budget tube amps, and even considering PRS. For the money, you absolutely cannot go wrong with this amp. If you are serious about tone, this is one to check out.
he PRS Archon 50-Watt Combo Amp is a commanding 2-channel amp with versatile overdriven tones and sparkling cleans with plenty of headroom. Designed with five gain stages before the master volume, the Archon’s lead channel is voiced to cover everything from Classic Rock to Metal with full, lush distortion.
The Best Budget Tube Amps: Finishing Up…
Getting your first tube amp is a big deal for a lot of reasons. It’s probably the first time you have ever dropped a large amount of money on guitar gear. It’s also a milestone for the guitarist who has tried all of the digital options, and those just don’t cut it for you. For some of you, this is going to be the first step to finding your unique voice and tone. There are plenty of tube amps out there to try, these are just the best budget tube amps that I could try out.
Your perfect amp might not be on this list, and that’s ok. There may be another option out there that will fit you like a glove. Part of the fun of playing guitar, is trying out new gear and techniques to shape your tone. The whole idea is to create the sounds that you hear in your head. The sounds that you want to hear.
So I hope the best budget tube amps listed here are helpful in your journey to the perfect tone. There are a lot of options out there to choose from, and these were just the best budget tube amps in my opinion. There has never been a better time to be a guitarist! No matter what you use to make your guitar sing, the point is to be original and have as much fun as you possibly can while you’re doing it.
Are Tube Amps Better Than Digital?
This depends on the player. Lots of players prefer tube amps, while others prefer something like the Helix. Tube amps can be expensive, but some of the best budget tube amps work just fine for most players. It’s all up to you as a guitarist which suits you best.
Are Tube Amps Hard to Maintain?
Not really. Tubes can last for years if you keep your amp free from dust and debris. Some of the best budget tube amps have a fixed bias, meaning you just swap out a bad tube and you’re done! Other tube amps may need to be taken to a tech to be worked on for safety reasons.
Why Are Tube Amps Expensive?
Even the best budget tube amps can carry a high price. This is because there are more components to deal with. Tube amps are constructed with much different parts than digital amps. Some tube amps are even hand-wired to ensure perfection.
Are Cheaper Tube Amps Bad?
Some of the best budget tube amps are used by pros all over the world! What matters in the end, is how you use the amp and shape your tone.
Do I Need A Tube Amp To Play In A band?
Not at all. Many players prefer amps like the BOSS Katana to play shows. You can use whatever gives you the sound you need. Tube Amp or Digital, all that matters is “Can you make it sound good?”