Best Tube Amps Under $500 – 2020 Buyer’s Guide

Thalia
| Last Updated: December 29, 2020

You don’t have to spend an arm and a leg on a high-quality amp anymore, but you will have to take some time trying to decide which amp you will go with.

From the type to the brand to the size, this can all be quite difficult. First, you have to decide on the type, and one of the best options is a tube amp.

In this guide, we will take a look at some of the best tube amps under $500, as well as some information that should help you make your decision.

Comparison Chart of the Best Tube Amps Under $500

IMAGEPRODUCT
  • Built with high-quality EL84 power tubes
  • Easy-to-use layout and control interface for effects
  • Crafted with a by-passable FX loop for clean sound
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  • Best amp for Telecaster for the money
  • Crafted with an equalizer section with controls for treble and bass
  • Constructed with a high-grade reverb capability with dedicated controls
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  • Constructed with a USB output for digital recording capability
  • Built with a dedicated voicing knob with 15+ amp types, as well as 15 effects
  • Fitted with a TAP tempo control for customization of delay time for enhanced sound crafting
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  • Constructed with a boost mode that is controlled via footswitch
  • Fitted with multiple Ohm speaker jacks for enhanced performance
  • Crafted to offer a wide range of tonal options for better sound crafting capability
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Can You Find a Quality Tube Amp for Under $500?

A hefty price tag does not always mean that you are getting a quality amp, just like a budget-friendly one doesn’t always mean you are sacrificing quality. In fact, the $500 range is a good range to use to look for quality tube amps. 

The price can be affected by many things, and, as long as you have good tubes and speakers, the rest is all just icing on the cake. We have laid out some great options below that all fit in this category and that offer superior performance. 

We have also listed multiple brands that come with decades of good reputations. 

How to Choose a Tube Amp

How do you choose what amp works best for you? There are a lot of features and functions you can look at, but the ones below will give you perfect results every time. Let's take a look at the features that dictate the specs and designs of some of the best tube amps on the market:

Power

When looking at different factors, you will want to pay close attention to the power rating. This is a system of rating that tells you how loud of a volume the amplifier is capable of reaching. The higher the number, the higher the volume capacity. 

Speaker

This is another factor that will dictate how loud your amp can be, but it also plays a role in clarity as well. A small speaker is good for emphasizing the mids, whereas the larger speakers cover all of the tonal spectrum and some even enhance the bass.

Effects

Looking for an amp that comes preloaded with built-in effects can help you effectively customize your sound. Most will come with reverb, as this tends to help texturize the tone. That is fine, but many models come with more effects capabilities, and that will add versatility.

Quick Take: 
Top 3 Picks

Here are the best tube amps under $500:

  1. Vox AC10C1
  2. Bugera T5
  3. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B006Y2FUW6?&tag=gearsavvy-20

Review of the Best Tube Amps Under $500

With all of that knowledge at the ready, it is time to dive deep into our carefully researched and crafted list of the best tube amps for under $500.

Best Overall: 
Vox AC10C1

VOX AC10C1 Guitar Amplifier Head

PROS

  • Brings a dynamic and versatile tonal capability
  • Aesthetically pleasing with sleek and classic design
  • Potential for break up at low volumes is completely possible
  • Offers performance-enhancing, classic Vox tones
  • Designed to be lightweight and compact for improved portability

CONS

  • Problems with the digital reverb being a little weak
  • Doesn’t play well with fuzz, which limits its effects versatility

What Recent Buyers Report

This amp has an amazing speaker output and many great features and functionalities. At least, that is what most recent buyers say about this unit. Some do have a problem with the material the amp is built of, stating that it is not very durable, but that still doesn’t stop them from making it their go-to amp.

Why it Stands Out to Us

When you are buying a tube amp, you want the best quality tubes you can get, and that is what stands out to us the most with this unit. The inclusion of EL84 tubes will give you a superior tone and an even better lifecycle. Without having to replace your tubes frequently, you will save money and frustration.

Who Will Use This Most

This amp would serve any guitarist well, but when looking at all the features and functions of the build, the users that would experience the most elevated performance from this amp would be studio guitarists. Such musicians often want to lay down power rhythm tracks, and with the tonal quality of this amp, they will easily be able to do exactly that.

Bottom Line

This amp has a lot going for it, and that is why we named it our runner-up. It is built with a control interface that is easy to set up and use; along with that, you can just forgo the FX and stay clean (or use pedals). This allows for elevated usability and versatility of sound crafting that stands head and shoulders above most of its competition.

Best for the Money:
Bugera T5

BUGERA T5 5-Watt Cage-Style Amplifier Head with Infinium Tube Life Multiplier and Reverb Multi Colored, (T5INFINIUM)

PROS

  • Value for a very budget-friendly price
  • Built with a preamp design that goes from clean to high gain
  • Comes with a built-in tube life indicator for enhanced maintenance capability
  • Designed with a power attenuator for the ability to control volume as needed
  • Offers excellent responsiveness and an iconic tube warmth to your tone

CONS

  • Not powerful enough for gigs in medium to small venues
  • Some issues with quality control that may affect the durability

What Recent Buyers Report

When you look at the reviews written by guitarists that have recently added this amp to their kit, you will hear things like "amazing breakup capability" and "plays well with pedals". They seem to love all of that and so much more, but one thing that they do seem to find an issue with is the lowering of the volume when utilizing the wattage switch. Other than that, they give this amp a big thumbs up.

Why it Stands Out to Us

What can we say except that, for the very affordable price tag, you get a lot of great functionality and sound craftability? The built-in preamp is one of the most important pieces that can give you all this versatility. It can easily go from clean to high gain without breaking a sweat.

Who Will Use This Most

This is a great addition to any home studio or practice room. It is lightweight and compact, which means it will not take up a huge footprint in any given space. The amp offers customizable wattage so that you can tailor the volume, and that will give you lots of room to play.

Bottom Line

When you are looking for a great sounding amp on a tight budget, you want to make sure you get the most bang for your buck. With the Bugera T5, you do just that. The amount of control you have over effects like reverb, treble, and bass is amazing. With this customizability, you will be able to create the sound you want within a budget you can afford.

Fender Super Champ X2 15-Watt 1x10-Inch Guitar Combo Amp

PROS

  • Crafted with high-grade materials for enhanced durability
  • Awesome value offered by this amp for an affordable price
  • Designed to be lightweight and compact for improved portability
  • Built with a hybrid tube power that gives it more versatility of use
  • Capable of being used with FUSE software, which increases tonal abilities

CONS

  • Lack of a footswitch
  • Problems with speaker vibration

What Recent Buyers Report

Talking to guitarists who have recently purchased this amp, you will hear a lot of love for it. They seem to appreciate the clean tones and the affordable price. There are, of course, things that they feel the amp lacks, like a midrange EQ control, but that small drawback doesn’t seem to deter them from telling everyone that this amp is amazing.

Why it Stands Out to Us

There is so much that stands out with this Fender amp that it was a shoo-in for this list. Everything from the onboard effect’s versatility to the power from the dual tubes to the ability for digital modeling, this amp simply has a lot to offer.

Who Will Use This Most

This amp is great for any guitarist, but the ones that seem to get the most from it are the studio guitarists. The versatility of effects and multiple amps voicing knobs makes this perfect for the guitarist who wants to bounce between music genres.

Bottom Line

This unit is fitted with many great features and functions that elevate it above its peers. Not only does it come with the reputable name of Fender, but the ability to record digitally. This means the guitarist that chooses this amp as a chosen piece of their kit will be well on their way to the sound they have been striving for.

VHT AV-SP1-6 Special 6 Combo Amplifier

PROS

  • Ability to be used with a wide range of instruments
  • Amazing tonal quality offered due to overdrive channels
  • Works well with a variety of pedals, which elevates its usability
  • Wide range of versatility with guitar styles because of its clean tone

CONS

  • Disappointing quality of build
  • Issues with the stock tube's overall quality

What Recent Buyers Report

Guitarists that have invested in this amp feel that it is well worth a large amount of headroom. The speaker quality could be better according to many, but the vintage tone and feel compensate for this, and that is why it gets such rave reviews.

Why it Stands Out to Us

The most important thing about any amp is the amount of sound crafting that it offers. With this amp, you get a wide range of tonal options that elevate this functionality easily. The versatility that comes built-in, mixed with the capability of pedal use, will make it so easy to customize your sound.

Who Will Use This Most

This amp works so well with pedals and is so lightweight that it is especially beneficial for gigging musicians who use a lot of effects. On top of its compatibility with a well-built multi-pedal chain, it offers several built-in features that enhance the versatility and add a lot of customization for a guitarist, no matter the preferred style of music.

Bottom Line

Our final entry on the best-of list comes from VHT and is constructed for versatility and enhanced performance capabilities. If you're rockin' the blues or rock genre, the overdrive capability of this amp is outstanding, and that is why we knew we had to include it on this list.

PROS

  • Comes with easily controlled volume levels
  • Equipped to offer high-quality, iconic Marshall tone
  • Built-in emulated output of high-quality Marshall tone
  • Built with improved compatibility with pedals for more versatility
  • Amazing crunch and responsiveness for enhanced customization
  • Crafted with high-grade materials to extend life due to elevated durability

CONS

  • Issues with the quality of the built-in reverb
  • Complaints concerning lack of tonal quality in the bottom end

What Recent Buyers Report

Recent buyers have a lot of great things to say when it comes to this amp from Marshall. It all comes down to a name these guitarists love, as the classic Marshall tone has always been excellent. Though many feel the lack of clean headroom is a problem, they still feel that it is an amp they would highly recommend.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Much like for guitarists that have purchased this amp, there are many aspects of this amp that impressed us, but the one thing that tipped the scales in this amp's favor was the built-in emulated output. The Marshall tone has been one of the most iconic sounds for a decade, and to have it at the tip of your fingers is absolutely awesome.

Who Will Use This Most

This small but mighty amp may not be suited for large venues or even small gigs, but if you are looking for that Marshall sound in your home studio or practice room, then this is the amp that is best for you.

Bottom Line

This amp has so much versatility when it comes to tone and effects that there was no way it couldn’t be on our list. Its high-quality EQ circuitry brings with it improved tonal flexibility, and this alone could be enough to justify our choosing it as the best overall tube amp for our chosen price range.

Types of Tube Amps

Tube amps are designated by the tubes they are crafted with. Here is a list of some of those tubes:

5AR4 Rectifier

This amp is also known as the GZ34 and can be found in many new amps, though its origins start way back in the 1960s. This tube amp helps change AC to DC, which will power the preamp and other tubes. This does mean that it tends to decrease intensity when there is a lot of power needed, like with high-intensity strumming or picking.

12AX7 Preamp

This is sometimes labeled as ECC83 and was crafted by RCA in the mid-1940s. It is present in the majority of amps available today. It gives the amp a nice range of tones.

6L6

This tube is often used in large, high-powered amps that need loud, clean tones. It also delivers a nice, crunchy overdrive and a versatility tonal breakdown in the high, mid, and bottom. Often used in high gain rock amps.

EL84

This tube was used by a lot of the British rockers of the '60s and brings a nice, compressed, and smooth overdrive tone. This tone has a lot of high-end chime and sparkle. The tube is popular with the boutique amp builders of the modern industry.

Conclusion

As we said, finding the perfect tube amp for all your guitar needs can be difficult, especially with the wide range of models and brands to choose from. We have given you a wealth of information and a few of the best tube amps to help make your decision-making process a little easier.

People Also Ask

The sections above covered a lot of the information you would need as you go through your decision-making process, but there are always more questions. We have combed through all the online forums and found some of the most commonly asked questions. Hopefully, these answers will help you out even more.

Do Tubes Make a Difference in Amps?

The tube that is chosen to build out your amp definitely plays a part. Depending on the tube, you can get a nice, crunchy overdrive or a versatile range of tones or even both. So, when you are looking at amps, make sure to do a little research on the tubes and their qualities so that you get the right tube for your desired sound.

How Long Do Amp Tubes Last?

There is no definitive answer to this question because it is dependent on a few factors. The first is how much of the Wight the tube caries in the circuit. It also depends on how much and how hard you play when using the amp. With the proper maintenance and attention to usage, some tubes have been known to last many years. 

How Often Should You Replace Amp Tubes?

This, like the question of longevity, is not definite. The best thing to do is pay attention and watch for these signs, and, if any of these appear, you may want to change the tubes:

  • A large amount of hiss or hum
  • Lack of high-end or decreased levels of treble
  • Muddy bottom end, like too much bass
  • Volume fluctuation
  • Blown fuse
  • Stops working
Thalia

Thalia has spent most of her life loving two things - writing and music. Thalia's passion for music saw her learning to play several instruments throughout her childhood and teen years. This passion also led to her earning two qualifications in Sound Recording Engineering, which she now uses by writing about musical instruments, studio gear, and the processes involved in making and producing music.