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Old 10-26-2008, 09:49 AM   #1
Robino_Ibanez
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The Small, Cheap Tube Amp Info Thread

Tubes! Here at UG we love them. Every day tons of new threads come up asking UG for tube amp recommendations. Most only have a bit of money and need an amp that can do home practice well. The idea of this thread is that we will post some reviews of commonly recommended tube amps which are smaller in size (>20 watts) and inexpensive in price (>600$), and that we will give suggestions for UGers about small tube amps.

Note: Please check out the stickies for more information. This guide is not intended to replace them but to add to the knowledge – only a small amount of these amps were already reviewed in the stickies.

Considerations about tube amps
In general, tube or solid state doesn’t matter if it sounds good. For some genres (extreme metal, usually), solid state amps would be preferred because they can usually achieve higher gain distortion. Some prefer solid state amps because they need them to stay clean at higher volumes, like the Roland JC, a famous clean solid state amp. Others may have to spend their money on a higher wattage amp rather than a more toneful one due to gigging requirements – though tube amps sound louder than solid states of the same wattage due to better harmonics. Many have chosen solid state amps out of fear of the maintenance required for tube amps. Or, you may think that you need versatility and portability that no tube amps at a regular price range offer. Many of these are poor reasons not to buy a tube amp –wattage shouldn’t be taken over tone, maintenance of tube amps isn’t really that bad, etc. It is also a general rule that tube amps sound more musical and warm than a solid state amp. Transistors clip harshly when turned up and many solid state amps sound sterile even when turned down. Tube amps will produce decent sounds at low volumes and sound superb when you crank the volume knob. Overall, despite the reasons why many choose not to buy a tube amp, the reasons to do so are usually stronger. So do what works for you!

It is also strongly recommended that you go for a used amp. You will get tons more bang for your buck, ie. a better amp. And don’t let this thread be your sole guide – try before you buy and get what you like.Now for some reviews! Prices in USD from Musicians Friend.

Amps below 10 watts – probably strictly for home practice, great because they can be cranked at home and this is when tube amps sound their best. That being said, a 10 watt amp is half as loud as an 100 watt amp (don't believe me? go to www.amptone.com) so you really can't crank a low-wattage amp at 2 AM in an apartment building. If you need really low volume then an attenuator may still be a good idea. That being said, I manage to get a fair bit of power tube distortion out of my 15 watt traynor at home.
Reviews needed for: Peavey Royal 8, Orange AD-5, Electar Tube 10, Blackstar HT-5, anything else anyone can think of. Some more in-depth analysis is welcome for the amps currently posted.
Low Gain
Epiphone Valve Junior – Famous amp that put 5 watt tube amps in style. I believe it sounds sweet stock and can be modded easily, but still has the problem of many mini-sized tube amps of being "boxy" in a combo form due to small speaker. Comes in halfstack form as well as combo. $199.
Crate V5 – Pretty much the cheapest way to get your hands on a tube amp at $99. I tried it and it’s not bad, does sound musical and tubey but honestly I’d go for a good cheap solid state amp over this at the price (cube, vypyr, valvetronix anyone?).
Champ 600 RI. Im pretty sure the Gretsch is the same amp too. -review from beckyjc
Not a fan at all. Sounded thin and tinny, deffinately not what i expected, but maybe im just not a fan of the "tweed-ish" fender clean tone, sounded just like i was plugged straight into the speaker, i was expecting alot more colour in the sound, sounded quite responsive though to dynamics, a clean boost or overdrive would fatten it up. I was quite shocked at how quiet this was for a 5 watter amp, probably down to the 6" speaker, but the volume was at 9/12, and it was basically bedroom levels (Or my idea of bedroom levels). I didnt really try to get overdrive out of the amp, after about 10 minutes of playing with it i left the shop dissapointed, the guy even warned me before i tried it id be dissapointed, i'd take the VJ any day.

I have heard that the champ does have nice clean headroom but sounds poor with the stock speaker. Through a 4x12 or other cabinet it may sound significantly better.

Mid Gain
Blackheart Little Giant – IMO a really great sounding amp, the Valve Jr’s opposition. 5 watts switchable to 3, and built in eq too. Available as a combo or halfstack. Ironically, they told me to turn it down at the store… on the 3 watt setting!! But it sounded excellent for blues and rock. At $349 it is quite expensive though. Many say that if you buy a Valve Jr. and spend the difference in money on pedals, the VJ sounds better.
Little Giant Demo
Blackheart Killer Ant – Blackheart’s 1-watt head. $179 seems a little steep for 1-watt, but of course it is intended to be cranked. Has a “cool-factor” about it. I would expect that it sounds good cranked. Probably has no clean headroom whatsoever though.
Blackheart Killer Ant Demo
Fender Vibro Champ – Great idea, not really my cup of tea. If you want some extra bells and whistles (effects, built-in voicings) then this would be a better choice than something like a Spider. When I tried it I thought it seemed kinda noisy and not that musical. But it is recommended around here a lot and beats the other cheap “tube modelers” by a ways. $259.
The Super Champ is like the Vibro Champ but 15 watts instead of 5. I never got the chance to try it, but...
Quote:
Originally Posted by hendriko
It's even better - it's more "grown up", the 10" speaker and 15w sound a lot fuller and better - plus: it has a clean channel that's independent from the voicing!

High Gain – WARNING: tube amps under 10 watts are not recommended for high gain. You should probably get a bigger tube amp or a good modeller for a similar price if you play metal.
Peavey JSX – Satriani’s practice amp. Packed with a few extra features the other 5-watt tube amps don’t have – tremolo, effects loop, “power sponge”, etc. Can supposedly go higher gain than most 5-watt tube amps, but if you need high gain at a low price I’d still go for a Cube or Vypyr over a 5-watt tube. Better yet, at this price you could get a larger tube amp that’d do metal well. Though I’m a big Satriani fan, $499 seems very steep for this type of amp to me. After trying the Peavey JSX Mini Colossal my thoughts have been confirmed. There are better amps for the price.
Ibanez Valbee – Don’t know much about it or even the price but it can supposedly handle high gain for a 5-watt tube amp. Once again, if you really need high gain, 5-watt tube amps are not for you.
Blackstar HT-5 Never tried it myself, a new UG favorite because it can get a good metal tone despite being a small, cheap tube amp. Good cleans too from what I've heard. Someone here must have used one of these, let me know if you've got a review for it.
Also notable: Many of these 5-watt tube amps are very "barebones" with only a few knobs. What this means is that they take pedals well. With the right pedals you could get a wider variety of tones from small, low-featured tube amps.

Here is a chart containing a bunch of tube amps showing which amps excel in which areas:


10-20 WATT AMP REVIEWS ON PAGE 2!
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Last edited by Robino_Ibanez : 07-10-2009 at 12:41 PM.
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Old 10-26-2008, 09:55 AM   #2
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Cool thread. I could probably do a review of something at some point
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Old 10-26-2008, 09:56 AM   #3
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Thanks, thought UG needed this. Any feedback and stuff is welcome.
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Old 10-26-2008, 10:00 AM   #4
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You had me until your last line. I'm of the opinion that 5 watt tube amps can do metal with the right pedals. I wouldn't trade my POD/Vj for any other practice amp.
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Old 10-26-2008, 10:18 AM   #5
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This statement bothers me

Quote:
Crate V5 – Pretty much the cheapest way to get your hands on a tube amp at $99. I tried it and it’s not bad, does sound musical and tubey but honestly I’d go for a good cheap solid state amp over this at the price (cube, vypyr, valvetronix anyone?).


Because you can say that about ALL OF THE AMPS YOU LISTED.

It's a class A all tube amp, and it sounds like one, and unlike the VJ, it has a tone control. The Palominos have a MV control.

It WAS more expensive than the VJ. In fact, the V8 Palomino still is, if you can find one. Don't let price be the determining factor in quality.

Need reviews for: Electar Tube 10, Epiphone Valve Standard, Fender Pro Junior, Crate V18, etc.
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Old 10-26-2008, 10:30 AM   #6
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I think I might have something for the PJ
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Old 10-26-2008, 11:06 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by scott58
You had me until your last line. I'm of the opinion that 5 watt tube amps can do metal with the right pedals. I wouldn't trade my POD/Vj for any other practice amp.

i agree.............the vj is just a small tube amp with very little personality till you hook up a couple pedals. you have to have an EQ and a reverb pedal just to make it equal to most of the amps listed. the VJ tone guitar to amp is very bland........it does not shine till you hit it with pedals. mine is pretty modded and i play thru a celestion g12k. i use a ehx reverb and an eq pedal and a metal muff it does metal DAMN good!!!! as well as classic rock and blues with a bad monkey. you just have to put the right pieces together. don't expect to go buy a VJ head and cab put a ts-9 in front of it and expect metallica tone you will be disappointed. it's a cheap amp because it has nothing but a volume knob. it's up to you to find the sound you want and your gonna have to spend couple bucks on pedals. but mods and tube swaps are cheap and easy to do and really make a difference in tone. and when you do the reward is TUBE warmth your never gonna find in a SS amp.
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Old 10-26-2008, 11:09 AM   #8
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Champ 600 RI. Im pretty sure the Gretsch is the same amp too.
Not a fan at all. Sounded thin and tinny, deffinately not what i expected, but maybe im just not a fan of the "tweed-ish" fender clean tone, sounded just like i was plugged straight into the speaker, i was expecting alot more colour in the sound, sounded quite responsive though to dynamics, a clean boost or overdrive would fatten it up. I was quite shocked at how quiet this was for a 5 watter amp, probably down to the 6" speaker, but the volume was at 9/12, and it was basically bedroom levels (Or my idea of bedroom levels). I didnt really try to get overdrive out of the amp, after about 10 minutes of playing with it i left the shop dissapointed, the guy even warned me before i tried it id be dissapointed, i'd take the VJ any day.
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Old 10-26-2008, 11:11 AM   #9
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Good thread
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Old 10-26-2008, 11:44 AM   #10
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another point that should consider the aftermarket Mod kits out there for these amps. all these have kits to take them from low gain to high gain, marshall mods, bitmo mods, mercury............i mean part of the fun of the 5 watters is how easy the average guy can mod thier amps. thats what i love about my VJ and i did it all myself.
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Old 10-26-2008, 11:50 AM   #11
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With a little tweaking I think you can get a pretty good metal tone from a 5 Watt tubey, and that's without pedals. Have a listen
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Old 10-26-2008, 11:50 AM   #12
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orange TT/TT combo and AD5 pl0x =]

although theyre nor cheap at all
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Old 10-26-2008, 11:52 AM   #13
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You mean <20 watts, and <$600.


Not the other way around lol
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Old 10-26-2008, 11:56 AM   #14
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Neat thread.

For anyone who wants a nice gigging amp i'd recommend the Rocktronic Tube 30. Mine cost me £150 and it has an amazing tone when cranked up. I wouldn't recommend it for much else as the overdrive is very sterile and raspy sounding at lower volumes.
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Old 10-26-2008, 12:34 PM   #15
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You should have reserved the first two or three replies.
You might run of room.
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Old 10-26-2008, 01:40 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PaoloJM
With a little tweaking I think you can get a pretty good metal tone from a 5 Watt tubey, and that's without pedals. Have a listen

Sweet!!
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Old 10-26-2008, 02:09 PM   #17
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Pmed ya
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Old 10-26-2008, 03:11 PM   #18
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here's one I hadn't seen yet. Another example of Vj. If you really want to know what a Vj can do just sit at youtube for 30 minutes or so and enjoy.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ab0p...feature=related
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Old 10-26-2008, 08:54 PM   #19
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Hey guys I was out all day so didn't get the chance to read these. Will edit the first post soon with the new reviews. Let me clarify that I'm not of the view that you can't get a metal tone out of a 5 watt tube amp. I am saying that there are generally better options for metal than them. I want to steer any metal players away from getting a tube amp simply because it is a tube amp. They should get the best amp for them, be it tube, ss, or hybrid.
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Old 10-26-2008, 09:01 PM   #20
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