Low wattage typically characterizes a practice amp.
Less commonly, you'll have an all-tube practice amp, which is simply a low wattage tube amp, designed to function well in small rooms, studios or as a travel companion.
Tube amps often sound better than their solid-state counterparts, as their tone is warmer, smooth and often distinctly vintage, which makes them a more desirable option, regardless of wattage level. Even if you're just practicing in your bedroom, the increased appeal of a tube amp's tone is hard to pass up.
And part of why people buy tube practice amps is because it's a really cheap way to get the coveted tube sound.
Paying anything over $300 for something in this category is highly unlikely.
Here's a quick look at what we'll cover.
What we want out of a practice amp
A practice amp doesn't need to be loud or heavy and, in most cases, should be a combo amp (speaker, power amp and preamp combined).
There are some good practice amp heads that are tube powered, though they're more rare than the combo options and require an external speaker cab.
Generally, you'll look for the following features:
- Combination speaker, preamp and power amp
- Small and light weight
- Single channel
- Basic EQ options (bass, treble, midrange)
It's wise to shuttle other features like built-in effects, multiple channels and high wattage, since tubes are your primary concern. Many of these additional features aren't found on practice amps to begin with.
This gets you an all tube practice amp at a much lower price tag.
Thus, my recommendations are based entirely on "tube tone."
How does the pricing compare to larger tube amps?
The top-tier of tube practice amp pricing gets capped at around $300, where most will fall under $200.
If you take out the tube requirement, practice amps can easily dip into the $40-$50 range.
Now, if you're wondering whether you'd be better off going with a larger amplifier, you can get some decent, larger tube amps that are still under $500. Those amps are large enough to be used for live gigging (assuming they're mic'd) or studio recording.
It just depends on how much money you want to spend.
For this article, we'll recommend two tube practice amps, as well as an honorable mentions section at the end of the post.
Let's jump in.
This is a mini reissue of the 1961 AC4, shipping with both an EL84 and 12AX7 tube, which you would also get in a larger tube amp (though usually more of both).
Wattage attenuation allows you to select one of the following output settings:
- Four watts
- One watt
- Quarter watt
It's small, but plenty loud for any bedroom or home studio.
It's control scheme is extremely simple with a tone, volume and power control, allowing you to move between a bright and dark sound while adding a little gain via the power knob.
It's at the top of our price range, though certainly one of the best tube practice amps currently available.
- Four, one or quarter watt attenuation
- EL84 and 12AX7 tubes (one of each)
2. Bugera BC15
This Bugera amp is a lot louder than the Vox option, as it boasts an eight inch speaker and 30W of power. Further, it has two channels and gain control, allowing you to have some versatility in addition to the powerful tone of a 12AX7 tube.
Additionally, the amp supports a two-band EQ.
A mid-shift button is also included.
This makes the BC15 a good candidate for blues or surf-rock guitarists, and anyone who likes to use cleaner sounds with the ability to add extra gain.
The resulting tone feels really bluesy and plays well on fast lead licks.
Basic recording, jamming and practice will sound fantastic.
Hovering around $129 retail, it's certainly the more affordable of the two amps we've highlighted thus far, and one of the best-value tube practice amps in existence.
Bugera stacks more features onto the BC15 by throwing in a headphone and CD/MP3 player jack.
Headphones and CD input jacks for the Bugera BC15. | Image via Bugera
This is par for the course on most practice amps, though I'd prefer to see an 1/8" TRS jack, since most MP3 players will require an adapter to use the 1/4" version.
Another perk is that the MUSIC Group (the company that makes Bugera amps) backs up their products with a three year manufacturers warranty, which is one of the longer warranties in the industry.
For the price, the features and the incredible tone, the BC15 is one of my favorite practice amp recommendations all around.
Once again, buy confidently.
- Three year warranty
- 30W of output
- Two-band EQ with mid-shift button
- Headphone and MP3 jack
The combo form of an all tube practice amp, while not plentiful, is fairly common.
What's less common is a small practice tube amp head, where you have to use either headphones or an external speaker cab.
Just to make sure you know your options, I want to mention a couple more combos and one such amp head that might also be worth a look, especially if you already have a speaker cab.
The one from Orange Amps is the amp head, while the other two are combo options, similar to the two we've already listed.
The Orange Micro Tube amp head with gain and headphone out.
The Micro Dark is actually a hybrid system that includes both tube and solid-state technology, an incredible bargain for those with a speaker cab on hand.
At roughly $189 retail, it's one of my favorite amp heads in this price range.
What's the deal with the Vox options costing more?
As a brand, Vox has always trended to the higher end of the price spectrum.
In my opinion, they're usually worth it, especially since they're one of the few companies that put tubes into small practice amps.
But, that's why I like the Bugera option a little better.
The BC15 is every bit as good, and costs a lot less.
If you don't care about the Vox brand which, don't get me wrong, is great and all, you'd be fine to go with the cheaper Bugera.
Are non-tube practice amps a better way to go?
Predictably, this is a matter of tonal preference and budget.
The all tube practice amps cost more, and there's no arguing otherwise. The technology is more rare and in higher demand, so it stands to reason that the solid-state practice amps are going to be naturally cheaper.
Thus, your budget should have the final say.
But again, tube electronics will usually sound better and are more desirable for guitar.
Just know that if you aren't that concerned about the "tube amp tone," that's what you're primarily paying for in the aforementioned options.
Other amp buying guides we've published...
Do you own or have experience with either of these amplifiers?
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Works Cited and Other Resources
What sounds better: Tube or solid state electronics? Article from CNET tackles the question.
The Argument for Tube Amplifiers: Article by Ayon Audio makes the case.
Why Tubes Sound Better: A detailed look into why tube amps sound better, via Ken Rockwell.
Flickr Commons Image via James Kadamson