Updated by Bobby
Updated on September 4th, 2023
Added the Doc Lloyd Audio DLA-2A leveling amplifier. Thanks and hit tip to contributor in the comments section.
August 7th, 2023, by Chris Phelan: Added several boutique tube-driven pedals from Hagerman, Mozztronics, and Kingsley. Hat tip to RCK and Chrisso in the comments section.
In this article we're simply rounding up a list of guitar pedals with tubes built into their circuits.
Almost all guitar pedals with tubes or tube emulation technology will be some kind of preamp, overdrive, or distortion pedal. On occasion you'll see reverb and tremolo pedals with a tube circuit as well, but the greater share are going to be preamps or some kind of gain-based effect.
Read more: How to use a distortion pedal
A Word About Preamps
Keep in mind that getting a pedal with a built-in tube circuit might not be necessary if you already have a decent tube amp on hand. In most cases, it's preferable to get your distortion from your amplifier, since it's easier to control and generally provides a better tone quality.
In other words: Amp distortion usually sounds better than pedal distortion.
If you just want the pedal for the tubes alone, consider whether or not an amplifier upgrade makes more sense, or whether you need to add a preamp to your rig.
Note that we've also listed a few bass preamps as well, not to be confused with the regular electric guitar preamps.
33 Pedals with Built-in Tubes or Tube Emulation
We've broken these pedals up into two different lists, where one is a list of pedals with a physical vacuum tube installed and the other is a list of pedals that just use tube emulation technology. All pedals listed should be current and still in production.
Links are to our partner Sweetwater Sound, and we might earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase, yet at no extra cost to you. This partnership in no way influences are opinions or recommendations
Physical Tubes (or Nutubes)
These are all pedals with an actual vacuum tube, valve, or Nutube technology installed, effectively giving them an analog circuit. Most are preamps or distortion pedals.
- Fender MTG Tube Distortion
- Fender MTG:LA Tube
- Two Notes Le Clean Dual Channel US Tube Preamp
- Two Notes Le Crunch Dual Channel British Tube Preamp
- Two Notes Le Lead Dual Channel High-Gain Tube Preamp
- Two Notes Le Bass Dual Channel Tube Preamp
- Behringer VT999 Vintage Tube Monster Overdrive
- Ibanez Nu Tubescreamer Overdrive with Nutube
- Korg Nu:tekt OD-S Nutube Overdrive
- Electro-Harmonix English Muff'n Tube Distortion
- Fender MTG Tube Tremolo
- Orange Valve Pre Two-Channel Acoustic Preamp
- Effectrode Delta-trem Tube Tremolo
- Effectrode Blackbird Vacuum Tube Preamp
- Effectrode Fire Bottle Tube Boost
- Effectrode Mercury Tube Fuzz
- Effectrode Leveling Amplifier
- Effectrode Phaseomatic Vacuum Tube Phaser
- Effectrode PC-2A Tube Compressor
- Effectrode Blue Bottle Inductorized Booster
- Effectrode Tube Vibe Uni-Vibe
- Effectrode Tube Drive Overdrive
- TC Electronic Tube Pilot Overdrive
- Hagerman Valve 12AU7
- Hagerman Boost EF86
- Hagerman Reactivator 12AU7
- Hagerman Overdrive 12AX7
- Hagerman Compressor 12AU7
- Hagerman Thermionic Reinforcer 12AX7 Tube Preamp
- Hagerman One Watter Tube Amp Pedal
- Kingsley Pedals (multiple pedals with tubes)
- Mozztronics TD-2 HV Tube Driver
- Doc Lloyd Audio DLA-2A Leveling Amplifier
These pedals are advanced forms of tube emulation, though they do not have a physical tube installed. Instead, the tube tone is modeled or "emulated" by a digital signal processor.
- Tech 21 SansAmp GT2 Tube Emulator
- Diezel Herbert Pedal
- Source Audio Aftershock Bass Distortion
- Electro-Harmonix Nano Hot Tubes
- Darkglass Microtube B7K V2 Bass Preamp
- Darkglass Microtube B3K V2 Bass Preamp
- Darkglass Vintage Microtubes Bass Preamp
- Darkglass Microtubes X7 Bass Preamp
- Darkglass Microtubes X Ultra Bass Preamp
What are Nutubes?
The Nutube 6P1 is a real vacuum tube, built from a low-power triode. It was developed by Korg and because of its low operating voltage can be easily built into guitar pedal circuit boards. You can read more about it on Korg's Nutube page.
Tube Amps VS Pedals with Tubes
As I mentioned earlier, would it be better just to go with a tube amp as opposed to a tube-equipped distortion pedal or preamp?
That depends on your current situation.
If you're really happy with your current amplifier and it has a solid state circuit, it probably isn't necessary to replace the entire thing and incur the expense of a new guitar amp. In that situation, you can get some of the tone and advantages of a tube-driven circuit by getting a preamp pedal with the tubes already built in.
If you have a solid state amp that you really don't like, I wouldn't advise trying to string it along with a tube-based pedal.
Those who are thinking about replacing a solid state amp anyway, should go with a tube amp before going the pedal route.
Some Advice About Your Distortion Source
Whenever possible, it's better to use your amplifier as your distortion source.
While there are some solid distortion pedals out there, few of them are able to compete with the distortion you get from a high-quality tube amplifier, especially if you're talking about brands in the upper-tier like Diezel or Mesa.
Whenever possible, it's better to use your amplifier as your distortion source.
If you have a tube amp that has a high-quality dirty channel, you're better off to use that channel - in most cases - then migrating to a distortion pedal or floor preamp.
As always, it depends on which pedal and amp you're comparing, but broadly speaking we'd recommend sticking with the amplifier if it already meets a steep quality standard.
How to Choose
On the other hand, if you've decided to go with a tube-driven pedal - perhaps to supplement a solid state amp - here are some of the factors you can pay attention to when you make your decision.
The most universal metric of value is the price tag which, unfortunately, is often quite high when it comes to pedals with tube circuits. Whether it's the smaller Nutube or a larger analog design, it's expensive to make these pedals, which puts their price points easily in the $200 to $300 range (or higher).
While there are some cheaper options, especially with the Nutube technology, the limitations of your budget will have a lot to say about the feasibility of this particular pedal type.
Tube-driven gear is always pricier.
After price you'll want to look at the amount and type of control each pedal provides.
Since most of these pedals are either a distortion box or some kind of floor-based preamp, you should look for the following knobs and dials:
- Master volume or level
- Gain or distortion
- Three-band EQ (bass, midrange, treble)
Other controls might include boost or tight knobs or noise gates.
A lot of the companies that make these pedals are what we'd consider boutique guitar pedal builders, with less brand recognition than some of the bigger companies.
However, you do have offerings from Fender, EHX, and Source Audio.
If you have a brand preference, there's certainly nothing wrong with shopping with a bias towards that particular brand.
Do tubes make a big difference?
Whether it's in pedal or amplifier form, tubes absolutely make a quality difference in your tone.
They're often described as warmer, and more natural sounding when compared to the digital signal processors used in a lot of newer guitar gear. Most guitar players prefer tubes, especially when it comes to your amplification.
If you're getting that amplification from a pedal, consider using a preamp or distortion pedal that runs a tube circuit.
It'll improve both clean and dirty tones significantly.
If you have questions about pedals and tubes in general or one of the pedals listed here, feel free to drop it in the comments section below.
I also want to hear from people who know of guitar pedals with tubes that we haven't mentioned. When I set these lists up, people are often commenting on new peldas that aren't included or pedals I've just missed, which is super-helpful and helps keep these lists up to date.
So drop a line there and we'll talk.