Small Tube Combo Amps with Big Tone (12-watts or Less)
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One breed of amplifier that doesn’t get enough credit are small combo tube amps. In fact, some people don’t even realize that this kind of amplifier exists and has a purpose. To some people, tube amps are supposed to be big and loud and anything that isn’t probably doesn’t sound that good. While I’d like to tell you that this is just some outdated thinking, that’s not even the case. The truth is, for pretty much as long as guitar amps have been made, small tube options have been available. Amps like these are great for getting real tube saturation at lower volumes. They also have unique timbres thanks to their smaller speaker and cabinet sizes. From home recording to miked live use, amps of this variety definitely have a place in the modern world of guitar playing. Here are some of the best sounding options on the market today.
Laney Cub10 - $419.99
Laney is one of those brands that tends to get overlooked for no real good reason. However, this company has been around since the late 60s and has been making great guitar amps all throughout the years. Their Cub10 is the perfect amp to kick off this list with. It may be only 10 watts coming through a 10-inch speaker, but this little guy packs quite the punch. It is rather versatile with a high and low input option along with great sounding tones at all gain levels. Even when being pushed as hard as it will go, this amp starts to give you that boxy, really compressed tone. You do have some headroom too, if you are wanting to use this as a pedal platform.
Fender Bassbreaker 007 - $449.99
Fender’s Bassbreaker line of guitar amps was a pleasant shift from the traditional high-headroom amp makers. The Bassbreaker 007 is the line's smallest and lowest wattage option. And like a lot of the other units on this list, this one pushes a remarkable amount of air for its size. Especially if you take advantage of the extension cab jack on the back, this thing can sound massive. Yet, even if you just stick with the combo, you can still get some rather British sounding gain here. As far as controls go you have your treble, bass and thankfully middle EQ knobs. Additionally, you have separate gain and master volume controls along with a treble boost switch. This amp can get a little muddy at times if using some dark humbuckers, so I find the treble boost switch to be incredibly useful. Overall, this is a great amp for getting some super solid sounding gain in a small package.
Vox AC10C1 - $499.99
If you’re into guitar amps at all, you will already know of Vox’s legendary AC models. What you might not know of is below their AC30 and AC15 they now have the AC10. The AC10C1 has the look and sound of their classic AC models, just smaller. Vox even went to the extent to throw in an onboard digital reverb, which makes this a great amp for plugging directly into. Like most Vox amps, the AC10 is a wonderful pedal platform. While you don’t get nearly as much headroom as something like an AC30 you still can get some great edge of breakup tones that most pedals will love. However, it does not have an effects loop, so this may not be the best option for time-based effects if you plan on cranking it. But if you are searching for that signature “chime” and don’t want to spring for the AC15, this is a great option.
Blackstar HT5R MKII - $499.99
Blackstar makes some really awesome value amps. At the forefront of their models in this class is none other than the HT5R. These amps are just incredible small home/studio workhorses. And actually, while being only 5 watts, these are quite extensive on features. This Blackstar has 2-channels, a clean and dirty one that both have 2 voices to choose from. Furthermore, the master EQ section on this thing is awesome! With low, mid, treble, and Blackstar’s ISF control, the tone shaping here is real for a 5-watt amp. Speaking of the watts, there is also an included power down switch that lets you run on just 0.5 watts. Finally, there is an included reverb that sounds really nice. You put all these features together and you have a fully fleshed out amp on your hands. Ultimately, the Blackstar HT5R is an amazing amp that nearly anyone should have a use for.
Fender '68 Custom Princeton Reverb - $899.99
For many people, Fender Princetons are the perfect amp. They provide that classic Fender clean tone without the sometimes-excessive volume of a Twin. The ’68 Custom stays true to what makes vintage Princetons great and avoids breaking the bank. This amp also does a great job of pushing more than enough volume to cover you in a number of situations. If fact, with no attenuation controls this one may be a little too loud for those wanting a quiet apartment amp. Yet, for most people who want a classic Fender in a small package this guy will be perfect. The built-in tremolo and spring reverb are awesome sounding and everything you would expect from a Fender. Also, you have headroom for days with this one. You would have to push this guy pretty hard to get breakup. But as you probably already know, that is part of what makes this the king of pedal platforms.
Tone King Gremlin - $1295.00
Simple, boutique and pristine are the three words that first come to mind when describing the Gremlin. If you care about tone more than anything and have the budget, this offering from Tone King is a killer 5-watt amp. The Gremlin is a Fender Tweed style amp that is really simple, but really good sounding. There are two channels, the first of which is a super clean platform that takes pedals like a champ. And the second is the lead channel which compresses to a very nice crunch tone when pushed (also great for certain pedals). As far as top controls go you get a volume and tone… that’s it. But really this thing sounds so good in any setting that you don’t need much more control than that. The only other main feature to point out is the built-in attenuation. Tone King’s own Ironman attenuator can be controlled by a switch on the back of the Gremlin. This feature makes this an incredible amp for home and studio uses alike. While I always recommend playing before you buy, I can’t see how anyone with the money would regret this purchase.