It wasn’t too long ago that players had to drop a substantial amount cash in order to purchase a great tube amp. But over the last few years, there has been a significant change to the tube amp market, namely, the growing number of “budget” combo models. And when you take a look at the number of great features that these lower-priced combo tube amps ship with, you might start to wonder if significant compromises were made in order to keep the price so low. You can’t expect to buy a great tube combo amplifier for less than $600, right? Actually, yes you can! Below, we take a look at five excellent tube combo amps that deliver on both tone and price.
While it might not have as many features and settings as their pricier setups, the Blues JR III excels at delivering what matters most – excellent tone. Is it particularly well suited for players that use stompboxes to carve out their tone as the Blues Jr makes an excellent canvas for effects pedals. The EL84 tubes bring the fat mid tones the while the 12AX7 tube offers lush, warm overdrive. Featuring a 15-watt power section and a 12" Fender "Lightning Bolt" speaker by Eminence, there’s enough power for both stage and studio use (although you can always make use of cabs with the external speaker feature). Other features include spring reverb, an easy-read black control panel with front reading text, a classic Fender “dog bone” handle, “sparkle” circuit mod, shock absorbers for the EL84 tubes and heavy duty “chicken head” knobs.
A part of Fender’s recently released Bassbreaker series of guitar amplifiers, the 007 is a powerful combo that packs plenty of punch despite its size. Featuring a pair of 12AX7 preamp tubes and a single EL84 tube, this 7-watt combo continues Fender’s legacy of rock-ready amps. Despite its slender price tag, the 007 looks and sounds like what an excellent tube combo amp should, boasting quality features such as traditional gain and tone controls, cabinet extension support, an onboard 1/4 inch line output and a switchable vintage-style treble booster for increased overdrive and added harmonics. Either clean or with plenty of crunch, we were easily able to crank out plenty of quality sounds during our time with the 007. And thanks to the Celestion Ten 30 speaker, tones came out rich and expressive, combining warm lows with a vocal mid-range and articulate top end. One of our favorite new amps of 2016, the Bassbreaker 007 gets our full recommendation.
Coming in below $400, the Super Champ X2 is a prime example that you don't have to break the bank to get a quality tube combo. Featuring 15 watts of rich, dual-channel tube amp tone with plenty of modern extras (including digital effects and versatile amp voicings), the Super Champ X2 is more than just an entry-level amplifier. It's simple yet flexible design allows you to easily tailor your sound exactly the way you want it. Voicings include 16 amp types including Blackface, British, Tweed, Hot Rod, Metal and more. And with the Fender FUSE software, you can connect the Super Champ X2 to your computer to custom tailor any amp voice or effect to your taste. Other features include tap tempo control for precise delay time adjustment, 1/4” line output, external speaker capability and USB output for speaker-emulated digital recording. With so many customization options and a budget friendly price of $379.99, we can't recommend this amp enough!
Combining boutique level features with the quality that Peavey is known for, the Valveking II is a highly versatile workhorse that can shine both onstage and in the studio. With its powerful array of settings including a three band eq, dual channels and the ability to change your wattage output anywhere from a full 50 watts to 2 watts, the Valveking II gives you full control of power and tone. And with the of 6L6 power tubes, you get plenty of articulation in both clean and high gain settings, as well as a noticeable mid-range scoop that many players love. It also comes with a studio-quality USB recording output that lets it act as its own audio interface, allowing you to send your all-tube tone straight to your computer. We could go on, but suffice it to say that you probably won't find a tube amp with this many useful features for the same price as the Valveking II Combo 50!
Are you the type of player that can't decide between the strong midrange and aggressive sound of EL34s, or the natural, articulate tones of 6L6s? If this is you (and you don't have the cash to buy to separate amps), then the Defender V30 can't be recommended enough. On most other tube amps, switching out between these two types of tubes requires a complicated biasing procedure that is better left to professionals (as you can severely damage your amp or even yourself if you don't know what you're doing). With the Defender V30, all it takes is a simple switch, and your amp is ready. But beyond its ability to switch between these two iconic tubes, it also comes with plenty of excellent features such as a 12-inch Celestion speaker and a Bright switch that provides either a fuller, American-style bass response or a tighter, British-flavored low-end. As you can see, this Kustom amp definitely lives up to name! There's a lot more where that came from. Hit the link below for the full feature list.
While there will always be players that will splurge for thousand dollar amps, it's great to see manufacturers offering quality amplifiers at more affordable price points. As the five combo amps above prove, the "working musician" has plenty to work with!
If you have questions regarding these or any other piece of gear, don't hesitate to ask one of our helpful PAL pros by using the Contact Us feature below!
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