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Last Updated on March 7, 2024 by Teemu Suomala

Author: DL Shepherd

Darren has been playing guitar for over 23 years. He fronted the metal band Suddenly Silence in the early 2000’s, and also achieved recognition as an award-winning bluegrass guitarist.

A native of southwestern Virginia, and has shared the stage with many big-name acts from various genres. When he is not playing one of his many guitars, he can be found riding his Harley through the mountains of Virginia.

displays Edward Bond and Gibson Guitar

Editor: Edward Bond

Edward has been playing the guitar since 2002. So Edward has over 20 years of experience as a guitarist, has authored 15 guitar books, has written for renowned music blogs, and spent a decade teaching music. He began merging his passion for writing and music in 2020 and has written for big guitar websites such as Guitar Head Publishing and KillerGuitarRigs.com.

Originally from Seattle, Edward moved to Norway in 2021 for a master’s in music. He’s studied at the Jazz Institute Berlin and Conservatorium van Amsterdam, and currently resides in Trondheim. His education includes a European Jazz Master’s, a diploma in Film and Game Scoring from Sofia, and a Bachelor’s in Jazz from University of Oregon.

Edward has played in numerous bands and currently, Edward works on his own project Starship Infinity


image shows MESA/BOOGIE CALIFORNIA TWEED 6V6 4:40 TUBE COMBO AMP

BEST OVERALL – MESA/BOOGIE CALIFORNIA TWEED 6V6 4:40

Reviewer: DL Shepherd

Sound
Overall Quality
Value For Money
Versatility
Features

Summary

Pros:
-Exceptional clean tones that are rich and articulate.
-Five selectable power settings make it great for the stage or the bedroom.
-The built-in effects loop allows you to easily integrate pedals into your setup.
-The classic tweed look is eye-catching. 

Cons:
-The expensive price tag puts it out of reach for budget-minded players.

Who is this amp for?
This is for musicians who want an amp that can go from bedroom volume levels to stage volume all in one package.

4.8

How the MESA/BOOGIE CALIFORNIA TWEED 6V6 4:40 TUBE COMBO AMP sounds:

MESA/Boogie California Tweed 6V6 4:Forty Official Demo

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The Next Best:

Best Value For Money – Blackstar Ht-20r Mkii 1×12-inch 20-watt Tube Combo Amp With Reverb

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Our Overall Rating

Summary

Pros:

  • Lots of versatility in the bedroom, studio, or on stage.
  • ISF knob allows you to get a variety of distorted tones.
  • The low-power setting is excellent for bedroom jamming.
  • USB out is perfect for recording.

Cons:

  • Be aware of possible quality control issues.

Who is this amp for?

The Blackstar HT-20R MkII is for anyone looking for a small tube amp that gives you a lot of features for the money.

 

Best For Metal – Mesa/boogie Mini Rectifier 25 – 25-watt Tube Head

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Our Overall Rating

Summary

Pros:

  • Shimmering cleans are warm and full.
  • It has excellent distortion with insane amounts of gain.
  • Selectable power for each channel is great for lowering the overall volume.
  • Can use it with any 8 or 4-ohm speaker cab.

Cons:

  • Only available as a head – no combo version is available at this time.
  • The knob design makes it hard to see your settings.

Who is this amp for?

This is for the gigging metal musician who wants a small amp for recording, rehearsing, or playing in smaller venues. 

Best For Blues – Fender Blues Junior Iv 1×12-inch 15-watt Tube Combo Amp

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Our Overall Rating

Summary

Pros:

  • The design is straightforward to use.
  • The spring reverb sounds incredible.
  • The fat switch adds more versatility.
  • The clean tone simply can’t get any better.

Cons:

  • I found the speaker to be voiced a bit too low for this amp.

Who is this amp for?

The Fender Blues Junior IV is for any guitarist who is looking for a small amp that gives you an authentic blues tone in a small package. 

Best For Quiet Practice – Marshall Dsl1cr 1×8” 1 Watt Tube Combo Amp

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Our Overall Rating

Summary

Pros:

  • The small design is incredibly portable.
  • The tone is nearly identical to a big Marshall DSL head and cab.
  • The low power feature makes it possible to get big tones without a lot of volume.
  • The two channels make it incredibly versatile.

Cons:

  • The clean channel sounds weak.

Who is this amp for?

The Marshall DSL1CR is an excellent choice for guitarists who want an authentic Marshall tone at quieter volumes.

Compare the Key Specs

ModelChannelsTotal PowerSpeaker SizePreamp TubesPower TubesReverbEQInputsOutputsEffects LoopControllersConstruction MaterialDimensionsWeightOur Rating
Best Overall Small Tube Amp – Mesa/boogie California Tweed 6v6 4:40 Tube Combo AmpSingle Channel40W Class AB Pentode (2W, 10W, 20W, 30W settings), Triode, Single-Ended Class A settings1 x 12″ Jensen Blackbird Alnico5 x 12AX7, 1 x 12AT74 x Mesa 6V6Tube-driven, Spring Reverb3-band EQ, Presence2 x 1/4″ (normal, low)1 x 1/4″ (8 ohm internal speaker), 2 x 1/4″ (4 ohm external speakers)BufferedFootswitch not includedBaltic Birch Cabinet, Cream Bronco Vinyl with Cream/Tan Weave Grille19.25″ x 22.75″ x 10.37″49 lbs4.7
Best Value For Money – Blackstar Ht-20r Mkii 1×12-inch 20-watt Tube Combo Amp With Reverb220W (2W setting)1 x 12″ Blackstar Designed Speaker2 x 12AX72 x EL84Digital Reverb3-band EQ, ISF1 x 1/4″ (instrument), 1 x 1/8″ (line in)1 x 1/4″ (16 ohms), 2 x 1/4″ (single 8 ohm, 2 x 16 ohm), 1 x XLR (DI out)YesYes, 2-button footswitchBlack Leatherette19.17″ x 20.19″ x 10.62″35 lbs3.9
Best For Metal – Mesa/boogie Mini Rectifier 25 – 25-watt Tube Head225W/10WNo speaker, amp head only5 x 12AX72 x EL84n/an/a1 x 1/4″2 x 1/4″ (4, 8 ohms)YesYes, 1-button footswitchSilver Diamond Faceplate5.87″ x 12.62″ x 6.75″12 lbs4.6
Best For Blues – Fender Blues Junior Iv 1×12-inch 15-watt Tube Combo AmpSingle15W1 x 12″ Celestion A-Type3 x 12AX72 x EL84Spring Reverb3-band EQ1 x 1/4″1 x 1/4″ (8 ohm internal speaker)

2 x 1/4″ (4 ohm external speakers)
Yes, 1-button footswitch for Fat boost0.75″ Particle Board with Black Textured Vinyl16″ x 18″ x 9.81″31.5 lbs4.9
Best For Quiet Practice – Marshall Dsl1cr 1×8” 1 Watt Tube Combo Amp21W (0.1W power setting)1 x 8″ Celestion Eight 15 speaker2 x 12AX71 x 12AU7Yes3-band EQ, Tone Shift1 x 1/4″ (instrument), 1 x 1/8″ (aux in)1 x 1/8″ (softube emulated out), 1 x 1/4″ (internal speaker)YesFootswitch included13.4″ x 14.2″ x 8.5″17 lbs4.4

You don’t need to have the biggest, most powerful amplifier in the world to hear what you are doing. 

Amplifiers are situational. This means that you often need a smaller amplifier for daily practice or small gigs while saving the big amps for larger shows. Not everyone needs a giant amp, but everyone should at least have a small one. 

Tube amps have been around since the invention of the amplifier and are still preferred by many guitarists today, thanks to their incredible tone. Many guitarists prefer the tone of tube amps to those of modern solid-state or digital modeling amps

I’ve had the pleasure of owning and playing through a wide variety of small tube amps over the years. After all, I had to play all of those guitars through something! I am a tube amp fanatic and prefer them over solid-state amplifiers. They have a much warmer tone that doesn’t sound harsh like many solid-state amps do (to my ears, at least). 

I’ve picked some of my favorite small tube amps and compiled them all into this list. We’ll take a look at what makes them our top picks. Let’s dive in!


My 5 Favorite Small Tube Amps

Keep These 3 Key Things In Mind When Choosing a Small Tube Amp:

Combo amps have the amplifier built into the speaker cabinet. Amp heads require a separate speaker cabinet.

Tube amps are louder than solid-state amps at the same wattage.

Small, low-wattage tube amps have less clean headroom, meaning that the clean channel will start to distort at a lower volume level than a larger amplifier.

How Did We Choose These Amps?

I have played hundreds of guitars over the years, and I have also played through a lot of small amplifiers. I usually request to play through a tube amp or two whenever I’m testing out guitars in a music store. Music stores are much more likely to let me crank up a small tube amp than a 100-watt stack! I base my selection here on playing these and hundreds of other amps over the years.


Best Overall Small Tube Amp – Mesa/Boogie California Tweed 6V6 4:40 Tube Combo Amp

image shows Mesa/Boogie California Tweed 6V6 4:40 Tube Combo Amp
Mesa/Boogie California Tweed 6V6 4:40 Tube Combo Amp

Specs

ChannelsSingle Channel
Total Power40W Class AB Pentode (2W, 10W, 20W, 30W settings), Triode, Single-Ended Class A settings
Speaker Size1 x 12″ Jensen Blackbird Alnico
Preamp Tubes5 x 12AX7, 1 x 12AT7
Power Tubes4 x Mesa 6V6
ReverbTube-driven, Spring Reverb
EQ3-band EQ, Presence
Inputs2 x 1/4″ (normal, low)
Outputs1 x 1/4″ (8 ohm internal speaker), 2 x 1/4″ (4 ohm external speakers)
Effects LoopBuffered
ControllersFootswitch not included
Construction MaterialBaltic Birch Cabinet, Cream Bronco Vinyl with Cream/Tan Weave Grille
Dimensions19.25″ x 22.75″ x 10.37″
Weight49 lbs

Fact: I have never been disappointed plugging into any Mesa/Boogie amp. The American amp manufacturer is mainly known for their high-gain, high-power tube amps, for which they helped pave the way in the 1980s and 1990s. 

However, this little amp is not part of the high-gain family; it is based on older amps from the 1950s and 1960s. The reason that this amp is the ultimate small tube amp is because it offers players a wide variety of features. 

First, you get five selectable power levels: 2 watts, 10 watts, 20 watts, 30 watts, and 40 watts! This means you can have an amp that goes from bedroom-level volumes to stage volumes with the flick of a switch. 

If you are a guitarist who lives in an apartment, the 2-watt setting will allow you to play at bedroom volumes. Be careful, though, because 2 watts can get really loud when you crank it!

Take it to the studio and use 10 or 20 watts to nail a track, and then take it to the stage where the 30 and 40-watt settings shine! It may be the only amp that you need!

  • It offers a wide array of tones. 

You can get a tremendous bluesy clean tone that is crystal clean – much like a vintage Fender Blackface. The spring reverb allows you to add some depth and resonance to your tone, allowing you to create flowing arpeggiated soundscapes. 

As for gain, there isn’t much there. It wasn’t designed to be a high-gain monster. You can push the tubes to get a great gritty distortion that works great for blues, but that’s about all you’ll coax out of it.

If you’re a metalhead and love gain, your best bet would be to use a distortion pedal. The Mesa/Boogie California Tweed 6v6 4:40 accepts pedals very well, and it even has a built-in series effects loop, so you can flavor your tone as much as you’d like. 

It has a classic look with a tweed tolex covering that will stand out from other amps. It looks great no matter where you happen to be!

Now, the downside: This amp is incredibly expensive and not for those who are on a tight budget. It is priced in the realm of boutique amplifiers because it is, in reality, a boutique amplifier. At this price, it would be an excellent investment for a gigging musician. 

If you are looking to buy an amp that can do it all, you should check out the Mesa/Boogie California Tweed 6V6 4:40 Tube Combo!

How this AMP sounds:

MESA/Boogie California Tweed 6V6 4:Forty Official Demo

Summary

ProsCons
Exceptional clean tones that are rich and articulate.The expensive price tag puts it out of reach for budget-minded players.
Five selectable power settings make it great for the stage or the bedroom.
The built-in effects loop allows you to easily integrate pedals into your setup.
The classic tweed look is eye-catching. 

What others are saying:

“I’m feeling like this is my forever amp. I’m able to dial in the tones I want and find lots of variation in the settings.”

  • Ben, Sweetwater customer

Who is this AMP for?

This is for musicians who want an amp that can go from bedroom volume levels to stage volume all in one package.

Who is this AMP NOT for?

This amp is not for those looking for the high-gain tones that Mesa/Boogie is known for.

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Best Value For Money – Blackstar HT-20R MkII 1×12-inch 20-watt Tube Combo Amp with Reverb

image shows the Blackstar HT-20R MkII 1x12 inch 20-watt Tube Combo Amp with Reverb
Blackstar HT-20R MkII 1×12 inch 20-watt Tube Combo Amp with Reverb

Specs

Channels2
Total Power20W (2W setting)
Speaker Size1 x 12″ Blackstar Designed Speaker
Preamp Tubes2 x 12AX7
Power Tubes2 x EL84
ReverbDigital Reverb
EQ3-band EQ, ISF
Inputs1 x 1/4″ (instrument), 1 x 1/8″ (line in)
Outputs1 x 1/4″ (16 ohms), 2 x 1/4″ (single 8 ohm, 2 x 16 ohm), 1 x XLR (DI out)
Effects LoopYes
ControllersYes, 2-button footswitch
Construction MaterialBlack Leatherette
Dimensions19.17″ x 20.19″ x 10.62″
Weight35 lbs

Tube amps are usually more expensive than solid-state amps. There are some great exceptions, though, and the Blackstar HT-20R MkII is a great example of how small tube amps don’t need to cost thousands. 

This little amp gives you 20 watts of pure tube tone. Actually, make that “tube TONES.” You can dial in everything from sparkling, flowing cleans to raunchy overdrives to metal tones with just one amp. This is all thanks to Blackstar’s Infinite Shape Feature (ISF)

I was able to dial in clean tones that reminded me of a Fender Blackface on the clean channel and American high-gain tones similar to a Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier on the overdrive channel. I was even able to nail Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” tone quite easily with the 3-band EQ and ISF knob. It was impressive! 

You get both a clean channel with two voicings and a distortion channel with two voicings. You’ll also get the ability to jam at bedroom volumes with the power reduction switch. This switch brings it down to 2 watts, so you can keep your tone while lowering the volume. 

Speaking of bedroom jamming, the Blackstar HT-20R MkII has an MP3 line-in so you can jam along to your favorite songs. You can even jam quietly with the headphone output that features a speaker cab emulator. 

If you want to record, you have a dedicated USB output so you can go straight into your DAW. If you want to go directly to a mixer board, you have a direct output you can utilize. 

You can even bring the Blackstar HT-20R to your next band rehearsal by using the speaker outputs. This means you can plug it into a speaker cabinet to project your sound better. You can bring this amp anywhere you want, and it will be a welcomed addition.

There is also an included footswitch and an effects loop. You have a complete arsenal of tones and features all in one little box. The best part about it is that it costs well under $700! 

There have been reports of Blackstar amps having some quality control issues, so I recommend that you stay away from used ones and buy a new one. You’ll have a warranty this way in case any problems arise. 

How this AMP sounds:

Blackstar HT-20R MkII Combo Value Guitar Amplifier Review

Summary

ProsCons
Lots of versatility in the bedroom, studio, or on stage.Be aware of possible quality control issues.
ISF knob allows you to get a variety of distorted tones. 
The low-power setting is excellent for bedroom jamming.
USB out is perfect for recording.

What others are saying:

“This amp is phenomenal!! Incredible tone for the price. I don’t think I’ll be playing anything but Blackstar from now on. Great warm clean tones and dynamite crunch tones. Very versatile and can get loud!”

  • Jason, Sweetwater customer

Who is this AMP for?

The Blackstar HT-20R MkII is for anyone looking for a small tube amp that gives you a lot of features for the money.

Who is this AMP NOT for?

This amp is not for fans of spring reverb. The reverb is digital. 

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Best For Metal – Mesa/Boogie Mini Rectifier 25 – 25-watt Tube Head

Mesa/Boogie Mini Rectifier 25 – 25-watt Tube Head – Silver Diamond Faceplate

Specs

Channels2
Total Power25W/10W
Speaker SizeNo speaker, amp head only
Preamp Tubes5 x 12AX7
Power Tubes2 x EL84
Reverbn/a
EQn/a
Inputs1 x 1/4″
Outputs2 x 1/4″ (4, 8 ohms)
Effects LoopYes
ControllersYes, 1-button footswitch
Construction MaterialSilver Diamond Faceplate
Dimensions5.87″ x 12.62″ x 6.75″
Weight12 lbs

If you want the best small amp for metal, you have just found the Holy Grail. Only Mesa/Boogie could cook up such a sweet little amp with so much tone! I realize this is the second Mesa/Boogie product on the list, but it is seriously a high-gain masterpiece. No other comes close!

Think of this as the bratty little brother to the full-powered Dual Rectifier. It features two channels – a clean channel and a distortion channel with 12AX7 preamp tubes and 6L6 power tubes. These channels are controlled via a footswitch, so you can change between clean and distorted tones whenever you want. 

You get the same controls as its big brother: A gain knob, 3-band EQ, presence, and master volume for each channel. You also get two voices for each channel. The clean channel can give you crystal-like, shimmering cleans when the voicing switch is set to “Clean.” You can get a slightly pushed, gritty clean tone if you flip the voicing switch to “Pushed.” 

When it comes to gain, the second channel will give you all you want. You can choose to have it voiced with a more conservative vintage tone or go full-blown, destroy-everything-in-sight high-gain when the switch is set to “Modern.” If you like tones from bands like Killswitch Engage or Meshuggah, then this is your amp!

One cool feature that I like is the selectable power switch for each channel. You can choose 10 watts or 25 watts for each channel independently. The 10-watt setting is great for lower volumes because this thing is incredibly loud! It will make your neighbors hate you if you crank it! 

If you like coloring your tone with effects, there is an effects loop that you can use. 

This is an amp head, and it will work with any 8 or 4-ohm speaker cabinet. I wish they would make a 1×12” combo version, but so far it is only available as a head. It does come with a great travel bag to make it easier to tote around.

Don’t be fooled by imitations – this is the real deal!

How this AMP sounds:

Mesa Mini Rectifier – They Got This One Right!!

Summary

ProsCons
Shimmering cleans are warm and full.Only available as a head – no combo version is available at this time.
It has excellent distortion with insane amounts of gain.The knob design makes it hard to see your settings.
Selectable power for each channel is great for lowering the overall volume.
Can use it with any 8 or 4-ohm speaker cab.

What others are saying:

“This amp has a great tone. Superb cleans to super heavy gain. I have only played it on the 10-watt setting and it blows the doors off my house. It “s loud as hell. I play through a Rectifier 2×12 cabinet. Great bottom end. I highly recommend this amp.”

  • Sweetwater customer

Who is this AMP for?

This is for the gigging metal musician who wants a small amp for recording, rehearsing, or playing in smaller venues. 

Who is this AMP NOT for?

This is not for someone who is looking for a low-volume amp. This amp is loud!

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Best For Blues – Fender Blues Junior IV 1×12-inch 15-watt Tube Combo Amp

image shows the Fender Blues Junior IV 1 x 12-inch 15-watt Tube Combo Amp finished in Black
Fender Blues Junior IV 1 x 12-inch 15-watt Tube Combo Amp – Black

Specs

ChannelsSingle
Total Power15W
Speaker Size1 x 12″ Celestion A-Type
Preamp Tubes3 x 12AX7
Power Tubes2 x EL84
ReverbSpring Reverb
EQ3-band EQ
Inputs1 x 1/4″
Outputs1 x 1/4″ (8 ohm internal speaker), 2 x 1/4″ (4 ohm external speakers)
Effects Loop
ControllersYes, 1-button footswitch for Fat boost
Construction Material0.75″ Particle Board with Black Textured Vinyl
Dimensions16″ x 18″ x 9.81″
Weight31.5 lbs

There’s just something about a Fender amp that makes the blues sound like the blues. The Fender Blues Junior IV is a 15-watt amp that packs a lot of blues into a small package. It has that unmistakable Fender clean sound that is so popular with players all over the world, and it can get delightfully dirty when you push it to the edge. 

The Fender Blues Junior is the best small amp for blues because it is simple and uncomplicated. The all-tube circuitry has no built-in effects (other than vintage spring reverb), no second channel, and no cutting-edge technology. That stuff isn’t needed. It just uses a pair of EL84 power tubes to drive its point home. 

What it does have is a clean tone that is very warm and thick. There is plenty of low-end, and the high-end is clear without any harshness. Roll the volume and master knobs up a little until the EL84s start to distort for a creamy overdrive that only Fender amps can produce. 

You can control your tone courtesy of a 3-band EQ. You can even add some vintage spring reverb to your tone via the reverb knob. The reverb circuit was tweaked so that you can crank it without losing tonal definition – a problem that plagued early Fender amplifiers. 

There is a footswitch included with this amp. It doesn’t switch channels but instead acts as a boost. This is Fender’s “Fat Switch”. It boosts the low end and pushes the tubes harder. This makes the little amp much more versatile. It works great for cutting into a lead and then dropping back into rhythm. It’s great for nailing Stevie Ray Vaughan tones! 

There’s a Celestion A-type 12” speaker that is responsible for delivering all of that tone, and it does so very well. This is a very vintage-sounding speaker with focused mids. I think it sounds a little too warm, though, especially for the character of this amp. I prefer a speaker that is a little softer in the low end with fewer low mids.

If you like wailing the blues, the Fender Blues Junior IV should be at the top of your list!

How this AMP sounds:

How is REALLY Sounds: Fender Blues Jr. IV

Summary

ProsCons
The design is straightforward to use.I found the speaker to be voiced a bit too low for this amp. 
The spring reverb sounds incredible.
The fat switch adds more versatility.
The clean tone simply can’t get any better.

What others are saying:

“Completely blown away. A true amplifier. Takes your guitar to the next level, each note has so much weight behind it. You can make it sound small in your room, you can make it sound booming and full. The reverb helps to accentuate your note out in space. The Fat button is very useful, especially at low volumes it can push the amp just enough. My first personally owned tube amp and I couldn’t be happier! I just want to play my Fender Stratocaster.”

  • Edwin, Sweetwater customer

Who is this AMP for?

The Fender Blues Junior IV is for any guitarist who is looking for a small amp that gives you an authentic blues tone in a small package. 

Who is this AMP NOT for?

This amp is not for guitarists who like a lot of distortion. This amp can’t provide it. 

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Best For Quiet Practice – Marshall DSL1CR 1×8” 1 Watt Tube Combo Amp

image shows the Marshall DSL1CR 1x8" 1-watt Tube Combo Amp
Marshall DSL1CR 1×8″ 1-watt Tube Combo Amp

Specs

Channels2
Total Power1W (0.1W power setting)
Speaker Size1 x 8″ Celestion Eight 15 speaker
Preamp Tubes2 x 12AX7
Power Tubes1 x 12AU7
ReverbYes
EQ3-band EQ, Tone Shift
Inputs1 x 1/4″ (instrument), 1 x 1/8″ (aux in)
Outputs1 x 1/8″ (softube emulated out), 1 x 1/4″ (internal speaker)
Effects LoopYes
ControllersFootswitch included
Construction Material
Dimensions13.4″ x 14.2″ x 8.5″
Weight17 lbs

Marshall is mainly known for their massive, powerful amplifiers. Most of us don’t need to practice with a wall of Marshall’s behind us (I can’t afford it anyway). For those of us who want or need to rage quietly, there’s the Marshall DSL1CR. This little 1-watt amp is great for quiet bedroom jamming without sacrificing precious tone. 

Don’t be fooled – this is an all-tube amp. It features two ECC83 preamp tubes along with an ECC82 in the power section. This is the same setup that is used on big Marshall amps, only with fewer tubes. 

This little monster features two foot-switchable channels (footswitch is included) that provide that authentic Marshall tone that doesn’t get old. The clean channel isn’t quite as full-sounding as I typically like, but it is certainly usable. You don’t buy a Marshall amplifier for the clean tone anyway. It just sounds a little weak to me. 

The second channel is filled with loads of incredible Marshall gain. They let you control it through a volume knob and a gain knob. A 3-band EQ allows you to shape your sound. You can even add some digital reverb to your signal via the reverb knob. If you want to add more effects, there is an effects loop built right into the amp, just as you would find on the big boys. 

But there’s more to this little amp that makes it great for quiet jamming…

There’s a switch on the back that lets you turn the power down to just a tenth (0.1) of a watt! This means you can crank the volume to dial in the best tone without disturbing everyone in the house. 

If you need things even quieter, there is a headphone jack on the back for completely private jamming, and there is an emulated line-out jack that works great for running into your recording rig. This makes it a great studio companion as well as the best small tube amp for home use. It can go nearly anywhere with you! 

The Celestion Eight 15 8” speaker sounds pretty good, and it manages to pull off a Celestion Vintage 30 sound with great accuracy. I found the tones to be more than acceptable for recording purposes, and I was amazed at just how much tone this little amp produced. 

If you live in an apartment or have neighbors that you don’t want to disturb, this amp belongs in your jam room. It is extremely useful and will see a lot of use. 

How this AMP sounds:

Marshall DSL1CR Review – 1 Watt of Iconic Marshall Tone With Added Reverb

Summary

ProsCons
The small design is incredibly portable.The clean channel sounds weak.
The tone is nearly identical to a big Marshall DSL head and cab.
The low power feature makes it possible to get big tones without a lot of volume.
The two channels make it incredibly versatile.

What others are saying:

“Don’t let its size fool you. This little 1watter can crank pretty well. Great marshall tone. The only drawback is the 8-inch speaker gets too muddy when cranked up. I hooked mine to a 1×12. That was the ticket! But I have to say it’s a sweet-sounding amp!”

  • Steve, Sweetwater customer

Who is this AMP for?

The Marshall DSL1CR is an excellent choice for guitarists who want an authentic Marshall tone at quieter volumes.

Who is this AMP NOT for?

This amp is not for someone who is playing in a band setting. It is simply too quiet for that.

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Verdict

There are a ton of great amps on the market. These are the ones that stood out to me the most since they pack a lot of tone into a small package. They also have some great features that make them more versatile than even some larger amps can manage. 

If you want the best of the best and need versatility like no other, then the Mesa/Boogie California Tweed 6V6 is the way to go. It is hard to get this amp to sound bad, and it blows away any other small amp that I have played. Sure, the distortion isn’t heavy, but that can easily be fixed with the right pedal. 

The Blackstar HT-20R MkII is going to give you the best bang for your buck because it has a load of highly usable features. It can go from a bedroom jam session straight to a stage. 

Metalheads probably aren’t surprised that the Mesa/Boogie Mini Rectifier was my top pick for metal. This amp head has a few decades of history backing it up, and it is a great alternative for those who want or need a lower-powered Rectifier. Pair it with your favorite cab and hold on!

Blues players have been playing Fender amps for many years, so it is only natural that the Fender Blues Junior IV was the top pick. The redesigned reverb circuit and the fat switch make it versatile without loading it down with a bunch of features blues players don’t need. There’s a reason these have been around for so long.

For all of you bedroom jammers, there is the Marshall DSL1CR. This little amp is only 1 watt, but it will crank louder than you would think. The low power switch makes it entirely usable for low-volume jamming, and the headphone jack is superb for quiet practice. If you play in your bedroom at all, then you need this amp!


Runner-Ups That Just Missed The Top 5


Buyer’s Guide

How to Choose The Right Small Tube Guitar Amp For You?

Wattage & Headroom

Choosing the correct wattage can be tricky. Typically, the lower the wattage, the lower the volume. Be aware that 1 watt can be louder than you might think! The best way to think about wattage as it relates to a tube amp is to think about headroom. 

Headroom is essentially how loud the amp can get before it starts to distort. Distortion occurs naturally when you turn up the volume on a tube amp. Larger amps allow more headroom before the tubes begin to distort, meaning that it will stay cleaner at much louder volumes when compared to an amp with low wattage. 

Sometimes, you’ll want less headroom so that the amp starts to distort sooner. This is practical when you want to play at lower volumes while having the tubes pushed to saturation. Even just a couple of watts can be surprisingly loud, so be aware of this! 

Various Guitar Amp Tubes

Amps with as little as 1 watt (or even less) can be effective for jamming in your bedroom or for when you want to practice at lower volumes. If you don’t play with others, this may be the only amp you ever need, as they are also great for recording. 

If you plan on playing regularly with others, it would be beneficial to get an amp with more wattage. Small amps with 15, 20, 25, and 35 watts are adequate for small bands with moderate volumes that play smaller venues. Amps 50 to 100 watts are more than enough for larger venues. 

If you plan on playing both smaller and larger venues, then a multi-watt amp may be helpful. This allows you to switch between a high power setting and a lower power setting.

EL34 vs 6L6 Tubes. What’s the difference?

Portability

Tube amps are typically much heavier than solid-state amps due to the large transformers and other heavy components inside. Combo amps will weigh more than amp heads due to the speaker and additional wood used for the cabinet. 

You’ll want to think about how you’ll get your amp from Point A to Point B without killing yourself. If you have back problems, you should know that most tube 1×12” combos weigh around 30 lbs or more. 

Small amp heads, such as the Mesa/Boogie Mini Rectifier, weigh around 12 lbs. Keep in mind that you’ll need a cabinet to go with an amp head, and those can weigh 25 lbs to over 100 lbs. themselves, depending on how many speakers they have and their construction.  

Choose an amp that is going to be easy for you to move if you take it with you to a jam session. You may not want to stuff a large 4×12” cab in a small car every time you decide to go portable, after all. Make sure the weight is sufficient enough for you to lift and carry easily without dropping it. 

Doing your homework beforehand can save you a lot of heartbreak (and back-break) later. 

Tone

Tone is the most essential aspect of getting a guitar amp. Tube amps have a warm tone by nature, but you also have to take into consideration the overall sound that you want. 

  • If you’re a fan of high-gain tones, then you’ll want a tube amp that is capable of producing those properly. 
  • If you’re a fan of clean or slightly dirty tones, you’ll want an amp that has a lot of headroom and isn’t considered a “high-gain” amp.

Amp manufacturers make different amps because everyone has their idea of what makes the tone of an amplifier great. I love Mesa/Boogie amps, but I know a lot of people who do not. I like amps to have a dedicated clean channel and at least one channel for distorted tones so I can switch between them on the fly. Some people prefer a single-channel amplifier. 

These things, plus headroom, speaker type, the number of speakers, and the type of tubes that are used, all factor into an amp’s tone. A Fender amplifier has a much warmer clean channel than a Marshall DSL amplifier. This is because the components that make up the amplifier’s circuits, as well as the tubes, are different between the two amps. 

Origins of Tone! – Marshall vs Fender vs Vox (VERY LOUD!)

There’s a lot that goes on with an amp. The best way to decide if the tone is for you is to play them in person. If you can’t play them in person, the next best thing is to watch some review videos and listen to the tone. 

You can also find out what your favorite artists use and base your purchase on that. Keep in mind that what is good for them may not be suitable for you, so do some serious research! 

Features

You’ll want to get an amp that has features from which you will benefit. You shouldn’t worry about getting an amp with an effects loop if you’re not going to be using effects, for example (although many amps come with this feature already). 

Think about how you will be using the amp. Suppose you will use it in your bedroom to practice but also plan on doing small gigs with your friends. In that case, consider purchasing an amplifier with a selectable power output feature to allow you to play comfortably in both situations. 

If you like to do a lot of home recording, then consider getting an amp that has a USB or direct output. 

This will make recording a lot easier because you won’t need to use a microphone to capture your amp’s sound. 

Look at the features of the amp and study how they function. This will help you narrow down what you do and do not need. 

Price

Tube amps are generally more expensive than solid-state amps. This is because the components used in them are more expensive. Where they are made also factors into the price. Some amps can be as little as a few hundred dollars, while others can cost thousands of dollars. I can think of 1×12” combos that cost around $500 and 1×12” combos that cost nearly $3,500! 

You should look at your budget and get an amp that is going to fit it. When I buy gear, I typically set aside the most money for my amplifier purchase. This is because your amp is a huge part of your overall tone, and a high-quality amplifier can make a budget guitar sound much better. 

Expensive Tubes In a Cheap Amp! – Is It Worth It?

How to Test

The best way to test out an amplifier is to use your own guitar. This gives you the most accurate representation of what this amp will sound like when you play through it. Most music store owners will oblige and allow you to bring in your guitar for testing. If you don’t have a guitar yet, try out a couple of guitars that interest you the most. 

Make sure to turn the amp’s power on and wait a couple of minutes before playing. If the amp has a “Standby” switch, keep it on standby. This allows the tubes to warm up and prevents possible damage to the amplifier. After a couple of minutes, you can safely play through it. 

If you’re going to be using it at lower volumes, play it at lower volumes. Test all of the functions and features to be sure they are working correctly. Also, note how they work. 

For example, how much bass does the “bass” knob add to the tone? How much gain does the “gain” knob add at the 1 o’clock position? Each amp is different, and knowing these things can help you decide if you like the amp’s overall tone.

Turn the amp up to see how much headroom it has before the sound starts to distort. If it is too loud, then you may consider getting a lower-wattage amp. 
Pro tip: If I am trying to choose between two amplifiers, I will bring an ABY switch and a couple of cables with me. This allows me to plug one guitar into two amps and switch between the two for a side-by-side tone comparison.


FAQs: Best Small Tube Amps

How Much Wattage Should I Get In A Small Tube Amp?

You should get enough wattage for your playing situation. Bedroom players will be comfortable with 1-5 watts. Amps with 5-15 watts are great for jamming with a relatively quiet drummer in the mix. Amps with 25-40 watts are great for smaller gigs. 

Can I Use Pedals With Small Tube Amps To Enhance My Sound?

Yes, you can use pedals with small tube amps. Many even have a dedicated effects loop. 

What Is The Best Small Tube Amp For Classic Rock?

The best small tube amp for classic rock is the Orange Rocker 15 1×10” 15-watt Tube Combo Amp. 

Is A 15-Watt Tube Amp Enough To Gig With?

This depends on the size of the venue and if you are playing in a band with other instruments. A 15-watt amp can become lost in the mix, especially if the other players use larger amps. I recommend going with 25 watts and higher. Larger venues will require a larger amp. 

Is A 20-Watt Tube Amp Too Loud For Home Use?

A 20-watt tube amp can get very loud. If you plan on cranking the amp, then it may be too much for home use. It will be loud enough to disturb your neighbors if they live close. 

Do Tube Amps Sound Better With Age?

This is a myth. There is no systematic evidence that supports that tube amps sound better with age. Age can often mean that the amp needs to undergo maintenance, as filter capacitors and output capacitors can often leak after many years. 

Do Tube Amps Sound Better When Louder?

Yes, tube amp sound better when played at higher volumes.

What Are The Disadvantages Of Tube Amps?

Tube amps require routine maintenance to function properly. Tubes need to be replaced periodically. Solid-state amps are usually maintenance-free. Tube amps are also heavier due to the components used in their construction.

Tube amps are also more expensive than solid-state amps. It may also prove challenging to make a tube amp sound good at lower volumes because they sound better when turned up.


Conclusion on Best Small Tube Amps

There are tons of great amps on the market. Small tube amps have become popular in recent years, and for good reason. They’re more practical, portable, and still deliver a fantastic tone. They became even more valuable as home studios became more prevalent.

Small tube amps should be a part of every guitar player’s gear locker because they can be used for so many things. They make a great practice amp or songwriting companion because they allow you to achieve amazing tones just like their larger counterparts. Additionally, some of them are loud enough to keep up with a full band rehearsal or a small gig. 

Don’t let someone tell you you need a large amplifier to have a fantastic tone. Pick up one of these small tube amps and prove them wrong. 

DL Shepherd

Darren has been playing guitar for over 25 years and teaching guitar since High-School. He fronted the metal band Suddenly Silence in the early 2000’s, and also achieved recognition as an award-winning bluegrass guitarist. A native of southwestern Virginia, and has shared the stage with many big-name acts from various genres. When he is not playing one of his many guitars, he can be found riding his Harley through the mountains of Virginia. Expertise: teaching guitars, electric guitars, acoustic guitars, guitar amplifiers, guide pedals, flatpicking, bluegrass, metal, rock, and blues.
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