Low-wattage cheap tube amps have been a rockstar secret since…well, basically since rock stars existed! Guitarists from Jeff Beck to Jimmy Page to Johnny Marr have used small amps like the Fender Champ and the Vox AC4C1 (among others) to get a good overdriven tone in the studio, without the kind of volume that would ruin their hearing.
Best of all, your guitarist can get these quality tones from an affordable tube amp in the low-wattage range. Here are the three best cheap guitar amps with tubes for under $200.
Best cheap tube amps for $200 or less:
Fender Champion 600 / Gretsch G5222 Electromatic Guitar Amplifier
This is a great amp for clean guitar tones as well as gritty, overdriven-but-not-distorted tones. The Gretsch Electromatic amp model has the same circuit, tone stack, tubes, input, and speakers as the Fender Champion 600. The only difference here is the casing.
The speaker in this model is smaller than most speakers: 6.5″. Because of that, the Gretsch G522/Fender Champion retains remarkable clear tones, yet can reach sweetly saturated overdrive tones without blowing the walls out of your home. Something to think about when your guitarist is just down the hall…
Bugera V5 All Tube Guitar Amplifier
The Bugera V5 is considered the “sleeper hit” among low-wattage tube amps. This affordable tube amp can be played clean or overdriven at bedroom-playing volume levels, but can also keep up with a band. It can get anywhere from country-clean, to Hendrix-fuzzy, and even into modern rock distortion territory.
Perhaps best of all, the Bugera V5 features a headphone jack! Your guitarist can play as loudly as he or she wants without disturbing the rest of the family, any time of day or night. This versatile amp can also be plugged into speaker cabinets to keep up with loud drums in practice, or for small gigs.
The V5 is just about the only cheap tube amp of this size to come with a headphone output. It can just about nail the tones of larger, more expensive Fender and Marshall amps, too. A great value for your guitarist, and peace of mind for your family. And we think it’s the coolest looking practice amp on this list!
Laney Cub 8 Tube Guitar Amp
The Laney Cub is an affordable tube amp that covers a similar tone and wattage to the Champion/Gretsch amp mentioned above, but without as much “clean” space and a little more “dirty backroad” overdrive. It has the same electrical output (5 watts), but with a slightly bigger speaker (8 inches). This amp is a little louder and handles distortion better. With the right pedals, it can hit hard rock and some metal tones and still sound good.
Laney amps have been around for a long time and have been used for everything from country to heavy metal (they are the favored guitar amplifier of Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi for going on 40 years now). These amps cost less because Laney doesn’t spend the kind of money on marketing and ads that some of the larger brands do.
For the sake of all the non-guitar players in the house, the Laney Cub 8 is probably the best choice for an affordable tube amp. But if there is ample practice space in a relatively soundproof (or distant) area, the Laney Cub 10 carries a bigger, louder speaker and twice the wattage for the same price.
Other amps to consider (slightly more expensive)
Blackstar 1w and 5w ($249)
vht special 6 ($249)
Vox AC4C1, AC4TV, and AC4TVH
Micro Terror (hybrid)
Vox Valvetronix (Hybrid, but very versatile)