Updated: October 7, 2020 by Richard Cole
For most guitar players, no matter how advanced digital amps become, tube amps will always be the way to go. There is just something magical about the way these amps behave and sound.
The smoothness of that overdrive, the fidelity of tone, these are all just some of the reasons why tube amps are still considered to be the go-to technology.
Only real drawback of tube amps is their price. A good tube amp will cost you a lot of money, which sadly makes them somewhat exclusive. However there’s a pretty decent line of tube amps that right at the edge of what can be considered affordable.
What we want to know is what are the best tube amps under 500 dollars, and what you can expect to find in this price range.
Without further ado, let’s begin !
– Marshall DSL15H –
Marshall’s DSL series is one of their cheaper line of tube amps. There’s a variety of version to choose from, but we found the DSL15H to be particularly interesting. It is only a head, meaning that you will need a cabinet to go with it, but we like it for its mighty roar and that genuine Marshall tube sound.
This head has enough juice to rock even larger cabinets, which is what makes it one of the best amps for stage use and recording.
Marshall DSL15H packs two 6V6 power valves while there are four ECC83s in the preamp, which means a lot of guts in a relatively small form factor. It’s a 15 Watt head with Pentode/Triode switch, allowing you to cut the power in half should you want to.
There are two channels, Classic and Ultra Gain, where Classic acts as a clean channel which you can distort with some gain. If you select Ultra Gain, you will experience that trademark distortion that Marshall amps are known for. Front panel controls consist of standard EQ controls, volume and gain for Ultra Gain channel, and the same layout for Classic Gain channel.
There are also Tone Shift and Deep buttons which remove the mid range from the EQ and introduce a thicker resonance respectively. There are no effects on this amp, which is unfortunate.
Classic Gain which acts as your clean channel sounds crispy and brings more than enough definition. You can push some gain into it which gives you that lightly distorted blues tone. Ultra Gain is where this amp shows its true face.
This channel allows you to experience the anything from hard rock to full metal sound thanks to an abundance of gain and incredible sustain. Unless you are going for a really heavy distortion, you can play most genres of hard rock or metal using Ultra Gain only.
Long time ago Vox released their famous AC30 tube amp and the guitar world went wild. It wasn’t long before it became one of those legendary models everyone mentions when discussing high quality gear which left a mark in history of rock.
Nowadays you’d have to spend a lot of cash to find one of these in good condition. But you don’t have to. Vox has released their AC10C1 amp which brings back a near copy of that authentic sound, but with one huge difference. You can buy for less than $500.
Vox AC10C1 is a 10 Watt combo unit packaged in a case which is reminiscent of vintage Vox amps. It features two EL84 power tubes, two 12AX7 preamp tubes and a single 10-inch Celestion VX10 speaker.
Controls are rudimentary, and come in form of gain, bass, treble, reverb and volume knobs. It’s a single channel amp, but you can create that dirty Vox overdrive thanks to the master level top boost that is available.
This thing sounds heavenly. It shares so much with the vintage Vox AC series that you will instantly fall in love with it if you’re a fan of that era. The sound is warm and overall very clean with enough headroom to spare.
When you push the top boost a bit, you will get a very saturated distortion that sounds full and well rounded. At this price, Vox AC10C1 is a no brainer especially for diehard vintage Vox fans.
Bugera V55 does a great job at reproducing the sound of vintage ’60s tube amps in all of their glory. There was no cutting corners when they designed this thing, and for the older generation of guitar players, it brings back some great memories.
Bugera opted to go for a combo layout with lots of power, all while keeping the V55 in an affordable price range.
For what it is, Bugera V55 is insanely versatile amp. It comes with two 6V6 power tubes and three 12AX7 preamp tubes, and a heavy duty 12-inch Bugera speaker. There are two channels on this amp, one clean and one high gain.
The controls are somewhat extensive, and feature a clean, gain, volume knob, 3-band EQ section, along with master, presence and reverb knobs.
There’s a pentode/triode switch, while you can hook this amp up to a cabinet if that 12-inch speaker isn’t enough for you. When you consider everything, this amp is extremely versatile and can be used both at home and for gigging.
Bugera promised vintage, and it delivered vintage. You can expect to get that ’60s-’70s tube amp sound with zero effort. Depending on what kind of guitar you have, you can expect a very punchy clean sound with single coil pickups, or something fuller and richer with humbuckers.
What you get from the box is not the full extent of this amp. Tubes that come with it are fine, but if you decide to go for a better quality set, you can squeeze out a significantly better sound.
Contrary to popular belief, there are quality made affordable tube amps on the market which bring the type of sound that is usually synonymous with vintage tubes.
These three are in our opinions the best tube amps under 500 dollar price point. We strongly believe that no matter which one you choose, you won’t regret your decision.