5 Underrated Tube Amps Under $500

Ask any live sound engineer or guitar shop salesperson, and you'll hear it repeated: the days where you legitimately need a full or even half stack to fill a venue are long gone. Live sound reinforcement and general amp efficiency has come far enough that a lower wattage amp with a Shure SM57 is a better match for a vast majority of live scenarios than the 100-watters of yesteryear.

Gigging considerations aside, if you're just playing at home or in a practice space, the reasons to seek a lower wattage amp are even more obvious. Lower watt amps achieve juicy tones and fulfilling breakup at much more practical volumes. In small combo format, they can easily be transported to jam sessions. Not to mention studio applications where a simple 5-watt combo can be the perfect tool to finely carve out the exact tone your project needs.

If you're considering picking up a small combo tube amp, your options are now more robust than ever before. There are the standard offerings like the Fender Blues Junior and various Vox AC15 models, not to mention an entire genre of "lunchbox" heads sparked by the game-changing Orange Tiny Terror. While these are all outstanding options with deep used markets to tap into, there are, of course, some lesser-known entries in the low-watt, low-price tube combo genre deserving of your consideration. Here's a look at some of our favorite lesser known amps that fall under 15 watts, under $500 on Reverb.

Panama Conqueror

The up-and-coming Panama guitar company has a unique story to tell. All their gear is crafted by artisans in a volcano-side workshop near Boquete, Panama. The firm uses the country's selection of exotic of tonewoods to produce unique cabinets and, more recently, a lineup of heads and combos.

We recently had the chance to try one of the new Conqueror combos out here at Reverb HQ. The results were astounding. Running on 5 watts and based on the classic 5F1 Champ circuit, the Conqueror is a simple and affordable small format amp with extremely detailed and present tones at all points of its volume spectrum. Be sure to check out Panama's offerings here on Reverb for more of their unique new designs.

  • Stock Tubes: (1) 12AX7 preamp tube, (1) 6V6 power tube
  • Wattage: 5 watts
  • 1x12-inch
Shop Panama Guitars on Reverb
VHT Special 6

Founded and formerly helmed by amp guru Steve Fryette, the contemporary incarnation of VHT continues to produce no-nonsense tube circuits such as the affordable Special series. Any gear forum denizen will no doubt have heard about these amps given the cult-like following they've earned over the past few years—and it's well-deserved.

Like other entries on this list, the Special 6 channels the sound of a vintage Fender champ, and its vibrant clean tones make an excellent companion for an expansive pedal array. Like the Traynors of the '70s, the VHT Special contains an easily removable chassis making it supremely mod-friendly. For players looking for a little something extra out of the box, there's also an ultra version, which adds an extra gain stage, tube-driven effects loop and tonal depth control along with some other goodies.

  • (1) 12AX7 preamp tube, (1) 6V6 power tube
  • Wattage: 6 watts
  • Speaker Size: 1x10-inch
Shop VHT Special 6s on Reverb
Fender Vaporizer

The vintage-tinged Fender Vaporizer has recently been discontinued, but specimens can still be found all over Reverb. Part of the second generation of amps in Fender's Pawn Shop series, the Vaporizer picked up where the Excelsior left off as a small format combo with a distinctly retro style. This 12-watt combo features both normal and bright inputs, as well as a springy reverb circuit that's classic Fender all the way.

More uniquely, the simple yet effective vaporizer mode lets you bypass the volume and tone controls altogether for a heaping helping of Fender sound that doesn't require a different type of vaporizer to appreciate.

  • Stock Tubes: (2) 12AX7 preamp tubes, (2) EL84 power tubes
  • Wattage: 12 watts
  • Speaker Size: 2x10-inch
Shop Fender Vaporizers on Reverb
Hughes & Kettner Tubemiester 5

Hughes and Kettner are known for truly pro-level heads that offer extreme fidelity to the touring and session guitarists of the world. With the Tubemiester series, the German-maker promises the same degree of tonal clarity and shine in more affordable and portable packages. Take the smallest entry in the line: the Tubemiester 5.

This amp comes in head or combo formats, sporting a versatile push/pull 12BH7 tube setup, along with Hughes and Kettner's Power Soak feature that lets you bypass the powered output for DI recording. Unlike some of the other small format amps mentioned here, the Tubemiester includes an EQ section which can be especially useful when working with lighter volumes where some of your sonic content might go unheard.

  • Stock Tubes: (1) 12AX7 preamp tube, (1) 12BH7 power tube
  • Wattage: 5 watts
  • Speaker Size: 1x8-inch
Shop Hughes & Kettner Tubemeister 5s on Reverb
Laney Cub10

When most people think of Laney, they envision '80s metal mavens with blaring rows of British stacks. What they don't envision is what the Laney Cub series offers: a set of simple, elegant amps with modest price points and unadulterated tube tone.

Currently, the Cub series includes 8-inch, 10-inch and 12-inch combos along with a head and reverb-loaded version of the Cub12. The Cub10 is a perfect middle option in the lineup with 10 watts and a current price tag of around $250. The Cub8 is definitely worthy of consideration for at-home usage, but the full 10-watt offering of the Cub10 makes it a much more versatile amp, with not much higher of a price tag.

  • Stock Tubes: (2) ECC83 preamp tube, (2) 6V6GT power tube
  • Wattage: 10 watts
  • Speaker Size: 1x10-inch
Shop Laney Cub10s on Reverb
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