So if you are surprised by someone saying that a 15 watt guitar amp can be used for live gigs and band rehearsals, there’s a very good chance they’re referring to a tube amp (or they’re plain nuts for thinking a solid-state model can tackle live shows).
With all that stuff out of the way, we decided to venture on a journey of find the best 15-watt tube amp on the amarket. We had several criteria in mind, the first one being that authentic organic tube sound, the second one being power, the third one being reliability, and the fourth being, of course, value for the money.
Our quest yielded 4 fine champs, you can check ’em all out in the segment below:
Vox AC15 Custom Tube Combo
We’ll get the party started with some big guns. This one’s a bit of a high-end item and definitely an amp you can’t go wrong with. It goes under the name of Vox AC15, and it’s the small tube amp every blues and blues rock player dreams of.
The device is packed with a single 12-inch 16I Celestion Alnico Blue speaker and comes with a chunky weight of 48.5 lbs.
When it comes to sound, many say think Stevie Ray Vaughan, and they aren’t too far off that’s. But a look at the controls reveals that the amp offers two different audio shapes: the Normal channel and the Top Boost channel. Both are nice and fuzzy, but the Top Boost really picks things up a notch and secures a handful of that natural guitar roar.
Apart from that, you can control the level of Reverb and Tremolo. But as that gorgeous front grill suggests, this amp can offers just a mild to moderately strong overdrive, making it a perfect pick for blues and classic rock players. It’s one of the best 15w tube amps for the money.
Laney Amps CUB 12R
If you’re looking for the distinctive sound of an all-tube amp but can’t afford to spend more than $500, the Laney CUB 12R is a budget-friendly option that gives you 15 watts of power in an attractive, durable package.
In the sonic department, it uses a 12” Celestion speaker. The driver was custom-designed specifically for Laney to pair perfectly with the head and cab. The compact 1X12” enclosure gives you more volume and power than smaller 1X10” options while still being compact enough to transport easily to gigs. It also gives you an impressive array of tone customization options, with an onboard reverb (easily set up to activate with a footswitch) and an FX loop for your favorite pedals, along with the standard dials for gain and tone.
In terms of the valves, it combines two preamp EXCC83 tubes with two EL84 output tubes that give it a more scooped tone than most similarly-sized amps. This gives you the capability for a smooth and rich valve sound, along with the potential for a powerful, dark overdrive.
But there’s also a little trick we’d like to share with you to make this amp even stronger. If you’re looking to switch up the tube sound you get out of this (or any) amp, you can alter it easily by replacing the tubes with something a tad stronger. A pack of Tung Sol EL84s should work like a charm in our opinion:
Replacing the stock tubes by investing a few more dollars in this section will go a long way in getting the absolute best sonic attack.
Still in the under $500 department, the Ibanez TSA15 combines amazing craftsmanship and one of the company’s most iconic product: the Tube Screamer. This amp is also the most versatile option on the list, so in case you need to cover a vast array of styles, this is the one you’ve been looking for.
So what do we have here? A single 12-inch Celestion speaker, classic Bass, Middle and Treble controls, a switchable 6dB boost and three knobs for Tube Screamer control (plus an on/off switch for it, of course).
You can adjust the color of the sound via EQ, kick the preamp section into high gear with the boost switch, and control your level of overdrive distortion to minute details via Tube Screamer knobs.
Additionally, the amp is pretty powerful, quite sturdy and reliable, and we even like the classy white finish—one of the best 15-watt tube amps period.
Orange Amplification Tiny Terror
And now, let us unleash upon you the Orange beast known as the Tiny Terror! If you’re a bit more on the rocky, sludgy, gain-driven side, this is your perfect match. Think Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath and similar esteemed individuals—that’s what you can get with just a few tweaks here.
Thanks to Gain, Tone, and Volume controls, you can adjust the two EL84 and a pack of ECC83/12AX7 tubes to work to your advantage in more than just sludge stuff. You can tone this guy (see full specs) down for blues and you can crank it up for metal—the choice is entirely yours.
To share a few more praises, we have to point out that despite all the grittiness, the sound still remains to be exceptionally clear and distinguishable in the mix. This thin will NOT muddle up your band’s sound, it will equip it with a punchy six-string roar to supplement the sonic attack. Is this the best 15w tube amp? Depends on your taste, but yes, it just might be the one!
What to Look for in Smaller Tube Amps?
We already touched on this matter to an extent during the intro, but we thought to delve into it in a bit more detail here. So the main thing to inspect when buying a tube guitar amp is if the sound is really that tube stuff you’re looking for.
Additionally, it is best to test out the amp’s power by cranking things up to 11. It is a well known fact that tube amps operate the best under pressure, and you’ll want to conduct the power test – at least briefly – to determine that you’re looking at the real deal.
Then there’s the standard factors – durability of components, reliability, road-worthiness. Wrap all this stuff up in good value for money and you got our full criteria for this list. As you might have guessed, the listed four products absolutely match the requirements, and we can just wholeheartedly recommend them as the best 15-watt tube amps you can buy. Good luck!