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
- Laney Electric Guitar Power Amplifier, Black/Brown (CUB-12R)
- Price as of 01/20/2021 14:11 PST(more info about ad)
If you’re looking for the distinctive sound of an all-tube amp but don’t want to spend too much, 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:
- Tung-Sol 12AX7 Preamp Vacuum Tube, Single
- Price: $18.05
- Price as of 01/20/2021 14:11 PST(more info about ad)
Replacing the stock tubes by investing a bit more in this section will go a long way in getting the absolute best sonic attack.
- Ibanez TSA15 1 x 12 15-Watt All-Tube Combo Guitar Amplifier
- Price as of 01/19/2021 21:33 PST(more info about ad)
Still in the under somewhat budget 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 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.
- Bugera BC15 15-Watt Vintage Guitar Amp with 12AX7 Tube
- Price as of 01/19/2021 18:54 PST(more info about ad)
It can be tricky to find affordable tube amplifiers, simply because of the components and craftsmanship involved in their construction. That doesn’t mean you can’t find them if you look, though. If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option, the BC15 from Bugera gives you that distinctive all-tube sound for not much money.
This amplifier has a classic design, with a cream casing and black grille that are both appealing to the eye and durable enough for daily use. It gives you a sound to match the look, too, with an 8” custom speaker that’s tuned specifically to provide that vintage guitar sound. While it won’t get as loud as more powerful amplifiers, it does have an impressive output considering the size and wattage.
This amp also has features you might be surprised to find in the price point. This includes a dual-channel preamp that uses a 12AX7 tube, hand-selected for its sound and versatility. Each channel also has its own dedicated 2-band EQ for shaping the tone, and the Gain button gives you a more distortion-heavy tone for lead playing. Whether you’re looking for a practice amp or something to use for gigs in small venues, this is one of the best 15-watt tube amps around.
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!
Micah Johnson started playing music in high school, when he taught himself the bass to join his friend’s band. He added guitar and drums during his twenties playing in local clubs, and along the way, he picked up unique, hands-on experience from hand drums to studio mixers. On Song Simian, he aims to share this knowledge from 20+ years playing and recording music. When not in gearhead mode, he enjoys photography and travel. Email him