The best tube amps to buy in 2023: 12 valve-powered amps that sound amazing

Do you insist on having glowing glass tubes in your rig? These tube amps are the best in class for 2023.

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Although technology has progressed quite a bit since the golden age of rock ’n’ roll, for many guitarists, vintage-style tube amplifiers still represent the high-water mark for guitar tone. And even the most popular digital amplifiers expend the majority of their processing power attempting to recreate the chest-thumping tones of old.

Tube amps often don’t come cheap. But the list that follows includes amps that span a wide variety of prices to help you find the ultimate valve companion for your budget – whether you want something pedalboard-friendly, easily overdriven, loud enough to drown out an obnoxious drummer or versatile enough for a small session.

Buying a tube amp: what should you look for?

If you’re stepping into the world of tube amplification for the first time, deciding on a power rating is a good starting point. Too high, and you won’t be able to properly turn your amp up to its sweet spot. Too low, and you’ll struggle to find any clean headroom – although some would argue that being able to overdrive low-powered tube amps at sensible volumes is a big part of their appeal. Identifying whether your amp will accompany you on stage or remain in your bedroom is another factor to consider when looking at wattage.

If you are able to mic up your amp through a PA, we’ve found that 15-30 watts is the ‘Goldilocks zone’ for most gigging players. It’s not so loud that sound engineers will hate you, but you won’t have difficulties being heard above the drummer.

Without a power attenuator or master volume control, a 15-watt valve amp will likely be too loud for home use – even a five-watt tube amp can be enough to make the neighbours bang on the walls. If you do have concerns about noise levels, you might want to check out a digital alternative for home practice instead.

The best tube amplifiers to buy in 2023 at a glance:

Blackstar St James 50 EL34 Combo

Anyone who has suffered the misfortune of having to load a valve amp into a gig via a narrow and rickety staircase will appreciate the central plank of the St James series – to make proper valve amps that, through some extremely clever engineering, weigh about a third less than traditional tube amps.

It’s a remarkable thing in and of itself, but what’s really impressive is that the St James doesn’t just sound as good as a regular Blackstar valve amp – it’s probably the best sounding amp the British upstart brand has ever made.

Price: $1,299/£1,099

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Fender ’68 Custom Pro Reverb

Fender’s ’68 Custom Pro Reverb offers some absolutely sensational old-school Fender amp tones. With a tube-driven spring reverb tank and bias tremolo, you can easily dive into surf territory, but modern ambient washes certainly aren’t off-limits thanks to the long spring length.

While clean tones may be what you think of when it comes to retro Fender combos, cranking the volume knob still introduces quite a bit of hair to things. But because of the 40-watt power rating, lower volume settings aren’t exactly quiet, and at this end of things there’s lots of clean headroom if you want to let fuzzes and drives really speak for themselves, or use delay and reverb pedals without too much compression occurring.

Price: $1,499 / £1,489

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Orange TremLord

Although this 30-watt combo has plenty in common aesthetically with Orange’s other modern offerings, plug in and it’s quickly apparent that this is no Dual Dark or Thunderverb.

The retro-sounding TremLord is all about characterful cleans, inspiring reverb and pulsating tremolo, along with providing a punchy platform for modern pedal-lovers. Overall, the vibe here is decidedly more vintage than we’ve become accustomed to from Orange in recent years – we like it a lot.

Price: $1,299/£999

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Victory The Sheriff 25

British brand Victory Amps have been making waves over the last few years, with a selection of impressively designed tube amps that benefit from the expertise of former Cornford amp designer Martin Kidd pulling the strings behind the scenes.

The Sheriff 25 might be the brand’s best amp to date, offering you both flavours of Marshall noisiness – a Plexi and a JCM800 – in one dinky lunchbox head. The ultimate go-anywhere Marshall-style amp?

Price: $1,499/£1,199

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Fender ’65 Deluxe Reverb

When things are ubiquitous, it becomes easy to dismiss them, but there’s a very good reason why you can barely step into a gig venue in 2023 without seeing a Deluxe Reverb on stage somewhere.

Fender’s 22-watt workhorse remains as dependable and great sounding today as it was in 1965, as capable of offering you shimmering Fender cleans as it is overdriven filth, it remains a hugely popular choice for stage and studio whether you’re playing to 10 people or 10,000.

Price: $1,599/£1,769

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Marshall Studio Vintage SV20H

Marshall’s SV20H channels the spirit of a vintage Plexi, while sporting a compact new form factor and a considerably more manageable power rating.

The crystalline clean and thick drive tones you find in abundance here will be manna from heaven for vintage Marshall fans, while the five-watt mode means you don’t have to be standing on a festival stage to get the full Plexi experience.

Price: $1,749/£849

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Supro 1822 Delta King 12

Very few amplifiers score a perfect 10/10 with us, but this one sure did (under its previous name, the Blues King), leaving us wondering if the venerable Fender Blues Junior had finally met its match in the affordable 1×12 stakes. Other than adding a tremolo circuit, it’s hard to imagine how Supro could have crammed more into such a compact cabinet.

At both stage- and home-friendly volume levels, the Delta King offers a rich palette of Americana tones from vintage cleans to frayed overdrive and explosive fuzz. When you factor its price into the equation, it’s a no-brainer purchase.

Price: $699/£599

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Vox AC30C2 Custom 30W

The Beatles knew it, Brian May knows it, the Edge knows it, and countless other bands know it – there’s just something about the sound of a Vox AC30 that you simply cannot deny.

With normal and Top Boost channels, two 12-inch Celestion speakers and 30 watts of EL84-powered valve tone, for many players once they land on a Vox, they never feel the need to think about their amp choice ever again.

Price: $1,299/£999

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EVH 5150 III Iconic 40w 1×12

Even three years after his death, the legacy and legend of Eddie Van Halen shows no sign of losing its potency, and it feels like more players than ever before are trying to capture some of the inimitable magic that made him perhaps the greatest guitarist of all time.

The 5150 III won’t teach you how to play Erruption but this two-channel 40-watt combo will at least get your tone as close as possible to his iconic ‘Brown Sound’ thanks to a custom-voiced Celestion speaker and a pair of boostable clean and dirty channels.

Price: $899/£659

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Bad Cat Hot Cat

Californian boutique brand Bad Cat has gone through, if not quite nine lives then several different iterations, but the current iteration was reborn in 2021 and overhauled the entire line of amps that had made the brand so sought-after in the first two decades of the 2000s.

The Hot Cat is something of a statement of intent for the new Bad Cat – it might not be a hand-wired, super-high-end beast any more but it’s a classy combo for big cleans, edgy crunch and high-gain punishment, without you needing to remortgage your house. Arguably the most affordable way to get a slice of bona fide US-made boutique amp in 2023.

Price: $2,099/£1,899

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Silktone KT66 Amp

There are many, many wooden boxes full of glowing glass bottles vying for the title of ‘best amp in the world’, but while it’s something that might be too subjective to ever really know, for many people Silktone will very well be the answer.

The Amp is not cheap (but compared to some other US boutique amps, it’s very reasonable), but it is almost ludicrously versatile and great sounding – with a built-in attenuator to take things from 12 watts all the way down to 0.5 watts for easy bedroom playing, plus a ‘Chiffon/Raw Silk’ switch that allows you to bypass the tonestack for pure unadulterated KT66 valve tone, it’s one of the very, very best guitar amps you’ll ever play.

Price: $2,499/£2,599

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Tone King Gremlin

This tiny little head comes in a range of colourways, but more importantly gives you five watts of power aimed at replicating the tone of an old black-panel Fender amp cranked to full, while refraining from being too loud for home use. It offers two channels: Rhythm for more “bell-like highs” and higher headroom, and Lead for a tweed-style overdrive.

Providing these tones are two 12AX7 preamp tubes and a single 5881 power amp tube. The amp’s face bears a stripped-back layout: just two inputs (one for the Lead and one for the Rhythm) and two controls: tone and volume. Tone King has notably included a built-in Ironman II attenuator i, allowing you to distort the amp’s power section while staying at a reasonable volume.

Price: $1,195 / £999

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Two-Rock Studio Signature Head

If crystalline 6L6 tone and pedal-friendliness are qualities you seek then the Studio Signature Head from Two-Rock is a must-try.

Big bottles and big iron supply plenty of clean headroom, and although smooth and refined overdrives are well within reach if you really crank its gain and master controls, this is an amplifier for those who worship at the altar of the Klon Centaur and Tube Screamer and won’t compromise on Strat tone.

Price: $3,699/£3,599

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Matchless Laurel Canyon 112r

The Laurel Canyon is a departure from Matchless’ usual fare of Vox-inspired EL84- and EL34-loaded amplifiers. This 6V6-fitted combo is aimed at the rock ’n’ roll sounds coming out of LA in the 60s and 70s: think the drive sounds of the Rolling Stones and Neil Young. What’s not a departure is the high-quality cabinet construction and point-to-point internal wiring.

The amp also features a highly-interactive EQ section, with wide changes in sound across their respective frequency bands. There’s also a master volume control for full-blast tone at less-than full-blast volumes, and a 5AR4 tube handling rectification for some vintage sag.

Price: £2,995 / $2,510

Lazy J J10LC

One tube amp to rule them all? In a boutique market saturated with tweed clones, Jesse Hoff stands out because of his own twists to the classic recipe. Case in point: the J10LC.

This 10-watt, 1×12 combo is one of the best sounding tube amplifiers on the planet, with harmonically rich clean and breakup tones, stunning dynamics and spellbinding onboard effects. It’s not cheap but this is an amp for life – it records wonderfully and, despite its comparatively low power rating, is a great gigging amp too.

Price: From £1,599



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