Talk me into, or out of, getting a tube amp

MilwMark

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This is a fraught and loaded topic. Start with the volumes you play when you don't use headphones. If you are in the 65-75 dB range, forget about an amp with a 10-12" speaker over 1w, especially a tube amp, UNLESS you are happy very clean. Realistically with that type of speaker you will need the ability to access a fraction of a watt and have a good master, or you'll get up over 80 dB real quick.

The best solution I've tried (bar none) for home is the Boss Waza Air headphone amp. Most immersive and realistic to live loud tone and feel for me.

For non-headphone practice, at one point I had a VHTD50 head, a really nice attenuator (Toneking) and a closed 212. If I adjusted everything JUST right I could get a really, really nice home tone and feel. But it was hard to stay under 75 dB even there (really loud in a home, actually). On a lark I compared it to my MicroCube and my THR - the tone and feel really weren't much different, TBH. One rig cost at least $1500 and took up a bunch of room. One cost under $200. And didn't require the magic combination of elements coming together with any deviation making everything fall apart. Guess which I kept . . .
 

String Tree

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Just thinking out loud here. Hopefully something will resonate with you from your own journey, and you can shed some light on mine! :)

I've been playing electric for a year now. Started on a bass amp, got a Champion 20 last summer. It's a really great amp, but I'm wondering if I'm missing something by not having tubes. I loved the Blues Jr when I was browsing, but overkill at the time for my needs (and budget!) Im the bass player in a blues trio, and I love playing along to the guitar player's Marshall JCM or Fender Princeton.

Im primarily a home player. I don't see myself gigging (actually leaning towards phasing out the bass gigging, which is what brought me to guitar!) I could see wanting to jam with others down the road.

I use the headphones and aux in a lot; many tube amps don't have these features. Part of me thinks to just stay put and keep practicing!

I see 3 basic pathways ahead of me:
1) get a smaller 1-5w amp. Enjoy life, and explore those tubes!
2) Wait til I'm ready to jam and get a bigger tube amp then.
3) Wait til I'm ready to jam, and get a bigger SS then.

I know "go out and test stuff" is the best option. But I can't find any little amps locally. There is a Vox AC4, but the 12" seems a little loud for home, and IDK if I'm a Vox guy. Generally with gear, I find curiosity gets the better of me and I end up caving to desire. You really learn a lot by having some gear in your life to explore it! But also, I'm looking for the fine line between being practical, and fully enjoying my hobby.

Some amps I'm considering:
1) Monoprice 5w. Cheap way to dip my toes in the pool. I wouldn't mind trying to mod down the line. But least amount of features.
2) Bugera v5. I like the headphone out and reverb. Great online reviews. But I'm hearing some questionable things about the parent company (same as Behringer) and not sure if I wanna support them.
3)Blackstar HT1 1w. Massive bevy of features (aux, headphones, mid shift, 2 channels, reverb, ext cab and usb outs.) great reviews. I guess my hesitation is 1w, if Ill outgrow this too soon. But with an extension, I should be able to have a jam with a drummer, right?

TL;DR Go Tube, or stick with modeling??

Thanks for your time!
IF you can find a real deal Fender Champ or, Vibrochamp, you will never be sorry.
I own one of each (at different times), Bought them Used.
They were both just over 20 years old and, ran great (like CHAMPS!) for many years.
Had them both serviced and they are still working great.
 

NoTeleBob

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You didn't mention a budget.

For where you are, I'd get a good (used) modeling pedal. Explore some decent amp models, get a slew of pedals to learn about. Interface with your computer to record backing tracks. You can drive home headphones right out of that.

You can use the Champion 20 on the clean channel with it. If you want to hang with a drummer for jamming (not gigs), all you really need is a speaker box with a 12" efficient speaker in it.

I love tube amps but they are mostly one trick pony's. They have a sound. Don't like it? Get another tube amp. You can run up the middle with a Super Champ X2, etc, but that doesn't expand your horizons all that much in terms of models and pedals.
 

loopfinding

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This is a fraught and loaded topic. Start with the volumes you play when you don't use headphones. If you are in the 65-75 dB range, forget about an amp with a 10-12" speaker over 1w, especially a tube amp, UNLESS you are happy very clean. Realistically with that type of speaker you will need the ability to access a fraction of a watt and have a good master, or you'll get up over 80 dB real quick.

yeah, when i lived in a house, with my 5E3 through a 12" dialed down to 1/3rd power to get the toanz it was still probably around 80 something db. that's fine with 6-12 feet between you and a neighbor, but i could never do that here in my 30 unit building, lol. "well i use an OD as my grit" - okay, well you're playing the OD, not the amp. you should just invest in a good modeler or load box + IR loader instead of a diode clipper into an amp that isn't cooking....
 
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adjason

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Yes you need a tube amp. You can skip a lot of steps if you get a princeton or deluxe reverb or a vox ac 15 is good too. If you don't have to move it get this one
 

Call Me Al

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If you’ve never owned a tube amp, you should at some point.
If that isn’t now, that’s cool.

Have you mentioned your budget? Based on what you list I’d say you are looking at $400 or less. That about right?

Regardless, if I didn’t have an amp that I liked I’d start my search with a Princeton Reverb. I’d want to try one with a 12” speaker.
Again, budget constraints are real but hey…save longer for good gear.
I’d have no problem buying used.
Yeah about there for budget. The Blackstar is $319, and I have no trouble buying used. Much better when I can try first! But if I play it cool and wait, my budget goes up.

Tubes turn your music into fire, then back into music.
Poetry!

It’s interesting that you talk about a honeymoon. The honeymoon lasts until you start to notice that you can’t do everything with the amp you bought. Then marriage begins. You learn each other’s quirks and you get to know the amp well enough to coax what you never expected out of it. Then after you’ve been married a while your eye wanders. You walk into the bar and notice one with bigger speakers or a great head. And before you know it you want to have that other one on the side. That’s just the way it works.
Maybe I’m exiting the honeymoon with the Champion. I really love it, but my eyes are definitely wandering! I’m actually getting to know it really well, and squeezing new things out of it. I started on blackface, but really digging the tweed models lately. I’m learning how to dial in the gain and EQ, just by listening.

you go budget tube I would go Monoprice 15W over the 5W one because it has a separate gain and master volumes (comes in handy for that breakup and normal levels), decent EQ, reverb, FX loop, speaker out, etc.
Good point on those features!

A 5 watt tube amp can be freakin' loud esp with a 12" speaker. .
That’s it, I think it may be too loud for home! I may just have to go in and see if it’s still there and take it for a spin….

it’s fun to have both. Keep the SS amp for headphone and line-in jammin and get a small <=5 watt amp for some tube experience. The ones you are looking at all all very reasonable.

I’ll say though that a 5 watt through a 10” or 12” speaker is really nice if you can swing it. Supro and Vox have some nice options like that I believe.
Speaking of different speakers… I also considered separates. I have a bass cab (12”) I could get a tube head and get started. Get a proper guitar cab (or 2 different sized cabs!) down the line.

I'd get a good (used) modeling pedal. Explore some decent amp models, get a slew of pedals to learn about.
I considered this, but for a different reason. The Champion is complex enough; the appeal of some of these amps is the simplicity. One really good tone, plug and play.

But I have some bass amps, that I find make really great clean guitar amps. I could run a modeling pedal into my 100w/12” bass combo for some massive volume. (But it’s a gamble if it’ll sound good!)
 

bottlenecker

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To me, tube is about how it responds, more than some particular sound. Some tube amps are a lot more responsive than others. If you want to learn to play with a lot of dynamics and sensitivity, I'd say get some kind of champ based thing (5w single ended), with no master volume or extra bs. I have never gotten any ss amp, pedal, or modeler to respond to subtle technique changes like a very simple tube amp.
Also, they sound better. YMMV.
 

Pcs264

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"Talk me into, or out of, getting a tube amp"
It's a great thread title, but if you're serious about being talked out of buying gear, TDPRI is the wrong place. We could just as well be named "Enablers of the World" :)

But lots of good comments here, and if you get a 5-watt 1x10 or even 1x12 tube amp, you'll not regret it.
 

AJBaker

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I didn't see what your volume restrictions are. Do you have neighbours, or any other restriction on volume? Or is it about your ears and comfort at home?

Tube amps are loud, as everyone knows, but a small combo is still 'only' 5-20w. If you want full tilt cranked distortion, even a 5w can be uncomfortably loud, but if you want clean, or just some hair on the notes, then a 10-20w amp works fine (provided you're not in a block of flats).
 

tomasz

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There is no one good answer to this.. For home use I find the majority of the amps to loud, no matter if solid state or tube. If I am playing through a guitar speaker, to have some ambiance in the room, I'm usually going through the DV Mark Galileo 15 W head into a 1x12. That said though, the gain is around just past middle, while the master is at 7% tops. I like how that sound records over a TwoNote box, but also, I play a lot of the pedalboard into the headphones via the Tech21 Oxford, and it also sounds fine. You don't have the same dynamic reaction as with tubes, but honestly, 3 minutes into playing, you just concentrate on making music rather and adapt your technique slightly to get what you need.

What I'm really saying is, get a unit, you can be comfortable with and just focus on music. Don't go into a rabbit hole.
 

Call Me Al

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tube is about how it responds, more than some particular sound. Some tube amps are a lot more responsive than others. If you want to learn to play with a lot of dynamics and sensitivity, I'd say get some kind of champ based thing (5w single ended), with no master volume or extra bs. I have never gotten any ss amp, pedal, or modeler to respond to subtle technique changes like a very simple tube amp.
This may be the core of my dilemma. I’ve heard this a lot- tubes feel different, respond differently- but not sure exactly what that means. It’s about dynamics then? I don’t really find my SS amp lacking in the dynamics department. And I have plenty of work to do on technique that I don’t know if I’d benefit from the nuances of control…. Yet, perhaps it would push me into new areas.

I’m guessing this is so hard to quantify that I’ll have to take the plunge if I want to satisfy my curiosity.

Talk me into, or out of, getting a tube amp"
It's a great thread title, but if you're serious about being talked out of buying gear, TDPRI is the wrong place. We could just as well be named "Enablers of the World"
Ha! The tread is going about how I expected, leaning towards “get the tubes.” I perhaps expected a little more encouragement to “wait til I’m with a drummer, no major benefit for a home player” … but it is a gear forum after all! 😂

I didn't see what your volume restrictions are. Do you have neighbours, or any other restriction on volume? Or is it about your ears and comfort at home?
No neighbors, nice spacious lot in the country. I do jam with the wife and son. No drums; we have cajon, keyboard, electric bass (wife used to play double bass and wants to get another)… not very loud. We can easily sing over the instruments without mics.

I do play a lot when they’re doing other stuff, and I’m not about to blast them out. Lots of headphones when they’re sleeping. I only really crank it when I’m home alone, which isn’t often.

hoping to get a drum kit for the basement, but not in the immediate future.

What I'm really saying is, get a unit, you can be comfortable with and just focus on music. Don't go into a rabbit hole.
Words of wisdom! Back to the woodshed! ;)
 

bottlenecker

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This may be the core of my dilemma. I’ve heard this a lot- tubes feel different, respond differently- but not sure exactly what that means. It’s about dynamics then? I don’t really find my SS amp lacking in the dynamics department. And I have plenty of work to do on technique that I don’t know if I’d benefit from the nuances of control…. Yet, perhaps it would push me into new areas.

I’m guessing this is so hard to quantify that I’ll have to take the plunge if I want to satisfy my curiosity.


It's always hard to describe sound, and then add in feel and it doesn't get easier. A lot of what I do on electric guitar is stuff I wouldn't do if I'd never played a tube amp.
 

doctymie

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I got a Blues Jr IV for my first tube amp. I decided the 65 Princeton was too loud for my home playing. But the Blues Jr is good for me and it's a good pedal platform. I'd still like a 65 Princeton some day.
 

JustABluesGuy

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If you really want to be invited to jam as often as you want, stick with bass! Good bass players are always in demand. You can’t swing a cat without hitting a guitar player.

If you want to get tube breakup, any all tube amp will need to be very low wattage. Even a 15 watt amp can be quite loud!

It seems like you have headphone practice covered.
 

Digital Larry

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Last year, I had a Mesa/Boogie 25W (max) tube amp, Laney 5 W tube amp, and an Eleven Rack modeler.

I got rid of the Boogie and the Eleven Rack and got a Headrush MX-5, which has a lot in common with the Eleven Rack. I would have been OK keeping the 11R, it actually served me very well. It was just big and clunky.

For right now I am mostly using the Laney with an old TC G-Major stereo multi FX in the loop.

I just like a simpler setup, and am not really trying to get a million different tones or glop everything up with 5 simultaneous modulation pedals. The MX-5 is capable of getting some nice sounds. For what I do there is no problem with how it sounds or "feels", whatever that means.

I play low volume or through headphones.
 

Call Me Al

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If you really want to be invited to jam as often as you want, stick with bass! Good bass players are always in demand. You can’t swing a cat without hitting a guitar player.
Ha, this is true! with Covid stuff and all the downtime, I found playing bass alone a little… depressing. That led me to online lessons on guitar and I’ve really been enjoying it. This journey is less about “what will get me into jams?” but more about “which instrument is bringing me joy?” And right now it’s guitar.

Plus, I’ve been realizing with the time off I really like that; the gigging was/is a strain on work/family life. I’m less motivated to hustle, and just wanna focus on fun for a while.

But I’ll never give up bass, always have that skill in the back pocket!
 

kbold

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I like tube amp sounds, but for bedroom volumes you probably miss a lot of that benefit.

Have you thought of getting a tube overdrive pedal: some run at proper voltages rather than 'starved plate' design.
It would also be rather cheaper and have less ongoing overhead costs.
 

hepular

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i'm not you, of course . . . 90% of my practice is unplugged. when i want to hear an amp, i want to HEAR an amp. i lucked into the amp i got, cuz when i started playing electric again, the guy i bought the guitar from had "a little amp that was kinda like a princeton" (that's what i asked for, and got a super champ . . .). it does what i want it to. i don't 'gig' or play out and don't plan to start.

so, i wouldn't be in a hurry to throw $$ at cheap amps that are always gonna be cheap amps. but, i intend to keep the thing for the long haul. your circumstances are probably different, so what would work for you would be different.
 




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