The Best Small Tube Amp for Recording
Planning to add to your collection of well-used amps? Excitedly comparing amps to buy your very first Vox or Fender?
Or are you a newcomer who’s just stumped by all the British vs. American debates about inanimate objects?
Quit plucking those guitar strings for a few minutes. We can help you decide on the best small tube amp for recording.
That British vs. American Thing
No, the British Vox won’t suddenly make you go on about eating your tea, hand-washing your tweed, or looking for the zebra crossing.
Quite simply, the reason it’s known as the British amp to the Fender’s American is the origin.
The Brits made the Vox amp in 1958. You’ve got the EL34, KT88, EL84, and other tubes they used to thank for the Vox’s famous crisp, clean, well, Voxiness.
The Americans made the Fender amp in 1945. The tubes used included 6L6s and 6V6s. Those are behind the Fender’s signature scooped-out smoothness.
Tube Amps vs. Larger Amps
If engineering isn’t really your thing, you’re probably wondering how tube amps can possibly beat the bigger and more powerful transistor that was literally made as a better option. After all, bigger means louder, means all kinds of awesome sounds to get your rock on, right?
Right, just not when it comes to guitar amps. Radios, phones, and early TVs all switched to transistors. Here’s a quick look at the reasons tube amps deliver the winning beats.
Unlike larger amps, tube amps are generally small enough and lightweight enough to go anywhere with you. The best small tube guitar amplifier can fit in the passenger seat of your car and still be powerful enough for you to have a gig wherever you go.
Yup, you read that right. Another reason so many audiophiles prefer tube amps is the neat distortion they make. In fact, it’s so pleasing to your sensitive musical ear it’s called harmonic distortion.
‘That’ Classic Touch
Because tube amps produce those sweet, punchy mid-range tones, we tend to associate them with that beloved classic sound of the 60s and 70s.
Vox vs. Fender
So which good small tube amp is best? Ask your musician buddies and no amp can probably be heard over the loud argument that’ll follow. Join us for a quiet and quick look at each type.
The British Tone: VOX AC15
If you dig what the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Brian May sound like, you’ll like the Vox AC15.
With its simple controls, you’ll be getting those gorgeous big lows and bright highs effortlessly.
Clean yet warm enough, this small valve amp is sturdy enough to go on the road with you.
- Clean sound
- Suitable for home and stage use
- Functional reverb
Watch for the high end. If it gets too loud, you won’t sound so hot. If you’re using this to croon your heart out at home, you’ll get glares from your neighbors and your pets may not be able to hear you clearly again.
The American Tone: Fender ‘65 Princeton Reverb
This is ideal for fans of Carl Perkins, Vince Gill, and Marty Stewart.
You’ll crank out the gorgeous dark and heavy tones this amp’s famous for and you’ll keep up with the drummers easily.
Each of its two different sounding sections lets you use the reverb and tremolo. With its old-timey feel, you’ll feel like you’re in Clapton heaven.
- Takes pedals easily
- Good with delay and ambient reverb
- Suitable for modern sounds
This amp is far too loud for safe use at home. Use an attenuator if you don’t want to shake your neighbors’ walls.
Specs Comparison Chart
Here’s a more technical look at the Vox AC15 and the Fender Princeton. These impressive under-the-hood details give the Vox AC15 its coveted British vibe and make the Fender Princeton your go-to for its famous American sound.
|Features||VOX AC15||Fender Princeton|
|Power Rating||10 watts||15 watts|
|Tubes||EL84 power tubes and 12AX7 preamp tubes||a 12AX7s, a 12AT7, dual Groove Tubes 6V6s, and a single 5AR4 rectifier tube|
|Speaker||1 x 12″ 16 ohm Celestion G12M Greenback or Alnico Blue Speaker||1-10″ Jensen Special Design C-10R|
|Cover||None||Vinyl dust cover|
|Effects||VOX Classic Tremolo effect||Reverb and Vibrato|
|Controls||Gain, Bass, Treble, Reverb, and Master Volume||Treble, Bass, Reverb, Speed, and Intensity|
|Output Power||15 Watts RMS into 16 Ohms||15 watts into 8 ohms|
|Channels||Two: Normal and Top Boost||One channel with two inputs|
|Weight||48.50 lbs||40.06 lbs|
|Dimensions||23.70 x 10.43 x 17.95 inches||28.2 x 22.5 x 12.2 inches|
Here are a couple of things to keep in mind before you place that order.
Wattage: Lower Is Better
Another case of smaller being better. This is because what you really want is for your tubes to be saturated with sound, giving you that fantastic retro vibe.
So why is higher not better? Because you don’t want to murder people with decibels. Crank your 70-watt amp all the way up to saturate the tubes and you’ll blow up everyone’s ears.
A 15-watt amp gives you that coveted saturated tone and lets you keep your ears. For that overdriven vibe, we all love, close-mic your amp and you’re good to go.
Speakers are another way to get a greater variety of sounds from your small valve amp. The same amp will sound different with different speakers.
Obviously, the speaker that a particular amp was made for adds to the amp’s tone, but swapping speakers gives you a good feel for their effect on your amp.
Warehouse Guitar Speakers lets you listen online to a clean and dirty sound clip of each speaker they sell, whether British or American. It’s a fun way to get a better idea of how you can use speakers to play around with different sounds.
The Bottom Line
The boxy Vox’s and the full-bodied Fender have earned their prestigious spots in the amp world.
Why not take your guitar to your local guitar shop and try out each amp? It’ll help you rack up a bunch of admiring glances, annoy the assistant, and make up your mind. Happy strumming!
Looking for tips on how to capture that great tube sound on record? Here are some resources I hope you find helpful:
- Guitar Amp Recording from Sound on Sound
- Recording Guitar Amps At Home: Amp Type, Mic Type, Mic Position from musicianshq.com
- 7 Ways To Get High Volume Tone Without Being Too Loud: Attenuators, Load Boxes, and more from reverb.com
- How to Record A Guitar Amplifier from sweetwater.com
- The Best Small Tube Amp For the Recording Studio from sonicscoop.com
- Recording An Amp Head Directly? Is It Possible? from guitarmasterclass.net
- How To Record Electric Guitar 2020 (Audio Interface, Amp, Phone, PC, Mac) from midlifeguitar.com
- Tube Guitar Amp For Home Practice And Recording from recording.org
- Recording Guitar Amps With Multiple Microphones from musiciansfriend.com