- 15-watt amps are popular for a reason – they’re great for practice and studio use.
- What are the best 15-watt tube amps on the market?
- We compare the features, sound, and value of the most popular choices.
15-watt amps are popular for their high versatility. They’re light, fit everywhere, and are perfect for recording and practicing. They can even be used for gigging in small venues, or larger ones with the right mic setup.
Tube amps provide the most warmth and are excellent for classic guitar tones that are impossible to achieve otherwise.
Here are the best 15-watt tube amps in 2020, perfect for rock, blues, jazz, country, and pop.
Are 15 Watts Enough?
These days you don’t really need large amps, as the tone quality from smaller ones is just mind-blowing. With a good 15-watt tube amp, you can get that gorgeous natural amp overdrive, as well as beautiful clean tones.
If you need more volume in a live setting, you can always mic up these amps, and some even have outputs for hooking up to bigger cabinets.
Let’s look at our top 7 picks for the best 15-watt tube amps!
Rounding Up The 7 Best 15-Watt Tube Amps (2020)
1. Fender 65 Princeton Reverb
Fender’s 65 Princeton Reverb guitar amplifier is one of the most legendary amps in the business, and also one of the earliest, dating back to 1946. They were first manufactured as practicing amps by Leo Fender, but they are now regarded as excellent studio amps as well. Even after so many years, these amps have kept their classic look, with the original vibrato effect and spring reverb intact.
The 65 Princeton Reverb has the classy ‘Blackface’ style design, with two instrument inputs. It comes with volume, treble, bass, vibrato (tremolo) speed and intensity, and reverb depth – a total of six knobs. You’ll notice that even though these are recent versions of the classic amp, there are no modern digital functions or fancy effects like chorus and flanger.
This amp stays true to the original, and this is a big part of why I love it so much.
In terms of tubes, the 65 Princeton Reverb comes with three 12AX7s, a 12AT7, two 6V6 tubes, and a single 5AR4 rectifier tube. These are all high-quality parts; in particular, I love how the 5AR4 rectifier warms the amp up gradually to the high point voltage. It’s also equipped with Jensen Special Design C-10R 10” Speaker.
The Fender 65 Princeton Reverb is known for its heavenly clean tones – some of the best in the business. In general, the clean tone coming from this amp has shimmering treble and full bass, while the natural overdrive allows for a fat overdrive tone with deep sustain. The reverb is generally known to be on the brighter side and the ‘vibrato’ effect is perfect for creating both slow and fast atmospheric pulses.
Confusingly, Fender have mislabelled this effect. It’s really a tremolo effect and has no bearing on the pitch whatsoever. No doubt a deliberate decision at this point just to stay true to the original.
Though it’s a 15 watt amp, you’ll be surprised at how loud it can get. It’s totally possible to use this at smaller sized venues. The amp comes at under $1000, which is extremely rare for an amp of this quality. The Fender 65 Princeton Reverb has one of the best clean tones and it’s also perfect for some gorgeous overdrive sounds. I would not hesitate to rate this amp 5 out of 5!
- Great price for such high quality.
- Gorgeous clean and overdrive tones
- Simple and classic design that is true to the original.
- Reverb and tremolo effects.
- No modern effects or technology.
- Not the best for hardcore rock and metal distortion tones.
2. Vox AC15C1X
Now here is another undeniable classic that has been a crucial part of rock history. The Vox AC15 has been instrumental in shaping the sound of the ‘British Invasion’, from artists like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, and the Yardbirds. It was the original AC series amp made by Vox from 1958, but it was overshadowed when AC30 came about. After many years of being number 2 after AC15, Vox released a reissue version of the legendary amp in 2013.
There are a few variations on the AC15, but the AC15C1X remains the top seller, thanks to its secret weapon – a 12” Celestion Alnico Blue speaker. It’s an obvious upgrade considering these speakers are already used for AC30s. This speaker has amazing treble and a tight bass sound. It’s also louder than the previously used Greenback speakers.
Looking at the knobs on the amp, you might be a little confused. It’s an unusual setup, with two main channels – ‘normal’ and ‘top boost’. The ‘normal’ channel doesn’t have separate treble and bass control knobs, but the ‘top boost’ channel has controls for both. ‘Normal’ is perfect for gorgeous clean tones, and ‘top boost’ can be used for more overdriven tones.
The AC15C1X also has ‘master volume’ and ‘tone cut’ knobs, giving users additional control over the sound. There’s a tremolo effect with rate and depth controls, as well as an onboard spring reverb. Both effects are top quality, rivaling that of high-end guitar pedals.
(Unsure of what order to put your pedals in? Check out our guide to getting the most from your guitar pedals.)
You can do so much with this amp – from various clean sounds, gritty or warm overdrive, to ambient sounds using the spring reverb and the tremolo.
The overall sound is very organic and responsive, and just like the Fender 65 Princeton Reverb, it produces profound clean sounds as well as amazingly warm overdriven tones. Like the Fender, it’s not exactly geared towards heavier rock styles, so if you’re a metal guitarist you’ll want to look elsewhere.
The Vox AC15C1X has enough firepower to be used at gigs and rehearsals. It’s perfect as a practice amp, but can also be used in a recording studio. It’s cheaper than the Fender 65 Princeton Reverb, but still one of the best tube amps around.
- Affordable pricing at around $800.
- Both channels are extremely versatile.
- Portable, and only weighs around 48 lbs.
- Tremolo effect and spring reverb.
- Goes surprisingly loud for a 15W amp.
- No treble and bass controls for ‘normal’ channel.
- Not enough distortion for hard rock.
3. Fender Blues Junior IV (Best Budget Pick)
If you’re looking for a similar boutique-level tube amp but can’t afford the ones above, here’s an even cheaper option – the Fender Blues Junior IV. Blues Juniors are easily one of the most used guitar amps worldwide, thanks to their affordability and high-quality tube amp sound. Over the years, Fender has produced multiple iterations of this amp – this one is the 2018 version.
So what’s the upgrade? Well, for starters you’ll notice the slightly yellow grill cloth, inspired by the Fender Blackface amps of the 60s. More importantly, the speakers have been completely replaced. From the previous III version (that received mixed reviews), the IV comes with Celestion’s excellent A-type loudspeaker. It’s a more powerful speaker, and very responsive compared to the III.
Other parts of the amp remain relatively the same as the previous versions, and Blues Junior IV features five valves – three 12AX7s and two EL84 power tubes. In terms of controls, you get gain, bass, treble, middle, reverb level, and master volume with an additional ‘fat’ switch. This is another one of those ‘classic’ amps that can do all the basic things you’d expect from a 15W tube amp.
One cool feature here is the ‘fat’ switch. As the name suggests, this fattens the tone, boosting the mids in a pleasing way. It’s a very useful little button that can get great lead guitar tones. The Fender Blues Junior IV is known as a versatile amp, and it can produce a wide range of sounds. You’ll find spanky, luxurious clean tones, to twangy and warm overdrive sounds.
Overall, it’s a $600 portable tube amp but is comparable to high-end boutique amps. With the new upgrades, the Fender Blues Junior IV is one of the best options for a 15-watt tube amp!
- 2018 update of one of the most popular amps in the world.
- Celestion A-type loudspeaker.
- Classic blackface design with yellow silver sparkle grill cloth.
- Excellent spring reverb.
- ‘Fat’ switch for midrange boost.
- Amazing value for the price!
- No other effects other than reverb on the amp.
4. Orange Rocker 15
Orange is well known for producing top-quality rock and metal amps. Their amps may not be the best choice for getting gorgeous clean sounds, but they’re great for heavier rock and metal sounds.
The Orange Rocker 15 is a smaller version of the 2006 Orange Rocker 30. It features EL84 tubes, the same famous valves that are found in legendary amps like the Vox AC30 and many other British amplifiers. The Rocker 15 comes with a unique set of knobs and controls – two-channel design with full / half-power mode, and attenuator switches.
The channels are divided into ‘dirty’ and ‘natural’ channels. ‘Dirty’ comes with gain, master, and a 3-band EQ, while the ‘natural’ channel only has a single volume control.
The half-power mode and attenuator switches are useful in different playing settings. The half-power mode decreases the power to half, while the attenuator switches can decrease to the total power to just 1 watt. This comes in handy for recording or practicing in small spaces, and it’s easy to change back to gigging with a flip of a switch.
Another advantage of the Orange Rocker 15 is the minimal hum and low noise from the amp speakers. Most tube amps will usually have a bit of hum or hiss when powered on, but the Rocker 15 has very low noise for a tube amp, so it’s perfect for recording.
In terms of tone, this amp can produce some sparkling clean sounds that are great for playing pop or funk. It’s definitely far from a Fender or Vox, though. It’s more of a modern clean sound that can be paired with a lot of effects. However, the distortion is very versatile and it’ll take you from a neat overdrive sound to very dirty tones real quick. With some help from pedals, you can even take it into metal territory!
Overall this is a great tube amp for pop, rock, and metal, and can be used for both recording and gigging!
- Two-channels – ‘dirty’ and ‘natural’.
- Half-power and attenuator switches.
- Wide range of overdrive and distortion sounds just from the amp.
- Low noise level .
- EL84 Tubes.
- Price is around $800.
- No onboard effects .
5. Supro Blues King 12 (Our Pick!)
Here is a competitor to the famous Fender Blues Junior – the Supro Blues King 12. Supro is known for being another legendary amp company that has been around since the 1920s. They’ve had many iconic artists like Jimmy Page use their amps over the years. Recently, Supro released an amp that is as equally affordable and has even more features than the Fender Blues Junior.
Right off the bat, you’ll notice the unique but beautiful design. They’re inspired by the early Supro amps, and the neat black and silver design gives you both a vintage and a modern feeling. It has an impressive amount of power from the class A 6L6 power section, but with only one input.
The Blues King 12 comes with jaw-dropping options for gain tones – volume (gain), boost switch, gain switch, and a master volume. It also comes with 3-band EQ controls – bass, mid and treble, and a reverb knob.
The diverse options for gain and overdrive really set this amp apart from many other tube amps, and each option has its own distinct personality.
The gain switch is the dirtiest of all the options, but what’s really exciting is you can mix and match each circuit. Because of this, it has more versatile overdrive and distortion options than the Fender Blues Junior, and you can get anything from vintage blues tones to modern rock lead tones from this amp.
The clean sound is just as amazing, and Supro amps are known to have a gorgeous creamy clean tone. This paired with the traditional Supro spring reverb and effects loop means you can get the perfect jazz, neo-soul, RnB, pop, funk sounds, and more. Plus as you add a little bit of boost and gain, you can get everything from Chicago blues tones, country tones, to a very modern rock guitar sound.
Because of its low noise, it’s also perfect for recording and has a loud enough output for live use as well. This amp might be the most versatile and the most affordable in this list. It’s a serious threat to all the other popular 15-watt tube amps. If you’re looking for a tube amp under $600, you should definitely consider the Supro Blues King 12!
- Impressive flexibility and controls.
- Beautiful vintage design.
- Class A 6L6 power section.
- Affordable price.
- Traditional spring reverb and series effects loop.
- Wide range of tones.
- Low noise level
- Nothing major, considering the price!
6. Dr. Z Z Wreck Jr. 1×12” Combo
Now we want to include a boutique amplifier that is the most expensive amp on our list by far. Dr. Z is a relatively new company compared to the others on the list, though they have been around since the late ’80s. They have some famous clients like Joe Walsh and Brad Paisley, and all the components in their amps are of the absolute highest possible quality.
The Z Wreck Jr Combo is a smaller version of the famous Z Wreck, which was designed by Ken Fischer and Brad Paisley. It has 12-inch Celestion G12M Greenback speaker and features an aircraft-grade aluminum chassis, complete with hand wired circuits.
For the output, it uses NOS Russian 6n14n tubes which are very powerful and have a long lifespan. The amp also includes a 5Y3 rectifier tube, providing a wide range of harmonic tones.
Surprisingly, the Z Wreck Jr Combo comes with a set of simple control knobs – ‘cut’, master, bass, treble, and volume knobs. The ‘cut’ knob shapes the high end of the sound, while the volume knob adds gain before the final master knob tames the overall loudness.
Though these controls may seem limited, you can dial in an astounding range of tones. The Z Wreck Jr Combo sounds amazing as it is – no pedals required. It’s an extremely responsive amp, adapting well to any playing style.
It can sound crunchy and biting when you pick hard and delicate when you pick the strings softly. It works beautifully with both single-coil pickups and humbuckers, and it’s perfect for country, rock, and blues. Honestly, this is an amp that is of the highest quality, and if you’re someone who has the budget for an amp just under two grand, the Dr. Z Z Wreck Jr Combo is a great choice.
- Highly anticipated smaller version of the legendary Z Wreck.
- Highest quality parts.
- Custom made in the USA.
- Three 12AX7 Preamp tubes.
- Two NOS Russian 6n14n (EL84) tubes and 5Y3 rectifier tube for power.
- Very expensive compared to other 15-watt tube amps.
- No onboard effects.
7. Laney CUB-12R 15W
The final amp here is the Laney CUB-12R 15W. Laney is a British amp manufacturer producing amazing guitar and bass amps, and the CUB-12R is no exception. This is an affordable tube amp that you can use for both high-quality clean tones and gritty overdrive / distortion tones. For an amp that’s around 500 bucks, the CUB 12R delivers vintage but versatile tones, while having a good amount of knobs for tone control and effects.
When you look at the amp, you’ll notice it almost looks like a guitar amp that was used in the 1940s for big band guitarists. It’s compact and light for a tube amp, and the design makes it really easy to carry around.
Another cool feature is the open back design, so you can see all the inner workings of the amp through the rear grill. All the parts are top-notch – it has a Celestion Rocket 50 12-inch speaker, two EL84 tubes, and three ECC83 tubes. These parts can be found in amps that are twice the price, but Laney somehow manages to make it all work for a lower cost.
On this amp, you’ll find controls for reverb, tone, volume, bass, middle, treble, and gain. Compared to some of the other amps, the controls are a bit more expansive with the additional tone knob and middle knob.
The Laney CUB-12R also comes with an effects loop and can connect to a larger cabinet if you require more than 15 watts. With this option, you really don’t have to worry about volume on a big stage, and for recordings, you can always use the original 12” speaker for the best tone.
Another feature is the 1-watt input option. This might seem like an absurdly low amount, but it’s enough for practicing at home, keeping your neighbors and housemates from being disturbed.
(Need massive tone without upsetting the neighbors? Check out our list of the 10 best amp-in-a-box pedals on the market right now.)
The overall tone of this amp can be described as vintage yet versatile – the clean channel is warm but with clear mids and highs, and the overdrive tones are powerful with screaming harmonics. There’s a noticeable amount of depth when compared to digital / modeling guitar amps.
The reverb effect on this amp is gorgeous – even just a little bit can go a long way. All in all, the Laney CUB-12R brings the whole package – detailed sound, high-quality parts, and versatile tones all with a compact, vintage design, with lots of cool extras.
- Affordable 15-watt tube amp considering the quality of the parts and number of features.
- Vintage look with the open-back design.
- Compact and lightweight.
- Versatile tones from warm clean tones to aggressive rock sounds.
- 7 knobs for detailed tone control.
- Effects loop and ability to connect to larger ca
- The design might be too old-school for some
There is a clear reason why people still prefer tube amps over digital amps. No matter how much technology has evolved over the years, there is a tone that only analog tube amps can provide.
For most uses, 15 watts will do just fine, and this is why these amps are so popular in the first place. They are perfect for recording, rehearsals, practicing, and can also be used for playing gigs. That being said, tube amps are much heavier than other amps. You also need to take care of the tubes as they can require a service from time to time.
Considering all these factors, if you really want the best tone, I suggest you look for a tube amp, and hopefully you finally get the tone of your dreams with these quality choices. Best of luck!