I like small-sized guitar amplifiers. These amplifiers are affordable and also easy to use – just plug-in and start playing. Most small-sized amp heads and combos are low power, 100% valve driven units. But there are also some micro amps out there that are transistor based and just incredibly small in size. A non-musician could easily mistake them for toys and not real musical instruments. Modern manufacturing technology has made it possible to have such amazing gear available to us.

In this first part of this list I have presented the most prominent small amp heads available today. It is is no way an exhaustive list, but I did my best to find amps of all kinds from all over the world. I have included amps that are fully tube driven or hybrid units of 1 or 5 watts RMS. The list includes the model of the amp and its specs and also the pros and cons of each amp, so you can get a complete perspective on what the amp is all about.

Here’s the list (in alphabetical order) :

Traditional Amps

Belcat Tube H5

belcat tube h5Belcat is an equipment manufacturer from China. Besides tube and solid state amps they make a whole other range of gear like effect pedals, cables, pickups.

They have a full line-up of tube driven guitar head and combo amplifiers. The Tube H5 is dual channel amp head. It has a single 12AX7 in the preamp section and one EL84 in the poweramp rated at 5 watts RMS. The controls are simple for the amp – there’s a clean volume control for the clean channel, and dual eq. The drive channel has volume and gain. A footswitch can be used to toggle between the two channels.

There is a preamp line out to use with another amp or for silent recording. The front panel also houses a standby and power switch. The H5 is also available in a combo called the Tube 5 which has an 8” Celestion speaker.

Made in? China
Power – 5 watts
Price – $200 approx
FX Loop – N/A
Reverb – N/A
Silent Recording – Yes
Key feature – Dual channels
Cons – No FX loop
Contact – Belcat

Blackstar HT1-Head

blackstar HT1RH-largeThe Blackstar HT-1 is a 1watt, 2 channel tube head. The HT is short for Hybrid Technology. It has an ECC83 in the preamp section and an ECC82 in the power amp section. Blackstar (and a few other companies) have devised a method to produce proper tube tone just by using 2 preamp tubes.

The amp has 2 channels: clean and drive (which can be selected through the small switch in the front panel), a gain knob, a master volume and a knob which controls the ISF. The ISF stands for Infinite Shape Feature and it’s Blackstar’s alternative to a regular 3 band EQ. You can switch between ‘American’ or ‘British’ sounding amp tones by using the ISF.

The amp also has a digital reverb, which is something many of the amps in this list don’t have.

Blackstar have also incorporated an 1/4″ headphone / emulated output recording jack in the front panel. There isn’t a way to disable the emulation but cabinet impulse responses can be used in your recording software to further shape the tone. The HT1 is also available in a 1×8” combo.

Made in? South Korea
Power – 1 watt
Price – $249
FX Loop N/A
Reverb – Yes
Silent Recording – Yes
Key feature – Reverb, ISF
Cons – No FX loop, can’t disable emulation
Contact – Blackstar Amps

Biyang VT1-H

biyangBiyang is a family owned company that makes guitar effects units and amplifiers.

The company is run by Mr. Wang (pronounced wong), who is also the designer of these products. The VT1-H is a small, hand-wired no frills amplifier not too dissimilar to the ZVEX Nano amp.

The amp has an input jack, a volume and tone, and just a power on off switch on the front panel. The back panel has a speaker output for an 8/16ohm speaker, a power voltage selector and an IEC power input. It’s a no frills amp “head” with 100% tube tone.

If I were to go for an amp of this sort, I would prefer going for the Biyang VT1-H instead of the ZVEX Nano head. The VT1-H is $250 and the Z.VEX is almost double that.

Made in? China
Wattage – 1 watt
Price – $249
FX Loop N/A
Reverb – N/A
Silent Recording – N/A
Key feature – Ridiculous size
Cons – Lack of features
Contact – Biyang/Wang Amps

Bugera T5 Infinum

T5INFINIUM-largeBugera is the amplifier manufacturing arm of Behringer, a company notorious for making copies of existing professional (and expensive) equipment. The T5 Infinum is a take on the first generation of Vox Night Train amps, specifically the Lil’ Night Train.

The T5 has a 12AX7 in the preamp section and an EL84 in the power amp delivering 5 watts RMS. It has a gain control, a 2 band EQ with bass and treble, and a master volume. It also has a reverb and a fat switch. The fat switch adds a volume boost and a bit of low frequencies. It actually says ‘phat’ above the switch! At the back it has a speaker out, a power attenuator which lets you select between the 5, 1 and 1/2 watt settings and a 1/4” headphone out. There is also a tube monitoring system called Infinium.

Bugera seems to have a good offering as the Lil’ Night Train was discontinued by Vox in favor of the second generation of Night Train. It is also one of the only few amps in this list to have an inbuilt reverb.

Made in? China
Power – 5 watts (switchable to 1 or 1/2 watt)
Price $200
FX Loop – N/A
Reverb – Yes
Silent Recording – Possible through the headphone 1/4” jack
Key feature – Many features at an affordable price
Cons – Brand reputation
Contact – Bugera

Fender Bassbreaker 007

T5INFINIUM-largeFender announced their brand new Bassbreaker range at NAMM 2016. The Bassbreaker is a take on the classic Fender Bassman amp but built for the needs of the modern musician. The amp is a b

The Bassbreaker is a 7 Watt, Class A all tube amp, with a pair of 12AX7s in the preamp section and an EL84 in the power amp section. It has a preamp Gain knob, a Master volume and a 3-band EQ. There is a treble boost switch that adds a slight boost to the top end, an 8ohm speaker output and footswitch jack. It also has a line-out that lets you connect the amp directly to a recording interface or a mixer. Unfortunately, the Bassbreaker does not have an in-built reverb, an FX loop, or variable wattage. But the amp seems to be designed for people looking to get a Tweed-like sound, with their pedals all plugged into the front end. The amp comes in a black tweed finish with a modern Fender logo and it looks just great.

Made in? Mexico
Power – 7 watts
Price – $399
FX Loop – N/A
Reverb – N/A
Silent Recording – Recording possible, just not silently.
Key feature – Classic British flavoured Fender Bassman sound in a small size
Cons – No switchable wattage, slightly expensive.
Contact – Fender US

Hayden Lil’ Mofo

Hayden Lil MofoHayden is an amp manufacturer based in the UK. They make the Mofo series of amps, which are meant to be simple and versatile amplifiers with great sound quality.

The Lil’ Mofo is the smallest amp Hayden make. It has a pre-amp gain knob, 3 band eq, master volume and a mix knob to control the blend of the auxiliary in signal. The amp has an ECC83/12AX7 in the preamp section and a ECC82 which puts out 2 watts of tube power. At the back it has a speaker output jack, and a recording output jack to record direct. The reactive load also allows you to record without having a speaker connected at all times. It also has this cool green LED which glows in relation to how much signal you’re driving through the amplifier.

Made in? China
Power – 2 watts (switchable to 1 or 1/2 watt)
Price – $200
FX Loop – N/A
Reverb – Yes
Silent Recording – Yes
Key feature – Small size, 3 band EQ, and
Cons – No reverb
Contact – Hayden Amps

Hughes & Kettner Tubemeister 5

Hughes & Kettner Tubemeister 5

Hughes & Kettner are a famous German manufacturer of tube amps. Their Tubemeister series of amps have been around for a long time and are quite popular around the world.

The Tubemeister 5 is the smallest amp the company manufacturers. It has a single 12AX7 in the preamp and a 12BH7 in the power section. There is a 3 band eq with a bass mid and treble, master volume and a gain control. There is a switch to toggle between the in built drive circuit.

The power soak button mutes your outgoing signal to the speaker cabinet or lets you get saturated tones at lower volumes. The Tubemeister range notably includes the Red Box DI. Red Box is Hughes & Kettner’s proprietary direct recording platform. The DI is a speaker emulated XLR output with

The front faceplate of the amp is unique to Hughes & Kettner. It’s a transparent plexiglass cover and you can actually see the tubes, transformer and circuit inside.

Update Feb 2016 – The Tubemeister 5 has been discontinued.

Made in? China
Power – 5watts
Price – $299
FX Loop – N/A
Reverb – N/A
Silent Recording – Yes
Key feature – Red Box DI
Cons – No reverb, cannot disable cabinet emulation
Contact – Hughes & Kettner

Joyo JCA-12 Beale Street and JDA-05H Uranium

Joyo Beale Street

Joyo is a Chinese manufacturer of effect pedals but the company has now started making amps. They make 2 tube amps heads, the Beale Street and the Uranium. Both amps are small in size and are low power.

The Beale Street is a 12 watt inspired by the Fender Tweed amps of the 1950s. It has twin 12AX7s in the preamp and 6V6s in the power amp. It has a volume for each channel and a tone knob. The amp gets its name from an actual famous street in Memphis TN, and is considered to be the birthplace of the blues. It has twin channels, a normal and bright channel, and both channels look like can they can be patched together like Marshall Plexis.

The Uranium is a 5 watt British inspired amp, that is designed for the rock/metal guitar player. It has a pair of 12AX7s and a lone 6L6GC. It’s has a simple with 3 knobs, a gain, a volume and a tone control. You can choose between 2 channels and 2 voicings. There is a clean and an OD channel, along with a normal and boosted voicing. The amp has an FX loop, a footswitch in, and even a headphone out.

Joyo UraniumBoth these amps might have an unconventional look, but they’re full of amazing features at a great price.

Made in? China
Power – 12 watts / 5 watts
Price – $299
FX Loop – No / Yes
Reverb – No / Yes
Silent Recording – No / Yes
Key feature – Unique sound and design
Cons – Looks
Contact – Joyo Audio

 

 

Kustom Defender 5H

Kustom Defender 5HThe Kustom Defender is a no-nonsense amplifier. It puts out 5 watts RMS of tube power, with a single 12AX7 and an EL84 in the power amp section. It has a power switch, a single volume knob and speaker output jacks at the back. And that’s it!

This amp seems great for someone who needs to amplify and drive their signal to a cabinet. You can plug in your pedals to further modify your sound; or you don’t have to. Just use the volume knob on the amp or guitar, and your playing dynamics to get a wide variety of sounds – from clean to crunch.

Made in? China
Power – 5 watts
Price – $150 approx
FX Loop – N/A
Reverb – N/A
Silent Recording – N/A
Key feature – No-nonsense amplifier
Cons – Lack of features
Contact – Kustom Amps

Conclusion

I have listed 25 amplifiers. 14 of them are tube, 3 are hybrid, and 5 are non-tube amps. There are also 3 exceptions in this list. So, who and what are these amps for? Many of these amps are great entry points for people looking to experiment when it comes to tube amps. High-end professional gear is usually out of reach for beginners and hobbyists. Hence, going for small amps is a worthwhile option. These amps are not meant to replace your 100 watt stack, or pro-spec amp modelling recording/live rig. They can be used as a method for quick and silent recording or as a practicing tool. They can also be used as backups or even as primary amps in certain situations. The value they offer for the absolute beginner or the weekend warrior is also unmatched.

Some of these amps may have stock tubes of poor quality but it’s easy to swap them out yourself. Many manufacturers are now making smaller versions of their existing amplifiers with added features like silent recording, and reactive loads. For a budding musician looking to record demos at home, it doesn’t make financial sense to book studio time. These amps can also be considered as an investment for musicians and studio owners who want a bit of variety in their sounds. For the cost of one high wattage amp you can get a few different low wattage amps. Not to mention the added convenience of just putting one of these amps into a bag and taking it out for a gig.

Read PART 2 HERE, and PART 3 HERE.

Are there any amps you feel should be included in this list? Let us know in the comments section below.

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