You might love that one combo you tried at a store, but it’s not hard to admit that the appeal of guitar amp heads is far greater than any combo can offer. Almost every guitarist dreams of owning a stack of Marshall cabs plugged into JCM 800s as they dish out riff after riff.
Unfortunately, a JCM 800 will cost you close to $3000, a price not all guitarists can afford. Luckily, the quality of some sub-1000 tube amps has grown immensely over the past few years.
Best Guitar Amp Heads Under $1000
It’s not easy finding a great tube amp head under $1000. You’ll come across some unreliable ones, some really rudimentary ones, and only a handful that are truly spectacular. We’ve isolated our four favorite tube guitar amp heads under $1000 and reviewed them for you.
Be sure to check out our buyer’s guide after the reviews for more information on guitar amplifiers and amp heads.
Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister Deluxe 20
Great Tones on Both Channels
The Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister Deluxe 20 takes inspiration from the award-winning TriAmp and puts it in a tiny, portable box. It has 2 channels – normal and driven – which sound fantastic as is, and the brilliant Red Box is the best cab simulation technology out there.
The sheer number of features like the Red Box, easy biasing, and great inherent tones make the H&K TubeMeister Deluxe 20 the Editor’s Choice product.
Egnater Tweaker 40
The 40-watt Eganter Tweaker is one of the most versatile guitar amp heads you can buy under $1000. This amp can get you all sorts of sounds thanks to its 11 switches, sensitive EQ knobs, and powerful 6L6 tubes.
If you play multiple genres and want a guitar amp head that can do it all at a fantastic price, look no further than the Egnater Tweaker 40.
Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister Deluxe 20 – Editor’s Choice
Hughes & Kettner became famous because of their incredible TriAmp high-gain valve amplifier. Their TubeMeister 18 and 36 were also quite successful “budget-friendly” guitar amps, but they didn’t quite have the same tone the TriAmp blew all tone chasers away with.
H&K released newer iterations of the TubeMeister series, and the Deluxe 20 is their smallest offer. The amplifier doesn’t shy away from letting its presence known – blue lights illuminate the knobs and logo on the front when you turn it on. Some will hate it, some will love it.
The sound of the TubeMeister Deluxe 20 is simply fantastic for the price. It has the signature H&K sparkling cleans on the Clean channel, which can be boosted to a warm, juicy crunch tone by adding some gain. The Lead channel itself is suited for some hard rock, started off where clean left off with max gain.
You can further boost the Lead channel with a Boost switch, though the effect is subtle. We actually like how subtle it is, making it ideal for leads.
The reason why the TubeMeister Deluxe 20 is our favorite tube guitar amp under $1000 is that in addition to a great sound, it also offers the Red Box – a fantastic DI that lets you run the amplifier without a cabinet thanks to an integrated attenuator. You can accurately simulate cabinets of various kinds while running it directly into an interface.
- Beautiful, sparkling cleans
- Great crunchy rock sound
- Very easy to dial in a great tone
- Built in attenuator
- Red Box cab simulator is the best in the business
- Top runs very hot when attenuated
- Chrome knobs are difficult to see
Egnater Tweaker 40 – Most Versatile
If it weren’t for the fantastic Red Box and the ease of dialing in a great sound with the TubeMeister Deluxe 20, our Editor’s Choice would’ve been the Egnater Tweaker 40. Initially, Egnater had many problems with faulty transformers, but once they changed suppliers the Tweaker has become one of the most loved guitar amps under $1000 you can buy.
Why? It’s incredibly versatile. No, really. This 6L6 powered tube guitar amp has two channels on paper, but thanks to a plethora of switches that can color your tone in various combinations, you can get a fine sound regardless of which genre you play.
The two independent channels can all be altered with 11 switches on the Egnater Tweaker. On channel 1, you can go from clean, clear blues to a classic crunch rock tone. Vintage/Modern switch transforms the amp from classic rock to a modern rock tone, while the hot/clean switch alters the gain range. And yes, this amplifier is surprisingly loud.
Of course, with so many options available, you have to know what you’re doing. With so many switches and elaborate EQs, it’s difficult to dial in a tone. It’s not exactly Mesa Boogie Mark V level difficult, but it will take you longer than you’d expect – a price that needs to be paid for versatility.
- Extremely versatile
- Plays just about all genres
- Fantastic crunch and lead sounds
- Powerful and effective tone controls
- Loud for a 40W guitar amp
- Difficult to dial in a desired tone
- Cleans are a bit bland
- A little muddy on most settings
PRS MT15 – Best High Gain
Alright, we’ll admit: we’re fans of lunchbox guitar amps. They’re small, portable, and pack a massive punch – ideal for anyone looking to buy a reliable, portable tube amp for under $1000. Last year, PRS released the Mark Tremonti MT15, Tremonti’s signature amp which happens to come in a lunchbox form factor.
This 15-watt tube head is, in our opinion, the best overall high gain amplifier head under $1000. It has sparkling, beautiful clean on the Clean Channel, and gives the signature Tremonti tight, punchy leads on the Lead Channel. You can pull the treble knob of the clean channel to boost it and give a great crunch sound.
And the gain. Oh boy, the gain. There’s so much of it that it’ll blow your socks away. With the dial even just at 10, you’ll be able to shred with ease on this little monster. There’s more gain on tap than anyone would honestly need. The tone is beautiful across both channels, though the crunch doesn’t quite match up with the sparkling cleans or the high-gain tones.
The amp is switchable between 15 watts and 7 watts. It’s not necessarily an amp you can gig with though because of its low power output, but if you play in a small band and have a beefy cab, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better high-gain guitar amp at this price point.
- Fantastic lead sounds for metal
- Sparkling cleans
- Deceptively versatile
- External bias control
- Crunch sound isn’t as good as clean/lead
Vox AC15H – Best Cleans
Ah, Vox. Some would call them the king of clean tone. Whether or not you agree, there’s no denying that Vox AC series of amps have legendary status among guitar amplifiers, all thanks to the super-clean cleans that make them a fantastic foundation for pedals.
The Vox AC15C delivers the vintage clean sound the company is renowned for. As with most VOX guitar amp heads, the AC15 has a simplistic setup. It’s a little large and a little heavy for a 15-watt amplifier, but it’s deceptively loud for one as well.
You get a clean, beautiful spring reverb in the amp in addition to a built-in tremolo to add some ornamentation and atmosphere to your tone. Two channels are featured in this amp: Normal and Top Boost. The Top Boost channel adds sonic control and boosts the high-end to give the iconic Vox sound.
This 15-watt powerhouse is quite loud for its size, so the built-in attenuator lets you play at 1.5 watts and even 0.15 watts. This is also a great solution for recording with the amp fully cranked without disturbing the neighbors.
The Vox AC15C is our favorite guitar amp head for cleans under $1000, and by extension our favorite guitar amp head as a pedal platform.
- Iconic clean sound
- Excellent pedal platform
- Great built-in attenuator
- Beautiful spring reverb
- Top-placed controls are inconvenient for many users
- Heavy for a 15-watt guitar amp head
The music genre you play should be the first and most important consideration when looking for a guitar amp head. Even though there are a few guitar amplifiers that can play a variety of different genres, most of them are designed with a specific niche in mind. Even the extremely versatile Egnater Tweaker 40 is designed for hard-rock/metal, taking inspiration from the Mesa Boogie Mark series of amplifiers while adding a mix of British tone.
Metal players will want amplifiers with a large amount of gain and a tight bottom end. Yes, you can add a TubeScreamer styled pedal to push the amp, but that’s not needed if you can get a killer tone and gain from the amp itself
Wattage is important in guitar amp heads because it determines how loud an amp can get. This doesn’t mean that a 40-watt head is twice as loud as a 20-watt one though. In fact, the multiplier is 1.3 instead of 2. This means that a 40-watt head is only 1.3 times louder than a 20-watt one.
However, that 0.3 increments can make a significant difference when playing in a band or gigging. The latter is especially crucial since most good guitar amp heads under $1000 are usually lower wattage ones. You’ll need at least 20+ watts to play with a full band. Gigs are a different story and it can depend on the size of the location. Just make sure to do your research and test the amp.
For recording, you don’t need lots of power. You just need an amp that sounds great at low power. Majority of the amps in our list are like that, which is why we’ve chosen them. It’s particularly useful to attenuate the power (if your guitar amp head has an attenuator) to a lower wattage when recording so you can crank up the amp more easily.
Finally, there’s the tone. It’s this nebulous thing that every guitarist searches for. It’s ever-changing, ever-evolving, yet always familiar. You need to have an idea of what tone you’re after before you buy an amp though. Like the tight, metal riffs in metal tracks? You need a high-gain amp like the PRS MT15.
Want a warm, open, and full hard-rock sound? The H&K TubeMeister has got you covered. Among guitarists and amp builders, tones are largely categorized by the locations they became popular in.
You have the classic British Tone that originates from the Marshall (driven) and Vox (clean) amps. The Fender tone (clean) and the modern Mesa Boogie tone (driven) all come under the “American” category. There are obvious in-betweens as well, such as Eddie Van Halen’s famous “Brown Sound” that was through a modified Marshall but has an American touch to it.
A guitar amp combo offers more convenience than an amp head, but amp heads tend to be a bit louder. Perhaps the most important aspect of a head though is that you can run closed-back cabs with it. Amp combos come with open-back cabs installed, which results in the less low end and a slightly fizzy tone. Closed-back cabs heavy more bass. Also, let’s not ignore the fact that an amp head sitting on top of a cab looks absolutely killer.
Are EL84s inferior to EL34/6L6s?
Inferior isn’t quite the right word. They are smaller tubes in size, so the sound is generally a little different. There is more top end whereas the EL34/6L6 are more balanced, with the latter more focused on the midrange. Just because a guitar amp head has an EL84 doesn’t mean it will produce an inferior tone; it’ll just sound slightly different (brighter) than the bigger tubs.