Buying an amp should be straightforward. Unfortunately, there’s so much information out there it's easy to suffer from analysis-paralysis.
In this article we’re going to look at the best 15 watt tube amps out there, and break down exactly what makes each one good and anything you should be aware of when making your choice.
At a Glance: Our Choice Of Best 15 Watt Tube Amps On The Market
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What to look for when buying a 15 watt tube amp?
A tube amp has a warmth and depth that comes as a result of how vacuum tube amplification works.
Why does this matter?
A tube amp has a dynamic ability to produce a very clean tone when you play guitar through it softly, and produce a level of distortion when played harder.
But the true beauty of a 15 watt tube amp is that you can take advantage of this in small venues, kick up the gain and get the full impact without shattering everyone’s eardrums.
But what separates the best from the rest?
- First of all, we’re only looking at 15 watt, so the difference will be in the type of tubes used (yeah, there’s more than one!) and how they deliver different tonal ranges, clarity and power in your music.
- Second, what kind of preamp have you got available? Some amps have more channels than others, which gives you a lot greater control over what kind of tone you’re gonna be producing.
- And as always, how much are you dropping on the amp? If you’re paying just for the big brand name, and getting exactly the same quality as a lesser known and cheaper model, try taking the time to experiment instead!
Top 5 Best 15 Watt Tube Amp (Review)
1. Fender '65 Princeton Reverb 15-Watt Guitar Combo Amp
A reissue of earlier models, but unfortunately not a big improvement on the original. It’s still a great little amp that can really come to life quickly, making a roaring impact on a little room once you push the volume.
- Really portable, making it great for gigging. The small size also makes it an excellent bedroom practice amp.
- Really powerful reverb.
- Really sharp clean tones with a decent level of headroom but a satisfying distortion tipping point.
- When the vibrato setting is used at low volumes it can produce an irritating ‘tick’.
- The reverb, despite being powerful has a tendency to rattle on bass notes.
- Tubes can be easily blown out and are expensive to replace, especially considering the already high price tag.
2. Vox Night Train NT15C1-G2 - 15W 1x12" Guitar Combo Amp
A powerful little beast with a lot of flexibility in what kinds of sounds it can produce. It has all the hallmarks of a typical Vox amp, which is really noticeable when you listen to how it delivers clean tones.
- For such a small amp it delivers a more powerful sound than it has any right to, without being uncontrollable so it’s still well suited for quiet practice too.
- Has a really strong overdrive (girth channel) for a hard rock sound.
- A lot of clean headroom.
- No footswitch.
- Bright channel thick mode causes the volume to jump up without any way of preventing it.
- Hard to get a good sound for heavier types of metal, but can work in a pinch with a couple of pedals to help out.
3. Kustom Amps DEFENDERV15 The Defender 15W 1 x 10 Inches Guitar Combo (Editor's Choice)
Powered by EL-84 valves and a 10” Celestion speaker, the DefenderV15 is a lightweight amp perfect for home use, small venue gigs and even recording. It’s easily one of the best 15 watt tube amps available.
- Can switch between 4 to 15W for full control over overdrive/headroom balance.
- Break up comes smoothly and quickly for quick transitions between clean and guttural sounds.
- Tubes are strong enough to handle constant use and are very dynamic.
- The speaker, while very good, does need to be broken in (although you could say that’s half the fun of getting a new amp).
- Very little headroom, but this is a feature not a bug. If headroom is what you need, then get an amp with that as a central design focus.
- Rattles at the low end, but only slightly.
4. Ibanez TSA15 15-Watt All-Tube Combo Guitar Amplifier
This amp has one overwhelming strength over other 15 watt tube amps. It’s built from the ground up to deliver a powerful overdrive, and is exactly what you would expect from Ibanez.
- The Tube Screamer overdrive pedal is built directly into the TSA15’s circuitry.
- 12” Celestion speakers capable of handling strong overdrive, strong cleans and crunch galore.
- Extremely versatile, capable of handling everything from metal to jazz.
- No reverb.
- Doesn’t come with a footswitch, although you can buy one separately.
- Surprisingly low volume.
5. Orange Amplification Tiny Terror TT15C-12 15W 1x12 Tube Guitar Combo Amp
A lunchbox amp that punches far above what the size would suggest, offering beautiful cleans and heavy distortion as needed.
- Strong distortion capabilities.
- Holds sustain for a very long time.
- Ability to switch between 7 and 15 W gives great flexibility and the ability to produce great tones at low volume.
- No effects loop.
- Changing tubes is quite difficult compared to other combo amps.
- No internal reverb.
As you’ve noticed, there’s a lot of different things you can do with such a tiny amp. So, what now? Which one should you pick?
As always, it depends on what you need.
Are you a die hard metal head? You’ll be happiest with the Ibanez. If it’s a case of flexibility to do anything you need, then the DefenderV15 will be the best suited for you.
The best thing here is that each of these could easily be described as being the best 15 watt tube amp available. The first thing to do is check your budget. If you can afford any, decide if you need more headroom or less.
If more headroom is needed, then the Vox will perform very well.
Have you made your decision yet? Let us know which one you’ll be getting in the comments below and why you chose it!
Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.