Best Practice Amp – Low Watt Amps For Home & Small Gigs

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Playing gigs and jamming with mates is great fun, but practicing is where all the hard work happens. But here’s the thing: most guitar amps sound great when you turn them right up, but don’t when they’re at low volume.

Here’s where the best practice amps come in. These devices sound better at lower volumes and have features that make them ideal for practice; they’re often light too, and hence highly portable making them great for travel, and depending on the size, gigging also.

Roland Cube GX Practice Amp

In this article, we’re going to look at the different models available and help you work out which type is right for you, divided up into under 10 watts models, and slightly larger 10 – 20 watts products.

At a Glance: Our Pick of the Best Practice Amps

Under 10 Watts
10 to 20 Watts

Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon.

Here’s what we’re going to cover in this article.

What are Practice Amps?

The term ‘practice amp’ doesn’t really exist. When we say that, we’re talking about a device with characteristics that make it ideal for practice.

The most obvious characteristic is size. They fall into two camps:

  • Micro / compact. So small they sit in the palm of your hand and perfect for slinging in a suitcase. From 1 to 10 watts, they’re super light too.
  • Medium size. Slightly bigger and louder, usually in the 10 to 20 watts range, these devices often have onboard effects.

Loudness is another essential characteristic. Of course, you can practice on an amp of any wattage, but there’s a simple reason why people prefer to practice on lower watt devices: they sound better at lower volumes. That’s right, you could practice on a 100-watt beast, but it won’t sound its best at 1 on the volume dial unless it has a master dial so you can drive it (you’d have to crank it up to get the best sound, and for most home-dwellers, playing loud doesn’t go down too well).

Practice amps work brilliantly for backstage warm-up or a quick run through of your set before a gig. Surprisingly some of the best guitarists have opted to use them for studio work too. Jimmy Page famously used a small amp for studio work, as did Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Joe Walsh (Clapton recorded Layla on a 10 watt 57 Super Champ, which we review below).

What else makes them useful for practice? Well, depending on the model, they often come with onboard effects and amp voicing capability which are super handy. You wouldn’t want to play a big gig using these built-in effects, but for practice, they more than suffice. Many of these come with headphone outputs for quiet practice and stuff like onboard tuners, battery power, etc.

Buying Guide – Key Considerations

Portability

The first question is how mobile do you need it to be? If you want something you can perch on the kitchen table and have a quick 5 min jam on while your kids are doing their homework, then go for a micro option. Many are battery operated too, so fewer wires and easier to take from room to room. Although they look like kids toys, don’t scoff at them; even Keith Richards has been spotted with one in his house.

Onboard Effects

How important are built-in effects (e.g., chorus, reverb, etc.)? Some people love these digitally generated tones, and for pure convenience they’re handy. But many people prefer to steer clear of these digitized sounds. Which side of the fence are you on? Do you like to change your tone a lot, one minute be playing a high gain overdriven sound and the next playing a clean tone? If you’re in the yes camp, then get one with built-in effects.

Pedals

If you’re planning to use pedals, then you’ll want an amp that ‘takes pedals’ well. Can’t you use pedals with any amplifier? Well, you can, but many won’t sound any good. Bigger models (e.g., 50 watts and above) naturally sound great with pedals because they have sufficient headroom. Smaller models, especially micro ones, have almost no headroom. The blues junior for example (see below) take pedals really because of its adequate headroom.

Extras

One of the things you definitely might want is a headphone socket. You want to be able to plug in and play whenever you like, right? Well, if you live in a built-up area or have neighbors in close proximity, it’s not always that easy. The ability to plug a set of decent guitar headphones into your amp and jam away till the early hours is awesome.

Product Round-up & Reviews – Best Practice Amp

VOX Pathfinder 10

Vox Pathfinder Combo, 10W (V9106)

Specifications
Type: Solid State
Output: 10-Watts
Size: 43.2 x 20.3 x 30.5 cm
Weight: 13.8 lbs
Headphone Jack: Yes
Battery Powered: No

This twin-channel micro practice amp from British amp maker Vox has a surprising amount of kick and punch for such a little box. Toggling the clean / overdrive switch lets you go between a crystal clean sound to a warm distortion tone or a crunchy bluesy tone to a high-gain roar. You don’t get any effects with this pedal, but for the price, you can’t expect much more. At 10 watts it’s at the upper limits of what we call a micro amp, and has a lot of volume for its size.

Who is this best suited for?

It suits the person looking for vintage Vox tones who want to get a little practice in their spare time.

PROS

  • Vintage looking mini Vox
  • Twin channels give you clean and dirty tones
  • Exceptional price for what you get

CONS

  • No battery power
  • No effects

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON


Fender Frontman 10G

Fender Frontman 10G Electric Guitar Amplifier

Specifications
Type: Solid State
Output: 10-Watts
Size: 5.8 x 10.2 x 11 inches
Weight: 18.7 lbs
Headphone Jack: Yes
Battery Powered: No

A similarly priced offering from Fender, the Frontman 10G is another 10-watt mini practice amp. Weighing in at 8.5kg, it’s slightly heavier than the Vox and has only one channel (as opposed to the Vox’s twin channels). It’s a fender amp though, and it’s exceptionally well built for the price and features a headphone out as well as a closed back for extra bass response. No batteries mean it’s not as versatile as some of our other products on the list, but if you’re mad about getting a fender tone, then this one is worth looking at.

Who is this best suited for?

It’s best for Fender fans who want a smaller version of their favorite Fender amp.

PROS

  • Decent value for money
  • Solid construction
  • Good projection for such a small device

CONS

  • No battery power
  • One one channel

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON


Roland Micro Cube GX

Roland Micro Cube GX 3W 1x5 Battery Powered Guitar Combo Amp Black

Specifications
Type: Solid State
Output: 3 Watt
Size: 12 x 9.1 x 12.5 inches
Weight: 7.7 lbs
Headphone Jack: Yes
Battery Powered: Yes

Ask the average guy in a guitar shop for his or her favorite micro practice amps, and the Micro Cube is usually one of the top picks. So what makes it so good? Well, in contrast to the Vox and Fender products above, the Cube is an amp modeler, with eight amplifier models as well as 6 DWP effects (delay, reverb, etc.). It’s also built like a brick, constructed of a rugged plastic material which is indestructible. As well as packing a lot of punch (with effects you’d expect on bigger models), you also get extra gizmos such as an onboard tuner and what they call ‘i-Cube Link’ which lets you hook up the Cube to your iPhone, iPad, etc.

Who is this best suited for?

The Micro Cube is ideal for someone looking for a super portable option. Add the onboard effects, and it’s quite a package. If you’re an apple geek, then you’ll be in ‘link up’ heaven too.

PROS

  • Battery powered
  • Good onboard effects
  • Robust build

CONS

  • Bit pricier than the two above
  • I-Cube Link only for apple owners

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON


Blackstar HT-1R

Blackstar HT1R Series Guitar Combo Amplifier with Reverb

Specifications
Type: Tube
Output: 1 Watt
Size: 14.9 x 9.5 x 13.9 inches
Weight: 13.85 lbs
Headphone Jack: Yes
Battery Powered: No

Blackstar, a popular brand with metal guitarists, offers up this little micro practice amp. The first thing to note is that it’s a tube amp. At 1 watt, it’s the lowest powered we have on our list, but don’t let that fool you. At 1 watt, it’s still plenty loud enough for most practice sessions. As a tube amp, you’ll want to drive it and thanks to its low wattage you can get it to cook at super low volumes.  You get some onboard effects as you’d expect at this price point, and an emulated headphone socket and auxiliary in for playing your backing tracks.

Who is the ideal buyer for this?

It’s an elegant package for someone looking for compact size and valve tones. If the price isn’t an issue, it’s a good option.

PROS

  • 1 Watt Compact tube amp
  • Able to cook at low vols
  • MP3/Line input

CONS

  • A bit on the pricey side
  • No battery power

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON


Marshall MG10CF

Marshall MG4 Carbon Series MG10CF 10 Watt Guitar Combo Amplifier with 2 Chann...

Specifications
Type: Solid state
Output: 10 watt
Size: 14.4 x 12.1 x 7.2 inches
Weight: 11.64 lbs
Headphone Jack: Yes
Battery Powered: No

If you crave for the simple things, this one could be for you. It’s refreshingly short on features and focuses on creating an elegant, Marshall tone. If you love your Marshall tone and want to get that in a small box, then this is the one for you. This amp is a premium bit of gear and therefore isn’t battery operated. It isn’t for your garden parties; it’s more at home in the recording studio. It does have a few onboard digital effects (chorus, phaser, etc. and a three-band EQ) but that’s it.

Who’s this suitable for?

This is a premium quality micro amp that Marshall fans are going to love. Its price is possibly prohibitive to some people, but for fans of this tone (and simplicity in general), it’s a good option.

PROS

  • Refreshingly Simple
  • Authentic Marshall tone
  • Built like a tank

CONS

  • Not battery powered

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON


Fender ’57 Custom Champ

Fender '57 Custom Champ 5W 1x8 Tube Guitar Amp Lacquered Tweed

Specifications
Type: Tube
Output: 10 watt
Size: 24 x 14 x 14 inches
Weight: 19.8 lbs
Headphone Jack: No
Battery Powered: No

We get to our second tube amp on our list and the most expensive by some distance. The Fender ‘57 Custom Champ is more than just a small amp; it’s an icon. Many of the greats have used one of these in recordings: Jeff Beck, Joe Walsh, they were all fans. Eric Clapton used one of these for his recording of Layla.

There’s one potential issue with using this as a practice amp: it only has one volume knob and no master volume (unlike say the blues junior which we review further down) – meaning you have to crank it up to get it to drive it (and get an overdriven sound). That’s fine if you only want a clean sound, but for most of us we want some natural overdrive – you’d have to play it ear-shatteringly loud to get that. That’s a limitation if you have to keep the noise levels down. This amp doesn’t come with a headphone socket either. But for all its flaws, it’s a beautiful highly collectible bit of gear that will stand the test of time and probably appreciate in value the longer you have it. You won’t get tired of the sound either.

PROS

  • High-end small guitar amp
  • Great tweed finish
  • Great for recording

CONS

  • No master switch
  • Pricey

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON


VOX AC4HW1

VOX AC4HW1 Hand-Wired Top Boost Guitar Combo Amplifier, 4W

Specifications
Type: Tube
Output: 4 watts
Size: 21.1 x 15.7 x 23 inches
Weight: 39.7 lbs
Headphone Jack: No
Battery Powered: No

At only 4 watts, this offering from Vox is their high end, small offering. Hand-wired, it caters for lovers of VOX and audio purists in general. In terms of features, it’s straightforward: EQ (bass and treble), gain switch to give you that AC30 top boost sound (or something close to it) and high and low inputs. It rocks the classic VOX styling too (vintage Fawn vinyl). With a sweet, jangly, transparent and compressed vintage tone, it’s one of the premium products on our list, but if you’re in the market for a high-quality compact amp, and money isn’t an issue, you’d be silly not to consider this one.

PROS

  • Get the AC30 top boost sound in a small package
  • Classic fawn vinyl looks
  • Hand-wired for audio purists

CONS

  • On the pricey side
  • Looks aren’t for everyone

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON


Bugera V5 Infinium

BUGERA V5 5-Watt Class Amplifier Combo with Infinium Tube Life Multiplier Black, (V5INFINIUM)

Specifications
Type: Tube
Output: 5 Watt
Size: 13.9 x 8.6 x 14 inches
Weight: 22.1 lbs
Headphone Jack: Yes
Battery Powered: No

The Bugera is a simple practice amp at a reasonable price, great for home usage and smallish jam sessions. It has many useful features you don’t get with higher end compact practice amps, such as a headphone output for jamming in silence. The Bugera also comes with a couple of great additions: a built-in power attenuator that lets you reduce the output from 5W to 1W (or a super quiet 0.1W), so you can still get an overdriven sound at a low volume. Another super feature is the way you can unhook the built-in speaker and hook up an external speaker cabinet, turning the amp into a head unit. That’s handy if you don’t often plan bigger gigs. It also comes with a digital reverb that isn’t too shabby. Overall, it’s a great value for money for a practice tube amp.

PROS

  • Built-in guitar attenuator
  • Digital reverb
  • Great value for money

CONS

  • Not battery powered

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON


Fender Bassbreaker 007 Combo

Fender Bassbreaker 007 Combo

Specifications
Type: Tube
Output: 7 Watt
Size: 8.5 x 15.8 x 14.8 inches
Weight: 25.5 lbs
Headphone Jack: No
Battery Powered: No

The new Bassbreaker range from Fender looks nothing like Fender, which is a bold move on their part. Everything from the logo itself to the materials used, to the shiny disc knobs, looks, unlike the typical Fender look we’ve come to know and love. Looks aside, let’s talk about the amp itself. The good news from Fender’s point of view is they’ve built an excellent device here. The 007 combo comes with a treble booster for extra gain and harmonics, ¼” line output for recording and comes available as a combo or head. It also ships with an EL84 tube for Class “A” operation and a 10” Celestion speaker.

PROS

  • Modern Fender design
  • Treble booster for extra gain and harmonics

CONS

  • Looks aren’t for everyone

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON


Yamaha THR10X

Yamaha THR10X Mini Guitar Amplifier with Cubase AI Production Software

For great value for money, we spoke about the Bugera (see above) which packs a load into a small box. The Yamaha THR is in a similar league and at a similar price point, only this one is a solid state, not a valve amp.

The standout feature of the THR is how versatility. In a very compact, small box, you get a ton of features. It benefits from Yamaha’s VCM technology (which stands for Virtual Circuitry Modelling) which gives you a range of amp models to choose from: modern, brit, lead, crunch and clean. You also get a load of effects to play with too: chorus, flanger, phaser, and tremolo, as well as a separate delay/reverb knob. It’s quite a punchy also, driven by twin 8” speakers each pushing out up to 5 watts apiece.

Then there are all the freebies they stick on top: an onboard chromatic tuner, an mp3 input, USB connectivity so you can hook it up to a computer for recording, they even throw in a copy of Steinberg Cubase AI software. And like that wasn’t enough for tech nerds to play with, they’ve also built an app so you can twiddle with settings on your phone (which among other things lets you slow down songs for jamming over, which is rather handy). Built for travel thanks to the sturdy metal shell, it takes mains or batteries too.

Who’s this suitable for?

It’s one for the tech geeks out there who want something compact (and, thanks to the battery operated option, portable). Audio (or valve) purists will probably want to pass on this, but if you’re not fussed about solid state sound, then this has a boatload of benefits.

PROS

  • Features galore for the tech savvy
  • Pretty gnarly sound for its size
  • Very reasonably priced

CONS

  • Solid state, which some won’t like
  • Jack of all trades, master of none?

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON


Fender Blues Junior

Fender Hot Rod 0213205700 Blues Junior III 15-W LTD Tube Guitar Combo Amplifier, Tweed

Specifications
Type: Tube
Output: 15 watt
Size: 20 x 12 x 18.5 inches
Weight: 21 lbs
Headphone Jack: No
Battery Powered: No

In contrast to the Yamaha THR10X, we have the Blues Junior. This is everything the Yamaha is not – stubbornly old school, from a time when they were made to do one thing really well: produce kick-ass sound.

Blues Junior’s have stood the test of time and are still in production (Fender hasn’t changed the design at all in the last few decades). And why should they? It’s a great 15-watt combo amp that works superbly for practice (thanks to the fact you can drive it at low volumes) and works great for gigs. All the 10 watts and below amps above are great practice amps, but most aren’t gig-friendly. The Blues Junior is.

The downsides? It’s nowhere near as portable as many on this list. There’s no headphone socket which limits its ability to provide ‘late hour’ silent jams, and of course, it has none of the computer connectivity options you find on more modern devices. It doesn’t take batteries either.

Who’s this suitable for?

Some will find its simplicity and old worldliness refreshing; others will find it desperately impractical. However, if you’re looking for an authentic, vintage sounding amplifier that’s good for home use or gigging, this is perhaps the best tube amp out there.

PROS

  • Vintage tube sound at low vol
  • Great for practice and gigging
  • Refreshingly old school

CONS

  • No headphone socket
  • Quite pricey

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON


VOX AC10C1

VOX AC10C1 Guitar Amplifier Head

Specifications
Type: Tube
Tubes: Two 12AX7 preamp tube, two EL84 power tubes
Speaker: Celestion VX10 10″
Output: 10 watts
Size: 28.1 x 15.2 x 21.9 in
Weight: 27 lbs
Headphone Jack: No
Battery Powered: No

The first head amplifier on our list, the VOX AC10C1 is a 10-watt tube amp, a reissue of the “Vox A.C. 10” released in 1958. It is essentially a smaller version of the 15-watt AC15 (which, at 15 watts, we could have featured in this list too, but the AC10C1 is smaller and lighter). The AC10C1 is a single channel, lightweight (at 27 lbs) ‘turn-up-and-go’ amplifier. But the great thing about it, of course, is the sound – you can get a very clean sounding but warm, ‘jingly’ sound and the characteristic ‘chime’ you get from higher-end VOX models. You can get a decent overdriven tone from this too – turn up the gain and crank the master past halfway and it’ll deliver juicy distortion. It’s a great little tube amp that breaks up nicely and doesn’t need to be played at ridiculous levels to sound good. Forget about USB connectivity or anything ‘modern’ with this one though – this is another one for the purists.

Who’s this suitable for?

Mostly this is for fans of that vintage Vox sound and people who like to keep things simple. With the AC10C1 you don’t find all the gimmicks you find on many of the hybrid options on this list. This one is like the Blues Junior in its simplicity.

PROS

  • Great-sounding, vintage-style tube amp
  • Compact and lightweight
  • Extension speaker out for a cab

CONS

  • Tubes aren’t easy to access
  • Expensive

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON


Fender Super Champ X2

Fender Super Champ X2 15-Watt 1x10-Inch Guitar Combo Amp

Specifications
Type: Hybrid
Output: 15 watt
Tube: two 6V6 tubes, one 12AX7 preamp tube
Size: 14.8 x 8.8 x 17.5 inches
Weight: 23 lbs
Headphone Jack: Yes
Battery Powered: No

The Super Champ X2 is a ‘hybrid’ – part tube, part solid-state amp. Its standout features are its versatile amp voicings (16 of them, including Tweed, Blackface, British and Metal) and a wide selection of effects (I counted 15, and a TAP tempo control for delay time/modulation rate adjustments). The Super Champ X2 also lets you reassign the presets to different effects, so it’s eminently customizable. It’s a great little device for home use and would pass muster at a small venue. The speaker it ships with is their own 10” Fender Special Design speaker which gets mixed reviews on the forums, but isn’t bad at all.

Who’s this suitable for?

If you want a Fender, but don’t want to fork out for Blues Junior but still want the tube sound, this is an exciting option. While it’s not 100% tube, it’s versatility and price makes up for it.

PROS

  • Good hybrid model
  • Best of tube and digital
  • Great for home and small gigs

CONS

  • If you have pedals, will you use the onboard effects?
  • Not a tube, but somewhere in between

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON


Micro Terror

Orange Micro Terror 20W Amplifier Head

Specifications
Type: Hybrid
Tubes: Single 12AX7
Speaker: 1×8 OR 1×16 Ohm (8 Ohm Minimum)
Output: 20 Watts – So Loud
Size: 11 x 6 x 7 inches
Weight: 2 lbs
Headphone Jack: Yes
Battery Powered: No
External: Can Drive a 4×12 Cab

Now for one of the unique, and certainly the smallest devices on our list; the Micro Terror head amplifier from Orange. Like the Super Champ X2 above, it’s a hybrid which couples a valve preamp to a solid-state output section.

Taking its inspiration from it’s larger sibling the Tiny Terror, the micro head is barely larger than your average smart-phone, so it’ll be super handy for traveling. Its controls are on the limited side, with a volume, tone and gain and a headphones socket. It also includes an auxiliary audio input. The standout feature though is the way you can hook it up to a cabinet with 4-ohm or higher – it will even power a 4 x 12 cabinet. All this along with a sturdy high tensile steel case, and a loud and gutsy sound, it’s a decent choice. It also does an excellent job of taking pedals on the front end.

Who’s this suitable for?

Orange is the no.1 choice for many metal fans, equally fans of harder rock such as the tones of Jimmy Page will appreciate this. The flexibility of being able to plug this into an external cabinet makes it quite versatile too. Oh, and the price is super low.

PROS

  • Size – slightly bigger than an i-phone
  • Built like a tank from high tensile steel
  • Very affordable

CONS

  • No amp voicing or effects
  • No fx-loop

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON


So Which Should I Buy?

Ok, we’ve covered a lot of ground, and your head is probably swimming with options. Let’s look at your options.

Under 10 Watts

Into the VOX sound? Go with the VOX Pathfinder 10. If budget isn’t an issue, go with the VOX AC4HW1 Hand-Wired amp.

More of Fender fanboy or girl? Try the Fender Frontman 10 for a super budget option or the Fender ’57 Custom Champ if budget isn’t an issue. Somewhere in between – the new range of Bass Breakers are quite impressive.

Want a super quiet tube amp? Check out the Blackstar HT-1R at only 1 watt. Or perhaps you want an affordable tube amplifier but not bothered about the brand? Then the Bugera V5 Infinium is worth a look. The Roland Micro Cube GX is perfect if you travel (they’re a big hit with buskers). At the other extreme, you have the Marshall MG10CF – a classy little unit full stop.

10 to 20 Watts

Looking for a classic tube amp that works for home and small gigs – the Blues Junior is a no-brainer but don’t expect any USB connectors. It’s as simple as it gets. The VOX AC10C1 is another classic tube amp you should consider.

Wanting something a tad more modern? The hybrid Super Champ X2 is worth checking out with its variable controls and settings while retaining an element of tube loveliness. Too expensive for you?

Wanting something modern with all the mod cons – then the Yamaha THR10X is probably interesting. It’s got a load of features and comes housed in a sturdy box. And while we’re talking about sturdy metal things, if you want something mega small that’s built like a tank (and sounds badass at the same time) check out the Micro Terror which is smart-phone size, or thereabouts.


We hope you’ve found this guide useful. If you’re still stuck with what to buy, one type of amp we haven’t mentioned is the keyboard amp which are made for keyboard players (obviously) but due to their wide frequency range, can be used with other instruments too.

 

Ged Richardson

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.