by Jef | Approximate reading time: 13 Minutes

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Guitarists are somewhat obsessed with the mythical quest for tone; without a doubt, this search for the ultimate guitar tone will often revolve around the use of tubes. Whether they are in our amp, our preamp or our pedal. many of us believe our unique guitar sound is intertwined with this archaic technology. Here are our Top 10 Tube Amp Alternatives, that give you that tube-tone magic, but using tube-free technology!

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Tube Amp Alternatives

Obviously, unless you have been living under a rock for the last three weeks, then you will have noticed the news concerning the supply of vacuum tubes to the world market. The main cause for concern was that Electro-Harmonix had issues with the supply of tubes made in its factory, which is based in Russia. As a result, the company supplies vacuum tubes for brands that include Tung-Sol, Electro-Harmonix, EH Gold, Genalex Gold LionMullard, Svetlana and Sovtek, therefore leading to some long wait times for these products.

Subsequently, this week, EHX’s Mike Matthews released a follow-up statement, essentially saying that the vacuum tubes may be available once more. However, due to tariffs, be prepared for a 35% or more price rise.

With this in mind, in this article, I am going to show you some of the great tube amp alternatives out there. Importantly, none of them uses vacuum tubes, yet all of them sound fantastic!

Russian manufactured EHX vaccuum tubes

Russian manufactured EHX vacuum tubes

Tech 21 SansAmp Classic

The Tech 21 SansAmp Classic was possibly the second piece of non-vacuum tube guitar gear that I tried and loved. My first was an ’80s Award Session amp, but that’s another story. This little black stompbox is perfect for both studio and stage because it contains a myriad of great amp tones. Additionally, it is also easy to use, and very flexible, along with being super reliable. These things are practically bombproof!

Tech 21 SansAmp Classic

Tech 21 SansAmp Classic: accessible classic amp tones at the flick of a switch

All the tones?

This analogue pedal has settings for Lead (Marshall-style), Normal (Mesa Boogie-style), Bass (Fender-style) amp styles, with various voices, close miking, plus a whole lot more. If you haven’t tried one then you really are missing out; this little box is literally full of classic guitar tones. Without a doubt, this is a very useful box to have around in any home studio or gig bag.

Key Features

  • Controls: Presence Drive, Amplifier Drive, Output, High
  • Push-button Input Switch: Lead, Normal, Bass
  • Switch Character Controls: Mid-Boost I, Mid-Boost II, Low Drive, Clean Amp, Bright Switch, Vintage Tubes, Speaker Edge, Close Miking

Tech 21 SansAmp Classic

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Orange Guitar Butler

The compact and versatile Orange Guitar Butler offers players all the tones, without any of the hassles of lugging around a tube amp. It should be noted that this twin channel compact preamp is based around a reliable, durable, all analogue design.

Orange Guitar Butler

Orange Guitar Butler is a swiss army knife of tone for players on the move

Compact Tone

The Guitar Butler offers you a classic ’70s tube amp tone, is built in the UK, and designed by Ade Emsley a man that loves to create great amp circuits. Furthermore, it also works great as a pedal platform, so it’s perfect for all you stompbox addicts. I like the compact nature of this product, which consequently makes it ideal for any guitarist looking to travel light.

Key Specifications

  • Clean & Dirty channels
  • Clean Channel offers Gain, 3 band EQ
  • Dirty Channel offers Gain, 3 Band EQ, Volume 1, Volume 2, Presence
  • Effects Loop
  • XLR balanced out with speaker simulation and ground lift switch
  • Footswitch: Clean / Dirty, Volume 1 / Volume 2
Orange Guitar Butler

Orange Guitar Butler

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Friedman BE-Mini Amp Head

This little amp head has no tubes, yet is full of Plexi-style high gain amp tones. On the whole, the Friedman BE-Mini Amp Head is frighteningly good for such a small, inexpensive amplifier. Amp designer to the stars, Dave Friedman, is known for getting great modded Marshall-style amp tones, and this little 30 Watt head is packed with them. Once more, it is an all analogue design, and another superb example of the tube amp alternatives out there.

Friedman BE-Mini Amp Head

Friedman BE-Mini Amp Head perfect for boutique modded Marshall-Plexi tones on a budget

All the gain, without the strain

In particular, the Friedman BE-Mini has that boutique modded-Plexi rock tone covered. Clearly, if you want classic amp gain then, this little amp head is certainly one to check out; it really does rock hard! This one is absolutely a perfect solution for many scenarios, including jamming, practice, live use or even a great spare amp!

Key Features

  • One channel
  • Power: 30 watts
  • Controls: Volume, bass, mid, treble, presence, and gain
  • Switches: Cut / Tight
  • Effect Loop
Friedman BE-Mini Amp Head

Friedman BE-Mini Amp Head

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Quilter Aviator Mach 3

Okay, what if you need something more versatile to gig with? Well, if that is the case, then the Quilter Aviator Mach 3 combo should have you covered. This compact combo is all analogue, and in addition, has some seriously great tones on tap. Importantly, you get 200 Watts of power, two amp channels, and additionally, built-in speaker simulation.

Quilter Aviator Mach 3 Combo

Quilter Aviator Mach 3 Combo a flexible professional amp with 5 distinct amp tones per channel

Six Classic Tones in One

The amp features 1957, 1961, 1965, Plexi, Sweet and Top Bst for each channel, meaning you can set up your tones to taste, and easily switch between them in a live setting. It should be noted that it is available as just an amp head, for players who already own cabs.

Key Features

  • Six different voicings (1957, 1961, 1965, Plexi, Sweet & Top Bst) per channel
  • Built-in speaker simulation for live and recording miking without a microphone
  • Voice, Gain, Limit, Distortion Boost, Bass, Mid, Treb, Ch. Out controls per channel
  • Global controls: Reverb Mix & Swell, Tremolo Depth & Rate, Speaker Vol, Sig Out (Line & Headphones)

 

Quilter Aviator Mach 3 Combo

Quilter Aviator Mach 3 Combo

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Quilter Aviator Mach 3 Head

Quilter Aviator Mach 3 Head

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Boss Katana 50 MKII

The Boss Katana 50 MKII packs in useful features,  great amp tones, quality Boss effects and more. As a result, it offers guitarists a whole heap of value for what’s on offer. Rated at 50 Watts and powered by a 12″ Custom speaker, this combo comes with five distinct amps voices, plus five great effects, including Booster, Mod, FX, Delay and Reverb.

Boss Katana 50 MKII

Boss Katana 50 MKII offers great tones without a huge price tag

Jack of all trades?

This amp covers a lot of ground, whilst giving players a host of great amp tones, useful in many scenarios. I also love that it is so affordable, which I feel makes it a real winner for working musicians. In addition, it’s also great for players that need an amp for home use along with an amp for occasional jam sessions with mates.

In addition to all of the great tones on offer, you also get access to the Boss Tone Studio; this allows for added customisation and a very useful record out via USB.

Thankfully, the Boss Katana II range also features a 100 Watt model, so if you need more power, they have you covered. Furthermore, like the Quilter above, they do these in an amp head format as well.

Key Features

  • Clean, Crunch, Lead, Brown & Acoustic amp models
  • Booster, Mod, FX, Delay and Reverb – Three can be used simultaneously
  • 2 Memory locations for amplifiers and effects settings plus panel setting
  • Power amp input for the use of multi-effects devices
  • Power Control (0.5 / 25/50 watts) for full amp sound at any volume
  • Controls: Amp Type, Gain, Volume, Bass, Middle, Treble, Booster / Mod, Delay / FX, Reverb, Master & Power Control, Sounds
  • Updated Boss Tone Studio sound customisation software with over 60 different Boss effects, channel and global EQs, customisable routing and more (free on Bosstonecentral.com)
  • Connectivity for up to two footswitches or an expression pedal
  • USB connection for recording and changing effect settings

 

Boss Katana 50 MKII

Boss Katana 50 MKII

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Boss Katana 100 MKII

Boss Katana 100 MKII

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Boss Katana 100 Head MKII

Boss Katana 100 Head MKII

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Line 6 HX Stomp XL

The Line 6 HX Stomp XL comes packed with amp simulations, all of which can be enhanced with the extensive collection of internal effects to help you build great guitar tones. It’s based on the company’s SHARC DSP chip and importantly offers you the same HX models as the Helix, just in a smaller, more gig friendly, package.

Line 6 HX Stomp XL

Line 6 HX Stomp X the perfect compact box of tones?

Insanely Good

This little black box is a real powerhouse and as a result, players who build and sculpt their own tones from scratch will appreciate its many useful features. It should be noted that as with any modern-day modelling technology, just avoid the presets; for the most part, programming your own patches will reward you with the best amp tones. On the whole, then, this is definitely one for the tweakers out there, though everyone should try it at least once in their lifetime.

Key Features

  • Over 300 HX, legacy amps, speakers and effects
  • Support for third-party Impulse Responses 
  • 8 Capacitive touch footswitches with colour-coded LED rings
  • Polyphonic pitch-shifting effects
  • Split / Parallel signal paths for flexible routing
  • Stereo effects loop 

 

Line6 HX Stomp XL

 

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Fender Tone Master Super Reverb

Clearly, the Fender Tone Master Super Reverb looks like a vintage amp, and sounds like a vintage amp. Without a doubt, it even feels like a vintage amp to play through! Nevertheless,  there are no tubes to be found anywhere in this amp’s circuit path! Technology has come on a long way, and proof of this lies with this 200 Watt combo, chock-full of classic guitar tones.

Fender Tone Master Super Reverb

Fender Tone Master Super Reverb for anyone that wants classic amp tones without hassle

Heavyweight 4 x 10

Admittedly, fitted with four 10″ Jensen P10R Alnico speakers, this is the opposite end in portability when compared to my previous choices! Even so, if you don’t need loads of features, and you want a great amp tone without any fuss, then this is the amp for you.

Key Features

  • Controls Normal: Bright, Volume, Treble, Bass and Vibrato: Bright, Volume, Treble, Middle, Bass, Reverb, Speed, Intensity
  • Output Power Selector with five attenuated settings
  • Balanced XLR line output with impulse response (IR) cabinet simulations, level control, and ground switch
  • Onboard Convolution Spring Reverb, and Tremolo
Fender Tone Master Super Reverb

Fender Tone Master Super Reverb

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Neural DSP Quad Cortex

Conversely, the Neural DSP Quad Cortex is the polar opposite to the Fender above. On the whole, it offers you just about everything you could desire to make great guitar tones. This is one of the latest modellers to be released and as a result, is powered by a 2 GHz dedicated DSP and Quad-Core SHARC architecture. In addition, you’ll find that there’s already a huge user base all willing to tweak their tones.

Neural DSP Quad Cortex

Neural DSP Quad Cortex all singing, all dancing DSP powered amp tones and more

Updates

In the same way, as other modellers have received software updates and revisions, the Quad Cortex is no different. Consequently, these revisions and updates bring users new features to the platform. This one is definitely for players that enjoy programming their own distinct amp tones. In addition, you also get a wealth of top-notch effects and a new looper function as a result of the last update.

Key Features

  • 7″ Multi-touch display
  • Neural capture network architecture enables the analysis and simulation of the dynamics and sound of other amplifiers
  • Integrated Wifi for sharing rig capture presets, backups and firmware updates
  • The integrated Superior Modelling Technology enables a constantly growing collection of algorithms 
  • Very low latency and unparalleled routing flexibility
  • Cab sim with over 1000 impulse responses
Neural DSP Quad Cortex

Neural DSP Quad Cortex

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Line 6 Helix

Obviously, I had to put the Line 6 Helix on here! Admittedly, it may be the old boy on the block in terms of modelling technology; even so I cannot fault either the sound quality or the frequent updates which add new features to the product range. Available as either the full fat Helix or the slightly lighter, yet fully-featured Helix LT, without a doubt this all-in-one amp simulation and effects unit is a real winner for many musicians worldwide.

Line 6 Helix

Line 6 Helix is a feature packed product that offers flexible routing and great tones

Flexible

Undoubtedly, the Helix has been one of the most flexible solutions for tone because it allows musicians to express themselves in so many ways. With this in mind, it had to be on this list; just check out John Cordy in the demo video below to hear what I mean about expressing yourself.

Key Features

  • Dual DSP based HX Modelling Engine with 4 discreet stereo-signal paths
  • 50 Guitar amp models, 12 bass amp models, 37 speakers, 16 microphones and 104 effects
  • Imported IRs (impulse responses) with up to 1024 / 2048 samples
  • 12 Pressure-sensitive footswitches for editing
  • The Hands-Free Pedal Edit mode sets the effects parameters onto the switch and expression pedal
  • Near-Instant footswitch and controller assignment
  • Up to 3 expression pedals
  • CV/Expression output
  • Amplifier switching output and extensive MIDI control
  • Extensive inputs and outputs for the seamless integration of entire rigs
  • 10 Inputs, 12 outputs (including four FX loops)
  • 8 In / 8 Out USB audio interface
  • AES / EBU, SPDIF and VDI interfaces
Line6 Helix Guitar Processor

Line6 Helix Guitar Processor

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Line6 Helix LT Guitar Processor

Line6 Helix LT Guitar Processor

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Kemper Profiler Stage

To conclude, we have the Kemper Profiler Stage which is the floor pedal version of the product line. In particular, this Profiler system uses DSP to capture the sound of real amps. For example, it does this by creating a precise sonic image called a profile of an existing amplifier. It should be noted that each profile includes not only the sound of the amplifier but additionally the cabinet and microphone settings, too.

Kemper Profiler Stage

Kemper Profiler Stage makes a profiles of real amps that you can use anywhere

Profiles

Importantly, you can then tweak these profiles with master effects, equaliser, gain, amp definition, power sagging, etc. As a result, it makes for a very amp-like experience for many users. Additionally, the Kemper Profiler is also available in a few formats, so if you just want it as an amp head or a rack, you’re in luck.

Key Features

  • Combines  Kemper Profiler guitar amplifier and Profiler Remote foot controller in one unit
  • Complete Profiler with the same functions as the Profiler Head
  • Control, manage and program performances, as well as rig switches and complex parameter morphs
  • MIDI In/Out/Thru
  • S/PDIF In/Out
  • USB

 

Kemper Profiler Stage

Kemper Profiling Amplifier Head BK

Kemper Profiling Amplifier Head BK

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Kemper Profiling Amp PowerRack Set

Kemper Profiling Amp PowerRack Set

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Image Sources:
  • Russian manufactured EHX vacuum tubes: EHX
  • Tech 21 SansAmp Classic filled with tones galore: Thomann
  • Orange Guitar Butler: Thomann
  • Friedman BE-Mini Amp Head: Thomann
  • Quilter Aviator Mach 3 Combo: Thomann
  • Boss Katana 50 MKII: Thomann
  • Line 6 HX Stomp XL: Thomann
  • Fender Tone Master Super Reverb: Fender
  • Neural DSP Quad Cortex: Thomann
  • Line 6 Helix: Thomann
  • Kemper Profiler Stage: Thomann
  • sansamp: Tech 21

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12 responses to “Top 10 Tube Amp Alternatives: No Tubes? No Problem!”

    Hubert says:
    0

    Great list! Also Strymon Iridium

    pfrf says:
    0

    Nice article, thanks. I’m going to check out that mini Friedman.
    Adding to the list- DSM & Humboldt Simplifier, Custom Tones Ethos, Walrus Audio ACS1, Yamaha THR…

    Don says:
    0

    Line6 Catalyst, Peavey Bandit, many modellers (NUX, Mooer, Zoom), Hughes&Kettner Black Spirit related products. Blackstar Silverline……

    Jerry Phillips says:
    0

    Do you have 3-500Z Transmitting tube that’s the tube I need Do you Seal that tube an if so what is the price

    FEurope says:
    0

    Pricewise and performancewise the Two Noted Torpedo CAB M+ should be mentioned too. It found a place on my pedalboard. after JHS AB mini pedal, having choice of amp or TwoNotes

    Dex says:
    0

    This info was awesome!
    Thanks to my friend George Price for the heads up article.
    I play Chicago style blues harmonica and I bet one of these combos would sound great.

    Nadim says:
    0

    You missed the best one Here.
    Take a look to the bluguitar amps

    Daniel Crook says:
    0

    Some of these might be ok and any amp is better than none, more or less but I had a couple of these and the Fender Super Reverb is not a good bargain because they are built as cheaply as possible and forget about the Peavey Bandit or most any Peavey solid state rig. I owned a couple, before I knew better and they are not very road worthy. Also, just because it has tube(s) in it is no guarantee that it will have any tone at all. Perfect example of this is the 5 watt Epiphone combo. Don’t remember the model name but I got rid of it very quickly. Pedals look interesting but no Chinese anything…pure junk in every way !

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