Choosing a practice tube amp to use as a pedal platform can be a tough decision. Too much power limits where and when you can practice. And a low wattage amp with too little headroom just won’t take pedals very well.
This can leave you in a bit of a pickle. There needs to be a sacrifice somewhere. Or does there?
The truth is, with the right amp, you don’t have to sacrifice much. I’m going to give you a couple of options and show you our pick for the best tube-powered combo amp to use as a pedal platform.
Note: Each of these product lines can also be purchased separately as a cab and external amp head.
Marshall DSL Series
Being the brand of choice for rock Gods such as Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Hallen, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Slash, Marshall amps have helped shape the sound of generations. There’s one problem though – you’re not looking to push a full-stack (or a half-stack for that matter) with a 100W head and Marshall combos have often left much to be desired.
Enter the Marshall DSL40CR Combo. This is a versatile 2-channel, 40-watt tube amp that is actually very well capable of capturing most of your favorite rock sounds. It’s also much less likely to get you evicted from your apartment.
Featuring two EL34 power tubes, four ECC83 preamp tubes and a Celestion V-Type 12″ speaker rated at 70 watts, this is a quality build that can handle your pedalboard just fine. There’s also a switch to take it down to 20 watts, which makes this a good practice amp.
My favorite upgrade to this amp is to swap out the stock speaker with an Eminence Texas Heat speaker. It’s a perfect marriage of American and British sound.
Marshall Amps Guitar Combo Amplifier (M-DSL40CR-U)
- Gain and volume per channel. Dedicated resonance control. 2 separate master volume controls
- Reverb. High and low power settings
- Now with Celestion V type speaker
- Softube Emulated output
- 4 x ECC83 and 2 x EL34 valves.Output wattage: 40w (with power reduction option to 20w)
Fender Bassbreaker 15
The Bassbreaker 15 would be my number one pick for low-powered, pedal-friendly amps if not for the Blackstar HT-20R. It has a surprising punch and great headroom for only being 15 watts.
The Bassbreaker is designed to be reminiscent of the Original Fender Bassman. Combining three 12AX7 preamp tubes, two EL84 and a Celestion V-Type 12″ speaker gives this amp a warm bottom-end presence with enough mids to cut through any mix.
This amp has 3 different gain structures and breaks up beautifully when you crank her up a little. And at 15 watts, you can do just that in just about any practice space.
Other features include an XLR out with a cab emulator, main and extension speaker outs and, of course, an effects send.
If you need a little more power, you can get the same features in the Bassbreaker 45 (found here on Amazon).
Fender Bassbreaker 15 Combo
- 3 distinct tonal timbres and overdrive levels via the Gain Structure switch
- Aggressive midrange character and crunch via the EL 84 power three 12AX7 pre amp tubes
- Recording in any studio is easy as no microphone necessary with the recording-friendly Power Amp Mute, Switchable
- Package Weight: 21.84 kilograms
Blackstar HT-20R MKII
The Blackstar HT-20R MKII is the epitome of high quality, yet moderately powered pedal platforms. This absolutely my go-to practice amp and it sounds fantastic.
Housing two EL84 power tubes, two 12AX7 preamp tubes and a 12″ Blackstar signature speaker, the HT-20R handles gritty distorted tones like a champ. Blackstar included 4 total voicings:
- British Clean
- American Clean
- Classic “hot-rodded” Drive
- Modern Drive
On top of this, when using the Drive Channel, there is Blackstar’s patented ISF (Infinite Shape Feature) knob. Clockwise gives you more of a British tone (think Marshall), while counterclockwise gives you a more American drive tone (think Fender). Or, you can keep it in the middle to blend the two.
With emulated outputs, you can mimic a 4 x 12 or 2 x 12 cab sound. There’s also a line input for backing tracks, USB audio output for recording and a variety of external speaker outputs: 1 x 16 ohm, 1 x 8 ohm or 2 x 16 ohm.
The footswitch is including for channel/voicing selection and of course there’s an effects loop. I can’t imagine needing anything else.
One thing I’ll say. The amp is designed to have a really warm sound, but as a result, it’s a little bottom end heavy. I think at some point I’m going to swap out the factory speaker with a Celestion Vintage 30. I know someone that replaced theirs with a V30 and I think it sounds better.
Blackstar HT20R MKII 20-Watt 1x12 Inches Tube Combo Amp with Reverb
- 2-channel All-tube 1x12" Guitar Combo Amplifier with Infinite Shape Feature
- Power Reduction Circuit
- 2 Voice Switches
- Emulated Output
- Reverb - Black
Finding a reasonably powered practice amp that takes pedals well can be a chore. I can empathize, because I’ve been there.
These are the 3 best choices for tube amps under 50 watts within this price range. With the Fender Bassbreaker coming in close 2nd, the Blackstar HT-20 MKII is, in our opinion, the superior choice here.
Check out our article on “What Is A Combo Amp?”.