Tubes really do make a difference.

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Tubes really do make a difference.

Postby stratman_27 » Sun Jan 21, 2007 11:39 pm

You guys may remember my thread on Sunday about my amp dying on me. Turned out to be a bad preamp tube. I play a peavey Classic 30 combo and it was loaded with 3 JJ's 12 AX&'s and 4 JJ's El 84's, one of the 12ax7's went bad and I temporarily replaced it with the factory stock Sovtek. The difference in the tone of the clean channel was instantly noticed. I swapped the Sovtek in the clean socket for a JJ and was reward with the warmer clean of the JJ.

Back in the summer I noticed the place where I work had a stash of old RCA, Sylvannia, & National tubes with a few GE's in the mix. These tubes were used back in the 50's, 60's, and 70's for the controllers on our manufacturing machines. Now all of our controllers are either older solid state or computer based. All these tubes were considered "obsolete spare parts" I picked out some of the long plate RCA's which are considered some of the best American or British made tubes.

I put 3 of these in the preamp of my Classic 30 and I am absolutely blown away in the difference in sound. The gain is lower but the cleans are way fatter and warmer. Its got more of a vintage Fender Deluxe tone to it and the overdrive is to die for. My effects board really got jealous today at rehearsal as there weren't too many times when I stepped on a pedal other than my wah which gets pretty good use when I play leads. My keeley Java Boost was used to go from rythmn playing to lead occasionally but the rest was used very little.

If you play a tube amp and can get access to some NOS tubes without mortgaging the house I'd highly recommend trying them. I sure would never pay $100 bucks a tube or more like some of the NOS dealers ask for one tube but now that I have a supple of old tubes I definately recommend them.
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Postby straightblues » Wed Jan 24, 2007 3:30 am

If you got access to some more tubes, work a deal to sell them to the guys here and split the money with the boss.

Yes tubes do make a hugh difference in the sound of tube amps. I have a large selection and I always spend at least 3 or 4 hours swapping tubes whenever I get a new amp until I find the tubes that sound the best. 9 times out of 10 it is Older NOS tubes but sometimes the new production tubes win.

What I do is find used tube lots on ebay. I usually don't pay more than a $1 a tube for used old american tubes when you buy 20 or so at a time. After I do my tube swapping and find one that I really like in a particular amp, I then look for a NOS (never been used new) version of the same tube to replace the used tube. I am then willing to spend the money for a particular tube once I know it will sound great in my amp.
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Postby ricochet » Wed Jan 24, 2007 3:23 pm

Yes, tubes do make a difference, but the results you get are due to the interaction of small differences in tube characteristics with the rest of the circuitry in your amp. None of the reports that "K.K. tubes have the best tone, dude!" or any such as that have any validity. There is no inherent tonal characteristic in any tube. Even the 6L6 class tubes are happy across the spectrum from DC (0 Hz) to around 30 MHz. They don't know or care whether you're playing bass or chimey harmonics through them, it's all the same to them. The small "preamp" tubes are happy up into the VHF frequency range, and often have been used in RF stages of FM radios and televisions. The main differences from tube to tube are in regimes that aren't tested in production and aren't part of the specifications for the types, like the sharpness of plate current cutoff with a negative grid and the onset of grid current as the grid voltage approaches zero and goes positive. Small differences in grid wire spacing and alignment can make big differences in that sort of thing, also greatly affecting the actual gain of the tube, and tubes of the same make and type might vary more than the average differences between one make and another. To their credit, some of the modern rebranders of tubes are attempting to rate cutoff characteristics and gain of their tubes, but I don't know how well their ratings actually correlate with what you'll hear when you play them in your amp.

You have to do the tube swapping and playing for yourself in your own amp and listen with your own ears and preferences. Personally, I don't think it's worth the effort. I'm adaptable. When I put in some different tubes and they sound a little different, I say "They sound a little different. Cool." And I go right on happily playing. I grew up when tubes were considered a fungible commodity, just like gasoline. If a 6L6 goes out, get another 6L6 and put it in. I don't spend a lot of time worrying about whether I've got Exxon or Chevron gas in my car, either. And with both tubes and gas, the brand name on it bears little relation to who actually made it or what's inside. But if you like to play around with things, you will notice some differences. What those differences may be in your amp can be completely different from what they are in another. What you hear is very subjective, and heavily influenced by what you expect, too.

For my amps, I'm happy if they work well and don't smoke. I buy cheap tubes and am happy with them. I'm keeping my NOS tubes squirreled away for the most part, to sell later to someone who's willing to pay megabucks for what they think will give them "the tone."
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