Me Jane, you tube...

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Me Jane, you tube...

Postby Little Tina » Fri Jun 27, 2008 10:25 am

Hi all,

I just realised that one day, sooner or later, the tubes in my amp (Peavey classic 20) will eventually go out and it might be a good idea to have some replacements beforehand. Question is, should I use the original type, same type but better brand or replace them with some other type of tube? And if so, what would be the benefits/effects? I do not use any boxes, just my guitar plugged in.

Thank you in advance,

Tina
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Re: Me Jane, you tube...

Postby ricochet » Fri Jun 27, 2008 1:42 pm

Tina, I usually stay out of "What's the best kind of tubes?" threads, because some folks have strong opinions about them and people have very subjective ideas about "tone." But I'll tell you that for my own amps I buy the cheapest tubes I can find and keep lots of spares. There is no inherent "tone" in a tube. Any tube. More expensive tubes don't sound better than cheaper tubes. (Except in the mind of the guy who spent more on the pricier tube, so believes it must sound better.) Even a 6L6 is perfectly happy working at any frequency between D.C. (0 Hz) to around 30 MHz. A 12AX7 will happily run into the VHF range above 100 MHz. Totally insignificant to that tube whether a frequency is an 80 Hz. low E or around 5 KHz where guitar amp speakers generally roll off on the top end. So there are no "bright, sparkly highs" or "strong, tight bass" characteristics inherent to a tube. What you do hear when you change out tubes are two things: Changes in interelectrode capacitances that in the circuit of a particular amp change frequency response curves slightly; and differences in the individual tube's "cutoff characteristics" around the point where negative voltage on the control grid stops plate current from flowing. Some tubes "cut off" more sharply than others, and the cutoff voltages will vary a bit. Those affect how quickly the amp goes into distortion when overdriven. But tiny variations in the winding and positioning of grids make for big differences from one tube to another of the same brand, and tube characteristics aren't predictable from one brand to another or from one manufacturing lot to another of the same brand. It just doesn't make sense to buy tubes for "tone." When I change out tubes and the amp sounds a little different, I say "Sounds a little different. Cool."

There MAY be differences in tube reliability and life among brands, but reports are all over the map about which is best and which is trash. Most brands come from the same factories, there only being a few left in Russia, Slovakia and China. (NATO bombed out the one in Serbia.) Some tube sellers claim to do testing to make characteristics more predictable, but I'm highly skeptical of their validity.

Most of the tubes I have on hand came directly from Russia in bulk and are still marked with the original Cyrillic type numbers that get scrubbed off when they're marked with American brand names.

And my old NOS American tubes I mostly save for future peddling to silly tone freaks who think they have to have them.

But you definitely need spares. The best way to tell if a tube's gone bad is to substitute a known good one. (Have to bear in mind that occasionally a brand new tube is no good.) Don't go swapping out working tubes for "preventive maintenance," as tubes are more likely to suddenly fail in their first 100 hours of operation; if they make it through the infant mortality, they generally live long lives and fade out gradually as the cathode coating loses emission capacity.
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Re: Me Jane, you tube...

Postby Little Tina » Mon Jun 30, 2008 12:20 pm

Thank you Ric!

I think I'll stick to the same type, 12X7 or whatever they might be.

I just started thinking would a different kind of tube make a difference in tone and if so, would it be for better or worse.

-Tina-
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Re: Me Jane, you tube...

Postby ricochet » Mon Jun 30, 2008 1:15 pm

Really can't predict that. The changes (usually fairly subtle) that you get from different tubes with their varying characteristics depend on the other circuitry around them in the amp. So a given tube swap won't produce the same changes in different amps. And a lot of it is in the player's or listener's interpretation of the sound. I'm not a proponent of switching tubes around for "tone," but lots of guitarists do it all the time and have favorites they swear by. I won't say they're wrong, but it's not for me.
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Re: Me Jane, you tube...

Postby bluejay » Mon Jun 30, 2008 2:57 pm

Rico, thanks for providing a bit of sanity on this subject. Your explanation makes a lot of sense to me.
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Re: Me Jane, you tube...

Postby bignick » Mon Jun 30, 2008 3:24 pm

I'm on the fence with this whole subject as well.

A friend of mine has been collecting tubes for years and he swears by the old military NOS tubes because he says they last longer. I asked him to explain and he basically compared tubes to the production of light bulbs. He said that modern light bulbs are manufactured so that they need to be changed more frequently than they did in the past so that companies can sell more. He feels the same about modern day vacuum tubes. Whether this is true or not, I don't know, but Terry Kilgore had a series of articles in VG magazine awhile back and I thought he made a lot of sense regarding the whole "They don't make them like they used to" debate. He switched to buying stockpiles of NOS tubes because he said the lasted longer in his Marshall's when he was on the road in the 80s.

As far as my own personal opinion...I have experimented with NOS and modern tubes for the last year in my little 5 watt combo and my Pro Junior (before I sold it) and I can honestly say that I have no concrete conclusion. I thought the NOS tubes sounded a bit warmer, but I may have been biased due to everything I have heard.

I will say that my friend has been using the same NOS tubes in all of his amps for the last 20 years because he was given a large quantity and has only blown a tube due to tinkering stupidity whereas he has blown several stock groove tubes.
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Re: Me Jane, you tube...

Postby slickcat » Mon Jun 30, 2008 9:35 pm

Im gonna say NOS sound warmer.
In my Tweed Deluxe I had some Sovtek 12ax7's and 6v6 tubes.
I purchased a NOS RCA 12ax7 and RCA Blackplate 6v6 tubes. The amp is no longer harsh and bite-ing. Its overdrive is smooth and sweet.

Having said that......some of the latest tubes comming out now are getting great reviews and I believe they have substantially closed the quality gap between NOS and new factory tubes.

Oh yeah...........just because they are NOS doesnt mean they all will sound great. I got mine from a reputable dealer Mike Kropton at KCA tubes they were tested and matched.
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Re: Me Jane, you tube...

Postby ricochet » Mon Jun 30, 2008 10:11 pm

I hung out at the TV repair shop when I was a little kid in the early '60s. Today's NOS tubes were just new tubes then. The shop owner's daughter tested every new tube that came in. An awful lot, maybe as much as a third, of the new tubes went back.
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Re: Me Jane, you tube...

Postby slickcat » Mon Jun 30, 2008 11:28 pm

ricochet wrote:I hung out at the TV repair shop when I was a little kid in the early '60s. Today's NOS tubes were just new tubes then. The shop owner's daughter tested every new tube that came in. An awful lot, maybe as much as a third, of the new tubes went back.

Ha..Ha Rico,
I remember my father taking all the tubes out of our black and white TV set. He and I went down to the TV shop where they had a big testing machine. He would plug them in one at a time then buy the new ones we needed. Wow those were the days..... :)
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Re: Me Jane, you tube...

Postby 601blues » Tue Jul 01, 2008 11:54 am

didn,t.. hafta ta go to a TV shop....every store..grocery etc had a tube center ta test and replace your tubes
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Re: Me Jane, you tube...

Postby bignick » Tue Jul 01, 2008 12:11 pm

That is the problem with buying NOS tubes...finding someone you trust that tests them and gets you a matched set. You can buy tubes directly from Terry Kilgore...he goes by the name of Sarge and he has a Web site. He is cheaper than Mojo Musical Supply. I took a chance on some ebay tubes as well and was fine because I checked the seller out. With ebay the way it is now, you could send anything back and they would have to replace them.

BTW, Guitar Player magazine has a good article on NOS tubes this month. Vintage amp schematics as well.
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Re: Me Jane, you tube...

Postby ProfessorPeewee » Tue Jul 01, 2008 1:48 pm

Little Tina wrote:Hi all,

I just realised that one day, sooner or later, the tubes in my amp (Peavey classic 20) will eventually go out and it might be a good idea to have some replacements beforehand. Question is, should I use the original type, same type but better brand or replace them with some other type of tube? And if so, what would be the benefits/effects? I do not use any boxes, just my guitar plugged in.

Thank you in advance,

Tina


First of all they should definitely be the same type/number of tube if we're talking about power tubes as opposed to preamp tubes. (don't swap a 6L6 for a 6L6GC for example; they don't handle the same voltages and will either fry or sound awful if they work at all). Preamp tubes you can mess around with a little, swapping at's for ax's for example, but my philosophy is that in a noisy bar no one's going to the notice the subtle difference anyway...

I'm with Ricochet on the value of NOS and "premium" tubes; my father was a TV repair man for thirty year, he studied tube technology when it was it state of the art and he doesn't believe the hype. (He is a good source of free preamp tubes for me, though; he's got boxes full of them...). But do carry some spares; especially for the preamp; there will come a day when you need them.
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