TUBE Facts and Info by MartyStrat54

Discussion in 'The Workbench' started by MartyStrat54, May 6, 2011.

  1. MartyStrat54

    MartyStrat54 Well-Known Member

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    Hello MF members. As we all know, there are always a lot of threads pertaining to tubes. I would like to just share a few things and I hope it will be helpful.

    First off, a lot of questions are directed at the "high gain" Marshall's like a DSL, TSL or 410. Please be aware that these amps get all of their tone out of the preamp stage. I cringe when I hear someone with a DSL asking how they can get "better power tube distortion?" If you have a DSL and the power tubes are distorting, I don't think you will like what you hear.

    DSL amps (and other high gain Marshall's) use four (or more) preamp tubes. V1 and V2 are the gain stages. V3 (A and B) are the Tone Stack and Cathode Follower. V4 is the Phase Inverter tube for the power tube section.

    V1 will make the most noticeable difference in tone and gain. I always say that you want to put your very best tube in V1. The DSL can handle a pretty hot 12AX7 without farting out. I used to be a little conservative about the V1 tube I used, but over the past year, I tend to go with a hotter tube if it fits the player's needs. I use a more moderate tube for those whose playing style dictates it.

    Note: In Plexi's, JMP's and JCM 2203/04's, V1 is the main tube for gain. Half of V2 needs to be considered as well, so I still recommend a good tube for V2.

    Here is something that has me perplexed. Current production tubes are not that expensive. I think any guitarist that has more than two years playing under their belt needs to have a nice stash of tubes to fall back on and also to experiment with for tone. I think every player should have a budget that allows for multiple 12AX7 tubes. They shouldn't be purchased "as needed." I have said this before, "Every tube amp player should have a complete set of tubes to be used for backup purposes or troubleshooting."

    If you own a Marshall or other tube amp and you are running old tubes, because you can't afford a new set, you run the risk of damaging your amp. If you are lucky, a fuse will pop when a power tube blows. However, I have seen more serious damage such as fried valve sockets and burned components. Again, all tube amp owners should have a complete backup set of tubes.

    Now back to 12AX7's. You should try and get yourself a JJ ECC83 (same as a 12AX7). Also, a Tung-Sol and a Mullard RI. You can round out your set with a Shuguang (Chinese) 12AX7. The Shuguang's are usually loved because they are high gain and are a favorite with metal players where a good clean isn't a must.

    Most of the guys I hang with have 30 to 40 12AX7's. Enough to last them for a good long while. Most of these tubes were bought over a three year period. Most of these tubes are NOS. However, I won't go into that, because most of you use current production (CP) tubes. I think a good player would have two each of the preamp tubes I have listed. Having some Electro-Harmonix tubes handy would be good also. The EH tubes can be used as an economical replacement for V3 and V4 (especially the PI tube).

    To "roll" tubes in a high gain amp, you want to have V3 and V4 selected. Therefore, take a couple of EH's and put them in those slots. Put a Mullard RI in V2 and then roll the JJ, the Tung-Sol, Shuguang and even another Mullard in V1. Once you find the one you like, pull V2 and roll your tubes in V2. Once you find the tube you like, then you have your V1 through V4 selected. If you want to get picky, try rolling V3 and then V4. You might notice a very slight difference in tone by rolling these slots. My friends and I like to run a lopsided, high gain tube in the PI. This is because the power section is asymmetrical by nature and a lopsided PI tube will help enhance this. An amp with an asymmetrical signal has a lot of even order harmonics and this is what you want. This goes against what EURO TUBES states. They push their customers towards a "balanced" PI tube. Trust me, you don't need this. I will say that there is a small difference in tone between a lopsided tube and a regular one, but if you are used to rolling tubes, you will hear a small difference.

    Power tubes tend to sound similar to each other when they are cranked. I run NOS power tubes and CP as well. A while back I did a review on how Sylvania Fat Boy 6CA7's (same as an EL34) compared against EH 6CA7's. At lower to moderate volumes, the NOS were better, but going above 5 on the Master Volume they both started sounding very close. I will say that there are some cheap power tubes that are thin sounding no matter what the volume level. I bring this up, because power tubes in high gain amps are designed to be ran "clean." If you use a cheap power tube, you will notice it regardless of the volume level. Look for a well made tube that are frequently recommended. Stay away from the el cheapo tubes. It's just not worth the heartache it will cause.

    In closing, preamp tubes will make the most change in your tone. Power tubes just add a little. You should own a complete backup set of tubes for your amp. You should know that V1 is the most important preamp tube. For the best sound you can get out of your amp, V1 should be tested for microphonics. You'll want V1 to be as quiet as possible. Some tube companies charge $2 to test for microphonics and high gain. This is well worth the price for a V1 tube.

    Remember, asking about which CP tube is best should be answered by YOU. Buy some and try them. I had a customer recently tell me that he had some power tubes that didn't sound right to him. However, he swapped V1 and the power tubes kicked butt. Tubes that sound good in a 2203 may not sound as good in a DSL. You are limited to the tones you can get with CP tubes. (Yes, NOS tubes offer more tone shaping compared to CP.)

    For the most part, rolling tubes is like the icing on the cake. If you are happy with your amps general tone, the speakers you use and the guitar/pickups that you use, then rolling tubes is like the final piece of the tone puzzle.

    I hope that you found this to be of some help.
     
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  2. BluesRocker

    BluesRocker Well-Known Member

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    Great read Marty!

    Thanks for the info!
     
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  3. Adwex

    Adwex New Member

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    Great article Marty.
     
  4. solarburnDSL50

    solarburnDSL50 Well-Known Member

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    Good stuff Marty. We sure had fun discovering what tubes can/won't do in our amps. Good times!
     
  5. NewReligion

    NewReligion Well-Known Member VIP Member

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    Great read, thanks. I've been fine tuning my amps this way for years but never really thought about sharing the data. Well done.

    David :cheers:
     
  6. American Viking

    American Viking Well-Known Member

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    Marty's the man.
     
  7. SmokeyDopey

    SmokeyDopey Well-Known Member VIP Member

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    Yes thank you. I will take your advice and buy a few backup 12AX7s and ECC83s.
     
  8. chuckharmonjr

    chuckharmonjr Well-Known Member

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    Excellent article Marty. Very informative and well written. Thanks.
     
  9. tonefreak

    tonefreak New Member

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    Awesome post Marty... I will be spending quite a lot of spare cash (whats that???) on tubes this summer... it's been over a year since my amps had tubes, and right now it's just got JJ's all through... so it's time to roll some tubes.

    gotta buy some first.
     
  10. pluto

    pluto New Member

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    Very nice info on tubes !!

    I consider a tube as another electrical element. NOS tubes were industrial production, and definitely nobody was thinking of guitar amps when the production line was designed. Why nowadays this cannot be reproduced in detail ?

    Also my experience with preamp tubes is that if you swap them too often you will run into the problems with the tube socket contacts. Or maybe it is possible to buy some special "locking" tube sockets ?

    I have 4210 myself, and for me Tungsol short plate is ok in V1, better than Sovtek long plate. I don't have any NOS tubes.
     
  11. LPMarshall hack

    LPMarshall hack Well-Known Member

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    Thanks Marty...good to see you back on here!
     
  12. SmokeyDopey

    SmokeyDopey Well-Known Member VIP Member

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    Question before I do anything...

    I have an amp that has 12AX7s in the pre amp, and another amp with ECC83s in the pre amp.
    Can I just swap these, are they the same format basically? I heard the ECC83s are the European version of the 12AX7s, but will it work if I swap V1 preamps with both these amps?
    Thanks
     
  13. GIBSON67

    GIBSON67 Well-Known Member

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    ECC83's and 12AX7's are the same tubes. You can swap without any fear.
     
  14. SmokeyDopey

    SmokeyDopey Well-Known Member VIP Member

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    Great, just wanted to make sure.
    Thanks!
     
  15. rads

    rads New Member

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    nice article Marty, thanks....
     
  16. V-man

    V-man New Member

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    I have been doing a lot of thinking on the subject lately, and this is a great subject.

    Right now I have these ECC83s/12AX7s:

    1 ???
    2 MIH Amperex ECC83s
    3 Marshall-branded ECC83s (circa 1993)
    3 JJ 12AX7s
    6 Tung Sol 12AX7s
    7 Mullard (original) ECC83s


    The JCM 800 1992 had the ??? & Amperexs, the JCM 900 4100 had the Marshalls in it, and the 2550 had the JJs. I replaced the 1992 & 4100 with new Tung Sols, but now I am wondering how to set the amps up with all the tube options.

    V1 Mullard V2&V3 Tung Sols all around? All Mullard on the Jube?

    I have 24 preamp tubes and 9 sockets. Suggestions for one or more of my amps?
     
  17. Wilder Amplification

    Wilder Amplification New Member

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    Just what we need...ZIF valve sockets. ;)

    Here's a scenario that irritates the living fuck out of me...customer brings you an amp. You find a foil wrapped HT fuse, all screen resistors are blown and maybe an arc'ed socket or two. Luckily the OT wasn't taken out. So you call him and tell him about the blown small components. You then explain that foil wrapping a fuse is a BIG no-no, then proceed to inform them that their power valves are blown and in severe need of replacement. Response that sends the blood boiling (not word for word but something along these lines) -

    "But it can't be the valves! I can't afford a new set of valves right now!"

    WTF?!? Why do people respond with this shit? What you think we're gonna respond with something like "Oh well then your current valves will totally work."? You think your valves will simply feel sorry for your financial situation and just start working fine again?

    So you tell them the importance of owning a spare set of valves or even a spare amp, and they act as if you've told them the absolute most rude thing in the world and walk away insulted to no end.

    Guys...seriously. When you can afford a new set of valves, act like your amp needs them and go through the motions you'd go through when replacing the valves (up to and including the part where you actually place the order for them), but instead of actually installing the new valves just simply keep them handy. That way when one fails you've got spares on the ready.

    Now of course there are those who can't ever afford them but want that superior tone and think they shouldn't have to pay for it and that it's not fair that those who can afford it have it and they don't. Cheap tone ain't good and good tone ain't cheap. Just like having to pay more for a hot rod vs a daily driver car, you gotta pay more for a high end valve amp vs a lower level amp.
     
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  18. MartyStrat54

    MartyStrat54 Well-Known Member

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    You have some nice tubes, "but" only if they are still good. What you need to do is find someone with a professional tube tester. Find out what the Amperex and Mullards test at. These are the tubes you want to use in V1 of your amps. Since you have so many Mullards, I would run two of them in the JCM 800 1992 and then a JJ or similar CP tube in the PI slot. Same for the 2550. The 4100 is not as sensitive to preamp tubes, but since you have so many nice ones, stick a Mullard in V1 and a Tung-Sol in V2. Again, you can go with just about anything in the V3 slot (PI).

    Going this route saves some of the good tubes for future spares.
     
  19. chuckharmonjr

    chuckharmonjr Well-Known Member

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    Jon you are dead square on about having a spare set. I made a small plastic box into a tube holder by going to Hobby Lobby and spending like 10 bucks total for a plastic hobby box and some foam. Some cutting, some gluing...and I carry a full set of power valves and 6 pre-amp tubes in my cord bag everywhere I go.
     
  20. chuckharmonjr

    chuckharmonjr Well-Known Member

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    It aint the prettiest thing in the world...but it works.....

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
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