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Unread 12-29-2009, 09:51 PM   #1 (permalink)
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NOS Tubes vs. New

I'm sure Marty has the answer to this. I don't understand how/why tubes made 50 years ago can be so much better than ones made today. Wouldn't one think that with all our technology we have today we would be able to duplicate vacuum tubes of old. What am I not gettin here? I do know NOS are better... I just don't know why.
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Unread 12-29-2009, 10:36 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Re: NOS Tubes vs. New

Quote:
Originally Posted by Xx DBENC xX View Post
I'm sure Marty has the answer to this. I don't understand how/why tubes made 50 years ago can be so much better than ones made today. Wouldn't one think that with all our technology we have today we would be able to duplicate vacuum tubes of old. What am I not gettin here? I do know NOS are better... I just don't know why.
What you're not getting is the sanctions imposed on us by the "Green Police" that prohibit certain manufacturing processes that were allowed to be done ages ago but are no longer allowed. Also, unlike yesteryear, quality comes at a price and in an effort to make them affordable, I'm sure several quality control corners are cut as well.
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Unread 12-29-2009, 11:47 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Re: NOS Tubes vs. New

I have said this many times. By 1935, the tube manufacturers were in full swing. This included England and Europe. The 12AX7 came out in late 1947. The transistor in its infancy came out earlier that same year. So the seed was planted.

When you work for a big company, you develop a product and make a profit off of it. At the same time, your research and development department is working on something better. At some point, the current product takes a back seat to the new product.

I always use a cassette tape for an analogy. When the cassette tape came out, the eight-track ruled. The cassette tape was for voice only recording. However, in a five year period, the cassette tape surpassed the eight-track and eventually was considered a Hi Fi format. It was all because more money and research went into making it better.

Now up until 1965, the tube makers used to compete with each other. No corners were cut. They were out to make a better tube than anyone else. This is what is known as "healthy competition." It results in superior products. This is why NOS tubes are so good. The ones made between 1950 and 1965 are the best as far as those tubes used in a guitar amp.

The transistor made a very hard impact on tubes in 1965-66. It was like the phrase, "Overnight Sensation." Thousands of tubes were discarded or sent to warehouses. In 1966, a 12AX7 was 37 cents. By 1967, the infrastructure of the tube companies had turned to mush. They all wanted out of the tube business, because the consumer would never want to use tube equipment anymore. A lot of companies sent their equipment to Japan and the Japanese actually made a lot of good tubes.

In America, Ken-Rad and Sylvania were the last two tube companies. Ken-Rad stopped tube production around 1982. Sylvania was bought out by the massive tube giant, Philips. Philips renamed the company Philip's ECG. They made a fairly wide selection of tubes and were the only source for real 6L6's, 6CA7's and 6550's. They shut the doors in late 1988. That was the end of the USA tube manufacturers.

Now something I want to point out again. The tube lines were in full force by 1935. As different tubes were designed, there was specialized machinery to make the parts. Look inside a tube. Do you see how small and delicate some of the parts look? Think about a machine that has punched out over a million parts, maybe more. At what point does it wear out enough to affect the overall quality of the tube? That is why I try to buy NOS tubes made before 1966. You see, by 1966, the equipment had been running almost everyday for 30+ years. The stuff was getting worn out. However, RCA, GE, Sylvania and the others were not about to spend money repairing the tube equipment. There was no need to do it. The transistor had come to save us all.

So when you buy NOS, is a tube made by Philips ECG in 1986 as good as one made in 1961? No, but it is better than any current production tube. I would rather run a set of ECG 6550's in a high plate voltage amp than I would a set of current production tubes. I'd feel safer anyways.

Now just a quick run down on current production tubes. They are not made the same way the NOS tubes were. There are certain procedures that have been modified to be in accordance with certain regulations, although not all of these regulations are enforced in Russia, China and Slovakia. I do know this. Out of every batch of tubes, 50 per cent fail the initial testing. Then an additional 20 per cent fail in the consumers hand as either a bad/dead tube, or one that fails several weeks later. So that means 30 per cent of the tubes will last in your amp until you need new ones. Why is this? Are corners cut? Yes. Is most of the equipment old and outdated? Yes. You see, most of the equipment that is used to make JJ, Sovtek, Electro-Harmonix, Tung-Sol, Mullard and others is all made on used equipment that was purchased in the late 80's. Now New Sensor claims they have made improvements, but what does that mean? I will be the first to stand in line to buy a current production tube when it is as good as an NOS. The problem is they keep making tubes each year and they still have these massive amounts of failures. I can only surmise that the age of the equipment and the procedures used result in a product that barely meets the specifications.

In today's tube market, it's all about profit. If you know how the tube makers are owned and run, you will see that they are not out to make a superior product. If they were, they would announce that they were purchasing all new manufacturing equipment. That ain't gonna happen. No, it's strictly a profit game. There is no "healthy competition."

So to sum this up, there is a whole lot more to buying NOS tubes. It sounds simple enough, but it's not. What brands, what year, black or gray plate, it all makes a difference. Just remember that a 1960 Amperex or Telefunken in the first gain stage of your amp is worth every penny. Some may disagree and that is fine. I respect that. A man has a right to use what he thinks is best. I won't argue with that. I'm lucky. All my Marshall's have NOS power and preamp tubes. I just feel a lot better knowing that my Mullard xf2's aren't going to melt one of my tube sockets because it caved in.

If you want more info, just PM me.

Last edited by MartyStrat54; 12-31-2009 at 10:08 PM.
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