Rolling Tubes in a high gain amp environment....

Springfield Scooter

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TUBE ROLLING WITH A HIGH GAIN / HIGH DISTORTION AMPLIFIER:

Years ago, I acquired a small amount of vintage 12AX7 tubes.
I also purchased 5 or 6 different brand new 12AX7 tubes .
They all passed the test on my simple Orange VT1000 tube tester.

I then proceeded to roll tubes in my vintage 2204, with the preamp volume turned up high.
After spending an entire afternoon, testing sound quality between different tubes, I remember walking away scratching my head....

No matter what tube I installed, there was no significant difference to my ears!
In other words, there was not 1 tube, that I thought sounded superior to my ears.
I remember thinking at the time, that if I did a "blind" test, I would not be able to pick out any 1 tube that was superior.

So fast forward to today....
I added a few more brand new tubes to my small collection.
So I now have maybe 15 different 12AX7 tubes, both old and new.
Again, I pull out the my tube tester, and they all pass the simple Orange test.

So today, I sit down with a decent amount of different 12AX7 tubes, both old and new production ...
This time however, I use a different amp, thinking that simplicity would prevail.
So today, I choose a 5 watt Epiphone Valve Junior, which only utilizes 1 preamp 12AX7 tube.
Think poor mans Fender Champ. Similar but different.

My thinking was that by using the Epiphone Valve Junior amp that utilizes only 1 preamp tube, the differences between different preamp tubes would be much more pronounced.
Again, I spent several hours rolling tubes in the little Epiphone, with the volume up 3/4 to 100%, which is exactly where I like.
And once again, despite having many different tubes at my disposal, I walk away with basically the same result...

There was not 1 tube that was clearly better to my ears, than any of the others.
Again, I feel like I would not be able to identify any of the tubes, in a blind test.

Am I alone ?
Do I need to get my hearing checked? LOL!
I was expecting a much different result to be honest.

Im wondering if that because I play and prefer a distorted sound, that the effects of different tubes, has a much less noticeable effect, as opposed to a very clean tone.
Im now considering re-doing the test, utilizing the same 2 amps, but using a much less distorted and more clean setting.
But my thought is that if I seldom play with a clean tone, what would be the point.

Old tubes included several old Bugle Boys, RCA, Zenith, International and Mullard.
New tubes included Mullard, Tungsol, EH, 7025 prefered, Shuguang, Mesa, Marshall red labeled,Marshall white labeled and JJ.
Some have long plates, and some have short.
Dates range from the 1960's used tubes, to modern tubes purchased only a few weeks ago.

I should also add, that both amps are in great order...
No bad power tubes.
And that all tubes sounded great....Just not THAT different

The good news, is that this test re-confirms my own personal lack of needing more tubes!

But....

Im wondering what other MFR's thoughts are, on tube rolling with a high gain, distorted sound ?

Do you feel like more distortion and a higher gain setting, has a lesser effect tube rolling has?

Are you able to identify your favorite tube, in a blind test, at reasonably distorted / high gain levels?

Your thoughts please...


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saxon68

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When my V2 went bad in my DSL40C I got a replacement groove tube 12AX7, it sounded like the amp got neutered. I replaced it with an EH tube and it was awesome. Dunno about NoS and vintage tubes, haven’t had any to try.

I did just get a new set of EH preamp and power amp tubes for my JVM, just in case. No plans to roll in place of the existing.
 

Matthews Guitars

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Truth is that the differences are not large. But I do hear some very distinct, repeatable differences.

I've "fixed" bad sounding amps by taking out all the Chinese 12AX7s and replacing them with pretty much anything else.

My Superleads all agree that GE 12AX7s have a sweet round tone to them. And an Amperex ECC83 sounds kind of sterile, with all frequencies being presented in a fairly flat manner. Sylvania 12AX7s have a nice round tone to them but they tend to be microphonic.

For any amp I own, I prefer to equip it with healthy examples of USA made preamp tubes from the 60s and 70s. Can't go wrong with USA RCA 7025s!

Again, the differences ARE subtle. But I hear them.
 

Springfield Scooter

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Edit:
Photo added of the Epiphone amplifier used in my test.
VERY simple amp.
Only 1 pre-amp tube, and 1 volume knob.
I choose this amplifier, due to its simplicity.
I thought this would make differences in tubes, more pronounced.
 
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fitz288

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Great analysis post.
Here for the responses, I probably have nothing useful to add.
I did the 823 in V1 on my DSL20 to lower the ultra channel gain.
I think I was told not to bother with different brands on my 6101, and it had a new set of JJ's so no chenges there.
My other tube amps I would not call high gain.
 
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XTRXTR

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What you need to do is record it. Pick a sample of chords and leads riffs that you can repeat easily, record it, replace tube, record it, replace tube, record it...make sure you document what you are doing with each tube and what number of recording it is. keep all volumes and tone setting the same - no touching.

Edit: do this for each tube position as well.

Edit all the recording together so that you get a quick sample of each riff/chord and splice the whole thing together. Then wait a day or two. Come back to listen to it once through, make notes of any differences. Wait a day repeat.

You will find differences

It is harder to do this with distorted square waves than barely clipping but you will hear it.
 

Matthews Guitars

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I have to add to my previous comments. The differences I noted were with a clean amp. They tend to disappear once there's a lot of distortion happening.

For high gain settings, you are unlikely to notice any difference other than noise level and gain level.
 

Springfield Scooter

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What you need to do is record it. Pick a sample of chords and leads riffs that you can repeat easily, record it, replace tube, record it, replace tube, record it...make sure you document what you are doing with each tube and what number of recording it is. keep all volumes and tone setting the same - no touching.

Edit: do this for each tube position as well.

Edit all the recording together so that you get a quick sample of each riff/chord and splice the whole thing together. Then wait a day or two. Come back to listen to it once through, make notes of any differences. Wait a day repeat.

You will find differences

It is harder to do this with distorted square waves than barely clipping but you will hear it.

I have to add to my previous comments. The differences I noted were with a clean amp. They tend to disappear once there's a lot of distortion happening.

For high gain settings, you are unlikely to notice any difference other than noise level and gain level.


You guys are echoing what I have discovered.
The fact that because I play with a moderate amount of gain , the differences between different tubes are much less noticeable.

I going to try my test again, with same 2 amps, using much less gain, and see what happens.
I will record it as suggested, and see what other people think as well.

I seldom play clean tones, but if I did, then I imagine tube choice would become much more evident, and more important.
 

matttornado

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I experienced the exact same thing. I was rolling about 10 different tubes in V1 in my superlead. I basically was looking for the highest gain and lowest noise because they all sounded pretty much the same. Even gain wise it was very subtle.
 

lespaul339

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I think the difference can be pretty minimal like you said. Just give me a good reliable tube and I'm good to go. I'll let my amp and pedals do the rest gain wise.
 

mark123

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In my opinion, for the preamp the thing that makes the biggest difference is a long plate in V1.

Concerning power tubes, I tried JJ EL34L tubes in my DSL40C and immediately regretted it. It made it really harsh and barky (like an annoying dog bark, not woody tree bark). I replaced them with Mullards Reissues and it immediately improved it. Smooth and natural.
 

Springfield Scooter

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In my opinion, for the preamp the thing that makes the biggest difference is a long plate in V1.

Concerning power tubes, I tried JJ EL34L tubes in my DSL40C and immediately regretted it. It made it really harsh and barky (like an annoying dog bark, not woody tree bark). I replaced them with Mullards Reissues and it immediately improved it. Smooth and natural.

I experimented with both long and short plates and found no difference in the little epiphone on high volume...

Thats odd about the JJ power tube....
I believe all the newer DSL40CR's are shipped from the factory with JJ's?
Perhaps a bad tube??
 

DonP

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I have a VT1000 as well, and I probably spent way more money on vintage tubes than you.

But I'm too lazy to got through the trouble of rolling, so I don't know if I'll ever find out if there are differences.
 

Springfield Scooter

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I have a VT1000 as well, and I probably spent way more money on vintage tubes than you.

But I'm too lazy to got through the trouble of rolling, so I don't know if I'll ever find out if there are differences.

Well, to sum up this thread....
If you live on a high gain, I believe you will NOT find much difference in pre-amp tube choices.
And if you like a clean tone, there probably is a big difference in pre-amp tubes.
P.S. The Orange VT1000 didnt get much love years ago. Now their sought after, and finding a used one is impossible. I like the simplicity of it, and it has saved me more than once, from buying a bad tube!
 

Jethro Rocker

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Well, to sum up this thread....
If you live on a high gain, I believe you will NOT find much difference in pre-amp tube choices.
And if you like a clean tone, there probably is a big difference in pre-amp tubes.
P.S. The Orange VT1000 didnt get much love years ago. Now their sought after, and finding a used one is impossible. I like the simplicity of it, and it has saved me more than once, from buying a bad tube!
Yeah I have found subtle differences with higher gain, my TSL was quite shrill and some Mullard, RFT and GE settled that down. Past that minor differences in gain.
Even with a clean amp it ain't night n day difference to these ears.

I’m not going to say there’s no difference, just that your time is better spent practicing.
But.... but... what if I am already good enough? :cool:
Good point. While I enjoy pissing around with tubes n amps, actually playing and practicing never hurt anyone....
 


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