Who believes tube choice can make or break the amp?

  • deadpan

    Changed the title of the thread from “Who believes the tubes can make or break the amp?” to “Who believes tube choice can make or break the amp?”.
  • I'm definitely ridin' the tube train in that sense.

    But it really depends on the amp, what one wants to achieve, what is our barometer in terms of differences caused and in terms of how big they are said to be. In plenty of cases, yes, an audience may not care -- or it's hard to tell the differences in a mix with random transitions. In other cases, the difference may be enough to consistently hear.

    All that said, I've done tests where we couldn't tell the difference in recording.... But playing through the amp? I'd spot the tubes correct each time. Not only that, but I had pretty strong preferences as well. Getting locked up in studio with a few "tubes don't matter bruh haha u golden ear boi or what?!" friends did allow us to conduct a few tests way back, focused on audio too.

    Long story short: I do think tubes can matter. Some may perceive more of a difference in "feel" than others ("feel" not being entirely disconnected from "sound" either). It's also somewhat difficult to generalize about what effect a particular set of tubes will have on one amp vs another, and what may be needed to achieve a desired end result, relatively speaking. Experience sure helps.

    That said, I find that people may at times have unrealistic expectations. The amp I've used the most during past years, mostly due to its flexibility, is a laney ironheart. It's a pretty "stiff" and "dry" sounding amp. It's tough to get it sounding fluid without involving some kind of diode clipping along the way.

    Well -- experimenting with pre-amp tubes definitely helped. Did the amp turn into a peavey triple xxx? No, and there's no way it would have, not with any preamp/power amp tube combination... But I was able to coax out just a little bit more of a "fluid" feel. And again I could tell the difference consistently in "feel" tests. It wasn't just a "well just a bit different" thing either; I much preferred the amp with a particular tube set-up.

    And of course amp settings matter as well :) A difference between power tubes may become more obvious at one volume stage vs another.

    All that said, of course judgement about "what matters" are highly personal. No issues with someone thinking a difference tubes doesn't matter to them, whether they perceive it and don't mind, or don't perceive it at all. But the same goes the other way around too. Someone may care more about tubes -- and it's not always just "irrational".

  • I own a Bias Meter, so, I think I likely fall into the category of tube tweaker ;)

    Sometimes the stock tubes aren't set to the player's preferred sweet spot. I agree that using tubes from a different brand/vintage can make a big difference.

    Dimi84 - I agree preamp tube substitutions can be an effective approach, too. I smoothed out a JMP-1 and a couple of Hughes and Kettner amps by replacing some of the 12AX7 tubes with 12AT7.

  • The power tubes in my PRS H combo lost it right at the end of a gig once.

    Went to the local shop to get some replacement 6L6, matched pair (Groove Tube).

    Got home and biased them up and tested.

    WTF? That's not the tone I'm used to!:cursing:

    Contacted PRS and asked what they recommended. Answer? Ruby!

    Got some, popped them in, rebiased, and bingo, right back to tonal bliss!

    So... count me in as a believer.:)

  • Agree that for some amps it doesn't matter a lot but some are amazingly dependent.

    I have a couple handfuls of preamp tubes that are perfect for balancing tone or managing gain and reaction.

    Sometimes the amp is ok by itself but won't profile well and with the proper sauce of tubes the Kemper can understand it better.

    Sometimes I'll even mix different brands or even types of power tubes to get a good balance. Generally this is 6L6 and 5881 but some amps offer even more flexibility.

  • I haven't played a lot of tube amps (apartment dweller most of my adult life blah blah blah), but the one I did have some years ago I rolled some tubes in - stock ones, cheap upgrades and more expensive mid-tier ones (JJs). I made recordings of each using a reamp box. There was definitely a notable difference, both for pre- and power tubes. Didn't change the amp into something completely new, but there were definitely differences I would consider significant - especially for the JJs. Not just for playing response, but also listening. And my ears are definitely not golden :-)

  • In my experience, the vast majority of people can not tell the difference between tubes if you blind fold them (blindfold the people not the tubes). Tube rolling usually results in changes so subtle that they are not noticeable. There may be exceptions granted, but rolling is not typically nearly as influential on amp tone as a small adjustment in tone pots. YMMV.

  • In my experience, the vast majority of people can not tell the difference between tubes if you blind fold them (blindfold the people not the tubes). Tube rolling usually results in changes so subtle that they are not noticeable. There may be exceptions granted, but rolling is not typically nearly as influential on amp tone as a small adjustment in tone pots. YMMV.

    Completely agree.

    Unless there is a fault with the valves (tubes), I've never been convinced that there were worthwhile changes to be had from swapping them.

    The huge difference is speakers.

  • I have a particularly unique perspective to offer here.

    I endorse a tube company. Sure, ok....and? Well, our tubes are a cut above (hang on, I'm getting to the good stuff). For one, they're $100. Each. Yeah, a hundred bucks a pop. Are they made for the guys slugging in out in smokey bars who aren't concerned with the last 1% of subtle tone difference? Nope. I even told Don (the guy who owns the company) I'd never pay that much for tubes, even if they sounded better. I was convinced they wouldn't sound $80 a piece better. To make a long story short, they DO sound better. Maybe not $80 better, and that isn't worth it to 99.8% of the guitar players out there, but they will make a difference nothing else will and it can't be replicated. I had two identical amps, and I did a true, honest to god A/B with them, one loaded with JJ tubes, one with the Wathens. The difference was in fact audible, and it could be captured on a recording.

    With that said, some amps respond more dramatically than others. Fender and H&K amps are quite sensitive to them, Marshalls don't seem to be so.

    It's not dramatic, but it's a subtlety that once you hear you can't un-hear. It brings a certain organic presence to an amplifier that nothing else will. And I toured with the same set of tubes in my GM36s for two years, playing Lord knows how many shows, most of them here in the Texas heat. I have found that JJs or Groove Tubes or most other decent replacements will sound better than stockers but the Wathens are genuinely an honest improvement.

    I can't afford to outfit my amplifiers with Wathen tubes, and would opt for JJs any other day. I'll also be the first to say that yeah, our tubes DO make a difference.

    (they make a bunch of other audiophile level products as well. Studio monitors, amplifiers, and a wicked sweet tube conditioned AD converter).

  • Huge difference. And it's a pretty basic test.

    Kemper PowerRack | Rivera 4x12 V30 cab | Yamaha DXR10 pair | UA Apollo Twin Duo | Adam A7X | Cubase DAW
    Fender Telecaster 62 re-issue chambered mahogany | Kramer! (1988 or so...) | Gibson Les Paul R7 | Fender Stratocaster HBS-1 Classic Relic Custom Shop

  • Hmm. Can anyone tell me where the tubes are in my Kemper? I can't seem to find them.

    jk. I wasn't a huge tube snob with my mesa, but once I got it where I liked it... I loved it. I think I had JJs in all positions.

    KPA Unpowered Rack, Kemper Remote, X32 Rack, uTrack 24, MTP AV,BC Rich Mockingbird(s)

  • Tubes are key. You have to experiment. Or not. Can be expensive, especially with NOS.

    But in the end, while you can find some nice sweet spots, the type of speakers make the amp.

    You take 1 amp and hook it up to 5 cabinets with 5 different types of speakers (ie greenback, T75, etc) and it sounds like 5 different amps.

    So various cabinets is a worthwhile hobby, and not too much more expensive than some NOS tubes. Plus you can use ALL the cabinets, whereas you'll generally reject most of your experimental tubes for 1 or two favorites.