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Tubes: The Old Verses the New

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As an electric guitarist, it’s probably a safe bet to assume you’re constantly seeking that edge that will give you the ultimate tone—this kind of OCD seems to go with territory and I wouldn’t be exaggerating at all if I told this search is what drove me to begin building effects pedals in the first place. And as guitarists we’re all aware that tubes are the sonic foundation of many legendary guitarists’ electric sound: Hendrix, Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Angus Young to name just a few. But just how much of a part do tubes, particularly the older variety of tube, also known as N.O.S. tubes actually play in achieving great guitar tone? In this article I’ll give you my two cents worth, my own experiences of using vintage and new tubes in guitar gear along with a little historical and technical info—after reading this you might not be a tube guru—those guys came from another era, the 1960s—but you’ll certainly be a whole lot wiser when it comes to these archaic, hot, high-voltage devices.

You can read the full article here.

6 comments

  1. Andy says:

    Great post. Is Jim still trading? Do you have contact details?

    • Phil says:

      Hi Andy, Jim retired a few years ago and sold all his stocks of tubes. I think he spends most of his time playing golf now. Best, Phil

  2. Bart says:

    Thanks for the interesting read.

    How about companies such as Brimar, do you find their valves are closer to the original?

    • Phil says:

      I’ve not tried the Brimar Thermionic tubes… yet. They do look like they’ve made an effort to duplicate the anodes and perhaps other parts of the tube’s internal construction too – it looks promising.

  3. Thom says:

    I always appreciate your articles, and this is another good one. However, having listened critically to several samples each of over 60 unique variants of vintage 12AX7/ECC83, I must strongly disagree with this statement from the article (Brent Jesse origin?):

    “Tubes with longer plates have higher capacitance and depending on how the tube circuitry is implemented, substituting a short plate tube with a long plate variety can give a gentle and welcome rounding off of the top end yeilding a thicker, more bluesy sound.”

    There is absolutely no correlation between long (17mm) plates and a rounded off treble effect. Long-plate Telefunken (ribbed, not smooth), Siemens, Amperex/Miniwatt (Heerlen factory origin), Raytheon black-plate, Sylvania black-plate, Ken-Rad (GE) and many others disprove this misinformation.

    I’ll leave it up to readers to decide on their own if there is truly one definitive “bluesy sound”. But there most certainly is not one long-plate 12AX7/ECC83 sound.

    Thanks Phil!

    p.s. – those early-’60s CBS long-plate 12AX7A from the “GAP/R COMPUTOR” adapter have a really appealing clarity and mid-range character, and are worth a V1 listen.

    • Phil says:

      Hi Thom, Most my experience of using long plate tubes is based on my own experiments with using the 12AV7 and 5965 in the Effectrode Tube Drive pedal (so I might have to go through the article a do some cleaning up of the editing on this and be more careful with my generalisations about the Mullard ECC83). I have heard that these kinds of computer tubes actually often have lower interelectrode capacitance if anything (even the longer plate variety, but I need to look into this further to be sure), however they definitely sound mellower to my ear. My own thoughts are that this may be related to the efficiency of the cathode coating, but at this point, it’s not really a hypothesis, just an idea. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment – it’s good to get a conversation started on this stuff. All the best, Phil

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