NOS Tubes Redux

Discussion in 'Amplifiers' started by LSchefman, Feb 17, 2019.

  1. LSchefman

    LSchefman Hears Tones

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    Guitarist interviewed Adrian Emsley (Orange’s amp designer) in the February issue, and asked about NOS tubes. Emsley’s reply:

    “They are better tubes than what’s made now for sure. Like Mullard, General Electric preamp tubes, for example, they’re going to be, for the most part, better sounding. They’ll probably always yield a bit more gain and sound better.”

    Emsley recommends cleaning the pins on NOS tubes to remove any black oxidation if it’s there; old tube pins had a high silver content, and the oxidation can prevent good electrical contact.

    I’ve expressed my own belief that NOS tubes yield a more satisfying long-term playing experience many times. At first the differences can be subtle, but I find that when an amp has NOS tubes, I don’t get that nagging feeling that I need to trade it in and look for something “better.”

    I’ve also come to believe that NOS tubes matter more than hand wiring, though given the choice I prefer mostly hand-wired amps.

    Granted, re-tubing an amp with NOS can be expensive, but in the long run I buy gear with the intention of getting long-term use out of it, so the investment is worth it. The preamp tubes in particular seem to last forever (20 year life is common), but even the power tubes last longer with NOS.
     
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  2. Steve's addiction

    Steve's addiction New Member

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    Thanks Les. Great input as usual!
     
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  3. jjhookemup

    jjhookemup Gearoholic

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    I’m with you on the NOS . I’ve only rolled the pre amps though so far because I was playing a Vox ac15hw1x for many years and they tend to eat power tubes like candy. I did over time start to notice the subtle differences and brands too. It’s something I think it takes a seasoned ear to really appreciate. It’s fun and addictive also.
     
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  4. LSchefman

    LSchefman Hears Tones

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    While it’s true that the power tubes do the heavy lifting, preamp tubes are increasing gain and doing a lot of tone-shaping before the signal reaches the power tubes; this includes tone controls, reverb (on tube-driven reverbs), effects loops, additional channels and modes, etc.

    In my experience - I claim no expertise other than messing around with this stuff for many years - preamp tubes affect the character of the amp quite a bit. So I always start by swapping the stock preamp tubes for NOS in my amps, unless the amp comes with NOS (my DG30 came from the factory with NOS, because it was introduced as a special Experience edition, and I’ve had some Two-Rocks that came with NOS as well).

    I swapped out the stock JJs for NOS Mullard 12AX7s in my HXDA, and while the amp was great stock, it became divine with the Mullards. When one of the stock Winged C EL34 tubes blew, I tried both a set of new JJs and a set of NOS Siemens. The Siemens sounded great, with a character that was more present than the JJs, and better top-to-bottom balance than the Winged Cs (it’s appalling to me that now the discontinued Winged Cs are considered NOS, because they’re not really comparable to stuff like the Siemens). Anyway, I bought three more sets of Siemens, and I may buy more, because now I’m worried about outliving my supply of cool tubes!! :eek:

    On the other hand, swapping out the stock new tubes in one of my later Two-Rocks for NOS long-plate Telefunkens actually made the amp “softer” and less enjoyable to play; so you just never know until you try. However, substituting them for a set of RCAs was night and day better than the stock tubes. So tube character and amp character need to be synergistic.

    I “tolerated” my Mesa Lone Star when it arrived. I thought the amp had potential, but for the first year or so I relegated it to a secondary “when I need that Mesa sound” position. Then the light bulb in my brain fired up, and I bought a set of GE NOS. The GEs have made the amp really superb. In fact, it’s my only amp with the original modern power tubes, and I don’t even really mind, though my plan is to put in a matched quad of NOS, probably Sylvanias, GEs, or RCAs, on the theory that Leo’s blackface Fenders used those tubes, and the Lone Star is kind of based on that type of design. The reason I haven’t pulled the trigger is that I’m also thinking about a set of Philips 6L6 WGBs (5881s), and a set of four of any of these sets me back around $500, so I’ve been thinking it over. For like a year. LOL! ;)
     
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  5. Tucson Thump

    Tucson Thump Mint Heavy Relic

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    I was bringing up an old Fender Vibrosonic on a Variac so I pulled the tubes to test and discovered a strong Tung_Sol USA 12AX7. I put it in the HXDA. Yes, NOS does make a noticeable difference
     
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  6. LSchefman

    LSchefman Hears Tones

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    You bet!

    You might like a pair of Siemens EL34s in the amp, too. Even though they’ll set you back a little coin, they’re a relative bargain for NOS European power tubes, and sound a lot like much more expensive NOS Mullards.

    They sound a bit more transparent than the best modern EL34s out there, with a tighter, less muddy bottom end.
     
  7. goat-n-gitter

    goat-n-gitter Dismembered

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    Holy lost profit Batman!!!! I had about 16 new in box mil-spec Philips JAN 6L6 WGBs that a buddy of mine brought back from being an electronics tech in the navy and gave to me. I stuck those tubes in any random friend's amp that came along (this was in the mid '80s), and I never saw a cent. I might still have a used set in a junk box somewhere......
     
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  8. jjhookemup

    jjhookemup Gearoholic

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    I’ve had my Custom 20 for almost two years now and haven’t really changed much. I’ve really enjoyed the change from the Vox. Haven’t given it much thought about poppin in some NOS yet...I guess that means PRS built a good amp, right.
    Now after reading this thread I guess the seeds are planted. It’s got tung sol in v3 already (v3-clean) and that’s what I usually like for clean, but open for suggestions. The power tubes...I’m not sure which way to go. All of my amps have always been el84s, so I’m not to familiar with the 5881/6L6 options in the NOS world. I love the amps sound, but I know there’s always some wiggle room for experimentation ;)
     
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  9. Tone-y

    Tone-y New Member

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    I've never gone down the NOS tubes route myself, but I have always swapped the valves (sorry, I'm British) of any amp I've bought with ones from my preferred supplier and it definitely makes a difference over stock. If you haven't got the money for NOS (or just can't justify it) then I would certainly recommend at least swapping to good quality selected current production. Like Les said in the opening post, it can turn an amp that you're not really satisfied with into something you're happy to keep. Even if you are not swapping valves to get a different tone (i.e. putting in a higher or lower gain valve) your sound can benefit by removing harshness, increasing sparkle and clarity etc.
    I've had good results with the Harma range of valves from Watford Valves here in the UK. They are reasonably priced with good descriptions of their performance and sound characteristics. They supply valves for AC/DC and Brian May among others.
    So yes, NOS valves will definitely make your amp sound better. But if you don't want to go that far, then you can still improve your sound without costing yourself so much.
     
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  10. LSchefman

    LSchefman Hears Tones

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    Well, back then, who knew?
     
  11. LSchefman

    LSchefman Hears Tones

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    You can find NOS EL84s, too. I have NOS EL84Ms in my DG30, and a spare set also. They’re Russian military versions from the 70s or 80s, but are only for amps specifically designed for them.

    However, NOS EL84 standard tubes are easy to find.
     
    #11 LSchefman, Feb 20, 2019
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2019
  12. jjhookemup

    jjhookemup Gearoholic

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    Sold the Vox and other el84 amps to get the Custom 20...so now I’m in the 5881/6L6 world.
     
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  13. LSchefman

    LSchefman Hears Tones

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    Sorry, I misunderstood. The JAN Philips 6L6 WGB would be great in a low power amp, assuming PRS says they’d be ok to install.
     
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  14. Big Mike

    Big Mike This space for rent

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    Depending on the amp, I agree particularly with preamp tubes. Power tubes less of an issue.
    My marshalls usually hvae mullard or amperex or Raytheon on the first couple slots. The fender, GE, the Greer has a particular affinity for Japanese Toshiba.
     
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  15. LSchefman

    LSchefman Hears Tones

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    It’s kind of an odd thing - I look at tubes and think, well, if they function to certain specs and do their job in the circuit, why don’t they all sound alike? And why does how they’re made matter, except for longevity?

    There are probably answers, but not being an engineer, I don’t know them.

    What I have seen in a fair amount of photographic detail is that when a tube is taken apart, the old ones are made to closer tolerances, the little pieces are put together with more precision and appear stronger, there’s greater symmetry in the appearance of the little subassemblies, and everything appears to be of higher quality manufacture.

    Again, why this should affect the sound is mysterious to me. I suppose it’s enough to say that yes, it seems to, and leave it there. Maybe a tube that’s made better is less susceptible to micophonic ringing and harshness - wild guess.
     
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  16. Tucson Thump

    Tucson Thump Mint Heavy Relic

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    I remembered that you liked them in the HXDA and came across some at a decent price and took a chance. Lo and behold they tested out excellent and hopefully I'll put them in this weekend.
     
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  17. Tucson Thump

    Tucson Thump Mint Heavy Relic

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    Les, have you seen a good site that cross-references tubes. I've got several boxes of 50's stuff I'd like to use if possible.
     
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  18. LSchefman

    LSchefman Hears Tones

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    I haven’t. The guy who owns KCA NOS tubes seems very knowledgeable, though.
     
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  19. bodia

    bodia Authorities said.....best leave it.....unsolved

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    Tucson Thump likes this.

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