I ordered a couple of NOS 1959 GE long plate 12AX7′s a few days ago – they were a great deal – and looks like I’m going to buy several more. NOS tubes is where it’s at for me. What’s the big deal? Well, for one thing, they were made during a time when almost all electronics were run by vacuum tubes, so they’re incredibly reliable. But more importantly, they just plain sound better than any new tube. Not that new tubes are bad – far from it – I’m a big fan of JJ’s and Tung-Sol’s, but they can at times be a bit harsh, and in the case of the Tung-Sols, don’t last very long. For instance, I had a set of JJ’s in my custom Aracom VRX18, an incredible amp powered by two EL84′s. They sounded great in that amp, but the highs could get really fizzy.
When I got the GE’s today, I immediately installed them into the VRX18, and lo and behold, that top-end fizz was tamed! You get that fizz from EL84′s anyway, which happen to power this amp, but those NOS tubes really mellowed out the fizz, and provided a richness in the tone of that amp that I had not ever heard come from it! I was so amazed, that I used that amp on a new song I’ve been working on called, “Strutter.” I may actually call it “Stratter,” as I recorded it with my Strat, but I’m still undecided… Give it a listen:
I probably should’ve had a before and after clip, but what those tubes did was to take the naturally bright tone of the amp, and add a bit of bottom end to it. The amp is still on the bright side, but with that little bit of extra bottom end, it sounds so much richer. Here’s the amp totally clean, played with Goldie, then into a Hardwire reverb, then into the amp. The tones are simply lush!
Who knows? I might be hearing things, but I’m not alone in feeling this way about NOS tubes. Lots of people will attest to the same thing: NOS tubes just sound better. Whether or not it’s due to their construction or the manufacturing technology of the time. Good NOS tubes sound and feel so much fuller than their modern counterparts. As I eluded to above, it could all be imagination coming into play, but if hundreds of people are saying the same thing, there’s got to be something to it…