Posts Tagged ‘tubes’

If you read this blog with regularity, you know that I love NOS tubes. Who knows? Maybe I’m being a cork-sniffer, but the significant impact NOS tubes have had on my amps has led me to preferring them over new production tubes. Unfortunately, NOS tubes are getting scarcer and scarcer, so I suppose that eventually I’ll  have to get new production tubes.

Now a company that I’ve tended to steer away from is Groove Tubes, mainly because they’re just re-labeler of various OEM tubes. They just measure voltage, match ’em up, relabel them and sell them as their brand. Nothing wrong with that, but I haven’t met a Groove Tubes tube that I’ve liked, until I discovered the Groove Tubes GT-6L6GE Re-issues.

Before I go on, I should clarify that I’m not talking about the current production 6L6GE’s, which are assembled overseas. The tubes I’m talking about were made in the USA up until about 2003, as far as I can tell.

What makes these tubes special is that they’re constructed of NOS materials (except the glass), and to the same specs as the original GE 6L6’s of old. Plus they were constructed in Southern California, so the quality is incredible. These tubes rock! To be honest, I’m not sure of all the details of their production, but I got the information from Brent Jesse @ audiotubes.com who recommended them to me.

I bought two sets so I could have a spare set, and have been in tonal heaven with my Hot Rod Deluxe! The cleans are lush and deep, and the overdrive is creamy smooth. I have other GE power tubes, and I’ve gotten used to their smooth distortion. These GT-6L6GE’s are no exception! In addition to their smooth breakup, they also don’t compress much, which is another thing I just dig. I prefer a more open distortion.

I compared these to both JJ’s and regular Groove Tube 6L6GT’s, and these just blow them away. The JJ’s and GT’s have nice, clear cleans, but forget about their tone when cranked up. The tone is harsh and gritty, even if I bias them a little hotter than spec; whereas the 6L6GE’s remind me of the breakup I get from my Plexi clone – without hot biasing! Amazing!

As these are no longer in production (don’t confuse these with the new 6L6GE’s), they’re a bit more expensive than the new production 6L6GE’s; $80 per pair as opposed to $55-$58 a pair. And because they have the same labeling as the new ones, it’s hard to tell them apart. So I recommend that if you want to get a pair, get them from a source you trust. As I mentioned, I get them from Brent Jesse Recording and Audio, and having purchased several tubes from him, I trust him implicitly.

All that said, I will be getting a set of the new production tubes to make a comparison, as they are also made with NOS materials, though assembled overseas. Who knows? They may just sound killer as well!

Read Full Post »

I broke the guide post on one of the 6L6 tubes in my trust Fender Hot Rod Deluxe awhile back, and even though the tube still worked just fine, I used it as an excuse to get a new set of power tubes. So after doing a search around the Internet for a new set of 6L6’s, I found myself on Brent Jesse Recording’s (audiotubes.com) site, looking for some NOS replacements for the JJ’s I had in there.

Not knowing what to purchase, I called Brent up, and asked for his recommendation. Surprisingly enough, he recommended a set of Groove Tubes. I said, “Groove Tubes? I can’t stand ’em.” But Brent explained that these particular Groove Tubes were not the imported, relabeled stuff from Russia or China. They’re re-issues of RCA and GE black plates made from NOS materials and constructed here in the US. Intriguing. I’ve purchase a few sets of tubes from Brent in the past, and he has never steered me wrong, so I decided to take a chance and get a pair.

The tubes arrived yesterday so of course, I just had to install them. What’s the verdict? They sound absolutely KILLER! The big test for me – especially with NOS tubes – is to run them full out to see how they break up. The problem I’ve had with late model power tubes in general (but especially with 6L6’s) is that they feel stiff and the breakup can be a bit harsh.

To me, NOS tubes have always felt much more smooth and dynamic. These Groove Tubes tubes are a huge exception to late model tubes. I can’t believe just how nicely these re-issues break up! The distortion is creamy smooth and slightly compressed with nice bloom and sustain without being too squishy – just how I like it! Caveat: They’re not cheap. These tubes are $80 for a matched pair, but they’re worth every penny! I just ordered a second set for spares since these tubes are limited quantity. They may not necessarily be NOS tubes, but as they’re made with NOS materials, there is definitely a limit. So if you’re looking for new production tubes that sound absolutely fantastic, you gotta check these out!

A word on the Fender Hot Rod Deluxe

It’s my contention that the Fender Hot Rod Deluxe is one of the most underrated amps on the market. Okay, I admit it: Stock it doesn’t sound all that good. But with the right tubes and the right speaker, it can sound incredible! Granted, a year or two ago, I wouldn’t have even considered buying this amp because of the huge price hike. I got mine on special for something like $550 in a blowout sale a few years ago. But the prices aren’t all that bad now. They’ve come down significantly from their nearly $900 price tag, and you can find them for around $649. Admittedly, it’ll probably cost $300-$400 more in tubes and replacement speaker, but what you get is an AWESOME amp. I’ll have clips in a few days.

Read Full Post »

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…

Read Full Post »

Just put in a re-labeled 1960’s-era Mullard ECC83 into my Aracom VRX22 this afternoon. I had a JJ 12AX7 in there, and make no bones about it; that’s a great pre-amp tube. But the difference in tone between the two is immense. Where my JJ had a great tone, one thing that I noticed was that the highs tended to be rather harsh when the tube was overdrive, and I found myself turning my Tone knob left of center – a lot – to bleed off some of the highs.

But after I installed the Mullard, I was absolutely blown away! The overdrive seemed so much more focused, with zero high-end harshness. It was some of the smoothest overdrive I’ve heard, and definitely the smoothest the VRX22 has sounded since I got it. That’s saying quite a bit because I love the tone of this amp immensely, even without the NOS Mullard. Which brings me to the crux of this entry…

As a tube amp aficionado, I’ve gone through lots of pre-amp tubes, and almost invariably, I’ve gravitated towards NOS tubes to get the tone I like. Some people I’ve spoken to say it’s all hype but, at least to me, it’s not. I suppose for some types of tubes, there’s not much of a difference. For instance, I almost invariably use JJ’s for power tubes because they just sound great to me. They’re well-made, and run pretty hot, and they break up nicely.

But with respect to pre-amp tubes, I’ve found a marked difference between NOS and new tubes. I love Mullard and JAN Phillips tubes for pre-amp tubes. They’re just so smooth sounding, smoother than all the new make tubes I’ve played. Plus, they were made during a time when most electronic devices were run with tubes, so the build expertise, equipment and materials for making tubes was abundant. According to my friend Jeff Aragaki of Aracom Amps, the alloys used in NOS tubes are not as readily available nowadays, and that could account for the difference in tone. Not sure if this is true, but it certainly makes sense. The only drawback is the price. That Mullard sells for $129 retail, and that is by no means inexpensive.

But I look at buying NOS tubes very much like buying a great pair of shoes. For instance, I spend almost $200 a pair for my everyday shoes. These are absolutely comfortable, and not only that they last a long time because they’re constructed so well. In fact, it takes me about 4-5 years to really wear them out. This in contrast to lower priced shoes that I’ve worn out within a few months. After a long period of time, I’ll spend more on the cheap shoes. A better case is my father. His shoes cost at least $500. But they last almost 20 years! He just gets them resoled every few years until the shoe repair guy says that it’s not worth it.

NOS tubes are similar. I’ve had the same NOS tubes in my Hot Rod Deluxe for almost five years, and they still sound great! I play that amp a lot. On the other hand, the new Tung-Sol tubes I put in another amp lasted all of two months before they started to lose their character, with one becoming microphonic. Granted, they’re fairly inexpensive tubes and they sound great, but if I have to shell out $25 every couple of months, that starts to add up. NOS tubes, especially the mil-spec tubes that I prefer were made for military usage, which means they had to be well-built and durable. That’s a huge advantage NOS tubes have over newer tubes.

Jeff also shared a story with me today about a friend of his who used to be stationed on an aircraft carrier. He was telling Jeff that when the ship replaced electronic components, they’d dump boxes of tubes – good ones, mind you – over the side of the ship. So the ocean has NOS tubes littering its bottom.

In any case, please do not just take me at my word! 🙂 This is simply my perception based upon my experience. In the end, as I am often apt to mention, you’re judge of what sounds pleasing to you. So only buy what makes sense to you!

Read Full Post »