Justify Expensive EL84 Tubes For Your Amp...

Classicplayer

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Do any of you El84-based amp devotees believe in expensive power tubes? I don't gig and prefer just to play or practice at home. My amp of choice (my only tube amp) is an Orange Dark Terror; a 7/15 watt high gain amp. My Last two pairs of EL84 power tubes have been 7189 type and rather costly, but since I don't buy pedals or numerous other goodies for guitar playing, I figure that I can splurge on good reliable power tubes.

I don't hear the differences by buying expensive tubes, but I feel comfortable in buying tubes with good ratings, but good reliability reviews. When it comes to re-tubing your favorite amp(s) do you go the economy route, tone aspects, or cost factor? Just trying to get a consensus of opinion here.


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jwinger

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In a word yes. 1 NOS tubes generally sound better to my ears and 2 they seem to last much longer. I hear new power valves losing sparkle and going flat after 6-12 months. By contrast I've hammered sets of NOS valves for 10 years and they still sound great. Yes you can get unlucky with old tubes also, but generally speaking I've found their reliability and lifespan to mean they work out long term good value Vs new production.
 

Zacknorton

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With all the gain in amps like the dark terror... I don't see any real benefit to using NOS tubes.

There's SOOOO much preamp gain in those amps that any power tube distortion is going to be mostly drowned out.

With amps like that it's almost always a better option to get modern tubes with tight tolerances for internal noise and microphonics. I'm not saying NOS tubes wouldn't sound different. But in this kind of amp, I don't think the "different" is a positive.

I've got a huge stash of NOS and used tubes, and I've wasted tons of time listening to different preamp, power, and phase inverter tubes. New amps, diy amps, 50's and 60's and 70's amps. Different tubes are different.

I've gone full circle. I want my amps to work and not be noisy. If NOS tubes are around and work, that's cool, but I'm just as happy to use decent new tubes. The ratings on those sites (tube depot/tube store etc) seem to bear out pretty accurately in my experience.
 

cybermgk

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Really comes down to this, there is no need to 'justify' anything. If you have the cash, and you want to spend it on higher priced EL84s, and it makes you happy, then have at it. If new production JJs are your thing, then okie dokie. I think now a days, where I would draw the line is buying Chinese made.

And fwiw, when I had EL84 amps, yes, I did invest in NOS, good quality pulls. Even though a lot of distortion was preamp, that still didn't mean the output tubes didn't have an effect. Different tubes accent or deaccent different frequencies, which CAN still affect the toe coming from those preamp tubes.

And, tweaking made me happy. It is one reason I run an Axe FX now instead. I can tweak until the cows come home.
 

Classicplayer

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I did not know 7189 tubes were NOS, and maybe they are not. The Tube Store claims their supply is from the:1980's. They are quiet, but how much of their tone creeps into the overall tone of the Dark Terror is sort of lost on me. If this amp were being used as a cranked amp, I probably would begin to hear the difference that a more expensive power tube can give. I'd be just as well off with the power tube pair (JJ EL84) that this amp came with.


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northernguitarguy

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I did not know 7189 tubes were NOS, and maybe they are not. The Tube Store claims their supply is from the:1980's. They are quiet, but how much of their tone creeps into the overall tone of the Dark Terror is sort of lost on me. If this amp were being used as a cranked amp, I probably would begin to hear the difference that a more expensive power tube can give. I'd be just as well off with the power tube pair (JJ EL84) that this amp came with.


Classicplayer
Those Tube Store '7189' tubes are really 6P14P-EV Soviet tubes, albeit at a hefty marked up price. I bought mine off of Eastern European ebay vendors. I have a pair in my Orange right now that I pulled from my VOX Night Train. They have to be five years old now. That doesn't give an accurate rating, but I did use that VOX as my main amp for most of that time. When I put them in an Orange tester last year they rated '9 out of 10'. Still going strong in my Orange. I have two pairs of backups. If they last this long I'll be in power tubes until I'm pushing up daisies.

Are they worth the extra dough? I dunno if I'd buy them from The Tube Store because the ones I got off of ebay were the same price as new JJ's. They do seem more robust than the current production tubes I was using before (and these tested 'new' when I got them). They seem to give a slight headroom boost. I don't think they dramatically alter the tone otherwise. As mentioned above, I get my distortion in the preamp.
 

Classicplayer

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I guess I'd be “pushing up daisies”, also. I have two backup sets. I think that the extra money that I spent was not exorbitant for me because I don't spend on pedals. If they lasted five years as @northernguitarguy states, I'll be very happy. I guess I'm a bit gu shy due to a early power tube failure when my Dark Terror was quite new. The failed tube was the stock JJ. It cost me some money even though the amp was under warranty, so reliable tubes have since become present in my mind.

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ARandall

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You see, typically JJ would be seen as reliable if you looked at them globally. But even a so called 'reliable, tight tolerance tube' have manufacturer variation/raw material variation inherent in them.

The only way you'll ever know if any 1 tube you buy is reliable in reality is taking a Delorian to the point when they fail.....and seeing how far in the future you have traveled.
So you play a game of chance.....everybody does.....when they buy anything. You have no knowledge of whether the 1 or 2 you buy are lemons, or the best example of that product the world has ever seen
 

northernguitarguy

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I guess I'd be “pushing up daisies”, also. I have two backup sets. I think that the extra money that I spent was not exorbitant for me because I don't spend on pedals. If they lasted five years as @northernguitarguy states, I'll be very happy. I guess I'm a bit gu shy due to a early power tube failure when my Dark Terror was quite new. The failed tube was the stock JJ. It cost me some money even though the amp was under warranty, so reliable tubes have since become present in my mind.

Classicplayer
I’m not sure how long the tubes are covered. The tube failing didn’t cause any damage?
 

Classicplayer

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I’m not sure how long the tubes are covered. The tube failing didn’t cause any damage?
I think one JJ EL84 blew after 8 months of occasional use and it took out the HT fuse thus saving my amp. Of course any tube can blow at any time. That's a given today. I cannot remember any amp that I've owned ever blowing a fuse, going back a number of years. Luck has been with me. I'm not playing out now nor have I in many years, so my experience is not typical. Being on fixed income as a retiree means watching what I spend, so quality and tested tubes is something I put value on.


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drugprowlingwolf

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Absolutely. Made a nice difference in my AC30. I waited for a good deal. A good strong British 12ax7 made a more obvious difference. At stage volume (or as close as you can get with an ac30 before the sound guy kills you) it was apparent in the feel of the amp. Much more read five to my touch in a musically pleasing way - harmonic feedback and great ringing sounds. All subjective bs words lol - better to plug in and experience the difference.

I think there are diminishing returns depending on the circuit of your amp though.
 

northernguitarguy

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Absolutely. Made a nice difference in my AC30. I waited for a good deal. A good strong British 12ax7 made a more obvious difference. At stage volume (or as close as you can get with an ac30 before the sound guy kills you) it was apparent in the feel of the amp. Much more read five to my touch in a musically pleasing way - harmonic feedback and great ringing sounds. All subjective bs words lol - better to plug in and experience the difference.

I think there are diminishing returns depending on the circuit of your amp though.
Preamp tubes are a different story.
 

NotScott

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I just want to point out a couple things that I have not seen mentioned above:

1) Unless you are playing an amp at it's limits without drowning it in effects, it is very hard to hear differences in power tubes. Preamp tube differences are more readily heard at quieter levels in vintage, non-master volume amps. The exception being that modern amps with loads of preamp gain will definitely reveal tonal differences in preamp tubes. Remember, we are talking about devices that produce audio based upon their mechanical designs and tolerances. There will be differences in tone and performance.

2) Vintage amps were designed to run at the limits of vacuum tube design parameters with a typical line voltage of 110V.. Today's juiced up wall voltages of 120V and above put an even greater stress on tubes and other components used in vintage amps. For example, the plate voltage in my 64 AC30 was designed to be about 330V or so. Assuming a 110V source. Bump that line voltage to 120V, as is common today, and now your plate voltage is 360V and you are asking a lot from recent manufacture tubes to survive long at those voltages.

Most new tube amp designs are engineered with current tube production specs in mind so you aren't gaining as much value from NOS tubes as you would from a vintage design. If you can't hear the difference in your modern Orange, Marshall, Vox, etc., then stick with new production tubes and save yourself some bucks.
 

ARandall

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I've had power tubes fail in 6 months from occasional clean bedroom only playing. To be fair, its a Deluxe Reverb.....so the plate voltages on that are really on the high end which leads to short tube life anyhow.
But 8 months life on power tubes (where the biasing effect can lead to short life irrespective of actual volume) is not uncommon. And the fact that its taken a fuse is nothing either.....it means the amp is merely doing the safety related things it was designed to do.
 

cooljuk

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Nice EL84s are extremely affordable compared to other common guitar output types. You can get a whole matched quad of NOS Mullard EL84s for less than half of a comparable single EL34 tube.

If they are "worth it" or not is highly personal and depends on how you use them, though.
 

irocdave12

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What Nothernguitar said is spot on about the Russian tubes. The Russian tubes are very stout and durable and can handle more voltage on the plates than the typical USA 6bq5/el84 tubes and therefore fall into the ballpark of being able to be compared to the 7189 but they are not 7189 tubes in the true sense. Because they had some extra durability the tube dealers started giving them the 7189 tube numbers partially as a sales thing. Very much like the Sovtek el84M tube is akin to a 7189. I agree there are benefits to using vintage glass no doubt. What I would suggest is a solid middle of the road choice in a vintage el84. And that would be the very affordable and the still plentiful el84 tubes that are coming out of the organs and easy to find. They are great tubes to start with such a Sylvania black plates and grey plates and were factory selected tubes to boot. You can usually score a nice proven and well tested quad for $100 or less which is not all that far off of what you would spend on tested and matched JJ’s Not to mention you might very well need 2 sets of JJ tubes to equal the same lifespan you typically get from the much better made vintage tubes.
 


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