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EL84 vs 6v6

Discussion in 'Amp Central Station' started by johnnykf, Feb 21, 2006.

  1. johnnykf

    johnnykf Tele-Holic

    Jan 4, 2006
    Twin Peaks. NY
    I know this probably has been covered before, but what are the differences in tone and breakup characteristics between these tubes, if all other amp related factors are equal?

  2. Dacious

    Dacious Friend of Leo's

    Mar 16, 2003
    Almost impossible to give you a straightout answer. Generally, but not always, they come in such different amp designs - speakers, tone stacks, transformers, preamp and poweramps. You really need to go hear some.

    6V6s are an earlier design, dating to metal tubes in the 40's, but still small audio intended for radios. So too are EL84s, basically made for light audio apps but dating to the sixties. At their design limits (which are often exceeded) a pair of 6V6s can make 20ish watts, a pair of EL84s about 15, so the 6V6s in theory produce more bass - and this is generally the case. Although there are certainly EL84 amps with good bass response.

    Typically EL84s are 'reknowned' for the Britpop sound, with words used like chimey, bell-like, trebley, etc. etc. Many of these nuances are actually generated by the Topboost preamp channels of Vox amps and copies which accentuates upper-mid/treble frequencies - but it's what people think of.

    6V6s are known for a creamy smooth middish overdrive associated with American Blues and Country that to me sounds dirty and sweet at the same time. A lot of that is the speakers traditionally associated with each amp - Jensens or similar in Fenders or other US makes which are softer and rounder compared to Celestion Blues or Fane or Greenback ceramics in Voxes, which tended to be more efficient, spikier and treblier.

  3. telewacked

    telewacked Tele-Holic

    Mar 17, 2003
    Shawnee, KS
    that's a great answer! (NT)

    Nicely put


  4. Tremo

    Tremo Banned

    The sound you get out of an amp is dependent on a number of factors, only one of which is the choice of output tubes.

    A lot of people mistakenly say that an EL84 has a certain chimey, Voxey sound. They sound like that because the amps in which they're installed are voiced to sound like that. It's mostly the amp, not the tube.

    Case in point, the early Fender blonde era Tremolux head. The short lived one that used EL84/6BQ5. In all the amps I've worked on, I've only seen one of those, *very* rare. None the less, the EL84 Tremolux has a typical Fender style preamp circuit, is run overvoltaged (just like they did with 6V6 amps) in fixed-bias AB1, and has a NFB loop. How does it sound? Just like a Fender is expected to sound. Does it sound like a Vox? No. Does it have any of those other "EL84" descriptors? No. So, in this example, the overall sound of the amp is largely independent of the output tube type. Moreover, in this application, the output power is about 20-ish Watts, comparable to a 6V6 operated under the same conditions.

    So, to answer the original question, with "all other factors being equal", the two tubes should sound very similar, only subtle differences. If you think that they would sound radically different, with "all other factors being equal", you will be disappointed.

    Both types are readily available today from good manufacturers (JJ), and they should be reliable and sound good. "All other things being equal", take your pick.

    The main difference as far as the circuit goes, is that the EL84 will overdrive more easily, since it is quite a bit more sensitive than the 6V6. IOW, the same level of grid drive voltage that results in the EL84 being overdriven, will still be running the 6V6 linear.

  5. RussBert

    RussBert Tele-Holic

    May 11, 2005
    Now THIS is a great answer!

    I've owned a few EL84 powered amps, most notably a Mesa Studio 22+, A Peavey Classic 50, and an 18 watt TMB. They are all very different, and it's impossible to characterize these amps by their power tubes.


  6. ramseybella

    ramseybella Tele-Afflicted

    Feb 12, 2006
    Santa Fe New Mexico
    One thing not pointed out is EL-84's run hot most of the time and compress easy thus they tend to overdrive faster and will have a shorter life than a 6V6, but cost less than a 6v6. JJ's are real good import tubes! ;)

  7. Tremo

    Tremo Banned

    "All things being equal", an EL84 runs as hot (or as cold) as you choose to bias it. It's not a function of the tube, but of the circuit. I also mentioned that they are more sensitive, so yes, they overdrive at lower AC grid voltage than a 6V6.

    What data do you have that a EL84 will have shorter life than a 6V6, with "all else being equal"? Numbers and sources please.

  8. Mr. Sparkle

    Mr. Sparkle Tele-Afflicted

    Aug 2, 2005
    My two examples...

    I have both an EL-84 (Savage Glas 30) and 6V6 (GA19 Falcon) amp and I agree for the most part with what has been said above. Both have really fantastic character, with sweet spots galore, tone across the spectrum and distinct musicality.

    Where the difference comes in--and this points back to the voicing discussion--is in breakup capabilities/thresholds. With four EL-84s, heavy-duty transformers and "rock" preamp voicing, the Savage is very loud. When set for Vox tones, the amp breaks up very early. The amp can do Fender cleans pretty well and Marshall tones very well. Again, it breaks early.

    Here's the big surprise--the Gibson doesn't break up until the very end. With two 6V6s and small, old trannies, it's not a loud amp. When pushed to max with single-coils it will overdrive but not to a huge extent. Of course, hot humbuckers will overdrive it quickly and I do agree that the overdrive you get with 6V6s is unique, clean and dirty at the same time and very musical. The Falcon is one of my favorite amps because it has character The Savage is not beautiful. It has tone, it sounds great but it is much more agressive and in-your-face.

    In the end, I agree that it is less about the output tubes as it is about what comes before. Then there's always the speakers....

  9. Poppatwang

    Poppatwang Friend of Leo's

    Mar 17, 2003
    St. Paul, MN
    Speaking of speakers.

    From the dim recesses of my memory, I remember a local
    guitar player pushing a Marshall 4X12 w/a blackface Showman
    head (cranked). Sounded like I expected a Marshall to sound.

  10. rdchapman

    rdchapman Tele-Holic

    Apr 6, 2004
    Saratoga, NY
    I have a SF Princeton. At the time I bought it I thought that EL-84's were "it", but the amp was recommended to me over a Pro Jr so..... To that end, I purchased a set of Yellow Jackets with EL-84's to plug into the Princeton and give me what I was thinking would be an even better amp. Boy, was I wrong. I thnk one difference I noticed is that the mid range became a bit less sweet and more brittle to my ears. This is with JJ EL-84's in the yellow Jackets. I guess if I were to sum up the difference the 84's were brighter but grainer and raw sounding to me but not in a pleasing way. I prefer the 6v6's now and play around with different 12ax7's in the preamp. The differences they create are much more subtle and for me seem to affect the harmonic content more than anything else. I have not tried different 6v6's in it yet. I have a Laney VC-30210 (4 El-84's) I was gigging, but the band is trying to quiet down and lighten up, so I gigged the Princeton last time out and was very pleased with the sound. Sweeter, the distortion was just right with the amp on 8-10 (no pedals) and we just clicked a whole lot better. The other guitarist used a BFPR and it was wonderful. The Laney is just not as sweet to my ears. Again a more raw biting sound to me. In that light, I am thinking of saving my money and getting an Allen Sweet Spot to gig so I have a little more headroom and keep the Princeton home.

  11. hwestman

    hwestman Tele-Holic

    Mar 24, 2003
    Stockholm, Sweden
    Well, I am an avid ToneBone user and when I plug the ToneB*ones into my 6v6 amps (super champ and princeton II) I don't experience a huge difference but the el84s (cathode biased) give more compression and a smoother overdrive .


  12. Mr. Sparkle

    Mr. Sparkle Tele-Afflicted

    Aug 2, 2005
    EL84s, by Dr. Z

    Mike Zaite of DR. Z AMPS. - John Grimm (Vintage Music)

    EL-84’s have been used in many guitar amps through the years, most notably VOX’s, but other manufactures have also found the sweet sound of 84’s a great sound prescription for lower powered combo amps. Gibson’s RVT-79 is an excellent example of pairs of 84’s used in stereo, driving a Jensen 10-inch speaker per side. Marshall’s rare 18 and 20 watt 84 driven head’s are highly sought after for studio use, and WEM Dominators are leading the new British invasion, used by such groups as Oasis. Even Fender experimented with 84’s 30 plus years ago, using them in a version of the Tremolux. With the advent of lower powered tube amps becoming in vogue, the logical choice for many designers was the EL-84. Many players are not as familiar with 84’s , as say 6V6’s or 6L6’s the American standard output tubes. With their availability, low cost, and great musical distortion I feel 84’s will be used well into next decade to power guitar amps, I will attempt to explain the variations of 84’s manufactured by different tube companies.

    SOVTEK EL-84 (standard grade ) - These tubes are affectionately called STOVE-TOPS, due to their low plate and screen voltage requirements. They aren’t as rugged as some 84’s, but have a warm, thick, clean sound and a very focused distortion. Top to bottom they are well balanced with a very transparent mid-range response. As I stated earlier, if installed into a properly designed circuit, (ie. plates and screen voltages under 320 volts ) they will last many hours. Great Blues tone, nice sustain with moderate attack.

    SOVTEK EL-84M ( Military Grade ) - Not designed for audio applications, will handle higher voltages in a poorly designed amp, but sound flabby on the low-end, with splattered distortion. Wattage is increased by use of these tubes, but at the cost of tone.

    TESLA EL-84 - Strong, long lasting, and powerful tube, a drop in replacement for HI-FI amps using the rare and discontinued 7189. Increased output power will be noticed when using this tube. Its strengths are its lower mid and bass response, very punchy, but be careful of its top-end -very transient and edgy. Again when used in properly designed circuit, this tube excels in head room and balls. Great rock tone, punchy , with strong attack..

    EI EL-84’s - Unfortunately these tubes are very inconsistent and prone to premature failures. I say unfortunately because a good matched quad sounds fantastic. Copied after the Amperex 84, they stay together when overdriven with a great dimensional sound. Their poor QA makes me shy away from using them in my amps. Full bodied and versatile, sound much like a good 6V6.
    -Mike Zaite

  13. zombywoof

    zombywoof Friend of Leo's

    It Depends On What You Want

    As a starting point, your tone is shaped by the preamp not the amp. This is where you want to start if you want different tonal qualities out of your amp. The standard preamp tube is the 12AX7. If you want more clean headroom, however, try using at least one matched pair of 12AT7s.
    Regarding the amp, often biasing your tubes will create a bigger difference than you would imagine. If you do not know how to do this have a pro do it for you cause at the least you will greatly reduce tube life and at the most seriously damage your amp.
    As for tubes
    If aggressive breakup is your thing try using 6V6Ss (the JJ 6V6 is my personal favorite). You might also want to change the screen resistors if you go this route.
    If you long for gads of clean headroom replace your 6L6GCs with 7581As. Try as you may it ain't easy to get these guys to breakup.

  14. JohnnyAtomic

    JohnnyAtomic Tele-Afflicted

    Mar 18, 2003
    Little Rock, AR
    Wow, I can't believe I'm one of 'those guys' digging up an ancient thread. But there's so little info out there on those tremoluxs with the 6BQ5's.

    So I gather from your post that building a tremolux clone, or princeton reverb with el84's wouldn't be terribly different output than a regular 6v6 princeton rvb in volume/power. I was thinking(hoping) it could be a way to builder an even lower volume version of a princeton rvb. So you could crank it up and brink the sweet spot down in volume even more than a princeton.


  15. Jared Purdy

    Jared Purdy Friend of Leo's

    Jan 26, 2010
    Toronto, Ontario.
    Indeed, indeed.

  16. Billm

    Billm RIP

    Mar 26, 2008
    New Jersey
    If you want to build a lower-power Princeton Reverb, you can use 6K6 tubes. There are other techniques, such as power scaling or other, simpler techniques of limiting the B+ voltage for earlier breakup.

    The easiest solution might be to use a good, tubey-sounding pedal to get your low-volume distortion without affecting anything else.

  17. Jared Purdy

    Jared Purdy Friend of Leo's

    Jan 26, 2010
    Toronto, Ontario.
    I have been told the same thing. When I was just getting into electric guitars, and buying my first tube amp, a mear 2 years ago, I was told by the manager of the store - a seasoned musician - and the senior sales staff, also a senior musican that 6V6s tend to last longer due to them not getting as hot.

  18. Billm

    Billm RIP

    Mar 26, 2008
    New Jersey
    There's some truth to the heat/EL84 issue. The EL84 draws about 50 percent more filament power than a 6V6 and the elements are packed together much more tightly. The design goal is to boil off and control as many electrons as a 6V6, but with a smaller plate. To do that, you have to run it hotter, wind the grids tighter. Screen grid failure is the most common reason for the death of EL84s. You can get a better feel for the difference in plate sizes here:


    From left to right: JJ EL84, GE NOS 6V6GT, Electro Harmonix 6V6GT, JJ 6V6-S, Tung-Sol 5881.


  19. JohnnyAtomic

    JohnnyAtomic Tele-Afflicted

    Mar 18, 2003
    Little Rock, AR
    There's that, but I think generally 84s run hotter because of the circuit they are used in, which often times is a high current british style cathode biased class A circuit whereas 6v6's are most often seen in a push/pull fixed bias class AB which is generally lower current draw.

    I think the higher current is the cause of the higher temps not the differences in heater design.

    Once again it goes back to the circuit like pointed out above.


  20. jefrs

    jefrs Doctor of Teleocity

    Nov 20, 2007
    Newbury, England
    Common misconception that a 6V6 is higher output than an EL84

    The 6V6 is a 4.5W bottle Wa 10W, a typical push-pull amp about 12W, can be pushed higher.
    The EL84 is a 6W bottle Wa 12W, a typical push-pull amp 17W, but it can be pushed over 7W, hence 22W Marshall.
    Rule of thumb for push-pull is 3 x the SE value.Actual power depends on HT (B+) and bias.
    Wa is the power at which the anode melts. This must not be exceeded.

    The EL84 is a "poor" design. It was intended for cheap domestic appliances. It deliberately has significant gain allowing deletion of a pre-amp gain stage valve. And it is a miniature bottle with too much crammed into too small a space. As a consequence, not good in hifi applications because it sounds rough when driven hard. These features make it almost ideal in a small guitar amp.

    The JJ-6V6S is an odd bottle, effectively a 5881/6L6WGB with the lower current heater of the pukka 6V6 (the low heater draw was intended for its use in vehicles). This one /can/ be substituted for a 5881.

    Difficult to compare 6V6 to EL84 because the amp circuits are not the same.

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