NOS Tubes. I Swear By Them. You?

Discussion in 'Glowing Bottle Tube Amp Forum' started by arlum, Dec 1, 2019.

  1. arlum

    arlum TDPRI Member

    Age:
    64
    Posts:
    40
    Joined:
    Jun 7, 2018
    Location:
    O'Fallon, MO
    When I bought my first Bruno Underground 30 I found it loaded with NOS tubes. When I checked out Tonys website I found that he prefers them for his builds. This, in turn, led me to seeking out all the information I could about NOS tubes. I was astounded at the difference between tubes manufactured in the '50s, '60s, ( and for a couple of brands into the '70s). The first thing that struck was the price for true NOS tubes. Seldom will you find singles for less than $50.00. Matched sets raise the price. Note. I'm talking true NOS. Not the latest craze on ebay or wherever where they "test" as NOS. I figure most of these are used with life left in them. Then again, considering how much better vintage tubes were made compared to current production, these tested tubes offered at a lower price than true NOS might still be a good choice.

    Life Expectancy. There's a huge difference between modern production and vintage production. My research led me to understanding that modern production output stage vacuum tubes seldom, if ever, last longer than a year at the most under touring / heavy usage. Vintage production tubes of the same type could last many times longer. When it comes to preamp or rectifier tubes modern production, (depending on the brand), last five to ten years. There are amps built in 1958 that still have their original preamp or rectifier tubes working like new.

    What you hear. Tone, breakup, blooming, sustain, long tails. NOS tubes out perform modern tubes big time. Somewhere along the line the magic was lost, (or was left to die for return on the dollar). Vintage tubes were so well built that once you owned them you could pretty much forget about them. Sure. Sometimes a tube failed but, these events were few and far between. Then again .... if you're a manufacturer building vacuum tubes ..... the fact that your product is so good that the user might never need to replace them is poor info for the bottom line. Built to last used to be a byword for a fine product. Built to fail, (a favorite idiom of modern manufacturing), guarantees the same customer will be coming back for more of the same.

    Anyway ....... I've come to love NOS tubes. I even enjoy wading through the maze of terminology sellers use to describe the tubes offered. Three out of four might be less than true but the fourth is a goldmine.

    So ..... my favorite NOS tunes.

    Rectifier Tube ........ '50s or '60s Mullard. The cream of the crop.

    Preamp 12AX7 tube V1 first stage ........ Mullard, (built at the Blackburn factory). Same as above.

    All other 12AX7 / 12AX7A / 7025 preamp tubes ....... '62 to '64 RCA. Possibly the best of the best. I used to use one of these in the V1 stage too but a tip from a friend told me to try the Mullard, (Blackburn), and it was a true notch up. I was both surprised and pleased. A bit more crunch in a useable way and a small up in gain.

    Output tubes ...... NOS Mullard EL34s, RCA 6L6GC and Amperex EL84s., (made in Holland). My favorite output tubes have always been EL84s. I love them. Vintage Amperex EL84s are light years beyond all competition.

    So ..... Does anyone else here use NOS tubes. Does anyone else here swear by modern production. I'm open to all responses. I post threads based solely on my opinion. Yours might differ and by reading yours I might gain insight. I would never claim to be an expert. Even after 48 years playing the guitar I realize that hidden gems are always a possibility.

    Thank You for any and all responses


    Note * I would pay almost anything for the finest example of Amperex, (holland production), EL84 NOS tubes. These are the grail in my tube life.
    .
     
    Chiogtr4x likes this.
  2. uriah1

    uriah1 Telefied Ad Free Member

    Posts:
    20,669
    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2011
    Location:
    Around
    Ya. Glass thicker, rods sturdier ,metal better.
    Always nos.
     
    Hiker likes this.
  3. rangercaster

    rangercaster Poster Extraordinaire

    Posts:
    5,396
    Joined:
    May 8, 2008
    Location:
    portland, or
    They don't make them like they used to ... Sad, but true ...
     
    That Cal Webway likes this.
  4. stratoman1

    stratoman1 Tele-Afflicted

    Posts:
    1,945
    Joined:
    Nov 12, 2016
    Location:
    Virginia Beach, Va
    I've never really had the urge for them . My local shop carries JJ tubes so that's what I use
     
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2019
    teletail, alathIN and Milspec like this.
  5. schmee

    schmee Poster Extraordinaire

    Posts:
    7,815
    Joined:
    Jun 2, 2003
    Location:
    northwest
    Nope, only new production now days. I got tired of constant "hiss, crackle , boom!" I want to play, not mess with gear. I still have probably 100 OS, NOS tubes out there for if I change my mind...
    Life Expectancy: My last set of NOS RCA Blackplates lasted about 2 hours and took out a transformer.
     
    tubelectron likes this.
  6. bumnote

    bumnote Tele-Meister

    Age:
    51
    Posts:
    229
    Joined:
    Aug 10, 2018
    Location:
    Northern Virginia
    Built to last?
    When I was looking for a good NOS 5Y3 for my Tweed Deluxe clone, I found a NOS Bendix JAN CEA 6106. They used to use these things in missiles and it should outlast me.

    Generally I do find NOS tubes better...and if you search and learn how to identify relabeled brands, they don't always have to cost a small fortune.

    That said, I also have no problem using current tubes. I like JJ's and the GT that came stock in my PRRI stayed in there for almost year before I finally got around to trying out other tubes from my stash. If they had sounded like crap, they wouldn't have lasted a week.
     
  7. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

    Age:
    60
    Posts:
    17,765
    Joined:
    Mar 2, 2010
    Location:
    Maine
    I’m not funded for true NOS from reputable sellers!
    But I virtually never ever buy new production tubes for my twenty some odd tube amps.
    Being a bottom feeder willing to take risks buying from less reputable sellers, I’ve ended up lucking into some fine NOS grail quality tubes but am often just as happy with used pulls from home organs, military and medical equipment, and even sometimes power tubes dragged around in Fender combo amps for years before being replaced while still in perfect working condition.

    I buy 5751’s often because I like the sound and the slight gain reduction (mostly using distorted type amps turned down) but I also find that these were rated at massive hours even compared to holy grail stuff like RCA black plate and UK Mullards.
    Some of the 5751 tubes could still sound great in three Mullard life spans.

    You can also end up with duds of course and the supplies are more and more picked over.
    To some degree the buyer of old tubes needs to be able to judge tubes by their sound in an amp.

    Is that a warm tone or a worn tone?
    Not always clear which it is, and IME vintage tubes vary greatly in tone, where for example a Raytheon black plate 12ax7 sounds so bright it may worsen an amps tone, and a NOS Tung Sol 12ax7 sounds so soft & warm you might think it’s worn out.
    I’d also say that the gain factor of a preamp tube type is really ball park, and can vary quite a bit from one brand era to another brand era.

    For plug & play users it might make more sense to just buy new tubes regularly and not do the study involved in using NOS/ UOS/ ANOS.
     
  8. Guitarteach

    Guitarteach Poster Extraordinaire

    Posts:
    8,691
    Joined:
    Aug 6, 2014
    Location:
    UK
    I paid a lot exploring this rabbit hole...

    i have some 50’s RCA 6V6 which are really nice.. but some ‘63 & ‘64 NOS long plate Blackburn made 12AX7/ECC83s did not last well at all or resist microphony as well my number one 12AX7 , which is the chinese made tubes Mesa used in the 80’s/90s. I just got a big stock of NOS ones.

    I do like the more open, long plate tone but later Groove Tubes branded long plate mullards copies sounded the same to me. Been working some of them in a mesa since the 90’s and not replaced them yet.

    i have quite a lot of very new Mesa and Marshall branded tubes as well as assorted 80’s Russian and old Yugoslavian power tubes (6L6 / EL34 Winged C & Tungsram). After a few years of similar reliability and indistinguishable tone, I’m beginning to think a lot of the NOS story is myth.

    i am sure there is a lot of dodgy fake NOS tubes out there too.

    I’ll not say no if I find some old ones in a car boot sale though.
     
    tubelectron likes this.
  9. horseman308

    horseman308 Tele-Holic

    Posts:
    620
    Joined:
    May 7, 2016
    Location:
    US
    Not a big enough deal to make it worth the price for me. My "pallate" isn't sophisticated enough to hear a real noticeable difference between new and NOS, especially in a gig situation. Same is true for most of the audience. I might be willing to go in for some kind of good deal on a preamp tube that will not only last many years but is in the $30-40 range, but what people charge for a matched pair of good output tubes, I can buy a few pair, install, bias myself, and be perfectly happy.

    Sent from my SM-G930P using Tapatalk
     
    slauson slim likes this.
  10. archetype

    archetype Fiend of Leo's

    Posts:
    3,508
    Joined:
    Jun 4, 2005
    Location:
    Williamsville NY
    I’ve had more success with NOS and used, old tubes than new production tubes. I generally get longer life from them and get closer to the tone and characteristics I want.
     
    mad dog and uriah1 like this.
  11. Bob M

    Bob M Tele-Afflicted Ad Free Member

    Posts:
    1,474
    Joined:
    May 11, 2011
    Location:
    North of Boston
    I actually sold off a couple of older Ampegs because of the availability and costs of tubes. The preamp tubes were 6BK11 and 6C10. To re-tube the amps were probably more than the amps were worth. The Reverberocket I had used a 6U10 to drive the reverb. I bought a bunch of NOS versions and all were flawed. The contemporary amps I'm using now are not unique, but they are at least easy to get parts and tubes for.
     
    bobk, SnidelyWhiplash and tubelectron like this.
  12. MrGibbly

    MrGibbly Tele-Afflicted

    Posts:
    1,376
    Joined:
    Apr 19, 2014
    Location:
    SATX
    Honestly, I can't hear a difference but that is likely just a limitation of my senses and/or my skill in listening. I do find that they last a really long time. I've never had to replace a preamp tube in my SFVR and it's older than I am. I don't actively shop for NOS tubes but I have a bit of an "inventory" from when my grandfather (who gigged the SFVR for years) passed. I only use them in the vintage Fender. For my Mesa Boogie, I just order the exact replacement part from them and have been perfectly satisfied with sound and life expectancy. :)
     
  13. archetype

    archetype Fiend of Leo's

    Posts:
    3,508
    Joined:
    Jun 4, 2005
    Location:
    Williamsville NY
    Help me understand the brand preference with NOS rectifier tubes. I understand specific makers and military or industrial tube types when going for longest life and reliability. I don’t understand brand preference for normal tube types.

    It’s a rectifier. E.g. A 5Y3 has standard specs and there should be no sonic difference in a circuit. Why would a person prefer an RCA, GE, Mullard, Sylvania, etc.?
     
  14. Milspec

    Milspec Friend of Leo's

    Posts:
    4,073
    Joined:
    Feb 15, 2016
    Location:
    Nebraska
    I no longer swear by them....swear at them. We have reached a point in history where those vintage tubes are getting used up (at least the good ones) and we are just picking marginal tubes from what is left in the supply. The last 6 vintage I purchased from a very well known tube supplier all tested NOS and 4 out of the 6 went microphonic right out of the box. Of the 2 that didn't, 1 just failed last night with less than 40 hours of usage. The remaining one seems fine, but hard to do much with just one tube.

    So, for me, I am done buying vintage tubes and will just adapt to modern tube offerrings.
     
    Bob M and beyer160 like this.
  15. ronzhd

    ronzhd Tele-Holic

    Posts:
    543
    Joined:
    Nov 16, 2008
    Location:
    Spring, Texas
    The only qualification I have on this topic is experience. Personally, I carry spares for whatever amp I'm using. Most spares have come from friends giving them to me while they are on that "retube" kick, or I stumble across a good deal on line. So buying "matched" or "NOS" much less anything else has never appealed to me, as I cannot hear the difference. As long as I have a replacement for the tube that fails..... no worries, I'm good to go. More times than not..... it's a Groove Tube EL84.
     
  16. Jerry J

    Jerry J Tele-Afflicted

    Posts:
    1,605
    Joined:
    Mar 25, 2003
    Location:
    NoVa
    so why can't an american (or any western country for that matter) invest the money to make high quality audio tubes for the vintage market? I know all the answers why not already, so don't bombard me with them... but if tom styer or mike bloomberg can spend $millions in their campaigns, surely they can spend a fraction of that helping us musicians and audiophiles. couldn't they?
     
    Obsessed, Rick330man and drlucky like this.
  17. Norris Vulcan

    Norris Vulcan Tele-Holic

    Posts:
    704
    Joined:
    Aug 7, 2015
    Location:
    Somerset, UK, Europe
    When I got my 1964 AC30 back in the '80s it had old yellow-print Mullards in it, which I presume to be original or near to it. I'm still using them now, sounding great. The rectifier tube went in about 1998.
    Why won't someone just clone the old construction ? I'd pay for them.
     
  18. mojavedesert

    mojavedesert TDPRI Member

    Posts:
    35
    Joined:
    Apr 6, 2018
    Location:
    Joshua Tree, CA
    I got myself a 70's Twin Reverb recently. It had a mesa quartet and JJ's in pre stage. It also had a distinctive hum and a not good, thin nasal sound. At least for a twin it was a big disapointment, I thought I had made a big mistake, I had to trade some good gear to get the amp. I now owned battleship anchor that sounded like crap. I took all the tubes out and I put in some NOS tubes I had been saving up. I put a 1958 ax7 mullard in the rectifier. Two 1958 usa Tung Sols in the output sockets. I left out the other two power tubes for lower power (it's still incredibly loud, more than I'll ever need.) Took out the 8ohm Fender Concerts and put in two 16 ohm vintage CTS speakers... anywho... I used some other 1979, 7027's in the other pre amp positions. I put in a Telfunken Au7 in the reverb output. The JJ ax7 tube was way too aggressive and would squeal at 4, with the new tube, it smoothed out, the reverb became usable and deep on the whole dial. The amp is dead quiet now, it sound's amazing, the tone is beautiful, I love it now, it's worth it's weight in gold. Tubes make a huge difference!
     
    That Cal Webway likes this.
  19. alathIN

    alathIN Tele-Holic

    Age:
    54
    Posts:
    721
    Joined:
    Oct 25, 2017
    Location:
    Indiana
    I have heard differences in different tubes, but in my limited experience NOS is not necessarily better. Of all the tube swapping I've done (which isn't a lot) the only times I've found a noticeable difference in tone have been:
    1) I liked a new production tung-sol 12ax7 better than a NOS RCA in the first preamp tube position of my Vox-style amp build
    2) I preferred an old Russian military tube to a NOS Amperex Bugle Boy EF 86 in the other preamp channel of my Vox-style amp build
    3) I preferred electro-harmonix 12Ax7s to the unlabelled Chinese tubes in my AC4

    I'm sure it's possible if I spent thousand$ on a selection of US/European NOS tubes and hours changing them out and comparing I'd probaly eventually find some combination that I preferred... but it's hard to imagine being a difference of such magnitude to justify the time and money I put into it.

    This will be a very contrary opinion - and it's not mine - but there is a tube amp repair guy in my area who has a strong national reputation and his take is that most of people's reaction to NOS tubes is just that they're new - and he puts JJs in everything unless the customer supplies something else. He's had tons of customers come in thrilled with the sound of their amps and astounded when they learn he used cheap tubes.

    I'm not sure the "lasts longer" thing is really all that meaningful. If you just put fresh JJs in on a regular basis, you could easily replace before any likelihood of a tube failing and still be lower cost than NOS.
     
    Milspec likes this.
  20. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

    Age:
    60
    Posts:
    17,765
    Joined:
    Mar 2, 2010
    Location:
    Maine
    Good question, and a good vintage US or UK 5ar4/ gz34 is over a hundred bucks and sells instantly.
    For this reason I've got no love for tube rectifiers any more!
    As far as hearing the sound of "NOS": I'd challenge anyone to "hear" a tube rectifier next to a SS rectified amp designed without dependence on power supply sag for compression.
    I can fer certain hear a difference when switching from a gz34 to a 5y3 in an amp that can use eiter, because the 5y3 drops operating voltages which basically cuts treble and bass.
    Or swap an gz34 into a BF Fender spec'd for a 5u4 and you might burn up some parts.
    Similarly a 5u4 draws more (IIRC?) heater voltage and could burn out that winding in the PT if the amp is spec'd for fewer amps on the heater winding. Again, IIRC, lotta specs get mixed up in this old brain!

    Also WRT buying the right rec tube, early Sovtek gz34 labeled tubes were reputedly not a true gz34, and failed to supply on spec voltage in a circuit.
    The last thing might be that when your rectifier fails your amp is dead, and you can't hear a worn mushy tone when a rec tube is gettin' old, like you can with preamp and power tubes.
     
    tubelectron likes this.
IMPORTANT: Treat everyone here with respect, no matter how difficult!
No sex, drug, political, religion or hate discussion permitted here.


  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.