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NOS Tubes: your favorites and go-to sources

Discussion in 'Shock Brother's DIY Amps' started by JamesAM, Nov 4, 2020.

  1. JamesAM

    JamesAM Tele-Meister

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    I'm on the hunt for NOS 6v6s, and the prices for some of these that I've seen are outrageous. $100 for a single black base RCA seems insane to me, and $59 for a random branded JAN seems just as crazy. That's 3x the cost of new production EHes.

    I thought I would do a little survey here to crowdsource some more data on tubes.

    - What are your all's favorite NOS 6V6?

    - Do you have a source you're willing to divulge? If so, would you mind sharing?

    - What is the correct price for a good vintage NOS 6V6?

    - What is the maximum you would pay for a good vintage NOS 6V6?

    Thanks!
     
  2. theprofessor

    theprofessor Poster Extraordinaire

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    As you know, the correct price is, technically, what someone will pay. Each of us has our limits and our opinions about what is reasonable. I'm going to be on the lower side of things when I think of "reasonable." As for a good source who warrantees his stuff and who even sells some lightly used stuff on ebay, I cannot recommend Brent Jessee highly enough. Some of his prices can be very very high, but he also has various "butt ugly" tubes and some slightly used stuff that he sells on the 'bay that are great, if all you're looking for is functionality. Look up the seller "brentjes" on ebay.

    One way to do 6V6's is to get various singles and try to match them yourself. That can be expensive, though, because they all add up. And you'll rarely get a closely matched pair out of a stash of singles. That's why I think it's worth it to get tubes that are already matched and that are matched on good equipment. That is, stuff either matched at operative voltages in an amplifier or matched on a Curve Tracer or something like Brent does. "Matching" on a standard tube tester is ridiculous. It means nothing except that the tubes won't likely explode.

    There are other great sellers like Mike Kropotkin at KCA NOS Tubes or Gregg at Hi Test. I have shopped the 'bay long enough to have found some deals but also long enough to know that not everything that glitters is gold. It's worth it to me to pay a bit extra for good, solid, well tested tubes.

    If we're talking about single 6V6's, well that's easy. Just get various ones from tube sellers on ebay, and then adjust the current with the resistor in the amp or whatever.

    As for my favorite 6V6's, that's a long story. And it's pretty amp-dependent. But I do like vintage American: Ken-Rad, Sylvania, RCA, Tung-Sol. Some of the new-production tubes like JJ's or the stuff from New Sensor (EHX or "Tung-Sol") can sound pretty good, but the problem is durability. I wouldn't push those much with high voltages. I do not trust new-production power tubes, though I'm sure there are some that work just fine in fairly extreme conditions.
     
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2020
  3. King Fan

    King Fan Poster Extraordinaire Ad Free Member

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    What @theprofessor says -- he really knows tubes.

    If you want known-accurate testing, or matching, or at least a guarantee, you *will* have to spend some money. I agree about KCA NOS tubes and Brent Jessee; I've had some good luck with Viva tubes. IIRC they have 'ANOS' tubes that can save you money.

    'Favorite' may be subjective, as is 'correct' price or 'maximum.'

    So just a few general tips.

    1. Make sure you can hear the difference before you keep paying for it -- many folks are perfectly happy with new production tubes, like EH -- even JJs which are not actually 6V6 in construction. Even more likely, you may not be able to sniff out the difference between a $100 RCA and a no-name 6V6.
    2. Sure, RCA and the other top brands are expensive -- but if you study up, you can learn the signs that tell you a 'Motorola' or 'Delco' or other rebrand was actually made by RCA or Sylvania or...
    3. Make sure you can evaluate the bias match (and ease of bias) -- as above, their 'testing' may not mean tubes are actually well matched, or will bias up reasonably in your amp.
    4. Unmatched tubes can sound pretty decent, up to a point. I've had some luck with eBay pairs that aren't actually 'matched' per se. But I also have a few pairs where one just wasn't up to the job, or the mismatch was too severe.
     
  4. VintageSG

    VintageSG Friend of Leo's Ad Free Member

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    I paid £10 each for two mid 1940's JAN Sylvania 6V6 NOS examples. They sound no better and no worse than the Reflektor 6P6S examples I've got. They were around £5 each, and I've got examples from every decade of production. I strongly suspect the reason they sound so similar to the Sylvania examples is due to their largely similar construction. Whatever, they're awesome in my Champ-a-likes and pretty darn good in the living room amp ( usually uses 6P1P-EV but via an adaptor, it can use 6V6 types too )
    I'd hesitate to run them at crazy high voltages though.
    Of modern production, the JJ 6V6S is a little 'meh' in my Champ-a-like. A pair of them in my Cub 10, and biased correctly sound ruddy glorious!. The Ruby valves the Cub came with didn't inspire, nor did they inspire in the living room amp. They're the magnolia wall with white ceiling of valves.
    There's no need to pay a fortune. Bide your time, scour Ebay and other online places. Look for old radios, radiograms, projectors etc and find out what they have in them. Some gems can be had that way.
    For Soviet valves, I use Ebay, Rutubes and a few others for all my obscure little glow-orbs.
     
  5. J. Bonkosky

    J. Bonkosky Tele-Meister Silver Supporter

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    I prefer GE 6V6GT and 6V6GTA tubes. I like them because they are inexpensive,common, sound better than any of the newer offerings (opinion), and are far more durable than most new or Old brands (in my experience). You can find NOS and good used tubes on eBay, reverb, etc... You can pick up a NOS pair of GEs for about the same price as a new pair of EH 6V6gt. And they will probably last 4x as long. Enjoy your search.
     
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  6. 57fenderstrat

    57fenderstrat Tele-Holic

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    I have purchased from KCA and tube depot and both times everything was fine.

    I bought a matched pair of 1940s RCA 6v6 from KCA a year or two back, paid $115 for the pair. That is the most I would personally want to pay but I didn’t mind splurging because I wanted to try the NOS thing and my tweed deluxe doesn’t have many tubes to worry about.

    Playing with different combinations of NOS and new I settled on a mixture of both.

    New jj 12ay7, new gold lion 12ax7, NOS RCA 6v6, NOS 5y3.


    I was willing to pay more because I was frustrated with the noise floor of my amp. I wanted my tubes tested and selected to provide me with the best performance and more importantly the least aggravation.

    I guess it just depends on what your willing to pay and the time your willing to put into looking for them. I could have paid a whole lot less but I don’t have the knowledge or time to find something cheaper on my own and I don’t want to take a chance and spend money on some noisy old tubes.


    In my case it worked out because the amp is dead quiet now and sounds great. The NOS 5y3 made the most noticeable and pleasing change for me.

    Good luck
     
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  7. JamesAM

    JamesAM Tele-Meister

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    Thanks to everyone for taking the time to reply, I really appreciate it. I had never heard of vivatubes, but wow - I think I found my new go-to. That site is fantastic! I usually go through tubedepot, but it looks like vivatubes is a great alternative. KCA is actually right near me, so I might give them a call as well.

    Like a lot of 5e3s, mine runs a bit hot thanks to today's wall voltages - I don't trust the Tung Sols I have as they are redplating even at just over 100% dissipation (yes, even with a 12w rating, not 14w 6V6GT thresholds), and I wanted a change from the JJs I have in there now without sacrificing durability. I think some GEs hit my price point right on based on what I'm seeing.

    As always, the vast knowledge of this board has helped immensely! Thanks for your time!
     
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  8. Nickfl

    Nickfl Friend of Leo's

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    I could never bring myself to pay "reputable dealer" prices for NOS tubes. I source mine through buying ANOS and good used tubes on eBay whenever I can find them for less than I think they're worth and also by getting pulls out of old radios and such I find locally on Craigslist.

    There are no guarantees that way but I've almost never ended up with a bad tube aside from some microphonic octal preamp tubes which are just part of the game with those kind of tubes.

    I would rather have 20 unknown assorted 6v6 for $100 than pay that for two guaranteed good ones but some people feel differently and that's fair. But for what it's worth if you're buying the way I am I wouldn't pay more than $5 a piece for 6v6 or 5y3, 10-15 for 12ax7, and up to $20 for 6l6 types. There are no good deals to be had generally speaking on el84s El34s or 5ar4 tubes, though I have found a few el84 types in old radios and there is a very high quality very inexpensive Soviet equivalent that can be had very cheaply still and in fact has better specs than Western el84s.
     
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  9. burntfrijoles

    burntfrijoles Poster Extraordinaire

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    I'm always impressed by the sheer knowledge many on this forum possess. At the same time, I'm thankful for being blessed with cauliflower ears because I'm sure I could not tell the difference in my lowly amps and that's another rabbit hole I can avoid.:eek:
     
  10. tubelectron

    tubelectron Tele-Afflicted

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    I have a bunch of NOS 6V6GT from the French Army (RTC/CSF production) and 5992 from the USAF surplus (Bendix production), plus a few 6V6GTA from RCA (that were in the lot).;)

    I bought them for peanuts in the 90s, and the stock is wide enough for my amps over my (and their) death... :D

    Below, a 5992 in my COMET amp, along with a RTC 12AX7WA and a Brimar 5Y3GT :

    [​IMG]

    So where would I buy NOS tubes now ? I don't know... New production tubes, being from Russia, East Europe or China are now consistent - I use them too with success ! :cool:

    Below a set of EH tubes : 2x12AX7 and 6V6GTA in my Orient-Express amp :

    [​IMG]

    And NOS doesn't imply Good Old Stock... o_O

    But it's me OK ? :D

    -tbln.
     
  11. dickey

    dickey Friend of Leo's

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    You know what? I don't think anyone can really hear ANY difference between tube brands. I have never been able to, even after pulling out old tubes & replacing with fresh, and I have a good ear & perfect pitch. I think it's all psychological. I'd like to see someone pass a blindfold test.
     
  12. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Telefied Ad Free Member

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    My five or six main amps are cathode biased and I swap pre and power tubes around until I like what I hear.

    I prefer bad sellers over experts with websites.
    Just got these, lot of 15 tested new looking 6v6 for $5.40 each.
    Some are date matched pairs but not matched for current draw, and most are to my eye not used pulls.
    Virtually every one of my cathode biased amps is running date matched seemingly NOS vintage tubes that sound great and cost me less than current production Chinese or Russian tubes.
    One amp does run old EI Yugo but the rest are 50s & 60s.
    That’s my general method!
    YMMV!
     
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  13. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Telefied Ad Free Member

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    57116450-CC55-4D11-8DC6-6208590AEAEA.jpeg Sorry here’s the snapshot of my $6.00 tubes
     
  14. tubelectron

    tubelectron Tele-Afflicted

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    Yes, I agree. Rather than the brand, it's the tube parameters and condition that can bring a noticeable tonal difference, notably when close or pushed into overdrive.

    For example, a tube with a tight vacuum will sound "harder" at onset of clipping than a soft vacuum tube.

    This is not new : that phenomenon was already well known in the 20s, where lower vacuum tubes were prefered for regeneration and super-regeneration receiver detectors, because of their higher sensivity.

    -tbln
     
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  15. JamesAM

    JamesAM Tele-Meister

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    I feel like I should probably reiterate that I was asking this not on the basis of sound, but on the basis of durability.

    I’m sure the JJs I have now will be durable, but they’re not a real 6v6 and don’t sound like my other tubes. And I agree, there likely isn’t much of a sound difference between two True 6v6s- but again, the JJs are not a real 6v6.

    One pair of new production 6v6s (tung sol) I have redplate at 100% dissipation, which means their life will be drastically shortened if I continue using them. The nos pair I have (Marconi) are slightly microphonic but sound similar to the tung sol to me. neither Sound like the JJs, especially with the gain up.

    So I’d prefer looking for a military grade tube that will last longer in my amp. Hence, my solicitation for advice here.
     
  16. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Telefied Ad Free Member

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    The other (hilarious) factor is that we can compare something like GE, RCA and Sylvania, but they all came from the same factory on the same day and are identical. I'd bet the majority of US tube production was actually branded with either other tube manufacturers or with electronics equipment manufacturers.
    Not 100% sure of that but most amp makers like Magnavox, Lowry, Hammond, Fender etc bought tubes with their own names on them. Plus if GE needed to ship 20,000 tubes and was short, they called up RCA and ordered enough rebranded tubes to fill the GE order. Etc etc and vice versa..

    There are even lots of British tubes with US brands.
    Not sure many US tubes sold in the EU got British branding though?

    Not talking about all the current production Russian tubes with British brand names on them.
     
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  17. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Telefied Ad Free Member

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    Hard to say what tubes will sell for tomorrow but my feeling is GE has the best bang for the buck in terms of not being top of the Holy Grail list but being built as good as it gets.
     
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  18. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Telefied Ad Free Member

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    I have a NOS pair of Tung Sol 6v6 and a RI pair, they really sound pretty similarly not very bright/ hard/ clean/ snappy.
    But the real ones will last longer and not have a gradually deteriorating sound in a comparatively short time.

    But I'm comparing in a cathode biased amp where they must draw a little different current so the bias influences the sound.
     
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  19. schmee

    schmee Doctor of Teleocity

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    I've been selling my stash for a month or two now. Getting some unbelievable prices which I never expected.

    Generally if tubes test high, I dont see a difference between NOS and OS.
    NOS or OS tubes vary a lot. I have/had some RCA 6V6's that biased all over the map. Huge differences in them.
    When I sell power tubes I try to put them in an amp and select ones that bias pretty close.
    What really brings some money is pre tubes 12AX7's. I had no idea. I think people are crazy, I'm using mostly Mullard RI's and love them.
    The other interesting thing about pre tubes especially, is how they test from brand to brand. To me it's just an indicator of tube character and construction I guess. Generally, GE 12AX7's test the highest of any one out there. Coveted RCA's test lower but consistently there. I've just gone to describing them as how they test compared with a brand new modern tube. Otherwise, what does the testing mean? A Jackson tester may read 101 and a B&K may read 94. They are just numbers on a dial that dont relate to anything.

    My advice is to get them from a source that allows returns. Sellers, even the ones that give you all kinds of tube tester numbers, have no idea about noise etc. most of the time.
     
  20. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Telefied Ad Free Member

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    Yeah the test #s are misleading between preamp brands and also eras of the same type.

    So a Sylvania that's pretty well worn might test at a higher number than an RCA that's legit NOS and on spec for that production.

    Same with power tubes as far as I've observed with sellers of huge quantity that list or show test results.
    Personally I've never heard an RCA that made angels sing, same with Mullard and Telefunken.
    Certain 12ax7 have a distinct character while most to me are just consistent and make an amp sound like that amp is supposed to sound.
     
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