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Tech says tubes can't change amp sound

Discussion in 'Amp Tech Center' started by Twanginator, Sep 25, 2013.

  1. harleysr

    harleysr Former Member

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    Eh, maybe not....

    I think this statement oversimplifies and overlooks the fundamental impact that tube swaps can have on an amp. Given the minutiae that we all anguish over, the word "minor", in the context of tonal variation, should be used sparingly.

    The tube complement in an amp establishes part of the tonal/response framework that it will have to offer. It is true that tone controls, cables, speakers and moon phase will also have an impact, but my experience leads me to believe that tube choices make a substantial difference. I don't think the subject is anywhere near as speculative as, say, how well a guitar breathes affecting its tone. This isn't voodoo. Beyond the masses of subjective opinions based on listening tests, these things have been scoped and scientifically documented.

    I was under the impression that a few dB, gain difference, harmonic content and frequency response were all considered rather critical around here. They certainly are to me.



    Deterioration due to aging notwithstanding, tubes are a constant. Where you stand, the electrical wall behind your amp and the phase of the moon aren't.

    You're quoting someone else, there, so I can't speak to the statement about Tung-Sols. What I can tell you is that when I replaced the generic Chinese tubes in one of my amps with higher quality tubes (including a fallacious NOS RCA), the improvements in tone, smoothness and note separation were neither questionable nor subtle.

    There may be a fine line between some of these things and cork sniffing, (assuming that cork sniffing is necessarily bad). I'll grant that some of the things we quibble over do smack of voodoo, but my feeling is that the role of a tube in the fundamental tone and response of an amp most certainly does not fall into that category. But, as I say below....
     
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  2. JD0x0

    JD0x0 Poster Extraordinaire

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    Your tech is mistaken or he is giving you a generalized opinion, because people try to bring in their Marshalls and put 6L6's in to make it more 'fender-y' or bringing in fenders to put in EL34's to make it more 'Marshall-y' in this respect, he'd be right, as it a tube change wont make a Fender into a Marshall and Visa versa. But to say tube changes have ZERO effect on tone is just plain wrong.

    The amp I play with has adjustable bias and I have been able to run everything from 5881's, 6L6's from multiple manufactures, EL34's and even KT88's. The KT88's have the best tone IMO, for my setup, and there was definitely a difference in character between every tube change. The 5881's lost headroom, over the 6L6's but sounded tighter and more compressed in the bass. 6L6's sound a bit loose in the bass and have chimey high end. EL34's have more midrange, tighter bass, and overall more balanced tone than the 6L6's. The KT88's sound like 'bigger' EL34's still very balanced, but more headroom, smoother, and fatter bass.

    Then there's all the different 12AX7's I played with for the drive channel. All of them that I've tried gave the tone a slightly different character. JJ's were a bit dark and boomy, yet not very smooth sounding, kind of 'fizzy'. Tungsols, sounded both smoother and brighter. I also tried NOS tubes such as Ei, and RCA which both had great tone.

    Changing tubes absolutely has effect on tone, some amps are more sensitive than others. My amp circuit, a 80's Dumble ODS clone, seems fairly sensitive to tube changes, much more sensitive than my Hiwatt or Fenders. Anyone who says tubes have no effect on tone are misinformed.
     
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  3. Bartholomew3

    Bartholomew3 Friend of Leo's

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    I just changed the Chinese tubes in an Ibanez TSA15 head. Put in JJ 6V6 power tubes for head-room plus I tried a combination of 1968 RCA 7025 along with a Telefunken 12AX7 plus a couple of other RTT German made 12AX7 tubes.

    The RCA won the contest along with RTT ( have no idea who made them but they're great), Telefunken long-plate was pretty good also. One of these days I'll switch over the JJ pre-amp tubes from my twin just to hear the difference.

    Definitely changed what comes out of the amp for the better...more mellow & musical.

    The Chinese tubes were silent and had good top-end cut - probably would be preferred by metal players but sucked for jazz & blues - too hard sounding.
     
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  4. Gnobuddy

    Gnobuddy Friend of Leo's

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    Sure, but you can get those things with a minor (free, zero cost) adjustment to the gain, volume and tone controls, which are actually designed to produce exactly those changes that you're looking for.

    Or you can try to get there with a $50 swap to a NOS tube, with no guarantee you'll get what you want. So what logical reason is there to go that route?

    Bill M. said it, most tube swaps have at most the same effect as a minor adjustment to the tone controls.
    I believe you misunderstand; moving two feet to the side, especially in a small room, can change your sound more than any tube swap. So what's the point of an expensive swap that isn't even audible because it's completely swamped by other bigger effects? It's the equivalent of glueing a fruit-fly onto the roof of a race car, hoping the tiny fly will make the car faster. Sadly, a single drop of dew on the car will have a thousand times more effect than the poor little fruit-fly.
    So you were part of a controlled double-blind test with a large panel of subjects?

    If not, then your conclusions most certainly are questionable. This is not an insult, it's just the way human perception works. Our ears and brains are incredibly unreliable as measuring instruments. There has been a ton of research on this over many decades, and there is no disputing it.

    Let me give you just one tiny example of how flawed our hearing is. If I hold two flashlights ten feet in front of you, one five feet to your left, one five feet to your right, your eyes will clearly tell you you're seeing two lights, not one, correct? But if I do the exact same thing with two identical loudspeakers and feed both of them the exact same audio signal, you'll hear a single mono sound right in front of you!

    That's how flawed our hearing is - riddled with limitations that come from the way our brains process and interpret the signals from our ears. Those limitations are wired right into our DNA and our audio hardware (ears) as well as our signal processors (brains), and there's no way to get around them, any more than you can intentionally see through a good optical illusion, even when you know it's an illusion.

    I'm sure you can find a tube so bad (defective) that you can hear the effect - old worn-out tubes, for instance. Beyond that, well, tube swapping is probably mostly subjective fun, no more, no less.

    Of course we don't have to agree...it's a big universe, with plenty of room in it for divergent opinions.

    -Gnobuddy
     
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  5. harleysr

    harleysr Former Member

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    Not so. Certainly, you can't believe that using the tone controls is going to give you precisely the same changes in characteristics a different tube will. With all due respect, that's absurd. For better or worse, they are completely different and the expectation has no basis in logic.

    We will have to disagree here, my friend.

    I have enormous respect for Bill and have used his mods.

    When I began to play music, LBJ was President;) While I may have slept through a few classes and make no claim to be particularly bright, I did manage to pick up two (maybe three) things along the way. If we're going to descend into bad analogies, your statement that tweaking a tone knob is identical to a tube swap is like suggesting that my car's passenger door will fit my driver's door, inasmuch as they belong on the same car;)

    You're a sharp guy and I agree with you on many things, but this is ridiculous.

    Audiophiles, engineers and gearheads have been doing shootouts for decades. The evidence is there. Granted, it, like everything else has a large subjective component, but that was what God made oscilloscopes for, wasn't it?

    Scopes, graphs and waveforms are compelling evidence to most of us. Are you being intentionally obtuse?

    Actually, that is a function of our echo-locating abilities. Do we want to begin a discussion of evolution and physiology?

    Roger that. It's been fun. I will leave the last word to you. One of us has to get off this treadmill;)
     
  6. MickM

    MickM Friend of Leo's Platinum Supporter

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    I've made similar posts. The best/easiest way to tell if differen't brand tubes sound different. is use a Champ type circuit like you describe. 1 pre amp tube and 1 power tube. If you don't hear a difference, buy the cheap new stuff!
     
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  7. Bartholomew3

    Bartholomew3 Friend of Leo's

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    The differences in the vintage tubes I've used are negligible and I can barely tell one good brand from another but settled on RCA as they seemed the best.

    But the "feel" is totally different from modern Chinese tubes plus they are just more mellow in my amp...ymmv.

    I also changed the speaker which made a huge difference. In the end nobody cares as long as it works well.
     
  8. rokdog49

    rokdog49 Friend of Leo's

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    I believe there are differences. Having said that, changing the speaker(s) will have a more profound effect on the sound of any individual amp.I have done that, matching my DRRI witha a Weber vs. a stock Jensen side by side. If you think, not go to you-tube and listen to the comparisons that are available on 10 or twelve different brands and types of speakers. It's pretty eye-opening.
    A higher quality tube will no doubt probably last longer and sound different.
    From what little I know and it ain't much, the amps' circuit also has a lot to do with what it sounds like. Why else would there be so many different ones?
    Here's someplace you can go for comparisons of just some various power tubes
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CXRhWqNlcNs
    judge for yourself
     
  9. MrCairo46

    MrCairo46 Friend of Leo's Gold Supporter

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    I'll bet that guy will also say changing the jewel lite on you amp doesnt impact tone either Geeezzzz...
    I'm looking for a vintage blue light
     
  10. harleysr

    harleysr Former Member

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    Great clip

    The differences, with one or two exceptions, were subtle to negligible. Still, there were some. I have found, generally, that I note more impact from preamp tube swaps than OP tube swaps, but that's just my experience.

    I have no argument with anyone's statement that a speaker swap will have a greater impact on the overall sound than a tube swap, but I have no doubts about whether the tubes impact the tone. It's cumulative. Everything matters, except the jewel light, that is;)

    I'm waiting for someone to bring up Tolex.......... Personally, I prefer the sound of purple.
     
  11. chabby

    chabby Friend of Leo's

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    Everything inside your amp effects tone, down to the wire.
    But for the every day non tech guy, nothing can change tone more than changing tube brands and when appropriate, even tube types. In lieu of that changing speakers and cabs has an amazingly influential effect on tone.

    All sorts of trickery can be done with speakers and if you know what you're doing, tubes too. Like putting a GZ34 on place of the 5y3 in a SF champ for example.
    Or changing rectifiers completely is a way to effect tone. but, now I'm getting way off the places that anyone but a qualified tech would want to go.

    So don't do any of the above yourself unless you really know all the safety and engineering of Tube amps, or anything else run by high voltage, as it can kill you.
    Changing tube brands has some amazing affects on tone, especially preamp tubes.
    But IMHO there's not too many good EL34's these days, compared to what there used to be. In fact, there's probably only one or two brands I'd ever buy.

    But not all power tubes run the same way, or are built the same way, therefore none of them sound alike really. Always best to get a matched set even if running pairs, or quads ideally. Tubes effect your tone enough so much that I've been building fail safe rectifiers for my amps lately, so in the middle of playing and your rectifier dies, it just switches to solid state diodes. Had that happen and couldn't even tell the difference on a GZ34 powered EL84x2 amp I slapped together from some great old iron I had layin around. The more I think about things that effect tone that is as large as tubes and speakers, is the amount of DC power coming off the rectifier, then the circuitry from Dials and the way each preamp tube's feeds are built, or how much voltage each pin on preamp tubes are fed and how they are fed that voltage(eg.,design, resistors, capacitors, wires, connectors . Why does a Tweed Deluxe Sound the way it does versus any other 6V6 amp? Because of the tone circuitry in the preamp. Even the grounding inside the amplifier effects tone. How can tubes not have a major effect on tone when they power the amp itself after the Power Transformer converts AC to DC? You ever open an old Marshall or Fender amp and look at the preamp wires inside running from its preamp board?
    Depending on the vintage of amp, the wires will be cloth or plastic covered. but more importantly, the designer even has to consider where the heater wires go, as well as, all the rest of those wires running to each pin on the preamp tubes. The tubes and wires are where they are for the reasons of tone, because they could be crisscrossed any old way and sound like crap. Each aspect of amp design and layout, even components used inside it, dramatically effect tone. That's why to this day with all our amazing and advanced technology, we still can't capture the real tones and essence of anything but the real tube amps themselves. Everything built in this world today is designed to be thrown away, then replaced. Not so back in the good old days when we built things here in the good ol USA. We built thing to be easily serviced and last as close to forever as a thing could be made. That's why I love old amps and cars pre computer built. I have a 1990 truck and just missed the good old carbed ones buy a year or two. Still, my truck is young enough to get parts for and simple enough to repair. Now you open the hood and you're lucky if you can even see what resembles an engine-LOL.

    But back to amp tone:

    Some might even say Transformers effect tone even more than tubes, both PT"S and OT's all else equal. The quality on those probably varies more than any single component on an amp, even sometimes, on the same make and model. Kind of like the Pickups can have a major effect on guitar tone. And God knows none of them are made equal. A lot of tube amp tone is engineering, but somewhere in there engineering meets actual art. Because there's artistic input even in the engineering of the circuit and every component in it. Trainwreck Amps and Dumbles aren't so expensive because an EE designed them, but that degree may have helped them understand ciruitry so well, they could shape it through design. That's where art meets technical know-how. I'm amazed at what the guys did with tube engineering back when they powered everything audio, it's some of the most amazing technology in human evolution.

    Of course tubes effect tone, people don't shell out 150 buck for an nos GZ34 for nothing, or nos 6V6's of several brands I won't mention. We not only lost much of those engineers machinery after that generation of EE's quit, we lost much of their artistry too. That's what makes tube amps so damn cool! But it's cool because discovering the art of working with tubes can be done by anyone, had they the desire. I still remember what living in a world where almost everything was built to be easily repaired and simple. What's funny is almost all of it can still be found somewhere, you could outfit everything in your house on all that repairable stuff. but you'd have to hunt high and low. It's kind of fun to imagine how much of that old repairable, non throw away stuff can still be found. Cell phones have to be worst, (or best depending upon how you look at it) violator and market geared for throw away. Actually that could be said about the tech market as a whole. That's why they are the richest cats next to the oil and bank industries-LOL!
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2013
  12. alathIN

    alathIN Tele-Holic

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    Thread Resurrection - just another opinion

    There's a well known tube amp guru here in Indy who has helped me with a couple of minor issues. He does some drooliciouis restorations.

    His take on tube differences is that 99% of the differences people hear are a "new tubes" effect. People love the new tubes they put in their amp because they're fresh.

    My guess is that people bring amps in that have more problems than just needing new tubes. He puts in a new output transformer, cleans all the pots, replaces a scratchy jack, re-solders a connection that was iffy, cleans out all the dirt, re-cones a blown speaker, tightens the loose screws on the other speaker, and puts in new tubes - and the customer says "WOW these tubes sound AMAZING!" regardless of what tubes he used.
    When you're doing major amp surgery all the time, the differences between tubes probably do seem trivial.
     
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  13. skunqesh

    skunqesh Tele-Holic

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    A good thread to read - thanks for the refresh!

    And well said - about maintenance. I've revived a few amps over the years by simply cleaning the pots, retensioning the sockets, and cleaning the jack. In my limited experience - installing new filter caps did wonders to clean up the sound.

    After a repair or update there are too many variables changed at once to pinpoint as the source of the improvment.

    On the topic - I recently swapped out a quad of Sovteks for a Mesa Boogie branded (matched) set of 6L6's in an old Peavey (solid state preamp) - I hear much better sustain on the Mesa tubes. It originally had a set of Sylvanias, which were very clean and bright, as well, but lacked 'bite' on the gain setting. My 2c - they're all old sets of tubes. Can't say if it's a manufacturing difference, or age?


    The #1 way to improve tone? Change yer (filthy, crusted, nasty old) strings! :lol:
     
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  14. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Telefied Ad Free Member

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    I was gonna ask if the JCM900 in question ever gets turned up to the point where the power tubes distort and you hear a difference between KT77 and el34.

    But that was more than five years ago so I'll skip it.

    I can certainly hear a difference between el34 and KT88 power tubes, even at clean volume!
     
  15. wanderin kind

    wanderin kind Tele-Meister

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    the drummer makes more difference than the tubes, :)
     
  16. DrBGood

    DrBGood Tele-Holic

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    Nice catchy phrase. Almost tempted to order half a dozen in a brown waxed paper bag :rolleyes:
     
  17. robrob

    robrob Poster Extraordinaire Ad Free Member

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    I haven't read the thread but in response to the op I'd say get a new tech.
     
  18. Paul Jenkin

    Paul Jenkin Friend of Leo's

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    To be clear, I know little to nothing on this topic. However, if tubes can't change the amp sounds, why aren't we all using the same tubes?
     
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  19. savofenno

    savofenno Tele-Afflicted

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    I swapped V1 pre-amp tube from JJ ECC83 to TAD 7025 and there was much bigger difference to better tone than i had imagined before. Treble became warmer and much more open & sweeter, i got a new amp tonally, so yes, right tube swap can definitely be heard!
    My amp is Ampeg GVT 52-212, speakers are factory Celestion Seventy 80 and swapped in Jensen P12R.

    I maybe test it swapping even factory Sovtek 6L6`s to something else, maybe TAD even there.
     
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2018
  20. Floyd Eye

    Floyd Eye Tele-Meister

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    I'd say that's pretty obvious to anyone. Not really something you need to be an amp tech to know.

    For a tech to say that changing tubes has zero effect on the sound or tone of an amp as a blanket statement definitely has me wondering about their competency.
     
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