Change your tubes!
One of the biggest determining factors of your tube amp tone is the tubes. Think of your amp as a car and the tubes the tires. Without tubes, an amp can’t do anything. Much like how old worn down tires affect your car’s performance (and safety), old tubes will affect the performance/tone of your guitar amp. Though there is no specific time recommendation on when to change them, there are tail-tail signs that you will hear.
Excessive noises like hums or hisses are a huge one. Sometimes people even find their amp experiencing a loss treble or their higher frequencies. If you have a “muddy” low end or you experience a lack of clarity then it may be time to look under the hood to change them. Also, if your amp doesn’t work you may want to look at it’s main fuse and the tubes. One of the most common reasons a tube amp doesn’t work is simply a bad/blown tube.
Types of tubes:
Tube amps mainly have 2 different types of tubes: Power Amp and Pre-Amp. (We are not going to talk about reverb or other types of supplementary tubes)
Pre-Amp tubes do exactly what their name implies; they pre-amplify the signal from you guitar to to be taken by the power tubes. Your EQ is ran through these tubes.
Power amp tubes take the pre-amp signal and then amplify it. Typically the more you crank your amp volume wise, the more the power amp tube affects your overall tone. The more it’s cranked the louder and more “broken up” the tone gets. This is part of the struggle between you and your sound guy. You want that beautiful tone, he wants you to stop being so darn loud so he can actually control the stage volume!
Much like the tonal difference of changing your guitar strings, you will notice an instant difference by changing out your tubes if they are needing it. Depending on your amp you can even experiment with various types of power amp and pre-amp tubes. Some tubes are made to give you more “break up” at lower volumes while others give you TONS of clean headroom. There are tubes that focus on having a heavy duty build quality while others are more fragile offering unparalleled tonal characteristics. I say have fun with it, but don’t get sucked into the trap of buying too many tubes to experiment with as that can quickly get expensive. If you have a tube hungry amp like a Mesa Boogie Triple Rectifier, it will take 11 tubes just to replace the power and pre-amp section!
How do I change tubes?
When changing your tubes I’d recommend looking at your amp’s user manual or doing a quick web search for your specific amp. That being said, here are a few tips you should take to heart.
- NEVER change your tubes with the amp plugged in and NEVER change your tubes without discharging your amp. If you don’t know how to discharge your amp properly and safely then have a professional do it. This is a quick way to meet Jesus unintentionally as the voltage can kill you!
- Don’t be too rough with the tube you are putting in. It’s glass and it can break.
- Don’t touch the new tube with your bare fingers. Use gloves or a clean rag to handle the tube. The natural oil from your fingers will rub off onto the tube and could burn through it as tubes get very hot.
- Change all power amp tubes at the same time to have equal wear and consistent tone.
Once you change your tubes you will be all set in having back your great tone. Stay tuned for more tips and tricks of making your electric guitar tone rock in your worship!
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