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  1. #1

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    There have been stories around the web today claiming Mike Mathews from Electro Harmonic says a major tube factory in China is shutting down.

    Tube amplifiers may be expensive to continue to operate. Tube prices may be increasing significantly.

    (How does the Gibson/ Mesa Boogie buy out look now? Will Gibson start converting Mesa Boogies to solid state?)

    If you have a tube amp, maybe you should build up your inventory now.

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  3. #2

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    Current production vacuum tubes (excluding low volume boutique tubes) have the past few years been produced in Slovakia (JJ), Russia and China (parhaps in more than one plant?). So if one is closed there are still two remaining.

    I think I found the article (or one of them) you are talking about:
    “There is a worldwide panic on availability of vacuum tubes”: EHX's Mike Matthews on the murky future of valve amps | Guitar.com | All Things Guitar

    so The big Shuguang factory in China was forced to move…" and the two remaining suppliers are getting more orders and struggling with keeping up with demand.
    "forced to move" sounds like it might reopen somewhere elese and this is a temporary situation. If not, the two remaining plants might be able to adjust to the increased permanent demand?

    On one hand you can think about youself and stock up on tubes, but if a large amount of consumers decide to do so, it might just make the temporary situation worse.

  4. #3

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    Economy and market rules dictate, there will be tubes if there is a need.

  5. #4

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    Tube suppies are always a weird thing. I remember getting rid of a Fender Princeton II in 1990, due to 6V6s not being readily available. For a year or two in the late 80s/early 90s Marshall ended up switching to 5881s (a version of the 6L6), due to the supply of EL34s (6CA7s) being a little dicey. Nowadays, as long as you don't mind ordering them online, you can find them pretty easily. Still, due to the manufacturing process not being the most efficient (tubes are assembled by hand [it's kind of difficult to assemble them roboticly, due to the components being relatively fragile]), and not very environmentally friendly, they are rather costly, when compared to other electronics components. It doesn't help that the market for them nowadays, is pretty small - just audiophiles, guitar players, and high powered radio applications (where it's cheaper by far to use a few a large triodes for multi-kilowatt transmitters, than lumping together/combining multiple solid state amplifiers to get the same amount of power).

    I've had a ham radio license for a long time. You think it's hard for audiophiles and guitar players to get tubes? Try getting them for vintage ham radios, and some high power amplifiers (1 kilowatt to 1.5 kilowatts [the legal power limit for ham radio operators in the USA]). All ham radio gear nowadays is solid state (with the exception of a goodly amount of amplifiers for doing higher powered radio applications), but up until the late 80s, many if not most of the radio transceivers used tubes in the final amplifier sections. The most common were 6146Bs (use two of them, and you can get 100 plus watts of power), and they're getting dicey supply-wise, with the Chinese ones being the only ones made nowadays, but IMO, they're nowhere near as good as the old US or Japanese made 6146Bs were. Ditto for 3-500, or 3CX1500 tubes to get a kilowatt or 1500 watts out of a radio amplifier - they can easily set you back several hundred to well over $1000 a piece, depending upon if you buy used (called "pulls" - for being pulled out of service in a working electronics device), or new (Eimac in the US, and Svetlana in Russia still make high power tubes). It gets even worse for vintage radios, that use tubes no longer made - especially if they use sweep tubes (which were originally made for use in the scanning/sweep circuits for creating pictures on your TV), which were a cheap way to get a lot of power, due to the tubes being readily available (you could buy replacements at your neighborhood Drug Store at one time). I've restored a couple of vintage ham radios that use sweep tubes, and put out 300 watts or so of power, and with sweep tubes being extinct for decades, I have to scour ham radio swap fests (called hamfests), or eBay for used sweep tube spares.

    The days of $10 tubes for both guitar amps, and radio applications are a thing of the past.
    Last edited by EllenGtrGrl; 08-03-2021 at 01:25 PM.

  6. #5

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    There is a recurrent theme around the death of tubes for guitar amplification every few years for the last 50 years. I am not moved by this one, either.

    Unless there is something wrong with your amp, tubes last a long time. I have a circa 1972 Fender Pro Reverb which still has the original preamp tubes, for Pete's sake. I replaced the power tubes about 25 years ago and probably didn't need to, but I thought Mesa branded tubes would be "better." Better than the original RCA's? I don't think so. My 5E3 was built about 10 years ago and still has the original tubes. I have the tube powered hi-fi that my parents bought in 1956; still has the original tubes and a glorious fat, warm sound.

    But, hey, panic buying is profitable for somebody.

  7. #6

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    Tube's will never go out of production. Their popularity is not diminishing even in the HI-FI world. Aside from the new production, there is a large number of highly in demand vintage equipment that relies on them.

    It's a small market, that's why there aren't many manufacturers. But the market is solid. If the existing manufacturers leave, there is enough profit incentive for others to enter into the market.

  8. #7

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    Personally, I'm going to be ditching my Mark IV and getting a Tone Master amp, so I honestly don't care. But I agree, prices may go up a bit but there will be a market for tubes while every guitarist 20 and older is still alive. The modelers are that good now you don't need tubes, you mostly just want them.

  9. #8

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    Once upon a time the drugstore in the small town near us was the record store, and had a tube checker (a machine) so customers could figure out which tubes were bad before buying new ones there. Everything electronic had tubes, and tubes failed often. I still own a tube amp, which I bought used in the early 90s. I don't expect to ever need to buy any tubes for it. I have replacements on hand, and I seldom turn it on. I see no need for using obsolete technology, so the death of tubes doesn't bother me at all.

  10. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Cunamara
    There is a recurrent theme around the death of tubes for guitar amplification every few years for the last 50 years. I am not moved by this one, either.
    Quote Originally Posted by Cunamara

    Unless there is something wrong with your amp, tubes last a long time. I have a circa 1972 Fender Pro Reverb which still has the original preamp tubes, for Pete's sake. I replaced the power tubes about 25 years ago and probably didn't need to, but I thought Mesa branded tubes would be "better." Better than the original RCA's? I don't think so. My 5E3 was built about 10 years ago and still has the original tubes. I have the tube powered hi-fi that my parents bought in 1956; still has the original tubes and a glorious fat, warm sound.

    But, hey, panic buying is profitable for somebody.


    Im with you here man. On some forums people claim that power tubes last about 1 year or so. I don’t know what those people do with their amps, but like you said, they should last years If you’re not completely carless about your amp.

  11. #10

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    I too have heard predictions of the end of tubes for decades, and tend to be skeptical. But I do think that if the places where they are made do finally move away from the dark side environmentally, tubes could be regulated out of existence for all practical purposes. "Supply and demand" is an incomplete way of looking at their viability. If the regulatory conditions (for good reasons) make the cost high enough, the supply and demand curves may not cross. China seems to be heading toward some sort of reckoning on that front.

  12. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cunamara
    Unless there is something wrong with your amp, tubes last a long time.
    They can, but the way an amplifier is treated can drastically change that. The #1 problem is that tubes will fail prematurely if they're allowed to run too hot (thermal heat, not operating parameters). Don't push the amp so close to a wall that air can't circulate across the chassis & tubes. Adequate ventilation is critical to long lives for tubes and many other parts in the circuit, which is why Mesa originally offered an optional fan. I got it in my hunree Mk I, and the tubes that came with it were still in it when I sold it decades later. It never failed me through hundreds of gigs and sounded as good to me the day it left home as it did the day it arrived. If your tube amp doesn't let air reach your tubes easily, add a small pancake fan inside for circulation.

    If you have a standby switch, turn the power switch on with the SB switch in standby and let the tube elements heat up for at least a minute before switching it on. And when you power down, turn the SB switch off but leave the power switch on for a minute to let the elements cool and the caps in the power circuit bleed down some (which extends their life). There 's also a bypass cap on many standby switches that prevents a pop when you turn the power off.

    Tubes are prone to physical damage, so tube amps should be treated gently. Even letting it drop a few inches when loading it into your trunk or kicking a wedge out from under the front and letting the front fall to the floor can damage tube elements. Let the amp cool down for a few minutes before moving it, to avoid damage to the internal elements. As for failure from age alone, the cathode coating can deteriorate, and the internal vacuum can be lost from leakage around an oxidizing or loosened pin (or, rarely, if the glass envelope gets loosened). I don't think any other internal elements deteriorate just from age.

    You can see some signs of deterioration in tubes. The coating inside the top of the tube should be somewhere between light gray and black - if it's white, some oxygen has gotten in and it should be replaced before it fails on a gig. A bluish glow near the glass is normal, but any focal purplish glow around anything inside the tube (wire, plate, etc) also means that the vacuum seal has leaked and the tube is going to fail. Plates that are glowing red are another sign of impending failure if the tube is biased correctly (red plates can be a sign that the bias is off spec in a good tube).

    And you can hear some kinds of tube failure coming on. Onset of rattling distortion in your sound can mean impending output tube failure, as can "ghost" notes. Tubes (all tubes, not just in the preamp circuit) can also become microphonic and add odd noises to the signal. Playing a guitar at stage volume vibrates the chassis and tubes enough to add microphonics from a faulty tube to your signal as distortion. If your tone starts to sound wrong, tap each tube gently with something firm but soft like a pencil eraser - the culprit will make louder and harsher sounds than the minor thump of a normal tube.

    Finally, if you use a tube amp on gigs you should ALWAYS carry a spare set (along with the fuses and tools you should have with you on any gig). I got a B15N my senior year in high school and used it for many years - it was my all time favorite amp for jazz until the recent arrival of great class D amps and neo speakers. A 6L6 failed on me in the middle of a gig the first year I had it, and I was too young, cheap, and stupid to carry spares. We were an organ trio, so I either found a tube immediately or we became an organ duo for the night. I'm pretty sure I posted this story a while ago - the punch line is that I finally called the telephone company, when I realized that they had 24/7 repair crews and a national network powered by tube equipment. A Bell repair guy showed up ten minutes later (which was close to midnight!) at the gig and gave me a pair of 6L6s....free! I never left home without spares again.

  13. #12

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    I have a few boxes full of never used tubes from a TV repair shop. There certainly some good ones in there, mainly power amp and rectifier tubes. There are many others of varying sizes that I have no idea about there uses or value, but looking at a list of sweep tubes, I can see that’s what many of them are. I wonder if any of them have any significant value.

  14. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by nevershouldhavesoldit
    They can, but the way an amplifier is treated can drastically change that. The #1 problem is that tubes will fail prematurely if they're allowed to run too hot (thermal heat, not operating parameters). Don't push the amp so close to a wall that air can't circulate across the chassis & tubes. Adequate ventilation is critical to long lives for tubes and many other parts in the circuit, which is why Mesa originally offered an optional fan. I got it in my hunree Mk I, and the tubes that came with it were still in it when I sold it decades later. It never failed me through hundreds of gigs and sounded as good to me the day it left home as it did the day it arrived. If your tube amp doesn't let air reach your tubes easily, add a small pancake fan inside for circulation.

    If you have a standby switch, turn the power switch on with the SB switch in standby and let the tube elements heat up for at least a minute before switching it on. And when you power down, turn the SB switch off but leave the power switch on for a minute to let the elements cool and the caps in the power circuit bleed down some (which extends their life). There 's also a bypass cap on many standby switches that prevents a pop when you turn the power off.

    Tubes are prone to physical damage, so tube amps should be treated gently. Even letting it drop a few inches when loading it into your trunk or kicking a wedge out from under the front and letting the front fall to the floor can damage tube elements. Let the amp cool down for a few minutes before moving it, to avoid damage to the internal elements. As for failure from age alone, the cathode coating can deteriorate, and the internal vacuum can be lost from leakage around an oxidizing or loosened pin (or, rarely, if the glass envelope gets loosened). I don't think any other internal elements deteriorate just from age.

    You can see some signs of deterioration in tubes. The coating inside the top of the tube should be somewhere between light gray and black - if it's white, some oxygen has gotten in and it should be replaced before it fails on a gig. A bluish glow near the glass is normal, but any focal purplish glow around anything inside the tube (wire, plate, etc) also means that the vacuum seal has leaked and the tube is going to fail. Plates that are glowing red are another sign of impending failure if the tube is biased correctly (red plates can be a sign that the bias is off spec in a good tube).

    And you can hear some kinds of tube failure coming on. Onset of rattling distortion in your sound can mean impending output tube failure, as can "ghost" notes. Tubes (all tubes, not just in the preamp circuit) can also become microphonic and add odd noises to the signal. Playing a guitar at stage volume vibrates the chassis and tubes enough to add microphonics from a faulty tube to your signal as distortion. If your tone starts to sound wrong, tap each tube gently with something firm but soft like a pencil eraser - the culprit will make louder and harsher sounds than the minor thump of a normal tube.

    Finally, if you use a tube amp on gigs you should ALWAYS carry a spare set (along with the fuses and tools you should have with you on any gig). I got a B15N my senior year in high school and used it for many years - it was my all time favorite amp for jazz until the recent arrival of great class D amps and neo speakers. A 6L6 failed on me in the middle of a gig the first year I had it, and I was too young, cheap, and stupid to carry spares. We were an organ trio, so I either found a tube immediately or we became an organ duo for the night. I'm pretty sure I posted this story a while ago - the punch line is that I finally called the telephone company, when I realized that they had 24/7 repair crews and a national network powered by tube equipment. A Bell repair guy showed up ten minutes later (which was close to midnight!) at the gig and gave me a pair of 6L6s....free! I never left home without spares again.
    This.^^^^^^^^^ So much this. A good tube amp is a marvelous thing, but a fragile and delicately balanced collection of fragile and delicately balanced individual parts. I have had many, and still have a lot. I attribute the working longevity of my amps to the extreme caution I use in handling them.

    First and foremost, no-one touches my stuff but me (also my carefully chosen techs). I use dollies to move my amps, and stop and roll gently over any irregularities. When I position an amp on the floor, I do so silently. In the car, my amps rest on a minimum of six inches of foam rubber. Extraneous mechanical and thermal shock is scrupulously avoided. "Easy does it" is the general theme. And carrying spares is mandatory in a world where Murphy's Law is not a joke, it is observed reality. Be prepared, as B.P. used to say.
    Also, never lend your amps out "for love nor money" as my mother used to say. If and when you ever see them again, they will be trashed, without doubt.

  15. #14

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    One of my favorite childhood memories is going with Dad to the store and checking tubes. Dad was a radio repair guy in the Air Force. One house we lived in, moved frequently, had a basement full of radio gear, probably “spare” parts and legally gray. Iffy memory of a then four year old.

    I use solid state amps.

  16. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by JazzmanLehmann

    I'm with you here man. On some forums people claim that power tubes last about 1 year or so. I don’t know what those people do with their amps, but like you said, they should last years If you’re not completely careless about your amp.
    They probably play often with their amps at high volume, which generates a lot of heat, and shortens tube life. A lack of ventilation will also aggravate heat heat degradation of tubes. Also, in my experience, some of the Chinese tubes currently being made, are nowhere near as good as the tubes that used to be made by GE (the last US tube maker - they quit making them in 1985), RCA, Amperex, Phillips, Mullard, Toshiba, etc., so they don't last as long.

  17. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by citizenk74
    never lend your amps out "for love nor money" as my mother used to say. If and when you ever see them again, they will be trashed, without doubt.
    I once lamented to a friend that I was having difficulty deciding whether to lend a valuable piece of equipment to another of our buddies. I said that it was a tough decision for me because I loved my equipment but that the requestor was also a close friend. He replied: "You can always buy another friend."

  18. #17

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    My experience is that I've heard great tones from both solid state and tubes. Last time I posted about this, I'd just heard a player sound amazing into a Fender Twin. I thought, well, that's it. The best tone I ever heard is tube. Since then I've heard an equally incredible tone through solid state.

    I used a vintage Ampeg Reverberocket (I bought it new in 1964) in my music room until I got the Little Jazz. I A-B'ed them and ended up thinking that they didn't sound all that much different but chords were a little clearer on the LJ. My beloved Ampeg is now in a closet.

    But, since you can get incredible sound either way, and they aren't identical, some people are going to prefer tubes. The remaining factories will put on a night shift and they'll make a profit. Tubes will be available, at least, the popular models.

  19. #18

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    Oops! I just posting this is Chit Chat. Maybe the admin could remove it.

  20. #19

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    There is a definite difference in my experience between tube and non-tube amps. Modellers do a good job at capturing the tone but they get amplified with class D amps in the end. That brings a different feel, immediacy and fidelity to the response at the very least. It's not bad, just different.

    Regardless of the differences between SS and tube amps, humans value tradition to an irrational degree. I can't imagine tubes and all tube dependent gear quietly becoming obsolete just because a factory is closed. There would be a huge outcry on the internet. There are many companies invested in the technology. Many musicians, audiophiles, enthusiasts who are deeply attached to it. A solution would be found.

    If there is still a market for katana's (the sword, not the amp), I don't see how tubes could go extinct.
    Last edited by Tal_175; 08-03-2021 at 04:47 PM.

  21. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gabor
    Economy and market rules dictate, there will be tubes if there is a need.
    I'm not so sure. As I understand it, it's a really messy process with lots of environmental problems and a very pricey set up cost.

  22. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tal_175
    Tube's will never go out of production. Their popularity is not diminishing even in the HI-FI world. Aside from the new production, there is a large number of highly in demand vintage equipment that relies on them.

    It's a small market, that's why there aren't many manufacturers. But the market is solid. If the existing manufacturers leave, there is enough profit incentive for others to enter into the market.
    No one wants angry electric guitarists and audiophiles taking over the world.
    Japan is heavily invested in digital and solid state but what would Japan do?

    They'd make a near perfect tube that lasts longer than other tubes and charge twice as much. It's about materials, quality control and cost of labor.

  23. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Soloway
    I'm not so sure. As I understand it, it's a really messy process with lots of environmental problems and a very pricey set up cost.
    Guitar players aren't that dumb. Maybe it's time we educated ourselves about issues associated with the manufacture of vacuum tubes. I'm going to look into it.

  24. #23

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    Interesting;


  25. #24

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    Back mid 80’s working for an airline at Newark/EWR, we noticed a group of hazmat suited people. They even had oxygen tanks, and some crazy looking equipment. So we checked into it. It was the site of the old RCA tube plant. We were told the standards back then were just dump the crud into the nearest stream, or ground. And someone wanted to build. (Condos, what else)))

    So I wonder if current tube plants still follow that kind of practice, or are they more advanced in cleaning up after themselves? Given our sources: China, Russia, and JJ wherever they are ; I kinda doubt they’re doing A1 level controls.

    TV Sweep tubes have little use outside of a 1960 Magnavox TV.

    Happily in ham radio we don’t have never ending tube vs ss like guitar people. Sure many keep the tube stuff around, and there’s a bunch of angry boomers that will piss and moan, but the ss radios are so incredibly better, its why bother. Kenwood TS890 here.

    jk is a ham in many, many ways, most not radio.

  26. #25

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