Are Tube Amps Worth It?

Are Tube Amps Worth It?

April 05, 2018 14 Comments

Despite their awesome tones, many musicians shy away from using tube amplifiers, instead opting for solid state alternatives. And that’s not a bad thing- solid state amps can sound great too, and it’s all a matter of preference at the end of the day. There are many perceived downsides to tube amplifiers that make potential users hesitant to make the jump. However, these are not necessarily the deal breakers that many make them out to be.

Here are some commonly perceived downsides to using a tube amp and why they might not be as big of a deal as you think.

  1. Tube life: Nothing lasts forever, and both preamp and power amp tubes will have to be changed out. However, it’s not as often as may think. Depending on how often you play and the amp you’re using, power tubes can last for up to 10,000 hours without needing to be changed. Preamp tubes usually last around five years or even more! So owning an all-tube amp doesn’t mean you’ll be changing tubes all the time. Good tubes are quite durable.
  2. Maintenance and repair: New sets of tubes can be pricey, along with trips to the tech to replace and bias them. With a tube amp, it pays to be proactive about maintenance. Don’t wait for your amp to go quiet before taking it in to a tech. Many tube amp aficionados actually have their tubes changed routinely to prevent any issues, similar to how car owners will take in their vehicles for routine checkups. Owning a tube amp simply requires that more care be given to the maintenance of your equipment, but it’s not much more than simple math. As long as you know the average life expectancy of your set of tubes, and keep track of when they were last changed, you’ll know when the time comes.
  3. Reliability: The simple, plug and play nature of solid state amps makes them highly appealing, especially for those who gig frequently and can’t afford to have a tube go bad during soundcheck. However, most tube amps don’t just give up the ghost on the gig- when tubes are going bad, there are warning signs. Significant drops in output volume, strange noises like squeaks, squeals, hum, feedback, and a weak sound are all signs that the power tubes need to be swapped out. You can also tell by visually inspecting the tubes- if the usual glow is fading or gone, or the tube looks burned, then the tube has reached the end of its life. Preamp tubes are a little more difficult to gauge, but they too will generally exhibit symptoms. Any kind of whistling (tube becomes microphonic), humming or strange noises indicate bad preamp tubes. In any case, a good tech should be able to quickly isolate and rectify the problem. So rest assured- your tube amp will likely not fail on you out of the blue. But it is up to you to inspect your rig before performances and rehearsals to make sure all is as it should be. Gigging with a backup is also a great practice regardless of what kind of amp you use.
  4. Weight: Tube amps are heavy, there’s no doubt about it. Those looking to streamline their rig might find themselves at odds with the size and weight of tube amps. However, not all tube amps are heavy and cumbersome to move, and there are many all-tube micro amps on the market that can get you your tube tone fix without breaking your back. You can also get tube tone in a small package with the Carvin Amplifiers VLD1 Legacy Drive Preamp Pedal, which has real 12Ax7 preamp tubes. The Legacy Drive pedal fits in your gig bag and you can go direct into a mixing board, plug in headphones for practice, or use it to drive a power amp.

 

Carvin Amplifiers VLD1 Legacy Drive Preamp Pedal

Carvin Amplifiers VLD1 Legacy Drive Preamp Pedal

In many cases, tube amps do not require the amount of maintenance that they have a reputation for. As long as you properly take care of your gear, owning a tube amp is simple and very well worth it for the tone. Have you ever made the switch to a tube amp after much consideration? If so, how did it work out for you? Let us know in the comments.



14 Responses

James Balzarini
James Balzarini

April 14, 2018

I toured a lot back in the day, 7 years straight. Having to change tubes on the road was a challenge so I switched to a solid state Accoustic 470 amp which I still own. Super clean and loud. Never been past 5. Used a variety of pedals for any effects I needed. Having said that, I recently purchased a Carvin V3M
50 watt tube amp. Awesome ! Paired with my Carvin C6 guitar

Ian
Ian

April 07, 2018

I switched from solid state to a hybrid (tube pre-amp, solid power-amp) back in the late 90s, and never looked back. There are so many great tubes and ways to mess with your tone that way that you just don’t get from a solid state. I’ve run everything from Sovtek W(B)s to tubes I found from HAM operators garage sales, literally tubes manufactured in the 40s-60s. It’s amazing how much control you can get over your tonal color with that nearly plug and play feature. I’m currently running my swap meet 60s RCA tubes and am absolutely loving the vintage tone it’s getting out of my amp. I always carry a few tubes with me just in case, and like the article says, you’ll notice when your tubes are giving up the ghost. It’s a noticeable tone difference from what your ear will be used to.

Mike Robinson
Mike Robinson

April 06, 2018

I owned a mid 60’s Fender Princeton, best amp ever. I still own a Carvin v-16 which I love but just wish it was about 25 watts instead of 16. I recent sold a Carvin Belair as it was just too heavy for me now at 64 years old. My V-33 Carvin cracked a power tube and had it replaced. Loved that amp as well but selling due to The fact I bought a solid State Boss Katana 100 watt modeling that gives me the best sound I’ve ever achieved with pedals. I used vintage Tuck and roll Kustoms for years but solid state now is so much nicer and lighter.

Brian LeBrun
Brian LeBrun

April 06, 2018

I’ve used primarily solid state amps with the exception of a couple of Fenders back in the 70s and 80s. They were easy on the back and also the wallet. But then…I bought a used Carvin Belair. Great tones but heavy. I foolishly traded it for a Marshall Mosfet 100. Bad move. I bought a Carvin SX200 because I had previously owned an SX200 halfstack which wasn’t bad but there was some soul missing in the sound. So I got another Belair and then the matching 2×12 cabinet. Then came the mid 90s VT50 with the matching 4×10 cab. Both have a warmth and tone that I can’t get even with other Carvin solid state amps. If I want to knock down a wall I also have a Blackstar…again all tube but my Carvins are my go-to amps. I play in a duo and a dance band. If I just want power I’ll use the Blackstar but for the dance band nothing comes close to the Carvin clean sounds. Just regular maintenance and care is all it takes to keep them running…and a good cart. Gotta save the back……

James Cooper
James Cooper

April 06, 2018

As a 40 year veteran of the industry, my x100b and Valve master amps are heavy. Yes I service them at least once a year. Never ever had a failure, and insane tonal capabilities

Raymond Kaping
Raymond Kaping

April 06, 2018

I bought my VL100 in 1999. It is still running on the tubes that came in it new. Reacently I bought a new Legacy 3 head and cabinet. I leave the VL100 at the studio and take the Legacy 3 out on gigs. The only tubes I’ve replaced in the last 18 years was on my Nomad and it got bounced around pretty hard on the road.

Brian
Brian

April 06, 2018

I never mount my tube amp heads on top of my speaker cabinets. Less vibration = longer tube life especially for bass guitar.

Lee
Lee

April 06, 2018

I used to be a tube amp snob (Fender, Marshall, Hiwatt, etc.) – however, not since an onstage incident with a blown tube wa-ay back when! I now play much quieter gigs switching back-and-forth between small tube-driven and solid-state amps – to be honest, at lower volumes, there is hardly a noticeable difference in tonal “warmth” unless it is somehow perceived by the tube cognoscenti… think of some of the early Polytone offerings.

Steve
Steve

April 06, 2018

I have had a Carvin X100b since 1984, changed tubes a handful of times, never biased. Never had a problem, even when it was getting heavy use in the late 80’s early 90’s. People make too much of maintenance, if you change tubes and the amp doesn’t sound good, then bias. If it sounds good, leave it alone.

Frederico Borders
Frederico Borders

April 06, 2018

Informative & Inspirational! Thank You..
Bill Vanlammeren
Bill Vanlammeren

April 06, 2018

In the early seventies we played in many nightclubs . One night we played late and we hurried up and put everything back in the van in the winter time and all the tubes cracked, and Tube Replacements every 4 months. I like the idea of the tube pedal that you’re now offering . From the best Pro Audio company in the world CARVIN.!

maj. genreral v.oliver harmon md
maj. genreral v.oliver harmon md

April 06, 2018

we as musicians all know the advantages of a solid state amp, light weight, reliability,and very good tone but when i play a tube amp i get an indefinable organic tone which has not yet been duplicated imho , both have their advantages and both are excellent, go with a brand which has established a quality reputation such as Carvin, Fender, Prs, etc, solid state or tube, you cant go wrong, it is your preference !

Harry Frogger
Harry Frogger

April 06, 2018

I’ve owned about a dozen tube amps over the years, and just as many solid state amps. I honestly don’t see what the fuss is about. A good solid state amp, is every bit as good as a good tube amp. The problem is MOST solid state amps are built cheaply. Find a good one (Roland JC, Tech 21, etc) and get some good pedals and you are golden.

Craig S. Richards-Andersen
Craig S. Richards-Andersen

April 05, 2018

I found a treasure in a Marshall MA H100 all tube head in a pawn shop.$240 to replace the reverb tank and replace the power tubes. It is a Vietnamese built tiger and she really roars!

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