If there’s one thing that the majority of guitarists can agree upon it’s this: tubes are awesome! The vacuum tube, or “valve” to our European friends, has been at the center of guitar tone since the advent of the electric guitar. And even as technology evolves and seeks to replace the tube, guitarists have fought back and have continued to give the tube relevance to this day. Of course, new and exciting tube amps are being made every year but one other usage tubes have found is tube-powered effects pedals.
This practice is nothing new: the legendary BK Butler Tube Driver was first introduced in the 1970s and many other legendary pedals have been released throughout the subsequent decades. We’ve also released a couple of tube pedals recently. However, not all of these “tube powered” pedals are created equal.
In this article, we hope to educate you on what to look for in tube pedals and what you can do to ensure you don’t get duped.
Blinded by the Light
One of the tell-tale signs of tube circuitry doing its intended job is when the tubes begin to glow. That soft orange light lets you know to expect a good time. However, this a visual cue that can be copied (or hidden) with some clever trickery.
Over the years, several pedals with tubes inside have been taken apart only to find that the tubes are backlit by a stealthily placed LED bulb. In these cases, the tube is most likely a gimmick or a part of the cosmetics of the pedal.
However, there are a few pedals out there that use an LED behind the tube BUT the tube is still an integral part of the circuit. One simple test is to take the tube out of its socket, plug in your guitar and see if you get any sound out of the pedal. Chances are that if the tube is a necessary part of the function of the pedal, no signal will pass through when pedal is engaged. Try it out.
Any pedal builder, pedalboard builder, or electrician will tell you that power is everything. Without adequate power fed to ANY device the chances of it functioning properly are slim. Tubes are no exception but they require a much greater amount of power than the standard 9 volts most pedals run on.
Take a look on our website at the specs of both the Legacy Drive and X1 tube preamp pedals. You’ll see that they each require 1000 milliamps (or 1 Amp) at 12 volts DC. The previously mentioned Tube Driver even has an AC cord HARDWIRED to the pedal! Tubes, at their core, are amplifiers of signal and can’t do their jobs without that power.
So it’s safe to say that if the pedal requires BIG TIME power the tubes are doing something important for the overall sound of the pedal.
What Does It All Mean?
With all of this information how can you be sure that when you buy a “tube powered” guitar pedal that you’re getting a genuine tube experience and not a marketing ploy? It will be hard to tell when you go to a store and try out tube pedals whether or not the tube is integral to the pedals overall function. Thankfully, most companies these days are hip to the tricks and gimmicks and if their pedal TRULY utilizes the tubes inside they’ll go above and beyond to tell you and prove it.
It’s also a great idea to do plenty of research on the pedals you’re interested in. Social media, forums, groups and YouTube videos... all of them are great resources for you to get the information you need to make an informed decision.
Hopefully, this all will point you in the right direction when you go shopping. Just remember to have fun making music!
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