Your Amp's Standby Switch: What It Does and How to Use It

Your Amp's Standby Switch: What It Does and How to Use It

February 17, 2017 22 Comments

While longtime tube amp owners are familiar with operating the standby and power switches, the process may be slightly confusing for new guitarists or those switching over from solid state amps. Solid state amps only have a power switch that turns the amp on and off, but all of a sudden there’s another switch next to it on your new tube amp! Fortunately, the standby switch is very straightforward, yet absolutely essential. So essential, in fact, that all of Carvin Audio’s 50 Watt or more all-tube guitar amp models - such as the V3, X100B, and BELAIR come loaded with one. This article will explain what the standby switch does and how to use it.

Unlike solid state amplifiers, tube amps need time to “warm up” before they get to providing you rocking tones. In fact, tubes operate best when they are hot. It’s akin to stretching and getting your muscles ready before you go for a run. Therefore, if you turn on your tube amp, crank it up, and start playing at full throttle before letting the tubes warm up, you are risking damage to your amp, just as you would risk injury if you were to just start sprinting without stretching or jogging first.

So that’s when the standby switch comes into the picture. By turning on your amp in standby mode, you are reducing wear and tear on your amp and extending the life of your tubes. When that switch is set to standby, you are basically telling your amp to not send the full available voltage to the tubes immediately- rather, just enough to get them warmed up. A good thing to get into the habit of is to turn your amp on standby as soon as possible when you get to the rehearsal space or on the stage. This will give your amp adequate time to warm up while you set up your pedals, tune your guitar, or socialize. Ideally, you want your amp to be on standby for about one to two minutes before you start playing at any volume. 

Another useful function of the standby switch is muting your amp without turning it off.  If you are taking a quick break on a session or between sets, go ahead and set the switch to standby. This will prevent you from having to turn the amp off and then on again and having to warm up the tubes all over again.

V3 Tube Amp with Standby Switch

When powering-on the Carvin Audio V3, turn on the power switch with the standby switch engaged this is the down position on the V3. Wait a minute or so, and then turn the standby switch to the up position and you’re ready to rock. (corrected March-2)

One of the common complaints about owning a tube amp is maintenance of the tubes (and maybe the increased weight!) However, using your tube amp’s standby mode properly can go a long way and keep your tone sounding sweet for years.



22 Responses

Michael Breeman
Michael Breeman

March 09, 2018

If a stand-by switch is unnecessary then why are valves such as 6V6GTA available which have a controlled heat up time?

Keith
Keith

February 27, 2017

To the article’s author and all who posted comments: thank you for doing so, as all of this information is important to those of us who need to know more.

Phil
Phil

February 20, 2017

Question regarding turning off an amp with a standby switch. I have an amp that doesn’t have a separate standby switch but instead it’s part of the regular on/off 3 way toggle. The up position is STANDBY, the middle position is OFF, the bottom position is ON. So when I turn it on in STANDBY, I have to click through the OFF position to get to ON. My question is, when I turn it OFF, can I just go directly to the middle OFF position or should I go to STANDBY, then back to OFF, or is it okay to just go directly to OFF?

Ken Wilson
Ken Wilson

February 19, 2017

With all due respect, you are totally wrong. Standby switches are both unnecessary and a safety hazard.

http://www.valvewizard.co.uk/standby.html

John
John

February 19, 2017

Leading amp “gurus” agree that the standby switch is unnecessary and does not extend tube life for amps with less than 1000Vdc.

Loathsome Critic
Loathsome Critic

February 19, 2017

Your next to last paragraph about the V3 seems to completely contradict everything your article says previously. First you say let tubes warm up before turning on standby switch, then you say with the V3 turn them both on then wait then turn standby off then on again when you want to play????

Dennis Myre
Dennis Myre

February 19, 2017

I own a P16p mixer that needs repair. I live in Niagara falls Ontario and need to know if there is a repair outlet that Carvin refers people to for repair near by. 2 switches on the panel are shorting out. Mon 1 and phantom switch. I need the mixer so 5 or 6 days is all the time I have to repair it. It is about 5 years old. Thank you.
Patrick Haynie
Patrick Haynie

February 18, 2017

Nice presentation as always.

kmmusic
kmmusic

February 18, 2017

Tubes work by passing electrons between charged screens. This works most effectively at a certain (high) temperature. The standby switch powers up the heater core in the tubes without charging the electron screens.

It’s good to also mention that you should allow some time after switching the amp to standby before hitting the power switch. this will discharge the screens in the tubes and also discharge any voltage in the output transformer.

David R
David R

February 18, 2017

Thanks, great and informative article.

Matthew Seniff
Matthew Seniff

February 18, 2017

IMHO the standby switch should be used only for a minute or so when you turn it on. This allows the cathodes to heat up before applying the high voltage to the tubes to prevent cathode stripping. Using Standby for prolonged periods can be detrimental to the power supply caps since it lifts the load of the output tube idle current, this in turn makes the high voltage rise higher than in normal operation. The high voltage can rise enough to cause over voltage damage to the filter capacitors which will lead to premature failure.

Eric Fithian
Eric Fithian

February 18, 2017

I knew about " standby" meaning muting while doing something else. But the idea of " warming up " period without the high voltage going to the tubes, I never thought of. I was one of those that turned the amp on an started playing… Good article, I will from now on, give the tubes a warm up period before rocking out! Thanks Carvin!

Will White
Will White

February 18, 2017

Great information, I have a tube bass amp 8 years. And most time I allow my amp to warm up. I will make sure that I allow the Amp to warm up. Thx. Peace

Mark
Mark

February 18, 2017

This entire article simply perpetuates a mistake made by early amp designers, who failed to note that the technical manuals when talking about preheating tubes were discussing transmitting tubes. These tubes need warm up because the tubes are operated at high voltages, 1000V or more, where the cathode can be stripped if the tubes are run cold. Cathode stripping requires an electric field strength of over 4MV/m. Guitar amps use receiving tubes, and run the tubes at less than 500V. They don’t get anywhere near this field strength, and so aren’t susceptible to cathode stripping. If a standby switch has any effect on tube life, it would be to shorten it by increasing interface growth resistance. Standby switches do have the benefit of allowing the use of filter caps with lower voltage ratings, thus saving costs. Fender started doing this with the Bassman, which Marshall copied. With the two biggest players using standby switches, everyone else eventually followed suit.

TomPF
TomPF

February 18, 2017

I always do the reverse when shutting my tube amps down, that is, I put the amp in standby for a minute or two, and then shut off the power. I’m not sure that’s necessary though. Anyone do this and is it necessary?

Joe Shockley
Joe Shockley

February 18, 2017

A good article, I have a tube amp, an Earth Design 100 watt 2X12. I use the standby switch when I change guitars. I did not realize it was functionally a warm up (stretching, great analogy) for the tubes. Thanks for the education!

Ricky
Ricky

February 18, 2017

Can you please do an article on using the Carrying handle.

Mark.B
Mark.B

February 18, 2017

Numerous recent articles and videos have stated that the standby switch is there for tradition only. Mostly they are there so customer service representatives don’t have to keep explaining to customers that they aren’t necessary.

Fender put them on the early amps for diagnostic purposes and now they are considered to do more harm than good.

Kirk Bolas
Kirk Bolas

February 18, 2017

I’ve noticed over the last 15-20 years about the exclusion or inclusion of the standby switch. Many of the smaller, two output tube amps tend to exclude it in the design. Specifically the EL84 or 6V6 15-20 watt amp designers just omit it from the design. I understand that not having to build in the heater grid components is a cost cutting measure and while one might argue that the smaller bottles aren’t running the higher plate voltages that the larger EL84, 6L6/KT66/5881 or 6550/KT88 tubes run at what makes the switch an essential, I’d still prefer it because while the smaller tubes cost less if one shops the cheaper, lower quality tubes, some like the higher quality, more expensive pairs that cost as much as a pair of the larger tubes. I’m one of them. It does make a difference when one cranks the volume to get power tube overdrive tones. That’s the raison d’être for the resurgence of the lower wattage tube amps. Less headroom means the goodies are available long before one’s ears bleed. I wish Carvin would put a Standby Switch on the Vintage 16 for this very reason. I’d rather spend my time playing than having to find a used example and then to have to install a heater grid assembly myself. Why used? If I do that to a new one, that’d void the factory warranty. I’ve yet to totally screw up an amp with one of these mods, but hey, there’s always a first time.

Brad C.
Brad C.

February 18, 2017

I have always thought that the required maintenance on a tube amp is such a VERY small price to pay for what they bring to your tone. People have no problem spending money on pedals, etc., and a new set of tubes is similar in price, or less. It’s fun to play around with different tubes and how they affect your sound. You just really need to know how to properly bias an amp, or have a tech/shop that can do it for you. Most newer amps I have had don’t even have a bias adjustment pot., but a switch to go from 6L6’s to EL34’s and similar tubes.

Uncle Ralph
Uncle Ralph

February 18, 2017

Someday I’d like to hear an explanation of how a tube-type amp can be damaged by operating it before the heaters are completely warmed up—-from an electrical engineering perspective. What are the “mechanics,” as it were, of the feared failure modes? It seems more a matter of convenience: in STANDBY the amp can be OFF, that is quiet, but you won’t have to wait for it to warm up when you’re ready to play. Tube type hi-fi amps, of any size, have never had standby switches, as far as I am aware.

Jim Jackson
Jim Jackson

February 18, 2017

Your article says, “in fact, that all of Carvin Audio’s 50 Watt or more all-tube guitar amp models – such as the V3, X100B, and BELAIR come loaded with one.” I own the Vintage 16 head (also an all-tube amp) and I love it. Why is there no standby switch on the Vintage 16? It would be nice to have, but maybe you can explain why there isn’t one? Thanks!

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