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Article 2:                

Vacuum Tubes

A Brief Overview of Manufacturers

By Matt Pisarcik

     Vacuum tubes are the things that guitar and bass players, vintage radio enthusiasts, and amplifier designers dream about. These seemingly simple and old ways of producing power are much imitated today by modeling amps, but nothing seems to achieve the warmth and feel that these little glowing ambers of glass can. Over the years, there have been several designers and manufacturers, and each has a different resulting product, affecting the overall tone of any amplifying circuit. For guitar players, tubes are the answer to have a fatter sound that is much more articulate than transistor based amplifiers. With so many brands to choose from, it is sometimes hard to know which tube is right for your amp, your musical interest, and you. In this brief overview, I hope that I can shed some light on the subject, and provide you with a clearer answer when it comes time to re-tube your guitar amplifier.

 

Regarding relabeled tubes:

One major misconception regarding current production tubes is the number of actual manufacturers. Sovtek, Golden Dragon, and Sino are responsible for relabeled brands such as Fender, Mesa Engineering, Marshall, Vox and Orange. These amplifier companies do not have the means of making their own tubes, so they purchase from a company such as Sovtek and place their own brand name on it. Many times, they will simply screen the tubes first, and remove any defective units from the batch prior to screening. This is also the case with Groove Tubes; they test and match some of the best tubes from current production, including many if not all of the manufacturers mentioned in this article and sell them to you with a new name at a higher price. The premium price you pay is so that defective and microphonic tubes are not going to cause a problem in your amplifier.

 

Ei

Ei tubes are made in the former Yugoslavia under the Philips license, using original Philips machinery, drawings and test procedures. Ei tubes have long been known for their exceptional low noise performance and consistent frequency response.  With new product lines like the Gold Elite series, Ei has won the hearts of many Orange, Vox and other boutique amplifier owners due to their warm, bright, chimmey sound.

The only issue that has plagued this company is reliability. It is essential that these tubes be bought from a reliable distributor that tests them thoroughly. Still, the strongest suit for this company is clear, detailed tone tailored for clean to moderate gain amplifiers.  


 

Electro-Harmonix

     Known in the guitar world for revolutionary analog pedal designs in large sheet metal cases, Electro-Harmonix has been making many things guitar related, including vacuum tubes for more than 30 years. Based out of Russia, EH prides themselves as providing reliable, well tested and matched tubes for all industries of vacuum tube application.

     Some typical characteristics of EH tubes are definitely high gain, mid-range friendly tone- a favorite of Marshall and Mesa Boogie users. Though not as neutral as the JJs, these tubes still provide excellent bass response, and are attributed with clear highs even with lots of gain. Electro-Harmonix will always be a great choice for those soulful rockers who desire great warm analog sound.  


JJ Electronics

     Formally under the name Tesla, JJ tubes are manufactured in former Czechoslovakia in the same production facilities that have been used for decades. These tubes are used heavily by Mesa Boogie and Groove Tubes for their product lines, proving to be a reliable, dependable vacuum tube coming in a wide range of designs.

These tubes are generally considered to be pretty neutral in the gain department for most amplifiers- neither adding nor taking away from the natural voice. They are characterized by having tight, responsive bass, punchy mid range, and detailed highs. These tubes are great in both clean and moderate gain amps, but are especially a favorite of Marshall, Fender, Vox and Orange amplifiers.


Sino Chinese

     Typically manufactured in the Shuguang factory in China, Sino Chinese tubes have seen vast improvements over what was available just a few years ago.

These valves tend to be fitted by many lower end amp manufactures. On the plus side the valves have good gain and low microphonics, which suites tube amps. The drawback is its complete lack of tone. The treble can be fizzy and the bass response is a hazy distortion. The resulting tone is like a blanket being placed in front of the amp. The valves also tend to sound harsh and brittle after minimal use.


Sovtek

     Another product of Eastern Europe, Sovtek has been around for generations, proving to be a reliable, well-used vacuum tube by many amplifier makers. Companies such as Sunn, Ampeg, Mesa Boogie and Peavey have relied upon these tubes for sound quality and affordable prices.

     Used in low to medium gain amps, the Russian Sovtek tubes can be very similar to the EH in many ways, in fact they are both owned by the same parent company New Sensor. These tubes, however, tend to have a more pronounced bass and treble; the result is a less punchy, more balanced and full sound.  Also, slightly lower levels of microphonics can be attributed to these tubes, depending on varied designs and series.  


Winged C

SED Winged "C" tubes are made by SED SPb, a division of J.S.C. Svetlana in St. Petersburg, Russia. SED tubes are well known for their quality and superb tonal characteristics. The new logo incorporates the Russian factory symbol that appears on all SED-made tubes; all current production SED tubes and packaging will have the "Winged C" logo. Marshall and other U.K amplifiers use them widely for their stock tubes.   

These tubes are best known for their deep responsive bass and smooth top end response as well as a rich distorted tone. Winged C is regarded as some of the best-tested and built tubes in the industry, using thicker glass, and internal bracing- reducing microphonics. These have become a standard for Marshall El34 amplifiers, as well as a favorite for Vox, Matchless, Orange, and other El84 users. Having a larger sound stage than the Sovteks, the Winged C vacuum tubes are very punchy and forward sounding. These tubes are a very good choice for the traditional British Rock Sound.

http://www.ehx.com

http://www.jj-electronic.sk

http://www.sovtek.com

http://www.thetubestore.com

http://www.tubedepot.com

http://www.watfordvalves.com
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MadKind
December 24, 2012 - 23:08

Hi ! Must thx for these diagrams :) Now is about six hrs and I still browsing . Forgot to go to bed . You did a great job !

Grets ! Mad .

sashi daniels – India
July 27, 2012 - 03:05

I wonder if these are all the tube manufacturers left in the world?

lee u – Chesterfield, MI
May 31, 2012 - 08:16

Nice suprise to find your site.
thanks for the info.

colin
April 30, 2012 - 12:12

thank you for the traynor yba-3 download...looking 2 improve the tone, perhaps some new tubes in the near future...c

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