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Thread: Old Glass = Class

  1. #1

    Old Glass = Class

    I admit it, I'm a fan of NOS tubes. Not all of them, and not in every amp, but when the combination is right...it's hard to beat.

    Not all that long ago, tubes were not merely for guitar amps and hi fi nuts. They were an essential technology and they had to perform.

    They had to work in (for example) hospital equipment, jet fighter and bomber aircraft (yes, really, and one reason was that they were supposedly less prone to malfunction in the event of a nuclear blast), tanks (all tanks made after the start of WWII have radios), car radios, televisions, scientific equipment, telecommunication, computers, and of course in recording equipment and audio gear of all kinds.

    They were, in general, made to a higher standard than most guitar amp tubes are today in order to meet these functional needs, and on equipment that was newer at the time, better maintained, and involving individuals and companies with far more experience in quality tube manufacture. And of course, tubes that were made to the highest standards were marked for military use; they weren't much different from their civilian counterparts, however.

    Today, if you've seen pictures of primitive-looking Chinese tube factories, and know about how old some of the Eastern European equipment being used to make tubes there is, you'd have a hard time believing that tubes were ever high-tech. But they were indeed.

    I've tried lots of brands of both old and new tubes, and there are audible differences between the brands, as well as the tubes of different eras. There are also differences in how long they last. I won't say whether a sound is better or worse, that's subjective, but in my experience in guitar amps revealing enough that the listener can hear a lot of detail, each brand sounds different.

    With lots of amps on the market, and lots of new and old tubes still available, it is possible to use these differences as sonic seasoning, and tailor an amp's tone to a degree.

    And yeah, we're not talking about huge differences, some can be subtle. But I'll say that replacing a set of NOS Chinese 12AX7s with a set of NOS Telefunken Smooth Plates in one of my Two-Rocks was a very interesting exercise that changed the character of the amp. And interestingly, I preferred the 80s Chinese tubes in that amp. Though I wound up replacing both sets with some ANOS RCAs that were the best of both worlds. And a set of NOS JAN Philips small bottle 6L6 WGBs really improved things compared to the modern glass the amp shipped with for power tubes.

    Why do I bring this up? Well, my DG30 was one of the few that came with NOS Brimar tubes. Brimar was actually an ITT subsidiary and stands for something like British American manufacture. In any case, the tubes were very high quality in their day, and have a unique sound, very round on top, sparkly, and to my mind, beautiful sounding. I'm working on finding more of the right spec.

    For me, a big commitment to an amp is when I get some NOS glass for it, and I found a set of Russian mil-spec 80s EL84Ms for the power section, that I'll install at some point (right now the stock modern tubes aren't even broken in, no sense in replacing them yet).

    I'm also planning to find some NOS Mullards for the HXDA down the road.

    So...thoughts on tubes, folks? Whether you think NOS is great, or a complete waste of money, it's all good, it's just fun to talk about this stuff!
    Last edited by LSchefman; 02-27-2014 at 06:59 PM.
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  2. #2
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    Hello les quick story I bought a mark 1 boogie in 1976 I was gigging every night . The amp came with ge 6l6's after about 5 years I replaced the power tubes with groove tubes, after about 6 months they started to fail one after another.i was gigging so I had no choice, after first set I put the ge's back in guess what those tubes are still in the amp,the amp is retired but every once in a while I fire it up up and it sounds just as fresh as. 1976. To answer your question I think nos tubes are overrated and you must be careful because some people take bad tubes and put them in old boxes and sell them as nos.i use tad tubes for years now without one failure.

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Bluesboy998 View Post
    To answer your question I think nos tubes are overrated and you must be careful because some people take bad tubes and put them in old boxes and sell them as nos.i use tad tubes for years now without one failure.
    I know there are lots of fakes out there. It's a bit like the Wild West!

    But there are also good suppliers who have real deal stuff. I do my homework to make sure that what I'm getting is real.

    Incidentally, Groove Tubes was just rebranding tubes they got in Russia, China, and Eastern Europe. The quality certainly varied quite a bit!
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  4. #4
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    By the way les I liked your clip of the dg. 30 . Now how about a comparison clip of the dg30 and the hxda.

  5. #5
    Senior Member andy474x's Avatar
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    I'll speak to the quality of those old tubes - a few years ago, I got a cool stash of old tubes. And when I say old, I don't mean NOS. Unless NOS means Nasty Old... well, you get the picture. A family friend "inherited" a piece of land, about 30 acres, with the most old junk you've ever seen on a piece of property. This place makes properties on American Pickers look like child's play. From 1932 to the late 90's, his grandfather ran a rural country store, dealt in used anything, cars, appliances, bikes, electronics, you name it, he would buy it off people or take it on trade. Fast forward to 2009, this place has HUNDREDS of old cars, televisions, stereos, in other words, a bunch of junk with a crap load of old tubes! Got permission to go tube hunting, and came back with a nice stash. Now, these tubes had been out in the elements in the Michigan weather for 30, 40, 50 years, their only protection being the confines of whatever piece of equipment they were inside. Many of them were so dirty or just plain old that you couldn't read the label, so I came back with a lot of tubes that weren't even of the guitar amp type. But I did get plenty that were too. 12ax7's, au7's, at7's, even a couple 12at7's and a 12az7. Surprisingly, most of them still worked, after decades out in the hot summers, cold winters, and rain and snow. So yeah, I would say those old tubes are pretty robust! And they sound great. I swapped them all through my modded Valve Jr., which was a great platform because it only takes one preamp tube, and it was a blast. My buddy that went tube picking with me had a Crate V33 at the time, not the most inspired amp you've ever heard, not by a long shot, but we mixed and matched old tubes in that amp until it actually sounded pretty dang good. And I'll add to that, the 12az7 tube I found in that stash is probably one of the coolest sounding tubes I've ever heard in a guitar amp. But I have to be careful, I don't know that it's a tube that can be popped into any old preamp without danger to the amp or the tube.

    I've had some amps that sounded vastly different with a tube change, and some that sounded pretty much the same. I swapped out some JJ's in my SE amp for Tung Sol 12ax7's, and it made a tiny bit of difference, but nothing crazy. But those are both tubes with modern construction. Good, but probably not the old-school spec.

    At $50+ apiece, I haven't quite gotten around to trying some unabused versions of the NOS/mil-spec tubes, but after seeing what they can still do after the beating they took out in that woods, you can bet I want to try some!
    Last edited by andy474x; 02-27-2014 at 09:16 PM.
    -I'm no expert, but it seems to work and I haven't electrocuted myself yet. Which is pretty much the standard I live by.

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  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Bluesboy998 View Post
    By the way les I liked your clip of the dg. 30 . Now how about a comparison clip of the dg30 and the hxda.
    Thanks! Though after listening again, I am sure I set the amp too bright and didn't get the most out of it. What I realized afterward is that with the boost switch on, the bright switch should be off. Also...the master needed to be higher for the gain setting, I set the bass too low, etc.

    So basically, I really have to learn the amp a bit more before posting clips. LOL

    And, the closed back Mesa cab is all wrong for the DG30. It needs that ported/semi-open back cab that was made for it.

    The HXDA I actually know how to work better, just from having one in the studio for a while. So yes, I'd be glad to do a comparison clip!

    Quote Originally Posted by andy474x View Post
    I'll speak to the quality of those old tubes - a few years ago, I got a cool stash of old tubes. And when I say old, I don't mean NOS. Unless NOS means Nasty Old... well, you get the picture. A family friend "inherited" a piece of land, about 30 acres, with the most old junk you've ever seen on a piece of property. This place makes properties on American Pickers look like child's play. From 1932 to the late 90's, his grandfather ran a rural country store, dealt in used anything, cars, appliances, bikes, electronics, you name it, he would buy it off people or take it on trade. Fast forward to 2009, this place has HUNDREDS of old cars, televisions, stereos, in other words, a bunch of junk with a crap load of old tubes! Got permission to go tube hunting, and came back with a nice stash. Now, these tubes had been out in the elements in the Michigan weather for 30, 40, 50 years, their only protection being the confines of whatever piece of equipment they were inside. Many of them were so dirty or just plain old that you couldn't read the label, so I came back with a lot of tubes that weren't even of the guitar amp type. But I did get plenty that were too. 12ax7's, au7's, at7's, even a couple 12at7's and a 12az7. Surprisingly, most of them still worked, after decades out in the hot summers, cold winters, and rain and snow. So yeah, I would say those old tubes are pretty robust! And they sound great. I swapped them all through my modded Valve Jr., which was a great platform because it only takes one preamp tube, and it was a blast. My buddy that went tube picking with me had a Crate V33 at the time, not the most inspired amp you've ever heard, not by a long shot, but we mixed and matched old tubes in that amp until it actually sounded pretty dang good. And I'll add to that, the 12az7 tube I found in that stash is probably one of the coolest sounding tubes I've ever heard in a guitar amp. But I have to be careful, I don't know that it's a tube that can be popped into any old preamp without danger to the amp or the tube.
    That's a really cool story! Where in Michigan was this place??
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  7. #7
    SuperD Boogie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LSchefman View Post
    I'm also planning to find some NOS Mullards for the HXDA down the road.
    Very highly recommended. I recently came across a sweet old Mullard 12ax7 and put it in V1 of my Boogie MkIII. That was a complete tonal transformation. A really damned good one.

    if you're pursuing that classic Kerry Livgren/Kansas tone, this tube change is the secret in your classic Marshall.
    Last edited by Boogie; 03-20-2014 at 07:17 AM.
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  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Boogie View Post
    Very highly recommended. I recently came across a sweet old Mullard 12ax7 and put it in V1 of my Boogie MkIII. That was a complete tonal transformation. A really damned good one.

    if you're pursuing that classic Kerry Livgren/Kansas tone, this tube change is the secret in your classic Marshall.
    I forgot all about that great tone he got! You're right, that is an absolutely classic sound.

    People rave about Mullards in a Marshall the way they do about RCAs in a Fender style amp. It's funny, I remember the days when every hardware store and even most drugstores had shelves stocked with tons of tubes, and tube testers the size of a jukebox next to them. You'd bring in your suspect tubes and test them, and if they tested bad, you'd buy new tubes.

    Today guitar players and hi fi nuts would drool over supplies of tubes like that, and back then they were just fungible parts, like light bulbs. The brands didn't even matter.

    Wouldn't a time machine be a great thing to have?
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  9. #9
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    Yeah les time machine.The first thing I would do is hit on sue vittarelli then I would buy some tubes .

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Bluesboy998 View Post
    Yeah les time machine.The first thing I would do is hit on sue vittarelli then I would buy some tubes .
    Ha!

    Then again, one could skip the tubes altogether...
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  11. #11
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    You know it.

  12. #12
    Senior Member LJD's Avatar
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    I've shelled out for a few duds, but currently all NOS gems in my PRRI. Tung Sol blackplate 6V6's, RCA blackplate in V1 & V2 and GE longplates for the rest. Mullard rectifier too. Everything sounds perfect, smooth natural breakup when I crank it. I feel like I got lucky because it's a crap shoot with some old glass. I found a reliable supplier who offers a 30 day guarantee in case of bad tubes.

  13. #13
    I was severely impressed Herr Squid's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LSchefman View Post
    I forgot all about that great tone he got! You're right, that is an absolutely classic sound.

    People rave about Mullards in a Marshall the way they do about RCAs in a Fender style amp. It's funny, I remember the days when every hardware store and even most drugstores had shelves stocked with tons of tubes, and tube testers the size of a jukebox next to them. You'd bring in your suspect tubes and test them, and if they tested bad, you'd buy new tubes.

    Today guitar players and hi fi nuts would drool over supplies of tubes like that, and back then they were just fungible parts, like light bulbs. The brands didn't even matter.

    Wouldn't a time machine be a great thing to have?
    I cried a little bit recently when I pulled out a 1988-ish guitar magazine and saw the Mesa ad offering Sylvania 6L6GCs for $10 a pair! Why didn't I stock up back then..?

  14. #14
    Cream Crackered Mikegarveyblues's Avatar
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    When I was a kid (before I picked up the guitar) I grew up in a little cotton town in the north of England called Blackburn.

    There was an old factory near my house that had closed down a few years before and my mates and I took great delight in finding a load of magnets and these strange little glass bulb things that where lying around the grounds. Side note: My father was less 'delighted' when I showed him what happened when I put the magnets near the TV!!! Oops!

    Turns out that factory was once a huge Mullard (Owned by Phillips) factory that was at one point the biggest manufacturer of valves in the world. They also manufactured TV's and the first Laser Discs there I believe.

    Blackburn made NOS 12AX7 ECC83's can still be had...

    Old video of the Blackburn plant:

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  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by Herr Squid View Post
    I cried a little bit recently when I pulled out a 1988-ish guitar magazine and saw the Mesa ad offering Sylvania 6L6GCs for $10 a pair! Why didn't I stock up back then..?
    Maybe you were too busy with sue vittarelli.
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  16. #16
    Cool, Mike!!
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  17. #17
    Classic Rocker prsrocker1988's Avatar
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    Big fan of NOS glass.

    I have original tubes in my old '55 Small Box Narrow Panel 5E3 Tweed Deluxe. It sounds killer. I just got it back from getting repaired (need new coupling caps and a power switch) and was tickled to hear ALL tubes (pre, power, and rectifier) tested strong. I've only had it for two years - bought it in Nashville at the Guitar Center on one of my many trips there. It's very warm and musical distortion - love my Dlx for recording especially.

  18. #18
    Senior Member Raymond's Avatar
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    I just remember I have a pair of Mullard tubes at home. The reason being that about 12 years or so ago I was into headphones and home audio big time, I still am but am happy with what I have so not found the need to upgrade. Anyway, my headphone amp uses tubes, and in search of the he perfect audio nirvana I bought a pair of Mullards for it. It's NOS and I recall 12 years or so ago set me back at least $50. I never got around installing them. I forgot what ones they are now, will need to find them again, may be compatible with some guitar amps.

  19. #19
    SuperD Boogie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Raymond View Post
    I just remember I have a pair of Mullard tubes at home. The reason being that about 12 years or so ago I was into headphones and home audio big time, I still am but am happy with what I have so not found the need to upgrade. Anyway, my headphone amp uses tubes, and in search of the he perfect audio nirvana I bought a pair of Mullards for it. It's NOS and I recall 12 years or so ago set me back at least $50. I never got around installing them. I forgot what ones they are now, will need to find them again, may be compatible with some guitar amps.
    Yeah, it ID them and if the stamping on the glass is clear, you'd probably do well to sell 'em. Heck, maybe not! Post up pics if you can, I'd love to see them.
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  20. #20
    Senior Member Raymond's Avatar
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    I am not sure if these work in any guitar amps but here they are. I have a matching pair of each one shown here.


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