#1
I'm retubing my amp now and as we all now, a full set of tubes for an amp can easily run upwards of 100$ depending on the model and wattage of the amp and the kind of tube.

That got me thinking about old appliances that had tubes... TVs, radios etc. Those required the same sort of maintenance on a regular basis (maybe even more... an average TV gets more use than an average guitar amp)

It seems to me that if tubes were the same relative price as they are today, people must have spent a small fortune maintaining their electrical equipement?

However if one considers the huge market for tubes that would have existed at the time, it's not unreasonable to assume that there would have been a sortof cheap/plentiful alternative for everyday use. That would mean that the relative price of tubes has gone up dramatically in relation to the shrinking size of the market.


So let's consider my example right now. I need to retube my vox AC30C2 which has 3 preamp tubes and 4 power tubes.

Cheap preamp tubes are around 10$. Relatively expensives ones 20$ (I know you can spend more but the super expensive ones aren't as common and might skew the results)

Cheap power tubes are around 20$, nicer ones around 40.

So retubing my amp will cost me between 110$ and 220$

That doesn't tell us much since it's in 2013 dollars. So before we start comparing prices we need a guide to help us relativise the price. I propose that we use minimum wage.

In Quebec (Where I live) the 2013 minimum wage is 10.15$ an hour. So we can deduce that a retubing costs between 10 to 20 hours of minimum wage work (or half an hour at my salary! LOL!!!! just kidding of course)

So how do you figure the relative cost would change if we go back to the sixties and seventies, back when tubes were much more common?


In 1960, minimum wage in quebec was 0.69$ an hour. So if we keep the same ratio, a retubing should cost between 7 and 14$ in parts.

In 1970, minimum wage in quebec was around 1.50$ an hour. So the potential retubing should be close to 15 to 30$


What I want to know is do you know where I can find price listing for tubes from 60s and 70s? Ideally from canadian suppliers. But if you find one from your own country, do the math. Information on minimum wage throughout the years is pretty easy to find. How much does a retubing cost you now in absolute terms and in relative terms, how much in the 60s and how much in the 70s?


I'm very curious to hear results from the world over
#2
You would be hard-pressed to find such information, unless you came across an old product catalog that listed the prices. The tubes that are used in instrument amplifiers were not expensive components until the transistor replaced them in almost every application. The reasons for the low cost were many: nearly every electrical device of the type had them, and they had to be replaced on a regular basis; there were a number of companies in the United States that manufactured them by the truckload, and there were no environmental or workplace hazard laws that required precautions that impeded production. Plus, things were just less expensive in those days; even if you adjust for inflation.

You might send an e-mail to some of the companies that used to make them: GE, RCA, etc. They might be able to help you out.
"Maybe this world is another planet's hell?" - Aldous Huxley
#3
Awesome question I think. Pretty hard to find any old price listings for these (I just tried for a good bit and pretty tough to find much on this).

I suppose the best way to find out would be to either talk to someone who played during that time period or calling a supplier that is still in existence. Very cool question.
Last edited by badfish_lewis at Oct 1, 2013,
#4
Not that this is a particularly valid source, but in Spider-Man #2 published in 1963, a villain masquerading as a radio repair man charges a dime to replace a tube. Even adjusted for inflation that's less than a dollar today. Prices are almost certainly much higher today than they would have been back when everything ran off of them.
#6
Quote by Roc8995
Not that this is a particularly valid source, but in Spider-Man #2 published in 1963, a villain masquerading as a radio repair man charges a dime to replace a tube. Even adjusted for inflation that's less than a dollar today. Prices are almost certainly much higher today than they would have been back when everything ran off of them.


lol! maybe part of his villainery included undercutting sales to ruin his competitors. I'll try to find old catalogues tonight! I encourage you to post what you find
#7
Ok, after doing some actual research, your Spidey sense proved to be correct! The villain's price of ten cents was suspiciously low, and eventually contributed to his capture! As well it should have, because ten cents is way less than what a tube cost in 1960.

Here's an old Radio Shack catalog:
http://www.radioshackcatalogs.com/catalogs/1960/

Go to page 171. A 12AX7 is $1.43, and a 6L6 is $2.07, which come to $11.30 an $16.36 in 2013 dollars. That's not too far off of modern prices, but considering how much longer a GE tube made in 1960 would last, the cost is significantly less. Your $15 JJ 12AX7 only costs a bit more than a GE or RCA would have in 1960, but it's only going to last 3 years or so, while the sturdier old tubes would often last for 10-20 in a guitar amp, and two or three times that in a radio or similarly less taxing device.

Here's a database of old Rat Shack catalogs if you're interested.
http://www.alliedcatalogs.com/

And here is the Spider-Man panel in question!


What an interesting turn this question has taken
#8
Thanks for your answer Roc, that's really interesting!

What strikes me as odd is that the tube went from being a household item mass produced in the millions to being an intricate and vital piece of fragile high end (so luxurious) pieces of pro audio but yet there was virtually no difference in price!
#9
that must've been in the same comic where batman smacked robin for buying a modelling amp
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Quote by K33nbl4d3
I'll have to put the Classic T models on my to-try list. Shame the finish options there are Anachronism Gold, Nuclear Waste and Aged Clown, because in principle the plaintop is right up my alley.

Quote by K33nbl4d3
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Et tu, br00tz?
#10
Actually, come to think about it.... If we consider the minimum wage we do see a difference. (Let's assume that the minimum wage was similar in canada and the US)


In 1960, a 12ax7 cost 1.43 and minimum wage wage was 0.69$/h. That means that it took about two hours to buy a 12ax7 tube

In 2013, a 12ax7 costs 10-13 dollars and minimum wage is roughly 10$. That means that it takes roughly an hour to buy a tube. Therefore tubes are cheaper today...

Right?
#11
Quote by flexiblemile
Thanks for your answer Roc, that's really interesting!

What strikes me as odd is that the tube went from being a household item mass produced in the millions to being an intricate and vital piece of fragile high end (so luxurious) pieces of pro audio but yet there was virtually no difference in price!

It actually makes some sense if you consider the quality difference. Compared to what was being made in the 60s, tubes today are total crap, and yet they're still more expensive. GE, RCA, Raytheon, Telefunken, Mullard - all of the companies that made those great robust tubes all stopped making them once the market shifted towards transistors. There are some boutique tubes made today that try to compete with those old tubes, and the prices are astronomical - Gold Lion EL84s are $50 each. So if you only examine in one dimension, the prices have indeed stayed fairly flat, but considering the quality, your "tubes per year" price skyrockets.

Remember that those same old $1.43 12AX7s that you could order by the dozen (and save!) out of that RS catalog now sometimes fetch $100 each on the NOS market.

I kept the inflation equation simple, because "hours of work" gets complicated in a hurry. For example, housing, education, and healthcare costs have all skyrocketed recently, so even if a tube costs fewer hours of work, it may cost a larger percentage of your actual take-home pay after your expenses are factored in. So I just left it at inflation, because that's what it's meant to convey - raw buying power.
#12
Quote by Roc8995

I kept the inflation equation simple, because "hours of work" gets complicated in a hurry. For example, housing, education, and healthcare costs have all skyrocketed recently, so even if a tube costs fewer hours of work, it may cost a larger percentage of your actual take-home pay after your expenses are factored in. So I just left it at inflation, because that's what it's meant to convey - raw buying power.



I suppose you're right about this. Minimum wage is probably merely one of the many variables in "inflation"

It makes me wonder though... With the ever increasing population, you're bound to have more and more guitarists. Tube amps are also getting cheaper and cheaper. I wonder how long it'll take before the amount of tube consumers will be comparable with the amount of radio owners from 1960.... At that point it will be worthwhile for a big manufacturer to make new, good quality, cheap tubes.
#13
I don't think there'll ever be as much tubes in guitar amplifiers or audio application in general, as there were in the '60s.

Even with more guitarists and more amps, say each guitarist in the world will own one tube amp, that requires 5 tubes - 2 for the pre, 1 for the inverter, and 2 for the power.
We're about 7 billion people, and say 1 each 14 people is a guitarist: we have 2.5 billion tubes out there.

In the middle of the '60s there were about 3.5 billion people.
Almost each family, so say each 5 people, owned a radio, and when TV became popular, almost each family owned one, too.
People listened to music, so they had general purpose audio amplifiers.
Don't quote me on that, but say a common radio used 3 tubes, a common TV used 5 and a common amp used 5 as well.
Then, 1/6th of the people had cool equipment, so cool radios used 5 tubes, cool TV used 10 and cool amps used 15.
There were guitarists in the 60's too, and say a 10th of the guitarists, who were a 60th of the people, had a tube amp using 5 tubes.

If math's by my side tonight, in the '60s we have 47529166665 (47.5 billion), and now 2.5.
We would need to buy a ****in crazy lot of amps and we would need to be a ****in crazy lot of guitarists.
Also, the next amp I'm buying is a Kemper :P
Name's Luca.

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#14
I doubt very much that all 3.5 billion people alive in 1960s lived to the American standard of a radio and a TV in every household. (Or slightly under 90% of households if some quick google searches are to be trusted).
Even today there are only about 1.5 billion television sets*, so your estimate of 700 million sets for half that population seems extremely optimistic given the technological advances during that same time frame.

Instead of making up numbers, suffice it to say that vacuum tubes used to be an integral part of consumer, commercial, and military processes, and that they were almost certainly made in larger numbers as a result.

If you are interested in reliable numbers, The Second Information Revolution By Gerald W. Brock indicates (page 93) ** that vacuum tube sales stayed between $350 and $500 million per year from 1950-1966 and significantly fewer after that. The average tube price was apparently $0.65 in 1950 and $0.68 in 1965, so at a rough estimate we can say that between 1950 and 1966 there might have been 10 billion tubes produced, or 650 million per year.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (published 1979) states that annual production of tubes "decreased by roughly a factor of three between 1960 and 1975."***
The Highbeam Industry Report**** shows a general downard trend even from 1990 to the present (after a small increase in the 1990s, mostly lead by CRT sales for TVs) and doesn't even make mention of musical equipment, suggesting that tubes for guitars are barely a blip on the vacuum tube production market, though they may be the only portion of the market not in a freefall, given the relatively recent obsolescence of CRTs.

So we might get a more complete picture of how tube production has changed if we bother looking for actual data instead of extrapolating from already made-up numbers.

* http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/med_tel-media-televisions
**http://books.google.com/books?id=GbwuBixLwAoC&pg=PA94&lpg=PA94&dq=vacuum+tube+production+1960+millions&source=bl&ots=gYLfo4EgqN&sig=3XpqDCu06NlwgwTnoS5DUYPBzFk&hl=en&sa=X&ei=qjRLUtH7HcbgyQHCvYCQBw&ved=0CCwQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=vacuum%20tube%20production%201960%20millions&f=false
***http://encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/Vacuum+Tube
****http://business.highbeam.com/industry-reports/equipment/electron-tubes
#16
you haven't factored in all those tubes which were lost in bugera fires, though, colin.
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Quote by K33nbl4d3
I'll have to put the Classic T models on my to-try list. Shame the finish options there are Anachronism Gold, Nuclear Waste and Aged Clown, because in principle the plaintop is right up my alley.

Quote by K33nbl4d3
Presumably because the CCF (Combined Corksniffing Forces) of MLP and Gibson forums would rise up against them, plunging the land into war.

Quote by T00DEEPBLUE
Et tu, br00tz?
#18
well either that or we're making more nowadays than we were in the 50s
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Quote by K33nbl4d3
I'll have to put the Classic T models on my to-try list. Shame the finish options there are Anachronism Gold, Nuclear Waste and Aged Clown, because in principle the plaintop is right up my alley.

Quote by K33nbl4d3
Presumably because the CCF (Combined Corksniffing Forces) of MLP and Gibson forums would rise up against them, plunging the land into war.

Quote by T00DEEPBLUE
Et tu, br00tz?
#19
I was gonna suggest that Radioshack catalog archive site, but Colin beat me to it.
That's your best bet though.

A bit off topic, but I got my last set of tubes for me AC30 here : https://www.eurotubes.com/cart/index.php?page=view_submenu&category_id=130
#21
Quote by flexiblemile
Thanks for your answer Roc, that's really interesting!

What strikes me as odd is that the tube went from being a household item mass produced in the millions to being an intricate and vital piece of fragile high end (so luxurious) pieces of pro audio but yet there was virtually no difference in price!


The big difference is that the many companies that manufactured those tubes in the United States and Europe shut down their factories when demand for the things dried up. The factories producing them today probably don't have a lot of demand for their tubes outside of musicians and audiophiles. You also run into some serious issues with tubes here in the United States because of environmental regulations and hazardous waste laws. They all add to the cost.

If you ask me, the amazing thing is that such a small niche market has managed to keep those tube factories in business this long.
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