I always thought the number of preamp tubes determined how much distortion the amp produces, but now im not quite sure. the 6505 has 5, and the 5150III has 8, so i assumed this was true. but i was surfing musiciansfriend and saw that the H&K Switchblade only has 2, but i've played it and the gain is crushing! if this doesnt determine the amount of gain, what can i look out for that will?
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It might be Power Tubes, not Preamp. But I'm not too sure.
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i believe it's the ratio between the two and also how it's biased that determine, not sure tho.
yes and no, it also depends what kind of tubes and stuff like that its really hard unless i know exactly the specs of the amp and stuff but generally yes but that h&k amp is a exception aswell as others.
Number of preamp tubes doesnt really determine amount of distortion. Its a bit more complicated than that. I had an ampeg with 2 12ax7s had no distortion and have a Kustom amp with 2 12ax7s and it has 2 channels of distortion. Theres alot that goes into wiring amps to get the right tone. A hundred watt amp will have more tubes than a 50 watt but could still have the same distortion. Just gotta try em to find the one you want.
In a manner of speaking, the preamp valves are what generate the distortion, but it's the amp's circuitry which tells them how much to generate...

Certainly adding more preamp valves won't automatically create more though it can easily do so if require.
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Also keep in mind the Switchblade is kind of digital...

Only the effects, which I think they come in in between the pre and power amps.
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The more preamp tubes that are in the signal (this doesn't include phase inverters, reverb drivers, effects loop buffers, etc), the more preamp distortion you can get. It doesn't necessarily mean there is more gain, but it is usually a fairly good indication.