Taking Care Of Your Tube Amp II

A practical guide for keeping your tube amp in top shape, and hints you may not have known at keeping it out of trouble.

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Ah, tube amplifiers. Most guitarists swear by tone, and the greatest musicians of our time, and our parents' time, have used tubes to create their envious tones. So why on earth has the world switched to transistor use for amplifiers, if tubes give off an amazing vibe? Well, there are two main reasons for this: cost and care. One salesman described tube amps to me wonderfully; having tubes are like having kids. They whine, complain, can be a pain the ass, cost you money, and steal away from your personal time. But tubes, just like children, can reward you with great tones, not to mention a wonderful resale value, and prestige. Bragging about buying a Marshall JCM800 is far more rewarding than bragging about a Peavey Rage 30, right? Right. So, really, if you want to be a good parent for your amplifier, start by treating your amp with respect. Make sure you use an amplifier cover, keep drinks off of the top, don't use it as a coffee table, footrest or seat, under any circumstances. But caring for your tubes goes beyond that. So, to start things off, here are basic things you can do to extend the life of your tubes:

Use The Standby Mode

Ever wonder what "standby" meant? Well, its a state of equilibrium for your amp - not on, and not off. The speaker remains inactive, but preamp and poweramp tubes are given a warmup. Some people will suggest you have your amp in standby before and after playing for two minutes, but other sources suggest 30 seconds. I'd suggest you keep it in standby for an absolute minimum of 1 minute, before and after playing. If you'd been playing for a while, keep it in standby until everything has cooled down. This helps to increase the life of your tubes dramatically, if you do it each and every time you play.

Don't Get It Wet

Well, obviously. Don't get your amp's cover wet, because this degrades the cover, ruining the resale value. If you get it really wet, the moisture can seep into the wood, ruining the tonal balance of the wood. If you get the electronics wet, you've really messed it up. Remember, never leave any drinks on top of your amp. Never turn your amp on if its wet under any circumstances, and never, EVER let moisture seep into the back. Stuff like this will cause short circuiting, leaving you with a hefty repair bill.

Don't Get It Cold

How would you feel if you were left in a car in 0 degree temperatures for 2 hours? Not too happy, obviously. So why would your amp be any different? Well, its not. If you must get your amp cold, always leave a cover on, and make every attempt to keep it as warm as possible. Remember the water warning? Well, if its cold enough, water vapour will collect on your amp. Not cool. Also, refer back to using the standby mode. The point of standby is to let your tubes warm up so they aren't exposed to extreme temperature changes. Make sure your tubes & components have fully adjusted to room temperature before even turning on standby. Do a quick check to ensure no water vapour has collected on any wiring components.

Keep Your Eye On It

Always keep your eye on your amplifier in public places. Whether its a small school gig, or you're in a bar, make sure nobody's coming up and touching your amplifier. Don't let it stay unsupervised, and always let a trusted friend keep an eye on it, or pick it up and move it. Simply put, people aren't as innocent as you'd like them to believe. Most people don't understand the concept of tubes and their delicacy, so you better be moving delicate equipment by yourself, or at least by someone who knows what they're doing. Make sure your amp is connected to a speaker (or a dummy load) at ALL times. If you notice that the speaker signal has been cut for some reason (an uncommon occurance nowadays, but keep an eye out if you're using an old amp) turn your amplifier off immediately. If the speaker has been disconnected for some reason, the power transformer & power tubes will be destroyed because there is no resistance for the signal to be applied to. Of course, the number one rule for tube amp care is to not let anyone borrow your amplifier. This has to go without saying, because if something does go wrong while its in the care of someone else, they may not know anything's gone wrong, and continue to use the amplifier. See anything wrong now? Of course. If a burning smell emits from the back power tubes, the user may not think anything of it, but it could turn out to be a serious problem if left unattended. And, of course, they may not even adhere to the rules stated above. A good tube amp can last for years and years. In fact, if your tubes are carefully paid attention to, they can last for many years, while they won't sound as good as they should. With average playtime, power tubes need to be replaced about once a year or so, but if you're playing a lot, they may need to be replaced after 8 months. When your tube amp starts sounding loose, and slightly off, all it needs is a power tube replacement. Generally, when tubes lose their vacuum, they turn white, so you'll know to replace the tubes. Preamp tubes don't need to replaced as often as power tubes, because they hardly receive a workout when the amp is on. Power tubes, however, are really pushed, especially on distortion. Thanks for reading my article, and I hope anything you've learned serves you well. Sincerely, - Backup Guitar

49 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    shreddymurphy
    mtlhdwylde wrote: Tube amps have a nice warm tone for playing chords when ur in a calm mood but nothing beats the facts that my Peavey, Crate, and Line 6 have more distortion than any tube amp will ever have
    Are you ****ing tone def?
    Slayer224
    mtlhdwylde wrote: Tube amps have a nice warm tone for playing chords when ur in a calm mood but nothing beats the facts that my Peavey, Crate, and Line 6 have more distortion than any tube amp will ever have
    Ahhhh... dont't think so. Theres ALOT of tube amps that will have more gain than solid states and sound better. Take the Engls for example or the Peavey 5150/6505 or the almighty Mesa boogie dual rectifier plus many many more. Fool.
    tpw66
    I just purchased my first tube ampBlackstar HT 5R combo and i must say it's like listening to a.m. Radio (fender frontman 212r i own) and compareing that to CD-quality sound as far as clarity goes with my new Tube amp. Wow!! The dynamic nuances alone and overall clarity are worth the money for a tube amp in my opinion. As far as loudness goes this thing being only 5 WattsI was really surprised how loud tube amp can get. Last but not least, the distortion is so clear and you can still hear individual notes as opposed to when I was playing through my fender solid-state amp, Even with a really good distortion pedal in front of the fender it still sounds way better on the tube amp. I'm really glad I made to move over to a tube amp I will never go back to a solid-state ever again!
    juzcook
    great article, very handy to know. i run a mesa dual rectifier, and id hate to let it get damaged in any way
    Voodoo8868
    i got a tub amp...im suprised mines not facked up yet...its been in the cold, had some wine spilt on it...played really loud...lol....but yeah, i clean it though, i change the tube every 4 months, even if its not blown
    mtlhdwylde
    Tube amps have a nice warm tone for playing chords when ur in a calm mood but nothing beats the facts that my Peavey, Crate, and Line 6 have more distortion than any tube amp will ever have
    lpfrodo2
    I'm a big user of stompboxes (especially my EHX big muff and crybaby), how do tubes usually sound with them?? also i use my big muff with pretty high sustain and tone so will that shorten the tubes lives??
    ac29metal
    hey, so i've accidentally a couple times had the amp on but i forgot to connect it to the cab. this was only for a few seconds both times. should i be worried?
    biglaz84
    Tube amps have a nice warm tone for playing chords when ur in a calm mood but nothing beats the facts that my Peavey, Crate, and Line 6 have more distortion than any tube amp will ever have hahahahahahhahahahahahahhahahahahahahahahahahahhahah hahhahahahahahaahhahahahahahahhahahahahahhahahahhahahahahahh ahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahhahahhhahaha
    rsinetheta
    Vinura wrote: ive got Peavy rage 158...awsome amp...love the little thing...very versatile tube amp..well it says transtube on it so im guessing it is similar to a tube
    Actually your Peavy is a solid state amp, not tube. It's made to emulate the sound of a tube amp and by reading your comment they must do a fine job of it. I've never played one, maybe I should check one out.
    zoeldog27
    I just brought my first tube amp ever and ive been a solid state line 6 guy for years swore by my HD147 head btut now i have a Marshall MHZ40C running through a Marshall 1960b quad box & the only effects i have is a slash wah a boss dd3 delay a guyatone ps102 distorion and a equalizer and its the best setup ive ever had kick my line 6 set up with a billion effects arse wow im so amazed everything souds so so so so much better its like where have these tube amps been all my life damn very impressed Mr Jim Marshall very impressed so to anyone who hasnt played a tube amp save the money and get one its so worth it you know so with in the first few minuites of playing wow so blown away from Melbourne Australia awesome artical thanks backup
    Prevaler
    I've got a new BlackHeart BH100H. The second time I turned it on it was not in stanby. It made a loud hum as it warmed up. Then it crackled/sizzled like an AM radio at night with a thunder storm in the distance. It stopped after about 4 minutes. The mfg said it was ok, just don't turn it on without stanby first. That sounded like a cover up. I'm thinking bad caps or tubes. Your oppinion please?
    Kazue00
    "But tubes, just like children, can reward you with great tones, not to mention a wonderful resale value" hahahahahahahahahahahaahahahahahahahaha nice
    +1000 Good article, gonna start taking better care of my ValveKing xD
    the00rocker
    "But tubes, just like children, can reward you with great tones, not to mention a wonderful resale value" hahahahahahahahahahahaahahahahahahahaha nice
    Everett Stewart
    Just got my first tube amp.... A 68 Deluxe Reverb by Fender. Wondering if pedals and stomp boxes etc. will affect the tubes or speaker? Your article has already taught me a lot.... Thank you estewart@rjjenkins.com
    axeslinger01
    dude i have a rage 158 also and its not a tube amp at all! its a piece of crap and i olny got it cause it was cheap
    eduardo-16
    Oh God, I've been playing a tube amp for 2 years (+Some before i buyed it used) and I even didn't know that I have a tube amp, till yesterday... Now I know what I have. Really thank you.
    harak
    Yes, it matters what type of tubes you put in there. Different types of tubes give out different wattages ( I think, don't quote me on that ).
    BibaLin
    This is better than mine but i think in mine i explain more. Just less detailed. you just explained the obvious. but good. your the best backup!
    P.B.
    some tubes make it harder to make you're sound 'break' or 'squeal'. For example Military tubes.
    jimmy_jazz_1979
    This really helps a lot thanks for writing a great article. About what kind of tubes to use as long as they are the same type(12AX7, EL84) that are ment for the amp brand and mankers don't matter.
    ehwmatt22
    Good article, a nice, accessible "one-stop" info source for tube newbies... even if its all on UG somewhere. Good work =]
    die_republicans
    i have a 1960 fender tube amp and i worship by it i dont use it for giging because it is very fragile im saving it till i record and ill use that as my studio amp
    Vinura
    ive got Peavy rage 158...awsome amp...love the little thing...very versatile tube amp..well it says transtube on it so im guessing it is similar to a tube
    greatone_12
    how do i know when the tubes need to be replaced?
    when the tubes turn white or you could change your preamp tubes every 18 months and your power tubes every 12 months thats what most amp and tube companies sugest
    WhiteKnight123
    How would you feel if you were left in a car in 0 degree temperatures for 2 hours? Not too happy, obviously. So why would your amp be any different?
    Because my amp is not a person, an di hope you dont think your is either....
    axeslinger01
    this will help me take care of me Bassman100 from the 70s now my tubes will be safe lol