There are many types of amp tubes, including the EL84 power amp tubes. If you’re a guitar player, you know the importance of these tubes. But have you ever asked yourself “how long do EL84 tubes last?”.
Whether you want to know how long they last, or when to replace them, you can find it in this article. So without further ado, let’s dive in!
What Is an EL84 Tube?
While playing the guitar, the amplifiers are responsible for producing the sound. They achieve that by elevating the little signals you make from the guitar pickup.
After that, they take these tiny signals and amplify them into something big enough to move air. This power is able to drive speakers to produce sound waves.
All amplifiers have similar components. When you look at the back of any amplifier, you’ll find a set of glass tubes that glows warmly.
An EL84 tube is a type of power output tube that you can find in your all-tube amplifier. It’s usually the biggest one you’ll find in your amplifier.
How Long Do EL84 Power Tubes Last?
It’s pretty hard to predict the lifespan of an EL84 tube or a power tube in general. In fact, it depends heavily on how much you use them. This means that they can last for months, years, or even forever. How? Let’s find out!
Theoretically, if you leave the tubes without use they can last forever. This means that they have no shelf life or an actual lifespan. However, they start to wear out by use.
As a rule of thumb, you can predict how much time you have left on your EL84 tube according to your use. To put things in perspective, let’s have a quick look at that example:
Let’s say you’re playing the guitar on a daily basis and on a moderate volume level. For example, you use the guitar for about 1.5 to 2 hours every day. In that case, you can expect the EL84 power tube to serve you for about 1 or 1.5 years.
At the same time, you should expect your preamp tubes and rectifier tubes to last a bit longer. Preamp should last anywhere between 2 to 3 years, while the rectifier tubes should last for even more than 5 years in that case.
This means that if you’re practicing guitar twice a week, you should expect it to last much longer. In fact, some players claim that EL84 tubes can last for 5 to 10 years before wearing out.
Factors Affecting The Lifespan of EL84 Power Tubes
As you can notice, there are a lot of aspects that can affect the lifespan of the EL84 power tube. Let’s have a closer look at these factors.
As you already know, EL84 power tubes won’t wear out on their own. However, the moment you turn them on, they’ll start to wear out. This means that leaving them on even without playing affects their longevity.
The Way You Use them
The way you use the EL84 power tubes also has a direct effect on their lifespan. If you work them really hard, don’t expect them to last for years to come.
Notice that I said “work them hard” and not “play them hard”. In fact, you can stress your EL84 power tubes while testing them.
This includes playing them at maximum levels into a power attenuator or a dummy load. Just because it won’t sound as loud and hard doesn’t mean you aren’t stressing them out.
The Volume Used
Of course, the louder you blast your guitar, the harder you’re going to stress the amplifiers. This includes all the tubes and the EL84 power tubes are no exception here.
This means that if you practice at maximum volume once or twice a week for as little as 1 or 2 hours, the tubes may last even less than 3 or 4 years.
Their Heat Level
Amplifier tubes work as valves that regulate the flow of electric current into the system. That’s why some guitarists call them valves instead of tubes.
These tubes put out a huge load of wattage and drive. As a result, they produce a fair amount of heat. While all amp tubes get hot after using, power tubes are the hottest.
EL84 power tubes can become too hot for touch. As a reference, the ignition temperature of paper is around 450 °F (232.2 °C). Some guitarists report that they find the labels on the EL84 were charred.
This shows how hot these tubes can get. Keeping the power tubes in this heat for a long time also affects its lifespan.
“On and Off” Frequency
Last but not least, the biggest stressor on the power tubes is the on and off cycle. This factor stresses the EL84 so much that some players leave the amplifier on all day and night.
However, this is also wrong as it’ll also affect the lifespan of the EL84 tube. So, it’s important to find a good balance between the two factors.
How to Minimize the effect of the “On and Off” Cycle?
As you already know, “on and off” cycles is the biggest stressor on your EL84 power amp. To minimize this effect, you need to turn the amplifier on about 15 minutes before your session and keep it on when you’re 100% sure that you’re done listening.
Signs of Wear
There are many ways to notice that your EL84 tubes are begging to malfunction. Here’s a list of all the signs you might come across:
- You noticed that the maximum volume is a bit lower than usual
- You start hearing popping or crackling sounds
- Sounds like there is too much low end (bass)
- Little to no high end (treble)
- The volume levels are unstable and erratic (volume swells)
With that said, you now know how long EL84 tubes last. As you can see, it highly depends on many factors like the sheer amounts of hours played, the volume, and the heat level.
You also know that the biggest stressor is the “on and off” cycle, which you now know how to deal with.
If you notice any of the previous signs, consider getting a new tube. Since the EL84 tube can last for a bit with these symptoms, you can keep it as a spare power tube.