There are few things in music that sound better than the crisp, warm tones of a tube amplifier. To keep maintaining that great tone over a long period of time, it’s important to incorporate proper care and handling into your everyday use of your amp. Properly using the standby switch is one of the most important actions you can do to prolong the life of your tubes and your amp.
The tubes in your amp operate at their best when they are hot. In order for the tube to be able to return to that optimal heat level and output the nice sounds again and again, it’s important to warm it up and subsequently cool it down. Immediately powering on the amp and attempting to use it sends a shock of voltage through the tubes that can cause problems ranging from loss of functionality in the short term to a significant lowering of its lifespan in the long term.
The standby switch basically allows you to pass only enough voltage to the tube to raise it to its optimal temperature.
When powering on your amp:
- Flip the standby switch to ON
- Turn on the power
- Wait 2 – 3 minutes for the tube to warm up
- Flip the standby switch to OFF and begin using the amp
When powering off, the tube generally needs another 2 – 3 minutes to cool down.
You may wonder if using the standby switch when powering down is necessary – won’t the tube cool down regardless? It’s helpful to flip the standby switch when powering the amp off, mainly to save you a step whenever you return to the amp. If you’ve got roommates or family members who like to play with your gear, it’s also helpful to keep them from accidentally creating a surge or loud pops of volume without expecting it.
If you’re only stepping away from your amp for a short amount of time, you can leave it in “standby” mode which will allow the vacuum tube to maintain its temperature state without an excess waste of electricity or risk of feedback.
The longer you’d like to maintain the life of your vacuum tubes, the longer you’ll want to let them warm up and cool down each. Additionally, each type of vacuum tube has its own optimal warm up and cool down time. Take a moment to determine what type of tubes you have, and look up what its optimal warm up and cool down times are.
More and more people are questioning whether the standby switch is even necessary anymore (or if it ever was). Here’s a great article that makes a pretty compelling technical case. One of the main rationales of this perspective is that the risk of cathode splitting (the problem that surges of voltage cause) is really only a problem with higher voltages more in line with industrial vacuum tubes. With guitar amp tubes using a much lower amount of voltage than those tubes, the risk of damage is lower and thus the standby switch could be seen as an unneeded additional step.
For more things you can do to prolong the life of your tubes, check out our list of 10- vacuum tube care and maintenance tips.