Basics Of Vacuum Tube Amps

If you wonder how a vacuum tube amplifier works, you are in the right place. We’re going to discuss the basics of this type of amplifier shortly. There’s something special about these when it comes to making music.

There are plenty of advantages you gain from using one of these. Yet, there are some downsides that you’ll want to be aware of. Not to mention, these amplifiers contain some technology used by the military.

Vacuum tube amplifiers have been used by many guitar legends back in the infancy of rock and roll. In the 1960s or 1970s, vacuum tube amps were undoubtedly one of the preferred types of amps by musicians everywhere. 

These can be known as tubes or valves. But no matter what you call them, they serve a purpose like nothing else. So let’s delve right in and talk more about the vacuum tube amplifier basics.

What is a Vacuum Tube Amplifier?

A vacuum tube amplifier uses vacuum tubes or electron tubes (hence the name). It also uses components such as thermionic valves. The purpose of these tubes and valves is designed to amplify an electronic signal’s power.

It will usually take a lower level of a sound signal and amplify it to the speakers or headphones (depending on what’s being used). These vacuum tubes are usually made of glass.

Think of these as slimmer versions of a light bulb that you find at your house. These vacuum tubes will allow the current to travel in this vacuum-like state. It then travels through a filament that will expel electrons.

These amplifiers were among the first that were mass-produced. One of the reasons why they grew in popularity was due to the vacuum tubes creating a strong audio signal with the help of a wall current and other current inputs involved.

As the late 1960s approached, these amplifiers became the direct competitor of solid-state amplifiers. The difference between these two amplifiers is that the solid-state types didn’t require vacuum tubes.

It was widely believed that such an amplifier with no vacuum tubes would prevent less burnout and lesser times to replace the parts when needed. 

When audio was being played through the speakers of each amplifier, musicians noticed that the sounds played on either one proved there was a distinguishable difference from each other. For example, the vacuum tube amplifier provided a richer and softer sound quality, making it easier to listen to.

When listening to a solid-state amplifier, the sound quality wasn’t as rich or soft. Thus, it gives the vacuum tube amplifiers the edge in the battle between two rivals.

If sound quality is something you love, a vacuum tube amplifier might be worth giving a try. You can find newer models on Amazon. But if you need to find amplifiers for a guitar, eBay could be an excellent place to look.

What kind of benefits does a vacuum tube amplifier have?

One of the significant benefits of a vacuum tube amplifier is that it can handle high voltage. They can handle electric overloads better than any amp on the market. 

Also, they tend to be more durable. These amplifiers use the same technology the military used for radar and radio communications. So you are using some heavy-duty stuff here that can serve an excellent purpose.

Another cool thing about these is that vacuum tubes can dissipate plenty of heat. This means that the amp can stay cool, and the risk of overheating is less likely. If you ever wonder why TVs or radios back in the day don’t get too hot, it’s because they’re using vacuum tubes as well.

The last benefit is subjective and has already been touched upon. The sound quality is a lot better than solid-state amplifiers.

The disadvantages of a vacuum tube amplifier

Now that you know some of the benefits, there are some disadvantages that I’ll be covering. So let’s cut to the chase.

First, the vacuum tubes used in these amplifiers will need a cathode heater. These will produce energy but can also cause heat loss in the process. 

The vacuum tubes are also large and may take up plenty of room. On top of that, they may add some bulk to the amplifiers themselves.

If you are looking for a guitar amplifier that contains vacuum tubes, keep in mind you may be spending a lot of money compared to the others. These amplifiers may also have tubes that can break, which can be harmful to children and pets if they come across damaged tubes.

Remember, these tubes are made of glass. So they need to be appropriately disposed of if you come across any vacuum tubes that may have busted. 

The last disadvantage is the possible amount of maintenance. This means you may need to maintain a few parts and keep them in working order, so you don’t have to keep replacing them all the time. Replacement parts can also be costly as well.

Speaking of costly, these amplifiers do use plenty of power. Because of that, you can expect your energy bill to creep up quite a bit. 

In an age where we rely on saving as much energy as possible, you may be looking at alternatives. But more power comes with the territory (and so do the costs).

What is the purpose of these vacuum tube amplifiers?

Vacuum tube amplifiers serve multiple purposes. For one, they can be used for listening to music.

These can also enhance sound while you are watching television or even a movie. What makes these amplifiers stand out is they have fun looking design. Just by looking at them, it’s like seeing something that would be part of a space shuttle.

As far as overall design was concerned, these were considered ahead of their time.

Indeed, you can use these amplifiers for guitars as well. If you want to make some high-quality sounds, there is no denying these are the amplifiers you wish to use. Especially when you want to make those old-school rock sounds that many rock legends produced in the golden era of rock and roll.

Who is to say that Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, or Stevie Ray Vaughn didn’t use these types of amplifiers? These amplifiers will live on as one of the best in the business no matter how many types there are out there.

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Buyer’s Guide: What to Consider When Purchasing a Vacuum Tube Amplifier

Just in case you are entertaining the idea of purchasing a vacuum tube amplifier, we have put together this buyer’s guide for you. There are some factors that you want to check out so you can make an easy decision.

There are plenty of these amplifiers on the market. So choosing them can be a challenge. Let’s take a look at the following:

Budget

You’ll want to take a look at the price tag if you are on a budget. As mentioned before, these types of amplifiers are usually expensive. Not to mention, the higher-priced they are, the better the quality.

It’s important that you find the best affordable in terms of quality. To clear any confusion, this doesn’t mean going for the cheapest option. Why sacrifice quality to save money?

Wattage

The wattage means the amount of power it will output when used. Thus, the more watts it will put out, the more power it can use. At this point, you already know that these amplifiers will require quite a bit of energy.

So if you are planning on saving as much energy as you can, you’re going to need something low in wattage.

Intent and purpose

As mentioned, these amplifiers can be used for various purposes. For example, you can use it for your guitar. Or you can use it as a sound system, so you get rich quality sound when you watch television shows and movies.

Either way, these amplifiers show that they are versatile in how they are used. 

Inputs/Outputs

These amplifiers will have a certain number of inputs and outputs. These will be great for any piece of equipment you want to connect to. It can be guitars, headphones, or anything that a vacuum tube amplifier can connect to.

The more of these inputs/outputs that you have, the better. 

Size

Amps can differ in size. Some may be larger than others: the larger, the more expensive.

Don’t forget that some of the amps will also be heavier in weight if they are larger. 

FAQs

Are Vacuum Tube Amplifiers Better?

These amplifiers can create better sounds. The reason for this is euphonic distortions. Casual music listeners may even notice a difference in sound when hearing it on these amplifiers compared to other speakers.

Do Amps Still Use Vacuum Tubes?

Surprisingly enough, they do. Contrary to popular belief, these types of amplifiers have not gone the way of the dinosaur. The good news is many brands such as Fender and other manufacturers still make these.

How Long Do Amp Vacuum Tubes Last?

This will depend on the types of vacuum tubes. For example, if you are using KT88 or EL34 tubes, then you can expect these to last approximately 2500 hours at minimum.

What Makes Tube Amps So Expensive?

One of the reasons tube amps can get expensive is that they are primary amplification sources for both pre and power tubes. So if you need replacement tubes, keep in mind that you could be spending anywhere from $50 and up.

Why Do Amps Use Vacuum Tubes?

These vacuum tubes are used to increase the power of the signal. On top of that, they are used to make the sound even more affluent and better in quality.

Are Tube Amps Better Than Solid State?

This is a debate going on for well over a half-century. But the sound quality can provide that tube amps definitely have a better edge over solid-state amplifiers.

This is because high-gain pedals allow better control for the guitar players that use tube amps. These pedals will create a chain that ‘connects’ the guitar to the amplifier.  

How do I know if the amp tubes are going bad?

You need to look out for some signs to know if the amp tubes are going bad. For one, the filaments will not light themselves up in the orange glow like it usually does. This is the sign of a falling filament.

Another thing to look at is the illumination color of the tube. Specifically, you are looking for three colors. If it’s glowing purple, there is a good chance that a leak is present. This means the tube should be replaced immediately.

If it’s glowing a brightly fluorescent blue, that’s normal. Therefore, the tubes don’t need changing. However, if it’s glowing pink, the tubes may have too much gas that can be produced due to excessive currents.

Conclusion

Now that you know some of the basics about vacuum tube amplifiers. On top of that, they are still one of the best amplifiers on the market after so many years.

Even with technology evolving, some things certainly stay the same. These vacuum tube amps aren’t so different in terms of function and design. However, the way they function may have changed compared to some of the amps you may have used in the 1960s and 1970s.

We hope this guide has been helpful to you. If you can, find a good vacuum tube amplifier that meets your personal preferences and pay attention to the factors provided in the buyer’s guide.

1 thought on “Basics Of Vacuum Tube Amps”

  1. The first test i chose the tube amp best for clean channel. Second one I also selected the tube amp. For heavy distortion the solid state amp sounded better and I thought it wad a tube amp. P. S. my speaker wad my huawei P10 plus phone.

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