What is the Difference Between the 12AX7, 12AT7, and 12AU7 Preamp Tubes?

What Is The Difference Between EL84 / EL34 and 6L6 Power Tubes?Let’s take a look at the less glamorous, but still equally important type of amplifier tube – the Preamp Tube.

The 12AX7, 12AT7, and 12AU7 all belong to the same family of nine contact, twin triode tubes. In many cases these tubes are interchangeable and can easily be swapped. We will take a look at why you might, or might not want to swap out the different types of tubes.

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What is the Best Guitar Combo Amplifier for Blues?

blues combo ampFor the small stage, recording studio, and the bedroom. Here’s a list of the best combo amps for the Blues guitarist.

Eric Clapton, B.B.King, Buddy Guy, and Muddy Waters all got plenty of miles out of their combo amps. This list of greats is just scratching the surface. The combo amp is the perfect partner for the blues guitarist, especially since they are most often easy to transport. Combo amps are usually lower wattage which means that you can drive them harder without turning your neighbours into enemies. Continue reading “What is the Best Guitar Combo Amplifier for Blues?”

Vox Custom AC15C1

Vox Custom AC15C1For more than 50 years, the AC-15 has been one of the most coveted tools for obtaining the “British” sound.

Vox has dusted off one of their flagship models for yet another reissue that offers a great blend of classic features and modern upgrades. The 12″ Celestion G12M Greenback speaker is probably the most notable improvement. You can expect some serious mids and tons of headroom from this speaker. As has been the case for many years, the “Normal” and “Top Boost” channels offer some variety for the overall voicing of the amp. Both of these channels share the master volume and “Tone Cut” controls. This is particularly cool because it means that the Tone Cut control operates on the power-amp level, not the pre-amp. The result is a true tone shaping of the overall amp voice, not the input.
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Line 6 Vetta II Combo Guitar Amplifier

Line 6 Vetta IIAs digital modeling amplifiers go, the Line 6 Vetta II is at the head of the class.

This amplifier is extremely well designed, well made and sounds fantastic. At 150 Watts, there is more than enough volume and headroom. Whether you plan to use the Vetta II for live performance or recording, the feature set provides plenty of tools for you to sculpt your sound as you wish.

The Vetta II is literally two amplifiers in one. At first glance, one might say: “Well, it’s just a stereo amplifier,” and this is true. But more importantly, it is designed so that you can have two completely different sounds going on at once. Of course, you’d probably choose two sounds that are somewhat alike, but in theory, you could have a clean Fender Twin sound and a cranked Marshall Plexi tone combined into one. The combined sounds become one named and saved preset. This is amazing. Just imagine all the possibilities.
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Music Man RD 50 Head

Music Man RD 50 HeadI’ve been ranting and raving for years — to anyone who will listen — that Music Man amps are some of the greatest. Unfortunately, you are in for more of the same.

This rant is about the much-overlooked RD-50 Head. I must admit that, for a long time, I didn’t even know this thing existed. If you can believe it, I actually found one in a pawn shop on 7th Ave and 23rd Street in New York City. These kinds of things don’t happen quite so much anymore, as Guitar Center and Sam Ash have pretty much put everyone else out of business.

But in this case, there I was in this pawn shop, surrounded by cameras and cheap jewelry, when I saw this little mini head, with that familiar Music Man logo on it. I scratched my head: “…this ain’t an HD-130… what the hell is this little thing… I didn’t know that Music Man even made a head this small…”
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Fender Cyber Twin SE

Fender Cyber Twin SEOk, so they pretty much invented the analog guitar amplifier. They perfected it and pretty much any guitarist would agree that few are better. So, why they heck would anyone use a Fender digital modeling amplifier? …’cause it’s a great amp, that’s why.

I’ll admit that I really resisted this stuff, I really really did. In principal, it just goes against everything I believe in. But then again, when the “Frying Pan” guitar was first put out by Rickenbacker, I’m sure it was met with the same disdain. Same for the Solid body electric, the Flying-V, The Explorer, the Parker Fly, etc… So, I decided to lighten up and just enjoy the amplifier and there is a lot to enjoy.
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What Is The Difference Between EL84, EL34, and 6L6 Power Tubes?

What Is The Difference Between EL84 / EL34 and 6L6 Power Tubes?When you start to push an amplifier, the characteristics of these tubes become more apparent.

Power tubes can have a dramatic effect on your amplifier’s sound. At low volumes, the difference between one tube and another can be difficult to decipher; it’s almost not worth talking about. Once you start to push a little air, however, your amplifier will show off what it can do and the power tubes will display their individual characteristics more. Keep in mind, that by using pedals, you can make one amp sound pretty much like any other one, so this discussion is focused on how a few of the most popular power tubes differ from each other when using the amp, and not the pedals, to get your sound. The tubes that readers ask about most often are the EL84, EL34 and 6L6. So, here is a rundown of how these tubes differ in sound.

EL84

The EL84 tube has a snarly sound (bright with midrange punch), and is usually found in smaller wattage amplifiers. They break up faster than any of the three power tubes mentioned here and have the least amount of headroom. EL84s can be brighter than the EL34 and have a bit less low-end. In America, these tubes are known as 6BQ5. They were first produced for radios, helping to eliminate the need for a driver tube and as an inexpensive alternative to the larger audio tubes of the time. You can hear these tubes in the Fender Bassbreaker, Fender Blues Jr., Peavey Classic 30 and many other popular amplifiers.

EL34

The EL34 is found in the most well-known UK heads, such as Marshall, HiWatt, and Sound City. These power tubes also have a snarly sound but it’s a little warmer-sounding than the EL84 tubes. The EL34 is larger and it puts out two to three times the watts as the EL84s. More watts equal more Volume, more Headroom, and a better Frequency response, even at low volumes. Bass needs power, and the higher wattage of the EL34 is what leads to the warmer tone as the tube is better able to handle the full frequency spectrum. The increased headroom can lead to a more open and less compressed sound than that of the EL84s. This tube is most associated with the “British Sound,” an expression often used with regard to amplifiers. EL34 tubes were quite popular in stereo amps years ago and you can hear them today by listening to those such as the Marshall Origin20C, the EVH 5150IIIS, and Mesa/Boogie Lone Star Special.

6L6

The 6L6 is the power tube most associated with the term: “California Sound.” These tubes are usually associated with American-made amplifiers more so than British. 6L6 tubes have been a mainstay in Fender amplifiers for more than 70 years and a Fender amp with 6L6 tubes is widely considered to be the “gold standard” by which we judge clean guitar tone. The 6L6 has plenty of headroom and does not break up nearly as quickly as the EL84 or EL34 tubes. 6L6 tubes tend to put out a much brighter tone with more top-end sparkle (e.g the “Fender Chime”), while still allowing plenty of low-end to come through. You can hear these tubes by listening to the Fender Hot Rod Deville III 410, Mesa/Boogie Roadster, Peavey ValveKing 100 and many more.

6V6

Originally designed to be used in less expensive consumer radios, the 6V6 tube is just a scaled-down version of the 6L6. It has the same “California” or “Tweed” kind of tone most often associated with Fender amplifiers, but it uses less power and is a lower priced tube. Consequently, you do get a little less headroom and they break up earlier than 6L6 tubes. It is still very popular in guitar amplifiers and you can hear it by listening to a Fender ’57 Custom Deluxe, Randall RD5H Diavlo, Ibanez TSA15H, and many more.

Summary

Start by listening to your own playing. If you play with distorted tones 75% of the time or more, then you probably want to look at EL34 and EL84 tube amps first. You probably want the natural breakup of the tubes to distort your sound and give you that warm crunch that made you want to play the guitar in the first place. Many people agree that a pedal just doesn’t sound as good as real amp distortion. And EL34 and EL84 tubes just enhance natural amp distortion so nicely and drive the amp so well.

If you use distortion any less than 75% of the time, you might want to consider the 6L6 and 6V6 tube amplifiers. The idea is to get that unbeatably clean tone with infinite headroom, and add pedals to get any sound that you want.

Again, it’s not likely that you would feel the differences between the tubes at low volumes. It’s when you start to push an amplifier that the characteristics of these tubes become more apparent. And keep in mind that as much as power tubes differ, amplifiers differ as well, so the overall voice and behavior of the power tube will vary, depending on how the amplifier is designed. If you want to really get a feel for how these tubes differ in sound, get your hands on something like the Mesa Lone Star, which can use both the EL34 and 6L6 power tubes.