Which Tubes Are For You?
How’s everybody doing? This month I’ve
chosen to further investigate how tubes can
affect your overall tone, and how they’ll ultimately play a big part in sculpting your own
personal style of playing. If you’re the type
that takes music seriously, you’ll most likely
aspire to make music with your own inimitable signature on it. The idea here is to look
at every angle and peek into every nook and
cranny where tone is shaped.
pointed out to us that Kossoff would literally (as he put it) “jump for sustain!” I
had to admit what I saw was no lie—you
could actually see Kossoff jumping as he
did that famous heavy vibrato on his Les
Paul Sunburst. This is where “BJ” spelled
out the whole string of factors that made
Kossoff’s sound so unique.
amplifier “singing” when he applied that
heavy finger vibrato.
It has been said that Jeff Beck still has an
old Marshall head that has tubes permanently rusted right in their sockets… must
be a great sounding amplifier, if he hasn’t
bothered to mess with it. I have to wonder if
he still fires it up on occasion.
This entire process can take quite a bit of
time, given all the variables involved. My
goal is to make your task easier, so you
don’t have to spend years hunting down
your dream tones. Since wonderful tones
can come from anywhere in the signal
chain—beginning with your fingers exciting the strings into an electronic signal,
to the whole array of components it travels through, to the sound radiating from
the amp’s speakers—there’s a lot to look
at on the way!
He told us that the Marshall Bass amplifier
Kossoff often used had to have fresh tubes
installed in it, because if they were old, the
The main reason why we guitarists love
tubes so much is that they have a big
influence on just how we touch our
instruments and why. The touch factor
involves the amplifier in a critical way,
since it is indeed an instrument in its
own right. The way you play it is just as
important as the way you play an electric
guitar—they’re two halves of the same
whole, if you will.
Modern tubes will not last nearly as long
as the famous old vintage ones—it’s not
even close! I’ve seen old Marshalls
that still have their original tubes, and
The way you play an they sound fabulous right now. The
point is that many classic rock songs
were recorded with old, worn tubes
amplifier is just as still sitting in the amps. A lot of the
time these amps were not even serviced, because they sounded great to
those who played them. The particular
important as the way you
brand of amplifier isn’t a complica-
tion, because any tube amp will sound
and react in a similar fashion when the
play an electric guitar. tubes are worn. You might consider
locating some old preamp tubes to
simulate that old sound, if you’re look-
They are two halves of recommend that you do not use really
ing for that type of vibe. However, I
worn-out output tubes to obtain these
sounds. This is simply because old
power tubes can cause damage to an
amplifier if you let them go too far.
the same whole.
A couple of summers back, Björn Juhl (of
BJF Electronics, Sweden) and I, along with
a couple of close friends, had a rather long
and absorbing conversation concerning pedals, amplifiers and guitars. This discussion
was focused largely on just how these things
affected the creation of a player’s personal
style. As most everyone knows, “BJ” makes
some of the greatest amplifiers around, and
his Mad Professor CS- 40 and MP101 models
are highly sought-after weaponry for anyone’s tonal arsenal. His knowledge about
amplifiers and pedals is staggering.
Our discussion ran to the topic of Paul
Kossoff’s own distinctive tone and style.
Soon enough we were on the computer
digging up You Tube videos of both live
and studio clips of early Free songs. Björn
tone would be very mid-rangy and have
a lot less bandwidth. As a tube ages, the
high frequencies are lost first, followed by
the low bass frequencies. Then, as these
frequencies diminish, the distortion of the
tubes actually increases. What you end up
with is a Marshall amp that distorts right
from the onset of turning up the volume
knob (on a non-master volume model).
If you’ve ever turned up an old vintage
Marshall that has fresh tubes installed in it,
you know that the sound is really bright and
spanky at lower volumes—it will not distort
from the get-go like it will with older tubes.
Paul Kossoff generally played with his amp
turned up to the halfway mark (or slightly
higher). He created his unique sound by
using cleaner amp settings and a heavier
gauge of string. This combination kept the
Try to obtain some “ANOS” (Almost
New Old Stock) preamp tubes. You can
find them for reasonable prices on eBay, or
through various tube-supply houses online.
Keep in mind that you can experiment with
the tube’s position, but remember to double
check a schematic or tube chart for compatibility in your amp’s circuit. Once you gain
some knowledge, you can start substituting
tubes of various types. Have fun, and see
you next time.
is the chief designer of "Snake Oil Brand Strings"
( sobstrings.net) and has had a profound influence
on the trends in the strings of today.