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Different Tubes, Different Tones

A basic guide to power tubes and their respective sounds.

 

By Ara Ajizian, Harmony Central Editorial Director

 

Upgrading to a tube amp is one of the best investments you can make in your sound. Although modeling technology has come a long way, there's just something unmistakable that happens when analog circuitry and vacuum tubes meet electricity and a great guitar. One potential area of confusion for those new to tube amps is the sonic difference between the many types of power tubes used in amplifiers. For this primer, we'll cover the four most common power tubes you'll encounter: 6L6, 6V6, EL34, and EL84.  

While each offers its own subtle nuances and response, in general, a 6L6 power section will deliver classic 6L6"American" tone reminiscent of larger Fender amps—distinct, chime-like highs and and a bold low-end voice, with a thick overdriven sound that sustains well. 6V6 tubes are typically associated with classic smaller, lower-wattage Fender amps like the Champ, Princeton, and Deluxe Reverb. Tonally, they have more focus in the midrange than a 6L6 and a softer touch in the lows and highs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EL34

EL34 and EL84 power tubes can be thought of as the "British" counterparts to the 6L6 and 6V6, respectively. If you love the sound of a cranked Marshall, you'll want to focus on amps that use these varieties. EL34-powered amps tend to have a lot of muscle to flex, and deliver tasty lower-midrange tone that cleans up nicely at lower volumes. EL84 power tubes are great for enhancing the subtleties of humbuckers, and lend themselves to grittier overdriven sounds. Of course, these are just basic guidelines, and there are other factors that contribute to an amp's tone. But it should serve as a good starting point when you're ready to dive into the world of tube amps!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AraFire.jpg
Ara Ajizian, Harmony Central's Editorial Director, has been playing bass and guitar as well as singing since he was 18, and soon that love of music combined with a passion for writing; launching what's now a decade-long career immersed in the gear world. He's thrilled to be back on the Harmony Central team after two years as Managing Editor for Musician's Friend covering gear, bands and events and gigging in the Los Angeles area.

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