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What EL84's & 12AX's to get?

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  • What EL84's & 12AX's to get?

    Just pick up a Fender Blues Jr. Relic 15w amp & want to get new tubes. Who's making the latest & greatest these days? Are JJ EL84's still any good? Looking for nice gain AX7's, but quiet. The 84's should be sweet sounding & solid & long lasting eith moderate use. And where to buy. Thanks for all suggestions!

  • #2
    Try Mesa Boogie.
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    • #3
      I did a comparison of around a dozen different Russian, Chinese and USA made 12ax7 tubes including some vintage tubes I had in storage. I wanted to be sure I get the best sounding tubes for my Blackface Fender Bassman. I had a full set of Groove tubes in there that had lasted me a good 15 years. Tried out all the lower cost tubes and the Electro Harmonix blew the doors off all the others for both power and clarity, far better then JJ's.

      There may be some high dollar versions that might do better but I wasn't about to spend $100 per preamp tube. The EH are about $10 which is expensive enough.

      I tried 4 different sets of power tubes. Ruby Tubes were in there for 60 seconds and started popping and arching so those came out immediately.
      Tried some Sovetec and couldn't get them biased properly. Fender Bassman's use a hum balance pot and one tube must have been weaker then the other. (bought a matched set) JJ's were better but they too had static noise in the background and I wasn't about to trust them in a 50 year old amp. I had a set of JJ's EL34's in my Music man amp and they actually sounded pretty good.

      Put EH in both amps and couldn't be happier with the results.

      I Hear Tung Sol are one of the better brands now. The only ones I used of there's were the old vintage stuff and they were barely good enough for Hi Fi gear. Put in a guitar amp they became highly microphonic. Sylvania was another brand I hated. Sounded thin as all get out compared to the old RCA Tubes I found worked best in my Fender amps. Mullard is supposed to be one of the favorites out there too.

      Not sure which EL84's might be the best. I don't have any low powered amps that use them. JJ's may be OK but their preamp tubes sound like you got a blanket over the cab producing mostly mids. Very disappointing. From what I read the Tung Sol make great EL84's but I'd Google up some opinions before buying. The preamp tubes and larger power tubes I know through first hand experience and by far the EH have quality, tone, power, reliability and durability which counts big in my book.

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      • #4
        The best bang for the buck tubes will be some version of a JAN (joint Army Navy) tube. These tubes are designed to mil spec and will last a long time. Some are better than others, but most will sound better than current offerings. Usually the 12A?7 versions will average around $75 each. They are well worth it. I own NOS Mullards and Telefunkens but I paid crazy prices because I wanted to see what the difference was with NOS. Although I like all of these NOS tubes, they are not bang for the buck tubes. Diminishing returns on tubes over $75 each. Usually, you can get great sounding JAN tubes that will sound almost as good as the best for much less. While all of these tubes sound expensive, they are not because they will last way longer than any newly manufactured tube. Often 40+ years if cared for. Many vintage Marshalls have original tubes in them. JAN RCA, GE or Sylvania will all be fine. If you are looking for durability, these are the tubes.

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        • WRGKMC
          WRGKMC commented
          Editing a comment
          I have one of the 12AT7's in my Bassman. They only cost $13 for NOS on line at Tube Depot. Bought it because it showed as having the best specs in that class of tube but I'm far from being convinced its the best sounding tube. Military tubes were used mostly in radio's, intercoms and similar applications where durability was a major concern, not fidelity.

          As far as buying actual vintage 12AX7 tubes, NOS doesn't exist any more. The ones you might find on places like EBay are used tubes with unknown hours burn time on them. You're essentially buying used light bulbs or worse, counterfeits. Doesn't take anything to remove the old label and stamp something else on there. Even the vintage boxes are being counterfeit. Unless you're an old guy like me whose saved some vintage tubes from back in the day, you simply cant trust what you find.

          As far as durability goes, anything in a combo will likely need to be replaced in a combo once a year or less, especially the EL84's. The tubes simply rattle themselves to death in no time at all and I don't think there's a brand new or old that's going to stand out as being more durable then the rest. You're better off buying several sets at far lower costs and simply changing them as soon as the audio degrades or microphonic symptoms begin. I surely wouldn't be spending $75 and up for tubes that are used and need replacement in 6 months if you are gigging on any regular basis.

        • Axisplayer
          Axisplayer commented
          Editing a comment
          I do not agree with you on almost any of your points. JAN tubes can sound very good and I have a number of them. Yes, I said they were military, and am fully aware of WHY they were made. I also just checked current pricing on tubes at your source, Tube Depot. They have cheap crap JAN for that price. They also have GE, Phillips, and others that cost $80-100. Their JAN Raytheons are $250. I would say you don't stay current, or you buy the cheaper stuff. Nothing JAN for $13 is worth using generally except possibly a rectifier tube.

          Don't buy tubes by just looking at the printed label. Yes, you can fake ink. Faking etched glass is a bit more difficult. Usually there are two lines. The top line will give you the Engineering Change Code for tracking engineering specifics, and the second line gives you manufacturers code and dating. If glass isn't etched, I don't generally invest in it.

          You also should have some knowledge of getters, rods, and plates if you buy expensive tubes. Those are also not faked. Specific builds can be accurately used to determine manufacturer. Printed labels are also a giveaway. Perfect looking shiny labels rarely exist in the NOS world. Expect that real ones will be missing letters, smudged, difficult to read. Even rubbing around in boxes for 40 years is enough to damage labels. Boxes are almost never intact. They come with mouse holes, tears, water damage, etc. Yes, you can still be taken in, but odds are that if you buy from a reputable source and the details look right, they are probably legit.

          Used and unknown hours? Possibly, but a good tester can usually give you an indication of condition. If a new tube should have a specific reading, and the current reading is almost exactly that, do you really think it matters if it was used for an hour or fifty as long as it shows good. NOS is the literal sense cannot be truly determined, but virtually unused (ANOS) will show on a quality tester. My Telefunkens were advertised as used and closely matched but not perfectly. I could not have afforded them if they were truly NOS and exactly matched. That would have been around $400 for this pair. Mine are close and seem to be good enough.

          You are very knowledgable on many things, but that does not means others have not played longer, and still know a few things. I don't work on electronics, but I do know my tubes pretty well. No foul. Just want to clearly state your experience with NOS was FAR different than mine. :-)
          Last edited by Axisplayer; 02-14-2018, 01:14 PM.

      • #5
        If your tubes need replacement in 6 months you buy crap tubes. Oh yea, $13 tubes. Never mind. Sorry yours don’t hold up but I don’t have that problem. Some of my 12AX7s have used daily for 15 years with zero issues and they still sound good.
        Last edited by Axisplayer; 02-14-2018, 01:10 PM.

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