Guitar amplifiers can be categorized into two main types.
The first one is the solid-state amp. These amplifiers generate amplification with electronic transistors.
They are, arguably, the most popular type of the two.
The second option is the tube amp. Instead of using electronic transistors, guitar amp tubes create energy with vacuum glass tubes.
These tubes generate heat, which leads to a natural and warmer tone, making these amps quite an interesting add-on.
But are these guitar amp tubes still being manufactured nowadays?
Guitar amp tubes are still being manufactured, but their production has decreased. There are not too many manufacturers outside Russia that develop vacuum tubes. Logically, if there are few of these main components, then there will be few final products.
Are you planning to get one of these to add to your gear collection?
Then maybe you’ll want to check this article first and see whether it is a good idea or not (and most importantly, why).
Why do guitar amps still use glass tubes?
Certain guitar amps work with glass tubes to boost the signal’s amplitude.
The glass cylinders contain components that generate heat whenever an electrical current passes through. This results in the cathode (known as “one of the electrodes in a piece of electrical equipment”, according to the Cambridge dictionary) releasing negatively charged electrons.
This cathode is enclosed by the anode, a plate that carries positive energy. Between the two, we’ll find the grid, which is directly connected to the guitar’s pickup.
The pickup’s signal leads to the movement of the electrons, which ends up amplifying the signal.
The attraction between positive and negative energy generates harmonic distortion. All in all, this harmonic distortion is what creates the sound coming through the speaker.
Long story short, some amps use glass tubes because, due to their components, create a unique sound that lots of guitarists are very fond of.
A regular amp that doesn’t use glass tubes will sound different.
This is not the same as saying that one is better than the other. They are simply two different models, which achieve different results.
Are guitar amp tubes still being manufactured?
Despite not being nearly as popular as they used to be, guitar amp tubes are still being manufactured.
However, it’s safe to mention that the number of factories that develop these products is few. They have drastically decreased over the years, due to various reasons which we’ll discuss below.
The truth is, there is not much of a shortage of guitar amp tubes, as there is of vacuum glass tubes.
Naturally, if the main component of these amps is scarce, then the result will be a reduction in amp manufacturing as well.
Where are most tubes made nowadays?
Although there are certain manufacturers in the USA, the biggest vacuum glass tube manufacturers are in Russia.
Nonetheless, due to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine that began in early 2022, vacuum tubes went into shortage. This issue made exports a problem.
According to Electro-Harmonix, Russia imposed a ban on the export of certain goods. Needless to say, this included Russian tubes.
Luckily, over the last few months of 2022, the Russian export problem has been resolved, and vacuum glass tube manufacturing is back on track.
However, supply chain issues for this particular product have always been common.
Besides Russia, China is the other biggest manufacturer in the world.
Why are amp valves getting harder to get?
One of the main reasons amp valves became scarce was the Ukraine-Russia conflict.
After an exportation ban imposed by the Russian government, there was a shortfall in glass tubes. Although this ban has long ago been removed, it lead to an increase in the product’s price (making them harder to acquire).
Now, let’s forget about the Russia-Ukraine war conflict for a while. After all, although it brought some hard-to-grasp economic problems to the amp tube industry, it’s not the main source of a shorter supply.
Believe it or not, the valve declines have been around since the 70s! The reasons are different.
First of all, the Soviets retained most of them for their military necessities during the Cold War.
Second, amp valves underwent some drastic transformations in size, distortion levels, and power consumption.
All things considered, amp tubes were one of the few products which weren’t too affected due to the previously mentioned characteristics.
Lastly, we could argue that solid-state amps are more demanded than amp tube amps: they are lighter and more economical.
To sum up, it seems that the main reason is the price since amp tubes are too expensive to manufacture.
What does vintage old stock (VOS) mean?
Old stock is considered old merchandise that has never been sold.
These products are most likely within their original package and have never been unsealed.
Collectors, for example, find some hidden gems in old stock products, especially for goods that are no longer manufactured.
In the case of a vintage-old stock, it means that the merch is old and, simultaneously, hasn’t ever been sold.
Nowadays, one can find vintage-old stock amp tubes, which have never been opened or used before. More often than not, these are sold online, or in some obscure stores.
Will we run out of new guitar amp tubes at some point?
Amp tubes are not eternal. They wear out and stop working with the passing of time.
However, amp tubes can last decades if they’re taken care of properly.
But what happens with new guitar amps?
We understand that if an amp tube is produced in 2022, then some years (or decades) will pass by before it ceases functioning, which is great, and only enlarges the life of these products.
But will it be possible if factories put a stop to the development of these products someday?
Sadly, we don’t have the answer.
We can speculate that new guitar amp tubes will die out at some point, but not due to a specific reason.
Remember, change is the only constant in life. It’s unwise to believe that amp tubes will live on forever.
Sooner or later, the world of music will drastically change, and amp tubes will disappear.
This has happened to multiple products in the world of music, video games, cinema, photography, and so on.
It’s hard to imagine writers creating novels with type machines in the plain 21st Century, or people going to work on a carriage being pulled by a horse.
So sure, amp tubes will stop being made someday. Nonetheless, this is not likely to happen right now, or in a near future.
Will amp tubes get more expensive with time?
Amp tubes most probably will get more expensive over the years.
The less they are made, the more scarce they become.
Naturally, the more scarce they are, the more valuable they’ll become.
One day, amp tubes will become museum pieces, and maybe vintage collectors will want to purchase them. They’ll be willing to pay a high amount of money for one of those rarities.
But let’s not hurry up. After all, amp tubes are already expensive by the time this article is being written.
Vacuum tube glasses are not economical, which makes the final products (the amp tubes) more expensive still.
So, let’s not worry about something getting expensive tomorrow if it’s already expensive today.
Is there a point to stick with tubes long-term?
Amp tubes provide some interesting advantages which make these pieces of gear really valuable.
Some of the reasons to stick with them long-term are as follow:
- Tone – some guitarists prefer the warmer and more natural tone that a tube amp provides, in comparison to a solid-state amplifier
- Quality components – All things considered, tube amps are made with higher items
- Long-Term lifetime – The better the quality, the more it lasts
- Better sounding over the years – it’s said that amp tubes sound better as they age
As usual, there’re two sides to a coin. Here are some reasons not to stick with amp tubes:
- Constant maintenance – remember all of those expensive circuits and components the amp tube is made of? Well, they are expensive to replace too! And not to mention, having so many components only increases the chances of one of the malfunctioning
- Price – they are more expensive than solid-state amps
- Noisy – if you happen to live in an area that lacks neighbors, then you can have one of these. However, avoid them at all costs if you live in a flat with other roommates. They will get tired of the noises and end up throwing your amp through the window!
- Heat provider – In space-reduced areas, amp tubes can generate too much heat. But is this really a disadvantage if winters are too harsh wherever you live?
In conclusion, amp tubes are good long-term investments due to their quality as a product, and their value as a collector item.
Other than that, always manage to have a backup solid-state amp. Just in case…
Hello there, my name is Ramiro and I’ve been playing guitar for almost 20 years. I’m obsessed with everything gear-related and I thought it might be worth sharing it. From guitars, pedals, amps, and synths to studio gear and production tips, I hope you find what I post here useful, and I’ll try my best to keep it entertaining also.