Can a Tube Amp Kill You?

We all have heard stories about how dangerous tube amps could be when they fail or a technician messes up while working on them.

But are they dangerous for us players?

Are tube amps dangerous at all?

I’m here to try to get to the bottom of this issue.

If you just want a short answer about this topic, here it is:

Yes, a tube amp could kill you if you tinker with a charged capacitor and it discharges a current that passes through your heart. Even if this doesn’t happen, you could get badly hurt from receiving a zap like this, and so you should never even disassemble a tube amp if you don’t know what you are doing.

For those who want to go more in-depth about tube amps, in this article I will try to answer the most common questions regarding the safety of using this kind of gear.

Are you ready to get started?

Let’s go!

Are tube amps dangerous?

Tube amps are not dangerous at all. They wouldn’t be approved to be sold to the public if this were the case. Having said that, there are some internal components that could zap you badly if tampered with. However, this can also be said for many daily use home appliances that probably don’t scare you at all.

Hairdryers have a bad rep for falling into hot tubes and shocking people, but are you worried about your blow dryer killing you? Probably not.

You can also burn your hand with a hot iron, but you know best than to be poking at it when heated.

If you are cautious with your gear nothing bad would ever happen. Just use your common sense.

Can tube amps overheat?

Although it is rare, tube amps can overheat. It would take, however, for something to go incredibly wrong. The valves within these kinds of amps work at high temperatures, but they are designed to dissipate this heat. If their ventilation is obstructed, or anything fails it could end in a meltdown.

This is, however, very rare and you should read about the things that could damage a tube amp if you are interested in knowing more about this.

Are amp tubes supposed to glow?

Amp tubes are supposed to glow when being used. However, if the glow transfers below the tubes into any other of the components, this could be a clear sign of a malfunction that could end in the amp overheating and damaging internal components. If anything, other than the tubes glows, call a technician.

Can you touch glowing red amp tubes?

You shouldn’t touch amp tubes while they’re still hot or being used. Think of them as old lightbulbs, they glow because they are extra hot. Touching a tube with your bare hands might result in ugly burns. Avoid the tubes of your amp at all costs if you have been playing before.

How hot do amp tubes get?

Tube amps can get up to 250 degrees F while being used, and when glowing bright red. On stand by the temperatures are lower, but still quite dangerous, sitting at around 140 degrees. This is measured at surface level, this meaning the exterior of the tubes. Internally they run even hotter.

Why does my tube amp smell when turned on?

Tube amps have a certain smell when being played. You shouldn’t worry about this most of the time because this is just the dust that builds up over the valves getting hot. However, if the smell shift into a more unpleasant one, you smell burnt cable or plastic, stop playing immediately, and unplug your amp.

Is it dangerous to leave my tube amp always on?

Tube amps are designed to last. It isn’t dangerous to leave your amp on as long as it is well ventilated and not covered by anything. Doing this, however, will stress the tubes and shorten their lifespan. Remember that amp valves have an estimated usable life of 500 to 800 hours.

How can I be safe when using my tube amp?

Amp tubes are not trying to kill you, so don’t be extra worried about that. There are, however, some behaviours you could adopt just to be extra safe when using this kind of gear.

Here are some safety tips for using a tube amp:

  • Don’t ever touch the tubes while or even after playing
  • Try to not touch the tubes even if they are cold, just in case
  • Don’t cover the amp head with a cloth or any other material, it needs ventilation
  • Avoid using your amp turned on its side, face down or in any other orientation to prevent heat buildup in not intended ways
  • Don’t ever disassemble your amp if you don’t know what you are doing. The capacitors inside it could shock you badly.

Can touching a tube amp capacitor kill you?

If the zap from touching a charged capacitor from a tube amp passes through your heart it could mean some serious implications. Any shock, however, will hurt and this is why you should always have professionals, that know what they are doing, work in your amp or even disassemble it. Don’t take any chances.

I repeat: You should NEVER tinker with a tube amp’s internals if you don’t know what you are doing.