Do Tube Amps Need to Be Broken In?

Old technology is tricky. Things need to heat up, cool down, and perhaps be broken in?

Tube amps are complex systems that we guitar players love for their warm unique tone, however, they require some extra care that more modern alternatives don’t.

If you just want a short answer to this question, here it is:

Tube amps do not need to be broken in. All the components that need some kind of special first run are taken care of in the factory testing. This also helps prevent defective parts. Amp speakers, however, do need to be broken in and this process should take about 10 hours of normal playing with no extra care.

For those who want to learn more about breaking in a new amp, in this article, I will try to answer the most common questions a new owner could have.

Are you ready to get started?

Let’s go!

Do amp tubes have a break-in period?

Tube amps do not need to be broken in. Their technology is ancient but not that quirky. However, if there’s something wrong with any tube it will likely fail within the first 50 hours of usage. Keep in mind, also, that tube amps sound better after about 15 to 30 minutes, when the valves get hot.

That last kind of “break-in” is just something you will have to live with. Tubes need to build up heat to stop sounding harsh and get warmer tones, but this process is done every time you turn on your amp.

Also, factories do quality testing on the gear they produce and most likely any amp is run for a few hours before shipped for delivery. This is to ensure any component that needs to be broken in gets it done and to detect any defective materials before it’s too late.

Can I play my amp at full volume when it’s brand new?

You can play your amp at full volume when it’s new, and you should not take any different care in the first hours of your ownership. There is nothing to break-in in a tube amp, however, it would take you some time to get used to its sound and to learn how to get great tones with it.

Do I need to let my amp warm up before using it?

You do need to let your amp warm up before using it, however, not doing so will not damage it. The only thing that will happen is that until the tubes are warm enough you won’t get any sound. The amp will keep building up heat until about 15 to 30 minutes when it will reach its working temperature.

Do speakers have a break-in period?

Yes, all speakers have a break-in period that you will have to live with regardless of the brand and model you chose. This is something that happens to all speakers and it is absolutely normal. The materials need to get used to the kind of vibrations produced and it will take some time until this happens.

So, if you are not feeling the tone of your new amp just yet, give it a week or so until the speakers get into their final shape.

You might be surprised by how the speakers affect the final tone.

How do I break-in the speakers of my new amp or cab?

To break in the speakers of your new amp or cab you just have to use them. There are no special recipes and there’s nothing you could do wrong. Just play them like there’s no tomorrow and within a few days, it will be done. Don’t overthink it and don’t look for shortcuts. Just be patient with your gear.

How do I know when my amp speakers are fully broken in?

It is hard to tell when the speakers in your amp are completely broken in, however, most manufacturers say that it would take about 10 play hours for it to be done. At least, the biggest part of the breaking-in would be ready and you will surely hear the difference in tone.

Probably, with a few more hours down their belt, the speakers would loosen even more, however, this is very hard to measure and likely hard to hear. 

Give it a try, and if you care try to document it recording your new amp with the same setup the day it’s brand new, and a few weeks down the line.

Do all speakers need to be broken in?

All of the speakers I could think of need to be broken in. This is just how they work. However, perhaps there is a boutique manufacturer that sells already broken-in new speakers. I don’t know about that. In any case, this process is not hard or cumbersome and you should be just fine with it.