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Q: Tube Amplifiers/Famous Musicians ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: Tube Amplifiers/Famous Musicians
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Music
Asked by: timdeveloper-ga
List Price: $50.00
Posted: 05 Jul 2006 12:54 PDT
Expires: 04 Aug 2006 12:54 PDT
Question ID: 743593

I'm researching tube amps and I've heard that many musicians prefer
tube amps for playing shows and recording. Can you research which
famous musicians prefer tube amps, why they prefer them and what
they've said about them?

Thanks in advance!
Subject: Re: Tube Amplifiers/Famous Musicians
Answered By: clouseau-ga on 05 Jul 2006 19:22 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello timdeveloper,

Thank you for your question.

In my day, I sold a number of tube amps to musicians such as the
Grateful Dead. Usually MacIntosh 2300's. Reasons? Well, for one, tubes
emphasize even order harmonics while transistors emphasize odd order
harmonics. The result is a smoother, more hi-fidelity sound. The ear
is much more sensitive to odd order harmonic distortion than even.
Some have suggested this was a major reason the sound quality of early
CD's suffered as well.

Next, in the early days, tube amps would drive lower impedance loads
as they had autoformers at the output. They would develop a little
more power and drive more speakers consequently.

And last, in general, they had much larger capacitors which act as
batteries, particularly for low frequency. If the amp was driven to
close to full power, while the power supply was trying to catch up on
those low notes, the caps would supply the necessary power.

Early on professional transistors amps fell short with a few
exceptions. Listen to the extremely popular Crown DC-300A amp of the
early years. Sounds as shrill as can be to my ears. I used them on low
mids and avoided top end so as to mask some of the sound.

Now, these comments apply to POWER amps, not GUITAR amps, but comments
are almost equally valid. Since you did not specify, I'll try to touch
on both areas. In the case of the Dead, the guitar and bass amps WERE
powered by MacIntosh.

Now for a bit of research for you:

MusiciansHotline has a few interesting things to say on this page:

"...MH: What's the most common question asked about tubes?

NSC: Probably "why are tubes still around?" Yeah, it's a good
question. Good tubes in a good tube amp sound better than the
alternatives, any of the alternatives. It's really encouraging, in
this day and age of instantly obsolete technological hoodoo, a large
number of the best musicians still prefer the sound of tubes. Taste
matters. Good sound is important...

...MH: Obviously, New Sensor goes to great lengths to replicate the
sound of vintage tubes. How do you accomplish this?

NSC: Well, it all depends which tube you're talking about... The
12AX7-EH, for example, is a small plate, spiral filament construction
quite unlike any "classic" tube made by RCA or Telefunken, but has
much lower hum and microphonics than the old stuff, while matching the
high gain. The transfer characteristic is somewhat more curved than
the "original", producing a different harmonic distortion spectrum.
The 12AX7-LPS, on the other hand, is a true classic "long plate"
construction (this concept only exists because many companies switched
to the "small plate" style because of the guitar amp's special
requirements). A spiral filament is added for improved hum immunity
with AC heaters. The electrical properties have been matched to the
"old-school" 12AX7 specification as much as we can make it. All of
this means a long straight transfer characteristic with low amounts of
odd order harmonics. The 12AX7-EH has a little "bump" in the third
harmonic near clipping, which makes it appealing to high gain
overdrive freaks. The 12AX7-LPS is for "classic" sound in guitar amps
or high performance tube HiFi. So, the answer is that we try to make
tubes that fit our markets..."

Atlantic Quality Design

"What's with the Tube Hype? 
(C) 2004 Hank Wallace 
ZEROCAP Cable Capacitance Eliminator  

Our hobby/profession of music is entirely subjective, as opposed to my
real job as an engineer designing electronic products where a few
nanoseconds separates a smash hit from a failure.

That subjectivity has really given me some chuckles the last few years
with the resurgence of vacuum tube technology. In every magazine, I
see the word "warm" to describe that tube sound. I have heard the
difference between "analog" and "digital" myself. As a guitar player,
I will never part with my old tube gear. But the hype is getting
excessive. Let's look into it.

I learned electronics in the transition era between tubes and
transistors, when there was still a decision to make with every
purchase: tubes vs. solid state. The new solid state gear was touted
as having vanishing distortion levels, and the 1970's saw an editorial
war of one-upsmanship on solid state distortion specs -- just check
out stereophile magazines from the period. At that time, the effort
was to reduce the distortion of amplifiers, not increase it.

Even before that, high end tube audio gear (that is, for studios) was
designed by engineers for the best performance. Techniques exist to
reduce distortion in amplifier designs, and these were put to good
use. Their goal was 0% distortion, nothing more.

Get into your vacuum tube time machine and travel back to 1960. Slap
an electrical engineer on the back and compliment him for that "warm"
tube sound. He looks puzzled and says, "Warm? What do you mean?" Go on
to explain that at the end of the century, solid state devices have
stripped sound of all its flavor, rendering it so squeaky clean that
it is offensive. Tube amplifiers, on the other hand, add a certain
distortion to the signal that makes it sound better.

The response: "Distortion? You are accusing my amplifier of producing
distortion? I worked two years on this design! You better get your
'warm' little butt out of here before I kick it back into the future,
without the benefit of your time machine."

You would get the same response from an audio engineer when accusing
him of running his VU meters in the red just to get that "warm" analog
tape saturation. That used to be called incompetence. But that was
then and this is now, where we have music networks based entirely on
the concept of lip syncing, and what formerly was stupid is now a big
money maker..."

You might read the entire article, but this captures the essence of
the tube vs. transistor debate. Just a little more truth from that

"...Why Does Tube Gear Sound Different? 

Tube gear is designed differently from transistorized gear because
there is a fundamental difference between tubes and transistors. It's
an impedance thing. Tubes are inherently high impedance devices (high
voltage, low current), and transistors are low impedance devices (low
voltage, high current). Those differences drive the design decisions.

Tube amplifiers have the following components and characteristics: 

unregulated power supply 
output and interstage transformers 
push-pull output stages 
less internal negative feedback 

Transistor amplifiers have the following components and characteristics: 

regulated power supply 
no output or interstage transformers 
non-push-pull output stages 
high levels of internal negative feedback..."

From Gibson Guitars

"... I don?t like the "digital" sound I hear in many of the new
processors on the market. I prefer the clean, straight and pure sound
of my Les Paul for gigs. Why would I even consider a GMICS guitar,
whatever that is?

For the purist, playing straight to a vintage tube amp for a live
performance with no PA system and miking, the traditional guitar to
amp has no peer!

Anyone using a "purist" rig and allowing it to be miked for PA or
recording is handing control over their sound to another. A Les Paul
GMICS guitar in a GMICS system, for example, would provide a fine
User/Interface of known and appreciated quality - The Les Paul,
combined with a powerful, high quality digital audio networking and
control interface. Your quality signal is handed on to the rest of the
system as you intended.

The GMICS guitar would have the "classic mode" of operation where the
normal output is digitized and distributed. In the Hex mode 6 discrete
signals, one from each string are digitized and routed to the GMICS
DSP where sophisticated processing can be applied to each signal and
re combined in limitless ways. Emulation of an specific acoustic
guitar sound, emulation of any electric guitar character you desire
are possible!

Limited only by your creativity and imagination!.."

So, in short, today's technology is being used to overcome today's
technology and emulate a great vintage guitar to vintage tube amp.
Interesting, no?

In looking for musicians who prefer tubes, I cam across this interview
with Jim Marshall of Marshall Amplifiers at Of
course, Pete Townshend and Jimi Hendrix used Marshall tube amps, but
the article is fascinating to read none-the-less. For example:

"...A few years ago, when the EL34 power tube became scarce, how did
that major changeover to using the 5881 affect the Marshall amp's
signature tone?
We had to do that, but we weren't happy doing it. The amp's sound was
a little cleaner with the 5881s than with the EL34s. That was better
for the clean channel, but no so good for the distortion channel. When
musicians were able to find the EL34s, they were putting them in
themselves, but many forgot that they had to change the bias of the
amps as well. So many people were destroying their Marshalls by not
changing the bias and also by trying to hotrod them, because if we
could have gotten more out of the amplifier we would've done it.

So the hotrodding thing was not very clever. It either ruined
transformers or meant replacing tubes. We've since changed back to
using the EL34s as they became more readily available once again. We
had to do that because we found that EL34s are better tubes to use for
that type of amp because you get better harmonics. Once the EL34
became more available, we had to find a constant supply because we use
hundreds of them. The tube we use now comes from Russia, and it's the
same EL34 they use in their fighter planes. Funny enough, they still
use a tube in fighter planes! So, it's military spec and we have no
problems, whatsoever. The ECC83 used to be a bad one, very
microphonic. We have them made in China and they're the best ECC83s
there have ever been.

Is there a difference between ECC83 and 12AX7 preamp tubes?

There's hardly any difference, it's virtually the same tube, up to a
point. We find the ECC83 better to use these days because we don't
have to throw so many away.

What was the reason for using 6550 power tubes in the Marshall amps
sent to the U.S. in the mid 1980s?

They were shipped to the U.S. tubeless and the distributing company,
Unicord, used to put the 6550s in because they thought it was better
for their American market. But it wasn't really, because many of the
top American groups used to come to us when they were touring in
Europe and ask us to please put the EL34s back in, because it is a
better sound.

Do you think that the sound of the Marshall amp changes with the
variations in the current used in different countries?

I think it's better to use [British] current (220 volts), really, and
that's what quite a few American musicians find when they tour and
prefer the sound of it. They do sound different. Japan is at about 120
volts, and the amp sounds different there. I think it sounds best in
Europe, or anywhere that there's 220/240 volts.

How do you think the sounds people want to hear have changed or
evolved since the '50s?

That's the funny thing, you see, we've just gone ahead and listened to
musicians telling us what they really wanted, but it's basically been
no different from our original sound. I've stayed with using tubes all
the time, but lately we've developed transistor amplifiers, as well.
But even our Valvestate has the ECC83 in the preamp section so they
can get some of the valve sound, too.

Do you feel that in some ways, Marshall is competing with its own history?

I don't think so, because the sound wanted now is really the sound we
managed to get in the first place. For the future, I cannot see
musicians wanting anything much different. Most musicians are back to
using an amp with cabinets only. If they have problems using a rack,
they've got to find what's gone wrong within all those units within
the rack. They're wasting their time..."

Now, while I continue to search for some sort of list of musicians
that prefer tubes (and it may be easier to find those that don't), I
keep coming across interesting information I just have to point you
to. For example, while I do NOT agree that the difference between tube
and SS can only be detected above clipping as John Murphy asserts, he
does speak a good amount of truth here:

"...Murphy cited published results of several carefully conducted
double-blind listening tests confirming that even highly trained
listeners cannot hear the difference between tube and solid-state
amplifiers when the amps are operated in their linear range. "Only a
handful of fanatics-but mostly those with blatant financial
interests-persist in making claims to the contrary," he said.

Everything changes when you clip (overdrive) the amps, however. "Then
it becomes easy to hear the difference between typical tube and
solid-state amps. It is also easy to see the difference on an
oscilloscope trace," he said.

A typical tube amp (such as a pair of triodes in series) can be seen
to clip with a softly rounded waveform, while typical solid-state amps
(such as op amps) clip with razor-sharp edges.

"Every engineering student who has studied Fourier analysis knows why
these two waveforms sound different: the harmonic structure," Murphy
said. The hard clipping waveform of the solid-state amp has a
different harmonic content from the soft-clipped tube amp, simply
because the waveforms are different. While the harmonics from the
solid-state amp have strong amplitudes out to frequencies beyond the
limits of audibility, the harmonics from the soft-clipping tube amp
fall rapidly in level with increasing frequency...

...Those harmonic differences account for the "raspy and obnoxious"
sound of the solid-state amp in clipping, compared with the
much-more-mellow sound of the tube-amp clipping. A second, more-subtle
difference is that solid-state amps tend to have a fixed 50-percent
duty cycle as they clip, whereas most class A tube amps clip with a
duty cycle that varies as a function of the drive level.

Push-pull, class AB tube power amps tend to clip much like solid-state
amps, but they sound different because of their high output impedance.
In particular, tube power amps exhibit a peak in their frequency
response by as much as 10 dB or more at the resonance frequency of the
speaker they are driving.

"No wonder they are reported to sound 'warmer' than solid-state power
amps," Murphy said . "This aspect of tube power amps is not seen in
test reports, where reviewers use nice 8 dummy loads for their tests.
But measure the frequency response at the input terminals of your
speaker, and you will see this effect clearly..."

This interview with Bill Johnson is very informative:

Still getting derailed searching for artists. Came across this VERY
informative page:

Amp Dates, Tube Charts, Transformers and Information

OK, Mesa Boogie lists artists using their amps:

Waaaay too many to list here, but a sampling:

311 Tim Mahoney 
18 Visions Brandon Schieppati 
3 Doors Down Chris Henderson   
3 Doors Down Matt Roberts   
3 Doors Down Todd Harrell   
3-5 Human  Tomi Martin    
38 Special  Danny Chauncy 
4 Non Blondes Shauna Hall    
40 Below Summer  Jordan Plingos 
98 degrees Ric Molina 
A Perfect Circle James Iha 
Abercrombie, John  John Abercrombie   
Accident Experiment Marcos Curiel 
Adema Mike Ransom 
Adema Tim Fluckey   
Aerosmith Joe Perry    
Afghan Whigs Greg Dulli    
AFI Jade Puget 
Al Dimeola Al Dimeola   

Ok, perhaps one of the best things I can do for you is point you to
the DMOZ list of guitar amp manufacturers. Most of them will have a
page of artists or endorsers using their products. We'll take an

Crate Amps - Company background information and product overviews, as
well as a dealer list, and a support section containing FAQs, and
downloadable manuals. Also features a list of users and the gear they

Going to their page, I find:

Clicking one - Billy F. Gibbons
ZZ Top

I see his amp is the 50 V series:

"The V-Series - creating a unique blend of great tone with
revolutionary features for the worlds most discriminating players.
Legendary players like Bo Diddley, Joe Walsh, Vernon Reid and many
others are discovering the power, clarity and great tones of the

So, perhaps you can discover all the artists using tubes from the
links at DMOZ. Though as I said, it might be easier to find those who
don't use tubes :^)

Search Strategy:
"tube amp" +musicians +benefits
"tube amp" +musicians +using OR "who use"
artists OR musicians +using OR endorsing +"tube amp"
tube guitar amp +endorse OR artist

I trust my research has provided you with lots of valuable information
on tube amps and artists. If a link above should fail to work or
anything require further explanation or research, please do post a
Request for Clarification prior to rating the answer and closing the
question and I will be happy to assist further.


timdeveloper-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $20.00
This was an incredibly thorough answer complete with search tips. Excellent stuff!

Subject: Re: Tube Amplifiers/Famous Musicians
From: clouseau-ga on 07 Jul 2006 13:46 PDT
My pleasure to have helped. Thanks so much for the stars and generous tip!



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