Anonymous said: in regards to the last question, if circuitry has more of a role in the amps tone than the tubes, then why do certain amps use different tubes? In example, i've seen that Sunn model T reissues have 6l6/12ax7 tubes, ive seen them with 6550 tubes, and i have seen clones of this amp using kt66 tubes. Is there any particular reason or advantage behind the same amp, or a similarly designed amp having different tube configurations?
Again, a really complicated question. Most things in the musical instrument industry are done because “we’ve always done them that way” (guitar players hate change) or because “Leo Fender did it that way” or “Jim Marshall did it that way.” We associate 6L6s with Fender and EL34s with Marshall, but those tubes were NOT chosen for their sound, they were chosen because they were readily available, suited the requirements of the design, and were relatively cheap.
In the heyday of vacuum tubes, musical instrument amps were a vanishingly tiny portion of the market, and one of the least-precise and least-demanding applications. Tube manufacturers made thousands and thousands of different tube types to suit the equally numerous industrial, military, and consumer applications of ever-evolving technology. They also patented the types they designed.
6L6s were made in the USA. Fender used them simply because they were incredibly common (like the 6V6 and 5881) at the time. Easy to find cheap output transformers to match them, easy to design for because the Radiotron Designer’s Handbook basically gave you the circuit to copy. Jim Marshall copied the Fender Bassman but it was expensive to put American 5881s in it, so he used KT66s, which were made in England and therefore cheaper and less subject to shipping damage. Mullard, a British company, designed and patented the EL34. Marshall switched to them because they were cheaper and more reliable than KT66s, and nearby and plentiful. That’s really it. Their contribution to the “Marshall tone” was accidental and probably not nearly as significant as everyone thinks, compared with the design of say, the tone stack (among other things).
When you’re talking about amps designed/made today, tube selection is more a matter of marketing than functionality or sound. If you want the consumer to associate your amp with Marshall roar, you put EL34s in it. Vox chime? EL84s. SVT thunder? 6550s or KT88s. And on and on. You design the object to allude to classic, canonical sounds. It helps greatly if the consumer believes that the pretty glass bottles are the sine qua non of the amp’s tone.
As far as the Model T reissue, it uses 6L6GCs, full-stop. Fender designed this amp’s power stage, and it is IDENTICAL to many other Fender-made amps from the 90s, including its use of 6L6 power tubes. The 70s Sunns used 6550s, because they were Dynaco knockoffs and Dynaco amps used 6550s because they were what you used with ultralinear output transformers, which were better for hi-fi. You can’t put 6550s in a reissue Model T because it’s not even close to the same amp, you’ll stress the heater winding in the power transformer. KT66s are possible to use but will also stress the heater winding and produce less power. Why do they work? Because they’re very similar to a 6L6. They were made by British companies to compete with the American 6L6 without infringing on someone else’s patent.
Notice the complete absence of sound character or quality in any of this. The tubes that have been enshrined as musically magical are basically a weird historical/economic accident.
Recommended reading:The Ultimate Tone - Kevin O’Connor
Radiotron Designer’s Handbook 4
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