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Thread: Russian vs American vacuum tubes - any difference?

  1. #1
    Advanced Fretter tremoloman's Avatar
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    Default Russian vs American vacuum tubes - any difference?

    I recently installed new vacuum tubes in my Fender Hot Rod DeVille. When I went to purchase tubes, I had two options between Russian and American tubes. The cost was $50 (Russian) vs $199 (US).

    Can someone please explain the differences between these tubes? The models were identical, but the price is just crazy for the US made models.
    "It's funny the way most people love the dead. Once you are dead, you are made for life." - Jimi Hendrix

  2. #2
    Addicted to solder.... duhvoodooman's Avatar
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    I believe the major cost driver between the two is the fact that, AFAIK, nobody in the US is making tubes anymore, so what you're looking at buying are NOS (new old stock) tubes. Since available supplies of these tubes continue to dwindle, the prices just get higher and higher over time.

    The reason that people are willing to pay that premium is that these NOS tubes were made to much more stringent quality requirements than most current production. A lot of the tubes coming out of Russia and China are notorious for very large tube-to-tube variation in their various performance parameters. I've read that current production tubes often show ten times (!) as much tube-to-tube variability as NOS tubes. With that kind of variability, an amp could easily sound completely different just from changing from one tube to another of the same type & brand.

    The other comment I often read about NOS tubes is that they sound "warmer" or "rounder" or "more musical" than current production. I interpret this as the audible manifestation of that much greater product consistency. That they would tend to sound much better is certainly not surprising!

    However, that's not to say that there aren't good quality, consistent current production tubes available these days. There are good Russian and Chinese tubes out there, but they often involve post-production testing and sorting by quality, a process that adds cost (and, therefore, means a higher price) through both the testing process itself and the "fallout", i.e. sub-standard tubes that are scrapped based upon poor test results. For example, I understand that Groove Tubes sells a lot of these test-and-sort tubes, and they have a pretty good reputation.

    Another current production tube with excellent quality and consistency is the JJ brand, produced in the Czech Republic. Many people (including several Fretters) swear by them. I recently retubed my Peavey Delta Blues with JJ's, and am very happy with it--noticeably smoother and clearer tone than I had with the stock Sovtek's (Russian tube). Eurotubes.com is, IMO, the place to buy JJ's. Their service is absolutely outstanding and they'll even tailor the characteristics of the tubes they send you to meet your specified personal tastes (e.g. more headroom vs. early break-up). The owner, Bob Pletka, is a professional guitarist and just a super guy. They sell full sets of Hot Rod DeVille tubes in several "flavors" in the $55 - $60 range.

    Hope that helps, Trem....
    Last edited by duhvoodooman; July 28th, 2006 at 09:56 AM. Reason: typo fix
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  3. #3
    Lefty O'lman oldguy's Avatar
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    Trem,
    Voodoo's post is absolutely right on.
    My Traynor ycv 40, Traynor yba 1, '65 Fender Super, all have JJ's from Eurotubes. Mr. Bob Pletka spoke with me on the phone for some time to be sure I'd be happy with each set of tubes for each amp. He is very knowledgeable, friendly, and ships orders FAST! I think each order took 2 days to get to my mailbox. In every one of my amps, there was a noticeable difference (much better) over the Sovteks and Groove Tubes I replaced.
    You should check out his website when you have time. That is where I found TheFret.Net, by the way.
    Glenn

  4. #4
    Leggo of my HoHo! Bloozcat's Avatar
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    Great post, Duhvoodooman. Sounds like you've been doing a lot of research!

    In support of and in addition to all the great points Duhvoodooman made, here's some more info:

    There are several countries of origin in today's vacuum tube market. In addition to Russia there is Slovakia (JJ's), China, and Yugoslavia. In addition to those countries there are others that made a second line of what is today called NOS. These are tubes that were made in countries like Poland (Polam), India (BEL/Mullards), Czechoslovakia (Tesla/Rosnov), Russia (Reflektor) and the former East Germany (RFT, Funkwerk). These tubes were either made for eastern bloc countries military use or in some instances for NATO military use. Since the North American, European, and Japanese NOS tubes have become more and more scarce, tube vendors scoured eastern Europe looking for NOS military stock from the cold war era. Even these "nearly" NOS tubes are quickly becoming scarce, and the prices are rising accordingly. Just a couple of examples of each: I purchased a matched pair of Philips NOS JAN 7581A tubes for my Bandmaster two years ago. Cost: $59.00 pr. Today the same tubes are $150.00 pr. from the same vendor. Some other vendors are higher yet. I purchased a quad of the "nearly" NOS Polam/Telam EL84's within the last year. I paid $100.00 for the quad. On E-bay recently I saw quads going for twice that amount. The normal vendors are out of stock on this tube.

    Many of the new production tubes from the countries I first mentioned, have been of inferior quality compared to the NOS varieties. As Duhvoodooman alluded to, sloopy construction, poor components, bad designs, poor quality control - are some of the problems with new production tubes. Post production screening and testing has ensured that before the product gets to you, they're known to work and likely won't fail...but the longevity issue has never been addressed. Not all tube vendors take the time to thoroughly test their tubes before selling them to you. So, you have to do your homework to locate the good guys in the tube business. As DVM mentioned, Bob at Eurotubes is one of these guys when you're looking for JJ tubes. Excellent screening, and matching of his tubes to your particular amp. He's fast too.

    Some enterprising individuals have stepped up in recent years to help in rectifying the quality issues with newly manufactured tubes.

    Enter Mike Matthews. Mike Matthews has been busy in recent years in buying up old line NOS manufacturers names. Tung-Sol and is a prime example of this. Mike didn't just buy the name of this company, he actively pursued the quality of manufacture that this name represents as well. Mike's Tung-Sol 12AX7 pre-amp tube is getting rave reviews by everyone who tries them. There are more comparisons of this tube to NOS 12AX7's than I've seen or heard of for any other tube. Same thing with Mike's 5881's, 6550-A's, and 6V6's. And it's not just amatuers like us who are raving about them either. Derek Trucks is using the 12AX7's and 5881's in his front line amps. Another of Mike's winners is the new 6L6-GE which is a copy of the famed GE 6L6 of yesteryear. Same rave reviews as the Tung-Sols. Incedently, these tubes aren't being made in some new plant let alone a new American plant. Most of the components are made here, but they are then shipped to Russia and assembled and finished at the Reflektor plant. This is the same plant that made the NOS 6189 (high grade EL84) that I've spoken of in other threads. They know how to make good tubes at Reflektor, they just needed the right design and direction to make them properly.

    The one thing that all of Mike Matthews "new" tubes share is their conformity with the original NOS designs. They are all made like the old NOS's that once bore their name (or in some cases, better). Same construction, same quality materials, and superb quality control that has resulted in extremely low rejection rates.

    As Duhvoodooman knows, I'm a big proponent of NOS tubes. In my amps (especially the vintage ones), the newly manufactured tubes just haven't cut it for me, for the most part. That is, until recently. I have tried the new Tung-Sol 12AX7 and I agree with Lord Valve: I'd put it up against *anything*, NOS included. It works equally well in my vintage amps as it does in my newer amps. It's that good. And all for the price of $16.00 ea. That's a helluva lot better than the $25-$30 that a good NOS 12AX7 runs.

    So, things are looking up in the tube world. I for one, couldn't be happier that I won't have to pay through the "NOS" for tubes any more.

    Now if they'll only come out with a Tung-Sol EL84....

    BTW: A great source for the Tung-Sol tubes is Lord Valve (a.k.a. Fat Willie Whitaker). Here's his info:

    Lord Valve
    NBS Electronics
    230 South Broadway
    Denver Colorado 80209-1510
    Telephone: 1-303-778-1156
    LORD_VALVE@prodigy.net

    Make sure you ask to get on his online catalog mailing list, or as he calls it, his SPAM list. You'll get updates from time to time this way (whenever he finally gets around to sending them!).

  5. #5
    Addicted to solder.... duhvoodooman's Avatar
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    Wow, great post, BC! Tons of useful info there. I've yet to try any of the Tung Sol tubes, but I can see I'm definitely going to need to check them out.

    P.S. That "pay through the NOS" pun was absolutely horrid. I respect that in a pun!
    DVM's Ever-Expanding Gear List:

    Guitars - '05 Gibson Custom Historic Series '59 Reissue (R9); '11 PRS Studio; '08 Heritage H-555 Semi-hollowbody; '12 Fender American Standard Stratocaster; '89 Fender Strat Plus; '10 Agile AL-3000; '12 G&L Tribute ASAT Classic Bluesboy Semi-hollowbody; " Kwik-Keef Konvertible" '09 Squier CV '50s Telecaster; '10 Squier CV Telecaster Custom; '12 Squier Vintage Modified Cabronita Tele + Bigsby; '12 Xaviere XV-890HSS w/ FR Trem; '12 Epiphone Masterbilt DR-500MCE; '71 Yamaha FG-300

    Amps & Cabs - Mesa Boogie Express 5:25 10" combo; ultra-modded Fender Blues Junior; Vox AC15 Heritage handwired 1x12 combo; Allen Sweet Spot kit amp; BYOC Tweed Royal kit amp (switchable 5E3/5F1 hybrid); Homebuilt 1.5W Firefly Head; Epiphone Valve Jr. combo + mods; Jet City Picovalve 5W head; Drive 2x12 cab w/ Celestion G12M Greenback + G12H30; AB Custom Audio 1x12 cab w/ Celestion Alnico Blue (UK made)

    Pedals/Effects - Too many to count, including TONS of DVM's Home-built Pedals - See some of 'em HERE and HERE, TOO!

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