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Old 13th December 2009 | Show parent
Gear Guru
kafka's Avatar
"Need" is a funny word. Until the `80s, nobody had ever heard of matched tubes because there weren't any. Groove Tubes was a new thing, and although Boogie was selecting and matching their tubes, they were just doing so to support their own products. When we needed new tubes, we just went up to Radio Shack and got the right ones, and that was it. Typically we didn't even change them until they failed. As far as matching goes, the advice was to use the same brand, and to change pairs at the same time. By the `90s, matched pairs and quads had become de rigueur.

Well, having played guitar since well before we had matched tubes, I can tell you that it certainly is possible, and many fine and great sounding albums have been recorded with unmatched, old, and worn out tubes. However, after switching to matched tubes some time ago, I don't know why someone would bother not to. It costs $2 or $3 more per set to match them, and I can't say I've ever met someone who thought that unmatched tubes sounded better. But as the last guy said, hey, unmatched tubes (or old worn out tubes, or dead strings, or 60 cycle hum, or whatever) just may be your bag.

I personally would look for something other than a pair of Chinese power tubes. I haven't tried many, but the few I've had were unreliable and sounded pretty flat. Of new productions, I like the Tung-Sol 6l6GC reissues and the Groove Tubes black plates. Sylvanias, Phillips, RCA, and GE are all great NOS tubes. NOS tubes are a world of their own and can be pricey, so talk to a tube dealer before you pay too much for something you may not like.

As far as 12ax7's go, I have a shoebox full of old ones (preamps tubes essentially last forever. not exactly, but close). When I'm not happy with my sound, I just dig out the box and just swap them around until it sounds right. I'll use one that has matched sections for the phase inverter on some of my amps that need it (all but two), but the rest are just a question of taste. I could end up with a vintage Mullard, or a cheap Russian, or some unlabeled thing.