Valve amps: worth the effort?

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs' started by mcgraham, Apr 6, 2011.

  1. mcgraham

    mcgraham Member

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    I am considering getting my first true valve amp. I love the sound of great valve amps that I've heard on recordings and demos. However, I've never experienced true cranked valve amps - either played by myself or played live by others. I know of NO players personally who truly crank their amps and their power sections. I know a few who crank their pres, but most rely on pedals for dirt.

    I play at church and other small gigs - PA normally available, but volume constraints are always going to be issues for me. There are a number of solutions to volume control (low wattage amps, iso cabs/boxes, attenuators/load boxes, speaker simulators, etc)... but this seems like a LOT of work and a LOT of gear for something that I've never truly experienced or even witnessed live as 'worth it'. Alternatively, there are amp sims like the Tech 21 character series for a hundred dollars or so - I use the California and am quite happy with ease of use reliability (particularly as a pedal platform and direct solution).

    So, my question to you guys is: are valve amps worth the effort? I'd be looking at a low wattage amp anyway, but what advice do any of you in similar situations have for me?

    Disclaimer: I'm not looking to start a fight about simulators and valve amps. I like both, but I am not a seasoned valve amp user and would like some input from valve amp players.
     
  2. wizard333

    wizard333 Member

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    Yes. There is no substitute.
     
  3. skunx

    skunx Member

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    In your situation I would say not. If you like your tone and the volume is more easily manageable for your situation, I say keep doing what you are doing.

    All the people I play with play loud rock music so i have loud amps with good master volumes for playing at home.
     
  4. mcgraham

    mcgraham Member

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    wizard333, I love your post :)

    skunx, thanks for your input. I love rock music, but don't need it to be deafening. If I'm honest I've not found a pedal that gives me exactly the dirt I want. Close, but not quite. I just don't know whether the sound in my head simply requires a cranked valve amp, or whether I'll have the same difficulty regardless of whether I stick with the pedal route or go down the valve amp route.
     
  5. dimpler

    dimpler Senior Member

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    yes, i have heard that valve amps are the wave of the future, so long as you don't let pride and preconceived notions get in the way.
     
  6. chervokas

    chervokas Member

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    I'm not sure that there's any extra "effort" involved. Yeah, a tube amp requires a little more maintainence (like changing tubes)...but in terms of tone getting good tone with a tube amp requires no more effort than getting good tone with a transistor amp. Like you I've never heard a pedal that sounds like, or sounds as good as, a cranked tube amp. Plus no guitarist should live his or her life never having played a cranked tube amp--that is, after all, the sound of guitar distortion that we're all chasing and you should have that experience if only to have a reference standard for your simulations.

    I'd suggest the Vox Night Train, which is 15 watts but switachable to 7.5 watts as one that would give you good clean tones, cranked preamp or cranked power amp dirty tones, and scalable output all at a decent price. But something scalable and tweakable might be better than just a 5 watter that sounds great cranked, though that's a option too.
     
  7. smolder

    smolder Gold Supporting Member

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    Digital and solid state are definitely the way to go these days. If you do go with a tube amp, buy new production tubes. They are much cheaper and have a more desirable 'modern' sound. Leave those expensive NOS things for the dinosaurs to waste money on.
     
  8. jtm622

    jtm622 Member

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    Ask yourself this question: "Why would TUBE-BASED amps still be in production after all of these years???"

    There ya go...
     
  9. Improbable Joe

    Improbable Joe Member

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    I don't see the harm in shopping for a tube amp in real life, and just seeing what's out there. Certainly a low-wattage tube amp wouldn't cost you that much, and it would still work with your pedals. Check them out, and if you can't find anything you like then don't sweat it. There's no one right answer for every situation.
     
  10. Selsaral

    Selsaral Member

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    Everyone has strong opinions about this. IMHO, master volume tube amps with pre-amp overdrive can sound great. I love mine.

    Another factor that complicates this issue is that more volume just sounds better. I suspect that the power amp overdrive that is so coveted is loved because it's loud as ****. Volume rules. Just my suspicion, I am no expert.
     
  11. oldtelefart

    oldtelefart Member

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    Nah. Get a Roland Cube.
     
  12. MichaelK

    MichaelK Member

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    That's such a strange question...!

    It's fine that you want to know how a tube amp feels, but if you're really interested in finding out, you won't find the answer on the internet. Plug in your guitar!
     
  13. RocksOff

    RocksOff Member

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    It isn't so much about sound... a valve amp will FEEL different. Oftentimes they seem more... I don't know. Maybe 'connected' to your guitar? If you haven't used one, you should. At least just to try it.
     
  14. Chas

    Chas Member

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    If you play mostly cleans and want a tube amp get a Princeton reverb Reissue. The clean sounds from that amp will compete and surpass many a solid state amp.
     
  15. mcgraham

    mcgraham Member

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    MichaelK, I don't think it's that strange a question. Some people who love the sound of valve amps will choose not to use valve amps and they will have their reasons. Others will never compromise. I want to hear from both.

    Rocksoff, thanks for the input. I have tried a number of valve amps, but at what point they start to become so interactive touch sensitive is debatable for different amps. Is it that you start to get this response from the strings just from the sheer volume being pumped into the strings of the guitar such that it feels like it's alive?
     
  16. RocksOff

    RocksOff Member

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    Well... that might be part of it. But it's not volume all of the time. Even at lower volumes, depending on the wattage of the amp, the immediacy and 'give' of certain circuits are just not something that is easy to describe. I theorize that this is why a lot of the older circuits are STILL so popular. Me, for instance... I love old Marshall and Vox circuits. The JTM45 circuit is still my favorite for many reasons. The sag of the tube rectifier in that circuit, as well as the AC30 circuit, really helps me feel like I'm getting everything I can out of the amp. It also lends a certain response to the circuit.
    Over the years, I've gone from simple style amps, to more complex channel switchers, then back to the simple stuff. A great single channel, non master volume circuit really does it for me. There are just such a wide range of things that can be done with them, albeit with that amps particular flavor. Of course, certain guitars really like certain amps, as well...
    I guess my only recommendation would be to get ahold of the original styles and try them all. You can move in so many directions from there.

    early Marshall circuits -> mid era Marshall circuits -> boutique Marshall style circuits.

    Vox AC30 style -> Matchless -> some of the Dr. Z offerings -> a score of boutique styles.

    early Fender stuff -> black and silver face Fender stuff -> boutiquey Fender flavors, including some Mesa Boogie stuff

    Then there are the scores of odd flavors: Hiwatt, Orange, Supro, Valco, Ampeg... the list goes on and on.

    But pretty much, if you figure out whether you prefer the Fender, Vox, or Marshall sound, there are tons of avenues to go down in each style til you find the amp that was built with you in mind!

    Not all have the same touch response, but that's part of the game. Some people like their amps a little stiffer, some like them so that if feels like the note almost starts before you play it. Some folks like it in between. Another thing that may really call out to you is the mids of an amp. For me, that is the real dividing line. Each style has it's own flavor of mid range, more so than large differences in the top and bottom end. The top and bottom can be adjusted with different speakers... but those mids. That's where the magic lies. And the valve amps really shine with respect to mids, whichever flavor you may choose.
     
  17. Coldacre

    Coldacre Member

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    I played solid state amps for 20 years before buying my first tube amp. when I bought it though I kicked myself for waiting so long to get one. the response and dynamics of playing through a tube amp just can't be simulated. if you want something low watt there's plenty of options. an AC4TV can be bought for a couple of hundred dollars.
     
  18. Shiny McShine

    Shiny McShine Member

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    I play at church every week with my vintage amp and I guarantee you, you could tell the difference between me and any of the other guitarists that play there too. Sometimes, I'm mystified at how they would even want to play through their rigs. I'm constantly getting compliments on tone from the sound guys, the media guys, and people in the congregation. It's not just about my ear, I want it really good for them too.

    Here's the deal though, not all amps with tubes are automatically good sounding. It's really expensive to go this route even once you know what you're doing. The learning curve is steep and maintenance is costly too.

    The big deal is that many good tube amps sound choked at levels that work in most churches. IMHO, you'll sound better through a Cube 60 than most of the inexpensive tube amps out there.
     
  19. Dave_C

    Dave_C Member

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    :agree
     
  20. StringSkunk

    StringSkunk Member

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    Once you play through some tubes you will never be the same, I guarantee it. I wasn't, at least. Get a low-wattage tube amp and you will be very happy. I would guess maybe 15 watts or so.
     

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