About Tubes

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1. Foreword 2.About music 3. About rock 4. About sound 5. About mixing 6. About guitarists 7. About tubes 8. About pedals
9. About digital 10. Ab. compression 11. About saturation 12. About filters 13. About delays 14. About chorus 15. About switching 16. Synthesis

I have written, two years ago, a short French website, called “Les lampes pour les nuls” – Tubes for dummies.

I was just getting into Rockman gear, which was then only a great addition to my favorite tube amp – an old Boogie.

The first purpose of this website was to explain in words that every one can understand what a guitar tube amp is. The more I was writing, the more I was realizing that tubes had, from far, more drawbacks than advantages. When I finished writing these few pages, the conclusion was that I wasn’t fond of tube amps: I was fond of my Boogie, which is totally different!

The difference between solid-state and tubes doesn’t rely in technique. The only real difference is that, in 2007, it’s possible to build a correct solid-state for a very low cost, while it’s impossible to build something correct with tubes below a certain price. The matching marketing strategies are thus different.

Full point.

The rest is strictly a topic for intellectual and sterile discussions.

If you like intellectual and sterile discussions, here are a few starters. You are authorized to use them whenever you’re looking for a silly discussion subject…

  • Tubes amps are louder! No. A Watt is a Watt, but a tube amp can be used beyond its RMS zone without collapsing. Beyond the RMS zone is the power-amp saturation zone, which is difficult, not to say impossible, to use with solid-state with a musical result. A tube amp can therefore generate more electric power than its rated RMS power – with a 1.5 to 1.7 typical ratio, and a theoretical limit of 2.0. That's all...

  • Tube amps sound better! No. Tube amps are usually expensive devices, resulting of years of careful R&D, and are therefore rather high-end amps. A real cheap amp is always a solid-state device. High-end gear sounds “better” than low-end gear: what a surprise! Moreover, high-end amps are equipped with speakers having a better sensitivity: a 25W amp with an expensive 103dB/W/m speaker sounds as loud as a 100W amp with a cheap 97dB/W/m speaker…

  • The big stars play with tube amps! Yes, but no. Until the seventies, the only professional amps were tube amps – solid-state was too young to allow serious developments. So, of course, people like Hendrix, Page or Clapton have made their reputation with tube amps – the only amps they could find. The cultural habit is still here, but a lot of famous records were made with solid-state gear – everyone believing they were made with tubes. This trend has increased when digital gear has appeared.

  • We have a different feeling with a tube amp. Yes. That’s true, provided you don’t play ultra-clean or ultra-saturated. Tubes have a very specific way to shift gently from clean to distortion, and this dynamics provides a special feeling to the guitar player playing in the crunchy range. This feeling is, unfortunately, something that the audience will not share: it has no impact on the sound!

All in all, this tubes-transistors technical opposition is over since at least 25 years now. From a commercial point of view, the discussion is still open, but that’s another story…

It doesn't mean that tubes became obsolete, nor that solid-state sounds better than tubes, or that tubes will always sound better. It just means that it became possible to get a professional sound from solid state gear, and that people who do not appreciate the capricious behavior of tube amps had an alternate solution. As a matter of fact, solid-state has a quality that tubes don't have: the sound never changes from take to take.

The first Rockman, created in 1982, was the proof that a solid-state device could easily replace a 100W tubes stack with two 4x12’ cabs. Replace doesn’t mean copy: the Rockman has a similar but, of course, different sound. But no one said that the objective of a musician was to copy what was made before…

Do we spend hours trying to duplicate the sound of Robert Johnson playing “Walking blues” in 1936? No. So...

Walk on!

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