If you are a new guitarist, one of the questions you might ask is “how long do tubes last in guitar amps?”. Even for an old guitarist, knowing the answer to this question can help you ensure that your amps sound just as good as they did when you first got them.
Generally, tubes have a lifespan of 500 to 1,000 hours of usage. They can last for years in light playing conditions and can last for about 6 months in heavy playing conditions. The lifespan of a tube largely depends on the type of tube used, how long you play, and how loud you play.
In this article, you’ll find out the different factors that can affect the lifespan of your tubes, as well as how to know when to replace your tubes.
How Playing Conditions Affect the Lifespan of Your Tubes
Here are a few factors that can affect the lifespan of your tubes:
Type of Tube Used
Generally, power tubes can last years in light playing situations while in heavy playing situations, they will last a few months. However, pre-amp tubes last longer (sometimes, twice as long as power tubes).
How Long You Play
The lifespan of tubes is a function of the number of hours of usage and not necessarily the months and years. If you do not use your guitar often, you can be sure that it’ll last longer than if you were a regular player.
How Loud You Play
Your tubes will eventually wear out and not sound the same anymore. When you continuously play loudly, it puts a strain on the tube ad it wears faster than normal. Those who play at low-to-moderate volume will have tubes that last longer.
When Should You Replace Tubes in Guitar Amps?
Here are a few things to look out for to know when it’s the right time to change the tubes in your guitar amps:
The Amp is Producing Undesirable Noises
When your tubes start making popping, crackling or snapping sounds, it’s an indication that your tube should be replaced soon. If the tubes start getting weak, you might also start hearing some static or fuzzy sound.
Generally, be on to look out for unwanted noises. When you hear a sound that shouldn’t be there, it’s an indication that your amp needs some maintenance or that the tube needs to be replaced. However, rule out other causes first before changing the tube.
The Amp Fades in and Out (It’s Quieter Than Usual)
Sometimes, this might be obvious. Other times, however, it might be subtle. When you notice that the tube amp isn’t sounding as good as it should, you might need to start considering replacing them. you might decide to replace the faulty tube, replace more than one, or just change the tubes entirely.
However, when you’re using a power tube, you simply can’t replace one. You’ll need to replace all. To know the right tubes to buy, check your manual.
The Tube Amp is Silent
This is probably the most glaring indication that something is wrong with your tubes. However, as discussed earlier, other things can cause your tube to be silent. For power tubes, a blown fuse might be the reason for the silent sound.
You might also want to check for any problems with your speaker. A disconnected or broken speaker may be the cause.
How Often Should You Change your Tubes?
The choice of changing your tubes depends on different individuals. For some who choose to be proactive, you can change the tubes to your guitar amps every 4-6 months. However, this is costlier but it ensures that your tubes will sound the best every time.
Other guitarists might choose to only change their tubes when there’s a problem. This is cost-effective and it makes sense as well. Changing the tubes is mostly a function of the hours of usage and not necessarily the months or years you’ve been using them.
How to Make Your Tubes Last Longer?
While it is good to diagnose tube problems early enough to replace them, there are lots of things you can do to preserve the ones you already have. This way, it reduces how often you change the tubes in your guitar amp.
Here are a few things you can do to make your tubes last longer:
Handle with Care
Your guitar tubes are very fragile and as such, can be easily damaged when there’s a sudden impact. To avoid this, ensure that you avoid knocking, bumping, or dropping your guitar amp on the ground.
Match Your Impedance
For those using a head and speaker cabinet, it is important that the impedance matches. An impedance switch is usually found at the back of the head. If you aren’t sure of the right impedance, do a little research to be sure. Incorrect matching of impedance can put a strain on your tubes, making them damage faster.
Service Your Amp Regularly
Servicing your amp regularly is important. As much as it helps keep the amp in optimal condition, it can also help you identify any issues that might be wrong with the guitar. This ultimately helps as you don’t have to wait till it worsens before fixing it.
Bias Your Amp
Often overlooked, biasing your amp helps prolong the lifespan of your tube. However, this should be done by a trained technician. Biasing your amp involves ensuring that the tubes get the right voltage based on their resistance.
Power Up Properly
Give your tubes some time to warm up before powering up. Allow some time for the amp to start working at playing temperature. This helps protect your tube as well as the other components of your guitar amp.
Store Your Amp Properly
As a golden rule, do not store your guitar where you can’t sleep. Storing your amp in damp places will cause a lot of damage over time. The moisture can also damage the speaker irreversibly.
Avoid Cold Temperatures Immediately After Playing
Allow your tubes to cool down naturally before moving your amp to a cool place. Even after powering off, let the tubes settle down before packing them.
The lifespan of your tubes is mostly a function of how long you play, how long you play, how well you maintain them, and the type of tube used. You can preserve your tubes as for long as possible when you pay more attention to these factors.
When you notice that your amp doesn’t sound the same way again, it might be time to change your tubes.