Are Some Makes of Guitar Amplifier Valves ‘Better’ Than others?

This is a very contentious question!

The short answer is ‘yes’—but not maybe for the reasons you might think.

Here is the long answer.

Let’s concentrate first on robustness rather than sound quality. In other words we’re talking mechanical durability of a guitar amplifier valve (or any other valve, for that matter).

Cheap Chinese amplifier valves are not robust and don’t last well. I have seen really cheaply made Chinese guitar amplifiers where the valve bases would only last for a few insertions and the actual valves are the cheapest they can possibly make.

In contrast some valves (e.g. Svetlana) are built like the proverbial ‘you know what’, and are very robust.

What Makes a Robust Guitar Amplifier Valve?

Everything you might expect.

  1. Thicker glass.
  2. Thicker elements.
  3. Better materials.
  4. Better construction.

From this you’d probably want to avoid the cheap Chinese stuff, but should you necessarily go top end? After all, some valves can cost 3-4 times the price of others of the same type (e.g. ECC83, EL84, EL34, 6V6GC etc.)

Probably not. Here’s why: It’s a question of price versus lifetime. Think car tyres. Assuming both are basically safe, brand ‘A’ might give you 25% more miles than brand ‘B’, but if it costs three times the price it’s not a good deal.

For this reason it’s best to go for a middle of the range valve like JJ Electronic.

JJ Valves are a great valve at a great price.

Are there better valves? Yes, but you’ll pay a significant premium for them and you would probably not notice much difference.

What About Quality of Sound in an Amplifier Valve?

So far I have only talked about durability and ruggedness. What about sound quality?

Here we enter a total minefield of subjectivity! Guitar amplifier valve manufacturers and distributors will try and convince you to buy their high priced valves because they sound ‘warmer’, ‘mellower’, ‘more punchy’ or whatever, they will extol their ‘crisp high ends’ and ‘dark, mellow bass’ characteristics.

It’s the same rhetoric of high end audio with their oxygen free speaker cables and the like. Some people love wasting their money on this stuff. It’s a hobby, a passion and like looking for the perfect fishing lure, aficionados will go from valve to valve searching for the Holy Grail.

If that’s not you, stick with a good quality, sensibly priced valve like JJ Electronic. They offer a great sound and are rugged enough for most applications.

Posted by Stuart on July 30, 2014