Where Are My Vacuum Tubes Coming From? [Podcast] A brief history of audio tube manufacturers

In this episode we sit down with Mojotone owners, Michael McWhorter and Andy Turner, for an in-depth look at how the vacuum tube market has changed over the last 20 years.  There is a lot to know about the rise and fall of certain tube factories, how the game has changed, where to get the highest quality tubes and what these different players are all about.  Got something to add? Leave us a comment!

7 comments

  • Hello, I enjoyed this very much.What about Sovtek tubes.I know several manufactures use Sovek
    in their amps.Is it because of their build price? Just wondering
    Thanks so much,
    William Wood

    • Logan Tabor

      Hey William,
      Yes, Sovtek does make great tubes and that is why a number of manufacturers choose them. Most tubes are pretty affordable and reliable this day and age. Thanks!

    • William: Sovtek is a brand owned by Mike Matthew of ElectroHarmonix. These tubes are typically sourced from the Russian Reflektor factory (though I believe there’s at least one other presently supplying tubes to EH/Sovtek, and there were historically quite a few other Russian factories).

      EH also owns the modern-day trademarks of “Tung Sol,” “Mullard,” and “Genalex”. In the old days these were individual companies, but those entities have not produced tubes for a long time. Modern, Russian, tubes are branded with these labels, and may represent variations in specific features (or not?) compared to the other Sovtek and EH tubes which are sourced and distributed by Mike Matthews’ EH.

      Distinguishing an old Mullard or Tung Sol from the new Russian stuff *should* be easy, as the new stuff generally says “Made in Russia”. It is possible someone unscrupulous will attempt to remove that to sell an inexpensive tube for a lot more money.

      There was also a “gray area” period in at least the 80’s-2000, where imports from Russia were apparently not legal, but Russian tubes were marked with U.S. or European branding and/or country of origin.

      For example, I have a pair of “RCA 6L6GC Made in Germany” that are really Russian 6π3C (and probably from the Reflektor factory). I didn’t know then what I know now about tube construction details and how to spot counterfeits. Turns out, 6L6GC’s were never (to my knowledge) made in any German plant. And if they had been, the wording of the country of origin would have been subtly different. Further, there were some errors of detail about how the RCA label on the tube, and details of the box, that are wrong for real RCA product. And last, multiple elements of the tubes’ construction and glass envelope are wrong for any American 6L6GC.

      The worst part of the above is the 6L6GC is a 30w tube with certain maximum voltage ratings, but the Russian 6π3C (while still a good tube within its ratings) is only a 19w tube with much lower voltage ratings. Had I used them in an amp that actually demanded all of a 6L6GC’s capability, there’s a good chance the tubes and/or the amp would be damaged.

      The subject gets deep in a hurry, with even American and European tubes from the 50’s & 60’s carrying markings not intended to defraud, but not consistent with the true origin of the tube. But that’s a story for another day…

  • I would like to see a US tube manufacturer start up. Hate to depend on eastern Europe and China.

    • That will never happen again do to environmental regulations (a good thing) and soon China might stop making tubes too. Prices will go sky high after China is out of the game.

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