Tube amps are the preferred amp type for most guitarists because they sound better, play louder, and provide more natural overdrive than solid-state amps. However, tube amps are generally more expensive and require more upkeep than solid-state amps.
One of the main things you’ll have to do to keep your amp in tip-top shape is to change out broken tubes. You won’t have to do this too often, but the lifespan of your tubes heavily relies on how loud and how often you play through your amp.
In this article, I will go over how long amplifier tubes last and list the warning signs that may point to a broken tube.
How long do amplifier tubes last?
Tube amps typically have 3 to 5 power tubes and 5 to 7 preamp tubes. These tubes are relatively fragile and break for several reasons, such as playing at high volumes for extended periods. They can also easily break when transporting the amp.
There is no set expiry date for when your amplifier tubes need to be replaced because it depends on how often you use the amp and how much strain you put on the tubes in terms of volume and gain. There is very little wear and tear on tubes that are not in use, so if the amp is not being played and is just sitting in your garage, the tubes will technically last forever. In general, tubes can last 5 to 10 years if you are just using the amp for light practice. But if you play out of your amp for hours daily at high volumes, your tubes may only last 6 months.
Signs that it is time to change your tubes
There are several signs that your amplifier tubes are burnt out, broken, or microphonic:
- Feedback, squealing, or other high-pitched noise.
- The amp’s pitch is deficient in low or high-end frequencies.
- You have to turn the volume up much higher than normal to get more volume.
- The amp is silent when you turn it on and plug your guitar in.
- Certain notes cause a buzzing sound in the amp.
If any of these occur in your tube amp, check the tubes and replace any faulty ones. Read my tube amp troubleshooting guide for more help identifying issues with your amp.
Why do you need to change amp tubes?
One of the major benefits of solid-state amps is that they require less maintenance. While tube amps sound better, they need much more care and are more expensive to repair. The tubes in a tube amplifier are finicky and can crack, blow out, or go microphonic. So, when you notice an issue with your amplifier tubes, you’ll need to replace all or some of the tubes. Think of your tubes like your guitar strings; they will wear out over time the more you play on them, and eventually, they will break, and you will have to change them out. However, you’ll change your strings much more frequently than you will have to change your tubes.
How to change tubes in a tube amp
To change the tubes in a tube amp, you’ll first need to determine how many tubes are broken. The first thing you’ll need to do is turn off the amp and let it cool. Then take off the back panel using a screwdriver and inspect to see if there are any visible cracks in the tubes. If there are not, turn the amp back on, and tap on the power tubes lightly with a wooden spoon or a chopstick. The broken tubes will make a high-pitched clinking noise instead of a muffled tapping noise.
Read my comprehensive tube installation guide for more information on replacing broken tubes.
How much do new tubes cost?
Tubes vary significantly in price depending on a number of different factors. The cost of each tube can differ according to the type of tube you have, the size of the tube, and your amp model. However, you can typically expect to shell out between $25 to $130.