Electric guitarists often look for amplifier tubes that produce the desired tone.
Many of them are now looking for the amplifier tubes themselves.
The war in Ukraine has exacerbated a scarcity of luminous glass devices, which were formerly an essential component of American television sets and radios. Tubes are now predominantly manufactured in China, Slovakia, and Russia.
After Russian tanks poured into Ukraine, a guitarist commented on The Gear Page’s popular discussion board, “Folks, buy your extra tubes now.”
What Dough Said About Amplifier Tubes
In Wantagh, New York, Doug’s Tubes said that it sold more amplifier tubes in the first three weeks of March than in the previous three months. According to owner Doug Preston, sales are at twice his average volume.
“Now that the ‘hysteria’ has subsided, people are quietly worried,” Mr. Preston wrote. “To avoid stockpiling, I’ve imposed restrictions on most tubes.”
Although transistors have rendered vacuum tubes obsolete in most consumer electronics, they are still employed in guitar amplifiers and hi-fi equipment. Enthusiasts say the tubes, which are only a few inches tall and have heated filaments that resemble a faintly lit light bulb, produce a warm, creamy tone that solid-state electronics cannot duplicate.
“I don’t think you can put it into words,” stated Peter Frampton, whose famous 1976 album “Frampton Comes Alive!” included tube-amp-powered guitar solos. “Whatever you put into a tube amp will have added warmth.”
The tubes, which wear out with use, are essential to the operation and sound of an amplifier. The low-level input from an instrument runs through a succession of sections in a tube-based amplifier, where amplifier tubes amplify the signal and shape its tone. Fans seek niche internet retailers, mom and pop music stores, offshore wholesalers, and surplus stock on eBay to find the tubes.
With the closure of a facility in China in 2019, the tubing supply chain has already taken a pinch. As Russia prepared to invade Ukraine, savvy guitarists began planning for potential shortages, thinking Russian supplies would also run out.
Then, on March 11, 80-year-old guitar-effects pioneer Mike Matthews shocked the guitar world by sending a note to consumers of his Long Island City, New York-based company Electro-Harmonix, whose legal name is New Sensor Corp.
According to Mr. Matthews, its president and founder, Russia has blocked the shipment of 200 products due to US sanctions imposed in response to President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. This included the tubes his company manufactures and distributes under the Sovtek and Svetlana’s brand names.
Mr. Matthews added in the note, “We will not honour any new orders or ship any more Russian tubes on back order.”