Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald - Is the Amplifier Tube Shortage Hype?

Monday, March 14, 2022

Is the Amplifier Tube Shortage Hype?

   Much is being made about the Coming Tube Apocalypse: that sanctions on Russia means "it's going to be impossible to get vacuum tubes soon!".


 From what I understand a number of tube specialist companies have already run out of stock.  As well as a couple of amp companies.

 The problems is.... as far as I know there are only 2 tube manufacturing facilities in Russia.  One is owned by Mike Matthews / Electro Harmonix.  I believe EH rebrands their tubes for a lot of "names", Sovtek, TungSol, Svetlana, Mullard.  In turn I would expect these to disappear.  

 But JJ makes tubes in Slovakia, which as far as I know has no export restrictions.  I see JJ tubes more often than anything else; and China has a few plants that have been making OEM tubes forever.  There is no reason these will go away.  Furthermore, there was a time not too long ago there were much fewer plants producing new tubes than what we have now, without the Russian sources.  

 So I'm not afraid that tubes are going away.  There is a run on tubes right now, and people have marked up the prices accordingly.  Thought they've marked up a lot, it looks like you can still get sub-$20 12ax7 preamp tubes on Aliexpress right now - close to $12 if you buy in bulk.  Shuguang, some claiming to be Russian NOS.  Not graded, but they're there.  

 What I expect to happen is that once China notices (probably via metrics on Aliexpress and Amazon drop shipping), as they always do, ramp up production to take over the market.  There will be $12 12ax7s again, and reasonably priced EL34s, 6L6s and 6v6s again by the end of the year.  

 BUT - there will be people making money off of the "scarcity".  Guitar amp companies, even amp repair guys, have stocks of tubes.  in fact, it used to be you'd see them sort of casual brag about it, "oh yeah, I buy boxes and boxes of them".  They won't be running out of tubes, but they'll no doubt charge accordingly.  I would think this *shouldn't* affect amp prices on the lower end, because companies like Fender and Marshall have bought pallets of tubes before this came up, and aren't picking over them like a boutique company would.  And the boutique makers in general have equivalent supplies.

 I suspect the Larger Boutique manufacturers, though, will get a bit of a margin boost.  Or not.  If China doesn't step up and we get an OPEC like tube supply chain, then I think they'll end up shooting themselves in the foot: as new generations of guitarists happen, the desire for tube amps over modelers wane.  This will just hasten making actual tube amps more marginal.



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