By Annalise Thayer. Guitar Electric. Published at Friday, August 31st, 2018 - 14:59:27 PM.
Sovtek is the primary OEM supplier of preamp tubes today. Sovtek tubes are made in Russia. As you can see above, they have a spacer below the short, fat plates, a gap between the plates and the second upper spacer, and a "dimple" getter over the top. If you see a tube that looks like this, it's a Sovtek, regardless of the label. Sometimes they are marked as Sovtek 12AX7's but you also see them marked as Groove Tubes 12AX7-R's and Fender 12AX7's. You will also see them marked 12AX7 WA, WB or WC. I'm told the WB version has a little more gain and the WC version is a little quieter. Regardless, these tubes all have an edgy (bright) tone that is popular with Fender amp owners.
If you want an nicer, vintage style clean tone or slightly distorted blues tone, the newer tubes Sovtek makes for Electro-Harmonix, Svetlana and Tung Sol are better choices. Each of those tubes has thinner plates that are separated, so you can see the space between them just like the original RCA 12ax7's. To my ear, the Electro-Harmonix 12AX7 is the best sounding lower priced 12ax7 out there (the Svetlana 12AX7 looks like the same tube, but I've never tried one). If you don't mind spending a little more, I think the Tung Sol 12AX7 "reissue" is even better (unlike the Electro-Harmonix version, the Tung Sol has a "halo" getter, just like the RCA). If you want premium tube with a real nice American tone, I'd recommend the Tung Sol 12AX7.
As for the copper wire, "overwound" pickups tend to sound louder and have more midrange and bass; pickups with less windings tend to sound softer and brighter. One of the reasons humbuckers sound the way they do is because it takes more wire to wrap the two coils. The thickness of the wiring and the type of insulation that is used are additional factors that affect the sound (e.g. Fender's early Strat pickups had Formvar insulation instead of enamel; insulating them that way gave them a clearer tone). Today most humbuckers are also wax potted so they won't squeal at high gain, but the wax potting hurts the clarity a little too (Gibson's modern Burstbucker pickups and Seymour Duncan's Seth Lovers attempt to reproduce the clearer tone of early humbuckers by eliminating the wax potting).
It is a curious paradox of the music industry: guitarists, particularly rock guitarists, are often thought of as trendsetters when it comes to fashion and culture; but when it comes to their instruments, they are notoriously conservative. Innovations such as active electronics, guitar synthesizers and Steinberger's intrepid steps into the field of headless instruments in the 80's have failed to make much of a dent in the market. Gibson and Fender continue to dominate the electric guitar market much as they did in the 1950's and 60's. Even with the entry of new competitors into the market over the years such as Ibanez, Paul Reed Smith and CharvelJackson, the electric guitar has remained essentially unchanged with one to three magnetic pickups and a mess of wires connecting them to the controls. But things may be about to change!
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