By Alison Shell. Guitar Electric. Published at Friday, August 31st, 2018 - 10:22:16 AM.
The second option for a more vintage sounding preamp tubes is the long plate tubes Sovtek makes under its own name as the 12AX7LP (the "lp" stands for "long plate"), and the tube Sovtek sells as the Mullard 12AX7 "reissue." The two tubes look identical, except for the name, but the quality of the Mullards is much better, I think. In addition to Sovtek, Groove Tubes also sells a US-made 12AX7M, and it looks like TAD is now selling this tube as their new TAD 7025. Also JJ has a new long plate tube called the JJ ECC803.
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.
Among single coil pickups and humbuckers, there are many variations in how they are constructed and how they sound. Basically, a pickup is a row of magnets wrapped in copper wire. So changes in the magnets and the wire affect the sound. Alnico V magnets are commonly used in single coil pickups, like Fender's Texas Special pickups for Stratocasters and Telecasters; they are stronger magnets and have a sharper sound. Alnico II magnets are more common in humbuckers, like Gibson's Classic '57 pickups; they are softer magnets and they have a smoother tone.
6l6 Tubes. 6l6 power tubes not only have different size plates, they also come in different size bottles. There are basically three (3) types. The small bottle "stubbies" modeled after the original Tung Sol 5881, the tall bottles based on the original Sylvania 6l6GC STR, and the clear tops that have the side getter construction of the famous black plate RCA 6l6GC. The most common OEM 6l6 is the Sovtek 5881WXT, which is sort of an anomaly. The Sovtek is a short plate tube in a tall bottle. It's called a 5881 but it's really a 6l6. It can handle high voltages like the other 6l6's but it has the lower output of a 5881. And you will see it branded both ways. Sovtek calls it the 5881WXT but Groove Tubes sells it as a 6l6GC, Fender calls it a 6l6GC, and a Mesa Boogie sells it as a 6l6GC STR. Regardless of the name, the Sovtek is a very reliable, inexpensive tube, but it doesn't have the best tone.
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