How often do I need to change the valves on my amplifier?

This question comes up several times a week – and for very good reason.

If you read your amplifier manual, those manufacturers that mention this subject will normally say that the average life of a set of valves is either 500 or 1,000 hours playing time. As a result, those are the two statistics most often quoted by anyone who claims to know anything about amplifiers.

Unfortunately, the result you are likely to experience as a guitarist will not support these figures.

We regularly get people who have only just bought their amps and the valves are already causing problems. Then there are those of you who have had the same valves in your amp for over 20 years.

So what’s going on?

How long will my valves last? Let’s go down the rabbit hole.

Let’s first split amplifiers in to two groups; those that are gigged and those that live in the corner of your bedroom.

The valves in a gigged amp will need replacing earlier simply because of the tough life they live.

First they are played loud, often very loud indeed.

Secondly they get bumped around, often whilst the valves are hot. Moving hot valves is a bit of a no no.

Not surprising they take great exception to this kind of treatment. Most Saturdays I will get a phone call from a desperate guitarist who has had a valve blow on the second number of their set.

Disaster! The band don’t like it and the audience don’t like it either. Ever had a valve blow at someone’s wedding? I have.

If you are a gigging guitarist you really must carry a spare set of valves or you’re rolling the dice every time you play. Eventually it will bite your bum.

By contrast, the valves in an amplifier that lives a sheltered life sitting on thick carpet and never gets moved will obviously not need the valves changing quite as often as a gigging amp.

Remember though that either way, the valves will lose their tone and power over time irrespective of whether they are gigged or not.

Why do the valves on my new amp need replacing so soon?

New amplifiers will often have inferior Chinese valves fitted in an attempt to reduce costs. In addition, their long journey in a container from abroad will have meant they will have received quite a bit of rough treatment along the way. Put the two together and you can see why we are constantly sending out new valves for what is actually a new amplifier.

If you have this problem, your first port of call should be to the supplier. See if they will donate a new set of valves as a gesture of goodwill – most will say no as it is a consumable product.

On the plus side, the valves you buy from us will usually be an upgrade to the ones that came with the amp – so it’s not all bad news.

How do I know when my valves need replacing?

Some valves will do the decent thing and let you know when they are getting towards the end of their life. Often they will start to make odd intermittent noises. If that happens consider yourself lucky as at least this early warning sign is giving you a chance to place a valve order.

Typical early warnings will include:

  • A drop in volume
  • Crackles
  • Hiss
  • Pops
  • Screaming

However, valves will start to lose tone and power well before they start to fail. If your amplifier tone is important to you then don’t wait until they start to make nasty noises.

Quite often valves will fail without any warning whatsoever.

In this scenario, if you are lucky, they will simply die quietly in the corner. If you are unlucky they will blow in a spectacular way and take other items with them – fuses often being the first casually but it can be worse if the fuse doesn’t activate in time.

You can find more useful tips on changing the valves in your amp in our FAQ section here: https://www.ampvalves.co.uk/faqs/

If you are looking for a new or spare set of valves you can view our full range here: https://www.ampvalves.co.uk/product-category/choose-your-amp/

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