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Location: Fremont, Ohio, United States

I am an attorney by day, but that's really just my "backup gig" in case this whole "musician thing" doesn't work out. ;^) I was been blessed with the opportunity to write freelance reviews for Guitar World's Bass Guitar Magazine, and I contributed regularly from the Spring of 2006 up until Bass Guitar Magazine's demise. This was, in itself, a dream come true, and an opportunity for which I am truly grateful. But this was a stepping stone to bigger and better things, and I am now the Editor-in-Chief of Bass Gear Magazine (www.bassgearmag.com). Our first issue came out in August of 2008, and we are now the leading bass review magazine, worldwide. Of course, on the topic of my true blessings, I have a wife and two kids, all of whom I greatly adore, so my time for music/bass/songwriting/performing, and yes, even the occasional practicing, is not infinite. Nevertheless, I really enjoy my time spent playing bass, writing and recording songs, and just getting to "play" with all that great gear! This blog is a result of these external interests...

Monday, February 21, 2005

Preamp tubes in Mesa Walkabout

Some time back, I had an opportunity to run through a number of different preamp tubes in my Mesa Boogie Walkabout. The tubes at my disposal were as follows:

Mullard 12AT7/CV4024
JAN Phillips 12AX7
JAN GE 5751
Shuguang 12AX7C9
Telefunken ECC83 (smooth plate)
JJ ECC83S

The original Mesa tubes said "Russian 2" on them, but I don't know who made them.

Virtually all of the tubes mentioned above offered some kind of improvement over the stock tubes. However, most differences were very subtle.

The Mullard was by far the warmest sounding, and had a good deal of low mids - too much for the already mid-heavy Walkabout. Still, if you are looking to add some meat, the Mullard would certainly do that.

The JAN Phillips is a great all around tube. Very nicely balanced tonally, with good articulation.

The JAN GE 5751 also had good tonal balance and was a pleasant sounding tube - not harsh at all. However, with the reduced gain, it didn't overdrive as well as the others, which is something I like to do with the Walkabout.

The Shuguang was a bit of a surprise. Upon first firing it up, I thought that it might be the ticket. Very robust signal and tone, overdrives great. However, then I noticed that it was really bringing out the finger/string noise in a huge and somewhat obnoxious way. I don't know if this means that it was slightly microphonic, but it was not desirable. Too bad, because otherwise this tube has a lot of promise.

The Telefunken was the most articulate tube of the bunch, with a bit more upper mids than most. Very clean sounding tube with the Gain down and the Master up, and probably sounded the best of the bunch when overdriven. Good balance, too.

The JJ was very similar to the Tele. Not quite as articulate, but perhaps had sweeter high end. Overdrove quite well, though not as nice as the Tele.

By comparison, the stock Mesa tubes did not have as much articulation as any of the tubes above (though they were close to the Mullard in that regard), and the tone was not as coherent. They did overdrive quite nicely, though not as convincingly as the Tele or JJ. Granted, there wasn't a huge difference overall, but I would say that you can do better than the stock tubes, and it shouldn't cost you an arm and a leg.

Ultimately, it came down the JAN Phillips, the Tele, and the JJ. These three were the most similar sounding of the bunch. I ended up choosing the Tele for its articulation and best overdrive tone. The JJ would probably be my second choice, although the JAN Phillips was very, very comparable.

The Walkabout has a second tube which drives the MOSFETs, and after playing around a bit, I chose the JAN Phillips for that duty. It really is too bad that the Shuguang had that string noise thing going on, because it really kicked in the pre-MOSFET socket - most balls and gain of the bunch.

There are a lot of good tubes that I didn't get a chance to try, but there you have the results of my own very unscientific preamp tube shootout.

Hope this helps, Tom.

P.S.
I got my tubes from Doug's Tubes, and he was very helpful.

2 Comments:

Blogger ruffy said...

Hi Tom, As usual a very helpful article. I'm about to get a 2nd hand - one owner- Mesa Walkabout & thought I'd get a couple of 12AX7's for it, as the ones in it are the stock originals. JJ's seem to be my best bet, I've used them extensively in the past. Do you know if the WA anp has the tube positions marked? I dunno if I'd be able to tell the pre amp tube from the mosfet driver tube ....
Thanks again for the article- helps a lot. & for the great BGM. LOVE it!
Cheers,
Rod

2:49 AM  
Blogger Tom Bowlus said...

Rod:

Thanks for the kind words! The preamp tube is the one closest to the faceplate. The one further back is the driver for the MOSFET output section.

Have fun!

8:49 AM  

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