It’s a real joy for guitarists when we plug into a tube amp, crank up the volume and start playing. The sounds can be so full-bodied and crisp, but there is a lot of variation depending on which valves are used within the amp.
The EL84 is a power tube which is usually used in smaller wattage amplifiers, but produces a snarly, midrange punch which is full of power. Below I have listed some of the best EL84 tubes for guitar and bass amps.
4 Best EL84 Tubes for Metal, Blues & Others
The Mesa/Boogie EL-84 tubes provide a no-nonsense, tight and aggressive sound made famous by the British guitarists of the 60’s and 70’s. A great thing about these tubes is that they are equally as capable of cutting through with sharp mid tones for solos and melodies as they are of producing warm chords.
Although EL-84 tubes can sometimes squeal when they reach breaking point, these tubes are consistent and reliable enough to handle a lot of gain. Combine them with a fuzz pedal and your solos would sound insanely powerful.
Mesa is a well respected manufacturer of amplifier equipment so you can be sure that they have put some real thought into the sound of this pair of EL-84 tubes.
The Genalex Gold Lion vacuum tubes are known for their clarity and power amongst musicians. The EL84 edition certainly backs up that reputation. Crafted and engineered in Russia, these premium tubes are a great option when upgrading your amp's sound and capabilities.
One great thing about these Genalex Gold Lion tubes is their resistance to feedback, which is a common issue when using powerful tubes and turning up the volume. There’s nothing worse than being on stage and having feedback issues, but these tubes work to prevent that from happening.
These EL84’s will provide the classic crunch of British guitarists, ideal for playing huge sounding riffs in the lower registers of your guitar.
Groove Tubes have been producing leading tubes for guitar amps for the best part of two decades. They are now used by Fender as the standard tubes in their amplifiers, which speaks volumes of their quality and reputation within the industry.
The GT-EL84S produce a premium tube tone. Not only do these tubes offer quick and soft distortion, they also sound great when recorded in a low-power amp.
The warm, assertive tone of these tubes works to highlight the small details of a guitar and is ideal for class-A amplifiers or small to medium amps.
This pair of Mullard EL84 tubes is a brilliant and affordable option for small to medium-sized amplifiers. The smart design features gold plated grids, carbonized screen and black plates.
EL84s were originally made for Vox AC-30 amps, one of the most popular affordable and high quality amps ever made. The Mullard tubes recreate that signature AC30 crunch.
A great thing about these tubes is how much gain they can handle before the distortion becomes overpowering. A small amount of gain on your amp settings will create a touch of crunch, which gives the tone an overall character.
EL84 Tubes and the Vox AC30
The EL84 tubes were created in the Netherlands in the early 1950’s, originally as an affordable option which helped to give more people access to hi-fi stereo systems. Although made in the Netherlands, these tubes are now commonly associated with the British sound of Vox amps, notably the legendary AC30.
The high-focus of the AC30 produces a bright and clear tone, with a sparkling top-end which can easily move into tight overdrive distortion. From the moment The Beatles began to use Vox amplifiers in 1962, the AC30 and its EL84 tubes would forever be identified with the early British Invasion sound.
Swapping power tubes in your amp is a much more complicated process than swapping preamp tubes. This is because preamp tubes are cathode biased, meaning they adjust automatically if one of the tubes is running with more or less plate current, sometime known as running hotter or colder.
Most amps which use over 20 watts have a fixed bias, which is more efficient and provides more power. The issue with fixed bias is that the tubes do not have the ability to correct themselves, like preamp tubes do. These power tubes are more difficult to swap than preamp tubes.
Amps which have cathode-biased power tubes provide an easy and popular solution. They allow you to simply plug in the new tube, providing it’s the same type as the previous tubes, without needing to adjust the bias.
If you want to try out a completely different power tube which is not considered a direct replacement for the original tubes in your amp, it’s a good idea to contact the manufacturer first to check that this is possible.
Power Tube Options
The EL84 tubes are one of many power tubes which all have different qualities and lend themselves to certain styles of guitar playing. Below is a brief overlook of some other popular tubes.
EL34 Power Tube
These tubes are commonly found in some of the most popular UK amp heads, such as HiWatt, Marshall and Sound City. They produce a slightly warmer sound than the EL84s but with added growl due to their higher wattage.
6L6 Power Tube
The 6L6 tubes are associated with the sound in California. They have been utilized by Fender for many decades and are generally considered to be the best power tubes for judging clean tone. They produce bright, sparkling tone.
6V6 Power Tube
Originally used in radios, the 6V6 is a slightly toned-down version of the 6L6. It’s much more affordable but produces a similar, focused high-end sound and is very popular in smaller Fender amps today.
Do Your Research
When it comes to choosing the best tubes for your amp, it’s important to understand what the tubes do and why. There are so many options out there which all produce different results, but luckily there is a lot of material explaining this topic.
It’s also a good idea to look into the process of swapping and replacing tubes, as this can be complicated if you’re not prepared. Tubes can require different methods and some are more difficult than others.
If you’re not sure whether a certain set of tubes is compatible with your amp, contact the manufacturer or an amp engineer and get some advice. That way, you can avoid potentially damaging your amp and risking your own safety.