If you’re interested in a 6v6 vs EL84 power amp tube comparison, you’ve come to the right post!
Understanding Power Amp Tubes
If you’re reading this, I can safely assume that you already know some guitar amp basics.
You’re aware of a guitar amplifier’s preamp and power amp section.
When it comes to tube-driven amps, they include tubes in both sections.
There are also so-called “hybrid” amps with tubes in the preamp.
In some rare cases, these “hybrids” also have tubes in just the power amp section.
So aside from amplifying the signal enough to process it through a power amp, a preamp also sets the main characteristics of your tone.
In almost all cases, preamps come with standard 12AX7 or ECC83 tubes.
Power amp sections, on the other hand, come in many varieties.
They work with one specific tube type, which can be 6L6, EL34, EL84, 6V6, or many others.
The main purpose of a power amp is to amplify the signal enough so that it can drive the speakers.
And this is where the tricky part comes in.
Although they don’t entirely define the tone, tube power amps can impact it.
The impact is due specifically to the type of tube in the power amp.
And comparing different power amp tubes is the subject of countless debates.
6V6 vs EL84
The introduction of the 6V6 takes us all the way back to the 1930s.
The full name of today’s version is 6V6GT, but the tube’s general characteristics haven’t changed much.
In fact, I bet it’s one of the longest-running products without major changes since it’s been present on the market for close to a century.
As far as guitar amps go, it found its use in Gibson’s old GA-40.
However, it’s “traditionally” associated with Fender amps, like their classic Champs.
People often compare it to 6L6, which is also common in Fender amps.
But although similar, they’re not interchangeable.
Although you could use them in the same socket, it wouldn’t be safe for your amp to swap one for the other.
Unless, of course, you are willing to invest in modifying your amp, but I’d advise against that.
The 6V6 is a scaled-down alternative to 6L6 and handles up to about 5 watts of power.
And a push-pull pair of these can handle about 14 watts.
Meanwhile, a single 6L6 can handle more, about 10.8 watts.
Regarding the tone, it’s what people often call the traditional “American” sound.
There are some obvious similarities to the sonic traits of 6L6 tubes.
There’s that “glassy” character with pronounced high-ends and bottom-ends.
Overall, the tone on both of them feels “scooped” yet “piercing.”
However, 6V6 gravitates more towards the “rougher” tone usually reserved for “British”-style amps.
Firstly, it distorts more easily, with the tone getting “dirty” on a clean channel if you push the volume higher.
Additionally, it has a slightly different EQ curve.
Although still “scooped” or with that “smile” curve, it’s more balanced.
The bottom end is weaker, while there’s also a subtle boost to the midrange.
Meanwhile, EL84 is more of a British-style tube.
If you stumble upon 6BQ5, bear in mind that this is the same as EL84
At least in practical application since they’re interchangeable.
Once again, we have a tube that handles less power.
Just like 6V6 and 6L6 are similar, so is EL84 to EL34.
However, I’d say that EL84 and EL34 are a bit further apart, at least sonically.
I’m not entirely sure about its maximum power output for a single tube.
However, in a push-pull configuration in a Class AB amp, a pair can reach up to about 17 watts.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, the British tone is grittier and more mids-oriented.
This is exactly what we get with EL84.
What I should also add is that it also brings more high-ends compared to something like EL34.
And, most importantly, they come with smaller headroom.
In practice, this means that you’ll get more distortion and a harmonically rich tone.
I’d say that things can get pretty “fuzzy” if you push the volume up high.
That makes most of the EL84-loaded amps kind of specific and, if I dare add, not for everyone’s taste.
Most commonly, you can find these in classic Vox amplifiers.
The closest tone I can think of is most of the stuff Brian May recorded for Queen back in the 1970s.
6V6 vs EL84: What’s the Difference?
One thing that I want to circle back to is that we’re talking about power amp tubes.
They won’t be the foundation of your tone, but they make their impact and respond differently.
I would argue that differences between different power tube amps are.
But I assume plenty of tube amplifier fans out there wouldn’t entirely agree with me.
The tone is a culmination of many different factors, including the amp’s design and how it works with designated tubes.
But with that said, we could point out some of these differences.
Although it can get dirty, 6V6 is still noticeably cleaner in its output.
EL84, on the other hand, gets more easily fuzzier.
Aside from distortion, there’s a difference in the basic EQ curve.
6V6 is a little scooped, although it brings some mids into the mix as well.
At the same time, it retains the high ends and helps you get that piercing tone when needed.
But with EL84, the focus is more on mids and high-ends.
Along with more distortion, you get that harsh tone that can cut through the mix.
6V6 vs EL84: Which One Should I Choose?
I own an old 6-watt Fender Champ amp with a single 6V6 in the power amp section.
At lower volume settings, the amp stays pretty clean.
But once you go past 40%, things start getting dirty.
At about 70%, it’s noticeably dirty and it even punches you in the gut, so to speak.
From my experience, this is a great option for classic blues stuff.
And with something like a Tube Screamer pedal, you get a tighter and even heavier tone.
Vox AC30 is a classic example of an EL84-loaded amp.
This gets you closer to that classic 1970s rock kind of tone.
Although traditionally British, it isn’t as tight as Marshall amps.
It’s more of a “sizzling” or “fuzzy” kind of tone.
So I’d associate it with something like early heavy metal or classic hard rock.
For anyone into that blues, blues rock, or even jazz-oriented tone, I’d rather go with 6V6.
EL84 will make a noticeable difference, bringing it more toward harsh tones that cut through the mix.
6v6 vs el84: Conclusion
I hope this article has helped you think through the 6v6 vs el84 power amp tube comparisons and which is right for you!
But I’d like to know what you think!
Let me know in the comments!
And if you want to read more amp tube comparisons on this blog, check out:
- EL34 vs 6V6 (2023 Edition)
- 6L6 vs 6L6GC: Which is Better? (2023 Edition)
- Boss RC 50 vs RC 300: Which Loop Pedal Is Best