If you’re interested in learning about the EL34 vs 6V6 vacuum tubes for guitar amplification, you’ve come to the right post!
I’m not exactly a guitar expert, but I have played since 2003 and know at thing or two about this instrument.
Let’s get to it.
Classic Power Amp Tubes
Even though some consider it an outdated technology, many still prefer tube amps. Sure, the digital modelers are awesome. But countless guitar players still prefer tubes.
The warmth and dynamic response of these amps are still much-appreciated. Of course, most of the unique tone distinctions come from the preamp section. This is where 12AX7 valves usually reside. However, the power amp section also adds a twist to the tone. And this is where we have EL34, 6V6, EL84, 6L6, and other valves.
The most common ones these days are EL34 and 6L6. The latter is sometimes replaced with 6V6, but these aren’t that common. Why? Well, it’s a bit complicated. We’ll get into it.
EL34 Vs 6V6: What’s the Difference?
What we’re interested in here are EL34 and 6V6 tubes. Although EL34 is more often compared with 6L6, people are wondering about this comparison as well. So what’s the deal?
We’ll detail each of these two. After that, we’ll do a head-to-head comparison and explain the differences.
It’s important to note that both of these were invented for general use in signal amplification. Guitar amplifiers were just some of the devices where they found their place. However, these days, guitar amps are one of the very few devices that still use these, or any other, vacuum tubes.
First made back in 1949, EL34 is a pentode-type vacuum tube. During the 1960s and the 1970s, these found their place in guitar amps. They’ve been essential to the classic British tone.
Along with EL84, you could find it in Marshall and Vox amps, two of the biggest names across the pond.
Along with these two, Hiwatt and Orange have also been using these tubes. And, even to this day, EL34, as well as EL84, are integral components of these amps.
As mentioned, EL34 is a power amp tube. And power amps and their tubes are not exactly where the main traits of your tone are formed. However, they do have an impact. This is the case when you push the amp’s volume over the limits and get it to distort.
With a tube-like EL34, you get a certain boost in the mids. In particular, it adds a significant boost in the higher mids. The resulting tone gets that punch that cuts through the mix. When pushed over the limits, it can cut through the mix.
In clean settings, it retains some of the warmth. But you can still notice the punchy mids. As you add more distortion to it, you will notice that sizzle, and the tone gets that grainy texture.
Classic Vox amp tones come to mind, like AC30 or AC15. If you were to play them paired with a Strat, you’d get some serious jangle going on. This is especially pronounced if you add an overdrive in front of the amp.
Meanwhile, a guitar with humbuckers would sound tight and heavy with it. We can say the same thing about P90 pickups. As you enter compressed high-gain territories, EL34 and humbuckers sound super-heavy.
What’s interesting is that 6V6 isn’t that common. It’s not rare, but 6L6 is more common. Either way, both are traditionally American power amp tubes.
Here, we’re looking at a tetrode vacuum tube. It dates back to 1936. And what’s interesting is that it still retains its original specs, even to this day. Also, it’s never been out of production since production started.
Back in the old days, Gibson used it in their GA-40 amps. But, most importantly, Fender had it in some of their amps. And they still do. Some examples of amps that feature the 6V6 are the Princeton Reverb, Deluxe Reverb, and Super-Sonic 22.
Just like with 6L6, it’s a smoother-sounding tube. This means that it’s more of a scooped tone. You will notice sharp high-ends and booming bottom-ends. The mids are there but they’re milder.
In clean settings, you get a lot of headroom with them. However, it’s not as much headroom as with 6L6. It distorts more easily compared to it.
Going into distortion, you will also notice the difference. It’s like a slightly muffled tone with some sparkle on top. As you push the gain, you even get that slightly scooped modern metal tone.
EL34 Vs 6V6: How Do They Compare?
These days, the whole American and British division is a bit outdated. However, the differences between amps that come with EL34 and 6V6 tubes are different.
With that said, they’re noticeably closer compared to EL34 and 6L6. 6V6 would be somewhat of a blend.
You will notice that, in all settings, EL34 is darker. There’s a lack of brightness, despite the boost in higher mids. The cleans are usually punchy. But with 6V6, you get a smoother shimmering tone.
As you progress into distorted territories, the differences get more noticeable. EL34 is your regular classic metal or hard rock tone. If you push it further, you can get some thrash metal tones as well. It’s all about those gritty mids.
Meanwhile, 6V6 retains its smoothness. Sure, it still breaks when you increase the signal strength. But it sounds noticeably scooped compared to EL34. It’s kind of like putting a blanket over your amp.
Both of these have their appeal. And which one is better depends on what you’re looking for. If you prefer to have more bark or bite with a darker twist, then EL34 is a great choice. Meanwhile, 6V6 keeps it smooth, even in high-gain territories. It has less attack, but you can notice a rich fuzzy harmonic content.
I advise that you check out this video of a direct comparison. You’ll understand what I’m talking about.
I hope this article has helped you think through the differences between the EL34 and the 6V6.
And as usual, feel free to message me in the comments below if you have questions about this or another guitar-related topic!