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Care and feeding of tube amps – Purpose of the Standby switch

Although we’ve covered tube amp tips before, the proper use of the Standby switch can’t be stressed enough, so we’re going to look at it a little more closely today. Also because it’s good to start a Monday with a nice, warm topic concerning vacuum tube amps.

“How does the Standby switch work on my tube amplifier? How and why should I use it?”

All of the vacuum tubes in any amplifier have separate lines that supply voltage to the different pins of the individual tubes. Every tube has a heater element, which is the source of the heat (and the neat glow tubes emanate) in the tube. The heat produced by the element in the tube excites the electrons in the tubes, generally getting them ready for audio action. Any other element in the tube that receives voltage for prolonged periods of time will be prone to wearing out faster, lessening the tube’s life span — this is where the standby switch comes into play. When a tube amplifier’s power is on and the standby switch is set to standby, it means that only the tubes’ heaters are getting voltage supplied to them. Any other elements of your amp’s tubes aren’t getting any voltage yet (except for the rectifier tube, which is always in use as long as the amp is on, and actually is located before the standby switch). This allows the tubes to warm up for a period of time before they have to operate to any extent. We recommend at least two minutes, although more can be better in some cases.

Once you’ve allowed the amp to warm up for at least a few minutes, turn the standby switch to the OFF position and get ready to play! If you find yourself working on music all day long with your tube amp, DON’T continually turn its power on and off throughout the day. Leave the power on and turn the standby on and off depending on whether or not it’s in use; you’ll save wear and tear on your tubes and likely also find that the amp just keeps sounding better and better (an interesting characteristic of tube amps is that the longer they operate, the better they tend to sound).

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