Have you ever gazed at the eye-watering price of most premium tube/valve amps and thought, “Why are guitar tube amps so expensive?”
In this post, I will deliver 5 compelling reasons why tube amps are more expensive than solid-state and modeling amps. But first, here’s the short answer.
Tube amps are expensive because they adopt pre and power tubes as their primary amplification source. Each tube costs roughly $50 and can have up to 4 of them within a single unit. Secondly, these amps have more expensive components, larger cases, and more complex circuitry than solid-state amps.
So now we know the short answer, let’s dive deeper…
1# – Vacuum tubes
As mentioned above, adopting power and preamp tubes as your amps main amplification source is like a doubled edge sword.
On one end, you get smooth, warm, and organic distortion when you drive tubes offering glistering valve distortion.
However, on the other end, you have to pay extra cash for this premium sound and accept the potential reliability issues that come with tube amplifiers.
In addition, tube amps are super heavy as they house more components making them less portable and a nuisance to transport. To sum it up, they are fantastic, as they are fragile!
How They Work and The Amount They Cost!
Within the anatomy of a full tube amplifier, you will have preamp tubes and power amp tubes as the amps engine room.
The function of the preamp tubes is to color the input signal which is how each individual tube amplifier acquires their signature sound.
The signal, then, passes over to the power vacuum tubes which turbocharge the signal and transfer it to the speakers to blast out the sound, providing the mass volume.
When it comes to cost, preamp tubes cost roughly $30 a pop, and, depending on the amp and wattage, can have up to four installed.
On the other hand, power vacuum tubes are more expensive, costing roughly $60 each. A valve amp again can have up to four of them installed if it is a high wattage amp.
So as you can see, an amplifier carrying four sets of pre and power tubes will not be a cheap amplifier to purchase compared to a solid-state amp.
2# – Output Transformers
Besides pre and power tubes, tube amplifiers have other components that make them heavy on the wallet. Let me explain…
Output transformers are a critical component within tube amplifiers. They function by carrying low voltage/high current power to the amp’s speakers.
They mainly take the signal from your power tube and convert it to impedance and power which is suitable for driving an amplifier’s speaker.
Now when it comes to price, output transformers can cost up to $100 each which can catapult the price of tube amps, especially, since most of them have at least a couple of these components.
Not to mention that these components also require more fancy wiring to configure them compared to the simple circuitry of a solid-state amplifier.
In comparison, solid-state amps do not adopt output transformers.
Instead, they use transistors and diodes, which are dirt cheap compared to output transformers, thus making solid-state amps cost way less than a premium tube amplifier.
3# – Bulkier Chassis/Case
Most tube amps require a larger chassis to house every delicate component inside.
Since a bigger chassis requires more use of raw materials, it incurs more cost to the manufacturer, which, in turn, equates to a higher retail value of the amplifier.
The larger chassis in the majority of tube amplifiers is also the reason why they weigh a lot more than solid-state amplifiers.
Apart from that, the manufacturers must ensure that all the components are well put together, fitting in a snug and secured manner.
Moreover, tube amps need to have a much greater point to point wiring compared to solid-state amps to prevent their delicate components from damaging due to shock and vibrations when in use or during transportation.
This also necessitates careful designing and closer attention to detail during quality inspections which elevate the labor costs during the whole manufacturing process.
Not only that, the components must have adequate room for cooling since tube amplifiers use tubes that get super-hot when in use and run at much higher power than solid-state amps.
Therefore, there must be enough airflow to prevent components from getting damaged due to excessive heat.
4# Mark-up to Make Profit
Another thing to keep in mind is that amp companies, at the end of the day, are businesses.
And because of this, they want to make a substantial profit and a reasonable mark-up on each unit they sell. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be a business, right?
How Much Profit From One Amplifier?
So how much profit do amp companies aim for when it comes to pricing? Well, the profit margin can be as high as 3x on each amplifier sold at retailers.
That is quite a lot! So for every brand new shiny tube amp sold, the amp company will roughly make double or triple the profit on each amp.
However, it may cost an amp company up to $400 to produce one shiny brand new tube amp.
Why So Expensive?
The reason being the more complex components, bigger carcasses, more circuitry, more costly components, and higher labor costs, etc.
Having said that, the customer will need to hand over about $1200 to acquire their new prized tube amplifier, which has cost the company only $400 to produce. So you can see, tube amps are an expensive business.
This business model is likely the same when it comes to solid-state and digital amps.
But, since they are hugely inexpensive to manufacture, their retail prices don’t go as high as the tube amps’.
Amp companies can sell solid-state amps at a mass-market price and still make a tidy profit on each unit they sell.
That is the reason why solid-states and digital amps are more accessible to guitar players than most tube/valve amps.
5# – Delivery Costs
And finally, when a brand new shiny tube amp is ready for distribution, it is the customers who have to bear the extra price of delivery because most online guitar retailers do not include free delivery with their high priced products…
The reason for this is the heavier weights and larger sizes of tube amplifiers, especially of the high wattage combo amps.
You will also have to pay a slight extra cost of the packaging materials for protecting the amp during delivery.
A larger and heavier unit will substantially increase the delivery costs on top of the extra dollars for forking out for a premium tube amplifier.
But if you are prepared to fork out for an expensive premium tube amp, the delivery costs are just a drop in the ocean compared to the retail price of your brand new tube amp.
- Cost of Labor – Tube amps require more man-hours to produce and inspect due to the higher number of components. Therefore, the labor and manufacturing costs will be accounted for in the final retail price.
- Country of Manufacture – Most products are manufactured and assembled in eastern countries such as Indonesia and China, thus lowering manufacturing costs. However, products produced in western countries are usually more expensive because of the higher production costs in these countries.
- The Amplifier Brand – Newer and less popular known brands provide cheaper products compared to big brands such as Fender, Mesa Boogie, Marshall, etc. The premium price is mainly for ‘paying for the name!’
- Custom Amplifiers – Boutique amplifiers are usually handmade instead of mass-produced; therefore, players will have to pay a premium price for handcrafted quality requiring more man-hours to hand fit the amp together.
Why are tube amps so heavy?
Tube amps are heavy because they adopt pre and power tubes, which are heavy on their own. Secondly, tube amps have substantially more components than solid-state amps and are housed in larger cases to accommodate the parts and provide enough space for adequate cooling.
Are tube amps really better?
Tube amps’ distortion is considered better as it sounds smoother, warmer, and organic compared to solid-state distortion. However, the best amp is the one that sounds best to you and suits your preferences when it comes to tone, versatility, functionality, reliability, and portability.
Why are tube amps lower wattage?
Most tube amps are lower wattage because tube-powered amps provide considerably more volume for a given wattage than a solid-state amp. For example, the volume of a 30-watt tube amplifier is comparable to a 100-watt solid-state amplifier’s volume.
Thanks for Reading
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Find out if it is practical, safe, and a viable way of amplifying your bass!