There are several power tubes available for guitar and bass amps, but two stand out the most. The 6L6 vs EL34 tubes have been rivals for many years, but what’s the difference?
The main difference between the 6L6 and EL34 tubes is that they have different sounds and electrical operating parameters. The EL34 is much more scooped sounding and doesn’t have the same amount of headroom that the 6L6 offers.
In this article, we’ll take a close look at the 6L6GC and EL34 power tubes and their differences, to see which one is right for you.
What Are The Differences Between 6L6 vs EL34?
The 6L6 and El34 are power tubes that were originally designed for use in radios. They have been used in many types of devices over the years, including guitar amps.
The 6L6 is a beam-power tetrode that was first introduced in the 1930s. It was designed by RCA engineers to be used in electronic devices. The EL34 is a pentode power tube that was developed by Philips in 1949.
In this particular case, we will be comparing the 6L6GC model to the EL34, as these are more commonly used with instrument amplification.
When placed next to each other, the 6L6GC is noticeably wider than the EL34. It looks like a beefier tube and is not as skinny. But this is primarily due to a wider glass envelope.
The EL34 is slightly taller than the 6L6GC, but it is maybe only by an eighth of an inch. Based on these two differences, it would be safe to say that there are no physical limitations to size when putting them into an amplifier.
The 8-pin configuration is the same, however, the EL34 has one extra. Pin 1 on the 6L6GC is missing, as it is connected internally. The EL34, on the other hand, will need this pin to be connected to the amplifier’s circuitry.
But any amplifier that is designed to use these two tube types will have this already taken care of.
Electrically, the EL34 and 6L6GC are very different tubes. Not only do they have different normal operating and limiting values, they also respond uniquely when a signal is applied to their grids.
They can be used with similar power supplies, but do have some differences when it comes to maximum voltage.
This chart is a comparison based on the JJ brand tube types:
|Plate Voltage (Anode)||500||800|
The data sheets can be found here:
The plate impedance requirements for each tube type are also different, and so the output transformer needs to be made accordingly. As well as a bias voltage that if too high will not reach the right dissipation.
The biggest difference between the 6L6 and EL34 tubes is their sound. The 6L6 has a warm, full-bodied tone that is well-suited for blues, country, rock, and metal. This is normally referred to as an American tone in the guitar music communities.
This is primarily because of the higher headroom and more present midrange that offers a more versatile, yet full sound. It is also because Fender, being an American company, used the 6L6 tube type in their amps.
They are also bright sounding, which is great for clean tones as well as high-gain.
The EL34 has a more scooped tone that is often described as being bass heavy. The EL34 became a popular tube in Marshall amps and was referred to as more of a British sound.
Many popular rock bands used these vintage Marshall amps and formed their sound around them. The EL34 doesn’t have quite as much headroom as a 6L6, so getting a crunch tone from them was easy and part of the magic in the music.
They are also able to work well with the same types of music as the 6L6, they are simply a different sound.
Which One Is Better?
There really isn’t an answer to this question. It depends on what sound you want, as the frequency response is different. If you want that American tone, then the 6L6GC is probably the better option for you.
But it doesn’t stop there, today this tube type is also chosen for rock and metal amps as well.
Other amplifiers that use 6L6GC tubes are:
- Mesa Boogie Rectifier
- EVH 5150
- Revv Generator
However, if you’re looking for that British Marshall sound, then the EL34 is probably your best bet. This tube type breaks up sooner and also forms a crunchy tone that is all its own. This is also highly desirable and sounds wonderful.
Other amplifier brands that use EL34 tubes:
The EL34 can also do some great hard rock and metal tones as well, as it has a scooped sound.
At the end of the day, it comes down to personal preference. Both tubes have a unique sound that can offer something different to your amplifier. It’s really up to you to decide which one you like better.
Which One Should You Choose?
When it comes down to it, both of these tube types sound great and have plenty to offer. Your initial selection should be based on the type of music you play.
If you play vintage rock from the 70s and like to crank your amplifier loud, then the EL34 is probably going to be more your flavor.
However, if you would rather get your distortion sound from a cascaded preamp, you might want to try the 6L6GC. This will allow you to get tons of headroom and a pristine clean sound.
If your amplifier circuit is designed to use both types, then try each one and see what you think of them. You might just end up mixing both, finding a very satisfying sound this way.
6l6 vs EL34 For Metal?
We see this question asked a lot. When it comes to metal, we feel the 6L6GC is the way to go. Primarily because of the full-bodied sound they provide.
The reason for this choice is that the high-gain tone is created in the preamp. And so the additional headroom and less scooped sound that a 6L6GC offers will let the preamp do most of the heavy lifting.
Personally, I would rather have a cleaner, loud power section that lets the preamp do all the distorting and tone shaping. This is a more modern desire, as when you turn up the volume, it remains clean.
But, tone is subjective, there are many players who prefer the sound of an EL34 metal amp. So it’s probably a good idea to go down to a music store and try a few.
Can I use 6L6 instead of EL34?
This depends on the amplifier and if it is designed to use them. Because the operating parameters are different between the two tube types, not every amp can use them.
It is always best to consult your manual to make sure changing to a different tube type will not do damage to your amplifier.
Do EL34 and 6L6 have the same pinout?
They are different by one pin, which makes them not interchangeable. If your user manual says 6L6 only, this is going to be one of the reasons why. Otherwise, every other pin is identical between them.