The EL34 vacuum tube has been used in the power section of many amplifiers for decades. It’s the main source of the British sound, all the way back to the early days of Marshall amplifiers.
Not only desired by many musicians for their tube amps, but they are also used by well-known brands as their factory-selected option for the unique sound they offer.
In this guide, we’ll go over the best EL34 tubes on the market today. We’ll also cover what makes this tube so special, and how you can use them to get the best tone out of your amplifier.
Best EL34 Tubes
When it comes to choosing the best EL34 power tube, there are many factors that you need to consider. The first is the type of amplifier you are using.
If you have an amplifier that uses EL34 tubes, then you will need to continue using them unless the manufacturer has stated otherwise in their manual.
The second factor is the type of music you play. If you play metal or hard rock, then you will want to choose a tube that will sound best. The EL34 is a great option.
When selecting a new set, there are a few things that we feel are important considerations:
We have given each tube that we have tested a number between 1 and 5 in each of these categories. If it scored a 1, then it’s less favorable. If it scored a 5 on the other hand, then it’s one of the best.
To conduct our tests, we used a few amplifiers to see how they respond, as this helps us find the best picks. These amps were:
- Revv Generator MK3
- EVH 5150IIIS EL34
- Marshall JVM410H
It’s also worth noting that each amplifier is loaded with quads of El34 tube sets that are matched. This also gives us more volume than a pair.
The JJ option is one of the most popular EL34 vacuum tubes on the market today. This tube offers great versatility, with a very clear tone that can bring amazing depth to your sound.
We found that while this version is very versatile, it’s not as bright as some others, but offers a great bass and midrange response. Especially as you push them harder.
The JJ El34L also has excellent headroom, which means you won’t have any unwanted distortion too soon when playing at high volumes. It’s a good choice for all types of music, including metal and hard rock.
They are very affordable, and are a high-quality product that will last a long time.
The JJ EL34L is an ideal choice for metal, rock and hard-rock music styles.
As mentioned above, they are versatile and can work for any genre of music, but if you’re looking for more sparkle at low volumes, there are better options for that.
Tube Amp Doctor EL34
The EL34 Red Base is a new offering by Tube Amp Doctor to replace the now obsolete Black Plate series. And, it does an excellent job, offering great tone and clarity.
We found that this tube was amazing for crunchy sounds, but still offered the punch and low end that you need at high volumes.
It has a high-end sparkle that is reminiscent of the Shuguang version, but the mid-range and bass are nice and strong. It’s a well-rounded EL34 offering among them all.
The headroom was about average, as it began to distort at roughly the same as the others. But this is because it’s designed to do so for certain music types.
For the price, the quality of this tube is above average. TAD has upped their game with the new Red Base series, and it’s evident in the sound and performance.
The TAD EL34 Red Base is a great option for rock, hard-rock, metal and vintage tones.
While the Tung-Sol EL34B is a bit on the expensive side, it offers everything that you could want. Pros have used this tube for many years and will continue to do so for its clear and unique tone.
This is one of the few tubes here that does not distort the same when pushed to higher volumes. It’s more reminiscent of a 6L6 at first, but as you drive it harder it then has the sweet EL34 sound that one would expect.
The headroom is no different from the others, but it does have a more well-rounded sound at lower volumes.
On top of all that, they are also built like a tank. These tubes have welded plates and this not only adds rigidity but long life without noise.
The Tung-Sol EL34B is the perfect choice for Jazz, blues, vintage, rock, hard-rock and metal. It’s also a great option for hi-fi.
The Mullard EL34 is a classic tube that has been used in many amplifiers over the years. They have a unique sound that only Mullard can provide.
These tubes are known for their creamy and smooth midrange tones, as well as their larger headroom.
We found them to be a bit on the dark side, but still offered a good amount of clarity. The low end was also very tight and articulate.
These tubes are a bit more on the expensive side, but nothing outrageous. They didn’t have the same bite as some others, especially for high gain sounds. But they were very smooth, which gives them their vibe.
The Mullard EL34 is an excellent option for blues, jazz, rock, metal and vintage tones. We would also suggest them for hi-fi.
But just keep in mind that they are not quite as bright and so if you prefer a darker smoother sound, these will work well for you.
The Svetlana EL34S is a great tube for players who like more of a classic rock sound. It’s got a heavy midrange and a smooth top-end, but the bass isn’t as pronounced as some other options.
It has a very musical sound that is perfect for any type of classic rock tone. But for high gain metal, we found the bass didn’t have the right feel. These would be perfect in an old-school Marshall and have a great EL34 tone.
We also found it to have good headroom and excellent build quality.
The Svetlana EL34S is a good choice for rock, classic, lead playing and clean sounds.
Electro Harmonix EL34
The Electro Harmonix EL34 is another affordable option on this list. But don’t let that diminish your opinion, as they are a great tube.
We found that this tube had a bit more midrange than some others, but not to the point of being muddy. The highs were also very articulate, but overall this tube is on the warmer side for sure.
They sound big and full and have a good amount of headroom. These tubes can work great for most music styles and, to our ear, sounded very pleasing.
The Electro Harmonix EL34 is a wonderful option for rock, metal, classic-rock, blues and vintage tones.
If you are looking for an affordable and great-sounding tube, the Electro Harmonix EL34 is a perfect choice.
Mesa Boogie EL34
The Mesa Boogie EL34 is a bit of a different animal. It’s not your typical EL34 sound, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, we quite liked it.
The Mesa Boogie EL34 has a more of a modern sound to it. It’s got a good midrange presence and the highs are very articulate. The low end is also very tight, making it great for metal.
This tube is perfect if you like to run your amp harder as it will not break up as soon, like some of the other options.
The Mesa Boogie EL34 is a great choice for hard and classic rock, metal, blues, and even jazz.
If you are looking for a different take on the EL34 sound, then Mesa Boogie is for you.
Groove Tubes EL34LS
The Groove Tubes GT-EL34LS is a great choice for those who want a bit more of a vintage tone. It has that classic midrange punch and the highs are very smooth.
The low end has a tight response and is articulate, making it great for most music styles. We found the build quality to be excellent, and they are very quiet tubes.
Fender currently owns and manufactures these tubes, and from what we understand, they are decently reliable as they need to match some stringent quality standards.
The Groove Tubes GT-EL34LS is perfect for all types of rock, blues, jazz and metal. It’s also great for clean tones.
Genalex Gold Lion
The Genalex Gold Lion KT77 is a great tube for those who want a sound that is more modern. It’s got a nice midrange response, with very clear and present highs. The low end on this tube is also quick and tight. This would make it great for metal music.
This tube can get pretty loud before distorting, so if you like to push your amps hard, this is a great option.
This, however, being a KT77, is more of a hybrid between a 6L6 and an EL34. We mention it as being a contender because it’s a great tube that is worth considering.
It has all the midrange growl you would expect from the EL34, but also has a top-end similar to the 6L6.
The Genalex Gold Lion KT77 is great for all rock styles, metal, jazz and blues.
If you are looking for a different take on the EL34 sound, the Genalex Gold Lion KT77 is a great option.
The Psvane EL34 is a more robust version made more for Hi-fi, but sounds great in a guitar amplifier as well. Psvane is a Chinese company that makes some pretty good tubes.
Any that we have played have always performed above average and are well-made. Even the alignment of the pins is so good that they fit in the tube sockets so much easier.
The sound was very well-balanced and has a rounded response. The top-end was bright and articulate, the midrange had the right growl and the bass was large and tight.
These are a more expensive option and while we would only suggest them for Hi-fi applications, they do well in instrument amplifiers too if you are willing to pay for them.
How To Choose an EL34
Now that we’ve gone over some of the best EL34 power tubes, let’s talk about how to choose the right one for you.
The first thing you need to consider is what type of sound you are going for. Do you want a classic rock sound or a more modern metal tone? This will help narrow down your choices.
Next, you need to consider what type of amp you have. Some tubes work better with certain types of amps than others. For example, if you have a JCM800, you’ll probably want to stay away from the JJ EL34 as it won’t get you that classic bright, Marshall sound.
Finally, you need to consider your budget. Power tubes can range in price from around $30 to $80 each. So, if you’re on a tight budget, you’ll want to stick with the more affordable options.
Unique Sound of an EL34
The EL34 is a unique sounding tube and is a common choice of many players as a result. This particular tube has a lower headroom than others and as a result, it breaks up sooner when the same signal is applied.
The British sound of the last few decades has been founded on this tube type, as a result of this gritty tone. It also has a unique midrange in the sense that it sounds a bit more scooped than a 6L6, for example.
This doesn’t mean it lacks midrange, it simply amplifies certain frequencies differently, which adds to the flavor of this tube. When used at higher volumes, you will feel more of a bass push with a top-end bite far more than you will a mid-punch.
But this also depends heavily on the amplifier they are being used in. A Marshall for example is focused around the mid-frequencies, and so the EL34 will produce a more well-rounded sound.
EL34 Specifications And Max Ratings
The tube was given its name based on some important characteristics that make its design. For example, the E represents the required filament voltage to power the heater, which is 6.3 volts.
The L designates the tube as a pentode output valve, while the 3 and 4 indicate the base as being octal.
- Filament Voltage: 6.3 V
- Filament Current: 1.5 A
- Plate Voltage (max): 800 V
- Screen Voltage (max): 500 V
- Plate Dissipation (max): 25 W
EL34 Pin Out
- Suppressor Grid
- Screen Grid
- Control Grid
The tube is aligned to the socket via a guide pin found in the center of the base.
EL34 Data sheets
If you need some data sheets of popular EL34 tubes by brand, we have included a couple for your convenience.
There are a few different variations of the EL34 tube that were released as either competing products or improvements. Each one has a unique sound and performance, but is electrically similar.
So much so that they are drop-in replacements of each other without the need for any circuit modifications.
Because the El34 itself is a European invention, the Americas had also come up with their version, similar to the design. This was by no means a direct copy, but a version with its flavor.
This design however was based more on the power tetrode and so resembled more of a 6L6 than a true El34.
Physically, the tube is larger as the plate inside is bigger, and as a result, the 6CA7 even looks like a 6L6. Electrically, however, they are not as similar and so the tube performs more like a beefed-up EL34.
A few years later, another competitor emerged on the market. The British KT77 was designed by GEC and Marconi-Osram to be a direct replacement for the EL34 in any amplifier design.
This was achieved by having very similar electrical characteristics, meaning that it would require no changes to the amplifier design and could be used as a drop-in replacement.
The only notable difference is that the KT77 was designed more for the Hi-fi market, but has also been adopted by the guitar niche as well.
How Long Do EL34 Tubes Last?
Unlike preamp types, the power tubes don’t quite get the same mileage. Because they push so much more current and get a lot hotter, the EL34 tubes will last around 2500 hours before they should be replaced.
This is just an approximate average, and so your mileage may vary greatly. This all depends on the amplifier they are used in and the operating conditions.
It’s generally recommended to change them once you are starting to hear a loss of top-end, or if performance begins to suffer.
Are all EL34 tubes the same?
No, there are many manufacturers of the EL34 tube and each will have its sound. This is due to variations in the design and materials used, which all contribute to the overall sonic profile.
You may also find that some tubes sound better than others in your amplifier, as it was designed around a certain tone. So experiment with different brands and find the one that works best for you.
Electrically, they are the same, and so you can use any EL34 tube type in an amplifier designed to use them.
Do EL34 tubes need to be biased?
All power tubes will require biasing when they are replaced. This is because each tube will have different characteristics, and so the bias needs to be adjusted to compensate.
If you don’t do this, then you may find that your amplifier doesn’t sound right or may even be damaged.
The good news is that biasing an amplifier is a relatively simple task and can be done at home with a few tools by those who know how to perform the service.
Otherwise, make sure to have a technician do the work to protect your equipment, but more so to prevent personal injury.