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What to Do with Vintage Vacuum Tubes

Also known as valves, vintage tubes are still popular even after the introduction of solid state electronics. Tubes were a vital part of electronic and radio technology for decades, and still have uses.

Why Do People Want Vacuum Tubes?

While it wouldnt be fair to say that there are as many reasons for searching for tubes as there are different kinds of tubes, there are certainly a range of different interests. The big thing about vacuum tube technology is that while its been largely superseded by transistors, it has enough unique characteristics that there will likely always be at least a niche demand for tubes. The three main areas of interest are:

  • Restoration: Many people collect old Philco radios and try to get them back into working condition. In many cases, that means finding the right vintage tubes to get the radio back to its original appearance. Even when modern tubes work, they may not be enough for someone who wants a radio thats all original.
  • Collecting: With their glass tops and metal bases, collectors who want to display them often seek them. One thing to look for is the original packaging, as thats often very desirable.
  • Music: Tube amps have a very specific set of audio qualities, and that makes them a target for many musicians and audiophiles.

What Should You Bear in Mind When Choosing Tubes?

Choosing the right tubes for your Philco radio can require a bit of research. Different companies often use their own naming conventions for different vacuum tubes, so you have to be careful about what you put in your tube sockets.

  • Condition: Condition always matters; tubes handle a lot of electric current and they can fail somewhat violently when overdriven.
  • Compatibility: Just because they fit in the same sockets doesnt mean two vacuum tubes are compatible. There are lots of different and completely unrelated designs that use the same tube sockets.

What to Look for in Vacuum Tubes

Whenever possible, you should look for NOS, or New Old Stock, vintage tubes. These are ones that have been sitting, unopened, in the original packaging for years or even decades. They appeal to both collectors and restoration fans. Not only is the packaging often pristine, but the condition is as good as you are going to get. Its a great way to get the original sound from your tube radio. Modern equivalents can work if all you want is to get a radio going, but they are a poor substitute for purists who want everything to look exactly the way it did on the showroom floor back in the twenties or thirties.

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