About a month before this whole pandemic thing hit, I finally decided to downgrade my guitar rig. I had my eyes set on a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe, and I was hoping to trade in Marshall TRS 60-Watt with 2×12 cabinet, and my dad's old 1964 Sears Silvertone 1483. When I stopped by Mr. Music, Boston's famous used instrument shop, the Aerosmith-wannabe behind the counter scoffed and said no one was interested in buying tube amps anymore.
This took me by surprise. While I knew that affordable solid-state technology had advanced by leaps and bounds in recent years, I assumed there was still some desire the analog warmth of a vacuum tube.
As it turns out, tube amps may be sounding their death knell after all — but not in a way that anyone could have predicted in February 2020.
The other day, Electro Harmonix owner Mike Matthews — the guy who invented the notorious Big Muff — sent out this letter to clients:
Yesterday, Russia imposed a ban on the export of some 200 goods in response to the sanctions imposed on it over the current conflict in Ukraine. We have confirmed that the ban applies to our seven brands of Russian tubes. Currently, the ban is set to remain in effect until the end of the calendar year.
Given this export ban, we will not be receiving any further tube inventory for these brands. A myriad of pressures — including continued strains on the supply chain, escalating internal expenses, mounting inflation, and an ever-evolving legal landscape (particularly in light of the Ukraine conflict) — have created a very fluid and ambiguous environment. Until we can properly assess the impact of these factors, we will not honor any new orders or ship any more Russian tubes on back order.
Matthews had previously warned of a coming global shortage in vacuum tubes, since they were only being manufactured in Russia, China, and Slovakia. (There is one US company that does boutique tubes for audio equipment other than guitar amps, but uhh, they're not cheap.) Unfortunately, these tubes are typically handmade, which means high labor costs.
Meanwhile, an estimated 50% of the neon gas required to manufacture the semiconductor chips used in most modern synthesizers come from Ukrainian factories.
Image: Public Domain via Pixabay