The Differences Between Guitar Amp Tubes: EL34, EL84, And 6L6

Are you a guitar player looking to upgrade your tube amp or simply curious about the differences between EL34, EL84, and 6L6 tubes? Look no further, as we dive into the technical details of these tubes and how they affect your guitar tone.

Here are the basics of these popular electronic tubes you often see in tube amps.

EL34: These tubes are known for their warm, balanced sound and are commonly used in British-style amplifiers. They are also known for their high headroom, making them a popular choice for hard rock and metal genres.

EL84: These tubes are smaller and have a brighter, more aggressive sound, making them a popular choice for punk and indie rock.

6L6: These tubes have a thicker, more rounded sound and are commonly used in American-style amplifiers.

Understanding the differences between these tubes can help you choose the right one for your playing style and genre.

EL34 Tubes

Lets do a deeper dive into EL34s. These tubes are known for their warm, rich tone and are often used in high-gain amplifiers. EL34s are also popular because they can handle high power levels without distortion, making them ideal for live performances.

One of the most significant differences between EL34s and other tubes is the way they handle power. EL34s tend to have a higher power output than other tubes, which means they can produce more volume and drive larger speakers. This makes them ideal for heavy metal and hard rock music, where high volume levels are necessary for the desired sound.

Another important factor to consider when using EL34s is their tonal characteristics. EL34s are known for their midrange punch and strong low-end response. This makes them ideal for players who want a thick, beefy tone with plenty of low-end growl. However, EL34s can also produce sparkling highs and a smooth top-end, making them versatile enough to handle a variety of genres and playing styles.

EL84 Tubes

The EL84s are known for their distinctive midrange and snappy response. These tubes are typically used in smaller amps, often in pairs, to deliver plenty of volume and clarity. Here are three reasons why guitarists love EL84 tubes:

  • They have a unique sound that’s often described as ‘jangly’ or ‘chimey.’ This is due to their midrange presence, which helps guitar tones cut through the mix. EL84s are particularly popular in British-style amps, which are known for their bright, articulate sound.
  • EL84 tubes are relatively low-wattage, which makes them ideal for amps that are used for recording and home practice. Because they break up earlier than higher-wattage tubes, you can get natural overdrive at lower volume levels. This means you can crank the amp and get a great sound without waking up the neighbors (in some cases).
  • EL84 tubes are affordable and easy to find. They’re a popular choice for amp manufacturers, so you can find them in a wide variety of amps and brands. They’re also relatively cheap compared to other types of tubes, which makes them a good choice if you’re on a budget.

Overall, EL84 tubes are a great choice if you’re looking for a versatile, affordable tube with a distinctive midrange sound. Whether you’re playing at home or on stage, EL84s can deliver the goods. So if you haven’t tried them out yet, give them a chance and see what all the fuss is about!

6L6 Tubes

If you’re looking for a clean and powerful sound in your guitar amplifier, 6L6 tubes might be just what you need. These tubes are commonly used in American-style amplifiers, providing a distinct tone that is both warm and dynamic.

With their higher headroom and impressive durability, 6L6 tubes are a popular choice among guitarists who want a reliable and versatile sound.  This is why you see them in a lot of vintage amps.  But that doesn’t mean they are only in vintage amps.

Clean and Powerful Sound

For those seeking a truly robust and pristine tone, these tubes offer a level of clarity and strength that is unparalleled. Clean sound is the hallmark of these tubes, and they deliver it with an unmistakable power that is simply unmatched.

When you’re playing with these tubes, you’ll notice how every single note rings out crystal clear, with a clarity that is simply breathtaking. But it’s not just about the clarity and power.

These tubes also offer a level of precision and nuance that allows you to truly explore the depths of your playing. Whether you’re playing soft or loud, you’ll find that the sound remains consistent and clear, with no loss of quality or tone.

And because these tubes are so powerful, you’ll never have to worry about your sound getting lost in the mix. So if you’re looking for a tube that can deliver clean and powerful sound with precision and clarity, these are the tubes for you.

Commonly Used in American-Style Amplifiers

You may find that your American-style amplifier (Fender) is best suited for these tubes, as they’re commonly used in that type of equipment and can provide the clean and powerful sound you’re looking for. On the other hand, EL34 and EL84 tubes can also be used in American style amps, but they’re more popular in British-style amps (Marshall).

Regardless of which tube you choose, make sure to consider the type of music you play and the sound you want to achieve to ensure that you get the best results from your amplifier.

How Tubes Affect Guitar Amp Tone

When you’re looking to achieve that perfect guitar tone, understanding the impact of different types of tubes on your amp is essential. The type of tube you choose can affect everything from the level of distortion to the overall volume of your sound. Three of the most commonly used tubes in guitar amps are the EL34, EL84, and 6L6.

To better understand the differences between these tubes, it’s helpful to look at a comparison table:

Tube TypePower OutputDistortionFrequency Response

As you can see, each tube has its own strengths and weaknesses. The EL34 is known for its high power output and flat frequency response, making it a popular choice for heavy metal and hard rock. The EL84, on the other hand, has a lower power output but higher distortion and a brighter tone, making it great for indie and alternative styles, but also a good choice for metal. The 6L6 falls somewhere in between, with a warm tone and lower to medium distortion.

So how do these differences actually affect your guitar tone? It all comes down to personal preference and the style of music you’re playing. Experimenting with different types of tubes can help you find the perfect sound for your playing style. Whether you’re looking for a heavy metal crunch or a clean, bright tone, understanding the impact of different tubes on your amp can help you achieve the sound you’re looking for.

Experiment with different tubes to find the one that best fits your musical needs. By choosing the right tube for your guitar amp, you can unlock a world of sonic possibilities and take your playing to the next level.


So now that you know the differences between EL34, EL84, and 6L6 tubes in guitar amps, how do you choose the right one for your sound?

It all comes down to your personal preference and the type of music you play. If you want a classic rock sound with a lot of power and punch, the EL34 is a great option. If you prefer a bit of a softer touch, the EL84 may be a better choice. And if you want a clean, bright sound with a lot of headroom, the 6L6 is a great option.

But ultimately, the choice is up to you and what sounds best to your ears.

Rob Z

Got my first guitar in 1987, took lessons and played nonstop. Spent some time in hard rock and metal bands in the 1990s. I eventually switched to acoustic guitars only and rarely played for years. I got back into electric guitars when my daughter began playing in 2018. I now collect way too much gear.
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