How to Clean and Maintain a Guitar Valve Amplifier

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How to Clean and Maintain a Guitar Valve Amplifier
Wipe down your dials after use to remove the oils that are present on your hands. (amplifier image by Darko Draskovic from Fotolia.com)

Guitar valve amplifiers, otherwise known as tube amplifiers, require regular maintenance and cleaning. Tubes wear out and require replacement, but there are steps you can take to extend the life of your tubes. Cleaning is an important part of tube amplifier maintenance, as dust and grime can cause the potentiometers to crackle and buzz. Occasionally you may need to replace fuses, so it's smart to keep a handful of spares in your kit box.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

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Things you need

  • Screwdriver
  • Plastic-safe contact cleaner and lubricant
  • Cotton cloth
  • Spare tubes
  • Spare fuses

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Use the standby function. Amplifier tubes work best when they are warm. You will notice that your amp's sound improves the longer it has been on. By putting the amp on standby for a minute before you begin playing, you give the tubes a chance to reach the optimum heat before you put power demands on them by playing. You must also put the amp on standby before turning it off, so that tubes can cool down before the power is cut off.

  2. 2

    Change the tubes. The frequency with which you change your tubes depends on how often you use the amp. If you play the amp at loud volumes more than twice a week, an annual tube change should be the minimum. Power tubes regulate voltage, so continuing with old or dying tubes can put extra demands on other components. Keep like-for-like spares but don't wait for problems before changing tubes. Remove the back of the amp and simply pull the tube out of its socket. Only change tubes when the amp is cold and disconnected.

  3. 3

    Use biased tubes. The bias of a tube is the amount of current it draws from the power supply. Tubes should draw the same current as equal tubes in the amp, but as tubes get old, their efficiency drops. This causes other tubes to draw more current to compensate. Manually biasing the tubes is a tricky job. Save time and effort by replacing your tubes in matched pairs or fours. Matched tubes are always of equal bias, so you'll never need to set the bias yourself.

    How to Clean and Maintain a Guitar Valve Amplifier
    The pins at the bottom of amp tubes slip in vertically. There is no need to twist and click. (old vacuum tubes image by Dmitry Rukhlenko from Fotolia.com)
  4. 4

    Clean the potentiometers. The potentiometers are the working part of your volume and tone dials, and if they get grimy, they will cause the amp to create all manner of annoying sounds. Remove the preamp section of your amplifier by removing the back and sliding it out. Then use a dry cotton cloth and a plastic-safe contact cleaner and lubricant to clean the pot. Once you've cleaned the potentiometer, turn the dial a few times to distribute the cleaner.

  5. 5

    Cover the amplifier when it's not in use. You can do this with an old sheet or buy a special amp cover. This reduces the amount of dust that can settle on and in your amp.

  6. 6

    Tighten up the external screws. A loose screw can cause a rattling sound when the amp is in use. Whenever you've got your screwdriver handy, spend a minute tightening the screws.

Tips and warnings

  • Always wear latex gloves when handling tubes. Oils on the skin can cause hot spots on the tube's glass.
  • Never move the amp unless it has cooled down first. The glass in the tubes is more likely to shatter when hot.

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