Tube Shortage Impacts Audiophiles and Guitar Players

Between inflation, rising gas prices, and ongoing supply chain issues, consumers can’t catch a break. Now, the latest problem specifically impacting audiophiles and guitar players is a shortage of vacuum tubes.

Vacuum tubes are an interesting technology—a product of the past that’s been kept relevant by guitar players and audiophiles that seek the warmth and tonal characteristics that only they can deliver.

Over the past couple of years, tubes — like a lot of other products — have been in short supply. Now, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Vladimir Putin’s reaction to global economic sanctions placed on Russia, there is an even greater burden on tube inventories.

Founder of the musical equipment manufacturer Electro-Harmonix Mike Matthews has issued a couple of statements addressing the shortage.

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Several guitar websites and YouTubers, including GearNews and Rhett Shull, have picked up on Matthews’ statements and commented on the current state of global tube inventories.

GearNews’ March 12, 2022 story includes a screen grab of Matthews’ statements regarding tube shortages, and Shull’s recent YouTube post does a great job summarizing how inventories have been impacted by the pandemic, as well as a fire to a large tube factory in China, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Tube Shortage Long-Term Ramifications

In his video outlining the tube shortage issues, Shull says these problems could accelerate the market’s already in-place evolution from tubes to digital technologies which includes plugin software solutions and “modeling amps” that emulate the sound of popular amps from brands like Marshall and Fender.

In the home audio market tube amp makers such as McIntosh, Audio Research, and Cary Audio do not consume the volume of tubes that guitar amp companies use, but these shortages could impact the availability of new tube-based products from these brands.

Additionally, specialty tube retailers such as The Tube Depot, The Tube Store, and Eurotubes are caught in the middle of the tube shortage problem right now. These online retailers are warning customers that tube inventories have been impacted and they are pointing out that pricing is also subject to change based on the current economic climate.

Eurotubes is an online tube retailer that carries the Slovakian-made brand JJ Electronics brand of tubes.

Audiophiles may be impacted to an even greater level than guitar players. Many audiophiles prefer to use vintage NOS (new old stock) tubes, which were expensive before the supply chain issues. With supplies of new and NOS tubes squeezed, the cost of NOS will continue to rise as these products become more scarce.

Matthews’ latest post says that for the time being shipments of Russian tubes have restarted, but he infers the tube shortage situation remains fluid at best.

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