Greetings to the Brotherhood of the Quest for Audible Pleasure in the form of Guitar,
This is one thing that boils my blood on a regular basis (unfortunately almost daily). It usually comes in the form of some uninformed, inexperienced player armed with an arsenal of bullshit online knowledge. Most of this "knowledge" is from another uninformed idiot spouting off something that they don't know either that they heard from somebody else. This is like the small snowball that rolls down the mountain getting bigger and bigger, and leveling a small town,
Now lets get on the topic... "Tube amps are expensive to maintain."
"Well I can't get a tube amp because I can't afford tubes."
Immediately I call bullshit. yep, right then. I call it so fast that they cannot even get a word in.
My next retort is this: "Do you not play your guitar because you have to buy new strings?" "Do you not drive a car because tires wear?" Following my statement this blank stare. EVERY time, always the same face.
So lets get down to it. How long do tubes last? There are still plenty of tubes out there from the '60's, as NOS (new old stock), some unused, some partially, and some that have been used since then.
For example i have NOS RCA tubes in a '70's Musicman amp, they are (to the best of my knowledge) the original tubes. This is not normal, but they are out there. I have pre-amp tubes from the '60's, my prized tube in my collection is a Telefunken 12AX7, I have a dozen others as well, some more RCA's, and GE, a few JAN Phillips around too. Current production tubes aren't made to that standard though anymore, but yet again you aren't paying $150 for one tube.
I use a lot of JJ ECC83's, i have probably 50 (yes, fifty) of them in various amps, and I just bought 40 (yes forty) more when they were on sale. I have been using them since 2009 and have only lost two or three, they are able to be had for about $10 brand new from some dealers. They are extremely reliable.
Regarding pre-amp tubes, you can expect a five year lifespan (minimum average) for current production 12AX7's. under moderate to heavy use.
Regarding power-amp tubes, they have a slightly shorter lifespan. If you use them a lot and are gigging, I would replace them every other year. *KEEP the spares though so you have them down the line.* They are also more expensive than pre-amp tubes, but not a whole lot more.
Bottom Line - Tubes are a wear item, just like strings, socks, and tires. I would be very surprised to hear that dumped more than $20-$40 a year (averaged) into tubes, I am sure some are out there, but few and far between, that would be HEAVY use, bordering on abuse.
Having said that, the Resentment and Rant were kind of in one this week.
As always, hatespam is welcomed, comments are fine too.
Cheers, and may you find much pleasure with your musical endeavors,
**One thing that i purposely not discuss is brand, other than just a causal reference or reference gain levels. i will save that for another week**