Tubes on a Chip

The tubes you’ll find in guitar amps and high-end stereos were first designed in the 30s and 40s, and when you get to really, really advanced tube technology you’d be looking at extremely small tubes made in the 70s for military applications. For 40 years, there really haven’t been many advances in tube technology. Now, at last, there’s something new.

The Nutube 6P1, as this curious invention is called, is a full triode or half of a 12ax7 you’ll find in just about every tube amp ever. Unlike the 12ax7, it consumes 2% of the power required of a normal tube, is 30% of the size of the normal tube, and lasts for 30,000 hours.

This new tube-chip thing was brought to life by Korg, makers of fine musical equipment and Noritake Co., manufacturers of vacuum fluorescent displays. There’s no word on what these tubes will be used in and there’s no data sheet. There will be further announcements this year, so don your speculation spectacles and head to the comments.

Retrotechtacular: The Sylvania Tube Crusher

This week, we’re switching off the ‘Tube and taking a field trip to Emporium, Pennsylvania, home of the Sylvania vacuum tube manufacturing plant. Now, a lot of companies will tell you that they test every single one of their products, ensuring that only the best product makes it into the hands of John Q. Public. We suspect that few of them actually do this, especially these days. After all, the more reliable the product, the longer it will be before they can sell you a new one.

sylvania-tube-crusher-thumbFor Sylvania, one of the largest tube manufacturers of the golden age, this meant producing a lot of duds. A mountain of them, in fact, as you can see in the picture above. This article from the January 1957 issue of Popular Electronics vilifies forgers who used all kinds of methods to obtain defective tubes. They would then re-brand them and pass them off as new, which was damaging to Sylvania’s good name and reputation.

In addition to offering a reward for turning in known tube forgers, Sylvania did the most reasonable thing they could think of to quash the gray market, which was building a tube-crushing machine. Pulverizing the substandard tubes made sure that there were no “factory seconds” available to those fraudsters. After crushing shovelful after shovelful of tubes, the glass splinters were removed through a flotation separation process, and the heavy metals were recovered.

Did we get you all hot about tubes? Here’s how Mullard made their EF80 model.

[Thanks for the tip, Fran!]

Retrotechtacular is a weekly column featuring hacks, technology, and kitsch from ages of yore. Help keep it fresh by sending in your ideas for future installments.

Retrotechtacular: We Heard You Like Tubes, So Here’s a Film About Tube Tubes from the Webtubes

EF80

This lovely little number is the EF80 pentode thermionic valve, or vacuum tube, made by Mullard beginning in 1950. They were used in radio and radar applications, but most of them wound up in VHF television sets. This week’s Retrotechtacular takes a close look at the assembly of and on-site materials production for the EF80 in particular.

The film begins with slow and careful hand assembly of an EF80. The cathode is inserted into a mica disc, and a series of three grids are placed over the cathode. The semicircular anode sits around the outermost grid. Another mica disc is placed on top which does triple duty as a spacer, a base for the getter/plate assembly, and a firewall against the getter flash.The dark lining of the upper part of the tube is the residue of the vaporized getter, which is heated after the first stage of air removal.

Before the vacuuming begins, the inner assembly is mounted on a glass base with nine pins that have been pre-bent to meet the inner assembly wires. The heater, dissipating shield, and a meshy cylinder are added, and then the getter on its plate. A tube is slipped over the assembly and fused to the base in a jig, forming an airtight seal. Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: We Heard You Like Tubes, So Here’s a Film About Tube Tubes from the Webtubes”

Cold War Clock is all Tubes

A clock built from tubes

 

Clocks are great projects to build. They serve a real purpose, and there’s a wide variety of ways to implement a unique timepiece. [Hank]’s Cold War Clock only uses parts and technologies that were available in 1959. It contains no semiconductors, but has an audible alarm and reasonable time accuracy.

Looking through the hand drafted schematics, you’ll find a number of Dekatron tubes. These vintage components are used as registers to store and count the time. [Hank] found some cheap Soviet Dekatrons, but had to machine his own sockets to connect them. These tubes do the counting, but the actual display consists of nixies.

A cost estimate puts this clock at $2130 in 1959, which equates to $17040 today. Clearly this would be outside the price range of most hobbyists. The actual build cost [Hank] around $1600.

There’s some intricate details in this build. The front panel has an authentic look to it, and the manual has instructions for “demolition of clock to prevent enemy use.” [Hank] calls it a “creative anachronism.” In a sense, it’s a reproduction of a product that never actually existed.

A video of this clock in action, including the Cold War era alarm, is after the break.

Continue reading “Cold War Clock is all Tubes”

Rebuilding a 1940s TV

TV

There’s a lot of cool stuff to be found under piles of trash in an antique store. [dijt] discovered this when he found a tiny 7″ Motorola television from the 1940s under a stack of trinkets from earlier eras. We can understand [dijt]’s impulse buy, and the trials of rebuilding this ancient TV more than qualifies it as a hack.

If you know where to look, there are hundreds of resources available for old televisions, Hi-Fis, and radio equipment from the dawn of the electrical era to the modern day. After consulting with a few forums, [dijt] got his hands on a schematic for his television set and began work on diagnosing what was wrong with it.

It turned out the original ballast tube in this set had long since given up the ghost. Luckily, this is a common problem in old TVs, and after consulting some forums [dijt] had a schematic to replace this ballast tube with some newer caps and resistors.

After constructing the circuit and testing it out, [dijt] mounted it in the old ballast tube to replicate the original look and feel of the 1949 television. Interestingly, this is the second time this TV had been restored; the 1960s-era caps and resistors told [djit] this TV had once went into a television repair shop. Let’s just hope [djit] remembered to glue the schematics to the inside of the chassis this time.

High Voltage Hacks: A 1000 Watt tube amp

Normally when we hear of a Champ guitar amp, we think of a sweet-sounding rig that puts out 6 Watts through an 8-inch speaker. [John Chambers] of Champ Electronics wanted to build a true champion for the field of battle and came up with The Champ 1000 Watt Tube Amp, an amplifier that probably puts out enough heat to keep an igloo warm.

The amp is based on 807 valves. With some clever engineering [John] managed to coax 100 watts out of a pair of 807s, so the entire amp “only” requires 20 power tubes. The build log shows some pretty impressive examples of electrical prowess. We can’t recall the last time we featured a build with point-to-point wiring on tagboard, and [John]’s work is some of the best we’ve ever seen.

[John] has been working on this amp off and on for a few years now, but he should be wrapping up the build sometime soon. We haven’t seen this amp in action, but we imagine it would look something like this 36×10 monstrosity. Send us a message or post a comment if you can find a video and we’ll put it up.

Tube amp monitor


Sparkfun contributor [Pete] really loves tube amps, but he’s a very safety-conscious guy who doesn’t like being electrocuted. This is a problem, since tube amps are usually very high voltage, and a small mistake can be fatal. To deal with this voltage issue, he built a tube amp with a control system built around a 6DOF v3 controller board. The control system is there mainly in case of a failure, automatically shutting off the high voltage transformer in any such event. It has the added benefit of filtering any 60Hz noise from getting into the audio, which happened before he installed the control system.

In addition to regulating power, the controller board also monitors bias points in the output tubes and displays its diagnostics on an LCD. Aside from getting great sound from the tube amp, [Pete] made it look great too, installing colored LEDs under the tubes. We love his design: just because safety comes first it doesn’t mean cool-factor can’t come in a close second.