6L6 and EL34 are both power amp tubes which are used in loads of iconic guitar amplifiers. But what is the difference between them? In this article I’ll compare everything you need to know about these vacuum tubes so you can decide which you prefer.
Just looking for a quick answer? Here it is…
EL34 tubes have a more scooped mid-range compared to 6L6 tubes. EL34 tubes sound darker and heavier whereas 6L6 tubes sound brighter and fuller. 6L6 tubes have more headroom meaning they sound cleaner compared to EL34 tubes which sound more distorted and crunchy.
Do They Sound Different?
There are two types of tubes in a guitar amplifier: pre-amp and power-amp. Pre-amp tubes mainly affect the gain characteristics of your tone, whereas the power-amp tubes help to shape the tone and give it a certain kind of flavour.
6L6 and EL34 tubes are both power-amp tubes. Here’s a snapshot of how they affect the tone of the amp:
- 6L6 tubes have a flatter EQ response compared to EL34 tubes which have a more scooped mid-range
- 6L6 tubes have more headroom compared to EL34 tubes
Since EL34 tubes have a more scooped mid-range, they sound more bassy, heavy and dark in comparison to 6L6 tubes which sound a bit brighter.
The headroom of an amp refers to the amount of power the amp can generate before it begins to distort. Amps with more headroom sound cleaner as a result, whereas amps with less headroom sound more gritty and distorted. Amps with EL34 tubes sound dirtier compared to amps with 6L6 tubes which are cleaner sounding.
EL34 tubes are very synonymous with the British guitar tone, think Marshall for example. 6L6 tubes on the other hand are associated with American guitar amps, such as Fender amps.
Check out this YouTube video comparing 6L6 and EL34 tubes to decide which you prefer the tone of.
Music Style Suitability
Let’s first start by saying that it’s entirely possible to use an amp with EL34 or 6L6 tubes for any styles of music. With that said, there are some music styles where they tend to be more popular in than others.
For hard rock and heavy metal, EL34 tubes tend to be more popular because they have less headroom, distort more easily and have a darker tone.
There are however some metal players who prefer 6L6 tubes as they have a tighter low-end compared to EL34 tubes. Some prefer cleaner power-amp tubes and instead like to use their pre-amp tubes to get the distortion.
For cleaner styles of music such as jazz, country and even blues, 6L6 tubes are very popular. They offer a full and balanced tone that doesn’t distort very easily, making them a good option for either clean or lightly overdriven tones.
There are several structural differences between 6L6 and EL34 tubes which cause them to sound different from one another:
- 6L6 tubes are wide and short in comparison to EL34 tubes which are relatively tall and thin
- 6L6 tubes are beam tetrodes whereas EL34 tubes are pentodes. Pentodes have a more closed mid-range.
- 6L6 tubes have 8 pins and EL34 tubes have 9 pins
Amps with 6L6 Tubes
- Fender 59 Bassman
- Fender 65 Twin Reverb
- Fender ’65 Super Reverb
- Fender 68 Custom Pro Reverb
- Fender ’68 Custom Twin Reverb
- Fender Blues Deluxe Reissue
- Fender Hot Rod Deluxe
- Blackstar CV30
- Blackstar St. James
- Blackstar HT Club
- Bugera Infinium
- Friedman Twin Sister
- Soldano Super Lead
- Laney Iron Heart
- Marshall JCM900 4100
- Orange Marcus King MK
- Peavey 6505
Amps with EL34 Tubes
- Marshall JCM800
- Marshall Silver Jubilee
- Marshall JVM
- Marshall Origin
- Marshall DSL
- Marshall SV20H Studio Vintage Plexi
- Marshall Studio Classic
- Marshall 1987X Vintage Reissue
- Orange Rockerverb
- Peavey 6534
- Laney Lionheart
Are 6L6 and EL34 tubes interchangeable?
6L6 and EL34 are not interchangeable as they have different heater current draws, bias voltages and pinouts.