January 21, 2021

The Best 6L6 Tubes - Buying Guide and FAQ

Originally designed and manufactured by the Radio Corporation of America, also known as RCA, these tubes have been popular with musicians and audiophiles since 1936. As RCA went under, other corporations have filled their shoes when it comes to the production of the best 6L6 tubes.

From a technical perspective, they have a power output of up to 55w watts and a resistance rating that can get up to 5.6Kohms.
6L6 tubes are particularly beloved by artists that play jazz, blues, and rock'n'roll. This is in part due to their fantastic clean headroom allowing for sparkling clarity even at high volumes.

Generally speaking, a 6L6 tube has a very present midrange. They are a safe choice if you like boosting mids with your amp settings.
As these are a power tube, it's important you pair them with a quality preamp tube too. They are extremely important to your overall tone as they are the first point of contact for your amplifier. A little extra crunch from your preamp tube will help you get a nice overdrive from a 6L6.
Given the prominence of this type of tube, there are a lot of options. We have put together a collection of some of the best sounding 6L6 tubes so you can find one that suits your needs and budget.

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A Quick Look At Our Favorites
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Tung Sol 6L6 STR
Our Favorite
Tung Sol 6L6GC STR Reissue
  • Durable
  • Varied classifications
  • Classic 6L6 tone
JJ 6L6 GC
Budget Option
JJ Electronics T-6L6GC-JJ-MP
  • Good stock tube replacement
  • Sparkling highs
Groove Tubes 6L6
Bright Sounding
Groove Tubes GT-6L6-R Medium
  • Bright tone
  • Pristine clean sound
Electro Harmonix 6L6
Old School Tone
Electro-Harmonix 6L6GC
  • Modelled on the RCA blackplate
  • Nice power handling
  • Durable
Svetlana 6l6
For Metal
Svetlana 6L6 tube Soft/Red
  • Good for overdrive
  • Warm characteristics
Mesa 5881 Tube
Mesa Tone
Mesa 5881 STR 425
  • Sweet sounding bass response
  • Tapered highs
  • Built-tough
Sovtek 6l6 tube
Soaring Treble
Sovtek 5881WXT 6L6WGC
  • Warm tone
  • Responsive highs for a 6L6
  • Plenty of headroom

Reviews

Tung Sol 6L6GC STR Reissue Vacuum Tube

Tung Sol 6L6 STR
TL;DR
A reliable tube that is built to the same standards as an original 6L6. A great choice for a purist that doesn't want to buy a NOS RCA tube or similar.
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Tung Sol tubes are some of the best reissues available. This model is a beam power tube in a tetrode configuration. They are Russian built which is like a golden stamp of approval among many users. As it is a reissue, they have designed it to be as close as possible to the original tubes from the '60s. These are two boxes that need checking for people that want the most authentic tone possible from their vintage tube amp.

These tubes don't need a particularly long burn-in period and will sound fairly spot on from the get-go. That is not to say they won't still improve over time but you won't have to wait 300+ hours to not be embarrassed playing your amp at a gig. They readily plug and play with a snap-in design with a plate voltage of 500v.

These tubes are available in three different classifications. These are soft, medium, and hard. Each type offers a different level of headroom. The harder the classification the greater the space for clean playing.

These are available to buy as a matched pair or as a single tube. Making them easy to use in a variety of different amps.

JJ Electronics T-6L6GC-JJ-MP Amplifier Tube

JJ 6L6 GC
TL;DR
A very fairly priced tube or set. Great balanced tone with exceptional sound for their cost.
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JJ Electronics is a trusted brand. They hail from Slovakia which doesn't have the same reputation as Russian tubes but you can rest assured that these are of high quality. This particular model is a fairly priced option for 6L6 tubes from this reliable manufacturer.

Tonally speaking, these tubes offer a delicate balance with a focus on the mids. Of course, you can identify the classic California sound from these but they are perhaps a little harsher in the high frequencies than a more expensive tube.

You can buy these as a single, matched pair, or matched quad. This makes them a versatile choice that is suitable for any amp that is compatible with 6L6 tubes.

These are low noise tubes and suffer minimal unwanted interference from RF or microphonics.

The max plate voltage of these octal tubes is 30 watts. This helps to create the tight overdrive you can expect from these amps when you push them. All frequencies are fairly balanced for a 6L6 tube. You can still expect those typically boosted mids to shine through though.

These will feel right at home replacing the stock tube of any Fender amps that use 6L6s such as a Hot Rod or Ramparte.

Groove Tubes GT-6L6-R Medium Duet

Groove Tubes 6L6
TL;DR
A tonally bright amp that has a lot to offer. Great for amps that are designed for blues.
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These tubes have an iconic sound that is recognizable to those that use them often. They are bright, this can be off-putting for some who are after a more earthy tone for their amplifier but it makes them great for clean or dirty blues depending on how hard you drive your amp. These are a medium output tube so are capable of either. They are coupled with a max plate output of 30w.

These tubes will feel at home in your Fender amp if you have a Bassman, Blues Deluxe, or Deville. There are plenty of other amps that would sound ace with these tubes too. So, don't be afraid to try them out in your amp if you play a lot of blues, classic rock, or jazz.

If you push these tubes hard the overdrive is thick and harmonious which is not ideal if you want a clean tone at high volume but nice for a touch of versatility in your tones.

These are available as quads all the way down to singles, another versatile option.

Electro-Harmonix 6L6GC Vacuum Tube

Electro Harmonix 6L6
TL;DR
A heavy and tough tube that has a long playing life and a punchy tone.
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The design of these tubes replicates an RCA blackplate 6L6GC which is a very popular NOS tube if you can get your hands on one. Given that the originals are discontinued and those remaining can get pretty pricey it's nice to know there is an accessible option available. I mean this in terms of availability and cost.

These cost less than $60. That is a bargain considering you would be looking at at least double that for a NOS RCA version.

This tube has enough power handling to maintain a punchy clean tone even when driven hard. As they are thick and heavy they are resistant to tube rattle. These also come with mica spacers to help with this.

The large dimensions of the plate mean they dissipate heat well. An important consideration if your amp has a tendency to run too hot. This also increases the potential life of the tubes. Running hot = burning out quicker.

Go for these if you are after a budget-friendly 6L6 that has clean tones in mind. If you are looking for a versatile or overdrive 6L6 try one of the others.

Svetlana 6L6 tube Soft/Red Duet

Svetlana 6l6
TL;DR
These are good if you want to get your 6L6 tube amp more metal friendly.
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This Svetlana tube is a great tube for adding a little bit of distorted flavor to your usually sparkly guitar amplifier. If you own a Bassman but wish you had a Mesa Boogie dual rectifier this is a genuine option for you. Okay, it's not going to sound anything like that amp, but you will get some more grit. You get the idea.

The above is only true if you go for the soft rated tubes. You could also opt for the hard tubes if you were after a clean sound and like the tonal qualities of these tubes.

The clean tones are balanced with a little less of the boosted mids than many other 6L6 tubes.

These are a little more expensive than a budget STR 6L6 but are worth the extra spend for their Russian tube quality standards.

As with most of the options, you can get these as singles, quads, or a matched pair. Buy accordingly with your amplifier type.

These moderately priced tubes offer quality for your amp no matter what type of music you're looking to create. They're available in single, dual or quad setups.

Mesa 5881 STR 425

Mesa 5881 Tube
TL;DR
A tube that is great for bassy clean tones. They have a high voltage tolerance so are well suited for amps that demand such a thing. Perfect for bass amps.
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Mesa makes some of the best standard inclusion tubes for their amps. It's not like many people are rushing out to change out the tubes they got with their brand new Mesa amp.

You may associate this brand with great overdriven amps but this Mesa tube is actually perfect for clean tones. With its full bass, thick midsection, and melting highs it shines when playing anything from jazz through to clean pop.

These are military-grade durable so they are built to last. They also have the ability to deal with a higher voltage than many other 6L6 tubes. If you find yourself blowing a fuse or tubes in your amps often these could be a potential solution.

They are obviously well suited to Mesa amps that use 6L6 tubes. They would feel just as at home with a Fender amp too. Be careful though, they have a few different models. Many of these are designed for overdrive. So make sure you have an amp designed for clean tones if you are placing one of these in.

As these tubes are great for maintaining a clean signal, they are awesome in bass amps too. The last thing you want from your bass amp is a dirty signal, so be aware not to put a soft peak tube in.

These deliver almost unrivaled consistency and reliability. They are also reasonably priced when compared to much of their direct competition.

Sovtek 5881WXT 6L6WGC

Sovtek 6l6 tube
TL;DR
Crisp yet warm sounding. The lows could be a little more present but these are good for creamy highs. Not the brightest sounding if that is what you're after.
Check Price

These are another set of versatile tubes available in 3 different drive types. Make sure you select the right one when you checkout if you decide on one of these types of tubes.

These have plenty of clean clearance if you opt for the hard resistance type. This is where they shine but the other types are also decent for distortion. Not as capable as some of our other picks but they don't sound gross either.

If you love to focus on your high end with your clean or dirty channel these are an appropriate choice.

These Sovtek tubes have a warm palette that leans into the high frequency well. However, you will not notice this when you first install them. There will be a decent length burn-in period before the high frequency begins to roll off and become more pleasant.

These are another tough built, military-grade tube. While you should be gentle with any tube, it's nice to have some kind of peace of mind in terms of its durability.

These are our favorite 6L6 tubes from Sovtek, but they do make some other good ones. Don't be afraid to chuck any of them into your guitar amp if you find something on special.

FAQ For 6L6 Tubes

 

Can I Put Any 6L6 In My Amplifier?

Yes! As we have alluded to in each of the product reviews in this buying guide you will experience different tonal qualities depending on your choice though.

You should be careful with your choice if you want to maintain the tone that you had before changing the tubes. For example, if you are happy with the clean tone you have you don't want to replace your existing 6L6 with one that is better at creating harmonic distortion and visa-versa.

One thing to keep in mind is to avoid replacing your 6L6 with a completely incompatible amp tube like a 6V6. Even though they are similar in appearance you will get a negative effect on your tone at the least. In the worst case, the tubes will die or you could encounter issues with your amp.

Some types of tubes are interchangeable with a 6L6 like an EL34. This only applies to some amplifiers though. Again, google your amplifier before you commit.

 

How Long Do 6L6 Tubes Last?

This depends on a number of factors including, how hot your amp runs, how often you play, and how hard you push the tubes.

A guesstimate for how often you will need to replace them is 6-12 months to maintain the best tone possible. To get a little extra life, opt for one with a beefy plate.

 

Can I Test If My 6L6 Is Working Properly?

6L6 tubes light up when they are plugged in. If you find that they are dim or not glowing at all, you will need to check your connections or replace the tube. A healthy 6L6 glows a vividly bright orange. They should do this regardless of the volume of your amp.

 

Which Amps Use 6L6 Tubes?

I'm not going to give an exhaustive list here. It would be much more efficient for you to check directly with the manufacturer of the amp you are curious about.

They are a very popular design though. They are synonymous with "American tone" so you will find them in a lot of Fender amps, such as a Bassman or Twin Reverb. Other American manufactures such as Mesa use them too.

It is less common but some British amps do use 6L6 tubes too. Some people replace their EL34 tube with a 6L6 in their British amps to improve the clean channel.

Many high powered vintage amps use these and some newer models as well.

 

What is the difference Between EL34 and 6L6?

I have mentioned EL34s in a couple of the FAQ answers. You may now be wondering what the hell they are.

These two types of tubes are the most popular power tubes for valve amps. EL34 amps are for British sound and generally have higher gain than a 6L6 for American tones. We have an article here that discusses this in more detail if you'd like to check it out.

 

What Is The Difference Between 6L6 and 6V6?

6L6 based rigs are better for clean tones where the 6V6 are more associated with American overdrive. That is not to say that either tube is not capable of creating clean or dirty tones in their own right.

6V6 tubes are generally warmer and richer with less trill to the upper frequencies.

 

Final Word

It is hard to go past the Tung Sol option for us but as we always say guitar tone is all about taste. Have a thorough read of each review and try to compare and contrast with your desired tone and budget.

There is no reason any of the tubes we mentioned will let you down if you just need something to replace a burnt-out valve. Just be aware of the resistance to drive to maintain your clean tones if you so desire.

Let us know in the comments which tube you decided upon and if you are happy with your choice when it arrives. Did we miss one of your favorites? Let us know about that too so others can compare.



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