Ukraine, War, Tubes, and the Sanctions on Russia
The vacuum tube market has gone into a tailspin with Russia's attack on, and invasion of, Ukraine, and the subsequent world response holding Russia in contempt for doing so.
Mike Matthews, owner of ElectroHarmonix and reseller of Russian tubes has indicated that, yes, with the attack on Ukraine, and world sanctions against Russia, that for the foreseeable future, Russian tubes are no more.
I have some personal thoughts and beliefs and I'll expand on them here briefly. I recognize that there were precipitating factors for what some may see as a Russian justification for the invasion of Ukraine. However, in 1994, when Ukraine agreed to give up its nuclear weapons, both the United States and Russia promised to honor and protect the territorial integrity of Ukraine. The United States has failed to honor that agreement for fear of triggering World War III, but more importantly, Russia abrogated that agreement by invading Ukraine. The lesson here for smaller countries is obvious: "Don't give up your nuclear arsenal". My position is that unlike the previous interventions in my lifetime which I never agreed with and protested unsuccessfully against (Iraq, Afghanistan), Ukraine is fundamentally different because Ukraine has pulled itself up into a democracy and it is a democracy NOW. I'm pretty much antiwar, but I do think that there are some things worth fighting for, and I believe democracy is worth fighting for.
That's all I'll say on that.
While people who use vacuum tube guitar, bass, and other instrument amplifiers may be disappointed by this situation due to the abrupt break with Russia as a supplier of vacuum tubes to the rest of the world, one could argue that we still have J&J tubes. LOL.
There's an extreme scarcity right now. If you're going to complain about "how bad it is", I'm not sympathetic. A lack of vacuum tubes in the world market is nothing compared to the horrors being visited upon Ukraine by Russia right now. I hope Ukraine is able to maintain its sovereignty (40 million people). If this ends up being the case, it will have been worth a disruption in the world supply of vacuum tubes. Our hearts are with Ukraine, and yes I have written my Congressional Representative that we need to do more. Slava Ukraini!
Now, what I still have to reveal, may be old news to some, but my friends, I tell it you it appears that good news is on the way!
I originally started writing this article on the 22nd of March, and have reached out to a few different amp manufacturers and enthusiasts to see if they'll add their $0.02. I highly recommend you add your voice to the growing chorus and TELL WESTERN ELECTRIC TO RESUME MANUFACTURE OF MASS MARKET AMPLIFIER VACUUM TUBES!
The news has blown up even greater than I could have imagined. According to this article on Guitar.com, and because of the demand shown by the community at the link immediately above, Western Electric will begin manufacturing vacuum tubes for guitar amps again!
So if you're a tube guitar amp enthusiast, or builder, or repair tech please go to the link and please join me and many others in letting Western Electric know that you want them to make high-quality vacuum tubes here in America! Russian competition is off the table. Will the Chinese rebuild their factory in Shuguang? (It burned down August 2019, limiting world-wide access to vacuum tubes even before this mess with Russia began):
I was under the impression that there was another factory in China, but I could be totally wrong about that. It always seemed like there was another source in China, but if I'm wrong, it means close to three years out and the Shuguang factory will probably not resume building vacuum tubes. We may soon share the glorious reality of high-quality vacuum tubes made in America!
So as of now, it looks like there's only J&J making tubes in Slovakia.
Imagine being J&J Electronics and trying to meet the entire world market demand of vacuum tubes. If we consider it, there's really only a few ways J&J could go:
- Cut corners to try and meet demand,
- Maintain standards without regard to demand to continue to put out a high-quality product,
- Something in between
My gut is telling me that J&J will pick either #2, or (my guess) #3, and that quality will likely go down as J&J tries to cash in on selling higher volumes of product at higher prices until Western Electric's manufacturing comes online.
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