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Adam's Amplifiers: Tube Pedals
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Tube Pedals
Thursday January 5, 2006 by adam


I’ve started working on a tube distortion pedal using 6021W tubes. Since doing so I’ve been collecting and analyzing circuits for other tube distortion pedals, which I’ve started to summarize here. I’ve simplified each circuit into block diagrams to illustrate their architecture.

If you know of a tube pedal not listed here, please let me know!

Low Voltage Pedals

BK Butler Tube Driver

The Tube Driver is a somewhat famous pedal, I’d guess it to be the most well-known tube-based distortion pedal. It runs the 12AX7 stages at very low plate voltage—about 9 volts. The 2 triode stages appear to be fixed biased—their cathodes are grounded, with the first stage getting grid bias voltage with a 3.3K resistor from grid to ground, and the second stage getting its grid bias voltage derived from the B+ voltage.

Tube Driver Schematic, and another from AMZ.

Doug Hammond’s Pentode Driver pedal is a variation of the tube driver using 6AK6 miniature power pentodes in place of the 12AX7 triode stages. Aron Nelson’s Shaka Tube pedal is another variation, with a single SS gain stage, and more traditional 12AX7 tube stages—still low voltage, but cathode biased & bypassed.

Ron Black Tube Distortion

This is something from the October 1981 issue of Guitar Player. It’s another starved-plate opamp/tube hybrid pedal design, using a 12AU7 for the tube stages.

The schematic link I had for this one has disappeared.

High Voltage Pedals

The Real McTube II

Fred Nachbaur’s Real McTube II looks like your basic tube preamp, with common cathode triode gain stages. It has a pair of 12AX7 gain stages, with a gain & output level control. It uses a clever power supply with back to back 12VAC transformers to get 140V B+, which is low for a guitar preamp, but definitely puts this in the high voltage pedal category.

Real McTube II home page.

Matchless Hotbox

The Matchless Hotbox is a large pedal, with a traditional transformer-based power supply supplying 240V of B+. While I’ve left out bypass switching on all these diagrams, the Hotbox actually doesn’t have any—the clean triode is always in the signal path. The circuit itself has no surprises if you’re familiar with tube amps.

HotBox page at General Guitar Gadgets

BadCat Amps are offering 2 pedals, the 2 Tone and the X-Treme Tone. I’ve got no information on them, but I’d guess them to be an evolutions of the Hotbox design.


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  1. just wanted to say that the net adres of the brilliance unit is:

    gab    Feb 17, 06:44 PM    #
  2. The Stephenson Stage Hog is a another high voltage pedal you should add to the list.

    Ted Woods    Mar 1, 09:02 AM    #
  3. There’s also the Hughes & Kettner Tube Factor.

    Cool entry, will blog about this.

    Johann    Jun 7, 07:59 AM    #
  4. I’ve found the ron black tube distortion schematic. Here is:

    Gus    Dec 31, 05:11 AM    #
  5. Tube pre amp in a pedal:

    — Mark    Mar 25, 10:18 AM    #
  6. Hello – Nice site & very helpful , as I am trying to build a simple tube pedal myself

    BTW A new & highly low cost addition to tube pedals are the Behringer VT911 & VT999

    Both use a single 12×7 but 1 has 3 extra eq shaping circuits.

    THEY GO FOR $39.99 & $69.99 !

    LENNY ALBANESE    Oct 21, 10:39 AM    #
  7. I need to know what is the best commercial tube distortion pedal for the money am shopping now
    for one and a little overwhelmed by so much info.
    Any help would be appreciated

    Buddy    Nov 2, 11:17 AM    #
  8. Hello, can i built the real mc tubeII using a ECC88/6DJ8 tube.
    Dou you know if have one variation called REAl MC TUBE, not MCTUBE II.
    Thank you

    Pedro Henrique    Jan 22, 08:41 AM    #

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