Fun With Headphones And Tube Amps

So I am the proud owner of my first tube amp - a Traynor Custom Valve 40, bought on sale on Boxing Day. Hey, you know what’s awesome? Tube amps. I’m am shocked at how good it sounds, especially coming off of solid-state amps and Line 6 modelers.

BUT, I notice that my idea of plugging in headphones for late-night playing is not happening. The Custom Valve 40 has a effects loop, and I was hoping plugging into the send would kill the front amp speaker, but it does not. Poking around, I notice that I could disconnect the speaker itself - it’s just plugged in with a standard 1/4 jack - but my limited understanding of electricity is that’s a bad thing to do because of, um, impedance? That sounds right.

So is there some way of plugging in headphones to a tube amp, or am I just a crazy dreamer?

It’s possible but convoluted. You’d have to take a speaker load emulator or something similar and then route from that.

Honestly tube amps typically don’t actually sound better, they just play/feel better. Most people have no idea just how much guitar they hear is Line6 Pod Farm, NI Guitar Rig, etc. because it’s so much easier to record with (or do live gigs with).

But there is a massive difference between how a Pod feels to play vs. how a nice tube combo feels.

In case anybody is interested, and has a tube amp with a speaker that just unplugs (instead of being hardwired in), my electrician father-in-law was able to Macguyver up a quarter-inch plug with a resistor on the end. So I pop that into the speaker plug, the amp still thinks there’s a speaker there because of SCIENCE!, and I can use the effects send as a headphone or run it to my Line 6 UX1. Voila!

You want to be careful with just wiring up a resistor, since the load can vary (“inductive load” I think is the term). A proper speaker simulator is a little more involved, which is why they’re expensive and a lot have been made. Palmer, Marshall, Groove Tubes, and Scholz have all made or make them.

I’ve played guitar for over 20 years and have never owned a tube amp. I’ve always played/written songs with more of a clean guitar sound or with a ton of effects (chorus, delay, flanger, etc) and for clean it’s hard to go wrong with a Roland JC-120.

But tube amps are indeed awesome! Especially for “dirty” tones - nothing like tube breakup/distortion… so creamy and dynamic.

How does the amp sound through headphones?

Well, funny story! Sounded great until I blew the fuse. Took about an hour. So, everybody: Listen to BaconTastesGood, he knows of what he speaks.

And ironically, Relayer, I actually went to the music shop to see if they still had a JC-90 there that I saw a few weeks back, and ended up walking out with the Traynor.

Hah! Thankfully it’s just a fuse =)

Tube amps can sound fantastic clean, some of the punchiest, nicest clean tones of all time were from tube amps like the Fender Bassman, but the JC-120 is definitely a classic for clean tones.

If you really want saturated tube amp tone in low volume, consider grabbing a “microamp” or using an iso box. Microamps are 1-5W little miniature amps that allow you to get full tube saturated tone but at reasonable volumes (don’t let the low numbers deceive you, they’re loud as fuck still).

Can you recommend such an amp? I will be an apartment dweller for many years to come.

Not personally, but if you look at reviews online you can find quite a few for under $500, many under $200. For example, this Vox AC4TV – goes down to 1/4W and sounds pretty good. And is pretty inexpensive.

I’m a but confused. First how did your father in law determine the proper resistance for the resistor? Did he just ohm it out? If so that’ll be way off because as mentioned above that won’t give you any of the inductive load.

You could find out the proper impedance by finding what voltage it is and what the current should be and then use ohms law to find out what the impedance is.

Is there any particular reason he would have to simulate the inductive load instead of just the proper impedance? Would it really matter that the current isn’t changing it’s phase angle like it would with an inductive load?

You are asking things to me in Greek. I sent him the schematics for the amp and he made me a plug dongle thingy. My knowledge of electronics ends at “Don’t lick outlets no matter how delicious they look.”

Fender also makes the Champion 600 which is a 5 watter, but Guitar Center has a bunch of other small wattage amps. Bacon is right though, these are tiny terrors… 5 tube watts is probably equivalent in volume to a 30 - 40 watt solid state amp.

Also, some higher wattage amps let you select between full power and something like 1/4 power to get that saturation at lower volumes. But those tiny amps are great for apartments and recording.