The King of Tubes: Peter Watson and PM Tubes Make Their Way to US Shores

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PM-TUBES

Peter Watson has been internationally known for designing quality tubes for over thirty years with his company PM Tubes. PM Tubes can be found in the biggest tube amps on the market, including: Marshall, Orange, Diamond, and Hi Watt. His strict quality standards and innovative designs have made him known as an industry leader. Now, PM Tubes are coming to the US.

So, who is this Peter guy anyway?

In short, Peter Watson has been just as important to the world of gear as Jim Marshall.

Before you hyperventilate, let me explain.

While Jim Marshall was working with Dudley Craven and Ken Bran, designing British amp that would rock hard enough to make Pete Townsend’s ears bleed, Peter Watson was helping develop the ECC83 preamp tube. Basically a UK version of a 12AX7, the ECC83 was designed as a high gain preamp tube that would help push the amp into overdrive sooner on the volume dial. This was important because there were players out there trying to rock out on American amps like the Fender Bassman outfitted with the much weaker 12AY7s pre amp tubes. And, just like anyone else who has tried to rock through 12AY7s, these players were left sad and frustrated.

What ECC83 tubes allowed for was bigger punch and much more gain. And, when they were coupled with KT66 power tubes, they created a distinctive sound that would ultimately be known as the ‘British Sound.’ Once Peter Watson convinced Jim to use this specific ECC83/KT66 combination in the Marshall JTM 45, Marshall amps quickly dominated the work of rock from Hendrix to Clapton.

So, did Peter Watson really change the world of rock?

Yep.

Not only did Peter Watson help design the ECC83 – not to mention provide the recipe for the ‘British Sound’ – He also managed to keep tubes alive when the British Valve Association was about to put the kibosh on valves altogether, planning to concentrate their resources on germanium transistors instead. When Peter finally convinced the BVA that it was insane to stop producing tubes, they endorsed him to develop the market and he became the Commercial Manager of four British Tube factories. During a time when the entire world was moving away from what was considered an antiquated technology, Peter stood his ground, keeping tubes alive for decades past their expected expiration date.

So, what’s he doing now?

JND_3880You mean besides for supplying tubes to companies like Marshall for the past 30 years? In 1979, he started a company named PM Components and has been designing premium tubes ever since. PM Tubes can be found in Marshall, Orange, Hi Watt, and Diamond amps. Let’s face it! Peter Watson is the king of tubes.

While P.M. Tubes have had great success in Europe and Asia, their presence in the U.S. has been less than ubiquitous. After a string of problems with other distribution companies, Jeff Diamant from Diamond Amplification is taking on the task of being the exclusive distributor of PM Tubes for the United States.

When TheToneKing.com asked Jeff about his reasons behind taking on that responsibility, his answer was simple. “Most tubes have a 50% failure rate right out of the box. PM Tubes have the most consistent quality I have ever experienced.” Diamond Amplification has been using P.M. Tubes for about two years now, and what it came down to for them is quality and consistency.

The story is simple. Jeff was looking for a consistent and reliable tube source for his Diamond amps and wasn’t finding it. After an exhaustive search, he came on PM Tubes and gave them a shot. It’s a testament to the quality of PM Tubes that Diamond Amps have been using them ever since. Not to mention that PM Tubes have been the tubes of choice for three of the biggest British Amp companies out there. Impressed with their quality, Jeff wants to help bring PM Tubes to the states  “I just want to offer my personal experience with the quality of the product, and let people make their own decisions.”

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What separates PM Tubes from the rest of the pack is the careful attention to everything from the manufacturing process to the materials that are used. The end result is a tube with 20% more output than many other 12AX7s, a cleaner response, and limited microphonics

When it comes to matching, it’s not just as simple as measuring milliamps. PM also measures leakage from the tubes over time. Observing how much leakage there is will help determine the life of the tube. That way, when the tubes are finally matched through this exhaustive process, you’ll have a group of matched tubes that will all have a very close lifespan as well, which is as critical to matching as current draw.

Anyone who’s bought a pack of tubes only to have one turn to toast a month later will tell you that that’s huge.

If you don’t already know, if you burn out one tube, it’s not as simple as throwing a new one in there and playing like nothing happened. If you do that, you have a new tube working more efficiently than all of the others, and only makes the older ones have to work harder to catch up, ultimately frying out those tubes too. Not to mention that your new tube probably hasn’t been matched to the rest of your set. This will dramatically change your sound and definitely not for the better, unless you like the sounds of hiss, crackles, and microphonics.

Proper procedure is to replace all of the tubes with a matched set and have the amp properly biased. But as a gigging musician, sometimes shit happens and you have to replace a tube on the fly. PM Tubes color codes their tubes to make it easier to match a replacement tube with an existing set. So, if you absolutely need to replace a single tube, it will be more closely matched with what you already have in there. Consistency matters.

In addition to Leakage, PM also analyses their tubes for Noise, Shock, Microphony, Resonance, Fatigue, Gain, and Heaters.

Right now, PM Tubes has four different types of 12AX7 tubes. The 12AX7HG is a high gain tube that still keeps the low end tight. The 12AX7LM is a low microphonic tube that’s been carefully crafted to eliminate excessive noise. The 12AX7A is about as close to the classic 12AX7s as you can get.

And, finally there’s the ECC83T “Trustworthy.”

Using a manufacturing procedure that has its roots in the theories written in the fifties and sixties by Ernie Rowe of Standard Telephones and Cables, PM Tubes latest ECC83/12AX7 “Trustworthy” design uses a “locked electrode system” which significantly reduces “rattle”, lowers hum, and improves grid resonance.In addition to pre-amp tubes, PM also has a slew of power-amp tubes in its arsenal. KT66, 6L6, EL34, EL84, Rectifier, 6550C, KT88, just to name a few. Whatever you need to get your amp roaring. Particularly cool are the 5881s and the 5U4Gs. The 5881 is a higher powered version of the 6L6, which will give you more headroom. And the 5U4G is a vintage rectifier tube that will bring you back to the sounds of the 60s.

Looking at the great epochs of the history of gear, there are few events that stand out more than Jim Marshall revolutionizing the world of gear by bringing us that Marshall tone.

But, Marshall tone wouldn’t be Marshall tone without Peter Watson.

In fact, that ‘British’ sound might not exist at all if it weren’t for Peter. Hell, if the BVA wasn’t convinced to keep production of tubes going, who knows what we would be playing through. Everybody at TheToneKing.com knows Tubes are an old technology with a lot of history behind them. And, Peter Watson is a big part of that history. Now, PM Tubes is looking forward to a bright and loud future with expanded distribution in the US.

 

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About the Author: Marc published his first novel Becoming in 2010. It’s a kick-ass book with monsters and dreams and stuff, and you should buy it. Since then, he’s written thousands of articles for TheToneKing.com, many of which have been picked up for circulation by manufacturers and other news outlets. His next book, Drugs and Pancakes, should be available early 2014 if his alcoholic editor can find time to work on it in-between destroying his liver and screaming about punctuation. He graduated from Roosevelt University with honors, which means that he’s not as dumb as he looks. He’s been playing guitar for over 25 years, which is almost twice as long as most of his students have been alive.

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  1. Hey man,
    I just wanted to commend you for doing such a great job getting the word out on PM tubes. I met Peter at NAMM 2011 and have been a fan of his work ever since. I became a dealer for PM just so I could get their tubes for all of the touring artists I work with. Here’s a link to a Tonesmiths Report I wrote last year about Peter M. Watson and PM Components:http://wp.me/p3kG9v-3p

    Cheers,
    Donny

  2. Joe Z says:

    I’ve read that these are Chinese manufactured tubes. Please explain how they differ from other re-branded Chinese tubes.

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