Are tube amps in serious trouble? Electro-Harmonix confirms no more Russian tubes in 2022 after export ban

(Image credit: Electro-Harmonix)

The fallout of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the sanctions on both sides continues to be felt, and has now effected the MI industry with the confirmation by Electro-Harmonix founder Mike Matthews that exports on the Russian tubes the company provides for the manufacture of guitar amps and some pedals have been banned. Another setup back for an industry already dealing with a short supply of vacuum tubes. 

Until we can properly assess the impact of these factors, we will not honour any new orders or ship any more Russian tubes on back order

Matthews confirmed that Russia’s export ban applies to the seven brands of  tubes manufactured at the New Sensor facility in Saratov, Russia. The Saratov facility is owned by Matthews's New Sensor Corporation and includes the Tung-Sol, Electro-Harmonix, EH Gold, Genalex Gold Lion, Mullard, Svetlana and Sovtek brands. 

“Given this export ban, we will not be receiving any further tube inventory for these brands,” explained Matthews in a statement released over the weekend. “A myriad of pressures – including continued strains on the supply chain, escalating internal expenses, mounting inflation, and an ever-evolving legal landscape (particularly in light of the Ukraine conflict) – have created a very fluid and ambiguous environment.”

“Until we can properly assess the impact of these factors, we will not honour any new orders or ship any more Russian tubes on back order,” he added.  

The ban could have a wide impact beyond on EHX products as Sovtek produce versions of the EL84, 12AX7 and EL34 tubes used in guitar amps.  While Electro Harmonix bought the Russian facility that produced vacuum tubes in 1998, other facilities are now scarce to cope with demand from the amp industry. The worldwide availability of vacuum tubes has previously been raised by Matthews as a pressing concern.

“We’re getting bombarded with orders from desperate customers from all over the world," Matthews told last year. "Our tube factory is operating now at 100 percent of capacity, so we cannot produce all the quantities that are demanded."

“Currently, there is a worldwide panic on the availability of vacuum tubes,” Matthews wrote. “The big Shuguang factory in China was forced to move… and the Jamona (JJ Electronic) factory in Slovakia that used to have lead times of one month, now has lead times of six months."

While radios and TVs ceased using vaccum tubes long ago in favour of transistors, the guitar amp industry still relies heavily on the technology with many of the big amp companies sourcing tubes from third party factories rather than producing their own. 

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.