Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Tube Heaven in Denver

All the blues guitar and harp guys in Denver know about it. In an old green converted furniture store on the corner of Tennyson and 41st avenue in NW Denver sits tube heaven.

It is now best described as a junk store; at least that is what the owner calls it. It has all manner of relics for sale; old furniture, knick-knacks, records, lawn mowers. etc. It is a garage sale on steroids. It is a brick ‘n’ mortar eBay wannabe. But it has a secret… a cache of old tubes the likes of which you have never seen.

The store is owned and operated by a guy named Al, who is over 80 years old. He doesn’t like getting up early anymore, so the store is open only from noon to five pm. The most memorable feature of the store is the thick smell of cigar smoke. Al has been smokin’ ‘em all his life and he ain’t dead yet. He constantly has one stuck in his mug; some kind of rotten smelly stogie whose stink lingers for hours on your clothes and hair. Well, if I had hair…

But…. Behind the main counter is a wall of tubes. Box after box of tubes. Al and his father before him made their money selling tubes and tube testers all over Denver back when TV sets had a certain smell. Al still has a storage unit somewhere in Denver with 100,000 more tubes.

He’s got ‘em all, like the common 6V6, 12AX7, 5Y3. But he has obscure tubes too, such as the 6SN7 and 6SL7 I needed for my 1947 Gibson amp. All the tubes are old, some are NOS and some are used. Al has one of those big old tube testers right there to verify the tubes are good before you lay your money down.

The tubes are in generic boxes you need to sort through to separate the good from the marginal. Some tubes have mica flakes floating around in them like a snow globe, and those are no good. Others have signs of flash or arcing. You need to be picky.

But I've found excellent RCA black plate 6V6 power tubes I use in my amps. I’ve found all manner of rectifier tubes, old gray glass tubes, metal tubes, Coke bottle tubes and miniature tubes. And they are mostly American; RCA, GE, Sylvania, etc.

When you find one you want and ask Al the price, his reply is always the same… “Twenty bucks.” I’ve never been able to bargain with him. No matter what tube you buy or how many you have bought from this guy, the price is always “twenty bucks.” Your money slips smoothly into his pocket; no sales tax, no shipping, no waiting, and no record of the sale. But every tube I’ve ever bought from Al has been superb. I think those old tubes make a BIG difference in my tone.

Hey, if you have vintage tube gear in Denver, Al’s junk store is a miracle. If you blow a tube and have a gig looming (and don't have a spare), you need a tube NOW. Ordering from the usual places will cost a lot more with the fast shipping added on. Guitar Center is no help with their insanely expensive and severely limited selection of crappy Groove Tubes. Al's place is like a shrine for all Denver blues guys. We all hear about it by word of mouth, and we all show up there sooner or later.


Anonymous said...

Rick...I only know you as Special20 (I think this is you)..Anyhow, I am Josh Jacobs (JJ4POPE on YouTube "A Song For David") and I mentioned in passing that I was moving to a bigger city to play some harp. Well... Denver! is the city to which I moved. I don't know my way around here yet(harmonically speaking) and any info such as where to go for gear/equipment/blues jams etc., would be greatly appreciated. One man's search for the elusive to another's. JJ-

Rick Davis said...



Write to me at my email address at Harp-L: special20harp@gmail.com