Handle with care!
February 26, 2010 2:14 AM   Subscribe

Shipping a tube amp from Canada to Germany.

Has anyone here ever shipped a tube amp? Recommendations/advice? I have a beautiful, well-maintained 1970's MesaBoogie head and would like to bring it to Germany instead of selling it back home. It came with a very nice flight case, so it should be safe - but I wonder if the tubes are likely to break if it is treated rough?

Is it possible to send it as 'Fragile'? And who would you recommend shipping with? It's going from Toronto to Berlin.

Additionally, should I change the power supply once I get it here, or is it safe just to use a regular converter (shape, not voltage converter)?

posted by molecicco to Travel & Transportation (4 answers total)
You could always open it up and pop out the tubes and pack them separately in bubble tape or whatever. Just make sure you mark which one goes where.

As to the power supply, if it's the usual linear kind then yeah you'll need to step down the voltage or replace the transformer. Only switch-mode power supplies are able to cope with dual 110-220 inputs, and it's very unlikely that a vintage amp would use that kind.
posted by Rhomboid at 2:52 AM on February 26, 2010

Tubes themselves are not fragile. My brother, for example, humps an old Marshall amp all over the place and never has a problem with tubes breaking.

As regards power, you're gonna want to spend some money and get a decent transformer - not converter - to step down the voltage. This is partly because the demand for current is a bit higher and partly because you want a really clean sinusoid driving the filaments. It's the harmonic behaviour of tube amps (the even harmonics) that makes them sound so rich. Don't mess with it.

Buy a big transformer, plug a power-strip into it and you'll have a bank of 110V outlets which can come in handy for all sorts of other stuff too.

A converter if it is rated for the current is perfectly useable, just not recommended.
posted by three blind mice at 3:10 AM on February 26, 2010

I agree with Rhomboid that it is conventional wisdom to remove glass envelope vacuum tubes, and pack them separately, usually in cardboard tube boxes, or, in cardboard sleeves (you can make these yourself, with some corrugated cardboard and tape), after marking the tube sleeves with their respective physical locations in the amp. You can even buy tube shipping cases like the TubeCube. Handle the tubes only by their bases, never by the glass envelopes, and make sure to remove/release any tube rings, or tube retainers before trying to remove tubes.

Metal envelope power tubes are generally safe to leave in place during shipping, in that they won't send glass shards and metal fragments from grid and plate assemblies into your amp, but there is some chance that physical shocks received in transit can loosen the internal parts of even ruggedized metal envelope tubes (cathode/grids/plate), making the tube "harmonic" i.e. subject to passing on distorted output caused by physical vibration of loosened tube internal elements. Better to remove even metal tubes, and ship them separately, too, in my experience.

As for shipping, I suggest you ship by international air freight, using a commercial air freight handler with offices in Germany, to handle packing and customs paper work. You'll pay a little more than sending the amp via international post or by surface transport with other household goods, but you stand a much better chance of getting your amp in good shape, without problems in customs, by going with a commercial air freight forwarder. From Montreal and Toronto to various German destinations, I've had good luck with Kuehne + Nagel.
posted by paulsc at 3:43 AM on February 26, 2010

Excellent, thank you all! I will pass on instruction to the friend who is holding the amp. And thank you paulsc for the Kuehne + Nagel link. That's perfect. I can't wait to get this thing back. Although, as much as I love it, I don't think I will be humping it.
posted by molecicco at 4:48 AM on February 26, 2010

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