This week, leading up to NAMM 2019, guitar manufacturer Ruokangas announced a new innovation of theirs, a tube-driven electric guitar pickup.

We’re just as confused as you are…

Ruokangus claim this to be a world’s first, which makes sense, although not the first time a company has tried to reinvent pickups.

Ruokangus is a guitar manufacturer first and foremost, but this is something they’ve been working on since 2007, their website says. Now they’re offering this pickup as an optional addition to their guitars.

In theory, it’s not a terrible idea, if we’re completely honest.

Bare with us, but in a climate where more and more guitarists are switching to digital modelers for the tones and foregoing tubes, it’s not inconceivable that this may be a way to bring back the tube life and magic into one’s tone… in theory.

Theories are nice and all, but it all comes down to implementation, so what is the Valvebucker exactly?

HOW DOES IT WORK?

The Valvebucker is a pickup with a set of amplifier tubes underneath it, sitting inside the guitar.

Our first concern was how quickly we’d light a guitar on fire, but Ruokangus claim that while temperatures can get up to 50 degrees Celsius inside the instrument after hours of use, the outside sits right around room temperature, likely as a result of the casing the tubes sit inside.

The Valvebucker is a single pickup but still offers a three-way switch for multiple tones like we’ve come to expect from a standard pickup setup, as well as a volume and tone control.

Pretty straight forward so far, and to their credit, the three-way controls do sound like a bridge, middle, and neck position based on their demo. Don’t know how they made that work with a single middle humbucker, but credit where it’s due.

There’s also the inclusion of a boost switch, which we assume is a simple volume boost.

When it comes to the actual setup, the not battery powered but instead uses a floor unit the size of a small stompbox that houses the tube in question. It then connects to the guitar using a standard XLR cable that can be used to send power through.

There’s no ¼’’ input on a Valvebucker-equipped instrument, it has been replaced entirely by the XLR connection, so you’re still only going to need a single cable to plug in your instrument, which is helpful.

If you’ve ever worked with a microphone that requires phantom power, it’s very similar. It’s an active circuit so without power, it won’t work, unlike standard passive pickups.

The stompbox sends a 12VAC signal into the instrument to power the pickup, but requires a 12V input from a power supply (such as a Pedal Power 2, Power Brick, etc.) to power the pedal itself… bit confusing, I know. On the plus side, at least it doesn’t need its own 120V plug.

The pedal power supply also acts as an A/B switch, with one input for the Valvebucker and another for regular ¼’’ signals, making switching between Valvebucker-equipped and standard guitars a bit easier.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?

Innovation is never cheap, but this hits a whole new level of wallet destruction. If you want to get one of the pickups you’re looking at somewhere in the ballpark of $1500 USD dollars.

Nope, we’re not kidding. But hey, that’s a small price to pay for that tube magic… right?

Considering you could just buy a really nice tube amp for that price, there’s no denying this will be an extremely tough sell for most guitarists.

FINAL THOUGHTS

In all honesty, the pickup does sound quite good judging by their clips, but that’s not really the issue…

The biggest issue is the simple fact that we can’t say just how much of that sound is because of the tubes themselves. Do they contribute much, if anything to the sound, or is it just a good sounding pickup to begin with?

I think the better answer is that it doesn’t matter.

This is likely just a marketing ploy to bring attention to the company, and a good one at that. It’s a novelty, especially at that price, but considering it works and isn’t a completely horrendous sounding bit of gear, I’d say it’s a marketing and engineering success.

We won’t see these flying off the shelves, but it’s certainly intriguing and impressive.

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