Things looked bad for vacuum tube-based audio gear once upon a time as both American and British tube manufacturers shut down their plants to go solid state. Luckily, the slack was taken up by tube plants in Russia, China and Yugoslavia, and the audio and MI business never missed a beat. Things might get tight again soon though, as the Russian government is threatening to take over the plant owned by American Mike Mathews’ New Sensor Corporation, who manufacturers tubes under the Sovtek brand.
According to an article in the New York Times, Mathews has experienced several forms of intimidation, from electricity being shut off to his plant (called ExpoPul), to outside forces dirtying up the plant’s clean room, to thugs hanging out in the lobby, in an effort to get him to sell for a low value. When that didn’t work, a company connected with the feared F.S.B. (the new version of the old KGB), resorted to white collar crimes such as altering tax documents and deeds in order to wrestle control of the plant from him. While that hasn’t worked either, it’s now being intimated to Mathews that the F.S.B might now take over the plant for “national security reasons.”
The scary part is that two-thirds of the world’s audio tubes are made in the ExpoPul plant.
While you might not know Mike Mathews from his vacuum tubes, you do probably know him from his company Electro Harmonix and his many pedals, especially the Big Muff. Prior to starting his company, Mike also promoted shows for may of the 60’s big acts based out of New York City, including Jimi Hendrix (at the time known as Jimmy James). He’s quite a character, but the fact that he may be losing his successful business (which employs 930) because of international strong-arming is not only unfair, but can affect the long term prices and availability of tube gear in the audio and MI business.
Modeling has come a long way and some people might even call it great these days, but in the end, there’s nothing like that vacuum tube sound. Let’s hope this gets resolved.
PLEASE NOTE: This article was based on an NY Times article from 2006 so the info should not be regarded as current. It looks like our tube supply is safe. Sorry for getting tube gear owners riled up.