Valve Theory, Design and Information

These books deal with the valve itself, rather than the surrounding circuitry. Some of them deal with the theory of the valve and its operation, while others contain valve data. For the most part they are out of print and subject to the same availability problems as the classic textbooks.

I haven't included the various manufacturer's data books (e.g. from RCA, GE and Mullard). These are all worth picking up if you can find them, not only for the valve data but also for the various other bits and pieces they include. The RCA book, for example, includes mainly complete circuits.

If all you are after is tube data (parameters and curves), you stand a good chance of finding what you need on the Internet. The best site, because it has a search engine which indexes all of the others, is Duncan Amplification. Other good sites are Triode Electronics and Audiomatica - the latter have a hi-tech computer-driven valve measuring machine, the Sofia.

Vacuum Tubes, K. Spangenberg
McGraw-Hill, 1948
Editor's Choice
This is absolutely the book for theory of vacuum tube operation. It covers at great length all aspects of theory and design. For example, it dedicates 20 pages to grid current, a topic which most books barely mention. It includes a comprehensive description of the basic electrostatics and electromagnetic theory used in valves, for as the author says, "The particular transformations and functional forms most frequently used in tubes are ordinarily given only a fraction of the total space allotted to the entire subject in books devoted to the subject." In then deals in detail with emission, potential fields, the electrostatics of the triode, space-charge effects, triode characteristics, tetrodes, pentodes, noise, special tubes and tube construction. There are also many more chapters covering CRTs and VHF/UHF valves such as Klystrons. There is plenty of math, but it is reasonably accessible requiring only high-school calculus. For anyone who wants to go beyond the basics of the theory, this book is a must-have.
Availability: rare. I have not seen a single copy in the second-hand trade, and was very lucky to get hold of my copy through an enquiry on the Internet. It's hard to give a price, since there isn't really a market. If you want the book enough, be prepared to pay up to $100 or so.


Electronic Universal Vade Mecum, P. Mikolajczyk & B. Paskowski
Wydawnictwa, Warsaw, 1994, ISBN 83 204 1753 8 (distributed by Colmar Electronics, London)
Editor's Choice
The ultimate valve data book, this Polish volume has key data and curves for almost every receiving valve ever made, including Russian types as well as British, American, German and others. Once you have this book you need never search around again for curves, nor wonder what that obscure Russian valve is. The curves are very thorough, and for many types include rarely-available data such as grid current, and the variation of anode (plate) resistance and amplification (mu) with current and grid voltage. The only frustrating thing is that many of these valves are unobtainable from even the best sources, for example the EFP60 secondary-emission tetrode. The source of the data is not given but seems to be the manufacturers; the curves have all been redrawn. There are also many rudimentary circuits showing how the valves are meant to be used.


The Audio Designer's Tube Register, vol 1,Tom Mitchell
Media Concepts, 1993, ISBN 0 9628170 1 5
A one-man labour of love, gives incredibly comprehensive data for a very limited range of low-power miniature receiving triodes: 6C4, 6C10, 6CG7, 6DJ8, 6EU7, 6K11, 12AT7, 12AU7, 12AX7, 12AY7, 12AZ7, 12BH7, 12DW7, 5751. If you are planning to use any of these, you will find in this book plate, transfer and constant-current forms of the plate characteristics, plus dynamic curves for mu, transconductance (Gm) and plate resistance as a function of plate and grid voltage. Further volumes were promised covering pentodes, and power tubes and rectifiers: "I may complete them sometime this decade, schedule permitting." We wait in hope, but Tom Mitchell appears to be a candidate for the Donald E. Knuth Award for the longest-awaited sequel.


Tube Lore, Ludwell Sibley
Published by the author, 1996, ISBN 0 965 4683 0 5
tubelore.jpg (5391 bytes) A complete catalogue of most American tube types, covering all of the classification systems including standard (RMA-EIA, e.g. 6SN7), special-purpose (e.g. 6922), Western Electric, and many others. For each type there is a short description, generally with the key characteristics, and extensive cross-referencing. The author has chosen to omit later tube types, especially those developed for televisions in the late 1950s, as not being of interest to collectors. Apart from that everything is in here, from "prehistory" starting with the 00A, through well-known types to industrial and military exotiva. The book concludes with an informative "Tube Users Guide". Unfortunately there is no coverage of European codes. An indispensible reference book.

Theory of Thermionic Vacuum Tubes, E. L. Chaffee
McGraw-Hill, 1933

A very complete book on the theory of the triode, which was state-of-the-art in 1933. Contains a great deal of information but not quite as good as Spangenberg, partly because it is less thorough and partly because of the technology advances which it doesn't cover: barium-coated cathodes, indirect heating, the tetrode and pentode (except for a relatively brief final chapter), and noise, for example. On the other hand the treatment of the anode current surface as a function of anode and grid voltage is very comprehensive, including photos of a pre-computer-age plaster model of the surface. Really more of historical than practical interest today, but a reasonable substitute for Spangenberg if you come across it.
Availability: hard to find; my copy comes from Angela Instruments.

Principles of Electron Tubes, H. J. Reich
1941, reprinted by Audio Amateur Press, 1995, ISBN 1 882 580 07 9

This book is a good introduction to valve design, with the great advantage of being readily available as a reprint. It includes some basic information on circuit design but is primarily concerned with the valve itself. If you want to know a bit more about valave design than is covered in RDH, and can't get hold of the more obscure (and more comprehensive) books such as Spangenberg or Chaffee, this will give you a good start.

The Thermionic Vacuum Tube, H. J. van der Bijl
McGraw-Hill, 1920

Van der Bijl was one of the pioneers of valve research, and his papers are frequently cited in the later books. This 1920 publication presents state-of-the-art valve technology, but is only of historical interest now. The triode of 1920 was a very different animal from the triode of 1939, and the theory of how they worked was also only in its early stages.
Availability: rare, but should not be expensive since it is of historical interest only.

Fundamentals of Vacuum Tubes, A. V. Eastman
McGraw-Hill, 1941

A college textbook in the classic style, not as good as Reich or Terman. Its only real interest is the coverage it gives to heavy-duty industrial tubes, such as mercury-arc rectifiers, which is more comprehensive than in the other books.
Availability: should be fairly cheap, if you find it, but only worth buying as a curiosity.