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This little tutorial by Jingle Joe shows you how to light thermionic valves (a.k.a. vacuum tubes) with superbright LEDs.

Thermionic Valve LED Mod

Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelancer writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture, including the first book about the web (Mosaic Quick Tour) and the Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots. He is currently working on a best-of collection of his writing, called Borg Like Me.


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Comments

  1. Mike says:

    Is this designed for use on a working tube? Would the LED be powered by the tube’s own power supply?

  2. Agronski says:

    I don’t often comment, but when I do, it’s usally because someone’s done something stupid. This is one of those times.

    Let me first point out that “sticking and LED into something” is a decade-old gimmick that has long since gone stale; and second that valves themselves glow when powered up anyway! Okay, maybe not in the range of colours LEDs now come in, but who cares?

    This sort of thing gets my panties in a bunch because it’s just so pointless. Come up with a way of making a valve glow blue when it’s working as a valve *without* sticking an LED in it and we’ll have something worth looking at.

  3. saimhe says:

    To use the original 6.3 VAC, any rectifier diode (parallel, backwards) and a 500 ohm resistor are required.

    I noticed now that the mod targets lamps with a keyed base (so there’s some space in the key itself). Miniature all-glass lamps are perhaps also suitable, however then one would need to mod the socket instead — the result is a lot nicer as 1) the lamp can be easily replaced, 2) it will of course work, 3) it is easy to hook the LED to the power supply pins. While I haven’t seen those miniature sockets for a long time, IIRC they usually have a rivet (or eyelet) in the center which holds everything together. That makes things a bit difficult.

  4. Gareth Branwyn says:

    @Agronski
    All of what you’re saying assumes that everyone would want to use it as a functioning vacuum tube. This was linked to on the Brass Goggles boards, where a lot of people are making casemods, costumes, props, and similar applications. So, in these cases, lighting up old vacuum tubes, in the colors of your choice, is far from pointless.

  5. mastershake916 says:

    Come on people, I’m tired of this crap that isn’t hard, technical, creative, or cool being posted.
    Weird that a lot of it is “steampunk”, strange isn’t it.

  6. Patti Schiendelman says:

    I think this is creative and cool – it depends on what someone does with it. And Make is here for people at lots of different levels skill-wise, not just for people who can do the really hard stuff. Some of the easier stuff could get inexperienced people or kids into doing things and they can progress from there. If you feel something is too easy for you, scroll on by – there’s plenty of other stuff. :)

    1. sa says:

      Well said. :-)

  7. St.Eligius says:

    I love the natural corona of a vacuum tube. That warm fuzzy feel the blue light and radiant heat makes on and a few layers into your skin (I <3 my brother’s 1968 Fender Bassman Amp).

  8. Agronski says:

    Me doing follow-ups is even rarer than initial posts, but you forced my hand:

    Skill-levels doesn’t come into it. Risking even greater arrogance, if someone needs to read Make to get the idea of sticking an LED into *whatever*, then they probably won’t even know what an LED does.

    Costumes, props, Steampunk – none of these are my concern. I’m looking at the broader view, and that view is “quit shoving LEDs in things to make them look cool”.

    And as a final point St. Eligius has it dead right – the normal glow of a valve is much sexier. A small flyback generator could power up the filament in a “non-functional” (ie: free-floating) valve and make it glow all on its own, making it a light-up prop just like this guy wanted….but much cooler is to bolt an LED onto something, right?

  9. sympathy says:

    I feel sorry for the poor vacuum tube……..jamming a semiconductor into a poor old vacuum tube is so dumb….isn’t everyone tired of “steampunk” already? vacuum tubes just want to be left alone.

  10. JingleJoe says:

    Agronski especially, seriously, whats your problem? I like stuff that lights up!
    Sure the normal glow of valves is really nice, but many of them need comparatively high voltages and amplitudes to what an LED needs, So now I only need one or two little batteries rather than a car battery to make them glow :P besides I want green glowing vlaves! Thier original filaments don’t glow green! (and yes I know about turning eye tubes but then we get back to the power issue)
    I use lots of valves who’s condition is questionable anyway, in that they probably don’t work anymore.

    Yours bathed in the glow of LED valves,
    Joe
    T.G.D.A.

  11. https://me.yahoo.com/webwide#86be1 says:

    I grew up admiring the glow emanating from the back of my hand-me-down Zenith radio. I often disassembled it and took all the tubes down to Radio Shack for testing. It was geeky fun.

    Having said that, I find it a delicious irony that I found this old thread at a time when the ad below it is for the Steampunk issue of Make Magazine!

    I think Steampunk and Make can coexist nicely. One doesn’t have to like both, but it helps.

    Glenn