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Do valves fail slowly or just stop working? What sort of things happen if they're on their way out?

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Valves/tubes may ring i.e. become microphonic (construction starts to become loose), the heater may break (no more glow, instant death), the glass may break and leak, the legs may become oxidized (turn off the unit, take the tube out and put it out and back a few times)... Take a look at this incredible video and you know what is inside and how did it went there:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EzyXMEpq4qw

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All manner of things then, from weird noise effects to total silence?

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Yep, that's the way they die indeed.

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"This is the way the valve ends. Not with a bang but a whimper."

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