I wanted to put down a few thoughts on what's going on. My title is of course a Bob Dylan song (you know I can't resist that) and the reality is that for many it is already very dark. For others it might just be getting there. Bear with me for this post.
First, I almost can't believe what's going on in Ukraine. I am not the right source to comment thoroughly and most insightfully on it, but I think it is just awful what we are seeing happen with Russia invading Ukraine. I am sad for the people trying to live peacefully and now facing violence, destruction and hardship. War is a terrible thing, and people in power seem to so often become depraved and misled. I wish for peace and restoration for the Ukrainians, I hope that those who can help will do so, and to be honest, my personal feelings make me wish for fast and harsh justice on those who inflict harm and death on innocent people.
I also think about the Russian citizens who are not behind this invasion, who are trying to live their own lives, pursue their own happiness, be productive and helpful, and maybe are unable to get access to clear truth, or are repressed in what they can say or do. There are families losing their children or siblings as soldiers, and the entire country will increasingly be isolated and negatively impacted by these events. I don't see how any of this can easily get better in the coming months or years, though I hope it does.
Part One: Isolation
"Dressed in blue robes and hair nets, they join together delicate bundles of wire, wafers of rare metal and glass bulbs with fingers trained by years of work."
Andrew Kramer, New York Times, 2006, "From Russia with Dread"
My website and business is about tube amplifiers, and a love for music played wonderfully through analog means. One reason I am posting is to share some education about the production of vacuum tubes and ties that we may knowingly or unknowingly have. Today, nearly all of the world's current manufacturing of tubes happens in three countries: Slovakia, China, and Russia. I use several brands of tubes that are made in Russia: Electro-Harmonix, Sovtek, Mullard and others. These are great tubes, well-made. The Mullard brand, for example, originated in England, but it is a brand among others now owned by New Sensor Corporation, based in the US and owned by Mike Matthews, and the tubes are manufactured in Saratov, Russia in a facility he purchased in the 90s.
Yesterday, Mike Matthews posted the following:
Attention All EHX Tube Customers Yesterday, Russia imposed a ban on the export of some 200 goods in response to the sanctions imposed on it over the current conflict in Ukraine. We have confirmed that the ban applies to our seven brands of Russian tubes. Currently, the ban is set to remain in effect until the end of the calendar year. Given this export ban, we will not be receiving any further tube inventory for these brands. A myriad of pressures — including continued strains on the supply chain, escalating internal expenses, mounting inflation, and an ever-evolving legal landscape (particularly in light of the Ukraine conflict) — have created a very fluid and ambiguous environment. Until we can properly assess the impact of these factors, we will not honor any new orders or ship any more Russian tubes on back order. Rock & Roll, Mike Matthews Founder & President
So I also think about the people who work in that factory in Saratov, called ExpoPul, originally opened in the 1950s. I know nothing of them, but an article in the New York Times from 2006 indicated there are nearly a thousand workers there, mostly women, producing hundreds of thousands of tubes per month, perhaps two-thirds of the world's supply. The factory and owner had trouble in 2006, profiled in the Times and other media, as Russian racketeers attempted shake-down tactics to try and take what they wanted. This was overcome. Now, the skies are again looking dark with troubles at a global level.
As for the stereo and guitar amplifier industry and supply-demand for tubes, this will absolutely have a huge impact. My distributors are already out of stock of many tubes, and I can't see how it would be feasible for other producers to make up for the closed channel from Russia. Tube prices have already increased in the past few weeks, many types simply cannot be found at present. I have a modest inventory and increased a bit to try and support the coming months, but I really don't know what to expect in the next year or two. I do want to be transparent that I anticipate I will increase prices to account for my rising costs as I try to find tubes wherever I can, and deal with other supply chain and inflation issues.
Still, let's be clear that what you or I may want with audio vacuum tubes is a luxury. I have safety and security from where I live. Russians and Ukrainians are suffering, and the impact to me is negligible in comparison, but it illustrates the subtle connections that exist across the world between and among us all.
Part Two: Resurrection
"A handmade pair of output transformers... the winding material is old copper from the USSR."
Several months ago, I purchased a pair of hand-wound transformers, made by an individual in Kyiv, Ukraine. He sent these to me in a small box bundled in tape and covered with Ukrainian postage stamps to make the voyage across the world. His description indicated the source material was copper from the former Soviet Union. Taking something old and making something new.
You may know that beyond my standard products, I make some very unique, custom amplifiers and I found these transformers and thought I could make something interesting with them. At the time, I had been exploring some really neat designs of Pysanky eggs, an ancient traditional Ukrainian art using wax resist to make amazing decorated Easter eggs (and even predating Easter). I thought I could make a really cool custom amplifier using some of those designs and I would give it a special connection using these transformers made by hand in Ukraine.
I have not had time to actually make this amplifier yet so it's still a concept, with these transformers sitting to the side in my work space. To do it now doesn't seem the right time (and I have other demands anyway) so when I get to it, I will make it a meaningful tribute.
I think about Dmytro, the man who made these transformers. I don't know where he is, if he is safe, if he has fled, if he is fighting, what family or friends he has who are impacted. But his life in Kyiv is certainly turned upside down now. He isn't making any transformers or selling tubes in his eBay store at the moment. He probably just wants to live freely, have the invaders defeated and leave his country, and find some way to get to a point of restoration and recovery.
Easter is coming. Whether or not you have a faith or cultural background that emphasizes this holiday, it can remind us of the theme of resurrection. I hope the country of Ukraine withstands the current situation, gets support it needs, and can be resurrected to something even stronger and better than before.
And I wish well to Dmytro and many others displaced or suffering from destruction and loss. Will he make audio transformers again? Maybe. Does that matter as much as that he and his fellow citizens survive, recover, become stronger and the world hopefully learns something from the tragedy?
Feel like my soul has turned into steel
I've still got the scars that the sun didn't heal
I had a somewhat difficult period a few years ago and played that Bob Dylan song nearly every night as a salve. My problems were nothing compared to a war, but for each of us there can be pain from all sorts of sources. What are yours? Do you see others around you with some? We are all connected in many ways, perhaps not always evident, and we need to help each other. I hope for better news to come.