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They are usually one day flea markets where amateur radio operators gather to sell their wares.
Many sellers are long time radio operators, who were into radio back when all radio equipment was made using tubes.
So as you can see, it's important to know exactly what you're looking for before setting out to buy tubes.
It's a good idea to learn the military equivalents of the tubes you use too because they are usually superior tubes, and can sometimes be purchased for less than the regular production tubes.
I usually avoid those as the tubes are usually pretty well banged up and will likely be noisy.
I look for the sellers who have the tubes boxed up and have a list of all the tubes they have on hand.
The very same 12AU7 in a military number may be referred to as a 6189, or a 5814A, but it's just the same as a 12AU7 tube.
You may see a burn spot on the silver part of the tubes, which is called the “flashing”, that may give the tube a used appearance, but is usually just a sign that the tube was burned in before being put into use. A vacuum tube is most likely to fail, if it's going to fail, in the first 48 hours of use, and this is one of the reasons that military tubes are burned in.
It also stabilizes the tube electronically and burns up any air or gasses that don't belong in the tube. Let’s say you're looking for a 5U4G rectifier tube for your 59 bassman.
You will find that there are also tubes labeled as 5U4GA, or 5U4GB. Although you can usually use a 5U4GA, or a 5U4GB in place of a 5U4G, they are different electronically, and if you had a 5U4G in your amp and you replaced it with a 5U4GB, you may need to have the bias adjusted if it is adjustable.
In this example, a 5U4G and a 5U4GA are not the same tube.