Electrons and wood

This winter I tackled something a little different; off-topic, yet still on-topic. With all my other self made musical gear, I still needed somebody else’s amplifier to push it through (at least on the electric side.) So, with a very cold and snowy winter keeping me in the house, I tackled that final link in the chain: building a tube amplifier!

Now, I don’t pretend to know half of the electrical engineering knowledge it takes to design a guitar amplifier from scratch, so I decided to get my feet wet with one of the many amp build kits that are available. Typically, new builders start with a Fender Tweed Champ design from the ’50s, one of the simplest designs around (and yet still very useable. Its what Clapton recorded Layla with!) But, I already had that sound covered in my stable. So, I went looking for a kit that took after Marshall’s early 18w Plexi amps from the mid-60s, able to go from crystal cleans at low volumes to crunchy overdrive when pushed harder. There were a number of companies that had one, but I ended up going with a U.K. outfit (Ampmaker) for price (even with int’l. shipping and tariffs it was cheaper than most of the U.S. kits), quality of components (hey, when making a British amp, why not British parts!), and, most of all, one of the best instruction manuals I’d seen (critical for a total novice.)

I got my tools collected and got to work, learning to solder along the way. I won’t go into the tech details (this is a woodworking blog, after all!), but here are some shots of the process.

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The various capacitors and resistors soldered onto the turret board.

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Leads attached to the bottom of the turret board. (Definitely had to label these before I put the board in the chassis!)

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The turret board installed in the chassis, and the first wires connected to the tube sockets.

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All of the socket, switch, and input connections made.

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Transformers wired in. The completed innards!

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In the end, after doing some careful testing (both un-powered and powered), I ended up with an amp that sounds as good, if not better, than what you can buy in the stores. But, it needed a home. Bolted to a piece of plywood was not only inelegant, but potentially dangerous, with the high voltages transformers waiting to zap a careless hand.

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So, I built a cabinet for it, using some curly cherry and birdseye maple I had. Green & Green inspired lightly protruding finger joints provide the structure, with a curly maple handle to provide portability. A good project to warm up my WW’ing chops, after the winter break.

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Here’s a quick clip of what it sounds like.

(O, and Happy 100th post to me, btw!)

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