For those who have decided to take the plunge and build your own guitar tube amp, please allow me to share my early projects/mistakes with you to help get you going in the right direction. But first, make sure to genuinely wish to construct your own:
You need to be fairly handy around electronics already, and conscious of the dangers inherent in high voltage tube electronics as well as the precautions to take when working on tube amps
You shouldn’t hold the expectation which you will save money… unless your time and energy may be worth nothing at all you can probably do better investing in a completed amplifier, even from the Cayin A88t Mk2, but certainly on the open market as used
All said, though, there is a lot of satisfaction in completing and playing an amplifier you built yourself and having the license to help modify/tweak/voice your creation to perfection… so let’s get started:
Stumbling Through My first couple of Projects – My first project started as an AM radio, it had occurred to me that the chassis and the majority of the components was quite ideal for an octal-tube-based Fender Champ-like single-ended amplifier and I wished to hear the real difference in tone between real tubes and also the tube modeling within my Roland Cube amp… After studying good quality tube amp books (see resources) I settled upon a strategy and:
* I fought using the old transformers (insulation turning to dust once you flexed the leads), used tube-sockets, noisy potentiometers and poor physical layout (utilizing the old radio chassis didn’t provide optimum placement in the major components for a tube guitar amplifier)
* Found out that true point-to-point wiring isn’t the best option for experimenting
* I couldn’t look for a non-microphonic old-stock pentode tube
* The tone sucked… with hindsight I think it had been as a result of underwhelming, un-branded, tiny output transformer, but I’ll probably never get back to check
* Bottom-line, I learned a whole lot however it didn’t answer my fundamental questions about tube-tone because I didn’t end up with an iconic amplifier as a reference at the end of the project
* I spent some frustrating evenings redesigning and reworking my first effort and then for my second major project I broke down and got a new kit that promised a clone of the vintage Champ amplifier.
Major findings included:
Saving several pennies here and there on components isn’t satisfying when you end up investing considerable time building the project and aspects of the outcome look cheap (e.g. a plastic replacement for a ‘proper’ metal construction Speaker Cable or worse… sacrifice tone (e.g. cheap electrolytic capacitors)
I’ve grown a little leary of un-branded chinese transformers that may not have even been hi-pot tested not to mention certified with a safety agency; and that knows what laminations, etc. are utilized in the audio transformer?
Tiny chassis and cabinets aren’t your best option for adding additional functionality for the stock circuit and incredibly frustrating to work alongside
8? speakers and small cabinets suck tone… this amplifier sounds great when you plug it right into a proper speaker & cabinet combination
The First DIY Guitar Tube Amp Project
With all the above experiences in mind it is actually time and energy to summarize some considerations for the initial project:
* Simple project but not under-featured… something that might be satisfying and playable
* Physically large for convenient access, simplified assembly and room to change
* Well documented, well supported… not always with user’s manuals and step-by-step construction guides, but alternatively with a community with active forums, or extensive web documentation, etc.
* A complete kit of parts, no difficult sourcing of components
* Good quality parts with the possibility to upgrade them if desired… but moderation rules… you might want value over extravagant components to lower your downside should your project doesn’t come out phczif or perhaps you lose interest.
* Standard sized chassis for easy sourcing of cabinets, or Line Magnetic offered by the kit supplier, or a desire, determination and capability to build (and complete) your personal cabinetry
* With all the above given due consideration my third time was the charm!
I suggest you look for a professional supplier of tube-amp kits, and choose a model that suits both your taste in tone along with a satisfying list of features to your first DIY Guitar Tube Amp!