Hello, internet ghost world! how have you been?

not much going on here, except a full-steam-ahead decision to get serious/ get more focused with guitar tube amps. Repairs, mods, building, playing, selling, buying – you name it, i want to do it! I have collected a bunch of vintage amps from the unlikeliest places, and im currently studying/refurbishing them to get educated with an arcane and VERY OLD technology.

why? I LOVE music, most especially rock n’ roll. Tube amps powered the birth of rock in the 50s and its global musical domination from the 60’s on. Silicon chips and transistor/solid-state came in around the late 60’s, ushering in a different era of technology. Smaller, faster, sleeker, cooler/less heat, easier to power amps, less bulk in a more powerful small package.

But solid-state has not quite gotten that “mojo tone” that tube amps produce – after 4 decades of solid-state guitar amplification, recording and performing artists have come to find out where they can get “that tone”, and have always come back to tube amps each time. Or they start out with transistor amps, and eventually move on to tubes, as that realization hits home of what a true guitar tone should sound like.

At any rate, tubes (or valves) have now become near-obsolete technology, existing primarily only in hi-fi equipments (for music playback), and musical instrument amplification. It simply is NOT taught in schools anymore. Possibly the underlying concepts, and the most basic electrical principles and fundamentals are still taught, but that is the extent of it. Most classes branch out immediately to solid-state technology, and to what is used and what is prevalent in the world today.

But books still abound that teach tube technology. And unlike transistors that continue to evolve and continue to change, tube technology has contained itself in a bubble, and not much can be changed or added to it at this point. Tube technology has peaked close to 50 years ago, and not much if any has changed since. Though not perfected, its application to music has. The technology learning is in most cases already finite and set, and that allows ANYONE to come in and learn from start, knowing there IS a finish. No new developments, no new concepts – all the groundwork has already been laid down half a century ago. All we need to do now is to follow the path.

Granted, one has to at least know the basic electrical concepts to move into the realm of valves/tubes, and more importantly also know what true tone SHOULD sound like. I am admittedly still learning, and i WILL BE learning the rest of my life, but what i have learned so far has been my stepping stone towards tube technology. This has facilitated an easier shift (after coming from the hi-tech world of fast computers), thought it still poses a mountain of knowledge i need to climb. Fortunately it is something i gladly will undertake. It also helps to like (and even better, LOVE) what you’re doing. Everything becomes simpler at that point.

The goal: to understand how tube amps work, so repairs and even building one can be done. Later on will be a line of custom-made tube amp heads and combos, crafted in the traditional way – point-to-point wiring. Ultimately to produce that guitar tone that oozes mojo. 🙂

October 16, 2009, 08:51:33 PM
right now in my limited library, i have:

radiotron designer’s handbook by F Langford-smith (4th ed.)
valve amplifiers by morgan jones (3rd ed)
audio cyclopedia by howard tremaine (2nd ed)
inside tube amps by dan torres
new book of standard wiring by les schatten
The Ultimate Tone, volumes 1 and 3 by Kevin O’Connor
Tube amp workbook by Dave Funk
The Vox Story by petersen and denney
the history of marshall by michael doyle
the tube amp book by aspen pittman (this was signed!)
rca receiving tube manual
kepco power supply handbook

the gerald weber book/DVD ive only heard about. Mixed reviews – some say it recommends changes straight to the point, but doesnt tell you why (like adding or changing a resistor value, but with no explanation behind it). but there are those that say that, hey, they work and sound good!

December 14, 2010, 01:22:29 AM
Here’s another case why older technology is superior to what we have today: the method of using point-to-point wiring.

Having worked on or inspected PCB-based wiring on the Blues Custom 30, the Epiphone Valve Jr, the Peavey Windsor head, and the Fender Prosonic, contrasting them with what ive seen and handled on a 1974 Bassman 10, 1970 Plush Congress IV and P1000-s, and the ’65-67 Kalamazoo amps, ive come to appreciate the wonderful “easiness” of reading the mess of wires as opposed to the simple straghtforward pathways of the PCB.

Changing components is easy too. simply clip, replace, and solder. On a PCB its not as simple, even if its staring you in the face. The copper path the tiny component is soldered on to is so thin you run the risk of destroying it if youre not very VERY careful. Thats why its sits under a film of silicon or epoxy so it wont get damaged by errant sharp things in any case it scrapes across the board.

theres also the case of double-board PCBs.  I found i have to get to TWO boards in the Blues Custom 30, before i can even get to the pots. You have to unscrew several places, then slowly and carefully lift the first board out of the way, secure it, and then get to another set of screws to get at the second PCB.

Another reason: built in obsolescence in PCBs. Tubes run hot, and so do most other components in it. PCBs are made thinner and thinner these days for cost cutting reasons, and it makes for a nice warping board due to heat, and of course a toasty little wafer to start smoking and smoldering, and before you know it, catastrophic failure throughout the amp. Old amps are STILL running today, after 40 to 50 years, with only a few components changed. Amps then were not that cheap, but they were justifiably made to last. They were made when materials were fresh, standards were higher, and  quality workmanship counted. This was before the era of the greedy shareholders and corporate profit-mongers who insist on unrealistic yearly improvement on profit, either by more sales on an already saturated market, or the diminishing of its cost and budget, or worse, both.

Its not only that production have been shipped overseas for lower costs of labor. Sure, its made amps and other gear easier to produce at cheaper prices, making it easier for the masses to become their own garage, basement, or bedroom superstars. Maybe the quality control HAS improved over the past several years. But it all comes down to the materials used. Why do those amps still fail easily? Why dont they sound the same if theyre still the same circuit?

Its the materials used that make up those components. Alternative materials are used instead of what was used 50 years ago. It could be of environmental and health concerns, it could be that materials used then are more expensive to produce now, so alternate materials and methods are used instead. You have thinner grade of metal made. In china whee most of manufacturing and assembly are done, this is regulated since anything thicker or as thick as how they made speakers or amplifier chassis 50 years ago is banned – the same materials can be used to make armaments which the government frowns upon. This also makes for a more profitable angle – thinner metal means less metal used, means you can stretch the quantity of components even further, enabling you to make more items. But how thin can you get it before affects tone? Unfortunately this has already been answered in today’s cheaply-made gear.

Realistically though, that golden age is gone, and this IS today. We will continue to have new cheaply made, easy to break, easy to replace gear which sound “adequate”, and “just ok”, if we lower our expectations just a bit each time. Not to say theyre all bad, some do provide amazing sounds (the windsor and Prosonic are a keeper).

But i suggest to go ahead and purchase one anyway, use it once to fully understand its complete and utter rubbishness and underwhelming under-achieving “make-do” attitude under the hood- its cheap, go buy it, it wont hurt at all (until it starts breaking down). If you prefer to “settle” and underachieve, and just “make do”, there is nothing wrong with it. Its a choice, an alternative.

But consider the OTHER alternative – the one you get when you dont compromise, and not only ask, but DEMAND excellence and better, higher quality. Go find a dusty, rusty, musty-smelling little 50-yr old no-master volume amp, so you can then  appreciate what treasures they are to this day. Those time machines that stood, and are STILL standing, the test of time and are the hallmarks, benchmarks, and cornerstones of tone.

The way i see it, older/vintage gear have been waiting over 50 years (a half century! and counting) for me – FOR YOU! – to play them. theyre waiting…