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Design and Construction of Tube Guitar Amplifiers Paperback – September 1, 2009
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About the Author
I've been involved in music and electronics since the 60's, when I electrified my ukulele. My parents had a Magnavox record player, whose ceramic cartridge plugged into the amplifier via a RCA jack. I bought a contact microphone from the local electronics store, attached it to my ax, plugged in to the Magnavox, and counted off Memphis. That seemed to get my parents attention, so they bought me a Heathkit shortwave radio kit for Christmas, along with a Weller pistol-grip soldering iron. I assembled the radio, attached the antenna, turned it on, and it started howling. I couldn't get it to work right until I resoldered every joint. By this time we'd moved to Jersey, and I started buying my own equipment. First up was a Lafayette amplifier, which, if I recall correctly, used two 6BQ5's in its push-pull output stage. I connected the amplifier to the 12" speaker in the console TV in my bedroom, and plugged my uke into the phono input. I had no idea why it sounded so bassy... I upgraded to electric guitar in '67, when my folks bought me a used Fender Jazzmaster. I joined a band with my friends, but I needed an amp, so I emptied my savings account and bought an Ampeg Gemini II at the local music store. Luckily, it included the dolly, since I had to push it all the way home. I took that rig to Cornell University, where I studied Electrical Engineering, including a couple of courses on electronic music taught by Robert Moog. I also took every music class I could, and worked part time as an electronics technician at the Cornell Synchrotron. My guitar never sounded quite right to me, so I started by changing the speaker in the amp, and then, in '70, I sold the Jazzmaster and bought a Gibson ES-335, which I still play today. The Ampeg went next, first for a Marshall Major, then a long string of other amps. After graduation I headed out to Santa Barbara, where I worked for a couple of years testing integrated circuits for Burroughs. I was still playing in bands, and I started building my own equipment, both amps and speaker systems. I then moved to San Francisco, where I eventually ended up working at Dolby Laboratories as an audio engineer. I learned much of what you will read in Chapter 1 at Dolby. In the last decade or so I have been taking a more orderly and comprehensive approach to amplifier design. I began, like most designers, by repairing and modifying various Fender, Ampeg, Marshall, and other designs. Later, I began constructing new amplifiers, first using existing units, such as Fender Bassmen, as platforms, and then designing and constructing all electrical and mechanical parts of the amplifier. Each amplifier was used in performances with various guitars, speakers, and effects systems.
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Considering all of this, the book was perfect for me. Even the basics regarding dB and impedance with respect to frequency and component value etc, etc,.. If you have absolutely no background in electronics at all - I really think you will struggle here. If you don't struggle with the concepts, you are a real quick study and way way smarter than most. But, even so, if you're serious about it and determined, even with a total lack of knowledge, you can still pull it through. The Author pretty much makes the basic system for you. If you weed through the book, take all of the stages he either designed or pulled from one of the various musical equipment vendors, and cluge it all together - you're 95% of the way there. It's that last 5% that will be the ultimate challenge - again, if you have zero prior knowledge in the subject.
This book not only gives you design norms, but also points out common pitfalls, provides a bit of troubleshooting, gives ideas for chassis layout and provides information for component research and purchase. Data sheets for common tubes such as 12AX7, 6L6 etc, etc, are all included in the book for reference.
Given my background, some of what I got out of this book was:
- Vacuum Tube introduction.
- Refresher of impedance/component response to frequency - tie into tone control..
- Tips on placement of transformers ie:Power vs. Output vs. Choke so they don't interfere with each other. Magnetic coupling and all of that.. Ridiculously important for noise and hum!!
- Refresher on grounding design. Also, ridiculously important for noise and hum!!
- Control (volume/gain/tone/etc) wire routing and when to use shielded cabling - again for noise control.
- How reverb, tremelo and overdrive are created.
- Refresher on different classes of operation and why (Class A for pre-amp / A/B for push-pull output, and so on).
- Input and output impedance of stages and rules of thumb for making them appropriate for the prior and/or next stage.
- Refresher on transformers, inductors and capacitors.
- Introduction of rectifier tubes vs. solid state or diode based bridge rectifiers and how they contribute to HVDC power supply sag. Prior to this I would have assumed that one would want a regulated rock solid power supply, however, evidently, this is often not the case. Unregulated and soft/saggy supplies under load are often desirable depending on the application and characteristics. So much so that the Author gives a tip on adding a series resistor to the unregulated supply for the sole purpose of softening it under load. Who knew?
Anyway, given my background and interests I could not have imagined a more appropriate book for me.
Given your background and interests the book might be less applicable? Hopefully this review can help guide you in a proper purchasing decision.
The writing is generally concise and easy to understand, the examples are well illustrated, and information is logically laid out. Probably worth noting that the example circuits tend to all be of the early "Fender" types. (Probably rightly so since early fender circuits are rather simple and easy to understand.)
Even as basic and informative as the book is, this is still difficult subject matter and many times you're going to have to go back and re-read sections to really get what is going on. This isn't the book's fault, it just takes a while to absorb some of this stuff.
I knock a star off because the later sections seem kind of tacked on and too short. For instance metal working, layout, and wiring can be real headaches if you're not building from a pre-assembled kit, and this book spends precious little time talking about it. Metal working and layout sucked up a surprising amount of build time on my first build.
This book is methodical and super practical about walking you through exactly what is going on in a tube amp. If you don't have a technical background or some aptitude, this may not mean that much to you, but I found it ideal as a tutorial on how to run my own calcs for mods and design.
I bought a few other amp reference books, and some MOD kits. After a few weeks of study and practice, I was able to successfully start modding amps.
I credit this particular book as the centerpiece of the understanding that made the endeavor successful.
I'll be using two books from now on for design and construction. This will be first on the list. Esp since it includes tube data as well. I couldn't be more pleased.
I found this book after about four years of building and repairing my own guitar amps and wish it had been the first book that I had bought. It presents the subject with a good balance of theory and practical advice, without veering off down specialised alleyways or pages of algebra theorems.