The People’s Amp Story, part I


When I was a kid, I tinkered around with electronics projects. I remember building a simple motor from nails and wire, a crystal radio, and a shortwave radio. I had a Radio Shack project kit that used wires and springs to connect components together, and I remember dreaming about making a Heathkit television set. I enjoyed taking things apart and reassembling them, and found that often they worked better if I could get them back together. I learned to solder by looking for loose connections in electronic devices that stopped working. I’m no engineer, but by the time I was out of college, I was no stranger to the basic operation of electronic circuits.

By 2000, I was a working professional musician, and I also had begun working as an audio professional, doing both live and recorded sound. My musical world began to intersect with my electronics tinkerer world, and I started repairing and modifying the gear that I was using. I fixed a couple of old effects pedals, then started getting interested in modifying stock pedals, then building them from kits, then finally designing and scratch building them with point-to-point wiring. I just considered it a bit of a fun hobby, and was always looking for more and more complicated projects. A tube distortion pedal design known as the “Real McTube” caught my eye. It had been featured in a 1978(?) issue of Popular Mechanics magazine. It was the first time I had worked with tubes, and the thing sounded awesome. It inspired me to ditch the POS off-the-shelf amplifier I had been using in favor of something a little less frustrating and a little more reliable. I discovered that my budget wasn’t up to getting ahold of the boutique offerings I wanted, so I decided to build my own.

Extensive research brought me to a design for an amp called the Buzzbomb, by the legendary Ace Pepper of San Marcos, TX. It was a 2xEL84 master volume design, built around a Deluxe replacement output transformer. It had a solid state rectifier, TMB tonestack, and presence control that had a really cool tone-shaping feature. Building it was quite an adventure, I learned a ton, and I had myself a really great little amp! This was somewhere around 2006 or 2007, I think.

I became curious about more specific elements of design, thinking I’d like to learn how to design a circuit from the tube backwards. I analyzed as many schematics as I could find, I read Tino Zottola’s and Kevin O’Connors’s books on amp building and design, and spent a lot of time on the internet at Aiken Amplification, the AX84 project, and I was hooked, and fell totally head-over-heels in love with tubes and the deliciousness of high-gain, low-wattage designs.

That’s not the end of the story, though…just the end of this week’s installment of Tubetalk. Please check back in next Friday for the rest of the saga!

1 thought on “The People’s Amp Story, part I

  1. gene williams

    Totally cool Karl! Looking forward to next installment. Hope all is well.


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