Care and Feeding of Your Tube Amplifier

beckbook2 2.jpg

 

The People’s Amp, just like any tube guitar amplifier, should be treated properly and maintained so that it functions just the way you need it to. With just a little bit of love, your People’s Amplifier should be able to pump out great sound for as long as you need it to. The very first People’s Amp, built as a prototype in 2008 has seen heavy use, and it has had no problems at all. It’s not designed as well as the production models that followed. Many of my clients are hard-working performers, recording engineers, and teachers who use their amps on an almost daily basis. To date, the only warranty repairs have been issues related to faulty tubes or mishandling incidents (dropping, knocking switches off, etc.). I’m proud that the design has proven to be durable and up to the challenges of being a workhorse amplifier.

That being said, there are things that you can do to ensure that your tube amp (whether a People’s Amp or not) continues to give you tonal bliss for as long as possible.

1) Handle and transport your amp with the care that you would your instrument.
An amp isn’t necessarily a delicate thing. However, it isn’t a suitcase or piece of furniture. Mechanical components such as switches, knobs, tube sockets, and jacks all have a finite lifespan, and vibration and shock can contribute to failure. Point-to-point wiring, such as is used in the People’s Amp, makes a design more durable that a printed circuit board design, but any amp should still be handled well. Be careful about setting it down, securing it for transport, or anything else that might give it a bump or a jolt. Think of it in the same way that you consider your instrument while in its case. A hardshell case offers a good deal of protection, but you still wouldn’t be throwing your instrument around, slamming it on the ground, or using it to jack up your car on.

2) Tighten things down from time to time.
Your amp is subject to quite a bit of vibration, not only from transport, but also from the sound from your speaker shaking it around. Over time, vibration can move any of the screws holding your amp together. Every once in a while, tightening chassis screws, jacks (input, output, preamp out, effects loop, etc) and the nuts holding your pots (tone and volume knobs) to the chassis can keep things going smoothly. I use Loctite on all of the nuts and bolts holding the People’s Amp together, and this works very well. I have to be careful, though to make sure that any ground to chassis connections are not insulated this way. On combo amps, this tightening up also applies to things such as reverb tanks, tilt-back legs, handles, and the like. It’s also a good idea to secure the speaker, but be careful, because an over-tightened speaker screw can distort the speaker housing, and interfere with the speaker’s operation.

3) Change your tubes.
Tubes, just like the light bulbs they are, will eventually wear out. At best, they just stop working when they fail, but a tube that shorts out can pour voltages back into the rest of the amp, which could damage other components. Tubes degrade slowly over time, so we often don’t notice how far they’ve gone until after we change them. It’s best to just put yourself on a tube replacement schedule so you don’t have to worry about it. I change all of my tubes once a year, unless I notice something wrong before that. Common wisdom is that only power tubes need to be replaced regularly, as they are subject to higher voltages and fail more often than preamp or rectifying tubes. Preamp tubes can sometimes become “microphonic,” and they make a high-pitched rattling sound. Rectifier tubes are often described as being very long-lived. However you want to approach it that works best for you and your wallet is great, but changing your tubes on a somewhat regular basis is a good idea to keep things sounding great. If your amp is grid-biased, it’s a good idea to have the bias adjusted when you change your power tubes. It’s possible and easy enough to do on your own, but if you’re not sure about that, a reputable tech can do this for you without too much trouble. If you use a cathode biased amp like The People’s Amplifier, there is no adjustment necessary. By the way, don’t worry about handling the glass enclosures of your tubes with your bare hands. Just make sure they’ve cooled off before you do.

4) Speaking of tubes…
Tubes are in glass enclosures. Unlike the rest of your amp, they most certainly are delicate. The steel cage design of the People’s Amp was designed with this in mind. In addition, heat is a life-shortener for tubes and all electronics, and the vertical mounting and open cage allows for great heat dissipation. Preamp tubes should be kept in metal shields, and if tubes are suspended vertically, it’s a great idea to keep them secure with retaining clips. If the design of your amp leaves the tubes exposed, be very careful about subjecting them to abuse. They will easily break, and removing a sharp broken glass dagger from a tube socket can be a dicey operation. If your amp is a combo, think twice about throwing pedals, foot switches, and the like into the back of your amp cabinet. They can get bounced around enough to smash tubes, not to mention paper speaker cones. In my opinion, well-designed amplifiers cover the tubes.

5) Clean that thing.
Amps can get pretty dirty over time. I suspect that the heat that tubes create cooks all sorts of stuff out of the atmosphere and bakes in onto any surface that will take that funk. Couple that with spilled beers (you don’t put beer bottles on your amplifier, do you? No, me neither), and the less-than-savory places amplifiers can find themselves in, and you’ve got a recipe for some really nasty residue. Besides the fact that it’s just kind of gross, that stuff can get into pots and make for crackly controls, and it can mess with connections in your tube sockets and input output jacks. When you change your tubes, spray some contact cleaner into the sockets, and wipe some of that grime off of your chassis. While you’re at it, it’s a good idea to check your electrical cord and any speaker connections to make sure they’re in good shape.

Love your amp. It will love you back.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: