If you’re anything like I am, you are fascinated by tubes, tube amps, and everything having to do with how they work, how to build them, modifying them, and, of course, playing our favorite guitars through them. I also really enjoy reading about the history behind how our favorite amps came into being. If you are like this, too, I say, “rejoice, my friend!” We live in an amazing time — the amount of good information that is no more than a google search away is enough to fill a thousand libraries.
I started building amplifiers around 2006, and if it weren’t for internet resources, my journey would have been much more difficult. I thought that for this edition of TubeTalk, I’d share some of my favorite resources with you. If there’s anything out there that you’d like to share, just leave me a comment below, and I’ll be sure to include it!
Whether you are a novice builder, or have already begun learning about amplifiers, a little information about electronics theory can go a long way. I had built radios and other similar electronics projects as a kid, and I’d built some pedals, too. My first tube project was the Real McTube, which was a tube preamp/distortion pedal featured in a Popular Mechanics magazine. This thing is awesome, and it sounded killer!
Even if you’re not interested in making the pedal, there is a ton of information here and it’s just a fun read.
If you really want to go deep down the rabbit hole, there is no better resource than our good friend Doug Hoffman, lovingly known as “Uncle Doug.” His YouTube channel is here. If you are at all curious about how tube amps work, I’d recommend starting with this. He has detailed and very easy to comprehend instruction about each type of component, how transformers and power supplies work, biasing advice, troubleshooting, and even how to build custom quadcopter drones. His sense of humor is wonderful, and Rusty and Jack, his assistants, are handsome, if not entirely helpful. He also runs a website with a bunch of great information here.
After you’ve spent a few days soaking all of that in, you should then head over to Randall Aiken’s unbelievably amazing humongous collection of articles. This is not for the faint of heart, but those who swim in these waters will be greatly rewarded. I appreciate his full understanding of the science involved, and his ability to dissolve bull excrement in a distinctly authoritarian manner. He builds killer amplifiers, too.
Congratulations! You are now very well-informed about theory. If you are interested in taking the next step into practice, be intrepid. Should you need any advice along the way, here are some helpful places to look.
Schematic heaven is a good place to find designs. There are also some other good resources there, as well. Manuals, effects, maintenance advice, etc.
If you don’t know Ace Pepper, you should do yourself a favor and reach out to him. First of all, he builds really sweet amps. Beyond that, he’s just about the nicest guy I’ve ever had the pleasure to speak with. I would love to drink beers with him and Uncle Doug sometime. Ace used to have a blog with some tech info on his site, but I don’t see it there anymore. It might still be out there, but if there’s a question you might have, don’t be afraid to ask Ace. My first serious build was actually one of his designs, and he was very helpful, and always happy to help out. I just thought it was really cool of him to have the schematic and design for his BuzzBomb amp available for all the world to build.
These sites are helpful if you are a community/forum kind of guy (I’m not really, but I do use these, nonetheless).
The ax84 cooperative amp project goes way back to the early days of BBS on the internet. There is much there designed to help the aspiring ampbuilder to get from imagination to finished amp. Some of the smaller projects are excellent first builds. There is also a wealth of other information, and searchable forums (forae? forii?) are packed with knowledge.
If you’re into 18 watt and related designs, the folks at 18watt.com have also compiled a nice library of schematics. The People’s Amp is highly inspired by the 18 watt lite circuit found here. Warning: these guys are hardcore and very serious. If you present as a novice, some of them might not take very kindly to you. I learned some lessons the hard way from these guys.
If you’ve done your homework, gotten all excited about a new build, and need to acquire parts, you are in luck. There are several fine places to find the pieces parts. I order all of my electronics components from Mouser Electronics.
A nice feature is that they store a bill of materials parts list for all of my projects, so I just log in, click on the project I’ve already assembled, and can get the parts delivered within days.
For more amplifier-specific parts and most of my hardware, I again go to visit Uncle Doug Hoffman. Yes, he has a store, as well.
Thank you, Doug Hoffman. Thank you.
If your obsession has led you to the point where you’re trying to figure out what is wrong with your new baby, I know of no better source than the Geofex amp debugging page. It is a really intelligent and well-planned resource. I’m happy to say that I’ve not had to visit it for some time, but in my developmental past, it certainly helped me track things down. This is another one that you might just enjoy reading. I certainly did. I even copied it to my hard drive so that I would have it available just in case the site ever disappeared. The GEO homepage also has a mountain of good general information, as well.
Enjoy, and again, if there’s a resource you know about that you’d like to share, please let me know!