Thursday, January 5, 2017

Hell Yeah, I'm Building An Amp!! Part 1

Like many guitarists, I've always been intrigued by how things work; from the guitar's electronics cavity, where most get their start, to effects pedals, and further down the cable to the amplifier, it still amazes me sometimes that music can travel thru a wire. While I've done my share of guitar experimenting (as documented in my first blog endeavor "Hell Yeah, I'm Building A Guitar!!!" a few years ago) and also built a few homemade fuzz pedals that turned out well, the last element in the chain always seemed daunting to me; even low-wattage tube amps have high voltages hiding under the hood, and I'd prefer to not burn down the house and/or fry myself, only for my BBQ'd remains to be discovered in bathrobe and slippers with soldering iron in hand.

Don't let this be you! Be safe with electricity.

After taking the necessary safety steps and precautions, which you MUST DO before even thinking about doing this, I began looking into kits... MojoTone, Weber, Mission, Ceriatone, and several other companies offer a variety of amp kits from beginner level to more advanced. A tweed Champ seemed too simple, and while the 5E3 Deluxe circuit is popular for beginners, I already have a similar amp that I love in my Echopark Vibramatic 13, and in no way was my first build coming anywhere close to that beauty. A Marshall-style 18-watt EL84 combo would be a great addition to the arsenal, but looked a little too involved for a first-timer, so I narrowed down my choice to a late 50's Fender Princeton 5F2-A circuit; simple enough to learn the basics without being overwhelming, yet great-sounding and useful, with a basic tone control, single-ended Class A output, and most importantly, filling a void in my amp collection if/when successfully completed.

A 1958 5F2-A Princeton and it's schematic; beauty in simplicity.

The MojoTone kits seemed best for a beginner based on many reviews, and I was all set to order a complete 5F2-A kit with cabinet and speaker last month, but missed their 15% off holiday sale by a day. Since there was no rush and I wouldn't even get to this project until after the holidays, I decided to wait. In the meantime, I received this great book as a gift, which turned out to be incredibly serendipitous timing:

This fantastic book, written by Dave Hunter, not only covers all the basics that a guitarist would ever need to know about amps, but also includes a thoroughly descriptive component-to-component walk-thru of the original 5F2 circuit, AND a chapter on building your own amp from his plans, which just happens to be a modified 5F2 circuit. The complete kit for this project, named the "Two-Stroke", is available from Victoria Amplifiers, a boutique company known for incredible vintage-inspired creations, and includes all premium components, chassis, cabinet, and speaker. How fortuitous!

The Victoria Two-Stroke 1x12" combo

This being my first project, I was reluctant to go all in for a $1000 boutique amp kit, so I went a slightly different route: the Tube Amp Network, a site based on the Two Stroke project, offers a basic kit with great components and chassis but no cab or speaker, and for $400, appealed much more to my sensibilities in the case of utter failure on my part. If I got it up and running with one of my own speaker cabinets, I'd get a cab and speaker for it later, with some fun cosmetic options to choose from. Plus, this kit includes a few different power tube options for experimentation, including a 6L6GC, 6V6GT, and EL34; I'm particularly intrigued by this, as two of Keith Richards' favorite studio amps are a 6V6 tweed Champ and a modified single-6L6 tweed Harvard (essentially a 5F2-A with more clean output in a larger cab), both of which are in this circuit's ballpark, especially with the speaker choices available.

A Two-Stroke kit as I ordered, including all components, chassis, and a variety of power tubes

The original Two-Stroke kit was designed for use with two speakers, an 8" and 10" in the same cab, which I find pretty unique and intriguing. While Dave Hunter now prefers a 12" speaker for his circuit, particularly for best response at full volume with humbuckers, I've already got a room full of 12" combo amps and cabs that I can plug into; the idea of an 8"+10" combination gives me greater options for close mic'ing in the studio, as well as disconnecting one speaker or another for different sounds a la the Keef amps mentioned above (using the 8" alone with 6V6 tube for more of a raw tweed Champ tone, or the 10" with 6L6, etc). Plus, I could use my own speakers of choice, which will likely be WGS or Weber based on past experience with both manufacturers. Weber also makes a unique cabinet for this speaker combination named the "Maggie" (also the name of their own similar kit), and since that's only two letters off from my dog Maddie, well, you can tell how my mind works.

I'll be keeping this blog series as up-to-date as possible while working on this kit, beginning with the turret board component mounting and soldering in our next entry once the kit arrives. This will not be a "How-To" guide by any means (especially since I'll likely screw up a lot), but more of a glimpse into the process, and hopefully a successful inspiration for others.


  1. Yo I am really happy you are doing these posts. I've been really interested in building my next amp but kind of scared to spend the money on a kit and fuck it all up. Look forward to seeing (and hopefully hearing?) the results. Good luck!

  2. The second job is acting as a resonance chamber for the guitar, changing and coloring the sound, in the same way the hollow body does for an acoustic guitar.