About four or five years ago, I stumbled upon the AX84 project. The folks over there have spent considerable time and effort in devising plans and schematics for average people to build their own guitar amplifier. They’ve got 8 designs ready to build/prototype, ranging from a simple 2-tube design, all the way up to a six tube monster that is designed around the plexi circuit.
I’ve been telling myself for a long time now that I would try to build my own amp, but I have either come up short on money or time and haven’t been able to do it. Now, though, I think I may be able to do this.
I repair computers for a living (well, try to, anyway), and I have a customer who is in his 80s. He knows that I’m interested in vintage electronics, and in particular anything with tubes in it. A couple of months back, he gave me an Eico amplifier, complete with tuner, phonograph, and speaker. He built the amplifier and speaker himself back in the 50s. It works, but needs some fresh tubes to put out at the level required for casual listening.
He also gave me a Hammond A0-15 speaker cabinet, which includes a massive tube amplifier. This thing has 10 tubes in it, and is quite the piece of work.
My plan is to gut the Hammond amp for parts, and use them to build my very own tube amplifier. It will take some time, and a lot of assistance from other people, but hopefully it will work in the end. I figure that using the parts from the old Hammond will get me more of a “vintage” tone when I’m done, but really, I have no clue.
I am really looking forward to having a true tube tone. I played my Ampeg VH-140C for about 10 years. It’s a solid state amp, and has way too much power. Who needs 140 watts? Certainly not me.
I replaced that amp with a Roland full frequency amp that I garbage picked about 8 months ago. It was broken, but a phone session with an electrical engineer friend and a bit of soldering fixed it up nicely. It’s a 4 channel amp, made for PA use or keyboard use. It’s pretty nice.
Right now I run my crappy Ibanez AX series into an Akai Shred-o-matic that uses a 12ax7 preamp tube for distortion. I picked it up for around $35 new on closeout, and it’s a pretty nice pedal. It can manage some good tone, but it’s not necessarily the tone I seek.
I play mostly blues, in the style of Buddy Guy or BB King. The guitarists out there are probably cringing at the thought of playing Buddy Guy style blues on an Ibanez, but for now it’s the best I’ve got. The other option is a Yamaha classical– nice guitar, but not bluesworthy.
In the next three months or so, I plan on getting my real guitar put back together. It’s a 1993 American Standard Strat that is currently disassembled in my closet. I had a coil on my bridge pickup break about three years ago (how I don’t know), and it has been disassembled ever since.
I have plans to pickup a set of Fender Texas Special pickups. These are the same pickups that come standard on the SRV Strat, and they offer a lot of midrange punch and a hefty dose of that beautiful Fender quack. I’ll be wiring that up to a Torres Engineering BluesKaster Wiring Harness. This harness includes a volume pot mod, a midrange boost/cut, and a tone pot called the “woman tone” cap. Out the door, I should be in under $200.
We’ll see how well this works out!