Tube amp kits


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I'm looking to sell my MG and hopefully, get a tube head. I was looking at the Handsome Devil, but then I came across a review for a tube amp kit that sells near Brisbane, Aus. It has full instructions and schematics, just so you don't kill yourself.

Was wondering if for those who have made their own amp, was it hard/risky/tricky/challenging/suitable for a 14 year old to do?  :icon_biggrin:

It's either that or point me in the direction or a great tube amplifier like the Handsome Devil that Australian music stores don't seem to think that cost 80% more than what they do in USA.
I'd go to Ceriatone everytime. 

They've got some very cool kits, and competatively priced.
I found my Marshall Plexi 50 build generally fairly easy, fiddly in some places, but then I'm a broadcast engineer and I play with radio transmitters and CRT monitors and mixing desks all day long, so I guess I'm used to it.  Doesn't stop me from burning my fingers with a soldering iron all the time though  :toothy11:

I think if you keep to one of the simple kits you should be OK.  All the usual "Dont Kill Yourself" messages apply here, so make sure someone sensible around while you are doing it.  You seem like a pretty switched on, careful kinda guy, so theres no reason why this couldnt be a great learning experience resulting in a killer amp.

I say go for it and enjoy.

I Applaud anyone building a kit amp.  I started building kits at 12, so I don't think 14 is too young.  No matter what kit you choose, you'll get a fine amp since you'll learn enough to swap out parts that are not working for you.  BTW Ceritone are a very good choice, and at least they are in the same side of the globe as you.  Don't know much about the Aus kit.

NOTE:  There are LETHAL voltages inside a tube amp!  If you're going to do this, the first thing to do is build some safety equipment, namely
1 - a capacitor discharge tool
2 - a dummy load
3 - a safety mains power supply.

I can provide more information on these when I get home and can take pictures.
Hey Wanna,

I had a quick look at the Aus kit.  Er, perhaps you should consider Ceriatone... :glasses10:
Props to you.  I wish more of my 14 year olds at the high school were as ambitious as you.

After I get married, I think my future husband and I are going to build an amp.  Let us know how the kit goes. 
jimh said:
All the usual "Dont Kill Yourself" messages apply here, so make sure someone sensible around while you are doing it. 

...resulting in a killer amp.

This Warmother sees a subtle hint.
I'm only going down the DIY road if there isn't a Handsome Devil head that I can find that is priced the way it should be. Not $800 like at the guitar store in town.
why not test it out at the store and then order one online for the real price?
Wana's_makin'_a_guitar said:
mayfly said:
Hey Wanna,

I had a quick look at the Aus kit.  Er, perhaps you should consider Ceriatone... :glasses10:
Why is that? It sounded like a pretty good review.

hokay,  Here's my opinion:
1 - the layout is confused, clustered and not well thought out.  Check out that eyelet board that extends 3/4 the length of the chassis with almost nothing connected to it.  Also check out the length of the leads on some of the components - they are quite long and need to be bent at odd angles to make it fit. That's a recipe for unreliability, especially when a lot of those long lead components have no insulation on the leads.  It also makes for a difficult to repair amp since you have to unsolder a bunch of stuff to get at the bad component.
2 - Everything is lug mounted where the ceriatone uses an eyelet board - much easier to deal with both in original construction and in repairs.  More reliable too.
3 - The chassis is punched for a bunch of knobs - but the kit only uses three.  Again not well thought out.  Perhaps they were thinking of future features - but if that's the case then where is the front label plate to cover up those unused holes?
4 - no bottom plate - I'm assuming that they won't add one (I admit this might be incorrect, but given the other issues with the amp I'm betting that it's not).  It's not going to pass a safety certification unless it's steel on the bottom - wood won't do when there is something arcing inside there.
5 - the front end tube stage is the middle one necessitating a long run of shielded cable to the tube.  To make matters worse, the grid blocking resistor for the front end is mounted to the input jacks - which is ok as long as the run of cable in the amp is short.  As it is, it's a recipe for picking up the Aus police radio.  Now granted, this could be fun - but not in the middle of a show.
6 - the wire for the heaters for the preamp tubes looks like it is much to high a gauge for carrying the current load.
7 - doesn't look like there is much power supply decoupling.  There's no choke and the multi-section cap only looks like a 20uf/20uf/20uf.  That first stage should be at least 50uf even with a tube rectifier.
8 - er - why is the power switch on the back and the standby switch on the front? 
9 - no grommets on the leads from the output transformer.  This will eventually lead to shorting out the transformer - one of the most expensive parts in the amp.  It will also give you a good solid jolt through your guitar when that happens.
10 - is this a cathode bias amp?  If so the cathode bypass caps look a little on the small side for good tone - but that could just be the angle of the photo.

Overall, this looks like the first amp that someone designed.  There are a bunch of fundamental mistakes.  You can do better with a Ceriatone.

BTW, here's the insides of an amp that I designed:


Note the board with easy access to all components, and the short runs on the grid inputs.  Note that the knob and tube positions are well lined up to the components on the board.  Also note the choke, the proper decoupling, the proper wire gauge, the proper cathode bypass caps, the flameproof metal oxide resistors, the grommets on all wires going through the chassis, and blah blah blah.
Nice work Mayfly.  A lot of what he has listed to look for is exactly right.  In my experience, you spend a lot of time reading on boards just like this one.  The Ceritone kits have a great reputation.  I built an AX84 High Octane kit, and after a couple of minor mistakes it is my go to kit.  I have been accumulating parts for a switchable amp, but that may be on hold while I build a Deluxe Reverb with several minor mods.  Yeah once you get started building amps, and pedals for that matter, you have trouble going back to off the shelf stuff.  But, you will run into problems, you will get annoyed at some point, and you will learn an incredible amount if you get a kit.  You will also be able to tear it apart and change things if you desire, and have the know how to rebuild it back to the way it was.  Here is a pict of the finished version of mine but before I modded it into basically an angry JCM 800 sound, at 8 watts.  There is still one mistake in this pict, but it was easily fixable.


I'm toying with the idea of making a tweed-style champ with a early MESA/Boogie style case.

In this

I think that'll be cool with my tele.

Anybody know how to modify the thing to get more distortion?
Nah. I think I'll find one really cheap on eBay.

:p I'm going to build one. Probably out of walnut instead of Koa, though.
I've actually been going down this same direction myself - thinking of a summer project. Nik emailed me back and said there is an 'ultra champ' in the works which is basically a BF vibrochamp with a tonestack bypass switch, and bypassing the tone stack pretty much makes a tweed champ. He said this will replace all the current champs, and it will have a nice faceplate too.
I'd say make sure and learn to solder BEFORE you start on an amp. The way you run wires, the length of certain wire runs, where you place one component in relation to another, how nice of a solder joint you can make, this all make huge differences. It's not a bad idea to start with something like a Tube Screamer kit before you get into the high voltages a tube amp can run. Gerald Weber has some great informational books out there. As others have said here, I am going to go ahead and recomend a Cieratone as a great starter. You can count on great components, well laid out circuits, and easy to follow instructions. Take your time and make sure you have the necessary skills and resources to do the thing right and you will have a great experience with it. Sounds like I'm not the only guy here who dosn't buy amps anymore, but prefers to order a box of random parts and wire...
Max I would make sure I had the chassis/chassis diagram first to make sure things will fit.  Nothing worse than finishing up a having mis-measured cabinet, I have experience with that.

Yeah, chassis first. I'm going to make sure it works before I make it pretty. Besides, I'd need to see what I can do with the chassis anyways. It has extra holes.
As promised, here's some photos and descriptions of some safety equipment for building tube amps.

The first is the safety mains supply.  This thing has saved my ass many times:

This device limits the current and voltage that is supplied to the mains input of your amp.  It works by running the hot lead of the mains through the two light bulbs.  If there is a short in the power supply in your amp - and that short can be on the other side of the transformer on the B+ rail for example - the current will be limited by the light bulbs - and the bulbs will also absorb a fair amount of the voltage.  If there is a short in the amp you are building, the bulbs will light up very bright, but the circuit won't combust on you.  Yes, this has happened to me - the bright light thing, not the combust thing.  The bulbs themselves are wired in parallel, so I can go with just the 40 watt bulb for a lot of protection, or I can screw in the 100 watt flood for less protection but more current/voltage to the amp.  The meter is a straight up AC current meter.  The switch on the right is an on/off switch, and the switch on the left takes the bulbs out of the circuit if I want to run it at full power.

The next is a dummy load:



This is actually a 6 way load box for burning in more than one amp at a time, but I also use it for bringing up a new amp.  There are five 8ohm 50W resistors, and one 25W variable load Lpad (a cheap and dirty hot plate).  For only one amp, you will only need one resistor.  When you first fire up your amp, you want to have it plugged into one of these instead of a speaker just in case there is an issue that is causing a lot of audio to be pumped through the O/T.  Once I had a HiFi tube stereo plugged in that had the phase wrong on the feedback loop.  When the amp was powered up, I had a nice 60Hz FULL POWER output signal - no fun through a speaker. BTW, a load box is also handy when setting the bias on your fixed bias amp.

Lastly was the cap discharge tool.  Sadly, I can't seem to locate mine  :icon_scratch: but essentially it's a 100 ohm 10 watt resistor with alligator clips at either end.  Use this to discharge your decoupling caps after powering down your amp and before you start working on it.  I use my DMM to make sure the caps have zero volts on them.  Back in electronics class in high school, we used to take 50uf caps, charge them up to, say, 70VDC then toss them at an unsuspecting victim saying something like "Hey - think fast".  A  70VDC lifter was funny when I was an immature idiot - a 450VDC one would not be funny at any time anywhere.

One final word - when working on a live amp, do me a favor and probe with one hand.  If you are touching ground with one hand, and accidentally touch a high voltage supply with the other, the current will pass through your heart possibly causing it to stop.  I still automatically put my left hand behind my back when measuring a high voltage source.

Have fun now kids  :icon_biggrin: