Saturday, September 25, 2010

Building Guitar Amplifiers - Chapter 1 - "One man's junk is another man's treasure"

In late 2005, I had been doing some extended house-sitting at my Grandpa's place on the Kitsap Peninsula before he passed away. Unfortunately, the house was also populated by 50-years worth of "junk" that Grandpa never threw away. I mean this...Grandpa never threw ANYTHING away, as it was probably some wisdom and result from growing up in the Great Depression. The monumental task of the Estate cleanup left to our family. Growing up, I had always imagined that Grandparents houses always had some hidden treasure socked away somewhere. This was piqued when Grandpa had once told me earlier that "there's a lot of good stuff in there"...

As my family was cleaning out the upper rooms and basement my mom walked in to my bedroom holding a curious glass bulb. She asked "What's this going for on eBay?" Looking it over, I could see that it was very old and manufactured by Raytheon. That's funny, I always imagined them as a Defense Contractor...but in Western Washington we have a lot of those, along with a lot of Military installations, and Aerospace (Boeing).

I looked up the identifier on this 60-70 year old tube, and could not believe what showed up on eBay. This tube was regularly being bought in some fierce bidding wars for around $75 a piece. What are these things??

Mom took me down to the basement and proceeded to tell the story of her Dad, and how he worked as an Electrician at the Bremerton Naval Shipyards in the 1940's and then later opened up a TV-Radio repair shop in North Seattle. After Grandpa's shop had closed up when he retired, he took all his old stock and socked it away in his basement, along with literally tons of old and broken TV's (at least 50 of them).

Unfortunately a lot of the good NOS components (tube sockets, resistors, capacitors) had already made it to the dumpster because no one knew if this stuff had any value. But none of the old vacuum tubes had been thrown away. She told me that since no one else had claimed any of the remaining electronics, I was free to take what I desired.

A treasure hunt had begun! I scoured the basement and found boxes of tubes, and more boxes, and drawers and more boxes, and all the old 50's-60's era TVs, and more boxes filled with new and used tubes that had been collecting dust for half-a-century. I ended up with approximately 1500 tubes initially, some nice vintage resistors (carbon-composition) and vintage sealed capacitors (paper-in-oil) that were spared from the dumpster.

I eventually took most of the next spring and summer going through and cleaning out the basement of all the old TV's by destroying and trashing all the old moldy cases and separating out the CRT's which required recycling. The prize of each old TV one was the electrical chassis which contained all the components like tube sockets, resistors, capacitors, coils, cloth wire, even solder.

What would I do with all of this? About 10 years prior, I had followed a buddy of mine into Speedster Amplifiers in Gig Harbor, WA, and seen their operation. And this memory inspired me to want to build Guitar Amplifiers or even Hi-Fi amplifiers if I wanted.

Washington is full of environmental hippies, so the axiom "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" was everywhere. Why couldn't I do my part and spare the landfills of some toxic materials that didn't need to be there in the first place? With a Dremel in hand, I started cutting out and testing components of all the old chassis so I could reuse them for newly-manufactured amplifiers.

To be continued...


  1. looking forward to the next update...

  2. cool story bro. you got that right keep up the good work

  3. Ive always wanted to make a tube amp with some nice wood. For a stereo though, not a guitar. I guess Ill get around to it one day.

  4. Woah dude. You are so on top of your tech shit it's ridiculous.
    I'm loving it.

    Cawlin's Twitter!

  5. How's the comparison on the tube amps and solid state amps?

  6. More about the guitar amplifiers.
    Thats my thing.

  7. Well look here! Something worth reading lol. Pretty neat. Different than most things I find on here.

  8. More posts on Amplifiers coming :). I will try to make the Story and Chapters a weekly thing, but I still need to set up the camera and demo what I have built so far.

    HiveNode: There are a good many pages that compare solid-state versus tube amps, but its really all subjective to your ears. I will have to make a post describing what the differences are.

    rationalcyborg: There are some good project sites out there for Hi-Fi tube smplifiers, but the woodworking is something I plan on getting into soon for making amplifier cabinets, once I can invest in some good power-tools, and stock woods.