To go along with my DIY guitar amp, I ‘needed’ a DIY guitar. There are a lot of kits out there of varying quality and price. I wanted something I would be able to put together without too much rework but I also didn’t want to spend an arm and a leg.
On the cheap side, there are ebay kits and a number of other vendors where the raw material and craftsmanship isn’t that great. As a result, you get a lot of aggravation and need to fix basic things like hole location and neck fit. On the other end is someone like Precision Guitar that has great reviews. Apparently, they do real high quality work. Of course, good work doesn’t come cheap.
I ended up in the middle with a Custom Shop BYOguitar kit. Their custom shop products are made in the USA in their own CNC machines and so they can control quality more closely than the overseas kits they also sell. I knew I wanted a slightly unique ’72 Telecaster Thinline and they had an upgrade to black walnut for a reasonable $30. The rest of the options I kept standard knowing I could upgrade later. Also, I already had a set of grover mini-rotomatic tuners I got for cheap from Rondo that I planned to use. (I can’t stand it when my instruments go out of tune when you look at them funny.)
The ordering process was easy enough and within a few days I had a picture of the actual body they had machined for me. Unfortunately, the bridge for the hole pattern they drilled for became obsolete so they had to make me a new body for a more standard telecaster hard tail bridge. Not a big deal.
New toy arrives:
Fast forward a week and Mr. UPS delivers my new toy!
It was packed well enough and upon initial inspection most everything was perfect.
– The neck fit really well in the pocket. It was tight enough that I had to squeeze it in but not force it. I was most concerned about this but it’s pretty spot on.
– The CNC work for the pickups and most everything was great.
– The quality of the Mighty Mite neck is quite high. The wood, frets, finish, etc. is perfect.
– The black walnut itself is nice. The top is book matched and there are some unique features in the grain. No bad knots or anything.
– The hardware is fine. About what you would expect at the price point.
Also, when I was positioning the pick guard and components, I noticed that the pick guard was slightly proud of the body at the top. This was with the pick guard in position in order to center up the pickups and make sure the bridge didn’t interfere. I just took a circular file to it followed by sand paper and massaged the shape a bit so it worked out.
I emailed byoguitar about the above and they quickly offered to make me a new body as the defects above are not up to their standards. They explained that perhaps in their rush to get me a second body after the first one didn’t work out, they didn’t do as thorough a final sanding and inspection. I won’t go into the details, but they made it right with me. +1 for good customer service.
The included instructions are pretty clear and comprehensive. I followed them mostly. As a matter of fact, I got all of the following done in a couple hours that night:
– Drilled all the holes for tuners, pick guard, strap locks, bridge, neck
– Waterslide logo on headstock
I got the logo from old-fret. It was actually pretty easy to put on. I was worried I was going to tear it or get bubbles but it was quite manageable.
In any case, I just have to do some finish sanding and hand rub on the satin polyurethane before final assembly. Should be rocking out by the weekend!
Got it pretty much done the next day!
I finish sanded with a sanding block with 320 grit and the 600 grit.
Then I applied two coats of satin hand rubbed polyurethane.
Then it was just a matter of final assembly and stringing her up!
The only remaining issue is with the input jack. The traditional cup and retainer clip are not easy to use. I did manage to cludge my own tool with a long bolt, some nuts, and washers to get the clip in. But the cup doesn’t sit flush and the plug only works if it’s 90% inserted for some reason.
All in all, it went together pretty easily and only required very minor tweaks. The neck fit was my biggest worry but worked out great. The pick guard positioning was a little hairy to make sure the pickups were in the right place (i.e., centered under the strings), and as mentioned above, the pickguard itself needed a little massaging. But all in all, I can’t complain.
Also, now that I got it strung up and mostly setup, it plays nicely and the pickups sounds pretty darn good too! I’ll post some more impressions once I get some more time with it and dial in the setup.
Although I’ve built a couple tube hybrid headphone amplifiers and a nixie clock, I’ve never built a real tube amp. Something about the point to point wiring and dealing with heaters turned me off of them. Then I started getting into the guitar speaker/amp thing and you almost HAVE to get a tube amp if you’re in this space. So I started looking for kits and didn’t really find a lot that had a good kit or good documentation. However, a coworker mentioned this boutique Dumble amp as a super high end option that might be DIY-able so I started doing some research. As often happens after I do research, I spend money. In this case, I went with a kit from ceriatone.com which is a Malaysian based company that sells clones of all sorts of classic amps. The kit I got was complete and just needed assembly. I also planned on building the cabinet myself. Documentation was semi-complete, but the proprietor of the store, Nik, was super responsive and bridged the gap where I had questions. I actually did end up finding a mistake in the layout so I feel inordinately proud of my contribution towards the documentation for folks who will build the kit after me.
In any case, here are a few pics of the amp in progress. I’ll capture further notes once it’s done. At the moment, I still have to fix something in the overdrive circuit that isn’t working quite right.
EDIT: Build tips (disclaimer: proceed at your own risk. no accuracy or warranty or other claims are made here implicitly or otherwise. blah blah blah, don’t be stupid with high voltages!)
Since the documentation on this is less than ideal for a novice as myself, I thought I could post some tips here for those who might benefit from my mistakes/lessons learned.
1. Arrange all the parts per the numbered baggies and check to see you have everything you need as specified in the BOM. Some of the resistors and other parts aren’t labeled, but through process of elimination you can at least figure out if you have a gross number of missing items. For example, I was short one knob (which Nik sent to me). Once you’re in front of a multi-meter, I would label all the resistors to make sure you have everything and to make subsequent installation easier. Also, in my kit, the fuses were inside the fuse holders themselves so make sure you have the right one with the right fuse.
2. Install all the pots/jacks/switches. The is pretty straight forward. Just make sure you have the right pots in the right positions since they are different. Keep in mind the bias pot goes through the top of the chassis, not the front/rear.
3. Install the tube sockets. This is pretty self explanatory. While you install them, take note of the subtle numbering to make sure you have them oriented correctly.
4. Populate the PCB. This is also fairly straight forward. One thing to note is that there are some resistor values that are the same with the exception of their wattage. Make sure to use the right ones in the right places. Process of elimination here helps. Also, study the photos on the website. That helps too for the capacitors and other wiring routing as well. Pay attention to capacitor polarity as well as the relay orientation.
5. Install all the other point to point items like the terminal strips and the items that are connected to the tube sockets.
6. Start planning on where all the transformer wiring needs to go. This part was confusing to me at first but if you study the layout diagram enough, it will become clear. Here are a few aha moments for me, personally.
– The output transformer primaries (blue and brown) go to what’s labeled OT AN on the V4/V5 tube sockets (the two larger ones on the left of the layout drawing.) Also, I ended up swapping them compared to what’s labeled in the layout. For some reason, I was getting bad hum with them the other way around so on Nik’s suggestion, I swapped them. Apparently, reversing the phase makes a difference? Also, the center tap wire of the primary (red) goes to the HT fuse holder.
– The output transformer secondary black wire goes to the ground of the output jacks. This was not labeled in the layout but I think Nik has since fixed it (see above on my inordinate pride in finding this omission.)
– The output impedance selector switch connections are not obvious. Use a multimeter to figure out what connections are made with the switch in the various positions and wire the correct colored wire to the corresponding tab. Of course, the inboard tab goes to the output jacks.
– The other transformer wiring is more obvious once you eliminate all the wires/connections that belong to the OT… you just might need to stare at the layout for a while. Keep in mind you won’t need all the primaries that go to the power switch. Here in the US, I used the 120V blue wire and just wrapped and insulated the ends of the other (red and orange) wires.
– The brown heater wires just go to F1 and F2. Doesn’t matter which brown wire you use… just keep the F1 and F2 consistent down the chain of tube sockets.
7. The footswitch layout drawing is looking from the inside of the amp. This seems obvious to me now but it wasn’t when I was first studying the layout. Note the ground connection for the middle pin. Also, be careful with how much heat you apply here when you solder. I feel like I almost melted the plastic the pins are seated in.
8. Solder in all the pieces that go on the volume pot and rock/jazz and mid boost switches. Be careful here with leads and make sure you don’t have any shorts. It’s quite cramped in there but I was able to do all the soldering with those items installed in place.
9. For me, I soldered all the wires starting from the pots/switches/etc and made them long enough to get to the board plus some in order to have slack since I wanted the wires to connect from the bottom. In retrospect, I would have started the wires from the board and then installed the board before cutting the wires to length and soldering to the pots/switches/etc. I think this would have made for shorter wire lengths. TIP: I didn’t have any problems with my solder connections, but Nik does recommend that you wrap the leads/wires around what you’re soldering them too in order to establish a mechanical connection prior to soldering. I would likely follow that reco if I were to do this again. TIP: Nik includes shielded wire which is indicated in the layout by a circle around a wire intersection. What that means is that you’re supposed to strip the wire first to the shielding layer and make a connection for that to go to ground. Then you strip the remaining signal wire insulation and connect that to where the wire goes. I was very confused by this at first and couldn’t understand why you would want all those wires connected to ground. The photos on the site show the ends shrink wrapped so you can’t see how it’s supposed to be. But if you use some wire cutters and just strip away the first layer to get to the shielding, you’ll see the signal wire insulation directly under. I just have never seen such thin shielded wire before so I think that’s what was throwing me off.
10. Some of the PCB standoffs and I think one terminal strip screw are trapped under the transformers. Just loosen the transformers and get the screws in the holes before retightening the transformer down. It won’t sit quite flush, but it’s fine.
11. There is one PCB pad that is not used. On the layout, it’s the fourth from the bottom right corner.
12. I tried to generally match the wiring colors that are in the layout just to help keep track of what goes where. Not necessary per se, but at least try not to use ALL the same color all the time.
13. Once everything is soldered together and you’ve double checked the layout to make sure nothing is missing and everything is where it’s supposed to be, go ahead and install the tubes. They fit quite tightly and I was a little afraid of how much force I needed to use to get them to seat, but I didn’t break any. Just be sure to use a paper towel when handling so you don’t transfer oils to the glass. I believe that makes the tubes last longer as the oil tends to create temperature gradients that could weaken the glass over time.
14. Now you’re done and just need to set bias! You measure this at the 1R resistor that goes to ground from the V4 or V5 tube sockets. Remember, there’s a lot of voltage there so be careful what you touch! It didn’t drift at all for me and it biased up right away.
1. I had a problem with the overdrive channel (red light footswitch button) where it would mute once pushed. I swapped the relays to see if that was the problem. No change. Then, on Nik’s suggestion, I checked for one of the shielded wires in the OD circuit potentially being shorted to ground. Turned out one of the ones going to the OD trim pot was indeed shorted to ground. It looked fine, but my guess is that I may have cut too deep when stripping the insulation away from the shielding. In any case, a quick fix. If you’re checking continuity on the pots from the lugs to ground, just make sure that the pots are close to the middle position.
2. As mentioned above, I had a hum problem that was fixed by swapping the primaries on the OT.
1. I’ve read that you’re not supposed to power up without a load attached. Not knowing this at first, I did my bias setting and some trouble shooting without a load. Didn’t seem to have any issues, but better safe than sorry.
2. You’re supposed to power on the main switch for at least a minute or so before flipping the standby switch. Apparently, heating up the tubes for a little while first helps them last longer.
I think that covers it for the moment. If anyone has additional tips they’d like to share, let me know in the comments.
EDIT: cabinet work
I took a good part of the labor day weekend to build an amp and matching speaker cabinet.
First stop: Home depot for some African Mahogany and some maple for a bit of a mini stack.
About 12 feet lengths of each:
Still getting better at dovetail joints. These are slightly proud of the surface.
But coming together with the kids’ help cleaning up sawdust:
Parts installed and one coat of hand rubbed poly:
In the room next to the 2×12 cabinet on end:
I was in a band in high school. Sort of. We played a set at prom… or was it homecoming? In any case, I was able to fake rhythm guitar by leveraging my violin skills. And I had this killer fluorescent yellow guitar. Looked exactly like this:
It was pretty bad actually. Didn’t hold tune well, had some buzzing, and the action was way too high. But there was no internet back then and I didn’t know what I was missing. Fast forward more years than I would care to admit and the guitar and my Peavey amp were just collecting dust so they were sold.
Fast forward to a month ago and I picked up this Epiphone Les Paul Traditional Pro guitar on CL along with a Mustang I practice amp:
Been learning a ton on the interwebs although I have a looong way to go.
Fast forward a few weeks (last fast forward, I promise) and as I’m often inclined to do, I found a way to turn another hobby into a DIY endeavor. So I built my own amp cabinet.
Sounds great! It has so much volume potential. I’ll have to improve my skills so I can get a gig just to have an excuse to bring the rig with me to really test it’s potential. In the meantime, the amp does a nice job of getting the sound I want even at modest volumes.
Last thing to do is to install the grill cloth frame.
Very happy with it. I ended up double layering and just gluing the cloth to inside edges of a wooden 1/2″x1″ frame. I used a line of binder clips to hold it in place while it dried (one side at a time). Worked brilliantly despite putting quite a bit of tension on the grill cloth. And I was able to size everything correctly to simply press fit into the cabinet frame. This may be the first time where measure twice cut once actually worked for me! There is some give in the cloth that gave me a little wiggle room though so that helped.
I’m still on the lookout for a logo of some kind. I may buy one of those woodburning brands to generically label all my projects since they tend to all have wood in them somewhere. But a chrome logo of some sort on the grill cloth seems to be a good fit for a project like this. Ebay has some letters that I sort of like but some don’t have the (+) sign for 1+2. And I don’t think I want oneplustwo since most of the letters are about an inch tall and wide. A bit overwhelming for the simplicity of the overall project. I’ll keep looking though.
I had a logo 3D printed using my user name from some of the forums I frequent. I just used Word to generate the text, took a screen shot, and had Shapeways.com make a 3D model of it and print it. Was a reasonable $14 or so including shipping. It’s subtle and adds a bit of cred I think. In retrospect, I would have had it made a little thinner as it protrudes a bit. But it’s not bad.
This is the biggest amp build so far and I doubt I will ever build anything bigger. Again, I went with a clone from the father-figure of DIY amps, Nelson Pass. Again, I got lots of help from the diyaudio.com community. And also got a ton of help from this particular website.
I won’t bore you with the details. If you’re interested in the nitty gritty, read through the diyaudio thread. Instead, here are a few photos from the build.
Like I said, they’re big. I think 20″ deep, 14″ wide, and probably about 50 lbs each. I’ll put them on a scale to find out for sure, but they’re really heavy.
Still breaking in, but so far, they sound really good. And act as space heaters as well.
I wanted to try a speaker with super high-end drivers so I found some used for a pretty good deal and also found a pair of cabinets that someone didn’t want anymore. As such, I was able to go high-end without a high-end price. Brand new, the drivers and crossover plus a from scratch cabinet would have easily exceeded $1000. As is, I spent about half that.
Here is the cabinet that I started with:
And I turned them into these:
I still have quite a big of material left over of course, but it was nice to be able to spend zero dollars on the cabinet and just a few bucks on some rattle can satin spray paint.
The crossover is a Madisound design that came with the drivers (The Scan Speak 5″ Revelator and D6600 tweeter). They turned out fine… but I’m not convinced the price premium is worth it. I haven’t done a lot of listening yet so I might change my mind, but I doubt it. Even if I can hear a difference compared to my various Dayton speakers, for sure it will not be very significant.
Finally had a chance to put the bench test equipment together. Oscilloscope, two DMMs and two power supplies.
And the DMMs are well calibrated. So it seems.
Another project in the books. This one is my first class A power amplifier build. The circuit itself is actually relatively simple. And the casework wasn’t bad either truth be told. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The design is from one of the godfathers of the DIY HIFI community, Nelson Pass. He runs a DIY website as well as a commercial and a sort of hybrid enterprise that sells retail items but also provides schematics and articles so the enterprising DIY’er can “roll his own.” He’s also active on the diyaudio.com site and chimes in from time to time.
The specific design I chose is the F5. It’s a push-pull Class A amplifier, utilizing JFETs and MOSFETs in a very simple two stage complementary circuit. It spits out about 180W (most of it in heat) and is one of the more popular designs from Mr. Pass.
For my build, I sourced the PCB from tech-diy.com and most of the little bits from mouser. The heat sinks were from antek and the rest of the chassis was made up of scraps actually. I had spare 1/4″ aluminum for the bottom, African mahogany for the front panel, plywood for the rear, and plexiglass (from an old document holder) for the top. I did buy some 1/4-20 bolts and some new RCA jacks and speaker posts.
In any case, pictures are where the fun is so here you go.
It sounds great and doubles as a space heater! I got it biased up to about 580mV and the DC offset is essentially zero on both channels.
I can’t seem to stay focused these days… building speakers, amps, and a buffer all at the same time. Anywho… here’s a post for the latest item. A pair of CJDs rs150 TM bookshelf speakers. I need a pair of smaller speakers for the bedroom. They’ll probably be driven from a chip amp (that I’ve actually completed already) using my iphone as a source.
I got the tweeters used and the woofers aren’t that much to begin with so I just bought them.
I made the cabinet with simple birch plywood all leftover from other projects with mitered and biscuited corners. The front corners will be about a 3/8″ bevel as a design feature (I’m a sucker for the laminate look for some reason) with a basic hand rubbed tung oil finish to match many of my other builds.
So far, I’ve been very happy with them. They need a little breaking in and they don’t sound nearly as good as the full size designs, but they’re very good for what they are.
The next project will be the opposite end of the spectrum… very large with dual woofers, dual mid-ranges, and my first build with a ribbon tweeter. And of course, I still need to finish the other amps and buffer projects!
A few pics of the subwoofer I just finished. It’s based on the Zaph Audio design found on his site’s archives. The difference is I didn’t incorporate the dedicated subwoofer amp since I decided to use an old integrated amp I had lying around. Also, I used plywood construction with mitered joints all around. This was the first time I tried mitered joints on a large piece. I tried the tape and plastic wrap method as seen below:
The thing weighs a ton… the driver itself weighs 25 lbs, mostly from the magnet but also from the beefy cast aluminum frame.
Pretty happy with it considering everything was scrap materials except for the driver and the stainless screws I used. The same setup from parts-express.com is almost $600. I paid $100 for the driver from a fellow DIY’er. Yay DIY!
Archiving the sunflower speakers page here:
For my third pair of DIY speakers (I know… running out of rooms to put speakers in), I decided to try a new style with an open baffle design. The open baffle designs that get most of the press are Linkwitz’s Orions and John Krekovsky’s NaOs but those use really expensive drivers with active electronics requiring multiple channels of amplification. So instead, I’m using one of Paul Carmody’s designs that he has dubbed the Sunflower XT.
It uses dayton reference drivers which are great performers at a good price. I used a few from this lineup for the ZDT 3.5 speakers from the last project as well. Also, it uses a Vifa XT tweeter which is a driver used in many high end designs that is generally accepted as an excellent tweeter with low distortion and great dynamics. Whatever that means.
In any case, here are a few pictures of the speaker in progress.
March 13, 2011
Next step is to do some sanding and bondo-ing before figuring out how to assemble the pieces together and paint. Speaking of which, I think the “box” part is just going to be black. Either a spray textured black or a brushed/rolled on enamel flat black. The plywood sides are going to just have a few coats of a simple tung oil rub. That’s the plan right now anyway. More to come.
It’s a remnant piece of hardwood (not sure what species) that I book-ended and sort of-kind of biscuited together with my table saw and a piece of MDF.
Got some glue/water sealing done today also.