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Intro to DIY Amp Building 101

champ-chartLike most TDPRI members I have learned a ton of stuff here (I’ve even learned how to fend off zombie attacks, believe it or not). However, one of the most valuable things I have learned from the forum is how to build my own amps. 

No matter our playing level, we all appreciate the electric guitar—especially Telecasters—and at the end of the day we like to plug into something that makes them sound great. As with all guitar gear, our decisions usually fall into two categories. The first is; will it give me that elusive tone I’m looking for and the second; can I save a few bucks and still get that sound? 

One of the best ways you can save money and still own a customized, hand wired tube amp is to build it yourself. I know what you’re thinking; Whoa, schematics look like Chinese take-out menus to me! Well, my answer is: if a numskull like myself can build my own amps, then ANYONE can.

Some TDPRI members are electrical engineers, some are amp repairmen, and some are untrained but have lifelong experience with amp building. The rest of us, including myself, are none of the above. When I stumbled across TDPRI I didn’t know much and still don’t. But, like most guitar players, I am obsessed with guitar gear. One week I was posting about an old ’70s Fender Champ Amp I just bought and how it needed some servicing. As the week progressed many TDPers gave me the confidence, knowledge, and internet resources to repair the amp myself to save money. As I considered replacing aging capacitors and looked at a few old hand drawn Fender Champ amp layouts—since I couldn’t read schematics, I thought “I bet I could just build one of these for half the price of buying one!”

Naturally, for a guy without any amp repair/building experience, the hardest part was just jumping in and doing it. And, the experienced guys on the forum constantly reminded me that amps have high voltages, even when turned off or unplugged and can shock or even kill. This, of course, scared the hell out of me. This is not to say they discouraged my desire to build my own amp. But, with a great deal of patience and kindness, fellow TDPRI members helped educate me on the basics of safety and amp building.

Fast forward several years, and here I am – sitting in my home studio with over a dozen amps and speaker cabinets I built for myself. I still don’t have an electrical engineering degree, I am awful at woodworking, I’m still not the sharpest tool in the shed, and I have had some speed bumps in the learning process. The one thing I do have (other than too many amps and too little room to store them) is proof that it can be done by anyone.

It is my hope that with this and future articles I can give you some confidence and motivation to start down the road to building your own great homemade amp (or amps).

In future articles I will be discussing safety concerns and a few of the basics, later articles may discuss footswitching relays and other atypical aspects of amp building.  In the meantime, visit the Shock Brother’s DIY Amps forum here on TDPRI to get a feel for the subject at hand.

Until next time: keep soldering!

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10 Responses to “Intro to DIY Amp Building 101”
  1. rangercaster rangercaster says:

    Very well written, Johnny !!! i always enjoy your posts !!!

  2. Bswailes Bswailes says:

    This is a superbly written article. It’s very understandable, and put together in a logical and professional manner. Now I’ll have to check out Shock Bros DIY on the forum.

    Thanks again, Mr. Crash!

  3. JimmyJam JimmyJam says:

    Right on JC! Thanks for sharing your story.
    You and Ben H. have been great resources of information in the Shock Bros forum!!
    Thanks to all TDPRI members who contribute to this tank of knowledge!!

  4. jjkrause84 jjkrause84 says:

    Very cool! I’m greatly looking forward to future installments.

  5. tube.tone tube.tone says:

    Great idea! This is going to be very handy! Thanks

    • Dep Dep says:

      This is something I’ve always been curious about, so it’s great to be able to get valuable info from someone who started out not being an electrical expert. Great article!

  6. Engraver-60 mgdesigns says:

    I had no idea you were self-taught. I presumed that you were the Wise Old Man of Amplifiers, and now my fears of diving carefully into the waters of Amp Building are somewhat eased. I will definitely be asking for guidance and tips as I try to build my 1st amplifier. Thanks. Great article Johnny.

  7. mouse116 says:

    Great website and I’ll be picking your brains. I’ve fallen in love with tele’s after winning a Trimm’d & Burnin’ tele in a raffle last month. Bless you Shannon, not just for my tele, but for your heart.

  8. maryjane maryjane says:

    very encouraging;
    thanks, johnny!

  9. Kashmir says:

    I’m fairly new to TDPRI, so I’m just reading this article now. First of all, very well written Johnny. This gets me thinking too. I’ve never ventured into this arena before, amp repair/building. However, you have definitely given me food for thought. Since I’m getting too old to ‘put the band back on the road’, doing some work on amps would fulfill a passion. Seems the best place to start is with a DIY amp build. Who knows, this could turn into a little part time job doing something I love and making a little cash to help musicians out as well. Great article.

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