Amp kit compared to the real thing

Dacious

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I've played an original 5F1 - although, after many years I have no idea what's changed inside. And I owned EC Vibrochamp, which is a 5F1 with tremolo - turn it off and it's a 5F1.

The old amp had that 'aged aural patina' old speakers drifted components have - that air, if you like.

But the new amp certainly caught the single ended vintage vibe. Stick to the low voltage taps and don't mod the hell out of it and it's a great, obnoxious, splatty one knobber that will teach you a lot about how guitar controls interact with a simple amp.

I sold it because I could make a buck on it and was a bit disappointed with Fender build but I have bits to make another.

Not for everyone.
 

jmp81sc

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I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with PCB amps, other than servicing them can be harder. I think there are some hi end builders that use PCB's for there boards. I think i read that they can be designed by electrical engineers to be quieter than traditional tag or turret boards. The bad rep for PCB came from the cheap thin boards and tubes and pots being soldered directly to the board on the cheap entry level amps.

Back to the original post do clones sound as good as the originals? They can for sure, but the real question is how does the original sound? I think as with guitars some just sound better than others. Probably too many variables to measure, but companies like Victoria have spent a lot of time testing and sourcing parts to try to get the vintage sound.

I personally am not that interested in trying to recreate an exact clone. I don't like having the controls on the top of the amp and I don't like the small chassis's and cabinet sizes. Grounding schemes have been updated, metal film resistors are quieter, speakers are better etc.
 

Nickfl

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And I would argue that you are not in a good position to offer a beginner an "alternative opinion." I on the other hand, blundered into my first build totally unprepared, made pretty much every mistake you can make, ruined perfectly functioning components and still wanted more at the end. I'd much rather be as realistic as I can with new enthusiasts rather than give alternative opinions.

In any case, the guy has bought the kit already so he's invested. He's likely going to make his mistakes, get stuck, get unstuck, and lean on other experienced builders to finish his project. And when its all over and he's absolutely blown away by his own results, he's going to be here offering helpful advice to the next newbie. And he's probably going to plan another amp build shortly after that.

Regardless of our experiences, I hope the guy dives in with both feet, makes a mess, sorts it out and ends up with an amp he wants to play for the rest of his life. It's totally worth it.

Well, we all started somewhere. I certainly had my share of blundering early on. I burned up a champ power transformer doing one of my first repairs and I've been a huge lightbulb limiter proponent ever since.

I've never bought a cabinet because I already had the tools to build my own when I bought my first kit. I always tell people that cabinet building is the best place to save money on amp builds, but only if you are already into woodworking. It definitely wouldn't make sense to try to save money by building your own cabinet if it was your first ever woodworking project.

I also got into building knowing I would stick with it and that makes a difference. I generally agree that you can't save much money building if you are just going to make one amp, but if you are going to keep making them that can start to change. But yeah, that doesn't really apply to a beginner.

I think the main difficulty is when someone asks "can I do X as a first build" you don't know who is asking.

The problem with giving advice on this stuff on forums is that it is so hard to judge someone's level of DIY competence. There are beginners and there are beginners. For instance, there is a big difference between someone who never built an amp but spent 30 years working in a skilled trade and someone who never built an amp and also doesn't even fix stuff around the house. Those guys would ideally get very different advice and even then it depends on the individual and how much time, space and tools they have.
 

JuneauMike

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Well, we all started somewhere. I certainly had my share of blundering early on. I burned up a champ power transformer doing one of my first repairs and I've been a huge lightbulb limiter proponent ever since.

I've never bought a cabinet because I already had the tools to build my own when I bought my first kit. I always tell people that cabinet building is the best place to save money on amp builds, but only if you are already into woodworking. It definitely wouldn't make sense to try to save money by building your own cabinet if it was your first ever woodworking project.

I also got into building knowing I would stick with it and that makes a difference. I generally agree that you can't save much money building if you are just going to make one amp, but if you are going to keep making them that can start to change. But yeah, that doesn't really apply to a beginner.

I think the main difficulty is when someone asks "can I do X as a first build" you don't know who is asking.

The problem with giving advice on this stuff on forums is that it is so hard to judge someone's level of DIY competence. There are beginners and there are beginners. For instance, there is a big difference between someone who never built an amp but spent 30 years working in a skilled trade and someone who never built an amp and also doesn't even fix stuff around the house. Those guys would ideally get very different advice and even then it depends on the individual and how much time, space and tools they have.
Amen to all of this. In fact, it should be a sticky.
 

CaptainCrunch

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Having played around with a LOT of stuff, old and new, I can guarantee that if you got every one of anything ever made, be it ‘59 Les Pauls, Fender amps, 18” Gretsch bass drums, 22” Zildjian A’s, whatever it is, all together in one room.... you can find two originals that sound VERY different, and you will find an original and a modern repro that sound VERY alike.

You build a modern Champ kit with no major changes to the circuit, it will sound like an old one - you just probably won’t know which.
 

backalleyblues

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And I will say, NickFL does build an awesome cabinet, much better than I could build! Which is why I've had him make 2 for me (and maybe a third!)

I built my 5E3 Boothill kit, and it went fairly well-one non-fatal hiccup on the heater wiring, and it worked right off-I used to have a 5A3 (octal preamp) and while the kit didn't sound quite like my old Deluxe, it was very much in the neighborhood of all 5E3s that I've played through and heard over the years. Mine does a great impersonation of Cinnamon Girl, along with tons of blues records from that era, so I'd say the kit will definitely get you in the right neighborhood, if not in the right house.

The biggest variable I see here is the speaker-besides age and break in, there are some subtle construction differences between vintage and modern speakers that tend to add up to a noticeable sonic difference. Whether that is good or bad is up to the user/listener. In my 5E3, I use a Hellatone'd Italian Jensen (lucked into that speaker!) Does it sound like a vintage P12Q? Not quite, but it does sound really good, so it stays in the amp.

I spent about $600 putting my 5E3 together, between the kit, speaker, tubes, etc. Nick is right, if you can build your own cabinet, that's a place where you can save some real coin. Learning how to apply Tolex/tweed/lacquer is another place where you can save a few bucks, though I HATE contact cement! In my case, I already had all the electronic tools needed, since I've done my own electronics since I was a teenager, so I had some savings there-you might have a lot of the tools on hand already, so take a minute and look around your place. By the time you reach late middle age it seems we have gathered more tools than we will ever need, and have likely forgotten about... :D

Franc Robert
 

JeffBlue

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I had built a Mojotone Studio One that I decided I needed a low power Marshall amp. Taking on more than my skill level for a first time builder. My lead dress wasn't the best and I had a part installed reversed. The amp needed attention and I'm not an amp tech.

I emailed Ben Fargen from Fargen Amps and asked if he would be willing to fix my beginner's blunders and he agreed to take on my project. So my kit cost me more, but the results were worth it. Here is what it sounds like:


Thank you Ben, awesome job. I'm extremely happy with my amp now. I changed out V1 from a 12AX7 to a 5814A for and an 12AT7 for the PI for a cleaner clean tone on channel 1 and the amp is sounding wonderful. I still have a fantastic dirty tone on channel 2.
 
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Whatizitman

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I’m too lazy to read through the entire thread. Just came to say that after 2-3 years of learning tube amp circuitry, modding and repairing tube amps, I’m now at the point I could confidently build an amp from a kit and troubleshoot my own work.

I haven’t done it yet, because the ROI is not worth it (EDIT: to me). No resale value doesn’t compute with me. I’ve been able to trade up with amps I got cheap and repaired because they were production models. That all ends with a kit or scratch build.

Build an amp if you really want to build an amp. Never do so to save money, particularly if you have no experience.
 
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Jason Hutchinson

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A kit will sound very similar to an original when it was brand new. Of course, a 50+ year old amp with failing components will not sound the same as one built with all new parts. Also, most kits do cut corners in the cosmetics department.
 

Muadzin

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I wouldn't mind building an amp kit. I've been lusting after a Weber amp kit of a classic Hiwatt for years. But as I live in Europe shipping and taxes will absolutely murder me. As for building amps, or pedals or guitars in general, for one its usually not that good of an investment, although with a well documented kit it can be fun. I got into pedal building using Buildyourownclone pedal kits, but they were quite expensive to get outside of the US. SoI started to source parts myself. Eventually it got out of control and was building 4 to 6 pedals a month, as I could build one for €25 per pedal. Hell, probably for even less as I got so many parts and supplies lying about I could probably built dozens of pedals if I wanted too. And €25 for a €250 boutique pedal is a hell of a lot of savings.
 

Super Dooper

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One can argue that building an amp kit is a good experience, but its really nothing more than a parts puzzle with little learning involved. To learn the secrets of tone buy every cheap tube amp you can find and learn to do maintenance, then service, then mods with a collection of used parts. That's how boutique amp builders find their start. The resale market is full of built kits that sellers want top dollar for, but buyer beware it may or may not approximate the sound of the original article made to era-consistent quality standards. That's why vintage matters.
 

TurnstyleSwitch

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Just built a Tweed Tremolux 5E9A. Fell in love with the original 13 yrs ago when one was in my shop for repairs. Mine does not have decades of the effects of aging but I can tell you it continues to be worth the 13 yr wait. If you are new to soldering, I’d recommend building a couple of pedals first to get your feet wet and with far less investment.
 

mdcioffi

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Great thread, caught my eye. My adult son is the player. I have been the finance and gear acquisition guy. Long story short, I years back I located a 62 Champ at a steal and bought it (extremely cheap) It was mint. Just recently I had it re-tubed (again, I get to pay the bills). Once in the amp repair shop I got the "build it" bug. I am doing the homework and so far I am going to start with a build list and I will assemble a 5f1. Kits are way to expensive for my experiment. Not yet sure if I will go for a cool retro look, or, if I will just get it working on the bench. Once I do get it built, I will have my son play through both and see what the difference is, and report back to this thread. This thread is more motivation for me, Thank you all!!!
 

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GoodAugust

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These are heavily documented amp kit builds, so they're going to be identical. Not exactly the same, but identical enough.

I've said it a million times to my customers... Joe Walsh sounds like Joe Walsh, you sound like you.

The reason why the kits are available are for purely the hobby, and it's a very great hobby to learn. Overcoming the frustrations along the way can become your strongest knowledge when you turn amp kit building into servicing your amps. And when you're finished, you've got a really nice amp added to your collection. Anyone who says "it's not the real thing" has way too high standards in my opinion. This is the golden age of guitar tone recreation, you can make anything sound like anything.

As for the expense... Everything about this general hobby of playing music is relatively expensive, this area is no different.

Don't forget the reason why we all started this path, it's because it's fun.
 

jman72

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Built this 5f1 with my son from a Boothill kit last year.

5f1.jpg

5f1 kit (w/complete chassis kit and Classictone transformers): $229
JJ6v6: $15
NOS RCA 5y3GT: $20
5751 tube: $18
Jensen C12N: $80
Cabinet Hardware (handles, feet, screws): $35
Wood for cabinet build: $20
Glue/stain: $10
Grillcloth: $10
Grand Total: $437

Granted, I have the tools to build the cab (table saw, jigsaw, router, etc.) and the tools to build the chassis (multimeter, soldering iron, etc.), so that would be extra. But I didn't buy that stuff to build the amp- I had it all already.

And how would this sound compared to a Fender reissue? It's such a simple circuit that your choice of speaker and preamp tube would make the biggest difference.
 

premiumplus

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I built a 5E3 Tweed Deluxe about 12 years ago and it sounds very, very much like an old '57 does. Recently I put together an Allen Hot Fudge w/Nuts kit that sounds a lot like the old Brownface Deluxe does, and I've got a 5E3 kit coming. I'm a retired EE and I've been fixing and playing amps for over 50 years so here's my advice for whatever it's worth...Take your time, use proper soldering technique, and mark off each step as you go. I use a highlighter pen to mark the schematic or layout with each step. Double check your wiring, especially grounds. It's easy to forget one. Here's a shot of the chassis of my Hot Fudge w/Nuts:
gktm5h1.jpg
 

GtownBlues56

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Don’t forget Allen Amps! His kits are a little on the higher end but have serious sounds. I built the Brown Sugar with a 1x15 combo cab a couple of years ago. Have vintage amps, fender mostly, and keep coming back to the sound of the Brown Sugar. Got lucky and got the kit during a sale. Great and prompt support.
 

Andy ZZ

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The best amps I own are the ones I either repaired and restored, or built.
They are also the most reliable by a very long shot.
Do it, you will learn a lot, understand more about amps, and hopefully not hurt yourself.
The people warning prospective hobbyist builders about dangerous high voltages are not kidding, tube amp voltages can be lethal.
Best of luck!
-az-
 




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