Amp kit compared to the real thing

Whatizitman

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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.

Not just vintage, but brand names matter. Because it does, if resell value is any potential part of the equation.

Every player says they're never gonna sell their current amp of the month. New, old, vintage, boutique, home-built, whatever. What doesn't eventually get sold gets picked apart and/or becomes landfill. I don't make the up the rules. I only observe them and plan accordingly. :D
 

Whatizitman

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Too important of a detail to be buried in the fine print. :D

Right. Or at least be knowledgeable about what tools are typically used, to know what you need to acquire and what you can hack along without.

Taking on a large project of any kind without at least some question as to what tools one will really need is an essential part of even of the most primitive of project cost analysis. And by that I mean my brain and propensity for being a lazy cheapskate, in particular.

I'm a big believer that laziness is why humans need to make things in the first place. To make some other part of life easier, functionally or emotionally (avoidance).

Speaking of... I need to get off of TDPRI. My tendency to ramble is positively correlated with how much crap I need to finish in my job.
 
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mjtrip001

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but a kit will cost around $1,000.

No it won't, closer to half that. I play a Tweed Champ kit, the dovetail jointed pine cab was about $100, vintage style Weber speaker was about $60-$75. The kit with the chassis and OT and PT along with the turret board and caps/resistors/tube sockets/etc, can be had for $299 (MojoTone - Kit with no speaker/or cabinet)..

I've never played a real Tweed, but the kit is one of the greatest sounding things I've ever heard.
 

beninma

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Unless you're doing it for the fun/joy of building something you really need to consider your opportunity costs and value your time.

I'm 99% sure that for me even an overpriced boutique $5k amp is a better value for my time than learning to build an amp. Building the amp means time not doing my job (that pays well), spending time with my family, exercising/staying healthy, actually playing guitar. That'd be a better value for my money than taking the time to learn to build the amp and struggle through it myself. There's absolutely zero chance I could ever have "better value" vs a $1000 Fender/Marshall/Orange/Whatever.

Likewise with having the future ability to debug/repair the amp. Being an engineer I would strongly maintain you don't learn the ability to diagnose problems with the inside of your tube amp just from building a single amp. There's a lot to go wrong and just like with pedals or assembling computers there there's a huge difference between following kit instructions and actually understanding how something works.

That said.. I have no anxiety about my amp(s) breaking and having to pay someone else to fix them. They never seem to break, so I'm not going to go learn to build amps or repair them to fix a non-existent fear.

Decide if your time is worth more than amps cost. Decide if you're more interested in building amp(s) than playing guitar.
 

mfahsel

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At about a grand, the Fender '57 Custom Champ is alot more than I'd like to spend on an amp. I ordered a Champ clone kit from Mojotone that I can't wait to arrive. Anyone here own or played both? If so, how does the kit version compare to the real thing? Thanks in advance!
 

mfahsel

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I undertook a Monotone build of a Marshall 18W head build last year and the process went well, though not seamless. My goal was to learn and I probably should have started with a simpler circuit design like the champ. I've been doing guitar related repairs like pickup/wiring/pots, but had never worked on an amp before. The Mojotone instructions were very detailed and helped the process immensely. I did make a few mistakes, all but one of which I was able to identify and fix, though ultimately had to involve a friend who's a amp tech. My recommendation is to take your time, understand the circuit and why each wire, cap, resistor goes where it does and have fun. As an FYI, there's a very cool podcast called the Truth About Vintage Amps that is a must for anyone interested in amp building or repair!!! I highly recommend this podcast. Best of luck with the build.
 

David C

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I think the key to this is know that you are taking on a project that is going to take you some time to complete. Forget the 5-6 hours, it is easily 20 plus hours by the time you read, ask people questions, rework things you don't like, on and on.
In the end, you will have an amp that sounds every bit as good as an original. Keep in mind that there are no originals that aren't 65 years old, so who knows what the originals sounded like?
Your new amp will be very close in sound to the original or whatever they are selling today as a reissue. Same resistors and capacitors, speakers are still speakers, etc.
As far as costs, well building from a kit is more expensive than buying a completed amp in many cases. I might argue that building Fender Tweed amps is less cost than a new reissue, but that is my opinion.
Go ahead and tackle the Champ, it is the simplest amp you can build, see how you like it, and if you have questions you have lots of people here who can help. Mojotone makes decent kits and they can offer you assistance as you go. If you find this isn't for you, well so be it, but you have your amp. My bet is that you are going to love your amp and you will catch the bug that the rest of us have, which results in a wall of amps that you have built.
 

bluesintheblood

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I built a 5F1 Tube Depot kit in the fall and saved about half of the Fender Champ RI here in CanaDUH. Paid about $725 with tax/ship...the Fender comes in at over 1300 after taxes.

Don't mind that it had a PCB, and the instructions were excellent. It's DEAD quiet. First build, had a tech double check my howmework, GREAT AMP. Reason, was I was getting rather frustrated at the cost of boutiquers and handwired, after meeting a local guy who builds who encouraged me to build one and to NEVER go back to retail, I never will now. Next up is either a 5E3 or 5F11...would LOVE to find a HARVARD kit.

adndwith something like this I don't factor in the "time-cost it took to build" ...all the time was mine, and we ain't got nothin but time in lockdown at -35C
 
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lalagaga

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Firstly, thanks for all the replies. I've never seen this level of discussion on any other guitar forum before. Kudos to the community y'all have built here, and I'm happy to be here.

Back to my original question, I'm mainly interested in comparing how a 5F1 amp kit would sound compared to the real version or something comparable like the '57 Custom Champ that is readily available for purchase today.

I have some experience building pedals and have most of the equipment necessary for the amp kit.

I agree on the cost factor. The price of the kit plus build equipment is still cheaper than the retail equivalent, but not by that much if you add in the time required to build it. That said, I've always wanted to build an amp so price isn't as much of a factor compared to final quality.
 

Robert Graf

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I’ve built three amps now and they cost way less than the retail version. I built my AB763 for around $400, my 5F6-A for around $350, and my father-in-laws JCM800 for $700. If you have parts already, and build a cabinet yourself, it cuts the cost significantly.
If you have the tools and the skills, it's a lot easier. And if you get to know music store owners or visit garage sales and hamfests, you can get parts cheap. Do some repair work for others, and a lot of times you'll find a good deal as a swap for a fix. And check out ebay or other places, where you can search and have them email you search results. You can pickup the kits from others who lost interest, and save money that way. I picked up the chassis, brass metal work, eyelet boards, face and back plate for a Princeton reverb for somebody doing clone barebones chassis kits for 140 bucks. Plenty of deals, if you have some ingenuity and look around. Try google, as well, if you know how to do good searches. If you don't, the good results get buried. Try switching the order of the search terms, and drill down by getting more specific. And search more than once that way. The best deal are usually from somebody that doesn't know how to sell.
 

smokey9701

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Amp kit compared to the "real thing". Not sure why you would not consider it the real think. The design of a 5e3 may be the same no matter if its build by fender or anyone else. If the design is solid, the builder did a good job of assembly and the sound is fine then I would consider it the real thing.
 

El Marin

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Hi

I can talk about some kits vs real thing.

-I had a Ceriatone Champ kit fight against a modern Champ 57 Custom Shop champ. I liked more my kit because I had a 12", a really efficient 12" and it jus wasn't farting when pushed like the Fender

-Same with a Princeton I used many years... also with a 12" and a oversized cab. Also modded my Princeton to 20W and added a Gain pot. The real Fender Princeton sounded small compared. At the end they may be different animals.

-Marshall Plexy. I could choose between a real Marshall and a clone for a recording session and ended using the clone. The owner says that maybe could be because he carefully choose the valves and the Plexy was just a "run of the mill"

-Deluxe reverb: A friend of mine built a just the vibrato channel of a 65 Deluxe reverb with a Middle pot. He had a real one there and the clonesounded much better to my ears

I think that the point to have a clone is when you are really sure of what you want and go for it. I wanted a Princeton with 20W a Master and a 12" so I had to make it. Cost? less than buying a Fender PR and mod it
 

schmee

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You dont need a variac. I have one but can't remember the last time I used it. I think I missed the video showing where all the TV makers and Stereo makers bring their new units up first time with a variac before shipping... :lol:
A $20 multimeter works just fine most often. I have a Fluke and a $20 one. I prefer the Fluke but not sure why.. either works.
 

jbensaab

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I built my first amp 20 years ago which was a dual 6V6 single ended Princeton from scratch from information off of the Angela Electronics website which has since been taken down. It worked perfectly the first time I plugged it in and it still works today. Since then I have built several 5E3's and an AB763, with varying degrees of success, they all worked but some were noisy and had to be modified. So I learned a lot in the process. I built a Mojotone 5E3 kit last because I wanted to see how easy it was to build a kit. A Mojotone kit is so much easier to build, they come with a wonderful set of instructions and it took about 10 hours total. It does take a modest set of tools to put together, but I think everybody should take one on. They sound really good and in no time you can sound just like Neil Young. By the way I think that Mojotone actually builds the Fender tweed deluxe's for Fender, I know for sure that they built the Gibson GA5 I purchased and because I was so impressed with the build of that amp I got the 5E3 kit from them.
 

Tele Plucker

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Here's a gut shot of Fender's "Custom Champ." We should at least be thankful that it's not on a PCB board. Good for them.

View attachment 816924

And here is the “Custom Champ” chassis along side my original 1959 Champ (newer speaker) for comparison. Quite a difference in makeup. I have not tried a reissue, but I sure like my ‘59.

F7F1A71A-1D7C-41B3-A406-B4F953C95A7E.jpeg

Front view

4EEF9B23-5CE6-4C8C-BF47-C5A3B75BA775.jpeg
 

Bluzzi

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If you don't own the tools or have previous experience in at least soldering some circuits (in this case tube ones), then the cost will be very close if not more than buying a new amp.

However! It's the journey not the destination necessarily (that is a perk). You need to really enjoy the process of wiring and soldering and testing and trouble shooting (yes invariably there is a chance it won't work on first turn-on.).

I have all the tools from long ago, including multi meters and oscilloscope. You don't necessarily need all to build electronics and certainly not for a Kit.

If you enjoy tinkering and building things, if you see yourself excited at the thought of wiring an amp and finishing it then go for it. If you are still not 100% sure then look for the cheapest Kit you can find. Maybe start with a preamp or a pedal (maybe not a pedal unless it's a tube one.). But if it's only the thought of saving money then don't do it.

Remember though that working with tubes is working with lethal voltages. Not to scare you because if you follow simple rules it's very safe obviously as there are thousands of people building amps and they are still with us.

So it's not about saving money it's about the fun and pride of building your own amp. Another thing is that if you get the bug you can find schematics for amps that are no longer being built or if they are cost triple what it would cost to build as they are being made by boutique shops. That is where you will save money. Building a Fender Champ will most probably not save you anything especially if you count your time. But what it will get you in value is what you learn.

If you are not sure then start small and cheap and see if you like it. If you don't then you still have an amp that cost you about what the production one would have. If you do you will have gained knowledge you can apply to your next build. Oh yes, remember the time you are building you are not playing so take that into account. I got bit so much from the DIY bug I didn't play anywhere as much as I should have for years. I'm back to playing mostly with an occasional build (guitar etc.) and much happier.

Enjoy whatever it is you decide to do.

Cheers

Jim
 

Wharfcreek

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To the OP: A lot of really good insight in this thread. but a couple of things still missing that you might want to consider. The first is the simple fact that your basic question may have a flaw in it that you haven't thought about! That 'flaw' is that you're asking to compare a 'kit' to ..."the real thing" as if there was some definite deviation that might specifically make one 'better' than the other. There-in lies the flaw! Consider having 10 amps, all of a similar make and model, or 10 guitars, all the same......all lined up for you to play and choose from. It's likely that after listening to the 10 amps and playing the 10 guitars, there would be one or two that you would NOT like...... and perhaps one or two that became your top choices. YET...... ALL these are...." the real thing!". My point being, the even among these so-called 'real-deal' items, there are differences. So, what then really IS the choice you're making here? I'd answer that by saying that this is like buying anything else; a car, a washing machine, a fishing reel, etc. You're really buying the basic performance parameters of that 'thing' (what ever it is), and then hoping that it lives up to your expectations and desires. For the record, you could go out and pay $3000 for a genuine '57 anything.....and within a day, a week, a month....have it fail for some reason or another. Or, you could spend $300 on a 'reproduction', and have it last your lifetime! So what then is it you're really looking to accomplish?

As a guy who has been around guitars and amps for over 50 years, and been building and repairing for over 30 years, I'm going to state for the record that a 'guitar amp' (and particularly those from back in the '50s and '60s) is NOT a very 'sophisticated' thing!! They are 'production' amplifiers, and not built to the absolutely rigid standards of their bretheren 'HiFi' amplifiers....which are 're-production' units! In a hifi amp, the goal is to be 'colorless'.....with ZERO distortion, and able to reproduce any sound as accurately as possible. In a 'production' amp..... the amp is as much a part of the musician's sound as is the guitar he (or she) is playing it through. So, how does this relate to your (the OP) original question? Well, if 10 different Fender 5F1 Tweed champs were laid out end to end, and you were to include both 'original vintage amps' as well as a few 'reproduction' versions within the mix, you'd probably find that 1) they all sounded 'about' the same, and 2) your preferred top-3 choices might include a representative of both 'original' and 'reproduction' units. Why? Because today's reproductions as made by some of these really dedicated companies are actually quite good at replicating 'the real thing'!!

I've built about 20 to 30 'clones' of the Tweed Champ amp over the years, and I love to play around with trying to hear and 'feel' the differences. I have 2 that I keep here that are 'replicatants' of the original Tweed 5F1 amp, of which only 1 is a 'true' replication. The other, the MoJoTone 'kit' version is close, but the cabinet dimensions are ever so slightly larger than the true 'original' 5F1 amp. I suspect this is so you can possibly shoe-horn in a 10" speaker vs the original 8" speaker. Not a bad option from a player's standpoint, but how does that affect that comparison between 'kit' and 'the real thing'? Well, a larger cabinet is automatically going to produce greater resonance capability, as well as affect 'eddy' reflections within. Simply put, it will sound different. Better or worse not withstanding here..... just different!! Anyway, all of my other 5F1 versions are 'clones' and built as 'heads' without any speaker cabinets. By 'clone', I'm referring to the fact that while I use the 'basic' 5F1 circuit, I do change it up a bit by doing things like changing the rectifier from a 5Y3 to a 6CA4 or even a solid-state unit, or the 6V6 output tube to a 6BQ5, etc. I distinguish a 'replication' as being a 'duplication', vs a 'clone' as being the basic design but with alternate componants the still fit within the circuit. And, with a half dozen speaker cabs to swap around, I can 'study' the minor distinctions that each change can produce and see if it's consistent, or if it's just a function of that particular combination that day!

So, let me sum this up by saying that if you're considering 'building' something, maybe consider just building the amp itself on a basic 5X8X2" project box, and then playing around with it and some different speaker choices until you get the sound you're looking for. Someone in this thread indicated that building was more like putting a puzzel together than actually being a learning experience. I don't completely agree with that, as I believe that implies there's nothing to be learned by building the amp vs buying it. On the contrary, if you study the build process and the reasons for the choices of components being used, there's a LOT to learn!! But, if you just want to follow the diagram and slap it all together, that can be done with little gained in the way of education. It's really up to the builder to get as much out of the project as they want to......or not. Good on you if you decide to learn and progress in the 'tech' side. Good on you if you just get the sound you're looking for by 'building it yourself' and saving some money! Either way, it'll be an education! Feel free to PM me if you have any questions you think I might be able to help you answer!! And......Good Luck!! Tom D.
 
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Wharfcreek

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Here's a shot of some of the amps I've either built or fixed and kept. Note that the top row of 'chassis' units (on the window sill) are actually 'stereo' amps I've built. The row below it, all the chassis units, they're all different builds of the 5F1 circuit. Then there are a couple of reproduction 5F1 amps, the MoJoTone unit as well as my actual duplication unit, all seen it the pic. And finally, other little single ended one-tube wonder amps that are all using slightly different circuits and tubes. Note in the far corner is an 'original' Gibson GA-4 amp, which was the Gibson 'competitor' to the Champ amp, but REALLY different in tone and performance. Far less gain, but 'cleaner' and probably a little less overall volume. I had to completely 'gut' that amp and rebuild it from the ground (no pun intended) up! The amp sitting on top of the Epiphone piggy-back is actually an old movie projector amp that I rebuilt into a 'clone' of the Vox AC4 circuit. As you can see, there are a lot of 'options' once you start building on your own, plus it's just fun to be 'creative' as related to your music, but in a different part of it. It's like being able to build a guitar, but with strings are wires, and you use metal and tubes instead of wood and glue!!
My little amps.jpg
 

homesick345

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At about a grand, the Fender '57 Custom Champ is alot more than I'd like to spend on an amp. I ordered a Champ clone kit from Mojotone that I can't wait to arrive. Anyone here own or played both? If so, how does the kit version compare to the real thing? Thanks in advance!
I have both a victoria big champ and mojotone little champ. The mojotone in excellent and leaves nothing to be desired. Love the stock 8 speaker
 




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