Handwired amps! Hype?

Discussion in 'Amp Central Station' started by Fred Rogers, Oct 13, 2014.

  1. telex76

    telex76 Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    I had a DRRI and thought it sounded great. Then I got a Silverface DR and it just sounded so much better. The same when I got a Blackface DR. The DRRI just couldn't match them. I'm sure a lot of it has to do with the age of the speaker and components.

    I got a Brownface DR and then I built a handwired clone. The clone sounded real close, but just didn't quite have the depth or richness of tone as the original. I'm hoping getting some hours of playing time will get the clone to where the original is.

    If you are doing your own amp work; there is no comparison, handwired is the only way to go.
     
  2. vangoghsear

    vangoghsear Tele-Meister

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    I think that with a boutique hand wired amp, verses a factory hand wired amp there could be a difference. The boutique builder starts with the factory's circuit, then adds their own tweaks and possible improvements to make it quieter, or have more gain, or mid control, discover wiring paths that give the least cross talk, they are free to second guess the circuit to try different things, where the factory worker may not have that freedom.
     
  3. bparnell57

    bparnell57 Poster Extraordinaire

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    Hand wired circuits often have better component choices. Also, circuit capacitances and such may effect it. For every amazing hand wired amp there may be one that sounds dull if they're mass produced, a PCB prevents variation.

    Edit: typo
     
  4. Mike H.

    Mike H. Tele-Afflicted Silver Supporter

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    The newer PCB amps are more consistent than older amps because quality control in manufacturing is leaps and bounds ahead of where it was in the past. I think a lot of the great tone that comes from boutique amps today has more to do with the design of the circuit than hand wiring vs. PCB.
    Besides being easier to service or mod, I think hand wired amps have an edge in durability, especially amps that are on the road a lot. Getting moved around, jarred and jostled will take its toll on PCB amps, especially those with tubes mounted directly on the PCB. There's a good reason that all those 50+ years old Fender amps are still performing today.
     
  5. printer2

    printer2 Poster Extraordinaire

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    Never liked that.
     
  6. Crobbins

    Crobbins Friend of Leo's Ad Free Member

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    Here's what Randall Smith has to say. :eek:

    http://www.mesaboogie.com/US/Smith/point-to-point.html


    Point-to-Point Wiring
    Myth VS. Reality

    circbordIn the course of a recent interview, I was asked how the Trem-o-Verb gets its great vintage performance--without being wired point-to-point, and "would it be even better if it were?"

    Perhaps this wasn't such a surprising question since the author had recently reviewed some pricey amplifiers whose manufacturers emphasized that their amps were indeed wired point-to-point, as if that mere fact would indicate (to those "in the know" at least) a product of precious distinction.

    What Is It?

    In point-to-point, the resistors and capacitors are joined with wires to solder points laid out on an insulating tag board. Wires from each solder joint then run off to the tube sockets, switches, and controls. One manufacturer has even rejected the tag board and uses phenolic terminal strips screwed to the chassis instead. This method deserves recognition for being the slowest, most labor-intensive and most error-prone wiring method of all. Point-to-point is probably about the oldest construction style and it's still appropriate for making a "one-off" piece of electronics. But does it produce a better sounding amp?

    My job as designer has always been to focus on the "black magic" of amplification: first, how to get it and, second, how to get it consistently. And there, my friends, is the biggest disadvantage with point-to-point, consistency is very hard to maintain.

    What We Do

    From the first, Mesa/Boogies have used a combination of point-to-point and printed circuit board methods in order to ensure absolute consistent placement of critical parts and conductors. It is easy to demonstrate how moving some parts or lead wires as little as 1/4" can make a huge difference in the top end "transparency" of the sound--exactly where a lot of the magic lives--or dies.

    Inside a typical point-to-point amplifier are signal wires leading from the component board to the preamp tube sockets. Because many of these can be quite critical, we always locate our tubes along the center line of a printed circuit board so the lengths of traces can be extremely short and perfectly consistent.

    Great care and many scrutinized revisions result in a circuit board layout that avoids any unwanted "stray couplings" that can rob tone, or may even include a few nuances of intentional interaction (black magic) which cannot be reliably duplicated in the point-to-point style.

    And Why We Do It

    For example, the great top end of the Dual Rectifier has an aggressive bite but avoids the harshness by the way two very important traces are laid out on the board. One trace is on the top and the other runs right beneath it on the bottom side of the board. Thus the very small--but significant-amount of capacitance coupling these two together through the board performs a subtle filtering kind of negative feedback in a critical region where the harmonics can be made to line up just right. Obviously the alignment of the traces on both sides of the board must be precise and consistent for this to work.

    Here's an illustration of the different wiring techniques. Think of printing books versus writing them out longhand. Once the type is properly set each printed page will be the same--no errors. Now go one step further and imagine trying to line up the letters on both the top and bottom sides of a sheet of paper--this time by writing longhand. It's all but impossible. Yet such precise alignment is critical to achieving the performance we're after--each and every time. With a printing press or a printed circuit board it's easy.

    Where do we still wire point-to-point? Anywhere it makes a better amplifier is the brief answer. Many manufacturers try to put everything on printed circuitry, but we individually mount and point-to-point wire all jacks, switches, transformers and 8-pin power tubes. The reasons are increased reliability and total ease of replacement. If those parts are PC mounted, major disassembly is required to get at them. Even worse, they can cause the whole PC to fracture if they're bashed in hard enough, then the amp is practically non-repairable.

    Our commitment is to provide a professional instrument which, with minimal maintenance, can last a lifetime or more. All our circuit boards are double-sided and "plated through" meaning that each and every hole has a platinum and copper sleeve formed inside of it which is integral with the copper traces on the top and bottom. This way each component lead is soldered three times: top, bottom and inside the hole.

    Most manufacturers use singlesided boards where there is only one solder connection per part on thin foil glued to the boards surface. Moreover, these boards, once installed can't be hand-soldered for repair or replacement without totally dismantling the amplifier.

    Let's Talk History

    I must have repaired thousands of old Fenders--and I was the guy who could usually get rid of the stray noises--but not always. I finally found out why some of these noisy amps seemed incurable. The noise was originating in the point-to-point tag board itself! The board material can absorb moisture and become slightly conductive. The factory's recommendation was to bake the boards in a drying oven then dip them in melted wax to seal out the moisture!

    Here's another: Tag boards warp, and the warpage increases the space between eyelets. Years ago, a guy phoned me, freaking out that his Fender had gone down before a big gig. I listened to his description of the problem, then advised him to pull out the chassis and look for the brown-black-brown-silver resistor running lengthwise across the board. "Give it a little tug and you'll probably find it's broken loose at the solder joint," I told him. He called back relieved and ecstatic--said that he'd never fixed anything before in his life. No sweat. I must have fixed a hundred black face Fenders where point-to-point board warpage had caused this problem. Don't get me wrong, I love Fenders. Without them, it's safe to say, none of us would be here!

    Conclusion

    So there you have it, four specific advantages of the printed circuit board: 1.Consistency of location, 2.Ability to use the board for intentional coupling, 3. Immunity to noise-causing moisture, and 4.It does not warp.

    Now what about the way in which a conductor affects the sound? Is a round copper wire better than a flat copper trace on a circuit board? Not according to Randall Research (no relation to me!) who has studied audio conductors under all conditions, including at the molecular level under an electron microscope. His opinion is that if there is any advantage either way, it would be with the circuit board trace whose profile offers far greater surface area. It is well established that audio signals (especially the higher frequencies) tend to flow on the surface of the conductor, not through its core.

    All this is not to say that there aren't great sounding point-to-point amplifiers-obviously there are. But having built lots of amplifiers both ways myself, the mere fact that an amplifier has been wired this way is, as far as I can see, a guarantee only that it will cost more. If there was an intrinsic sonic benefit to using point-to-point throughout, you can bet that we would do it!
     
  7. bparnell57

    bparnell57 Poster Extraordinaire

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    Great quotation I must say, but I am still a firm believer that point to point will always be more robust in the case of surviving continuous repairs, tube swaps, and mods. How easy is it to change tone stacks in a hand wired amp compared to a PC board amp? PTP amps are terrible from a manufacturing standpoint, but in a piece by piece basis, pretty easy to plug in and test out.
     
  8. Henry Mars

    Henry Mars Tele-Afflicted

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    My way of thinking says that you shouldn't really be able to hear the difference between a PCB and PTP amp using the same circuits and assuming that every thing is laid out and wired properly.

    PTP tends to be better in a mechanical sense and from a repair point of view. I prefer PTP because I don't like controls or tube sockets mounted on PC boards and they tend to be easier to repair.

    How much money do you want to spend? That is what it comes down to.
     
  9. sax4blues

    sax4blues Friend of Leo's

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    Reparability, durability, and modibility(?) are different than the sound performance of an amp.

    Modibility, if I do not intend to ever change the tone stack in any amp I own, then the how difficult/easy that process is does not make either amp better for me.

    Reparability, my personal experience of playing Fender, Vox, Orange, Traynor, Mesa, PCB amps is I've had one repair requirement in 12 years. It cost $79 and took one week. I don't believe any tech will work for less than $79, PTP or PCB.

    Durability, are there really no PCB amps that last? I don't know my amp history but surely there some TDPRI members who have PCB amps which are 20/30/40? years old and still working fine. For me these are just another consumer item, not different than a TV. If I can buy something for $600 and it lasts 20 years, an $1,800 item that lasts 60 years pencils out the same in my checkbook. Actually, I could invest the other $1,200 and double it in less than 20 years.
     
  10. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    A big part of the actual difference in the SOUND is the fact that hand wired to terminals, and true PTP, allows the circuit to exist in three dimensions, where PCB is significantly limited to two dimensions.

    If you simply reproduce an existing hand wired amp with a PCB replacing all the wires, there will be parasitic oscillation and ghosting and other problems.
    The band aids needed to tame the new problems, and the problems themselves change the SOUND.
    Those changes are based on "how can we fix what we screwed up and still save production cost?", not "how can we make this amp sound great".

    If a higher end builder starts from scratch designing a PCB based amp they will pretty much always use multiple boards in different planes- to get three dimensional, and hand wire a lot of the amp, also allowing three dimensional and more robust circuitry.

    IMO those are two very different scenarios: PCB does not equal PCB.
     
  11. lethocerus

    lethocerus TDPRI Member

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    "Hand-wired" amps are built by people who love building them.
    "Factory" amps are built by people who probably do not love building them.

    Which one would you prefer to create music with?
     
  12. MrCairo46

    MrCairo46 Friend of Leo's

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    Hand wired means "OOOoops" with Fender. I bought a Fender 135 bassman head in 1979. In the summer of 1981 I started having issues with sound just stopping. Lights and fuses all good. I opened it and found several wires bent around posts, no solider. Techs called Em Friday 5 pm jobs
     
  13. Jebrone Lames

    Jebrone Lames Banned

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    PCB's traces can lift, but that is usually due to owner's modding components. I've had amps whose PCB's are 20+ years old and no issues.
     
  14. dsutton24

    dsutton24 Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    There are too many variables to make a general statement. A handwired amp that was built by someone who soldered well, chose components carefully, was conscientious about component placement and wire dress, well, that amp might be a good one. The same amp handwired by a doofus is likely to be just about anything, good, bad or fire hazard.

    Even in their hey day, not all production hand wired amps were gems.

    A well designed PC amp will most likely be consistent from one to the next. A good one will probably be much like its siblings. There are a lot of good ones. There are a lot of bad ones.
     
  15. printer2

    printer2 Poster Extraordinaire

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    None of my PA's were tube, all the equipment took a beating. And all of it kept working night after night. No PTP anywhere. All depends if the manufacturer built robust enough.
     
  16. sax4blues

    sax4blues Friend of Leo's

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    Yeah but they loved building them.
     
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2014
  17. Guitarteach

    Guitarteach Poster Extraordinaire

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    Hype.... Sure a bit of that...

    The marketing of p2p or 'hand wired' seems to be working very well though... Although no ones seems to have mentioned wiring in 'cryo'ed' components and hookup wire yet - it's stellar change in tone - honest!!... And wait until you play your whole rig in a deep freeze... Get that superconducting going too!!

    I might leave some supermarket cheese in my cupboard for 4 months and then re-market it as 'hand selected, hand wrapped, home made, small batch, boutique matured '. I reckon I could get 300% on my investment and 'reissue' it just before Xmas each year and change the wrapper colours for a special 'limited run' edition. A hipster name like 'stink foot' might give it the edge.

    It's not like both methods today don't involve chassis going along production lines / tables with same or similar bulk bought components picked out of bins by low paid workers.

    I am excepting the true 'one at a time custom builders' of course but profits must be maximised on either approach by the mass manufacturers. They are not charities selling this stuff.

    Can't look at the words - u need to look at the method. There are so many 'transparent' pedals these days I could build a greenhouse from them!

    For me it's about ability to mod - but on the other hand the amp I made is a simple single ended design. For a sophisticated circuit with loads of channels, tone shaping and gain options, point to point would be ungainly at the least.

    Of course I could 'true bypass' all this and pick up an acoustic.
     
  18. Middleman

    Middleman Friend of Leo's

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    I have a 81 Vibrolux. It sounds amazing but every couple of years I'm hunting down a resistor or cap that is going bad. I live in fear of the transformers going down. I could probably get $1500 out of it if I keep it updated. If the transformer goes, the value drops in half.

    I also have a 2005 DRRI, coming up on 10 years of service. It also sounds amazing and it's never required opening the hood. It just keeps on ticking and if the transformer goes bad, then I will swap it out with little impact to the potential value.

    The test question is: Which amp would you rather play all the time.
     
  19. Del Pickup

    Del Pickup Poster Extraordinaire

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    Several years ago I had an early Bassman RI which I thought sounded way better than the Victoria clone. However, I traded the Bassman for a 57 Twin and it was like night and day tonally. Different amps of course but the Twin has sold me on hand wired amps now - although I do have to say that I really like my little Ampeg GVT15 head which I think sounds excellent.

    However, I think the big bonus for PTP amps is the long term servicing. I know someone who's a whiz with amps - builds his own - and he recently patched up a friend's DRRI. He said that 'a patch up' job was all it could be as they boards are so delicate to work on that, in his opinion, they're not really designed to be repaired.
     
  20. Silverface

    Silverface Poster Extraordinaire Platinum Supporter

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    "can" - sure; "in many cases" - well, in comparison to what? IF you go strictly with percentages, a far higher percentage of hand-wired amps are made (especially nowadays) with superior components. There are a far higher percentage of hand-wired amps with better components than there are automated-construction amps with the same quality components.

    It's been noted that a well-designed PCB amp should sound the same as a well made hand-wired amp. Ideally that would be the case; but it's impractical to manufacture PCB/automation-stuffed boards with the same kind of lead dress as a hand wired amp they are inherently susceptible to eddy currents (non-existent but "working" inductors that can change the frequency focus, and unwanted capacitance.

    Auto-stuffed boards are primarily made that way for two reasons: speed and cost. And when companies look at cost, they will also look at components used - and if a 1/4 watt resistor is OK compared to the original 1/2 watt, they'll usually go with the lower cost items.

    Components also vary - many of the parts used in familiar hand-wired amps cannpt be usd in auto-stuffed boards as leads are not consistent, parts are not precisely identical in size in all cases - and that means using mass-produced. low cost parts that have leads spaced to within thousandths of an inch (to fit board holes). And those types of parts are, with a few exceptions, generally inferior.

    Last - and well-covered - hand wired amps are hands-down easier to service. And often *cheaper*, as in many cases the policy of an "authorized service center" is not to replace a $.75 part, but instead replace a $30 circuit board.

    There are excellent sounding PCB amps, and some (take the Marshall JCM-800, for example) are very robust. But those boards are often hand-stuffed with a mix of higher-end parts, not robotically made in seconds on an automated production line. Even newer PCB amps are generally robotically-manufactured...and may sound great, but they won't have the serviceability of their hand-wired brethren.

    PCB amps are sounding better very day, but the build quality seems to be heading the other direction.
     
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