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Pros and Cons of Kit vs. Modern Production Amps

Discussion in 'Shock Brother's DIY Amps' started by Okieactor, Dec 8, 2020.

  1. Okieactor

    Okieactor Tele-Holic

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    I’m considering building a Mojotone Princeton Reverb Kit instead of buying a new amp.

    • Is a kit a cost effective way to end up with a quality hand wired amp?
    • Will I be happy that I did it?
    • Should I worry about whether I’ll be able to build it well enough to be happy with the results?

    What have been your experiences?
     
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  2. sds1

    sds1 Tele-Afflicted

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    Yes, it's the cheapest way to build an amp of a particular quality without getting into mass production.

    One cost consideration though, what's your current tool setup? Soldering iron for example.

    If you want a Princeton Reverb, yes definitely. The build quality has the potential to be top notch, you can't buy that. But, you'll want to pay close attention to your craftsmanship and have some decent tools on hand to get the best result.

    I think it would be weird if you weren't worried about it haha.

    But it will come out great in the end, you'll see it's a challenge most anyone can take on and win at.

    What "modern production" amps were you looking at as alternative to building?
     
  3. Mr. Lumbergh

    Mr. Lumbergh Poster Extraordinaire

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    1 and 3 depend on your experience, confidence, and tools. 2: if successful, probably if you're anything like me. If not, frustrated.
    There's a lot of knowledge on here though and most of the guys with it are generous, so if you take your time and ask questions when needed you'll probably be OK if you feel comfortable with the actual work.
     
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  4. Wyatt

    Wyatt Tele-Afflicted

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    That's debatable.

    In general, building your amp amps is not "cost-effective". Not after tools, time, and mistakes. Plus, an assembled kit is usually only worth 2/3 - 3/4 what the unassembled kit cost originally. It's value decreases as soon as you start to assemble it.

    In the long run, for most guitarists, it's more cost-effective to buy a DRRI, 1959SLP, etc. They aren't hand-wired but are reliable for gigging and hold their value.

    DIY amps, guitars, pedals, etc. are hobbies onto themselves. We build them because we enjoy building them.

    Do you want to build an amp? Do you enjoy and feel accomplishment from DIY projects? Then yes, you will be happy, and as long as you get it working, the circuits themselves are very forgiving and will sound great. Just don't bite off more then you can chew.
     
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  5. loopfinding

    loopfinding Friend of Leo's

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    -Is a kit a cost effective way to end up with a quality hand wired amp?

    in my case it has been. I’m able to get a lot of free/discarded old parts and build my own enclosures. make some friends with people who have too much crap in their shop. and maybe don’t care about aesthetics so much.

    -Will I be happy that I did it?

    I certainly am. I’ve made the best amp for my tastes, more flexible and with a much lower noise floor than a lot of production amps.

    -Should I worry about whether I’ll be able to build it well enough to be happy with the results?

    I didn’t build an amp until I had already had a bunch of pedals and synth circuits under my belt. I was also working as an assistant to an engineer at the time. So I was able to do a bang up job. But, if you pick something simple enough, it’s easy to learn. I have been more satisfied with stuff I’ve made from scratch than modding production stuff to taste.
     
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  6. Guitarteach

    Guitarteach Doctor of Teleocity

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    I’ve made several... It’s a nice and fun thing to do. Your skill and experience with the soldering and testing will determine if its a great amp or a long term project. You need to factor in woodwork if making your own cab.

    i have gigged an 18w I made and I tried every mod possible with all the amps - others are lower wattage.They all have vvr circuits and boosts, etc.

    i have a highly modified champ with a 12” Celestion Blue in a big half back cab.. superb tones.
     
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  7. ahiddentableau

    ahiddentableau Tele-Meister

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    Can you build an amp using a kit and end up with a fantastic result? Yes.

    Are you going to save a lot of money? No. Especially not when you consider the time you put in.

    Should you worry about your ability to do it well enough that you'll be happy with results? Absolutely! This is a huge issue. I don't mean to overstate how difficult it is to build a guitar amp, but they aren't exactly simple. Leaving aside the issue of safety (you will be working with hundreds of volts and it can be dangerous if you don't understand what you're doing), if you have no or minimal experience building circuits it can be a real challenge. The big question is: what are you going to do if something goes wrong? IME, it's not the building that is hard, it's the troubleshooting. If you go slow and triple check everything as you go, you may end up with an amp that fires up and works perfectly right from the start. The majority of my projects have ended up that way. But there is always going to be a signficant chance that you made a mistake somewhere, and troubleshooting an amp is not straightforward. It can be frustrating, time-consuming, horrible, infuriating. Do not underestimate this. There are few feelings in guitardom worse than putting a thousand bucks into a build and not being able to make it work. You should also keep in mind that a Princeton Reverb is not exactly a simple build, and would be a very ambitious choice for a first amp project. I wouldn't choose that circuit if I didn't have some real experience under my belt (I would choose something like a champ or a 5E3), but you aren't me.

    I'm not trying to put you off of building. I build, I love it, and I am very glad I jumped in the water. However, in my opinion, this is the biggest qualifier: if you aren't confident that you know how to deal with things if they go wrong, you shouldn't take on the project. These things aren't rocket science but they do require some real knowledge and skills to do right.
     
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  8. CapnCrunch

    CapnCrunch Friend of Leo's

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    I tell people who ask about amps that I've built when I'm playing them out the following. If you want a great hand wired amp to play, you can't buy a custom amp for what you can build one for. So, if your goal is to build it to play, then yes it is absolutely worth it and more than cost effective. If you intend to sell it at some point, then you are better off buying the custom amp because it will hold its value much better than the homebrew amp will. @Wyatt posted above that the kit (homebrew) amp will be worth about 2/3 of what the kit cost unassembled when done and that is good advice. However, my experience tells me that is optimistic. I see kit and homebrew amps for sale on the local craigslist often. They typically go for less than half what the builder has into them. DIY amps are kind of like partscasters, you have to build them how you want them to play and hang onto them. They make sense for that, but you'll lose money when you sell them.
     
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  9. CapnCrunch

    CapnCrunch Friend of Leo's

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    I disagree with part of this. You can absolutely save a lot of money depending on which amp you build. If you're looking for a Trainwreck or a Dumble huge savings are as easy as falling off a log. I built a Trainwreck Rocket clone. Other cloners have these for sale for $2k to $3K and new ones can be had from Ken Fisher's estate for around $4k. New Dumbles are ??? who knows. Original Rockets go for $30K-$40K. I built mine with all period correct materials to clone a Ken Fisher original. It cost me about $800.

    Original Tweed circuits can be built considerably cheaper than Victoria or Little Walter. Even some Blackface and Silverface amps would make $$sense to build from purely a cost perspective. The OP was talking about a Princeton Reverb and the cost comparisons on a PR will not be in the same ball park as a Wreck, or a Dumble or even in the ball park of a vintage Marshall or Vox, so that is a much closer call.

    The second part of the above, I agree with totally. When you consider the value of your time, it gets really difficult to justify building amps especially amps which are common and readily available.
     
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  10. sds1

    sds1 Tele-Afflicted

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    This is not incorrect. But, I was just looking up the Princeton Reverb mojo kit versus PRRI:

    Mojo kit: $875
    PRRI: $999

    So, in this case it's not a lot of money, I don't want to judge anyone else's financial situation but this build wouldn't be about the money.

    Buut maybe this isn't a fair comparison, because the mojo kit will (potentially) create a far better built amp in the end, let's say might even sound better (if not for nothing, the cabinet should be nicer).

    Maybe a more fair comparison would be Mojo kit versus Mojo's fully-assembled kit of same, which is a difference of $525.

    Now perhaps it gets to be a little bit more worth one's time.

    This is all of course if you're not doing it for the pure love of building amps, the greatest intangible of all. :D
     
  11. Okieactor

    Okieactor Tele-Holic

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    Wow. Good responses.
    Since there was follow-up...

    • Tools:Soldering iron, soldering stand (basic with the spring holder and area for your sponge) good work lights, work bench.
    • I can build the wooden bracket thing that holds the chassis while you work, no problem. I may have to buy some soldering-specific helping hands/magnifying glass type stuff.
    • Experience: A few pedal mods and simple pedal builds, guitar wiring, true bypass boxes, etc. I’m not amazing, but I can solder and am detail oriented with instructions.
    • Time: I care more about money. If I feel good about what I build, the labor doesn’t “count”, for me regarding cost.
    • Also: I will build the cab, they want too much, and I am a decent builder with pine and birch ply. I’m also building 2 teles. Not in a band, so if things take longer, it’s ok.
    • Amp Taste: I like fender cleans and Vox dirt. Not worried about the dirt at present; Vox kits were labeled as harder and I didn’t like the available features on Vox kits. Maybe later.
    • Music: Rock, blues, maybe up to hard rock/early metal, but nothing more aggressive.
    • Already Have: Peavey Classic 20 mh, Delta Blues, Blackstar HT-1R, and Supro Blues King 12.
    Hope that may be helpful.
     
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  12. ahiddentableau

    ahiddentableau Tele-Meister

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    I take your point, Captain. There are models where building is basically the only way to get an amp without it costing a small fortune. I'm starting a Trainwreck build and there's no way I'd be looking at one of those circuits if I wasn't going to be building it myself. However, he specified a PR, and I stand by my comment for that particular model. Especially if you don't buy into the vintage wiring/mojo thing and will consider a PCB version.
     
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  13. CapnCrunch

    CapnCrunch Friend of Leo's

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    Right on the money. I started building amps, because I wanted to play amps I couldn't come close to affording. As a by product I learned a lot, and picked up a hobby that is very enjoyable.....like I needed another "hobby". The Komet amps were what first pushed me to learn about amp building. Funny thing is I never built one of them. Maybe one day.
     
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  14. CapnCrunch

    CapnCrunch Friend of Leo's

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    You might have missed it, but I actually agreed with you on this point. Your reasoning is pretty spot on for why I have never built a blackface or silverface amp. I do have one Fender left that I haven't sold or traded, a Silverface Twin Reverb which is going to get Blackfaced when I can get around to it.

    For what the OP is considering, I would look and see if I could find a Silver face PR. You could black face it and if you ever wanted to sell it, you wouldn't lose any money on your deal.
     
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  15. CapnCrunch

    CapnCrunch Friend of Leo's

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    Read up and learn how to discharge caps and how to work inside a tube amp safely. Many try to scare you off for liability reasons, but learning the steps and techniques to stay away from high voltage is quite easy.

    You may need a step drill bit, and a few specialized hand tools like good side cutters and fine needle nose plyers. A good solder sucker is a necessity. Also I find hemostats (the clamp plyers that doctors use) to be extremely useful. Get good quality solder too. You can get by without an amp chassis stand/holder, but you won't regret making one if you do.

    If you like Fender cleans and Vox dirt you might consider building 5f4 Super or 5e5a Pro. They're easy builds and you will quickly see which amps the early Vox engineers were trying to emulate if you build one. You might also consider an early Fender 5b6 Bassman. They are killer amps and simple to build. There are plans here: Building Vacuum Tube Guitar & Bass Amplifiers, Volume 1: Tino Zottola: Amazon.com: Books

    Just some things to think about. My first amp was a 5e3 Deluxe built from a Mission Amps kit. It was a good experience, but the 5e3 is not my cup of tea. I soon after built a 5e5a Pro from scratch and sourced parts from lots of places like Mouser and Digikey, and several other parts sellers. I got my Trannies from Allen Amps. The bigger Pro does everything the 5e3 does and a lot more and is not any harder to build. I am now getting much more interested in the earlier 50's tweeds like the above 5b6 Bassman and the 5c3 and 5d3 Deluxe because of their Paraphase phase inverters and octal pre-amp tubes. The Little Walter 22 is very heavily based on the 5c3 so you can get a sense of what those earlier amps sound like.

    The biggest thing that I've learned in the 20 or so years since I built my first 5e3 is build what you want to play. I let folks on forums talk me into a 5e3. They actually tried to to convince me that a 5e3 was too much for a first build and pointed me at a tweed Champ. I wasn't crazy about the 5e3 even, but I went ahead and built it. It was not what I wanted and it went down the road pretty quickly. If you really want to build a vintage Vox circuit, then don't let people on this or other forums dissuade you. It may be more difficult than a tweed Champ, but it actually will probably be an easier build than a black or silverface reverb circuit. Build what you want to play. If you have difficulties, get on here and ask for help. There are some talented folks here who give of their time to help people out. It a great place to help you learn and grow your skills. Good luck with your first build, and don't be afraid jump in. Learn you safety protocols first though:).

    Here is a link to a company that does some interesting kits. I am in no way connected to them other than I have read post by their people at the 18watt forum and mostly over at the Ampgarage forum. I have a friend who built their TriWatt kit ( a Hiwatt style build) and he was very impressed with the parts in the kit and the build guide that came with it. They have a Vox/Matchless 15 watt kit that looks pretty interesting. Kits | Trinity Amps
     
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2020
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  16. schmee

    schmee Doctor of Teleocity

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    • Is a kit a cost effective way to end up with a quality hand wired amp? I think so, Yes. Consider no speaker if you get a kit and buy a better speaker. My guess on parts selected by you is:
    • Cabinet $225
    • Chassis and small components $225
    • Transformers: $125
    • Tubes, reverb pan etc $160
    • Speaker $100? So about like a kit.
    • Will I be happy that I did it? maybe! It should sound correct, so if you do it right, you should like it IF you like a PR.
    • Should I worry about whether I’ll be able to build it well enough to be happy with the results? Amps can be a bit tedious. The PR is fairly simple, but there is often a point at the end of building where you have to solve some problems; bad/forgotten solder joint, noise, etc.
     
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  17. loopfinding

    loopfinding Friend of Leo's

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    re:ambition, money

    One idea - you could try and find a suitable chassis (two 9 pin and 3 octal) and then build a PR without trem or reverb. Or a regular PR chassis and add them later. I think if you delete the bits on the circuit you don’t need (a friend of mine in the 90s used to make schematics by printing them, cutting them out and taping them together and then photocopying them) you can end up with something not too hard to figure out or not too much money. You may find you don’t even need the extras. And forcing yourself to do the parts inventory could keep you on your toes.

    FWIW I only look at wiring diagrams for vintage amps sometimes. When I’m doing stuff from scratch I hate diagrams, the schematic is just easier and more foolproof for me to translate from my head to the physical circuit. I don’t even like guitar wiring diagrams, I’d rather just have a schematic of the switch hookups.
     
  18. Dacious

    Dacious Poster Extraordinaire

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    If you just want the cheapest way into a good tube amp buy a secondhand Fender reissue. There's really no sonic difference between a reissue PCB amp and a hardwired one - Fender chose tagboards in the beginning as a way for semiskilked labour to mass-produce. Real point to point wiring is probably superior due to shorter, less parallel wire runs but not so easy to follow. Tagboards and turretboards do make it easier for homebuilders.

    Building amps is fun and great learning - can be frustrating.

    Things that potentially make it uneconomic are that resale is down to luck. Choose wisely as any buyer has to weigh up the lack of support and trust that it's built right. Plus lack of a badge makes a lot of difference.

    Then - bits like caps and resistors cost cents, jacks and switches cost a few bucks. Chassis costs $40-50. But cabinets, transformers and speakers plus good tubes cost a lot. The better, higher quality the more expensive. The brightware is where the $$ are.

    A kit might cost you $400-500 and you might need another $200 in parts to make it work well. Starting to get near the price of a 65 or 68 PRRI. Or a good secondhand Silverface. Which - if you want a great handwired tube amp you can work on us the bang for buck option, as it'll always be worth what you paid if you bought well.

    If you're going to do this, best advice is start with a simpler kit like Tweed Champ.

    Build that out, then look at a Princeton.
     
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2020
  19. SacDAve

    SacDAve Poster Extraordinaire

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    Lets start with saving money……..Guitars & Amps….. that just doesn’t happen. Moving on to building your own Amp: its very rewarding to play an Amp you built, yes there is a learning curve but you still can build a great 1st amp especially with help from this forum. A kit is the best starting place for a first Amp it cuts out all the guess for parts (everyone has a bag of why did I order that) The first Amp is a bit overwhelming to start but I guarantee before your done you’ll be thinking about the next Amp. Tools: the two tools I think are very important soldiering iron (or soldering station) and a multimeter. So, on the first Amp you probably won’t save a lot of money but as you learn you will move beyond kits and source everything yourself and save a bit.
     
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  20. MojoTrwall

    MojoTrwall Tele-Holic

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    For the money, the best stuff is to spot a clean build by diyer on second hand.

    At least in Europe.
     
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