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The Ultimate Tone – A Book Review of the Best DIY Guitar Tube Amplifier Series
This article is a book review of a six-book series that is the most comprehensive and clear explanation of do-it-yourself guitar tube amp construction, circuitry, tone, components, and construction techniques I’ve ever found. The review covers each book separately and recommends that you purchase them in a certain order to expand your knowledge in line with your building experience.
Kevin O’Connor of London Power has created a series of books entitled “The Ultimate Tone”. These books are truly unique and carefully crafted for the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) guitar tube amp hobbyist and boutique amp builder. The books also have a homely feel…all illustrations are hand drawn, the books are photocopied, printed on 8.5″x11″ paper and bound with plastic spines and clear plastic covers. There are currently six books in the series, with the most recent coming out in late spring 2008. You might want to buy the whole series at once and save a modest amount, but I think it’s worth considering buying them individually. and digest as you go, building projects along the way. One key thing though… you don’t necessarily want to buy them in numerical order. I recommend the following order:
- The Ultimate Tone Volume 3 – Generations of Tone
- The Ultimate Tone Volume 5 – Tone Capture
- The Ultimate Tone Volume 2 – Systems Approach Stage Sound Nirvana
- The Ultimate Tone Volume 4 – Advanced Techniques for Designing Modern Guitar Amplifiers
- The Ultimate Tone – Modifying and custom building tube guitar amps
- The Ultimate Tone Volume 6 – Timeless tone built for the future today
The Ultimate Tone Volume 3 – Generations of Tone
This is the most important book in the series for the beginning tube amp builder.
2–4. chapters lay out the basics of good DIY tube amp construction, complete with good electrical connections, grounding techniques, lead bonding and other wiring techniques, and mechanical layout, including assembly methods such as terminal strips, tower and grommet boards.
Each of the following chapters selects a particular ‘iconic’ amplifier, each iconic amplifier being a prototypical example of its class, and we examine in detail its circuit topology, the resulting distinctive sonic characteristics and the fatal flaws for which the product is notorious. for. Kevin presents the original sketches and then shows you how to apply the techniques detailed in previous chapters to improve the performance and reliability of the Icon without damaging the tone. Wiring diagrams are redrawn, layouts and mechanical solutions are worked out so that each chapter is a complete, self-contained, DIY amp project.
This process is repeated for several versions of the Champ in Chapter 5 (this chapter heavily influenced my own single-ended amp project), then in quick succession: the Bassman, Plexi, 800, Bull Dog, AC-30, Portaflex, SVT, Bass Master , Custom Special, Guitar Mate, Herzog and Laney amplifiers are covered.
If you can only buy one book for your DIY guitar amp hobby, I heartily recommend this one.
The Ultimate Tone Volume 5 – Tone Capture
Volume 5 picks up where Volume 3 left off, with a project-oriented approach and some sophisticated DIY tube amp solutions for guitar and bass.
The book begins with a chapter on vacuum tube operation called “tube sound,” followed by a chapter on guitar electronics and pickup characteristics.
The next two chapters are about small projects: Sigma for effect switching and Triple-X for amp switching.
Chapters 5 and 6 are about transformers…important parts but made me yawn, sorry.
Starting with Chapter 7, all the stops are pulled out and we’re in project heaven… Major (200W), Soma 84 (EL84 amp), Standard (the London Power Standard preamp from 1995 with a 50W amp, four via power tube ), Doppelsonde (mixing power tube types), AX84 (debating the original purpose of a very low output power amplifier), Kelly (50W from 4 6V6), and several other smaller projects.
One of my favorite projects was based on Kevin’s reworking of the Matchless HotBox tube preamp pedal in Chapter 16. I actually built this pedal “true dot-to-dot style” (i.e. terminal blocks) in a Doug tube pedal housing. Hoffman, substituting a Baxandall stack and reworking the preamp values to Dumble-esqe (non-HRM type).
What would you do if you wanted an amp to match Yngwie Malmsteen’s style? See chapter 18 “Swedish”.
The Ultimate Tone Volume 2 – Systems Approach Stage Sound Nirvana
Volume 2 is not project-oriented. Most of the book, chapters 2–5. chapter, covers power supply tricks and a comprehensive overview of power amplifiers, including tube, solid state, and hybrid power amplifiers. Chapter 3 on Tube Power Amplifiers contains very practical information on modifying and repairing Marshall and Fender preamplifier circuits.
I like the first and last chapters of volume 2 the best. The first chapter gives a brief introduction to sound stages and how to set up your equipment on stage for the best audience/band experience. The last chapter, 6, is called “Pillars of Tone” and in this chapter the main contributors’ tones are discussed one by one at the block level of the guitar tube amplifier design, and Kevin provides some very valuable insight into tone shaping. preamplifier/amplifier.
The Ultimate Tone Volume 4 – Advanced Techniques for Designing Modern Guitar Amplifiers
This is the book to buy if you feel the need to dive deep into the performance scaling technology that Kevin has developed. Created and trademarked by Kevin, Power Scaling is a way to match aspects of power amp distortion (as opposed to preamp distortion) to the tone of your bedroom volume. Volume 4 is not DIY project oriented, but explores issues such as attenuation, power scaling (both down and up), ramping, and power management that modern guitar tube amp designers are concerned with.
That said, the second and final chapters of Volume 4 may be important to a wider group of keen builders… design philosophy. In this chapter, Kevin presents a hierarchical planning process that can be used to make key decisions about how to approach your next project.
The Ultimate Tone – Modifying and custom building tube guitar amps
There is no volume number in the title of this book, it was no. Personally, I bought it for completeness. I specifically wanted the “perfect effects loop” info, although the loop itself is built into a project in volume 5. TUT also has some excellent material on reverbs and signal conversion methods that the other volumes don’t explain. The first half of the TUT introduces/overviews tube amplifier systems, power supplies and grounds, then focuses on preamplifier and power amplifier modifications for commercial amplifiers (e.g. Marshall/Fender)… if you’re completely new to tube electronics, you should buy this. Volume 1 at the same time as Volume 3.
The Ultimate Tone Volume 6 – Timeless tone built for the future today
Volume 6 is in many ways a continuation and expansion of the material in Volume 4 where performance scaling is introduced. Volume 6 features a new “direct control” version of Powerscaling, introduced in Volume 4, but washed out with comprehensive circuits, and also applied in Volume 6 for “sag” and “sustain” control. The new scaler circuits have many advantages in DIYers like more noise immunity and less sensitivity to layout etc.
I applied the new DC Power Scaling to a Trainwreck clone project and was very impressed with the improvement in “playability” at lower volumes… the unmodified Trainwreck Express circuit is too loud for home use, so I have to crank it up to get the sweet. sounds he is famous for.
A chapter in Volume 6 is devoted to Dumble amplifiers… which I was looking forward to since many of my hobby projects focus on these circuits. I found this short chapter to be a good introduction to the general architecture of Dumble amplifiers, written from the perspective of the evolution of early modified standard amplifiers started by Alexander Dumble, but I felt that the chapter failed to discuss it. some of the more important subtleties of later Dumble models.
Volume 6 also has a lot of other material, including a great tutorial on designing really high output amplifiers and a great chapter on designing high gain amplifiers, with real circuit references and detail.
Kevin’s books are very empirical in approach. He encourages you to throw convention aside in some cases, or not be afraid to try combinations of tubes or even pull tubes, and in each case he clearly explains why it’s good and points out any reasons why it wouldn’t be okay. All the examples in the books are very practical and you definitely have the do-it-yourselfer in mind when writing.
Kevin’s work is truly encyclopedic in nature, and considering his books are sorely lacking in indexing…this is exacerbated by the fact that Kevin constantly refers to previous writing rather than repeating himself in a new volume. , and with the other book in hand, it’s very hard to put your finger on the reference. Perhaps search engine technology, such as Google’s ability to search for proprietary content, could be put to good use in this case and provide a sort of “auto-index” of all of Kevin’s books on the web without giving away the book itself. Or better yet, how about an e-book format of Kevin’s entire collection of TUT books…I think all e-book readers have search capabilities…and Kevin’s hand-drawn schematics would probably scale properly and be very readable in e -paper shows the function of these devices.
Meanwhile, how can you get Kevin’s books today? The best way to get books is to order them directly from London Power Press. They now have a shopping cart at http://www.londonpower.com.
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