An amplifier isn’t just about sound it is about feel
These days, however, it is becoming increasingly straightforward to build your own amplifier as the parts needed can be sourced so easily on the internet. The web also provides all the information needed to assemble and solder together these parts.
Despite this availability, it does take some experience in dealing with electronics and an understanding of how amplification works before you can set about making your own amp from scratch. For those in the intermediate stage, Amp Maker, a Suffolk based company set up a few years ago by Barry Plows, provides amp kits complete with a step-by-step guide to walk you through the process. Even then, it is not advisable to tackle such a project if you don’t have any understanding of physics. He says, “It isn’t an idiot proof guide because idiots shouldn’t be building high voltage amps anyway.” The danger that goes with playing with such high voltage is why he also doesn’t sell to under 18s.
The kits he currently sells are all valve, as opposed to solid-state amps which are completely digital. In part this is because solid state or modeling amps are too complicated for an inexperienced amp builder to make but it is also because valve amps are generally considered much more beautiful sounding than their modern counterparts. We ask Plows why he thinks valve amps are so much more preferable.
“An amplifier isn’t just about sound it is about feel. It is one of those intangibles but there is something about the feel you get when you hit the string and the speaker starts to move. It is completely different from a digital amplifier that does it all in the digital domain. I always feel a little bit detached from playing the guitar when I use a modern amp.”
Many guitarists would agree with this which is why, on the whole, professional players still prefer to use valve amps, despite them being much more heavy and expensive than solid-state amps.
The kits Plows sells are based on two traditional valve amps. The first is his PP-18 Vintage Plexi which is modeled on Charlie Watkins’ Dominator (which in turn is what Jim Marshall used as a model for his 18 Watt Baby Bluesbreaker.)
I always feel a little bit detached from playing the guitar when I use a modern amp
The second is his WF-55, perhaps the easier of the two kits to build, which is based on Leo Fender’s simple but classic practice amp, The Champ.
Unlike solid-state amps, it is relatively easy to fiddle with the components to alter the sound. Plows says, “Valve amps are easy to tweak because they are all hand wired. For example, if you want to tweak the amp to give it more bass than the circuit currently allows, all it requires is a knowledge of which capacities in the circuit do what – you can simply substitute a couple of values and that will give you extra bass.”
For the amp builder it doesn’t end with assembling the electronics however. It is then necessary to build and fit the enclosure, and then fit the speakers. This is where the builder is left to his/her own devices and can really start customising. Plows doesn’t supply these parts as there are too many variations to please all customers and, in a sense, providing these would undermine the whole idea of building one’s own amp in the first place. Plows says, “Some people may want a small combo amp with amplifier and speaker built into one box and other people may want a separate amplifier head and a separate speaker cabinet – there are many different ways of doing it.”
It is with these enclosures that the eccentricities of the amp builder can flourish – one kook went so far as to cover his amp in fake cowhide. Now, it’s over to you…