Saturday, November 5, 2016

Sprague Vitamin Q capacitors. Old school paper in oil magic for your hi fi!

Hello there tube amp heads.....

This is a little post about the legendary Sprague Vitamin Q paper in oil capacitors. I used to have dozens of these and at one point used to swap caps in and out of my hi fi amps when I had that kind of time. I was never all that impressed with the Vitamin Q caps in the past myself but decided to give them a go again now that I only have one system that I know quite well.

These arrived yesterday and I threw them in to my lovely single ended 45 tube amp.

When you have such a simple circuit like this, every little change makes a difference. For instance, the 6SJ7 driver tubes pictured lived in this amp for a day. They are Sylvania. Really nice tubes. I prefer my 5693 RCA Red series tubes by far so they went back in the box! The Sylvania version I love in a guitar amp. Big, open sound but for my hi fi I found them a bit harsh.

The signal caps were Sprague polyester PS type, .1@600V. I hate the 715P series that has been so popular for the last 30 years. The 716 is better but if I gotta use Orange Drops they gotta be PS types. I find them to be smooth, detailed and musical. Plus they are warm which I need and they don't sound harsh like the beloved 715.

Now the 715 in a mushy old amp? That can work. Not saying they are trash, remember, everything is a relationship so they work for some amps just great.

So when I audition a new cap, tube or transformer, the first thing I do is pick a record I've been listening to for many years of my life, preferably something with vocals. In this case it was "Rastaman Vibration" by Bob Marley. First question is how does Bobs voice sound? Can I make out the words clearly? Second is how does Aston "Family Man" Barrett sound? Does his bass sound natural.

First listen is terrible. No definition, crap bass. But, the amp had also been on a mere 3 minutes. When auditioning a cap let it burn at least an hour. When you rebuild an amp, you must give it time!

So I went about my business and came back to it after a few hours. Liquid.... That's the word I use. Bobs voice sounds clear and natural and the bass is big and fat. The bass however, does have a bit of flab I didn't notice before. These are bigger caps than what I had in there (.15 rather than .1) and I could go down to .05 and get my bass needs met. But I will continue to listen to records and see if it works itself out. As I recall, these Vitamin Q caps got better with weeks of use.

So the jury is still out. Do I spend $30 a cap on Jensen Paper in Oil? Are those worth it? (the answer is YES in my opinion. Those sound beautiful.) Or do I keep on keeping on with these surplus store gems? Time will tell and I will tell you later. For now I dig them about 85%.

And on a final note. Are paper in oil caps worth it in your guitar for tone caps? No.... Those merely bleed a little high end to the copper pipes in your walls. You can get a 50 cent ceramic to do that job. That's all marketing ladies and gentlemen......


And instant update....That was fast!

Listening to my favorite Coltrane record, "Crescent". Side 2..... I wore out my first copy ,I love this side that much.

Jazz has a wonderful way of mixing itself. At least in a quartet fashion. The bass and low drums are the lows, the piano and sax are the mids and the ride cymbal are the highs. Coltrane sounds like he's hanging out in my little apartment playing. How the hell did he get that sound is beyond me! So warm and beautiful on this record. Jimmy Garrisons bass has authority and clarity and McCoy Tyner....crystal clear. The second song on side 2 is called "The Drum Thing". All about Elvin. Such a beautiful, dark drum sound. That piece moved me to change the way I make music. Oh yeah, this is about some caps.....they've been burning in all night. I'm in love.......

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

1973 Fender Twin Reverb with rare JBL speakers

I played a Twin through high school. They're big, heavy and torture to take around. I'll never forget loading mine up in the back of my dads station wagon one night and he drove me to band practice (a Go Go band called Currency back in 1985!) and we took a corner and heard a crash. I was worried about my precious tubes. In Actuality it took out a window and the amp was just fine.....

About this amp. It's a nice one. This was a custom order one loaded with original JBL speakers and has the original foot switch.....

I'd never choose these speakers myself but when I do hear them I understand why someone would. Clean, big and bright. I actually like them in a black/silver panel Fender amp.

The complaint on this one was muddy sound, noisy intermittent reverb. It had some bad caps, needed a good cleaning, fresh output tubes and a NOS 12AT7 reverb driver tube. Never use a new 12AT7 in this position. They don't last and there are plenty of cheap 12AT7 tubes about....Sylvania, RCA, Telefunken, GE, anything but JJ or Sovtek!

This amp was also literally 7 resistors and 1 capacitor away from the original black panel circuit. I converted it. That's a part of that muddy tone one heard with these early 70's amps. It's worth it. The amp plays with a more open sound. Also re-wire the bias circuit so you can actually bias the amp. Get rid of that 'balance' arrangement.

Silver panel schematic:

Look at the phase inverter. That's where the "silverness" happens. Change it up to:

You may also change the 2 resistors in the power supply, but I prefer to leave those alone. A hair warmer in my experience.

You don't see many of these about here in NYC. Most of us prefer Deluxe Reverbs or Princeton Reverbs for these tiny clubs. So the prices are largely dependent on region. Some places you can get one for a bargain. You can buy one of these hand made amps for the price or less than a new reissue! Leaves me to wonder what the point is in those reissue amps. They are nice, but not quite as nice as one of these. Something to consider......

Idea on value:

One like this with JBL speakers can command a high price, the rest, great amp for the money!


Update on this: Client wanted a fresh set of preamp tubes as well. I'm a "if it ain't broke don't fix it" kind of guy but complied. When you change an entire set of tubes sometimes problems can arise. In this case one did. The tremolo started going 'tick tick tick tick'. No biggie. Simply put a .1 600V capacitor across the neon bulb tremolo 'bug' from the 10 Meg resistor to ground. I have little idea why this works, I'm just glad Jeff Bober showed me this trick 25 years ago! Saved me a lot of time over the years. I watched another tech painfully decline this and his customers Twin just kept coming back to solve the problem. The situation got tense. I told him this but he saw no logic in it understandably but he wouldn't even try it. I wasn't the tech at this shop and knew by suggesting this I was merely causing tension so I backed off. The customer backed off too and went elsewhere.....

Amp sounds great. Those JBL speakers have a richness to them. That's why they work so well for me. Clean but good, complex clean.