Tuesday, June 29, 2021

My favorite amplifier was stolen, please help! Magnatone A-646

 Hi all. About 2 weeks ago my favorite little amp was stolen from me. The photos here are from about 5 years ago and it's more beat up now. I also replaced the knobs and the pilot light which it sky blue, smooth glass. 

Any info would be much appreciated. I've filed a report with the NYPD......


Friday, April 30, 2021

Bronson Amplifier circa 1949, in the original box with the matching lap steel

 Today I got to see a stunning piece of history. This Bronson amp dated 1949, still with the original shipping box. It spent some of it's life in New Mexico at the Aloha Conservatory of Music. Apparently this school was affiliated with the Bronson brand. I would love to know more! American musical instrument manufacturing is a fascinating subject for me. Especially when it is tied to schools. 

Nothing to really write here, the amp isn't NOS, but it's as clean as one can be for a 72 year old amplifier. The customer wants to use it so sadly I needed to change every capacitor in the house. All of the wax caps were leaking badly (yes even with little use, they likely leaked right out of the Valco factory!). And I also replaced the electrolytic caps and the power cable at the customers request. Easy job. These are so well made. 

So the insides are all "before" pictures for your amusement. 

How does it sound? We happen to have a lovely old Kalamazoo model A with a real Charlie Christian pickup. Lovely combo. I'm a fan of a good field coil speaker which this has. Nice low end.

The filter cans are as follows: 40uf (big for the time!) and a dual 10uf can for the preamp and screens. 

Tubes are 5Y3, 6V6 pair, 6SC7 phase inverter and 6J7 pentode for the preamp. I'm a big fan of this arrangement having built a few amps with a 6SJ7 preamp into a 12AX7 or 6SL7 phase inverter. Big, warm sound with nice low end. 

Valco knew how to build a good amp. This thing runs pretty quiet. And it's a nice thing to look at. Easy on the eyes. An amp should be able to double as furniture so it doesn't get stuck in the closet when not being used. Potted plants should go near it alone with your sofa. These manufacturers had style back then. Not an ugly rock box or just some industrial looking thing that belongs in the garage. This is something you want to relax with and play some sweet music through. 

Friday, April 16, 2021

Kalamazoo KEA Amp revisited. "Why didn't I think of that???" Bad fuzz in the sound, let's get that out with a mod.....

 The Kalamazoo KEA amp now lives with my good friend Eric. It's become one of his favorite little amps to work with. We both think it's special sounding, very rich and clear. But alas, it still had some annoying issues.

This amp initially was a basket case. Doomed to the "part it out" pile. Missing speaker and all. I wanted to save it so luckily I found deep under the bench at Southside Guitars an old ceramic square magnet 10" that was shallow enough to fit in there. I replaced the field coil, with a 1k 10 watt resistor and yadda yadda, re-cap blah blah the usual.

In the end it became a lovely sounding amp. Impossible to make a buck off it so thankfully Eric wanted the thing. 

The volume pot was scratchy so I replaced that. The schematic called for a 500k, but what was in there was actually a 1 meg. I used one of those to keep the integrity of the amp. You need to remove the power transformer to access the pot! Easy enough but it's one of those things where you realize what a genius Leo Fender was! 

The pot was worn out but so was the .05 cap feeding it. That was leaking causing some scratchiness so I replaced that. He was stoked cause the pot was getting worse and worse, it only worked in certain positions.....

But it still had some rattle issues. Most were easy: microphonic old RCA 6V6 and very microphonic 6SJ7. Piece of cake!

But then I get that call..... something in the background sounds like a Fuzzface when it's out of batteries. The decay is like an amp that is biased way too cold. 

I was praying it wasn't the speaker. We paid good money to have that dead old speaker rebuilt....

So first thing was I re-doweled all of the screw holes. Some were loose after 70 years. That helped. The chassis was vibrating. 

But not 100% which is what we're shooting for.

So I figured let's lose that metal speaker grill. These amps likely weren't turned up to 10 back in the day. Those metal grills can cause issues. And we'll replace it with a boss looking vintage grill cloth. This amp sells for less than $500 on a good day so before you scream at me for changing that grill, I'll just say I DON"T CARE! And neither does Eric. This is an amp being used by a pro......

Anyway, that helped! Buy that decay was still bothersome. It didn't happen all of the time but it was annoying when it did.

So, next was more cabinet work. I mean, why didn't I think to glue that big ass crack in the baffle???

Done! Helped! Not perfect!!!!

So at this point I'm ready to throw in the towel. I sat down to lunch and had my Kabab Shack platter (Damn they are good there! 10 year customer!!!) when I had a thought:

On 70's Champs I always remove this one little capacitor that they added during the CBS era. It's a 330pf cap going from the control grid (pin 5) to the cathode (pin 8). This shunts some of the very high frequencies to ground, taming that sine wave if you will. When I worked for Budda we had a similar thing on the plates of the EL84 tubes to ground. 

Some Champs I wound up putting it back in. Others not. Why replace it? On some Champs I got this ugly distortion, not unlike a Fuzzface with a dying battery.......

CBS sucked but they did a few things right.

So after lunch I did two things: 

I added a 1 Meg resistor from the center tap of the volume pot to ground making it effectively 500K. I figured the schematic had a 500k for a reason. It's also not unusual to see values vary on amps this old. The pot was clearly original to the amp.

Then I also put a 100pf cap across that resistor. 

And..... that did the trick! No more nasty distortion getting in the way of Eric's playing! And on top of that the amp just has a warmer tone. It didn't lose any volume or any bite for that matter, it just simply works better.

So now this "one foot in the grave, another on a banana peel" amp is ready to cut tracks. I didn't think I could like this amp more than I already did. 



Thursday, April 1, 2021

My ReMus preamp. Pandemic project number 3,84whatever

 Today was pandemic project number three thousand two hundred and whatever. It entailed me spending a whopping 2 hours re-vamping the ReMus preamp I built way back in 1998 when I lived on the corner of Missouri and Failing (yes it actually was a dead end!) in Portland Oregon. 

It was an early build of mine with the classic "bowl o' spaghetti" construction. But it worked shockingly well so I never bothered to fix a few annoying issues. 

First was eliminating the tape out buffer. This preamp has one too many gain stages. The beauty of it is it's simplicity (I'll provide an updated schematic here).  So I put this part of the circuit on a switch as I like to use it for putting vinyl to digital. But audio should not pass through it going to the output. It's redundant and likely causes phase issues. There was something about the original design that I simply didn't like but couldn't put my finger on. I figured less is more and this did the trick. The whole thing sounds dramatically better.

Second was back in the day I used 1Meg pots. The original calls for 250K. I couldn't even turn it up past one before it gets too loud for my room using the phono stage! I fell into a rabbit hole trying to decide what to throw in there. This is my hi fi.... guitar amp pots aren't gonna do. One can obsess over this stuff. I wound up using pots by Tokyo Cosmos cause, well, Cosmos. I like the name!! I got them through Antique Audio Supply:  https://www.tubesandmore.com/products/potentiometer-tocos-rv24-audio-10-6mm-shaft

Again, major improvement. Everything sounds better and is much more in control!

My preamp is kinda "dual mono" rather than "stereo". In other words I have two mono volume pots for left and right rather than a dual pot. This eliminates the possibility of having one side behave differently than the other. 

I also replaced the output caps with Sprague Paper in Oil. Not Vitamin Q but I'm sure very similar. They're 1uf@ 400V.  Before I had these beautiful Angela polypropylene caps that were 1.5uf. I love those but wanted to try something else and love the Spragues more. The rest of the caps are Angela / Jensen PIO caps. Sadly none of these are made any longer. I think the business has gotten so spread out with competition. I don't know that anyone is making better stuff than what he was offering in the 90's.

Last but not least..... I used some cheapass RCA jacks. Total Jive dig?!? 

What was I thinking? They were always getting loose! The phono, line and output stage I did years ago with nice Switchcraft 3501. So today I finally did the rest, 24 years later! Typical tech. The last thing you want to do after a long day is your own stuff so it's easy to tolerate. One of my favorite luthiers plays bass. I asked him how his basses play and knew the likely answer: "dude they all play like crap!" he replied laughing.

Much better! I also added a center channel output should I want to experiment with a sub woofer. I've been fantasizing about that. Building a 50 watt mono block only to be used for symphonic music, reggae, soul, Afrobeat, electronic stuff. I'm kind of afraid I'll like it too much and get addicted to it but hey....

I also finally color coded my wires, left and right channel..... It was difficult to get Mogami hookup wire back then. Finally have a source and they have plenty of pretty colors! Cheap as chips too. That stuff is great. Warm, rich, full bodied wire and easy to work with. I could only buy it in blue back then!! 

Buy it here: 

Apparently you can get this on Amazon now but, well, ew......

So now I have one final task. The power supply is separate. It uses a 5U4 tube with all oil filtering, two chokes (another choke inside the preamp housing for a total of three!) and 6.3V DC filament voltage. I built it this way so I can have it far away from the audio. No AC voltage enters the preamp except for the signal itself. But...... I used an old Kenton transformer I scored at a Ham Fest.  And it buzzes.... I once had a 1967 Plexi 100 Watt Marshall with the same annoying problem. I couldn't do anything about that one cause no one made a replacement part for that old beast and, well, it was vintage. I think I sold that one to Mick Mars. He bought a few from me back then. Nice fella!

Anyway, that transformer has gotta go. It's ironic to have gone to such great lengths to create something quiet only to live with a stupid mechanical buzz! That will be my mid-April project.

For those who are interested in the schematic, here is the modern "no tape buffer' circuit. Brilliantly simple.

My own version used octal preamp tubes, substitute 6SL7 for 12AX7 and 6SN7 for 12AU7. I prefer these for hi fi. The modern little 12 volters sound a bit hyper for my taste. I like a bit more euphonic presentation. Plus I can still find high quality octal preamp tubes for much cheaper than tubes all the guitar freaks need! And they tend to last forever.

So there you have it. In it's 24 year life it burned out two resistors (the 22k cathode follower resistors on the output tubes.) I upped those to 5 watt wire wound resistors, nice Allen Bradley ones. Yes, I like to overbuild things. I don't want to open this up until 2031 now. I've changed tubes a few times just for fun. I think this set has been going since I moved to Brooklyn in 2011. Still making music!

I also didn't use their power supply schematic. I just went with a simple 3 stage dual choke loaded power supply like they've been using since the 1920's. Why so many chokes? Why big oil caps? I used to live by a surplus shop, actually two: R5D3 on 82nd Ave and Cascade Electronics way up in the northernmost tip of Portland and they had so much of this junk! These oil caps will last forever and they look super hip. Plus, again, relaxed sound...  I avoid electrolytics when I can, and sometimes you really can't, I find they just don't work as well. Besides, if you are only going to build one thing, why not go all out into the land of the ridiculous??? Just please, don't do what I did and skimp on cheap RCA jacks that get loose when you look at them wrong, or right, or whatever....


Monday, March 29, 2021

1964 Fender Deluxe Reverb. Re-capped but still too much hum. What can I do?

 Here's the desert island amp for many of us and I think after all these years I'm one to be on that island myself. A really clean 1964 Fender Deluxe Reverb. 

About the amp: Transformers are original, speaker was replaced with a Celestion G12M greenback 30 watt. I'm a fan.... Amp was re-capped well enough. All of the electrolytic caps were top shelf expensive Sprague Atoms. Some of the work wasn't exactly tidy but done well enough.

But, I just didn't like the amount of hum I was still getting. I right away saw some things to improve. First is the bias supply cap:

Whoever re-capped this amp went with the original value. I mean, why wouldn't you. That's what Fender used in 1964 so.... 

Nah. When I worked for Jeff Bober in 1994 he just told me to upgrade it to 100@100v rather than 25@50v. I've been doing it ever since. Better regulation and less hum. I do not detect any change to the sound of the amp and I have well trained ears. And for what it's worth Fender upped it later to 70uf then 100uf cause they could. Caps got a little better. So just do it. If you think that's blasphemy try it anyway and put the old value back in if it freaks you out.

Yup, being dramatic here but I'll share a story. I once had a client who paid me to convert an AB165 Bassman to an AA864. That's no small task. Big job. I made one mistake and one executive decision. He took the amp home and inspected the work under a microscope. The next day I had an irate customer who brought his amp back and he (understandably) expressed his trust had been burnt. So I gladly changed the one pot value that I missed to the correct one. But he was really upset about my little executive choice: using a 100@100v for the bias supply. I explained to him why I did this: with a 25@50v cap it will hum. He didn't believe me one bit and I could tell I was losing his business.

So we gave it a listen, I then replaced it with a 25uf cap.... HUM! And not a teeny tiny difference. It was significant enough that he heard it and looked a bit embarrassed. He asked me if it would make a tonal difference and I said no but if he thinks it does bring it back in a week. I put my little 100uf cap back in, fired it up and he was happy with the quiet. I never saw him again. All is well that ends well!

So here ya go. Use a pretty blue Philips Vishay cap if you will! I like them cause they look nice and European:

But wait! We're not done yet. Amp was much improved but I still wasn't 100% satisfied. This next part involves the signal caps.

If you have been inside as many old Fender and other high quality amps you'll notice even the signal caps have a direction. No they're technically not polarized like an electrolytic cap is, but there is a direction you want them to go in. The have an inside foil and an outside foil. Some old caps like my favorite Ajax blue capacitors you find in Fender amps even tell you which side is the outside foil.

Rule of thumb: always have the outside foil closer to ground. In other words, if one side of the cap is on the 100k plate load resistor and the other is connected to the 1Meg volume pot, outside foil goes on the 100k resistor. Fender almost always got that right! I've only seen a few exceptions. 

Another example is the tone stack. The .1 bass cap goes to a 250k pot and the .047 mid cap goes to a 6.8k resistor. On the other side is the 100k slope resistor then the 100k plate load resistor for a total of 200k. So the bass cap should have the outside foil attached to that slope resistor and the mid cap should be going the opposite direction with the outside foil connected to the 6.8k resistor on the bass cap. Like this:

The phase inverter has three .1 caps. Two are connected to the plates of the 12AT7 while the third is connected to the grid. On the plate load side you have a 100k and an 82k resistor going to each plate. On the other side you have two 220k resistors going to the bias supply. So the outside foil goes to the plates, inside to those 220k resistors. The third cap however is connected to a 1meg resistor on one side and a 47 ohm resistor going right to ground on the other side. So that cap goes in the opposite direction. In this case the previous owner used my least favorite cap, the Sprague 715P. No indication for inside or outside foil so you just read it from left to right. It will look like this:

Notice how the print is going in the opposite direction.........

Here's the dry channel tone stack. I had a spare old polyester orange drop cap that has a stripe on it for outside foil. The mid cap you'll notice reads left to right with the left going to the 6.8k resistor. If you are experienced you'll notice the .047 600v blue Ajax cap for the final stage. Sadly entire channel was orange dropped. But I have a bag of .047 Fender "Death Caps" from the AC balance. I never throw these out when I ground an amp. I save them for classy amps like this one!

One cap backwards will not make all that much of a difference but in this case I counted 5. It adds up. In the hundreds of old Gibson and Fender guitars I've seen over the years, the tone caps are almost always done in this arrangement: outside foil to ground. If the good people at those companies were sticklers for such a detail on the treble bleed cap, there's something to it.

So there you have it. The amp behaves like my own '69 model now. Quiet! Of course it's not possible to eliminate all hum and noise but it is possible to reduce it using these little steps. And the less noise the more music dig?!

Thanks for reading, hope this was helpful and feel free to leave a comment of ask a question below! J

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

1979 Fender Vibrolux Reverb with tremolo issues. Should I charge more for silver panel amps???

 Here was a mess.......

Fender 2x10" Vibrolux Reverb circa 1979. When it came across my bench it had your typical noise issues and one nasty "bumpity bump" from the tremolo circuit. 

Once I opened it up the first thing I noticed was someone had done a rather half assed job at a black panel conversion (AA964 circuit.) So I figured I may as well complete the job. I changed all the elecrolytic caps first which helped but there was still that tremolo issue. Curiously enough it  was far worse when you turn the reverb up! So I started by eliminating that boost circuit, which takes away a length of wire that is about 8" long traveling from the reverb transformer output to a switch on the back of the volume pot. That made a little bit of difference, less wire generally equals less issues. But that didn't knock out the problem. 

Sometimes this problem is as simple as changing the tremolo tube or the "bug" network (the photo cell neon bulb thing) or just putting a .1 cap across the bug from the 10M resistor to ground. This was already standard factory goodness by then and the amp had that, though they used a .01. I upped it to a .1.....

Next I noticed the 2.7k cathode resistor and the 820 ohm resistor were opposite of where they were on a black panel amp. The 2k7 resistor should be on the left closer to the tremolo tube and the 820 ohm resistor should be on the right closer to the reverb recovery / mixer tube. That made a sizable difference. And it came that way from the factory. I next changed the cathode cap on the 100k resistor on the tremolo tube to a 4.7uf. That helped too.....

But, I like things to be close to perfect. When you turn up the reverb it still did the bump like my parents did in 1978 at the disco in Germany. Cool for the dance floor though they were told to "get a room" by an English fellow.

So what to do next? 

The silver panel amps can be cantankerous. They're just not that well made. The foundation is there: great transformers, hand wired, this one retained the 5u4 tube rectifier, but they just used things like cheaper wire. I've had noisy silver amps that I literally needed to change the wire to get the noise level down.

In this case it became clear to me they just used too much wire! Lead dress is important. 

I mean, look at this jive:

An experienced tech can see the problem. The wires on the tremolo tube are way too long and crossing the wires on the reverb recovery tube! This is factory wiring folks from the CBS days. So I proceeded to shorten the wires and move them away from one another....

That knocked out the problem. I wound up shortening the leads throughout the amp. Overall, it lost about a foot + of wire!

I cannot imagine this isn't a problem that developed with time. The wiring was all factory and the amp has been played hard for the last 40 years. I'm stunned to see that no one attempted to correct this issue before, or maybe the previous owners never used the tremolo circuit. That's plausible. Tremolo isn't for everybody.

So now this amp is ready for proper use. It's got a great sound and I feel good about it going to a new home. When I had my own shop I'd roll my eyes whenever a 70's Fender came in. Most were okay, straightforward, but many were challengers. 

So hopefully this post will help another tech out. Do look at the lead dress. There was a good amount of haste in those days at Fender. I mean look at a 1979 Stratocaster. My first guitar was one and it was terrible. Seriously a sad, heavy, careless piece of corporate lack. This amp is better than that guitar, they were just five dollars away from making both well but chose to cut corners. Fortunately this amp is now terrific cause amps are easier to transform! My poor old guitar will never be good. I didn't feel bad giving that one away years ago!


1963 Fender Bandmaster, tremolo issue. And, how to slow that tremolo down

 Today was fun. 3 silver panel Fenders and a blonde. All of them were a hot mess of craptastic tech work! Poor soldering, poor choice of components, general laziness.

The best was this 1963 Bandmaster......

These are one of my all time favorites. They're genuinely weird amps in the Fender canon. With active tone controls that people largely rejected and that lush absolutely glorious 3 tube harmonic vibrato that was likely quite expensive to produce. It sounds closer to a Univibe than what any other Fender produces. It's got a phase shifter quality. Not like the pitch bending Magnatone, it's just a shade subtler. 

These amps used to be cheap as chips. Not any more, yet they aren't all that popular. People prefer the tweed and black series, these are just, odd. I bought one for $300 in 1991 and played it with a JTM45 together during the Grunge Scare of the early 90's. Big tone!

So this one was a mess. Just general poor tech work on the inside. It was re-capped years ago. I re-did the electrolytics. The whole thing was Orange Dropped. Not my favorite but since I was on a budget I let them be. Besides, most of them were the old polyester series which I like very much. Only a few were the 715 series.

The choke and output transformers are replacements, the choke being from 1966 and the output transformer is from 1972. Not the least bit unusual on this model. I've seen more Bandmasters throughout the whole range that had bad output transformers and a handful with bad chokes. I think they were just a hair under rated, but that's part of what gives a Bandmaster it's special sound. These parts were likely replaced years ago as this amp has been around the country making music. It's had a life and a half!

So once I got the basics done I noticed the obnoxious "thump thump thump thump thump" of the vibrato system hadn't gotten any better. Simple fix. One of the cathode bypass caps in the circuit was supposed to be a 2uf cap. Someone upped that to a 10uf cap. The tremolo circuit in any amp can be very sensitive so it's best to go with the original component values. Problem was solved right away.

Sometime it's a bad tube that causes this, or a bad cap or resistor. Today I was lucky. No time tied up in trouble shooting mode.

But..... while I love the tone quality of the vibrato in these amps I wasn't satisfied. It was just to fast. Not enough range. Rather boring. Simple mod took care of that.

Locate the 3 caps in series that create the oscillation. On the plate its .02, the other two are .01. I simply doubled the 3rd cap by placing another .01 cap in parallel to the one connected to ground. First try it out:

You can try different cap values here and if you like it cut those leads and give it a permanent home:

Not a bad idea to do it this way rather than replace the original component so if down the road you want to remove it there ya go!

Anyhow, this one is making music again and is for sale at Southside Guitars here in Brooklyn. It's a fantastic amp. Player grade yes, but you're a player right?