The Ultimate Tone: A Book Review of the Best DIY Guitar Tube Amp Series
This article is a review of a series of six books that is the most comprehensive and lucid explanation of the architecture, circuitry, tone, components, and construction technique of DIY hobbyist guitar tube amps ever. found. The review deals with each book separately and recommends purchasing them in a specific order to increase your knowledge in tandem with your building experience.
London Power’s Kevin O’Connor has created a series of books under the main title “The Ultimate Tone”. These books are truly one of a kind and carefully designed for the guitar tube amp hobbyist and boutique amp builder. The books also have a homemade “feel” … all illustrations are handmade and the books are photocopied printed on 8.5 ″ x11 ″ paper and bound with plastic spines and clear plastic covers. There are six books in the series now and the most recent one was released in late spring 2008. You may want to buy the entire series at once and get modest savings, but I think you should consider buying them one at a time. and digest as you go, building projects along the way. One key point though … you don’t necessarily want to buy them in numerical order. I recommend the following sequence:
- The Ultimate Tone Volume 3 – Tone Generations
- The Ultimate Tone Volume 5 – Tone Capture
- The Ultimate Tone Volume 2 – Systems Approach to Stage Sound Nirvana
- The Ultimate Tone Volume 4: Advanced Techniques for Modern Guitar Amp Design
- The Ultimate Tone: Custom Modified Tube Guitar Amps
- The Ultimate Tone Volume 6 – Timeless Tone Built for the Future Today
The Ultimate Tone Volume 3 – Tone Generations
This is the most important book in the series for the beginning tube amp builder.
Chapters 2 through 4 lay the foundation for good DIY tube amp construction, informing you of good electrical connections, grounding technique, cable sheathing and other wiring techniques, and mechanical design that includes assembly methods such as power strips. of terminals, turrets and grommet plates.
The following chapters each choose a particular ‘iconic’ amp, each iconic amp is a prototypical example of amps in its class, and they are examined in detail in terms of circuit topology, the peculiar tonal characteristics that result, and the fatal flaws that the product is notorious. for. Kevin provides the original schematics and then shows how the techniques detailed in the previous chapters can be applied to improve the performance and reliability of the icon without damaging the tone. Schematics are redrawn, designs provided, and mechanical solutions worked out to make each chapter a complete, self-contained, self-built amplifier project.
This process is repeated for several variations of the Champ in chapter 5 (this chapter greatly influenced my own single ended amp project), then in quick succession: Bassman, Plexi, 800, Bull Dog, AC-30, Portaflex, SVT, Bass Master, Custom Special, Guitar Mate, Herzog and Laney amps are covered.
If you can only buy one book for your hobby of DIY guitar amps, 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 describing how the vacuum tube works called “tube tone”, followed by a chapter on guitar electronics and pickup features.
The next two chapters are small projects: Sigma for effects switching and Triple-X for amp switching.
Chapters 5 and 6 are about transformers … important components, but it made me yawn, sorry.
Starting with Chapter 7, all the stops are removed and you’re in project heaven … Major (200W), Soma 84 (EL84 amp), Standard (the 1995 London Power Standard Preamp coupled to a 50W amp using four power tubes), Doppelsonde (mix of power tube types), AX84 (discussion of the original goal of a very low output power amp), Kelly (50W from 4 6V6s), and several other smaller range projects.
A favorite project I did was based on Kevin’s reworking of the Matchless HotBox tube preamp pedal in Chapter 16. I built this pedal in true “point-to-point style” (ie terminal strips) in a box of Doug’s tube pedal. Hoffman, substituting a stack of Baxandall tones and reworking the preamp values to be more Dumble-esqe (non-HRM type).
What would you do to combine an amp with the style of Yngwie Malmsteen? See Chapter 18, “Swedish”.
The Ultimate Tone Volume 2 – Systems Approach to Stage Sound Nirvana
Volume 2 is not project oriented. Most of the book, Chapters 2 through 5, is about power supply tricks and a complete overview of power amplifiers, including tube, solid-state, and hybrid power amplifiers. Chapter 3, Tube Power Amps, has very useful information on modifying and correcting the Marshall and Fender biasing circuits.
I like the first and last chapters of Volume 2 best. The first chapter is a brief discussion of sound stages and how you can set up your equipment on stage for the best audience / band experience. The last one, Chapter 6, is called “Pillars of Tone” and in this chapter the main contributors to the block-level tone of the design of a guitar tube amp system are discussed one by one, and Kevin provides some very valuable information. on setting the tone throughout the chapter. preamp / amp.
The Ultimate Tone Volume 4: Advanced Techniques for Modern Guitar Amp Design
This is the book you’ll want to buy if you feel the need to get deeply involved with the energy scaling technology Kevin has developed. Power Scaling, coined and trademarked by Kevin, is how you can get aspects of power amp distortion (as opposed to preamp distortion) in your tone at bedroom volume levels. Volume 4 is not geared towards DIY projects, but explores the issues, including attenuation, power scaling (both down and up), sinking, and power management, addressed by tube amp designers of modern guitar.
That said, the penultimate chapter of Volume 4 could be important to a broader group of builder enthusiasts … the philosophy of design. In this chapter, Kevin provides a hierarchical design process that could be used to make key decisions about how to approach your next project.
The Ultimate Tone: Custom Modified Tube Guitar Amps
There is no volume number in the title of this book, it was the first. Personally, I bought it completely. I specifically wanted to have the ‘perfect effects loop’ information, although the loop itself is built into a project in Volume 5. TUT also has some excellent material on reverbs and signal shifting methods that is not explained in the other volumes. The first half of TUT introduces / presents an overview of tube amp systems, power supplies, and grounding, then focuses on preamp and power amp modifications to commercial amps (e.g. Marshall / Fender). .. 1st volume at the same time as volume 3.
The Ultimate Tone Volume 6 – Timeless Tone Built for the Future Today
In many ways, Volume 6 is a continuation and extension of the material in Volume 4, where Power Scaling is introduced. A new ‘direct control’ version of Powerscaling is introduced in Volume 6 which was introduced in Vol 4, but was dropped with integral circuits and applied to ‘sag’ and sustained control also in Vol 6. The new circuits scale have many advantages for a DIY builders like higher noise immunity and less design sensitivity, etc.
I applied the new DC Power Scaling to a Trainwreck clone project and was really impressed with the improvement in ‘playability’ at lower volumes … the unmodified Trainwreck Express circuit is too loud for home use, needs to be activated to get the sweet tones for which he is famous.
One of the chapters in Volume 6 is devoted to Dumble amps … something I was really looking forward to as many of my hobby projects focus on those circuits. I found this short chapter to be a good introduction to the general architecture of Dumble amps, written from the point of view of the evolution of the first modified standard amps that Alexander Dumble started making, but I felt the chapter fell short in discussing some of the most important subtleties of the latest Dumble models.
Volume 6 has plenty of other materials as well, including an excellent tutorial on designing really high output power amplifiers and a great chapter on high gain amp designs with detailed and referenced real world circuitry.
In summary …
Kevin’s books have a very empirical approach. He encourages you to let go of the conventions in some cases or not be afraid to try tube combinations or even pull tubes and in all cases clearly explains why it is okay and points out the reasons why it would not be okay All examples in the books are very practical and you certainly have the DIYer in mind as you type.
Kevin’s body of work is truly encyclopedic in nature, and with that in mind, one feature that is sorely lacking in his books is any sort of indexing … this is compounded by the fact that Kevin is constantly referring to earlier writings. instead of repeating in a new volume. , and it is very difficult to point out the reference even with the other book in hand. Perhaps search engine technology, such as Google’s ability to search for protected content, could be leveraged in this case and provide a kind of “self-indexing” on the web of all of Kevin’s books without having to give 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 include search capabilities … and Kevin’s hand-drawn outlines would probably scale appropriately and They would be very legible on the electronic paper showing the function of these devices.
Meanwhile, how do you get Kevin’s books today? The best way to obtain the books is to order them directly from the London Power Press. They now have a shopping cart in http://www.londonpower.com.