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Phil O'Keefe

GUYTRONIX ARDMORE AND GILMORE JR (tube amp kits)

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In this review, we're going to be taking a close look at a couple of Gary Gerhart designed tube guitar amp "DIY" kits from Guytronix - the 8 Watt EL84 based Ardmore ($299, direct from www.guytronix.com ), and the $249 1/2 watt (2 watt optional) Gilmore Jr.

 

First off, a couple of disclaimers. Normally, a reviewer obtains a "loaner" of the product to be reviewed, and return or purchase it at the end of the review process. In this case, we're dealing with a pair of tube amp kits, and as such, they can't really be assembled and reviewed and then returned in the same state as they arrived in. :) And since putting together a tube amp takes a certain amount of time and labour (stay tuned to this thread for an idea of exactly how little or much ;) ), and since that itself has value (IOW, the company can take the returned / completed amp and sell it for more than the price of an unbuilt kit), Rich at Guytronix and I negotated a deal where I would built both kits, do the review with complete freedom, and send back only one of the completed amps. That way, he doesn't profit from my build time, and I "pay" for whichever amp I decide to keep by the labor I put into building the amp I return. So right upfront, you know I'm keeping one of these two kits... and since these are Pro Reviews, you're all invited to participate and help keep things honest and above board. :)

 

There are many potential uses for a small, low power, yet toneful tube amp. Practice at home and recording purposes are two places where such amps are commonly used. In this review, I hope to cover the actual kits themselves, the build process and the difficulty level and experience / skills you'll need if you decide to build one, and what level of customer service and assistance you can expect to recieve from Guytronix. Additionally, we're going to fire up the studio and do some tracking of the completed amps so that everyone can get an idea of how these amps sound, with particular attention to how well they perform in a studio recording environment - after all, this IS a studio forum. ;):D But we'll also break out the SPL meter and see just how loud a 1/2 or 8 watt head really gets. That should be of interest to those who are considering one of these amps to use for practice.

 

What I'd like from you is your participation. Let me know if you have any questions. If something's not clear, point it out. If you have built one of these amps, feel free to voice your opinions about them and tell us about your experiences. Rich from Guytronix will also be participating and will be making comments and answering questions as appropriate as well. He's a good guy, and you'll find him easygoing, knowledgeable and helpful. :thu: I'll also be asking for suggestions regarding what you want to hear insofar as clips, and we might even try to set up an in-studio session (at my place) with a few of you to let you get some hands-on, in person playing and listening time with the completed amps. We can track some clips of your playing, and give you an opportunity to tell everyone what you think based off firsthand experience playing through the completed amps. If you're interested in participating in that part of the review, please let us know.

 

Ready? :)

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I'd be happy to put two of them together in order to keep one for only the labor. My soldering station is ready to go. Then again, since I'm nobody...

:D

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Originally posted by amplayer

I'd be happy to put two of them together in order to keep one for only the labor. My soldering station is ready to go. Then again, since I'm nobody...

:D

 

So am I... I just thought of the idea before you did. :p;):o:D

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My next installment of this review will be up in a day or two guys... I need to notify Rich that we've started, and I have to get some photos uploaded to my site first. :)

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You are in for a treat- the kits from Guytronix are foolproof and complete. Absolutely no missing parts or problems. Great documentation and killer tone! I have demoed my 1/2 watt through multiple cabinets for some of the best ears around and everyone was blown away.

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I actually knocked it out in 6 1/2 hours while drinking Jack&Coke! I could probably do one in 4 hours now that I have one under my belt. I used to work at Tophat in '98 wiring up amps.

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Originally posted by danbomb

I actually knocked it out in 6 1/2 hours while drinking Jack&Coke! I could probably do one in 4 hours now that I have one under my belt. I used to work at Tophat in '98 wiring up amps.

 

Somehow I have a feeling your experience might make it a bit easier for you than the average Joe.:idea:

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I can't wait to hear about this, something about a DYI kit seems very enticing, maybe its the level of personalization you get that you can't when buying some amp off the shelf.

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In the past few months we've picked up a 10-watt Tech21 Trademark 10 and a 5-watt Epiphone Valve Junior. These low-powered amps are lots of fun :cool:

 

Any thoughts as to what type of speaker enclosure you'll be using, or will you build that as well?

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Originally posted by dougb415

In the past few months we've picked up a 10-watt Tech21 Trademark 10 and a 5-watt Epiphone Valve Junior. These low-powered amps are lots of fun
:cool:

Any thoughts as to what type of speaker enclosure you'll be using, or will you build that as well?

 

Rich has some specific recommendations that I'll let him fill you in on. Here at my place, I have various different things available; some of them are speakers in other amps that I can jumper to for the tests... an E/V 12" in a Princeton II cab, a Fender blue label 10" in a Super Champ, a Marshall 1960a 4X12" with the stock 75W Celestions, the stock Fender Utah 12's in a '72 Twin, etc.

 

Guytronix has some optional head enclosures for the amp kits available as well, and that may also be a source for a speaker cabinet... Rich? :confused:

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So you make your amp kit order, and a few days later the box shows up via Prioity Mail - I was actually impressed with how fast that was. :)

 

Opening the box reveals an expert packing job. Everything is set in the box in an organized manner, and individual elements of the kit are wrapped seperately.

 

001.jpg

 

Pulling everything out of the bubblewrap and packing paper reveals this:

 

004.jpg

 

Again, you'll notice that everything is well organized. One example - polarized parts such as diodes and polarized capacitors are placed into a seperate bag - which is handy for old hands and new builders alike, since these parts require special attention to their orientation when they're being installed.

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Hello,

 

To follow up regarding Phil's points of light, yes, the amp sounds very good with 4,8 or 16 ohm loads but seems to favor 16 ohms.

 

I've pushed the following speakers with the Gilmore Jr; 12" EV in a Mesa 1/2 back cab, 4x12 circa '73 Ampeg V4 with two ceramic Weber Blue Dogs up top and two ceramic Silver Bells down below, a 4x8 custom cab with two Weber Alnico 8A125Ts up top and two Alnico 8A125s down below, 4x12 1960A Marshall with 75 watters, 1x10 Weber Blue Pup, 2x8 combo with Weber Alnico 8A125 and 8A125T, 1x10 and 1x8 95% closed back cabinets from Marshall MG Series Mini/Micro Stacks.

 

My Favorites are the Weber 8A125s, 8A125Ts, 10" Blue Pup and the two Marshall Mini/Micro Stack (MG Series) cabinets with 'knock-off' Celestions in both 8" and 10". I am very surprised at how good those 'Far-East' speakers sound.

 

Although these are my favorites, the other configurations sounded very good too. For the most part, it is very tough to find a speaker that sounds bad with the Gilmore Jr.

 

Regarding enclosures and such; we will soon be releasing a combo cabinet that houses a 10" speaker that can be Customer supplied or a 'sound-qualified' speaker from us. Some time ago, we offered a new optical compressor as a prize-drawing for those who replied to an inquiry regarding what the Customer is looking for in a low-watt combo. We've taken all of the input and designed the new combo enclosure around those Customer thoughts. In addition, we have qualified a couple of enclosure/cabinetry builders to address Customer designed ideas. We are most happy to steer our Customers to those firms so that they can work out the pricing and details directly with the enclosure manufacturers.

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So now that we have the box open and we can see everything that's included, let's talk a little bit about what ISN'T included.

 

And the answer to that is really "not much". :thu: There's plenty of wire in the kits, and even the shrinkwrap is included, along with tubes and all the parts you need for the build. Actually, I was missing one or two minor things, but if you find something is missing from your kit, a quick call or email to Rich will get that taken care of in few days via priority mail with no questions or hassles. But pretty much everything you need to build the amp is in the kit, with the following exceptions:

 

You've going to need a soldering iron, desoldering tool (bulb or wick), some flux, maybe a tinning block, a pair of pliers or a nutdriver, a screwdriver or two, wire strippers and side cutters - basic hand tools. Oh yeah - a multimeter. You don't need an oscilloscope to build these kits, but a decent multimeter is a must have. I used one of these, and it worked fine for the job. pRS1C-2266866w345.jpg

 

Additionally, as you'll see in some of the soon to be posted pictures, a Panavise is a useful item to have around when working on jobs like this. I used this one:

 

B000B61D22.01-A2SHU9394LE8AJ._PE14_SCMZZ

 

You can get them here for about $20.

 

You're going to also need some solder. I used silver solder, but any good rosin core solder should work fine.

 

I was actually going to combine this review with a review of the Cold Heat (www.coldheat.com ) soldering tool... I actually ordered one, but it took nearly two months to arrive. :( And while I started the Gilmore Jr Build with it, I quickly grew frustrated with it. Frankly, it's a handy tool to have around for quick, lightweight soldering jobs, but it's just not up to the task of a build like this. Get a decent soldering station or iron - I used a Weller soldering station.

 

And as Rich alluded to, there is no speaker included with the basic kits. There isn't a traditional "cabinet" or head enclosure either, although two wooden end caps are included that will work fine if you're not going to be taking the head out to gigs or away somewhere to practice on a frequent basis. You can leave the wood bare, but a little stain and some clear coat will make them look better.

 

The on / off and standby switches are labeled, but other than that, none of the controls are labeled, nor is there any other labeling included in the kits. With so few controls, that's really not a significant issue, but if you'd like to dresss up your kit, decal and lettering kits that you can print out on your computer are available at most hobby shops.

 

Okay, everyone have their tools and supplies ready? We're going to dive into the actual builds... (drum roll please... ;) )

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The approach you'll likely take to doing the build is going to depend largely on your skill and experience level. While a seasoned pro can easily assemble these kits with just the color-coded wiring diagram, schematic, and maybe the parts list, I recommend that everyone check out the manuals. They are generally well written and make everything quite clear - even if you're not a grizzled vet with the solder scars to prove it. :eek:;)

 

The first step, after you get everything organized is to insert the various chassis mounted components. You'll need the phillips head screwdriver and the pliers (or nutdriver) for this. These parts include the potentiometers (volume and tone controls), fuseholder, IEC power receptacle, tube sockets, LED power indicator, on/off and standby switches, tube sockets, input and speaker output jacks, as well as the power and speaker transformers.

 

Here's a shot of the chassis with all of the above mentioned chassis mounted parts installed:

 

008.jpg

 

The next order of business is to mark the turret board. That's the light greenish board in the center of the chassis in the second picture on page one. As the manual points out, writing the pin numbers (as shown in the building instructions) directly on the board makes things much easier on you, avoids potential mistakes and confusion, and will come in handy when doing your final testing and troubleshooting - but hopefully you'll be able to avoid that last part. ;)

 

After getting the posts on the turret board marked (a fine tip Sharpie works well for that, but even a Sharpie will smudge if you wipe it too hard or too much), the next step is to attach several short wire leads to various pins on the board. The color of the wires really doesn't matter, although as the manual points out, a color code that corresponds to different destination types can make things a bit easier on you later.

 

Here's a shot of the Gilmore Jr board, being held in the Panavise, with the wires attached:

 

011.jpg

 

You should also be able to see that I used the Sharpie to mark the tube pins on the ceramic sockets - that's another useful suggestion you'll find in the manual.

 

All of this is fairly easy to do. A couple of notes and cautions though!

 

First of all, you should be careful whenever you are working with the transformers so that you do not put any excessive pull or strain on the wires. They're quality components (made by Mercury Magnetics - good stuff), and the most expensive items in the kits - so use caution and never "yank on the wires". When you're mounting the transformers to the chassis, guide them through the appropriate holes gently and with as little pulling force at the point where the wires enter the transformer as possible. And take care not to kink or pinch the wires between the chassis and the transformer housings.

 

Secondly, the transformer mounting holes at first may appear not to line up perfectly with the right holes in the chassis. Don't let that alarm you - a little pull on the outer mounting flanges of the trannys will seperate them far enough to reach comfortably.

 

Also, while we're at the point of starting to solder, a little caution is in order. If you've never built anything before, and never soldered, you could probably still manage to build one of these kits and wind up with a working amp... but it's going to be a challenge for you, and require a little extra work on your part. Get some scrap wire and parts (a broken radio can do for parts in a pinch), and do some practice soldering. If you don't know how, get someone to show you, or feel free to ask for help on this forum. :) Remember - always heat the work, and not the solder itself. Go slowly - this is a cool little amp you're bulding, and you want it to be something you can be proud of, right? ;) And a note on safety - solder is HOT and it, or the soldering iron can cause some pretty serious burns... so be careful. Use a good work surface, and not mom's (or wife's) bare kitchen table. Hot solder flows like water and drips like water, so if water would drip from the soldering point and land on you, chances are that sooner or later, so will the solder. And while we're talking safety, only solder in a well ventilated area, and avoid breathing the solder fumes. There's nasty stuff in there that you really shouldn't be sniffing - and no, it won't get you high, so don't even go there.

 

I think this is a good place to stop if you're takig your time (you should!) and doing it a bit at a time each evening.

 

A pro should have no problem doing all of this in under two hours... maybe even one. A beginner might need three. or even four. Remember - it's not a race... s/he who builds fastest doesn't win - it's s/he who builds best. ;)

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Nice Pics Phil! Great detail. What camera are you using?

 

Rosin Core solder 60/40 or 63/37 is very good to use. Since Phil was using silver solder, the flux was helpful. Flux is not recommended for novice builders as the flux, if used too heavily, can melt/run into the base areas of the tube sockets and cause issues. This is true with any electronic project. Phil has been soldering since the Chicago Fire. Don't worry Phil, we won't tell who started it ;^) :freak:

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The Gilmore Jr is an awesome kit and Rich is a great Guy to deal with ( oops, sorry about the pun)

 

Mine came together without a hitch and was a snap to build.

and my homemade cab with a single 12" Jensen sounded KILLER.

 

Great job Rich, you should be very proud.

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Originally posted by Richard Guy

Nice Pics Phil! Great detail. What camera are you using?


Rosin Core solder 60/40 or 63/37 is very good to use. Since Phil was using silver solder, the flux was helpful. Flux is not recommended for novice builders as the flux, if used too heavily, can melt/run into the base areas of the tube sockets and cause issues. This is true with any electronic project. Phil has been soldering since the Chicago Fire. Don't worry Phil, we won't tell who started it ;^)
:freak:

 

Oops, my "secret" is out. :o;):D

 

Good point about the flux Rich. I actually only needed to use it in a few spots, and you're right - if you use standard rosin core solder, you won't really need to use flux.

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BTW, the camera is a Fuji... I'll have to check on the model number, but it's not super-new or high tech... IIRC, it's a 2 or 3 megapixel model.

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Originally posted by Phil O'Keefe

In this review, we're going to be taking a close look at a couple of Gary Gerhart designed tube guitar amp "DIY" kits from Guytronix - the 8 Watt EL84 based Ardmore ($299, direct from
www.guytronix.com
), and the $249 1/2 watt (2 watt optional) Gilmore Jr.


First off, a couple of disclaimers. Normally, a reviewer obtains a "loaner" of the product to be reviewed, and return or purchase it at the end of the review process. In this case, we're dealing with a pair of tube amp kits, and as such, they can't really be assembled and reviewed and then returned in the same state as they arrived in.
:)
And since putting together a tube amp takes a certain amount of time and labour (stay tuned to this thread for an idea of exactly how little or much
;)
), and since that itself has value (IOW, the company can take the returned / completed amp and sell it for more than the price of an unbuilt kit), Rich at Guytronix and I negotated a deal where I would built both kits, do the review with complete freedom, and send back only one of the completed amps. That way, he doesn't profit from my build time, and I "pay" for whichever amp I decide to keep by the labor I put into building the amp I return. So right upfront, you know I'm keeping one of these two kits... and since these are Pro Reviews, you're all invited to participate and help keep things honest and above board.
:)

There are many potential uses for a small, low power, yet toneful tube amp. Practice at home and recording purposes are two places where such amps are commonly used. In this review, I hope to cover the actual kits themselves, the build process and the difficulty level and experience / skills you'll need if you decide to build one, and what level of customer service and assistance you can expect to recieve from Guytronix. Additionally, we're going to fire up the studio and do some tracking of the completed amps so that everyone can get an idea of how these amps sound, with particular attention to how well they perform in a studio recording environment - after all, this IS a studio forum.
;):D
But we'll also break out the SPL meter and see just how loud a 1/2 or 8 watt head really gets. That should be of interest to those who are considering one of these amps to use for practice.


What I'd like from you is your participation. Let me know if you have any questions. If something's not clear, point it out. If you have built one of these amps, feel free to voice your opinions about them and tell us about your experiences. Rich from Guytronix will also be participating and will be making comments and answering questions as appropriate as well. He's a good guy, and you'll find him easygoing, knowledgeable and helpful.
:thu:
I'll also be asking for suggestions regarding what you want to hear insofar as clips, and we might even try to set up an in-studio session (at my place) with a few of you to let you get some hands-on, in person playing and listening time with the completed amps. We can track some clips of your playing, and give you an opportunity to tell everyone what you think based off firsthand experience playing through the completed amps. If you're interested in participating in that part of the review, please let us know.


Ready?
:)

 

Any clips on the Ardmore? I've heard the Cilmore and it was OK, not really my thing, but still cool.

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Subscribed, can't wait for the rest of the updates! Great article so far!

 

Edit....man I should really finish my first pot of coffee in the morning, before I try and type.....:freak:

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Any clips on the Ardmore? I've heard the Gilmore and it was OK, not really my thing, but still cool.

 

We'll be getting to that - please stay tuned. :)

 

And as I mentioned before, we'll see if we can't get some of you to come by the studio and supply the hot licks while I take care of the recording part. ;)

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Originally posted by Ancient Mariner

Looks interesting, in a Christmas-afternoon-build kind of way. A nice simple kit to get someone started. Look forward to hearing it too.

 

Yup, if you're an experienced builder, you could probably knock one out in an afternoon. IMO, they're definitely a kit that would be suitable as a "first amp project" type build. As far as tone and features of the amps, we'll be getting to that. Stay tuned. :)

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Since I've gotten a few PM's asking about the Cold Heat soldering tool, I'll make a couple of quick comments before we move on.

 

The Cold Heat tool uses a carbon based "split" tip. It's actually somewhat fragile and can be easily broken if you apply too much pressure or force to it, although I have not managed to break a tip yet. The Cold Heat soldering iron comes in two versions - a standard model and a "pro" model. I bought one of each to test. A "standard" model from my local Radio Shack, which I purchased while waiting for the "backordered" pro unit that I purchased online to arrive. The pro model is definitely the one to get, since it has more power and a high and low power setting. The optional magnifying glass attachment is pretty much worthless - I thought it would be nice to have - especially since my eyesight at very close distances and for fine detail has really deteroriated over the past couple of years (middle age sux in some respects), but attaching it - and keeping it attached to the iron is tricky, and getting it angled right so that it's not in the way of what you're working on, doesn't block the iron's built in light, and still allows you a magnified view of what you're working on is an excersize in frustration.

 

The tip of the Cold Heat iron doesn't get hot until the two halves of the split tip make contact to the same piece of metal, thus completing an electrical circuit and causing the tip (and hopefully the work) to heat up. A red LED lights up when the tip is making proper contact. The biggest problem I had was getting both halves of the tip to touch the same thing at the same time. Even when I could see (using an external magnifying glass attached to a boom) that it was making proper contact, the LED didn't always light up and the work didn't heat up. Once it does, the iron - even the "pro" model - really lacks the power to properly heat the work unless you hold VERY still (keeping that connection "just so") for a while while the work heats properly, and in my experience, it takes considerably longer than doing the job with a good traditional soldering iron.

 

After trying this tool for a while, on a couple of different types of things (not just these amp kits), I would tire of the fiddling and just break out the Weller. It does work as advertised in the sense that it does cool down very quickly - unless you still happen to have a small blob of solder stuck between the two halves of the tip, in which case it might remain hot... so in that respect, it does what it says it does. But it really lacks the speed and power of a good traditional iron, and I personally can't recommend it for much beyond a quick cable or switch repair. Having it around for that can be useful though.

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To add to Phils above soldering iron message; please do not use soldering 'guns' for any electronic soldering that especially has solid state (transistors, FETs, MOSFETs, diodes, integrated circuit chips, etc) components as the soldering 'gun' types inject current into the work while operating and can damage the circuit. I like using a Weller soldering station with an adjustable heat range to 850 F. For a stand-alone soldering iron, I recomment a wattage of no less than 30 watts. I tend to like 35 watters and above.

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I hand soldered some of the early pods and I can tell you it was no walk in the park! Surface mount is a major bitch compared to point-to-point tube amps.

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Got my Gilmore Jr. kit back in August. Got nothing but good things to say about it and about Richard Guy's customer service. The kit was easy to build, thanks to the clear instructions and quality components, but I still had a few questions...and Rich was very prompt and thorough in answering them.

 

I've since added the V mod and the 2-watt mod; both serve my needs to a T.

 

Rich also helped me acquire a pair of Weber speakers for this amp; unfortunately, I haven't been able to afford the materials to build the cabinets yet. Been running it through a 2x12 cab and it sounds GOOD. I expect great results when I get the 2x8, 16 ohm cab put together.

 

I rate this: :thu:

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Originally posted by Scott Glover

Why not just buy a Pod
:confused:

 

I personally don't like the tone of a Pod. The digital recreation of analog tones just don't sound as good.

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anybody care to elaborate on why the Cold Heat tool just isn't suited well? would the newer Cold Heat Plus do the trick a little better? as you can tell I haven't soldered much...

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Sorry for the delay, let's continue. :)

 

If you look at the last photo I posted, you can see that the components have been soldered to the turret board. That's your next step. It's really not difficult, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind:

 

First of all, when applying more than one component that attaches to the same turret point, it's usually best to solder all of them at once. Just wrap all of the components 1/2 way around the turret post, and then solder them all at once. Then use the side cutters to remove any excess length of wire from the components, as close to the turret as you can get. You'll probably find it easiest to install everything if you start at one side of the turret board and work your way across the board to the opposite side.

 

Another thing to be careful of is getting the orientation of any polarized parts correct. Again, all of the polarized parts, such as the black with blue striped capacitors and the diodes (the components at the far right side of the board in the picture above) are seperately bagged in the kit, and clearly marked on the components and in the instructions to help you know which way to install them. For electronics vets, this is simple stuff, but if you've never built anything like this before, you'll appreciate the extra thought that went into seperating these parts in an effort to make things easier for you. :) Getting the orientation of polarized parts is crucial - install these parts backwards / "reversed" and your amp isn't going to function properly.

 

This is a good spot in the review to make a little confession. If you're an old timer like me, then you might have problems with close distance vision. Yup, I confess - I use reading glasses these days... but even with them, I sometimes had difficulty reading resistor color codes. Your multimeter can come in handy there... just set it to measure resistance, and rather than having to struggle and squint to make sure you've got the colors (and thus the value) figured out correctly, stick the meter's probes on each wire end of the resistor, and you'll get the value displayed in big numbers on your meter. That's one reason I like digital multimeters. ;):D Just be aware that resistors have a tolerance range - IOW, the actual value of the resistor when measured with a meter may not be exactly what is called for in the instructions, but it should be within a certain range - +/-2% or whatever, depending on the tolerance. So if you use a meter to help you sort through the resistors and check their values, don't be concerned that they're not dead on exact to the schematic. A good work light and maybe a magnifying glass can also be helpful when trying to use tired old eyes to see fine details. ;) And when all else fails, give Rich a call. Again, I confess - I had to do this on two parts of one of the two kits (I just couldn't make out the markings) and Rich was more than helpful with it.

 

Make sure you double check your work as you go along. "Measure twice, cut once" is good advice for electronics as well as carpentry... ;) Just go slow and make sure you're using the right parts in the right place. If you're an inexperienced builder, once you have everything mounted to the turret board and have double checked everything, it's a good time to take a break.

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Originally posted by FWAxeIbanez

anybody care to elaborate on why the Cold Heat tool just isn't suited well? would the newer Cold Heat Plus do the trick a little better? as you can tell I haven't soldered much...

 

I wrote a few general comments and opinions about the Cold Heat soldering tools - you can find them near the bottom of page two (second post from the bottom) of this thread. :)

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