Archive for the ‘1’ Category

The Home Studio

Posted: January 18, 2018 in 1

I’ve been a big fan of recording since I was a kid.  I remember sometime around age 13 I had bought a pair of Realistic mics and was experimenting at length with mic placement on our piano in the basement, trying to get a decent stereo recording on my trusty Pioneer CTF-500 tape deck. I thoroughly pissed off my mom when she discovered I had stolen every metal thumbtack from the desk and a few from my grandparents next door – having heard that you could put them into the felt hammers to get a honky-tonk sound.  To me it was like a harpsichord, RIGHT THERE in OUR basement!  I delayed their removal as long as I could, knowing that she’d probably never stick her hands in there and take them out.. and by the time I did I had my recordings anyway.  (Sheesh! What A Rotten Kid!)  I have always been fascinated with recording sound, and over the years I have collected a barrage of tools to do so, some cool, some funky, some weird.  My current project studio started in a real sense in the 90’s when the band I was in (The Voice) was working on CD projects and needed to have a good pre-production situation that we could use to minimize the cost of going into a professional studio.  You can save a lot of cash if you know before-hand EXACTLY how each track should be played and then pay just to re-record the parts in a better room and use their mixdown facilities.   We used it well for that cause, and along the way I recorded demos for several young bands and other musicians in th area.  I began with a Fostex R8 1/4″ 8-track  reel-to-reel machine,  (a package deal which included a  Fostex mixer) and later bought 2 new ADAT XT20’s. and  a new Mackie 8-bus 32-channel console with Meter bridge.  I would later expand that setup with another XT-20 for 24 tracks in total.  This setup was used for many years and tracked several CD projects for bands I was involved in and others.  Meanwhile, I was collecting mics and outboard gear – nothing too exotic, but good-sounding  standard stuff wherever I could find it.  Sometimes the gear seemed to find me.. I stumbled into many deals from friends and colleagues. I collected dBx compressors, Yamaha reverbs, cheap but useful Behringer gates, Alesis reverbs and other oddball bits and pieces.  I did invest in a pair of matched CAD E200 dual-element large condenser mics, which have proved useful and musical for lots of tracks over the years. I also have a Neuman condenser, a Shure SM91 condenser, and a handful each of SM57’s ad 58’s , and examples of beta 57 and beta 58 mics. Lot’s of headphones, too, but I have 4 pair of AKG 240M monitor phones that I tend to prefer.   Speaking of monitors, I use Yamaha NS-10’s and Hafler M1’s both driven by a Crown DC150 amplifier, no fan of course.  In recent years I have been using hard-disk based recording, mostly because I was working for 7 years in speech recognition for automotive OEMS and we were using Adobe Audition for all of our prompt editing. Since I got used to that I’ve been “mixing in the box” on an HP 8560 Elitebook with an SSD, and  I find that works pretty well. This older recording gear is not being used much anymore as a result, but it still looks cool.It’s a little sad to think how much investment is tied up there that I will probably never recover.

I got an M-Audio Lightbridge to use all those ADATs as digital/analog converters. My recording room is set up to be non-reflective, with about 16 each of  2 foot by 4 foot absorber panels placed along the walls, so it’s pretty dead. These are not the dangerous foam types, but a special  heavy 60 or 70 mm thick recycled cotton that does not burn (unlike foam)  and does not out-gas crap into the house.  They are surprisingly effective and I’d recommend them to anyone.   As I said, they will not catch fire (self-sustaining) like foam, and if they do manage to burn, the result is not anywhere as toxic as any foam would be.  I have no idea why these aren’t used more often in home studios, they cost just a bit more per square foot, but are a far better solution.  My thanks to my friend Ed Walters of The Solution LLC – audio consultants – he’s the one who turned me on to them, as well as handled the order once I’d decided what I needed. No regrets there.  cimg9854

I keep a lot of instruments and amplifiers on hand for the studio, mostly American stuff, such as  Fender, Gibson and Rickenbacker guitars & basses.  For amplification, there are many choices as well : ’79 Super Reverb,  ’66 Vibrolux Reverb, ’96 ProSonic,  1980’s Marshall JCM 800,  ’79 Hiwatt Custom 50, ’73 Traynor Mark III,  ’73 Ampeg VT-40,  ’66 Ampeg Gemini I,  ’66 Ampeg Reverberocket,  Peavey Triumph 120PAG, 60’s Gibson GA-9 , 60’s Valco, 40’s Electromuse, and a  rare 1936 Epiphone Zephyr art deco  amp.  A 1970’s Ampeg portaflex B-15S is  now present, with an additional Ampeg 4×10 cabinet for bass sounds.


I have set up the room for recording everyone at once since the ADAT/Lightbridge combo can handle 24 inputs simultaneously, and it’s possible to set up  4 to 6 separate headphone monitor mixes.  The idea was to be a place where good 100% live recordings can be made.  To that end, I still would like to run some permanent mic lines into the adjacent rooms for use as isolation areas – guitar amps, vocalists, etc.  I have the 1000′ spool of mic cable now, just need some spare time and a mess of XLR wallplates :o)   .


Ampeg B15S – the Portaflex.

This amp has a history, most of which I know nothing about. But this is one of those stories that makes legends, eventually. It goes like this… it used to live at a Theater (as in stage play theater..) for probably the major portion of it’s life, and one day it almost hit the dumpster during a cleaning-up operation as the management underwent some changes. Luckily for me a good friend spotted it as it was literally being carried out and detoured the folks carrying it towards his van. It was gifted to me and aside from being a little scratched up, it’s in fine shape after minimal servicing. It even has an original set of USA 7027’s in it, which measure fine. They make 70-80 watts RMS clean. As the Altec 15″ (original, it appears) speaker seems pretty efficient, this unit can easily keep up with a drummer and as such it’s the main bass amp in my project studio now. My friend Steve uses it whenever the old band gets together, and we love it’s tone. It sits on an 80’s Ampeg 4×10 cabinet, and the combination of the two can move a lot of air. It also makes a nice looking bass stack. The 4×10 was an eBay local purchase – local,.. OK, Bay City, but that’s still local enough..) where I paid 75 dollars for the cabinet with 1 damaged and theoretically 3 OK speakers. In the end I had two of the drivers reconed, ($70) and had to repair the grille. Overall cost for this stack was about 150 dollars. How’s that for a deal? Like I said… the stuff of Legends… :o)

70's Ampeg B15S Portaflex

Photo Gallery II – More projects

Posted: February 7, 2010 in 1


Over the last year or two I have uploaded scads of photos of past repairs, and I keep promising myself to make a page or two write-up on each.  Fast-forward many months and only a few have gotten done.  That said, I think for now the best idea would be to just get the pictures up and add comments later as I get time.  Deal?  Deal.

The GRAETZ Luxus-Stereosuper Fantasia 822 – A full restoration (electrically and mechanically) of a German HiFi radio from the mid-50’s. These are big multiand radios with Longwave, Shortwave 1+2, MiddleWave (“AM”) and FM. The FM section on this unit goes all the way up to 108 MHz as it was a factory export model sent to the US. Domestic models for Europe only went to 100 MHz due to a conflict with police frequencies at the time on top of the band. This unit is stereo in all aspects EXCEPT the tuner, which lacks the multiplexer. I don’t think stereo FM broadcast was widely available until several years later. One could, however, plug in a stereo tape machine or turntable. It uses 4 output tubes, EL-95’s, a bit similar to EL-84’s. This full resto required many hours of work, but the cabinet and finish were nearly mint as I found it – so the job was a worthwhile one. Many of these old queens of the airwaves did not survive well – often relegated to attics and basements which destroyed their fine finishes. All the plastics on this unit also survived very well, with only gentle cleaning and polshing required. Every coupling cap, indeed every cap other than a few mylars and ceramics (and there were DOZENS) were replaced since the original types started to get leaky. This also required then a full alignment of the RF sections. The IF frequency for the AM sections is 460 MHz, the IF for the FM section is the more usual 10.7 MHz. This unit sounds really sweet and has 4 internal speakers. It also has one of those wonderful built-in rotatable ferrite stick antennas with a knob on the front to turn it – this really lets you null out the noise. The reception and tone are excellent.

Detail of some of the many orange drops installed – these in one of the tone sections of the Fantasia.

 Notice the extra-groovy shock-mounted tube sockets. Unfortunately time has reduced their elasticity a bit. 



Japanese Acetone head.... a "Hi Fi meets Rock n Roll" hybrid, early 70's. These amps can suffer from leaky coupling caps due to poorly made components which were used. If one is bad, replace them all, or live to regret it.

This Acetone got new orange drops everywhere. It needed it.

Bottom of the Acetone. This is a construction style more typical in the late 60's or 70's Asian HiFi Market... Easy enough to work on, but the PCB traces can be delicate and should be approached with caution.


Recently a blast from the past came across the workbench… the venerable (Sears) Silvertone Twin Twelve.  This was the classic 2 x 12 two-channel amplifier that occupied young musician’s Christmas lists for many many years.  I myself had one of these when I was about 15 – I liked the volume, (30 watts) and the tone was OK, but there was one weak point that all would agree on – the reverb was poor at best.  Built to a minimalist standard, the chassis is rather thin bent aluminum and the layout congested and tight.  These were not deep amplifiers – maybe 5  or 6 inches deep, and perhaps 26 inches wide. 

Slim it had to be, because this head unit was transported tucked away under the speakers in the back of the speaker cabinet, held in by questionable plastic clips.  The cabinets apparently varied a bit – mine was covered with a thin grey textured and speckled tolex, but the one I am looking at here appears to be a thin black masonite or formica-type finish material, which is lightly beveled around the edges.

As usual, the complaint was noise and poor reverb performance.  I noted that when channel two (the reverb channel) was turned up and the reverb acutated, a loud hum could be heard and some squealing feedback.  I assumed at that point that the power supply filters had likely gone bad, resulting in some signal getting from one point in the circuit to another unintended part of the circuit -resulting in feedback.  Explaining to the owner that some caps were probably in order, I set it aside and worked on the amps that had come in before it.

A while later I got into the SIlvertone, and noted that some of the big caps had been replaced, though not all.  No surprise, I set about testing what was there and re-capped all the other electrolytics in the amp, noting that a few measured  weak (high dissipation value).

After the re-cap, a power up test brought the result that the amp made full power (about 30 watts over 8 ohms, 1kHz), but activating the reverb only brought more guitar signal and significant hum in to the sound. No cheesy reverb, just more guitar.  Examining the schematic,  it became apparent that some guitar signal was present on the reverb recovery tube’s grid, much more than I would think, and it was not delayed , just plain guitar signal and some hum on the oscilloscope screen.  Odd.  So I powered everything down and set about measuring the input and output impedances. Sure enough, the AC and DC resistances were way off… Most importantly, there were only 75 ohms DC between the input and output transducers.

As a kid, I had tinkered with the reverb tank in my TwinTwelve (of course – because it sucked!!) and I remember that the piezo transducers had been slipped between the spring windings – they had some kind of  odd insulating coating over them that turned to dust as I touched it.   While I did not take the tank apart on this unit, I think I can safely say something similar has happened here.  The 75 ohm connection was a virtual short between input and output, resulting  in raw guitar signal being present in the reverb recovery circuit.  The hum was perhaps due the loss of controlled grounding by the signal short.  Either way, the tank had to be repaired or replaced.  Good luck finding a replacement for one of these, I have never seen one on offer anywhere.  And beyond that, why would anyone want to repair a circuit that simply sounded so BAD? Simple solution? A nice new Accutronics 9-inch tank and a fender-style reverb drive circuit. 

Looking at the tube compliment and consulting the RCA tube application book, it appeared that the existing tube could provide enough drive current if parallel-plated like Fender did, so after consulting with the owner and getting the green light (“treat it like it was your own amp” – I like it when customers say that….), I set about installation of a whole new tank and drive circuit. The only difference is the length of the tank – a full size 17” unit won’t fit in the Silvertone, so a three-spring Mesa-type would have to work.  Not my favorite tank, but far better than the stock unit.  In order to keep things reasonable, I decided to try to keep the recovery circuit the same, and re-wire the drive first. If that worked, I would save a lot of time and cost.  (The recovery circuit is a plate mixer, nothing like the Fender standard, but does have a single triode gain stage).  One aspect of that is that the recovery circuit is full-bandwidth – so potentially noisy.  For that matter, the reverb send signal in a stock Silvertone is pretty wide-banded, and this is generally a problem with spring reverb tanks – they like enhanced highs to be fed into them, and less mids and low frequencies in order to deliver a more room-like natural reverb tone.   Another concern was that the Silvertone circuit attenuates the input circuit to determine reverb level. This means the recovery circuit is always present and adding noise. Not the best situation, but I decided to try it first before I condemned it.

The biggest issue in doing this kind of redesign is packaging – how to get 3 lbs of crap into a 1 lb bag. The tank ended up being not the trouble I expected, physically, it was small enough to fit on edge into the space of the original tank, and using simple aluminum standoffs with tapped threads , I only had to drill holes in the new tank on the side panel to make it fit.  By measuring the original mounting holes of the Silvertone’s tank, I was able to install the new tank without altering the chassis from original – meaning that the amp could theoretically be put back to stock – although it’s far from likely to ever happen. Nonetheless, I like to use the less intrusive approach whenever possible. Using decent quality 90* RCA cables bought for the purpose, the wiring was pretty simple and overall space was not an issue. 

What I WAS concerned about was the magnetic field of the power transformer being so close to the tank. For that reason I made sure to put the input side of the tank towards the power transformer, and the open side of the tank facing away from it as well.  The input side of the tank is low-impedance – about 5 to 30 ohms on the unit I chose, so hum pickup would be less likely. A low-impedance coil is naturally harder to induce a voltage into than one in a high-impedance circuit (audio-wise).  Once the physical tank was in, I stripped out the original circuit around the drive tube and rewired it to the Fender stock values. I then jumped in the driver transformer  to see if the recovery circuit was going to work or not.  Lo and behold, reverb levels were good – a strong level, but hum was an issue.  Big issue.  My instant thought was that the power transformer was too close and still inducing hum…believable since it was only an inch away – but unplugging the tank cables made no difference.  I double-checked the wiring – and found no errors.

All of this started to come together, to make sense in my mind– I had noticed an extra 80 uF cap across the drive tube’s plate supply – definitely not original – I had removed it when I re-capped the amp to stock. Perhaps something was not right and the extra capacitance was needed in this amp?  I jumped in a couple of new large HV caps to the drive tube’s plate supply and viola!  No Difference.  OK…what now?  Using my oscilloscope, I started to collect ripple voltages across the power supply sections. Everything seemed too high, but the power stage was not humming at all.  (And well it shouldn’t – I had re-capped it after all..)

It was just the lower audio stages.  When I looked at the phase inverter (PI) ripple voltages, they were way out of balance.  In a balanced circuit like this, equal voltages of hum will cancel out in the push-pull output stage.  Not the case here. Since the plates of the phase inverter are not of equal voltages or impedances by design, this seemed like an imbalance that would not be cured without getting the ripple down to a level that the difference between the 2 PI plates would be next to zero.  I tried more filtering here, but that didn’t get the ripple down low enough.  Obviously I had missed something.  I went back over the power supply  with the scope and then it hit me.  I had noticed that the choke in the power supply was not original – one of the screw hole s was empty and a new one had been sloppily added to account for a different size choke than stock.  I unsoldered one of the choke leads and found… (drumroll please) ….only 35 mH.  Most amps use 4-10 Henries of inductance in the power supply.  The choke’s job is to present a high impedance to AC but let the DC trickle though unhindered.  35mH might be a lot at 400 MHz, but it’s nothing at 60 Hz. Obviously the choke was shorted internally, or just plain wrong from the get-go.

Jumping in a Fender-type (Deluxe/Vibro) 50-ma 6-Henry choke proved the trick. Clean power, no hum anywhere and the extra capacitance someone had added was certainly not needed any longer.  As it happens, the Fender choke has the same mounting pattern, so the original holes were a perfect fit.  I only had to lengthen the leads a bit to reach the proper points where it ties into the circuit

All in all this worked out  pretty well – the tank fits in, the drive levels and recovery levels are good, inducted hum is not an issue with the new tank so close to the power transformer, and the new reverb drive transformer fits nicely on the wooden side block of the amp (see pics). 


The only issue now is the reverb tone.  The original cap passing guitar signal to the reverb drive was too large – I placed a much smaller cap in series to knock out the lower frequencies somewhat. It could probably be smaller still, but I am still undecided on that. Further play-testing will be required.  Still, this was a nice modification.  The reverb sounds better than stock – not as nice as a 17” tank, but still usable. And the amp is quiet and stable.  The only remaining noise I measure at the output of the amp is due to the ungrounded input jacks (why on earth didn’t they ground the unused inputs?  To save  50 cents?)  and that is avoided by keeping the unused channel turned all the way down.  Outside of that the amp is quiet aside from the normal slight hiss a tube amp makes – and that’s so low as to be unnoticeable.  I think this amp is ready for the next 30 years of enjoyment – with a little bit of Fender  in there to help it along!

–          Dan


Recapping the Twin

Posted: May 25, 2009 in 1

Fenders are robust, but like anything else they need occasional maintenance. Her are a few photos of a silverface Twin Reverb I recently recapped.

Sloppier hand wiring is a hallmark of later twins, but they can still sound nice if biased correctly.  Most master-volume era twins I have seen are overbiased - the tubes run cold and sound like it.

Sloppier hand wiring is a hallmark of later twins, but they can still sound nice if biased correctly. Most master-volume era twins I have seen are overbiased - the tubes run cold and sound like it.

I often take a moment to remove all the knobs and give the face a moist cleaning with a soft cloth.  Most customers won’t notice, but we all know a clean car runs faster, yes?  :o)

I prefer to use Sprague caps when I can find them. however I have been hearing rumours that the company was bought out and this series of products are or will be soon unavailable. That rumor jives with the drying up of vendors stocking these. It’s not the end of the world to use something else, but it’s nice to keep the american vibe intact if one can.



The vents on older mallory caps start to blister as they get leaky and run hotter than they should.  Waiting too long to replace them can lead to a chemical mess at best and a small fire at worst.

The vents on older mallory caps start to blister as they get leaky and run hotter than they should. Waiting too long to replace them can lead to a chemical mess at best and a small fire at worst.

A bit of high-temp silicon is always helpful to prevent excessive vibration of heavier components

A bit of high-temp silicon is always helpful to prevent excessive vibration of heavier components

1973 Fender Twin Reverb

1973 Fender Twin Reverb

The earlier years of the siverface era still have 100-watt power supplies and do not yet have the ultralinear output circuit that the 135-watt models had. This makes them sound a bit better im my opinion – they break up sooner and have more natural harmonic products in the power stage. Ultralinear topology is great for hi-fi, as it really reduces certain distortions (think McIntosh amps) but is kind of out-of-place in a guitar amp, methinks.  By the way, the ultralinear taps are easy to remove on any later Twin, but the power supply voltages will still be a bit stiff and therefore, loud and clean.