Tag Archives: EL34

Bias adjust for my P1 eXtreme

Variable cathode bias option for P1 variant amplifiers

Variable cathode bias option for P1 variant amplifiers

As my P1eX is pretty much done (I have to revisit the grounding scheme as there’s a fair amount of hum when cranked) I’ve been meaning to get around to trying different output tubes to see what differences I get in tone. Initially I chose the 6V6 tube which should give me a “Fendery” tone…whatever that means. Admittedly it does sound “Fendery” when it’s doing “light crunch” with a Strat in position 2 or 4, but when it’s cranked it gets “Marshally” very quickly. Not that I’m complaining.

So here’s some tubes I can try , with their recommended cathode resistor values:

  • 200R / 5W – KT88, 6550
  • 330R / 5W – EL34/6L6
  • 400R / 5W – KT66
  • 600R / 5W – 6V6

Right now the amp is cathode biased, so I must also add the fixed bias modification. This will allow me to measure voltage across a 1 Ohm resistor going from the cathode pin to ground (therefore giving me current). See the diagram to the right for the circuit. It’s quite simple really.


I was having difficulty finding a 1kOhm/2 watt potentiometer, but I have located a part here on the Newark site.

I can get “bias tip jacks” from the Hoffman site with no problems.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Finally, a functioning AX84 P1eX tube amp

Board installed in chassis

Board installed in chassis, transformer wires trimmed, heaters wired, switches wired.

Final components

The last post left off with me needing to order some missing components. I had genuinely screwed up the order, and wasn’t going to order 2 components online, so I ran over to Radio Shack during the week for a missing resistor, and a capacitor for the tone-stack. It took mere minutes to solder these in place.

I was worried that I had the wrong kind of capacitors in place for the 12AX7 cathode bypass caps. The schematic implied they should be polarised electrolytic, but the layout diagram specified both types. So it was a little ambiguous. Forum members on the Hoffman site confirmed that in that location it didn’t matter.


By this point I was ready to install the circuit board into the amp and start wiring it up, but I wasn’t quite ready. The output and power transformer’s wires needed to be trimmed and wired in where appropriate. The guide recommends NOT wiring up the secondaries to the circuit just yet, this is all part of the power-up sequence. In-line with the AX84 build guide, I made sure I had the layout diagram and the schematic to hand at all times. This meant I could use my trusty green hi-lighter to mark progress as each connection was made.

This is where I made my first mistake. The layout diagram and the schematic wanted the black pair of wires from the power transformer primary to be connected to the mains switch. You can see, in the picture above, the white wire neatly capped and sitting there all smug in its incorrectness. My transformer, while being the correct model, had 3 wires (black, white and grey). I made a guess based on the diagram stuck to the side of the box the transformer came in, and went with black and grey. This is because Hammond made a “running change” to the primaries to accommodate the so-called modern line voltage of ~120V (as opposed to “traditional” 115V). Here’s the details on the Hammond site.

For those customers who are seeing too high a secondary voltage due to higher primary line voltages – use the White & Black wire and tape the gray wire…

Of course, I didn’t discover this until AFTER I had attempted to power it on. More on that later.

Wiring progress

Wiring progress. Preamp section and tone-stack.

Meanwhile, mistakes continued. In this picture you can see progress being made on wiring. All looks good, and I was trying so hard to be diligent and follow the layout (and schematic) but see if you can spot the mistake on the input jack. I didn’t until much later on. I put this down to never having worked with Cliff jacks (the shorting kind). More on that later too.

As I progressed through I realized something else. The layout diagram was in conflict with the schematic, or at least I had misread it. What looked like ground bus connections between turrets proved to actually be shield connections (the fat grey wires you can see in the picture to the left). So I had to remove some connections to fix that one. This was just down to me reading the layout incorrectly.

Initial power-on

Ready to try again, PT primaries corrected

Ready to try again, the PT primary wires have now been correctly wired with white and black.

Once I had wired up as much as I thought I could, (layout + hi-lighter = best practice), I proceeded to work my way through the Paul Ruby first power on sequence. All previous work had been done on my dining room table which gave me lots of space to spread out, but now I needed much more room and decent power as it really was time to fire this thing up. This of course meant I needed to use my one and only speaker cabinet, the 2×12 I built years ago. I moved everything down into my workshop in the basement.

So when it came to powering it up with no tubes or secondaries connected, it kept blowing fuses. I’d see a all too brief flash of pilot light and then nothing, so clearly it was drawing power, but too much. This was due to the PT primary issue mentioned above. I thought about it and decided to check the wiring again, which led to discovering the “running change”. The picture to the right shows the correct white and black wires, with the grey tied off and capped. Now I got a solid glowing pilot light, and good voltages at the PT secondary. Ok, cool. Turn it off.

At this point I got over (stupidly) confident, so I turned all the knobs to zero, plugged in the tubes and the speakers, and turned it on in standby for a couple of seconds. I did see the heaters glow, so I left it sat there for a minute or so. I got even more cocky, so I plugged in a guitar cord (I hadn’t been so bold as to have brought a guitar downstairs to my workshop), and flicked the standby switch into ‘play mode’. No fuses blew, and the tubes did not explode or melt.

With confidence surging, I plug everything in

With confidence surging, I plug everything in. That's an ECC83S and a 6V6, both from JJ via Eurotubes

Then I gently turn up the two volume knobs, just creeping each one up a little bit at a time, hoping for some sound. I suppose I was hoping for silence as this would imply to me that it was working. What I in fact got was crackling/hissing and even squealing when the knobs were turned right off. So after 20 seconds of this, I turned it off again in disappointment.

The time had come to stop. I’d done well that day to get this far, and I was definitely tired. So to stop myself from making any more mistakes I decided to call it a day.

The next day

I had a chance to poke at the amp some more the following day, so I went downstairs determined to get this damned thing working. I decided to re-check the power supply, and measure voltages at the tube pins. The schematic was good enough to specify what they might be, so it was easy to measure each one and write them down in pencil on the schematic. Good news, the voltages were all within 15% of the schematic. Cool, I did something right!

Input jack wiring

First noise

The amp all hooked up to my speaker cabinet and resting on a sophisticated cradle.

Hoffman forum members had suggested I check and recheck the jack wiring, both in and out. Their experience, and my sonic description, told them it was probably a grounded grid. And sure enough it was. The 1Meg load resistor was wired incorrectly, and also the shield on the wire going from the jack to the grid was soldered to the tip. Nice job Simon.

I made the corrections and prepared to power it up again. This time I had a guitar with me, so I plugged it in and left it leaning against the side of the cabinet on the bench. I hadn’t planned on playing it yet.

Ok, so I power it back on in standby….wait 25 seconds or so…and flick standby off.

Silence. Ok, good. Turn up the volume knobs a little…..more silence. Turn them both up about half-way….more silence, but a bit of hiss. I’m thinking this is odd, so I reached over to the guitar and strummed the open strings. CLAAAANNNNGGGGG! It made noise!!! Oh my god!!

So at this point I grab the guitar and strap it on. It’s a Tele-like guitar I built years ago, with a set of EMG pickups that allow for lots of flexibility. It has an 89-SA-85 with a 5 way switch, so I can dial in Strat and Les Paul tones easily, and there’s quite a range of signal strength coming out of the guitar so I can see how different amps behave. A great testing guitar.

A functioning "P1 eXtreme" amplifier

A functioning "P1 eXtreme" amplifier

Man this thing sounds good. At low volumes it’s very clean. Not too inspiring, but jazzy I suppose. Go about half way and it starts to come alive. The tonestack starts to have some influence on the signal so there’s different tones to be had. A very useful tonestack actually. I was expecting the same useless range that my 2204 has, but no.

And with everything on 10 it grinds and burns as well as my Marshall 2204 does. In fact thats a great way to describe this amp; when it’s cranked all the way, it sounds like my Marshall does in it’s sweet spot (which in itself takes a while to find, and is ridiculously loud). With the P1eX I just have to turn everything all the way up….what a dream! Induced feedback is present in copious amounts and is tweakable by simply adjusting one’s proximity to the speakers. The guitar feels incredibly “alive”..it’s the real thing. Don’t for a minute imagine that this amp is somehow a toy, or the very nature of it is a compromise. Far from it. This thing has tone…loads and loads of it. I’d be so bold as to say that I’d gig this amp now, in its current state. This is an exceptional blues amp. You could even do AC-DC with this. At low volumes, but with the preamp gain on about 80% it’s still got lots of sustain, but without the harsh fizz of 100%.

I’m clearly new to this amp so I will be playing it much more in the coming days. I have a variety of guitars that I can plug into it, so I hope to report later with some recordings to demonstrate.

What a day! 🙂

Lessons learned

  • It doesn’t matter how much you study the drawings beforehand; mistakes will be made. Plan to fail etc. I should know this from almost 15 years in software, but there ya go. My mistake with the input jack wiring was because I was rushing at the end of a long day of soldering.
  • Read all the instructions and build guides that you can find. The “official” guide is great, but others have gone through builds just like me and they are posted all over the internet.
  • Don’t be in such a hurry. I don’t know why but I kept wanting to “just get it done”. Why would I choose to hurry this experience away? The point of a journey is not to arrive, right?
  • When you’re a newbie like me, don’t guess. I could’ve destroyed a $50 power transformer by doing what I did with the PT primary wires. I was lucky.
  • I have a very patient wife and family. They put up with me taking over the entire dining room table, stinking up the place with solder flux fumes and leaving tiny pieces of copper all over the place, for two whole days. They didn’t complain once.
  • I have a great workshop, with lots of tools. It lets me do a lot of things I was previously not capable. I should appreciate that more.

Future plans

  • Make some recordings. Every time I turn it on and play, it surprises me. I must record it properly.
  • See if I can make it less noisy at high volumes. While it sounds good cranked, it’s noisy. I will revisit the grounding approach after checking against layouts and studying “the Merlin documents“.
  • Try different output tubes. I have some Groovetube EL34M tubes waiting to go into my 2204, so I can try one of them.
  • Build the cabinet to go with the amp. I can’t take it anywhere without that.
  • Take it to a local jam night and see what others think.
  • Modifications. Once I get to know its capabilities more I will know if I want to tweak it.

UPDATE! Here’s a post including some recordings of the amp.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Bias adjustment prior to replacing capacitors

This last weekend I was able to begin the process of restoring the innards of my 2204. The very first thing I did (after discharging the filter caps properly) was solder a 1 Ohm resistor between the cathode and ground of the EL34 output tubes. Once complete I was able to check the bias of the existing setup by measuring voltage across that resistor. Ohms law provides that he voltage I measured was equivalent to amps. It was way down at 19 mA.

So I referred to this Eurotubes biasing page which told me:

The formula for calculating the bias is the dissipation of the tube divided by the plate voltage which gives you 100% and then you can bias anywhere between 65% up to 85% of this.

The bias components on the 2204

The bias components on the 2204 board. They’ll need replacing soon.

My plate voltage is 400 so using 25 watts as a basis, 25 / 400 = 0.062. 70% of that is 0.062 x 0.7 = 0.043 = 43 mA. Tweaking the bias trimmer gave me 39mA on one tube and 41mA on the other. A reasonable match.

This didn’t seem to affect the tone using the original tubes and filter caps. I recorded the resulting ‘tone’ at a known setting that gives me the Marshall sweet-spot tone.

Two things I noticed that will need investigation:

  • The bias adjustment trimmer was almost at the end of its travel to give me the value I wanted. This may mean the trimmer is close to death?
  • Why was it set at 19mA in the first place? Is this also an indication that my plan to replace the bias components really must be done soon?

UPDATE from the future! March 2015

I replaced the output tubes recently and biased it the same way as above. When playing the amp in anger at a rehearsal, I found that the amp breaks up into quite pleasing distortion much earlier than I expected. It is indeed a great sound, but I’ve lost the strident clean tone I would normally get. There’s one song we do that needs that…for my Telecaster and a tremelo effect. I now suspect that the new tubes were simply born this way, and that I need to change the bias so the amp is running a little colder.

Look at this post: http://www.mylespaul.com/forums/squawk-box/31210-getting-jmp-2204-bias-within-range.html

FWIW my rule of thumb for JMPs is 28-32 mA for EL34s, 34-36 mA for 6550s. I sometimes go a little hotter, but to my ears there’s generally no sound improvement for the shorter tube life. I generally shoot for something like 15 watt plate dissipation.

Most tube dealers recommend you bias really hot. I wonder why?

This implies I biased it REALLY hot at 41mA. We are going into the studio tomorrow, so I’m going to rebias first thing, and see if I get my ultra clear ‘barking’ clean tone back.

UPDATE again: Dec 2015

It is worth stating that I was indeed able to get my loud and clear tone back. My amp was indeed biased way too hot. I can still get good 2004 grinding tones by using lots of pre-amp (I might put it on halfway) and dial the master volume to suit the loudness I need. But mostly I run mine with the master all the way, and adjust the pre-amp knob to suit loudness. There’s a sweetspot where I get a great strident clean tone that takes pedals very well.

Tagged , , , ,

More components to replace

After some discussion on the Hoffman/EL34 forum, it seems that as I am going to replace the filter caps in my Marshall 2204, it’d be a good idea to replace the “bias components”. This basically means that I should replace all components between the power supply and pin 5 (grid) of each EL34. This little circuit includes a couple of electrolytic capacitors, so the same rules apply…if they’re old, replace them. I’m going to replace the resistors in the circuit with metal film resistors. I don’t see any harm in doing so, and it’ll be good practice.

Master Model 50w Mk 2. Lead - my amp

The schematic I’m using appears accurate when compared to photos of my board. That in itself is giving me practice in identifying the right components, and tracing the circuit visually. There’s a cognitive leap from schematic to physical layout that takes getting used to…like translating a UML diagram to actual source code.

You’ll see a section above the power transformer that is sort of labelled ‘BIAS’. Note the labels by some of the resistors, RG, RB1 and RB2. These seem to be variants for the European market. This initially confused me, as the parts on the actual board didn’t map to the schematic. That was until I remembered I’m British so my board has ‘all’ in ‘all but USA’ component values (see the little box above V4/V5 in the heater wiring section?). I was seeing 150k on the schematic, but finding 200k on the board.

Luckily I made this discovery before I ordered all the remaining parts from Hoffman.

Tagged , , , , ,

The existing tubes

I thought I would have a look to see what kind of tubes I already have in my 2204.

The EL34 output tubes are labelled “PM Power Tubes”. Mine were bought back in 1994 and are seemingly still available here.

The pre-amp tubes are ECC83 (apparently the British model number for 12AX7) branded as Zaerix. This thread discusses their origin a little bit.

As far as knowing which tubes to buy to replace them? Hard to tell, to be honest. From what I’ve read, the tubes I have ought to sound somewhat mediocre, but they don’t My amp sounds great. I found an interesting discussion here outlining different brands and the author’s experiences with them.

So my dilemma is this: Mr Eurotube (who really knows what he’s talking about) does not rate Groovetube EL34-M tubes at all. These are the pair I have ordered (and in fact they arrived at home today). But Mr Mitchell, the author of the book I have been using won’t use any other brand (well, perhaps Mesa Boogie tubes). What may be going on here is that this information is 20 yrs old and since then companies like J.J. (available through Eurotubes) have sprung up and produced much much higher quality tubes.

I’d love to hear Mr Mitchell’s more recent opinions on tubes. I wonder where he is these days?

Tagged , , , , , ,

EL34 tube prices

After my previous post outlining how I found that I had a bad output tube, I naturally needed to replace them. My 50W 2004 has two EL34 tubes in the output section, so I must replace them as a matched pair. As I haven’t bought tubes since ’94 I know nothing about the best places to get them. Here’s what I found online:

  • Tube Depot – Wow! Their prices range from less than $30 for a pair of Electro Harmonix to more than $450 for a single Mullard tube. That’s just ridiculous.
  • Tubes and More – Much more reasonable, and they have Groove Tubes too.
  • The Tube Store – Not many in stock, but good prices
  • Sweetwater – All kinds of tubes, with ‘larger company’ return policies.
  • Audio Tubes – More insane prices.

It looks like the market for “vintage tubes” suffers from the same bizarre and irrational pricing justifications that I’ve only ever seen in vintage guitars and so-called high end audio components. There are plenty of snake-oil salesman trying to get us to pay stupid prices for a green marker pen to colour in the sides of your CDs. Or the type that’ll argue that analogue technology as a recording or playback medium is objectively better than digital recording. Here’s a great rant about those types.

In this case I’m going to go with what Mitchell recommends in this book, and get a pair of Groove Tube EL-34M from Sweetwater. They’re supposed to be a “reproduction” of “the classic” Mullard XF-2 “design”, which is apparently “much sought after” (here’s the press release). Let’s face it, my 2204 sounds incredible with the so-called crappy Russian tubes it’s had since ’94, but what do I know.

Tagged ,