Tag Archives: hoffman amplifiers

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.

Wiring

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.

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Circuit board preparation

Bare board waiting for holes

Here's the bare board laying on the scaled drawing. The sizes match up quite well.

This weekend’s fun was all about getting the circuit board ready for population with components. Secondly I had to make sure it fit in the chassis correctly as that was the only thing holding me back from painting the chassis.

Drilling holes using the fence

Drilling holes using the fence made for fast and accurate work.

My first step was to make sure the drill plan for the board was correct. I ended up using the main layout drawing as my template as it was closer to the size I wanted. I ended up getting it copied and scaled by 114% at Kinkos so that it was approximately 12 inches by 3 inches. I cut out the template with a craft knife and used masking tape to stick it to the board. You can see from the template that there are 4 distinct rows of holes (not including a few random holes for wires or the ones to secure it to the chassis). This meant I was able to use the fence that came with my drill press to keep these lines straight. Drilling with a brand new 3/32nd” bit was quick and easy with this material. I made sure the drill speed was nice and high (about 3000 rpm) and used slow pressure. It only took about 10 minutes to drill all the holes. Where I new the holes were for mounting to the chassis, I used a 7/16th” bit.

The middle hole

The middle hole drilled with the board snugly attached to the chassis (temporarily)

Once drilling was complete I needed to make sure it fit in the chassis’s existing holes. I knew there might be an issue as I had used a scaled drawing, and sure enough when one pair of holes were lined up the other two were off by about 1/8th of an inch. I used a spherical grind tool with my Dremel to enlarge the holes in the circuit board. It took less than 30 seconds to make everything fit neatly. With the board attached to the chassis with 4 screws and the standoffs, I used the existing ‘middle’ hole in the chassis to drill all the way through into the board.

Staking tool

The staking tool setup in the drill chuck. The vice bolted neatly onto the bed of the drill press for added stability.

Now the time had come for “staking the turrets” (such a medieval term). All this required was for me to install the staking tool according to the instructions, place a turret in the tool, place the board over the turret using a free hole and then pull firmly down on the drill press. This action squeezes the conical tool into the bottom of the turret causing it to flare out. This causes it to grip the board firmly. I had initially tried to do this by loading up 10 or so turrets into free holes and then flaring them, but they’d always fall out so any time savings I made were lost by searching the bench for dropped turrets. Once I got quick at loading turrets into the bottom part of the tool, and then placing the board over the turret I became quite adept. Total time for all turrets was about 10 minutes.

More staking of turrets

More staking of turrets

All board material, turrets and the staking tool were purchased at Hoffman Amplifiers.

Next steps: paint the chassis (now I have all the holes finished and soldering components onto the board. (must remember to order said components).

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Fitting of parts

These two recent weekends gave me a few hours to keep moving forward on the chassis. I had done the bulk of the drilling according to the drill chart and was ready to dry-fit some parts to make sure I was on the right track. My intention is to paint the chassis, so I have to know that I’m not going to drill any more holes prior to finishing.

Inside the chassis

Inside the chassis

The parts themselves I bought from 4 sources:

  • Hoffman – great for high quality parts oriented towards scratch building and Fender amp repair/modification. Also some excellent tools to aid the amp builder such as the turret lug tool and the bias checker. I got some of the potentiometers, the circuit board material, turret lug squashing tool and plenty of turret lugs, from here. Shipping speed and accuracy is always excellent.
  • Triode Electronics – From here I got the remainder of the pots, in/out jacks, pilot light assembly, tube sockets and the fuse holder. Shipping very fast as they’re only about 100 miles away.
  • Angela Instruments – With a windfall from my birthday (thanks mum!) I was able to buy the output and power transformers. Shipping has always been VERY fast with this company too.
  • Ace Hardware – I was somewhat confused as to why I needed a SPST for the standby switch, but a DPDT for the main power switch. SPST is easy…it is an ON-OFF switch for one circuit, hence single pole, single throw. It was soon revealed that the DPDT was going to switch both the live and the neutral wires coming in the power connector. This guarantees that there will not be any 120V AC in the circuit when that switch is off. Time will tell if these switch are as good as the Carling brand, which seems to be the defacto standard. Shipping very fast indeed as they are a two minute walk from my house 🙂
Transformers and an EL34

The transformers and an EL34

So I was lucky enough to have the shipping gods smile on me and I had everything ready to go. I was not however lucky enough to have drilled the holes the correct sizes last time. After 20 minutes or so of measuring and re-drilling, I was done. The last job was to use a jig-saw to cut the power connector square, which went well. I then trimmed up every hole possible with my Dremel. This helped get rid of any burring or uneven cuts.

Next I basically attached as many parts as I could to the chassis. I already had some #6 and #8 screws/nuts so I could use them to fasten the tube sockets. I’ll need some more for the transformers…oh and I’ll need 4 rubber grommets to protect the transformer wiring. If you are familiar with the AX84 P1eX design, you will notice that I have way more 9 pin sockets than required. I decided to do this to give me more options in the future. For instance I can switch to a noval output tube, such as the EL84. Or I could add more gain stages…or use more 12AX7s for reverb or tremelo. I am hoping this amp is going to let me experiment and therefore learn.

Whole chassis

The whole chassis looking more and more like an amp

If I had a time machine, I would’ve naturally drilled everything the right size first time. I have no excuse except for not having the parts when I drilled. Working from the chart seemed to confuse me, and I haven’t yet worked out why. I’m thinking that the size markers on the step-bit I used were literally out of line. This meant that I was always one step too small. The second time I drilled I measure the parts with my calipers and was able to choose the correct step imemdiately. Lesson learned 🙂

Next step, the circuit board and the actual electronic components!

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Replacing/discharging capacitors?

While searching for stuff about my Marshall 2204, I happened upon a fantastic source of information; The Hoffman Amplifier forum, hosted by EL34 World. I saw that there was an ‘introduce yourself section’ so I posted this: Hello from Chicagoland

A forum member was kind enough to point me in the right direction (the Hoffman Amp store) after suggesting I replace the ‘electrolytic capacitors’ rather than replace the output tubes.

So from Hoffman, I’ve ordered 3 50-50 500v ‘can’ capacitors. The logic being, the Daly capacitors on the amp are original and therefore very old. They might be the source of all the noise/hum when the amp is even slightly cranked (in the sweet spot, so to speak). I’ve also ordered parts to make a capacitor discharge probe. It seems there’s no consensus on how to do this. Techniques vary from taking a screw driver and shorting the caps to the chassis. This can’t be particularly safe, although it’d be dramatic. Other methods involve essentially the same thing, but using a resistor in series to slow the rate of discharge. But nobody can agree on the value of such a resistor. I have found these variants:

  • 100k Ohm, 5W
  • 470 Ohm – 2k Ohm, 2 Watt

I have ordered a 5k, 5W wirewound resistor. And I already have some clips and heat shrink with which to make the tool.

I might eventually make one of these though: Capacitor Discharge indicator. It implies that “finishing it off with the ol’ screwdriver” is still a good idea once voltage drops below lethal levels.

UPDATE!

My good friend Tom Reid has some insights on this:

My standard discharge tool is a very large Craftsman screwdriver. It worked
well for picture tubes over the years. The added resistor to a discharge probe creates a current through to discharge procedure. For best results, discharge through a standard incandescent light bulb, as the filament is both resistive, and inductive so as to absorb the shock.

UPDATE AGAIN!!

Finally I found a page where someone quantifies the value of the resistor one might use:

It’s smart, then, to discharge the unit deliberately, through a resistor equal to about one ohm per volt of charge.

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