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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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! 🙂
- 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.
- 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.