The Making of a Tube Guru
I began teaching myself electronics at the age of ten. My father and I went to Radio Shack and bought a crystal radio set. I was fascinated by the primitive technology. I am still fascinated by primitive technology. Some things can stand the improvement. I'll concede radio and television have certainly benefited from solid state technology. I have an electronics catalog from the fifties advertising a portable video camera that weighed ninety pounds. But when it comes to amplifying the electric guitar, there has been little progress as far as sound and musicality.
As a young guitarist I was often in need of a repair technician. Sometimes when I would get my amp home it didn't sound the same as it did before the failure. I was puzzled by this and when I would return with the amp to complain, the tech would hook the amp to a dummy load
and a scope and tell me the waveform looked fine for an old tube amp. I would say "I don't play waveforms, I play guitar" can you plug one in and listen through the speaker?" I would ask. The man would come from the back with a silvertone guitar with one string and pluck repeatedly and say; "See, It works fine!" Aha! I discovered he was not a player or an audiophile or even a music listener.
I vowed from this point to learn how to fix tube amps. It can't be rocket science right? I just had to understand technology up to nineteen sixty five. Seeking out tube books from the library I discovered that they had not been checked out since the early seventies. I was told by electronics majors that they were told about tubes, that they were obsolete, and to forget about them. Something is wrong. If tube technology is not taught in schools, where do modern day tube amp designers get their info? They improvised and made stuff up. They pushed the parameters into instability trying to make the next "hot"guitar amp. These people had a degree from M.I.T.! How hard could it be to design a dumb guitar amp? Easy; if it is a dumb guitar amp. P.C.boards, ribbon cables, and P.C. mounted tube sockets were all the rage. This fared well for manufacturers as they kept the cost down, and insured that the amp would not work more than five years as the heat in a tube amp would destroy the traces on the P.C. board and cause them to crack and peel away. To be fair, the only way to stay in the manufacturing business these days is to make something that is expensive and only lasts a few years.
If the people at the Fender plant in 1958 knew that their products would be infinitely repairable and still working in 2005 they would be proud - not worried about future profits (I assume).
Tubes have needs and rules and systems to make them work efficiently. So I had to go back in time and study the old material and talk to the old geezers about how to build tube gear. This was the most accurate resource, and a knowledge that should be handed down.