The explosion of innovation inspired by the DIY (or do-it-yourself) movement is nowhere more reflected than in the increasingly expanding market of guitar amplifier kits. Fuelled by the spirit of punk and indie rock and the free exchange of ideas made possible by the Internet, DIY projects allow dedicated, creative individuals to build professional quality equipment at a fraction of the retail cost. They're also fun and educational to do. With a soldering iron, some basic tools, and a functional knowledge of electronics and schematics, the smart hobbyist can save some money while constructing a unique, great sounding amplifier.
Where to Look for Guitar Amplifier Kits
- Tube Depot: The good folks at Tube Depot sell complete kits modeled after some of the most popular amplifiers ever made: Fender Tweed, Fender Blackface Deluxe, Fender Bassman and Marshall JTM 45. Kits for high quality Hi-Fi systems are also available.
- Mission Amps: Mission Amps offers two starting models of all tube guitar amps, the Aurora and the Aurora Reverb, that are both highly configurable to suit your tastes. The Aurora is available in 10, 18, or 28 watt models, and the Aurora Reverb comes in 25, 35, or 50 watt versions. Both amps come in your choice of small or large retro cabinets with your choice of speakers. Both models also come with foot switches.
- Torres Engineering: Torres Engineering is an online store featuring a complete line of DIY projects from hand-wound guitar pickups to guitar building kits. They sell several 100% tube amplifier kits including the 3 watt Boogie Mite, the British Invasion Matchless Killer amps, and the Tweed Deluxe on Steroids. The web site also has information about tools you will need for your project and helpful hints to get you going.
- STF-Electronics: The website at STF-Electronics is old school, but STF offers some fun projects like the Combo Super Champ and the simple Champ Head, advertised as "the best amp deal for the money". Plenty of photographs allow you to really see what the final product will look like.
- DIY Tube Guitar Amp Page: The DIY Guitar Amp Page is a well organized resource for parts, tubes, kits, stompboxes, etc. Any information you can't find elsewhere is sure to be found somewhere on this page.
Other Types of Kits
For the less technical among us, music stores often offer kits for the beginner that bundle guitars with small amps at a low cost. Online retailers such as Musician's Friend and Sweetwater offer value packages that include everything you need to get rocking at a price that won't greatly discourage your dreams.
A Word of Caution
While building guitar amplifier kits is an excellent way to get a wonderful sounding amplifier at a greatly discounted price, there is a catch. Most kits require an intermediate to advanced understanding of electronics to correctly and safely complete them, although some companies offer special kits designed specifically for the beginner. If you get halfway through building your amp and get stuck, you'll need to take the kit into a professional shop where an expert can finish the job for you. This is not an economical way to complete the project.
Be honest with yourself about your abilities. You will not want to tackle any of the advanced kits as a beginner, so make sure you do your homework before you jump into the deep end. Practice on some simpler projects, enroll in a class, or read a book or two to make sure you're ready to fully enjoy the experience. Once you get the hang of it, projects for microphones, pre-amps, stomp boxes, compressors, and guitars are all readily available as well.