A guitar amplifier kit puts pre-assembled parts of an amplifier in your hands and allows you to build it yourself. 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.
Quality Guitar Amplifier Kits
Warning: Amp kits, especially tube kits, carry lethal voltage and can be extremely dangerous. Please read the safety tips at the end of the article before beginning any amp kit project, especially if you are a beginner.
The following kits will give you excellent quality at reasonable prices.
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. The Tweed 5E3 Kit is a Fender-inspired amp that channels the classic sounds of yesteryear.
Reviewers note how Tube Depot's 5E3 wins across every category of what a kit builder wants, even with the little details.
- It comes in very organized packaging that makes the beginning stages quick and painless.
- It has well-written, intuitive instructions.
- It has quality parts that sound fantastic when the build is done.
The Tweed 5E3 costs about $600.
C. B. Gitty Cigar Box Amplifier Kit
The C. B. Gitty Cigar Box Amp kit is one of the cheapest (at about $50) and most innovative and entertaining amp kits to build and play. It's a mini-amp that churns out a solid 2.5 watts of power. It's ideal for when you're in spaces where you're not allowed to make much noise, but you want to practice on something that has a fun, quality amp tone. Other features include:
- All wood Oliva G cigar box (they really meant it when they said cigar box)
- Gleaming, decorative nickel box corners with screws to match to give it a vintage-style look
- A 2.5 watt power amp that is surprisingly powerful for its small size
- A basic skill level in tools is sufficient. It only requires very simple soldering and basic wiring instructions.
Reviewers noted that the amp is just plain fun to build, has nice distortion for such a small amp, and it's especially fun to modify.
Classic British 18W Tube Amp Head
The Classic British 18W kit is a tribute to the original 18 watt made by the Brits. Its features include:
- Turret board
- Point-to-point construction
- A touch of American upgrading
- Variable tremolo
- All tubes
Reviewers praised the user friendly nature of the kit's instructions. It even provided a mini-lesson for "How to Solder." They also noted how quiet the amp is when in operation. Its tremolo channel is especially quiet and did not have a "thump" noise at times. (Tremolo channels are known to be rather noisy.)
This kit costs about $650.
Gilmore Jr. 1/2 Watt Tube Amp
The Gilmore Jr, another mini-amp like the cigar box above, is also beginner-friendly, mostly because of the company's customer assistance with the build process. The amp has features such as:
- Two tubes (a 12AX7 and a 6N1P configured as a self-split push-pull)
- Volume and tone control
- Mercury Magnetics transformers
- FR4 turret board with turrets installed
- All mounting hardware, grommets and hookup wire
- Stainless steel and brass hardware
- Oak end caps
Reviewers noted how this mini-amp is excellent for home recording. It was also noted how helpful and friendly the company's staff was in helping a beginner build the amp. The wiring diagram is user-friendly, and the builder does not need to know how to read a schematic.
This amp costs about $380.
Classic British JTM45 Plus Tube Amp Kit
This amp kit emulates the legendary Marshall JTM45 amp and allows you to build a similar product for less than it would cost to buy an intact Marshall. Its 45 watt amp will give you tremendous power and volume. Be warned however. This amp is a more challenging project and is better suited for experienced builders on an intermediate or advanced level.
Reviewers have noted how, despite the challenge of the build:
- The amp's instruction manual provided crystal-clear directions every step of the way.
- The builders were especially wowed with the fun variety of mods that the kit's instructions made available as optional work.
- The tone quality was also praised for being just as good as a Marshall.
This amp kit costs about $1,000.
Ardmore 8 Watt Tube Amp Kit
The Ardmore 8 Watt Tube Amp Kit is another great smaller sized amp that is fun to build and play. It has a 12AX7 preamp tube and a couple EL84 output tubes to create the output of 8 watts. You can get the complete kit for about $460 or the kit without chassis for about $375.
Reviews note how well-written the instructions are, and they recommend this project for any hobbyist who has decent soldering skills. If you do not have any soldering experience, builders who have done this project recommend you try simpler builds first. The amp is praised for having a fantastic sound with strong sustain, low noise, sparkling treble, and punchy low-end.
A Big Flashing Warning Sign Before You Begin
Amplifier kits can give you a wonderful sound at a greatly discounted price. However, there are some important things to consider before you rush eagerly into a build. Some of these tips could save your life.
Tube Amp Kits Could Kill You
All amp kits have dangerous voltages, but tube amps have lethal voltages. They often carry hundreds of volts, which can leave burnt entrance and exit wounds in your skin and even cause critical injury or death. Do not mess around with these kits or treat them lightly. In addition, do not leave your kits lying around where children can reach them. Create a safe work space where other people will not wander in and accidentally touch something.
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.
Time for Some Introspection
For the reasons above, it's important that you 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.
If You Build an Amp Head, Don't Forget the Speakers
If you're completely new to the world of guitars and amps, but you have strong enough electrical skills that you want to build a kit, remember that some amp kits are simply for the "head" of an amp, meaning the part that outputs power, shapes tone, and sends a signal out. That signal will still need speakers to be heard. If you're doing a kit for an amp head (i.e. the long rectangular boxes that have no speakers attached to them) make sure you purchase an amplifier cabinet with speakers to go with the head that you build.
Take Measured Steps
Practice on some simpler projects, enroll in a class, or read a book or two to make sure you're ready to enjoy the experience.
The Satisfaction of DIY
Besides saving you money that would normally spent on a new amp that costs hundred (or thousands) of dollars, the DIY route brings real satisfaction. There's something magical about finishing an amp kit, plugging in your guitar, and hearing a beautiful sound come out of something you put together with your own hands.